The Lady Of The Fountain

: The Lilac Fairy Book

In the centre of the great hall in the castle of Caerleon upon

Usk, king Arthur sat on a seat of green rushes, over which was

thrown a covering of flame-coloured silk, and a cushion of red

satin lay under his elbow. With him were his knights Owen and

Kynon and Kai, while at the far end, close to the window, were

Guenevere the queen and her maidens embroidering white garments

with strange devices of gold.

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'I am weary,' said Arthur, 'and till my food is prepared I would

fain sleep. You yourselves can tell each other tales, and Kai

will fetch you from the kitchen a flagon of mean and some meat.'

And when they had eaten and drunk, Kynon, the oldest among them,

began his story.

'I was the only son of my father and mother, and much store they

set by me, but I was not content to stay with them at home, for I

thought no deed in all the world was too mighty for me. None

could hold me back, and after I had won many adventures in my own

land, I bade farewell to my parents and set out to see the world.

Over mountains, through deserts, across rivers I went, till I

reached a fair valley full of trees, with a path running by the

side of a stream. I walked along that path all the day, and in

the evening I came to a castle in front of which stood two youths

clothed in yellow, each grasping an ivory bow, with arrows made

of the bones of the whale, and winged with peacock's feathers. By

their sides hung golden daggers with hilts of the bones of the


'Near these young men was a man richly dressed, who turned and

went with me towards the castle, where all the dwellers were

gathered in the hall. In one window I beheld four and twenty

damsels, and the least fair of them was fairer than Guenevere at

her fairest. Some took my horse, and others unbuckled my armour,

and washed it, with my sword and spear, till it all shone like

silver. Then I washed myself and put on a vest and doublet which

they brought me, and I and the man that entered with me sat down

before a table of silver, and a goodlier feast I never had.

'All this time neither the man nor the damsels had spoken one

word, but when our dinner was half over, and my hunger was

stilled, the man began to ask who I was. Then I told him my name

and my father's name, and why I came there, for indeed I had

grown weary of gaining the mastery over all men at home, and

sought if perchance there was one who could gain the mastery over

me. And at this the man smiled and answered:

'"If I did not fear to distress thee too much, I would show thee

what thou seekest." His words made me sorrowful and fearful of

myself, which the man perceived, and added, "If thou meanest

truly what thou sayest, and desirest earnestly to prove thy

valour, and not to boast vainly that none can overcome thee, I

have somewhat to show thee. But to-night thou must sleep in the

this castle, and in the morning see that thou rise early and

follow the road upwards through the valley, until thou reachest a

wood. In the wood is a path branching to the right; go along this

path until thou comest to a space of grass with a mound in the

middle of it. On the top of the mound stands a black man, larger

than any two white men; his eye is in the centre of his forehead

and he has only one foot. He carries a club of iron, and two

white men could hardly lift it. Around him graze a thousand

beasts, all of different kinds, for he is the guardian of that

wood, and it is he who will tell thee which way to go in order to

find the adventure thou art in quest of."

'So spake the man, and long did that night seem to me, and before

dawn I rose and put on my armour, and mounted my horse and rode

on till I reached the grassy space of which he had told me. There

was the black man on top of the mound, as he had said, and in

truth he was mightier in all ways than I had thought him to be.

As for the club, Kai, it would have been a burden for four of our

warriors. He waited for me to speak, and I asked him what power

he held over the beasts that thronged so close about him.

'"I will show thee, little man," he answered, and with his club

he struck a stag on the head till he brayed loudly. And at his

braying the animals came running, numerous as the stars in the

sky, so that scarce was I able to stand among them. Serpents were

there also, and dragons, and beasts of strange shapes, with horns

in places where never saw I horns before. And the black man only

looked at them and bade them go and feed. And they bowed

themselves before him, as vassals before their lord.

'"Now, little man, I have answered thy question and showed thee

my power," said he. "Is there anything else thou wouldest know?"

Then I inquired of him my way, but he grew angry, and, as I

perceived, would fain have hindered me; but at the last, after I

had told him who I was, his anger passed from him.

