The Quest of Sir Guyon by Jeanie Lang

Long ago, on the first day of every year, the Queen of the Fairies used to give a great feast.

On that day all the bravest of her knights came to her court, and when people wanted help to slay a dragon or a savage beast, or to drive away a witch or wicked fairy, they also came and told their stories.

To one of those feasts there came an old palmer dressed in black. His hair was grey, and he leaned heavily on his long staff. He told a sad tale of the evil things done in his land by a wicked witch.

The Faery Queen turned to Guyon, one of the bravest and handsomest of her young knights. ‘You shall go with this old man and save his land,’ she said to him.

‘I am not worthy,’ said Sir Guyon, ‘but I will do your bidding and my best.’

So he rode away with the palmer. His good horse had never paced so slowly before, for Guyon made him keep step with the feeble old man.

It was not possible to go far from the fairy court without having fights and adventures, but in every fight Guyon was the victor, because he listened to what the good old palmer said, and did not think that he himself knew better.

One day they came to a wide river on which floated a little boat, all decked out with green branches. In it sat a fair lady, who sang and laughed and seemed very happy and very gay. She was a servant of the wicked witch for whom Guyon was looking, but this Guyon did not know. She offered to ferry Guyon across the river, but she said there was no room in her boat for the palmer.

Guyon thought she looked so pretty and merry, and so kind, that he gladly went with her.

Together they gaily sailed down the river. When the birds sang, she sang along with them, and when little waves gurgled and laughed against the side of the boat, she laughed too.

But soon Guyon found that she was not really good, and he loved her gay laugh no longer, and presently left her and wandered on alone in the island to which she had brought him.

At last he came to a gloomy glen where trees and shrubs grew so thickly that no sunlight could get in. Sitting there in the darkness he found a rough and ugly man. His face was tanned with smoke and his eyes were bleared. Great heaps of gold lay about him on every side. When he saw Guyon, he dashed in a great fright at his money, and began to try to pour it into a hole and hide it, lest Guyon should steal it from him.

But Guyon ran quickly at him and caught him by the arm.

‘Who are you,’ he asked, ‘who hide your money in this lonely place, instead of using it rightly or giving it away?’

To which the man answered, ‘I am Mammon, the Money God. I am the greatest god beneath the sky. If you will be my servant, all this money shall be yours. Or if this be not gold enough for you, a mountain of gold, ten times more than what you see, shall be your very own.’

But Guyon shook his head. ‘I want none of your gold,’ said he.

‘Fair shields, gay steeds, bright arms be my delight,
Those be the riches fit for an adventurous knight.’

Then said the Money God, ‘Money will buy you all those things. It can buy you crowns and kingdoms.’

‘Money brings wars and wrongs, bloodshed and bitterness,’ said Guyon. ‘You may keep your gold.’

The Money God grew angry then.

‘You do not know what you refuse,’ he said. ‘Come with me and see.’

Guyon the fearless followed him into the thickest of the bushes and down a dark opening in the ground.

On and on they went through the darkness. Ugly things came and glared at them, and owls and night ravens flapped their wings, but Guyon had no fear.

At length they came to a huge cave whose roof and floor and walls were all of gold, but the gold was dimmed by dust and cobwebs. A light like the light of the moon from behind a dark cloud showed Guyon great iron chests and coffers full of money, but the ground was strewn with the skulls and dry bones of men who had tried to get the gold, and who had failed and perished there.

‘Will you serve me now?’ asked Mammon. ‘Only be my servant, and all these riches shall be yours.’

‘I will not serve you,’ answered Guyon. ‘I place a higher happiness before my eyes.’

Then Mammon led him into another room where were a hundred blazing furnaces.

Hideous slaves of the Money God blew bellows and stirred the flames, and ladled out of huge caldrons on the fires great spoonfuls of molten gold. When they saw Guyon in his shining armour, they stopped their work and stared at him in fear and amazement. Never before had they seen any one who was not as horrible and as ugly as themselves. Once again Mammon offered him the gold he saw, but again Guyon refused it.

Then did he bring him to a place where was a gate of beaten gold. Through this gate they passed, and Guyon found himself in a vast golden room, upheld by golden pillars that shone and sparkled with precious stones.

