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Roswal And Lilian

from The Old-fashioned Fairy Book - ROMANCES OF THE MIDDLE AGES





(From a Scottish Romance of the XVIth Century.)




There lived once, at Naples, a king and queen whose only son, Roswal,
was a paragon of beauty and of valor. The boy, who was as generous as
the day was long, did not at all resemble his father, for the king was
harsh and cruel, and slow to forgive his enemies.

In the prison of the king's palace were confined three noblemen, who,
having been suspected of plotting against the crown, were doomed to be
imprisoned for life, and had the most cruel treatment lavished upon them
every day. Roswal could not bear to hear their groans and sighs arising
from the dungeon, and one day conceived the bold project of taking the
prison keys from under the king's pillow while he slept, and setting
the three poor sufferers at liberty. This was done, and Roswal restored
the keys to their place without having been detected.

When it was found that the prisoners had escaped, the king grew
furiously angry. In vain the head jailor and his assistants declared
their innocence in the matter. Their lives would have been instantly
sacrificed to the king's wrath, had not Roswal boldly come forward and
confessed that he alone had freed the prisoners.

At first, the king vowed that Roswal should die for having defied him;
but the prayers of the queen, and perhaps the cool bravery of his son in
confronting him, moved him to relent. He decided to change Roswal's
sentence to banishment for life to a distant court, where he was to be
placed at the service of the King of Bealm, with recommendation to make
a soldier of the lad, henceforth a stranger to his home.

Roswal set out on his journey to the court of Bealm, attended only by
the high-steward, an envious and ambitious man, who hated the prince and
would gladly have done him evil.

The king, at parting with his son, had given him a letter of
introduction to the King of Bealm; and the fond mother had come
secretly to press all the gold and jewels she had, a fortune in
themselves, upon her beloved Roswal. Except for parting with his mother,
Roswal did not feel very sorry to set out thus from home. He longed to
see what marvels the wide world contained, and the memory of the three
brave men he had loosed from their vile bondage cheered him in spite of
his father's anger.

The high-steward was full of projects of his own; and one night, when
they had stopped to rest by the side of a rushing torrent, and Roswal
had plunged into the crystal stream, as he loved to do, the wicked
steward seized him unawares, held him under water till he was half
strangled, and spared his life only on condition that Roswal would
pledge himself to give up all the money and jewels, his letter, his
horse and sword, and furthermore swear never to reveal the affair to
mortal man or woman. Roswal, seeing that he could not help himself,
submitted, and the false steward, laughing maliciously, put spurs to his
horse, leading Roswal's steed behind him, and soon disappeared from view
with all the treasures.

Roswal found himself alone at nightfall in the forest, as hungry as a
hawk, and very much at a loss where to find food and shelter. He
wandered along till he saw a little brown hut, under the branches of a
wide-spreading oak-tree. Here, in the door, sat an old woman knitting,
and Roswal's youth and beauty soon won his way into her affections. She
led him into her house, gave him a good meal of brown bread, eggs, honey
and milk, and a bed of clean straw. Roswal slept as sweetly as ever he
had done on his golden bedstead and his pillow of down at home. Next
day, he offered to work for the old woman, and set to cutting up wood
and binding fagots cheerfully. For several months he lived thus, until
the chamberlain of the King of Bealm chanced to pass that way. Taking a
fancy to the handsome youth, he carried him off to court, where Roswal
was appointed cup-bearer to the king's lovely daughter. His duties were
light, and the princess was kind; so Roswal had little to complain of,
until one day he heard it announced that Prince Roswal, of Naples, was
about to wait upon the King of Bealm and demand his daughter's hand in
marriage.

Roswal pricked up his ears at this, and immediately suspected the
supposed Prince of Naples to be none other than his late travelling
companion, the wicked steward; though, when he heard the princess say to
her maidens that this Prince Roswal was remarkably pushing, considering
that he had only recently presented a letter of introduction to them,
and that, for her part, she could not see what her papa found to fancy
in the young man, Roswal rejoiced. He was delighted to find that the
princess did not care for the impostor. Then he remembered his oath,
never to reveal what the steward had done to him, and his spirits fell
again.

In a day or two, the King of Bealm announced to his daughter that he had
accepted the offer of the King of Naples' son, and that preparations for
their marriage would immediately begin. The princess was very unhappy,
for she had taken a great dislike to the pretended prince. Roswal met
his late servant face to face at one of the bridal feasts, and the eyes
of the steward fell before his scornful gaze. But he knew that he was
safe in trusting Roswal's honor not to tell the secret, and so carried
on his impudent pretence.

A tournament, lasting three days, was announced in honor of the wedding,
which was soon to come off. Roswal found the Princess Lilian in tears
about that time and, while endeavoring to console her, let her know,
without intending it, that he, too, had fallen in love with her. This
made the pretty princess so happy, that she confessed to Roswal she had
loved him secretly ever since he was chosen to be her cup-bearer. She
was sure he was of noble birth from his manners and appearance; and she
urged him to admit that he was as worthy of her rank as of her love.

