The boat drove fast and far through the water, and fear came down upon those in it. Soon they were tossing haphazard upon the rushing waves, now resting forlornly, now praying for help, now rowing wildly, as if for their lives, if ever the violence of the sea abated for a moment. All that afternoon, and through the long, dark night, they voyaged in cold and terror, till in the morning, as the day dawned, Horn looked up and saw land at a little distance. "Friends," said he, "I have good tidings. Yonder I spy land; I hear the song of birds, and see grass growing. Be merry once more; our ship has come into safety."
They took their oars and rowed lustily. Soon the keel touched the shore, and they sprang out eagerly on to dry land, leaving the boat empty. The waves drew the little craft gently back to themselves, and it began to glide away into the great sea. "Go now from us, dear boat," cried Horn lovingly to it, as he saw it drawn away; "farewell, sail softly, and may no wave do you harm."
The boat floated slowly away, and Horn wept sorely at parting from it. Then they all turned their faces inland, and left the sea behind them, and set forth to seek whatsoever fortune might bring them.
HORN IS DUBBED KNIGHT
Retold by F.J.H. Darton
The country to which Horn and his comrades had come was called Westerness: Aylmer the Good was king of it. But of that the wanderers knew nought as yet.
They journeyed far over hill and dale, ignorant of the way, and seeing no living man, until, as the day drew to an end? there met them Aylmer the king himself. "Whence do you come, friends?" asked he. "Who are you that are so fair and straight of body?"
Horn spoke up for them all, for he was wisest and most skilled in the use of courteous words. "We are from Suddenne, sire, of good lineage and Christian faith. The pagans came to our land, and slew my father and many others, and drove us from our homes. We thirteen whom you see were set adrift in a boat, to be the sport of the sea; a day and a night have we travelled without sail or rudder, and our boat brought us to this land. We are in your hands, sire: slay us, or keep us bound as prisoners; do with us as you will."
The good king was no ungentle boor: he spoke them fair and graciously. "Tell me, child," he said, "what is your name? No harm shall come to you at my hands, whosoever you he."
"Horn am I called, sire."
"Horn, child, you are well and truly named: your fame shall ring like a horn over dale and hill. Now, Horn, come with me. You and your comrades shall abide at my court."
They set out for the king's palace. When they were come thither, Aylmer entrusted them to his steward, Athelbrus, whom he charged to bring them up in knightly ways. They were added to Aylmer's household, and taught all that squires of kings should know. But Horn was to come to greater things than this. He learnt quickly, and became beloved by every one; and most of all, Rimenhild, the king's daughter, loved him from the day when she first set eyes on him. Her love for him grew daily stronger and stronger, though she dared speak no word of it to him, for she was a princess, and he only a squire rescued by chance from the sea.
At length Rimenhild could hide her love no longer.
She sent for Athelbrus the steward, and bade him bring Horn to her bower. But he, guessing her secret from her wild looks, was unwilling to send Horn to her, fearing the king's displeasure; and he bade Athulf, Horn's dearest companion, go to the princess instead, hoping either that the princess would not know him from Horn (for she had as yet spoken to neither of them, and they were much alike in face and mien), or that by this plan she would see the folly of her desire.
Athulf came to Rimenhild's bower, and she did not know that he was not Horn, and received him lovingly. But soon the trick was made plain, for Athulf, as beseems a loyal heart, could not hear himself praised above all other squires at Aylmer's court, and vowed that Horn was far fairer and better than he. Then Rimenhild in a rage sent him from her, and bade Athelbrus bring Horn to her without more ado. And thus at last Horn came before the princess.
"King's daughter," said he with reverence and courtesy, "Athelbrus, the steward, bade me come to you here. Say what you would have me do."
Rimenhild rose, answering nothing till she had taken him by the hand, and made him sit by her, and embraced him lovingly. "Welcome, Horn,"
she said; "you are so fair that I cannot but love you. Take me to wife; have pity on my love."
Horn knew not what to say. "Princess," he began at last, "I am too lowly for such a wife as you. I am but a thrall [Footnote: A slave or bondsman.] and a foundling, and owe all that I have to the king your sire. There is no meet wedding between a thrall and the king's daughter." At those words Rimenhild fell into a swoon; and Horn was filled with pity and love at the sight, and took her in his arms, and kissed her.
"Dear lady," he said, "be brave. Help me to win knighthood at the hands of my lord the king; if I be dubbed knight my thraldom is ended, and I am free to love you, as I do in my heart already." For Horn had long loved the princess secretly, but dared not hope that she would give him her love in turn.
Rimenhild came to her senses as he spoke. "Horn," she said, "it shall be as you wish. Ere fourteen days have passed you shall be made a knight."
Thereupon she sent for Athelbrus again, and bade him pray the king Aylmer to dub Horn a knight; and, to be brief, Horn was speedily knighted, and, asking the king's leave, himself knighted in turn his twelve companions.
As soon as he was knighted, Rimenhild called him to her; and Athulf, his dear comrade, went with him into her presence. "Sir Horn, my knight," she said, "sit by me here. See, it is time to fulfil your word. Take me for your wife."
