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Una And The Lion







Once upon a time there lived a king and queen who had only one child, a

little girl, whom they named Una, and they all lived happily at home for

many years till Una had grown into a woman.



* * * * *



It seemed as if they were some of the fortunate people to whom nothing

ever happens, when suddenly, just as everything appeared going well and

peacefully with them, a fearful dragon, larger and more horrible than

any dragon which had yet been heard of, arrived one night, seized the

king and queen as they were walking in the garden after the heat of the

day, and carried them prisoners to a strong castle. Luckily, Una was at

that moment sitting among her maidens on the top of a high tower

embroidering a kirtle, or she would have shared the same fate.



When the princess learnt what had befallen her parents, she was struck

dumb with grief, but she had been taught that no misfortune was ever

mended by tears, so she soon dried her eyes, and began to think what was

best to do, and to whom she could turn for help. She ran quickly over in

her mind the knights who thronged her father's court, but there was not

one amongst them to whose hands their rescue could be entrusted. One

spent his days in writing pretty verses to the ladies who were about the

queen, another passed his time in putting on suits more brilliant than

any worn by his friends, a third loved hawking, but did not welcome the

rough life and hard living of real warfare; no, she must seek a champion

out of her own country if her parents were to be delivered out of the

power of the dragon. Then all at once she remembered a certain Red Cross

Knight whose fame had spread even to her distant land, and, ordering her

white ass to be saddled, she set forth in quest of him.



It were long to tell the adventures Una met with on the way, but at last

she found the knight resting after a hard-won fight, and told him her

tale.






'Right willingly will I help you, princess,' said he, 'only you must

ride with me and guide me to the castle, for I know nothing of the

countries that lie beyond the sea;' and Una heard his words with joy,

and called softly to her ass, who was cropping the short green grass

beside her.



'Let us go forth at once,' she cried gaily, and sprang into her saddle.

The knight hastily fastened on his armour, and, placing a blood-red

cross upon his breast, swung himself on to his horse's back. And so

they rode over the plain, a trusty dwarf following far behind, and a

snow-white lamb, held by a golden cord, trotting by Una's side.



* * * * *



After some hours they left the plain and entered a forest, where the

trees and bushes grew so thick that no path could they see. At first, in

their eagerness to escape the storm which was sweeping up the plain

behind them, they hardly took heed where they were going; and besides,

the beauty of the flowers and the sweet scent of the fruit caused them

to forget the trouble they would have to find the road again. But when

the sound of the thunder ceased, and the lightning no longer darted

through the leaves, they were startled to perceive they had wandered

they knew not whither. No sun could they see to show them which was east

and which west, neither was there any man to tell them what they fain

would know. At length they stopped, for before them lay a cave

stretching far away into the darkness.



'We can rest there this night,' said the Red Cross Knight, leaping to

the ground, and handing his spear to the dwarf; 'and first, you, lady,

shall remain, here, while I enter and make sure that no fierce or

loathsome beasts lurk in the corners.' But Una turned pale as she

listened.



'The perils of this place I better know than you,' she answered gravely.

'In this den dwells a vile monster, hated by God and man.' And the voice

of the dwarf cried also, 'Fly, fly! this is no place for living men.'

They might have spared their warnings; when did youth ever heed them?

The knight looked into the cave, and



Forth into the darksome hole he went.

His glistening armour made a little glooming light,

By which he saw the ugly monster plain,

Half like a serpent horribly displayed,

The other half did woman's shape retain.



It was too late to turn back, even had he wished it; but indeed it was

the monster who looked round, as if to find a way to flee. Before her

stood the knight, his sword drawn, waiting for a fair chance to plunge

it into her throat. Escape there was none, and she prepared for battle.



The knight fought valiantly, but never had he met a foe like this. The

monster was so large and so scaly that he could not get round her, while

his sword glanced, blunted, from off her skin. Blow after blow he

struck, but they only served to increase her fury, till, gathering all

her strength together, she wound her great tail about his body, pressing

him close against her horny bosom.



'Strangle her, else she sure will strangle thee,' cried Una, who had

been watching the combat as well as the darkness would let her; and the

knight heard, and seized the monster by the throat, till she was forced

to let go her hold on him. Then, grasping his sword, he cut her head

clean from her body.