Roswal was never so sorely tempted to reveal himself! He restrained the
impulse to confess by a strong effort, and, alone and melancholy,
wandered out into the forest--longing for an opportunity to enter the
lists of the tournament and prove his knightly skill before the king and
princess; and while he sat musing thus, there approached him a knight
leading a magnificent white war-horse, on whose saddle was suspended a
suit of splendid armor.

"Prince," said the strange knight, bowing low before him, "put on this
armor, and mount this steed. The tournament has begun, and thou wilt be
in time to prove thy prowess. I await here thy return."

Roswal said he had led his hounds to the forest, intending to hunt a
deer; and so the knight offered to hunt in his absence and keep the game
for him. How his heart beat with joy and pride when he found himself
once more mounted on a noble steed, and clad in knightly armor! Thanking
the stranger fervently, he put spurs to his horse, and galloped off.

Entering the barriers, Roswal overset all who opposed him, and then,
with a tremendous rush, charged at full speed upon the false prince, who
was riding up and down with a great show in the presence of his lady.
The steward recoiled in terror; but the unknown knight as suddenly
checked his horse, turned around, saluted the company with the utmost
grace, and vanished, as he had come, like a meteor.

The company applauded, and the old King of Bealm cried out that he would
give an earldom to find out who was the unknown knight.

That evening, while all the palace was ringing with accounts of the
brave stranger, Roswal came home from the forest, laden with venison and
followed by his hounds.

The Princess Lilian called him to her side, and told him of the events
of the day. It was evident that she wished to inspire Roswal with a
desire to break a lance in her behalf; but he appeared to be
indifferent, and she ended in a burst of tears.

Next day, when Roswal went again with his hounds to the forest, a second
knight, leading a silver-gray war-horse laden with armor, appeared and
repeated the kind offer of the day before. Roswal again entered the
lists, and found the steward impudently advancing to meet him. Roswal
unhorsed half a dozen of the bravest riders, then, with all possible
ease, sent the steward to the ground with such a terrible crash, that
the miserable impostor lay as if dead for some time. The unknown knight
glanced up at the Princess Lilian, and saw a look in her face as if she
suspected him. Then, quickly retiring from the ring, Roswal reappeared
as before, at evening, with the spoils of the day of hunting. Lilian,
who was ready to declare that none other than her handsome young lover
could have been the stranger knight, was much perplexed when she found
Roswal quietly at home engaged in his usual occupations.

On the third day, Roswal was mounted and equipped in a similar manner.
He had a bay horse, a red shield, green armor, and a golden helmet. He
cast down all of the other competitors, broke two of the steward's ribs,
threw a gold ring into the lap of his lady-love, and rode away like a
flash. Returning to the wood, he was met by all three of his friends,
the knights who had helped him. They revealed themselves, and Roswal
found to his delight that they were the three noblemen he had released
from his father's dungeon. They told him they were well aware of all he
had suffered for their sakes, and were prepared to befriend him still
farther.

Next day had been fixed upon for the wedding, and all the court was
called together in a magnificent hall, to see their king bestow their
princess' hand upon the Prince of Naples. Pale and tearful, for she had
cried all night, appeared the princess. She was dressed in white satin,
with a silver train, carried by ten little pages in blue, and on her
head she wore a diadem of immense diamonds. The bridegroom, who had been
patched up by the doctors, sat, anything but cheerful, in a golden chair
beside the king. Behind a group of court ladies and gentlemen stood
Roswal, handsomer than any one present, and looking every inch a
prince, though he wore a plain brown velvet suit, with a gold chain
round his neck, the livery of Princess Lilian's household. Suddenly
visitors were announced, and in came three richly clad strangers,
scattering money among the servants, which made it an easy matter for
them to move along.

The king received them courteously, for he recognized three noblemen of
the kingdom of Naples he had known long before.

"You will be glad to salute your prince," the king said, when he had
greeted them, "and to be present at his nuptials."

The noblemen refused to notice the steward, whose knees knocked together
with fear, for he saw he was on the brink of exposure. The three
strangers looked about them and, espying Roswal, ran up to him, fell on
their knees and kissed his hand, hailing him as the true Prince of
Naples. The steward, in terror, dropped upon his knees before Roswal and
confessed all, drawing from his pocket the casket containing the queen's
jewels, which he had been about to present to his bride. Roswal would
have dealt gently with the contemptible wretch, but the angry old King
of Bealm declared that he and his daughter should not be made sport of,
and the offender live to tell it. So the steward was hanged forthwith,
and Roswal, owning his love for Lilian, was made happy by promise of her
hand--he had already won her heart, as you know.

That same day arrived news of the death of the King of Naples, and the
recall of Roswal to the throne. He was married to Lilian; and it is
certain that no one who had befriended him in his days of poverty was
ever forgotten by King Roswal. The good old woman in the forest was
enriched, the three noblemen were restored to their estates and
fortunes, and Roswal's mother was made happy by a speedy reunion with
her son.

"So Roswal and Lilian sheen,
Lived many years in good liking.
I pray to Jesu, heaven's king,
To grant us heaven to our ending.
Of them I have no more to say:
God send them rest until doom's day!"





Next: Eliduc And Guilliadun

Previous: Bisclaveret



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