'"Take that path," said he, "that leads to the head of this

grassy glade, and go up the wood till thou reachest the top.

There thou wilt find an open space, and in the midst of it a tall

tree. Under the tree is a fountain, and by the fountain a marble

slab, and on the slab a bowl of silver, with a silver chain. Dip

the bowl in the fountain, and throw the water on the slab, and

thou wilt hear a might peal of thunder, till heaven and earth

seem trembling with the noise. After the thunder will come hail,

so fierce that scarcely canst thou endure it and live, for the

hailstones are both large and thick. Then the sun will shine

again, but every leaf of the tree will by lying on the ground.

Next a flight of birds will come and alight on the tree, and

never didst thou hear a strain so sweet as that which they will

sing. And at the moment in which their song sounds sweetest thou

wilt hear a murmuring and complaining coming towards thee along

the valley, and thou wilt see a knight in black velvet bestriding

a black horse, bearing a lance with a black pennon, and he will

spur his steed so as to fight thee. If thou turnest to flee, he

will overtake thee. And if thou abidest were thou art, he will

unhorse thee. And if thou dost not find trouble in that

adventure, thou needest not to seek it during the rest of thy


'So I bade the black man farewell, and took my way to the top of

the wood, and there I found everything just as I had been told. I

went up to the tree beneath which stood the fountain, and filling

the silver bowl with water, emptied it on the marble slab.

Thereupon the thunder came, louder by far than I had expected to

hear it, and after the thunder came the shower, but heavier by

far than I had expected to feel it, for, of a truth I tell thee,

Kai, not one of those hailstones would be stopped by skin or by

flesh till it had reached the bone. I turned my horse's flank

towards the shower, and, bending over his neck, held my shield so

that it might cover his head and my own. When the hail had

passed, I looked on the tree and not a single leaf was left on

it, and the sky was blue and the sun shining, while on the

branches were perched birds of very kind, who sang a song sweeter

than any that has come to my ears, either before or since.

'Thus, Kai, I stood listening to the birds, when lo, a murmuring

voice approached me, saying:

'"O knight, what has brought thee hither? What evil have I done

to thee, that thou shouldest do so much to me, for in all my

lands neither man nor beast that met that shower has escaped

alive." Then from the valley appeared the knight on the black

horse, grasping the lance with the black pennon. Straightway we

charged each other, and though I fought my best, he soon overcame

me, and I was thrown to the ground, while the knight seized the

bridle of my horse, and rode away with it, leaving me where I

was, without even despoiling me of my armour.

'Sadly did I go down the hill again, and when I reached the glade

where the black man was, I confess to thee, Kai, it was a marvel

that I did not melt into a liquid pool, so great was my shame.

That night I slept at the castle where I had been before, and I

was bathed and feasted, and none asked me how I had fared. The

next morning when I arose I found a bay horse saddled for me,

and, girdling on my armour, I returned to my own court. The horse

is still in the stable, and I would not part with it for any in


'But of a truth, Kai, no man ever confessed an adventure so much

to his own dishonour, and strange indeed it seems that none other

man have I ever met that knew of the black man, and the knight

and the shower.'

'Would it not be well,' said Owen, 'to go and discover the


'By the hand of my friend,' answered Kai, 'often dost thou utter

that with thy tongue which thou wouldest not make good with thy


'In truth,' said Guenevere the queen, who had listened to the

tale, 'thou wert better hanged, Kai, than use such speech towards

a man like Owen.'

'I meant nothing, lady,' replied Kai; 'thy praise of Owen is not

greater than mine.' And as he spoke Arthur awoke, and asked if he

had not slept for a little.

'Yes, lord,' answered Owen, 'certainly thou hast slept.'

'Is it time for us to go to meat?'

'It is, lord,' answered Owen.

Then the horn for washing themselves was sounded, and after that

the king and his household sat down to eat. And when they had

finished, Owen left them, and made ready his horse and his arms.

