Britomart and the Magic Mirror by Jeanie Lang

Long years ago there lived a beautiful princess whose name was Britomart.

When she was a little girl she did not care to play with dolls nor to sew, but she loved to ride and to play boys’ games. And when she grew older she learned to fight with spears and swords like the knights at her father’s court.

Now a great magician called Merlin had once given a wonderful gift to the king, Britomart’s father.

It was a magic mirror, that looked like a ball of the clearest crystal.

When the king looked in this mirror he saw all that was going to happen to him, and which of his friends were false and which true. There was no hidden secret which that crystal ball could not tell.

One day Britomart went into her father’s room and looked into his magic mirror.

‘What shall I wish to see?’ she asked of herself.

Then she thought, ‘Some day I shall marry. I should like the crystal ball to show me what my husband will be like.’

Even as she thought this, she saw, like a moving picture, a knight riding across the crystal.

He was tall and broad and strong, and looked very brave. The front of his shining helmet was drawn up, and from under it looked out the handsome face that his friends loved and his foes feared. He wore beautiful armour, all inlaid with gold, and she knew what his name was, and that he had won this armour in a fight with another great knight, for on it was written:

Achilles’ armes which Artegall did win.

From that day Britomart could think of nothing but the knight whose picture had ridden across the mirror and vanished away.

She grew thoughtful and sad, and could not sleep, for she feared it was a dreadful thing to love a shadow.

Her old nurse slept in her room, and at night when she heard Britomart tossing about in bed and softly crying to herself, the old woman was very unhappy. Night after night she heard her, till she could bear it no longer. She asked Britomart what was wrong, and Britomart sobbingly told her.

Then the good old nurse comforted Britomart. She said she was sure that Artegall must be a real man, and not just a shadow, and that she would find him. Then she tucked the bedclothes round Britomart, and put out the flickering lamp. When Britomart, much comforted, had fallen quietly asleep, her nurse sat and watched beside her, and dropped some tears because Britomart was no longer a little baby-girl for her to take care of, but a grown-up girl who loved a knight.

Next day the old nurse went to the woods and gathered all sorts of herbs. She boiled them down together, and mixed them with milk and other things, and put them in an earthen pot. Round the pot she bound three of her hairs plaited together. Then she said a charm over the pot, and made Britomart turn round and round and round about it. She thought that this charm would cure Britomart of loving the knight, and make her gay and happy again. But the old nurse’s charm was no good. Britomart grew thin and sad and ill.

Then the old woman thought of Merlin, the magician who had made the mirror.

‘It is all his fault that my princess is so sad,’ she said; ‘he must make her happy again.’

So she dressed Britomart and herself in shabby old clothes, and went to seek Merlin.

The magician lived in a dark cave under a rock. The rock lay near a swift-rushing river that ran down between thickly wooded hills. Hollow, fearful sounds, and a clanking, as of chains, were always heard there.

When Britomart and her nurse reached the lonely cave, and heard the noise of moans and groans and clanking chains, they were too frightened at first to go in. But at length they plucked up courage and entered the cave, and found Merlin writing magic words on the dark floor. He knew very well, although they wore shabby old clothes, that his visitors were the Princess Britomart and the princess’s nurse. But he pretended that he did not know them, and asked them what they wanted.

‘Three moons have come and gone,’ said the nurse, ‘since this fair maid first turned ill. I do not know what ails her, but if you cannot cure her, she will die.’

Merlin smiled.

‘If that is all you want,’ he said, ‘you had better take her to a doctor.’

‘If any doctor could have done her good,’ said the nurse, ‘I should not have troubled you. But I fear that a witch or a wicked fairy must have bewitched her.’

Then Merlin burst out laughing.

‘Why do you go on pretending to me?’ he said. ‘I know all about it. This is the beautiful Princess Britomart, and you are her nurse.’

At that Britomart blushed rosy red, but the nurse said:

‘If you know all our grief, then have pity on us, and give us your help.’

Then Merlin told Britomart not to be sad, for Artegall was a real living knight, and one of the bravest and noblest that lived. His home was in Fairyland, but he was a king’s son that the fairies had stolen away when he was a baby.

‘You shall marry Artegall,’ said the magician, ‘and bring him back from Fairyland to his own country, where he shall be king.’

Then he gave her much advice, and told her of the great things that should be done in the days to come by the sons that were to be hers and Artegall’s.

And Britomart and her nurse, with happy hearts, came away from the magician’s gloomy cave.

‘But how shall we seek my knight?’ asked Britomart of her nurse. ‘How shall we find him?’

The nurse said: ‘Let us dress ourselves in some of the armour that your father has taken from his enemies. You shall be a knight, and I will be your squire. Together we will ride to Fairyland and find Artegall.’

When Britomart was dressed in shining armour of silver and gold, she looked a very handsome, tall, young knight. Her nurse dressed her as carefully as she had dressed her long ago in her baby-clothes, and, when all her armour was on, she put into her hand a long spear. It was a magic spear, and there had never yet been born a knight who could sit on his saddle when it struck him.

In the silent night they got on their horses and rode away, no longer a princess and her nurse, but a gallant knight and a little old squire, who seemed to find his big shield much too heavy for him.

Before Britomart and her nurse had ridden very far, they saw two knights riding towards them. These were Guyon and the Red Cross Knight.

Guyon rode furiously at Britomart, but Britomart rode as furiously at him with her magic spear. And, for the first time in his life, Guyon found himself thrown from his horse and sitting heavily down on the ground. He was very much ashamed and very angry, and would have rushed at Britomart with his sword. But the old palmer, who was with him, calmed his rage, and he made friends with Britomart. And for some time Britomart and those two brave knights rode on together, and shared fights and adventures.