* * * * *



Fain would they now leave the dreadful wood which had been the nurse of

such an evil creature, and by following a track where the leaves grew

less thickly, they at last found themselves on the other side of the

plain, just as the sun was sinking to rest. They pushed on fast, hoping

to find a shelter for the night, but none could they spy. The plain

seemed bare, save for one old man in the guise of a hermit who was

approaching them.



Him the Red Cross Knight stopped and asked if he knew of any adventures

which might await him in that place. The old man, who was in truth the

magician Archimago, the professor of lore which could read the secrets

of men's hearts, answered that the hour was late for the undertaking of

such things, and bade them rest for the night in his cell hard by. So

saying, he led them into a little dell amidst a group of trees, in

which stood a chapel and the dwelling of the hermit.






It was but a short space before both knight and lady were sleeping

soundly on the beds of fern which the hermit told them he had always at

hand for the entertainment of guests. But, for himself, he crept unseen

to a little cave inside a rock, and taking out his magic books he sought

therein for mighty charms to trouble sleepy minds!



He soon found what he wanted, and repeated some strange words aloud. In

an instant there fluttered round him a crowd of little sprites awaiting

his bidding, but he motioned all aside except two--one of whom he kept

with him and the other he sent on a message to the house of Morpheus,

the god of sleep.



'I come from Archimago the wizard,' said the sprite when he reached his

journey's end. 'Give me, I pray you, as swiftly as may be, a bad dream,

that I may carry it back to him.'



Slowly the god rose up, and, going to his storehouse, where lay dreams

of all sorts--dreams to make people happy, dreams to make people

miserable, dreams to stir people to good, and dreams to move them to

every kind of wickedness--he took from the shelf a small but very black

little dream, which the sprite tied round his neck, and hurried to the

cave of Archimago.



The wizard took the dream in silence, and, going into the den where the

knight was sleeping, laid it softly on his forehead. In a moment his

face clouded over; evil thoughts of Una sprang into his mind, till at

length, unable to bear any longer the grief of mistrusting her he so

loved and honoured, the knight called to the dwarf to bring him his

horse, and together they rode away. But when Una woke and found both of

her companions departed she wept sorely. Then, mounting her milk-white

ass, she set out to follow them.



Meanwhile the Red Cross Knight was wandering he knew not whither, so

deep were the wounds in his heart. He rode on with his bridle hanging

loosely on his horse's neck, till a bend in the path brought him face to

face with a mighty Saracen, bearing on his arm a shield with the words

'Sans foy' written across it. By his side, mounted on a palfrey hung

with golden bells, was a lady clad in scarlet robes embroidered with

jewels, who chattered merrily as they passed along.






It was she who first perceived the approach of an enemy, and, turning to

Sansfoy, bade him begin the attack. He, nothing loth, dashed forward to

meet the knight, who had barely time to steady himself to receive the

blow, which caused him to reel in his saddle. The blow was indeed so

hard that it would have pierced the knight's armour had it not been for

the cross upon his breast; which, when the Saracen saw, he cursed the

power of the holy emblem, and prepared himself for a fresh attack.



But either the Christian knight was the more skilful swordsman, or the

cross lent new strength to his arm, for the fight was not a long one.

Only a few strokes had passed between them, when the boastful Sansfoy

fell from his horse, and rolled heavily to the ground. The lady hardly

waited for the issue of the combat, and galloped off lest she too should

be in danger. But the knight did not wage war on ladies, and, calling to

the dwarf to bring the Saracen's shield as a trophy, he spurred quickly

after her.



He did not take long to come up with her for, in truth, she intended to

be overtaken, and turned a woeful countenance to the young knight, who

listened, believing, to the false tale she told. Pitying her from his

heart, he assured her of his care and protection, and while they are

faring through the woods together, let us see what had become of Una.



The maiden was herself wandering distraught, seated on her 'unhastie

beast,' when with a fearful roar a lion rushed out from a thicket with

eyes glaring and teeth gleaming, seeking to devour his prey. But at the

sight of Una's tender beauty he stopped suddenly, and, stooping down, he

kissed her feet and licked her hands.