With the first rays of the sun he set forth, and travelled

through deserts and over mountains and across rivers, and all

befell him which had befallen Kynon, till he stood under the

leafless tree listening to the song of the birds. Then he heard

the voice, and turning to look found the knight galloping to meet

him. Fiercely they fought till their lances were broken, and then

they drew their swords, and a blow from Owen cut through the

knight's helmet, and pierced his skull.

Feeling himself wounded unto death the knight fled, and Owen

pursued him till they came to a splendid castle. Here the knight

dashed across the bridge that spanned the moat, and entered the

gate, but as soon as he was safe inside, the drawbridge was

pulled up and caught Owen's horse in the middle, so that half of

him was inside and half out, and Owen could not dismount and knew

not what to do.

While he was in this sore plight a little door in the castle gate

opened, and he could see a street facing him, with tall houses.

Then a maiden with curling hair of gold looked through the little

door and bade Owen open the gate.

'By my troth!' cried Owen, 'I can no more open it from here than

thou art able to set me free.'

'Well,' said she, 'I will do my best to release thee if thou wilt

do as I tell thee. Take this ring and put it on with the stone

inside thy hand, and close thy fingers tight, for as long as thou

dost conceal it, it will conceal thee. When the men inside have

held counsel together, they will come to fetch thee to thy death,

and they will be much grieved not to find thee. I will stand on

the horse block yonder and thou canst see me though I cannot see

thee. Therefore draw near and place thy hand on my shoulder and

follow me wheresoever I go.'

Upon that she went away from Owen, and when the men came out from

the castle to seek him and did not find him they were sorely

grieved, and they returned to the castle.

Then Owen went to the maiden and placed his hand on her shoulder,

and she guided him to a large room, painted all over with rich

colours, and adorned with images of gold. Here she gave him meat

and drink, and water to wash with and garments to wear, and he

lay down upon a soft bed, with scarlet and fur to cover him, and

slept gladly.

In the middle of the night he woke hearing a great outcry, and he

jumped up and clothed himself and went into the hall, where the

maiden was standing.

'What is it?' he asked, and she answered that the knight who

owned the castle was dead, and they were bearing his body to the

church. Never had Owen beheld such vast crowds, and following the

dead knight was the most beautiful lady in the world, whose cry

was louder than the shout of the men, or the braying of the

trumpets. And Owen looked on her and loved her.

'Who is she?' he asked the damsel. 'That is my mistress, the

countess of the fountain, and the wife of him whom thou didst

slay yesterday.'

'Verily,' said Owen, 'she is the woman that I love best.'

'She shall also love thee not a little,' said the maiden.

Then she left Owen, and after a while went into the chamber of

her mistress, and spoke to her, but the countess answered her


'What aileth thee, mistress?' inquired the maiden.

'Why hast thou kept far from me in my grief, Luned?' answered the

countess, and in her turn the damsel asked:

'Is it well for thee to mourn so bitterly for the dead, or for

anything that is gone from thee?'

'There is no man in the world equal to him,' replied the

countess, her cheeks growing red with anger. 'I would fain banish

thee for such words.'

'Be not angry, lady,' said Luned, 'but listen to my counsel. Thou

knowest well that alone thou canst not preserve thy lands,

therefore seek some one to help thee.'

'And how can I do that?' asked the countess.

'I will tell thee,' answered Luned. 'Unless thou canst defend the

fountain all will be lost, and none can defend the fountain

except a knight of Arthur's court. There will I go to seek him,

and woe betide me if I return without a warrior that can guard

the fountain, as well as he who kept it before.'

'Go then,' said the countess, 'and make proof of that which thou

hast promised.'

So Luned set out, riding on a white palfrey, on pretence of

journeying to King Arthur's court, but instead of doing that she

hid herself for as many days as it would have taken her to go and

come, and then she left her hiding-place, and went into the


'What news from the court?' asked her mistress, when she had

given Luned a warm greeting.

'The best of news,' answered the maiden, 'for I have gained the

object of my mission. When wilt thou that I present to thee the

knight who has returned with me?'

'To-morrow at midday,' said the countess, 'and I will cause all

the people in the town to come together.'

Therefore the next day at noon Owen put on his coat of mail, and

over it he wore a splendid mantle, while on his feet were leather

shoes fastened with clasps of gold. And he followed Luned to the

chamber of her mistress.