"Nay, Rimenhild," answered Horn; "that may not be yet. It is not enough that I am knighted. I must prove my knighthood, as all men do, in combat with some other knight. I must do a deed of prowess in the field for love of you: then if I win through with my life, I will return and take you to wife."
"Be it so, Horn. Now take from me this carven ring of gold. On it is wrought: 'Be true to Rimenhild.' Wear it always on your finger, for my love's sake. The stone in it has such grace that never need you fear any wound nor shrink from any combat, if you do but wear this ring, and look steadfastly upon it, and think of me. And you, Athulf, you too, when you have proven your knighthood, shall have such another ring also. Sir Horn, may Heaven bless and keep you, and bring you safe to me again."
With that Horn kissed her, and received her blessing, and went away to prove his knighthood in brave feats of arms.
HORN THE KNIGHT ERRANT
Retold by F. J. H. Darton
When Horn had saddled his great black horse, and put on his armour, he rode forth to adventure, singing gaily. Scarce had he gone a mile when he spied by the seashore a ship, beached, and filled with heathen Saracens. "What do you bring hither?" asked Horn. "Whence do you come?" The pagans saw that he was but one man, and they were many, and answered boldly, "We are come to win this land, and slay all its folk."
At that Horn gripped his sword, and his blood ran hot. He sprang upon the Saracen chief and smote him with all his strength, so that he cleft the man's head from off his shoulders. Then he looked at the ring which Rimenhild had given him; and immediately such might came upon him that in a trice he slew full five score of the pagans. They fled in terror before him, and few of those whom he did not slay at the first onset escaped.
Horn set the head of the Saracen leader on the point of his sword, and rode back to Aylmer's court. When he had come to the king's palace, he went into the great hall, where the king and all his knights sat.
"King Aylmer," he cried, "and you, his knights, hear me. To-day, after I was dubbed knight, I rode forth and found a ship by the shore, filled with outlandish knaves, fierce Saracens, who were for slaying you all. I set upon them; my sword failed not, and I smote them to the ground. Lo, here is the head of their chief."
Men marvelled at Horn's prowess, and the king gave him words of praise. But not yet did Horn dare speak of his love for Rimenhild. On the morrow, at dawn, King Aylmer went a-hunting in the forest, and Horn's twelve companions rode with him. But Horn himself did not go to the chase; he sought instead to tell his lady Rimenhild of his deeds, and went to her bower secretly, thinking to hear her joy in the feats he had done. But he found her weeping bitterly. "Dear love," he said, "why do you weep?"
"Alas, Horn, I have had an evil dream," she answered. "I dreamed that I went fishing, and saw my net burst. A great fish was taken in it, and I thought to have drawn him out safely; but he broke from my hands, and rent the meshes of the net. It is in my mind that this dream is of ill omen for us, Horn, and that the great fish signifies you yourself, whereby I know that I am to lose you."
"Heaven keep this ill hap from us, dear princess," said Horn. "Nought shall harm you, I vow; I take you for my own for ever, and plight my troth to you here and now." But though he seemed to be of good cheer, he too was stirred by this strange dream, and had evil forebodings.
Meanwhile Fikenhild, riding with King Aylmer by the river Stour, was filled with envy of Horn's great deeds against the Saracens; and at last he said to the king, "King Aylmer, hear me. This Horn, whom you knighted yesterday for his valour in slaying the Saracens, would fain undo you. I have heard him plotting to kill you and take Rimenhild to wife. Even now, as we ride here by the river, he is in her bower--he, Horn, the foundling, is with your daughter, the Princess Rimenhild.
Go now, and take him, and drive him out of your land for his presumption." For Fikenhild had set a watch on Horn, and found out the secret of his love for Rimenhild.
Thereupon King Aylmer turned his horse, and rode home again, and found Horn with Rimenhild, even as Fikenhild had said. "Get you hence, Horn," he cried in anger, "you base foundling; forth out of my daughter's bower, away with you altogether! See that you leave this land of Westerness right speedily; here is no place nor work for you.
If you flee not soon, your life is forfeit."
Horn, flushed with rage, went to the stable, and set saddle on his steed, and took his arms; so fierce was his mien that none dared withstand him. When all was ready for his going, he sought out Rimenhild. "Your dream was true, dear love," he said. "The fish has torn your net, and I go from you. But I will put a new ending to the dream; fear not. Now fare you well; the king your father has cast me out of his realm, and I must needs seek adventure in other lands.
Seven years will I wander, and it may be that I shall win such fortune as shall bring me back to sue honourably for you. But if at the end of seven years I have not come again to Westerness, nor sent word to you, then do you, if you so will, take another man for husband in my stead, and put me out of your heart. Now for the last time hold me in your arms and kiss me good-bye."
So Horn took his leave. But before he went away from Aylmer's court, he charged Athulf his friend to watch over Rimenhild and guard her from harm. Then he set forth on his horse, and rode down to the sea, and took ship to sail away alone from Westerness.
HORN IN EXILE
Retold by F. J. H. Barton
Ere Horn had sailed long, the wind rose, and the ship drove blindly before it for many leagues, till at length it was cast up on land.
Horn stepped out on to the beach, and there before him saw two princes, whose names (for they greeted him kindly) were Harild and Berild.
"Whence are you?" they asked, when they had told him who they were.
"What are you called?"