On a throne in this room sat a beautiful lady, dressed in clothes more gorgeous than any that the greatest king on earth ever wore.

‘That is my daughter,’ said Mammon. ‘She shall be your wife, and all these treasures that are too great to be counted shall be yours, if only you will be my servant.’

‘I thank you, Mammon,’ said Guyon, ‘but my love is given to another lady.’

The Money God was full of rage, yet still he thought that he might win Guyon to his will. He took him to a garden where dark cypresses hung their heads over the flaming blossoms of poppies that made men sleep for ever, and where every sort of poisonous flower and shrub flourished richly. It was called the Garden of Proserpine.

The most beautiful thing in the garden was a great tree, thickly leaved and heavily hung with shining golden apples. The branches of the tree hung their golden fruit over a dark river.

When Guyon went to the river’s brink and looked in, he saw many men struggling and moaning in the dark and fearful water. Some were trying to grasp the fruit that hung just beyond their reach, and others were trying vainly to get out.

‘You fool!’ said Mammon, ‘why do you not pick some of the golden fruit that hangs so easily within your reach?’

But Guyon, although for three long days and nights he had been without sleep and meat and drink in the dark land of the Money God, was too true and good a knight to do what Mammon wished. Had he picked the fruit, he would have put himself in Mammon’s power, and at once been torn into a thousand pieces.

‘I will not take the fruit,’ he said; ‘I will not be your slave.’

And then, for days and days, Guyon knew no more.

When he came to himself and opened his eyes, he found that his head was resting on the knee of the good old palmer.

After the witch’s beautiful servant had rowed Guyon away, the palmer had tried and tried to find a means of crossing the river, until at last he succeeded.

Day after day he sought Guyon, until one day a fairy voice called to him, loud and clear, ‘Come hither! hither! oh come hastily!’

He hurried to the place from whence the voice came, and in the dark thicket where Mammon had sat and counted his gold, he found Guyon lying.

A beautiful spirit with golden hair and shining wings of many colours, like the wings of a lovely bird, sat by Guyon’s side, keeping all enemies and evil things far from him.

When Guyon felt able for the journey, he and the palmer went on with their travels, and he had many fights and many adventures. But ever after he had been tempted to be Mammon’s slave and had resisted him, he was a better and a braver knight.

All his battles ended in victories, and he helped all those who needed help, and at last he and the palmer reached the shore of the sea across which was the land of the wicked witch.

They got a little boat, and a boatman to row them, and for two days they were far out at sea.

On the morning of the third day, Guyon and the others heard the sound of raging water. In the trembling light of the dawn that was spreading across the sea they saw great waves casting themselves high into the sky.

It was a gulf, called the Gulf of Greediness, and in its furious waves many ships were wrecked. But the palmer steered so straight and well that he guided the little boat without harm through the angry seas.

On one side of the gulf was a great black rock where screaming seamews and cormorants sat and waited for ships to be wrecked. It was a magic rock, and the water round it tried to draw Guyon’s boat against its ragged sides, that it might be smashed to pieces like the other boats and ships whose broken fragments tossed up and down in the tide.

But so wisely did the palmer steer, and so strongly did the boatman row, that they safely passed the magic rock and got into calm water. And still the boatman rowed so hard that the little boat cut through the water like a silver blade, and the spray dashed off the oars into Guyon’s face.

‘I see land!’ at last called Guyon.

On every side they saw little islands. When they got nearer they found that they looked fresh and green and pleasant. Tall trees with blossoms of white and red grew on them.

‘Let us land!’ cried Guyon.

But the boatman shook his head.

‘Those are the Wandering Islands,’ he said. ‘They are magic islands, and if any one lands on one of them he must wander for ever and ever.’

On one island sat a beautiful lady, with her long hair flowing round her. She beckoned and called to them to come on shore, and when they would not listen she jumped into a little boat and rowed swiftly after them.

Then Guyon saw that it was the wicked witch’s beautiful servant, and they took no notice of her. So she got tired of coaxing, and went away, calling them names.

A terrible whirlpool, where the waves rushed furiously round and round, was the next danger that they met. Then, when they were free of that, a great storm arose, and every fierce and ugly fish and monster that ever lived in the sea came rushing at the boat from out the foaming waves, roaring as if they were going to devour them.