Right glad was the countess to see them, but she looked closely

at Owen and said:

'Luned, this knight has scarcely the air of a traveller.'

'What harm is there in that, lady?' answered Luned.

'I am persuaded,' said the countess, 'that this man and no other

chased the soul from the body of my lord.'

'Had he not been stronger than thy lord,' replied the damsel, 'he

could not have taken his life, and for that, and for all things

that are past, there is no remedy.'

'Leave me, both of you,' said the countess, 'and I will take


Then they went out.

The next morning the countess summoned her subjects to meet in

the courtyard of the castle, and told them that now that her

husband was dead there was none to defend her lands.

'So choose you which it shall be,' she said. 'Either let one of

you take me for a wife, or give me your consent to take a new

lord for myself, that my lands be not without a master.'

At her words the chief men of the city withdrew into one corner

and took counsel together, and after a while the leader came

forward and said that they had decided that it was best, for the

peace and safety of all, that she should choose a husband for

herself. Thereupon Owen was summoned to her presence, and he

accepted with joy the hand that she offered him, and they were

married forthwith, and the men of the earldom did him homage.

From that day Owen defended the fountain as the earl before him

had done, and every knight that came by was overthrown by him,

and his ransom divided among his barons. In this way three years

passed, and no man in the world was more beloved than Owen.

Now at the end of the three years it happened that Gwalchmai the

knight was with Arthur, and he perceived the king to be very sad.

'My lord, has anything befallen thee?' he asked.

'Oh, Gwalchmai, I am grieved concerning Owen, whom I have lost

these three years, and if a fourth year passes without him I can

live no longer. And sure am I that the tale told by Kynon the son

of Clydno caused me to lose him. I will go myself with the men of

my household to avenge him if he is dead, to free him if he is in

prison, to bring him back if he is alive.'

Then Arthur and three thousand men of his household set out in

quest of Owen, and took Kynon for their guide. When Arthur

reached the castle, the youths were shooting in the same place,

and the same yellow man was standing by, and as soon as he beheld

Arthur he greeted him and invited him in, and they entered

together. So vast was the castle that the king's three thousand

men were of no more account than if they had been twenty.

At sunrise Arthur departed thence, with Kynon for his guide, and

reached the black man first, and afterwards the top of the wooded

hill, with the fountain and the bowl and the tree.

'My lord,' said Kai, 'let me throw the water on the slab, and

receive the first adventure that may befall.'

'Thou mayest do so,' answered Arthur, and Kai threw the water.

Immediately all happened as before; the thunder and the shower of

hail which killed many of Arthur's men; the song of the birds and

the appearance of the black knight. And Kai met him and fought

him, and was overthrown by him. Then the knight rode away, and

Arthur and his men encamped where they stood.

In the morning Kai again asked leave to meet the knight and to

try to overcome him, which Arthur granted. But once more he was

unhorsed, and the black knight's lance broke his helmet and

pierced the skin even to the bone, and humbled in spirit he

returned to the camp.

After this every one of the knights gave battle, but none came

out victor, and at length there only remained Arthur himself and


'Oh, let me fight him, my lord,' cried Gwalchmai, as he saw

Arthur taking up his arms.

'Well, fight then,' answered Arthur, and Gwalchmai threw a robe

over himself and his horse, so that none knew him. All that day

they fought, and neither was able to throw the other, and so it

was on the next day. On the third day the combat was so fierce

that they fell both to the ground at once, and fought on their

feet, and at last the black knight gave his foe such a blow on

his head that his helmet fell from his face.

'I did not know it was thee, Gwalchmai,' said the black knight.

'Take my sword and my arms.'

'No,' answered Gwalchmai, 'it is thou, Owen, who art the victor,

take thou my sword'; but Owen would not.

'Give me your swords,' said Arthur from behind them, 'for neither

of you has vanquished the other,' and Owen turned and put his

arms round Arthur's neck.

The next day Arthur would have given orders to his men to make

ready to go back whence they came, but Owen stopped him.