One day as they rode together, Britomart asked the Red Cross Knight if he knew a wicked knight called Artegall.

‘He is not a wicked knight,’ said the Red Cross Knight angrily. ‘He is one of the bravest and the best.’

Britomart was so glad to hear him say this of Artegall, that she could scarcely hide her joy. But she went on pretending that she thought Artegall bad and cruel, just that she might hear his friend praise him.

‘There is no knight more brave than Artegall,’ said the Red Cross Knight. ‘Ladies who suffer wrong, and little children who have none to care for them, are always sure of having Artegall to fight for them. He is as good as he is brave, and as brave as he is good.’

Britomart loved the Red Cross Knight because he was so true to his friend, and more than ever she loved Artegall, the knight of the Mirror.

Presently her way and that of the Red Cross Knight parted, and she rode on with her squire until they came to the sea-shore.

The sea was beating against the rocks, and moaning as it cast itself against the high crags.

Britomart made her old nurse unlace her helmet, and sat down and watched the cold grey waves.

‘I feel like a little boat beaten about by the sea,’ she said. ‘When shall I ever reach my harbour, and find the knight I seek?’

For a long time she sat, sadly thinking. But at last she saw a knight cantering along the sand, and quickly put on her helmet and leaped on her horse, and rode to meet him.

He was a bold knight, and told her to fly, or he would kill her.

Fly!’ proudly said Britomart. ‘Words only frighten babies. I will not fly. I will fight you!’

Then they fought, and with her spear Britomart gave the knight a terrible wound, and rode away, leaving him lying senseless on the shore.

Many other fights had Britomart as she sought Artegall, and always her magic spear made her the winner.

One day she came to a place where a great many knights were having a tournament.

A beautiful golden girdle, sparkling with jewels, was to be the prize for the knight that fought the best.

For three days they had fought and fought, until the ground was strewed with broken spears and swords.

On the last day of the tournament a stranger knight had appeared. His armour did not shine with silver and gold like those of the other knights, but looked like an old tree all overgrown with moss. His horse was decked with oak-leaves, and he carried a battered old shield.

‘The Savage Knight,’ the others called him, and they would have laughed at him and his shabby armour, had he not fought so well. All day long he fought, and one knight after another he threw wounded or dead on the ground. At sunset they feared him as they might have feared a fierce lion, and none dared stand against him.

Just then Britomart rode up with her golden armour gleaming against the sunset sky.

She couched her spear and rode at the Savage Knight, and threw him to the ground.

The other knights then all rode at her, but them, too, she threw down with her magic spear.

So they had to own that Britomart was the victor, and had won the golden girdle.

Now the Savage Knight was not really a savage knight. He was no other than Artegall, the knight of the Crystal Ball.

Artegall was so ashamed, and so angry with Britomart for having thrown him from his horse, that when the tournament was over, he rode away to a wood, through which he knew that Britomart must pass.

‘The stranger knight with his magic spear shall fight me once again,’ he angrily said, ‘and this time he shall not be the victor.’

Presently, as he sat under the trees, and watched his horse grazing, he saw Britomart riding up, brave and fearless, in her golden armour.

Artegall sprang on his horse, and furiously rode at Britomart with his steel-headed lance. But, in the twinkling of an eye, he found himself lying on the turf, again unseated by the magic spear.

He rushed at Britomart then with his sword, and cut and thrust at her so savagely that her horse backed away from him. At last he struck a great blow at her head, and the sword, glancing down her armour, struck her horse with such force on its back that it fell to the ground, and Britomart had to jump off. She threw aside her spear and furiously smote Artegall with her sword. She cut his armour through, and wounded him so deeply that blood from his wound streamed to the ground. The blows from Artegall’s sword fell on her like hail, but she struck him as fiercely as he struck her. The grass got trampled down and stained with blood, yet still they smote and thrust and smote again.

At last Artegall grew very tired, and Britomart was more tired still. When Artegall saw how tired she was, he gathered up all his strength and struck her a terrific blow, hoping to kill her quite. But the blow only sheared off the front part of her helmet, and left her face uncovered.

And as Artegall’s arm rose again for another deadly stroke, it stopped short in the air. For instead of the grim face of the fierce knight he thought he was fighting, there looked out a face that Artegall thought was the loveliest he had ever seen.

Britomart’s cheeks were hot and pink, and her hair, that was so long that it reached her feet, had burst from its band and framed her fair face like a golden frame.

The sword slipped from Artegall’s fingers to the ground. He knelt at Britomart’s feet and begged her to forgive him for having treated her so roughly.

But Britomart was still angry with him for that last fierce stroke of his.

‘Rise!’ she said, ‘or I shall kill you!’ and she held her sword over his head.

But Artegall would not rise, but only prayed her the more earnestly to forgive him.

Then the old nurse drew near and begged Britomart to have a truce.

‘Rest yourself for a little,’ she said, ‘and let the Savage Knight rest too.’

Britomart agreed, and the knight raised the front of his helmet that he might breathe more freely.

When Britomart saw his face, so handsome and so brave, she knew at once that the Savage Knight that she had tried to kill was Artegall, the knight of the Mirror.

Her arm dropped, and her sword fell from her hand.

She tried to speak roughly to him, but her tongue would not say the words.

Together they rode off to a castle, where they stayed till they were rested and their wounds were healed.

And each day that they were together Artegall loved Britomart more and more, until at last he could stay no longer silent, but told her that he loved her more than all the world.

So it was that the beautiful princess Britomart found her husband, the gallant knight of the Magic Mirror.