‘Have no fear,’ said the palmer to Guyon. ‘These ugly shapes were only made by the wicked witch to frighten you.’

With his palmer’s staff he smote the sea. The waves sank down to rest, and all the ugly monsters vanished away.

When the storm had ceased they saw on an island a lady, who wept and wailed and cried for help.

Guyon, who was always ready to help those who wanted help, wished at once to go to her.

But the palmer would not let him.

‘She is another of the servants of the witch,’ he said, ‘and is only pretending to be sad.’

They came then to a peaceful bay that lay in the shadow of a great grey hill, and from it came the sweetest music that Guyon had ever heard.

Five beautiful mermaids were swimming in the clear green water, and the melody of their song made Guyon long to stop and listen. They had made this song about Guyon:

‘O thou fair son of gentle fairy,
Thou art in mighty arms most magnified
Above all knights that ever battle tried.
O! turn thy rudder hitherward awhile,
Here may thy storm-beat vessel safely ride.
This is the port of rest from troublous toil,
The world’s sweet inn from pain and wearisome turmoil.’

The rolling sea gently echoed their music, and the breaking waves kept time with their voices. The very wind seemed to blend with the melody and make it so beautiful that Guyon longed and longed to go with them to their peaceful bay under the grey hill. But the palmer would not let him stop, and the boatman rowed onwards.

Then a thick, choking, grey mist crept over the sea and blotted out everything, and they could not tell where to steer. And round the boat flew great flocks of fierce birds and bats, smiting the voyagers in their faces with wicked wings.

Still the boatman rowed steadily on, and steadily the palmer steered, till the weather began to clear. And, when the fog was gone, they saw at last the fair land to which the Faerie Queen had sent Guyon, that he might save it from the magic of the wicked witch.

When they reached the shore the boatman stayed with his boat, and Guyon and the palmer landed. And the palmer was glad, for he felt that their task was nearly done.

Savage, roaring beasts rushed at them as soon as they reached the shore. But the palmer waved his staff at them, and they shrank trembling away. Soon Guyon and his guide came to the palace of the witch.

The palace was made of ivory as white as the foam of the sea, and it glittered with gold. At the ivory gate stood a young man decked with flowers, and holding a staff in his hand. He impudently held out a great bowl of wine for Guyon to drink. But Guyon threw the bowl on the ground, and broke the staff with which the man worked wicked magic.

Then Guyon and the palmer passed on, through rich gardens full of beautiful flowers, and came to another gate made of green boughs and branches. Over it spread a vine, from which hung great bunches of grapes, red, and green, and purple and gold.

A beautiful lady stood by the gate. She reached up to a bunch of purple grapes, and squeezed their juice into a golden cup and offered it to Guyon. But Guyon dashed the cup to the ground, and left her raging at him.

Past trees and flowers and clear fountains they went, and all the time through this lovely place there rang magic music. Sweet voices, the song of birds, the whispering winds, the sound of silvery instruments, and the murmur of water all blended together to make melody.

The farther they went, the more beautiful were the sights they saw, and the sweeter the music.

At last, lying on a bed of red roses, they found the wicked witch.

Softly they crept through the flowery shrubs to where she lay, and before she knew that they were near, Guyon threw over her a net that the palmer had made. She struggled wildly to free herself, but before she could escape, Guyon bound her fast with chains.

Then he broke down and destroyed the palace, and all the things that had seemed so beautiful, but that were only a part of her wicked magic.

As Guyon and the palmer led the witch by her chains to their boat that waited by the shore, the fierce beasts that had attacked them when they landed came roaring at them again.

But the palmer touched each one with his staff, and at once they were turned into men. For it was only the witch’s magic that had made them beasts. One of them, named Gryll, who had been a pig, was angry with the palmer, and said he had far rather stay a pig than be a man.

‘Let Gryll be Gryll, and have his hoggish mind,
But let us hence depart whilst weather serves and wind,’

said the palmer.

So they sailed away to the fairy court, and gave their wicked prisoner to the queen to be punished.

And Sir Guyon was ready once again to do the Faerie Queen’s commands, to war against all evil things, and to fight bravely for the right.