'My lord,' he said, 'during the three years that I have been

absent from thee I have been preparing a banquet for thee,

knowing full well that thou wouldst come to seek me. Tarry with

me, therefore, for a while, thou and thy men.'

So they rode to the castle of the countess of the fountain, and

spent three months in resting and feasting. And when it was time

for them to depart Arthur besought the countess that she would

allow Owen to go with him to Britain for the space of three

months. With a sore heart she granted permission, and so content

was Owen to be once more with his old companions that three years

instead of three months passed away like a dream.

One day Owen sat at meat in the castle of Caerleon upon Usk, when

a damsel on a bay horse entered the hall, and riding straight up

to the place where Owen sat she stooped and drew the ring from

off his hand.

'Thus shall be treated the traitor and the faithless,' said she,

and turning her horse's head she rode out of the hall.

At her words Owen remembered all that he had forgotten, and

sorrowful and ashamed he went to his own chamber and made ready

to depart. At the dawn he set out, but he did not go back to the

castle, for his heart was heavy, but he wandered far into wild

places till his body was weak and thin, and his hair was long.

The wild beasts were his friends, and he slept by their side, but

in the end he longed to see the face of a man again, and he came

down into a valley and fell asleep by a lake in the lands of a

widowed countess.

Now it was the time when the countess took her walk, attended by

her maidens, and when they saw a man lying by the lake they

shrank back in terror, for he lay so still that they thought he

was dead. But when they had overcome their fright, they drew near

him, and touched him, and saw that there was life in him. Then

the countess hastened to the castle, and brought from it a flask

full of precious ointment and gave it to one of her maidens.

'Take that horse which is grazing yonder,' she said, 'and a suit

of men's garments, and place them near the man, and pour some of

this ointment near his heart. If there is any life in him that

will bring it back. But if he moves, hide thyself in the bushes

near by, and see what he does.'

The damsel took the flask and did her mistress' bidding. Soon the

man began to move his arms, and then rose slowly to his feet.

Creeping forward step by step he took the garments from off the

saddle and put them on him, and painfully he mounted the horse.

When he was seated the damsel came forth and greeted him, and

glad was he when he saw her and inquired what castle that was

before him.

'It belongs to a widowed countess,' answered the maiden. 'Her

husband left her two earldoms, but it is all that remains of her

broad lands, for they have been torn from her by a young earl,

because she would not marry him.'

'That is a pity,' replied Owen, but he said no more, for he was

too weak to talk much. Then the maiden guided him to the castle,

and kindled a fire, and brought him food. And there he stayed and

was tended for three months, till he was handsomer than ever he


At noon one day Owen heard a sound of arms outside the castle,

and he asked of the maiden what it was.

'It is the earl of whom I spoke to thee,' she answered, 'who has

come with a great host to carry off my mistress.'

'Beg of her to lend me a horse and armour,' said Owen, and the

maiden did so, but the countess laughed somewhat bitterly as she


'Nay, but I will give them to him, and such a horse and armour

and weapons as he has never had yet, though I know not what use

they will be to him. Yet mayhap it will save them from falling

into the hands of my enemies.'

The horse was brought out and Owen rode forth with two pages

behind him, and they saw the great host encamped before them.

'Where is the earl?' said he, and the pages answered:

'In yonder troop where are four yellow standards.'

'Await me,' said Owen, 'at the gate of the castle, and he cried a

challenge to the earl, who came to meet him. Hard did they fight,

but Owen overthrew his enemy and drove him in front to the castle

gate and into the hall.

'Behold the reward of thy blessed balsam,' said he, as he bade

the earl kneel down before her, and made him swear that he would

restore all that he had taken from her.

After that he departed, and went into the deserts, and as he was

passing through a wood he heard a loud yelling. Pushing aside the

bushes he beheld a lion standing on a great mound, and by it a

rock. Near the rock was a lion seeking to reach the mound, and

each time he moved out darted a serpent from the rock to prevent

him. Then Owen unsheathed his sword, and cut off the serpent's

head and went on his way, and the lion followed and played about

him, as if he had been a greyhound. And much more useful was he

than a greyhound, for in the evening he brought large logs in his

mouth to kindle a fire, and killed a fat buck for dinner.