At this kindness on the part of the great creature, Una bent her head

and wept grievously. 'He, my lion and my noble lord, how does he find it

in his cruel heart to hate her that him loved?' she moaned sadly, and

the lion again looked pityingly at her, and at last the maiden checked

her sobs and bade her ass go on, the lion walking by her side during the

day, and sleeping at her feet by night.



They had travelled far and for many days, through a wilderness untrodden

by either man or beast, when at the foot of a mountain they spied a

damsel bearing on her shoulder a pot of water. At sight of the lion she

flung down the pitcher, and ran to the hut where she dwelt, without once

looking behind her. In the cottage sat her blind mother, not knowing

what could be the meaning of the shrieks and cries uttered by her

daughter, who shut the door quickly after her, and caught trembling hold

of her mother's hands.



It was the first lion the girl had ever seen, or she would have known

that if he was determined to enter, it was not a wicket-gate that would

prevent him. As neither mother nor daughter replied to Una's gentle

prayer for a night's lodging, her 'unruly page' put his paw on the

little door, which opened with a crash. The maiden then stepped softly

over the threshold, begging afresh that she might pass the night in one

corner, and receiving no answer--for the women were still too terrified

to speak--she curled herself up on the earthen floor with the lion

beside her.



About midnight there arrived at the door, which Una had refastened, a

thief laden with spoils of churches, and whatever else he had managed to

pick up by stealth. To spend the night in thieving was his custom, and

hither he brought his spoils, as he thought none would suspect a blind

woman and her daughter of harbouring stolen goods.



Many times he called, but the two women were in grievous dread of the

lion, and durst not move from the corner where they were crouching; at

last the man grew angry, and burst the door asunder, as the lion had

done before him. He entered the hut, and straightway beheld the dreadful

beast, with glaring eyes and gleaming teeth, as Una had first beheld

him. But Kirkrapine (such was his name) had neither beauty nor goodness

to still the lion's rage, and in another moment his body was rent in

a thousand pieces.






The sun had scarce sent his first beams above the horizon when Una left

the hut, mounted on her ass, and, followed by the lion, again began her

quest of the Red Cross Knight. But, alas! though she found him not, she

met her ancient foe, the magician Archimago, who had taken on himself

the form of him whom she sought. Too true and unsuspecting was she, to

dream of guile in others, and the welcome she gave him was from her

whole heart. In the guise of the knight, Archimago greeted her fondly,

and bade her tell him the story of her woes, and how came she to take

the lion for her companion. And so they journeyed, the flowers seeming

sweeter and the skies brighter to Una, as they went, when suddenly they

beheld



One pricking towards them with hasty heat;

Full strongly armed, and on a courser free.



On his shield the words 'Sans loy' could be read, written in letters of

blood.



Now, though Archimago had clad himself in the outward shape of the Red

Cross Knight, he lacked his courage and his skill in war; and his heart

was faint from fear, when the Saracen reined back his horse and prepared

for battle. In the shock of the rush the wizard was borne backwards, and

the blood from his side dyed the ground.



'The life that from Sansfoy thou tookest, Sansloy shall from thee take,'

cried the Paynim, and was unlacing the vizor of the fallen man to deal

him his death-stroke when a cry from Una stayed his hand for a moment,

though it was not her prayers for mercy that would have kept him from

drawing his sword, but the sight of the hoary head beneath the helmet,

which startled him.



'Archimago!' he stammered, 'what mishap is this?' And still Archimago

lay on the ground stunned, and answered nothing.



For a moment Una gazed in amazement at the strange sight before her, and

wondered what was the meaning of these things. Then she turned to fly,

but, quick as thought, the Saracen plucked at her robe to stop her.



Now when the lion, her fierce servant, saw that Paynim knight lay hands

on his sovereign lady, he sprang on him with gaping jaws, and almost

tore the shield from his arm. But the knight leapt swiftly back, and

swinging his sword plunged it into the heart of the faithful creature,

who rolled over and died amidst the tears of his mistress.



After which the knight set Una on his steed before him and bore her

away.



[Spenser's _Faerie Queene_.]





Next: How The Red Cross Knight Slew The Dragon

Previous: The Lady Of Solace



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