Owen made his fire and skinned the buck, and put some of it to

roast, and gave the rest to the lion for supper. While he was

waiting for the meat to cook he heard a sound of deep sighing

close to him, and he said:

'Who are thou?'

'I am Luned,' replied a voice from a cave so hidden by bushes and

green hanging plants that Owen had not seen it.

'And what dost thou here?' cried he.

'I am held captive in this cave on account of the knight who

married the countess and left her, for the pages spoke ill of

him, and because I told them that no man living was his equal

they dragged me here and said I should die unless he should come

to deliver me by a certain day, and that is no further than the

day after to-morrow. His name is Owen the son of Urien, but I

have none to send to tell him of my danger, or of a surety he

would deliver me.'

Owen held his peace, but gave the maiden some of the meat, and

bade her be of good cheer. Then, followed by the lion, he set out

for a great castle on the other side of the plain, and men came

and took his horse and placed it in a manger, and the lion went

after and lay down on the straw. Hospitable and kind were all

within the castle, but so full of sorrow that it might have been

thought death was upon them. At length, when they had eaten and

drunk, Owen prayed the earl to tell him the reason of their


'Yesterday,' answered the earl, 'my two sons were seized, while

thy were hunting, by a monster who dwells on those mountains

yonder, and he vows that he will not let them go unless I give

him my daughter to wife.'

'That shall never be,' said Owen; 'but what form hath this


'In shape he is a man, but in stature he is a giant,' replied the

earl, 'and it were better by far that he should slay my sons than

that I should give up my daughter.'

Early next morning the dwellers in the castle were awakened by a

great clamour, and they found that the giant had arrived with the

two young men. Swiftly Owen put on his armour and went forth to

meet the giant, and the lion followed at his heels. And when the

great beast beheld the hard blows which the giant dealt his

master he flew at his throat, and much trouble had the monster in

beating him off.

'Truly,' said the giant, 'I should find no difficulty in fighting

thee, if it were not for that lion.' When he heard that Owen felt

shame that he could not overcome the giant with his own sword, so

he took the lion and shut him up in one of the towers of the

castle, and returned to the fight. But from the sound of the

blows the lion knew that the combat was going ill for Owen, so he

climbed up till he reached the top of the tower, where there was

a door on to the roof, and from the tower he sprang on to the

walls, and from the walls to the ground. Then with a loud roar he

leaped upon the giant, who fell dead under the blow of his paw.

Now the gloom of the castle was turned into rejoicing, and the

earl begged Owen to stay with him till he could make him a feast,

but the knight said he had other work to do, and rode back to the

place where he had left Luned, and the lion followed at his

heels. When he came there he saw a great fire kindled, and two

youths leading out the maiden to cast her upon the pile.

'Stop!' he cried, dashing up to them. 'What charge have you

against her?'

'She boasted that no man in the world was equal to Owen,' said

they, 'and we shut her in a cave, and agreed that none should

deliver her but Owen himself, and that if he did not come by a

certain day she should die. And now the time has past and there

is no sign of him.'

'In truth he is a good knight, and had he but known that the maid

was in peril he would have come to save her,' said Owen; 'but

accept me in his stead, I entreat you.'

'We will,' replied they, and the fight began.

The youths fought well and pressed hard on Owen, and when the

lion saw that he came to help his master. But the youths made a

sign for the fight to stop, and said:

'Chieftain, it was agreed we should give battle to thee alone,

and it is harder for us to contend with yonder beast than with


Then Owen shut up the lion in the cave where the maiden had been

in prison, and blocked up the front with stones. But the fight

with the giant had sorely tried him, and the youths fought well,

and pressed him harder than before. And when the lion saw that he

gave a loud roar, and burst through the stones, and sprang upon

the youths and slew them. And so Luned was delivered at the last.

Then the maiden rode back with Owen to the lands of the lady of

the fountain. And he took the lady with him to Arthur's court,

where they lived happily till they died.

From the 'Mabinogion.'