Florimell and the Witch by Jeanie Lang

In Fairyland, where all the knights are brave, and all the ladies beautiful, the lady who was once the most beautiful of all was called Florimell.

Many knights loved Florimell and wished to marry her. But Florimell loved only one, and he was Marinell, the son of a sea-nymph and a fairy knight And Marinell loved no one, not even Florimell.

Marinell was a bold knight, who had no sooner fought one fight than he was ready for another.

One day there was brought to the court news of his latest fight. Britomart, the maiden who feared no one, and who wore man’s armour and carried a magic spear, had fought with Marinell, and Marinell was dead. So said they who brought the news.

‘What will Florimell do?’ whispered the court ladies, one to the other.

And all the knights were sad at heart for beautiful Florimell.

When Florimell was told what had befallen Marinell, she rose up from where she sat.

‘I go to find him,’ she said. ‘Living or dead, I will find Marinell.’

Florimell had long, long golden hair. Florimell’s eyes were blue as the sky, and her cheeks were pink, like the sweetest rose in the garden. A circlet of gold and jewels crowned her head. She mounted her snow-white palfrey with its trappings of gold, and rode away through the green woods to look for Marinell.

Four days she rode, but she did not find him. On the fourth day, as she passed through a lonely forest, a wicked robber saw her. He rode after her with his heavy boar-spear, and drove his spurs into the sides of his tired horse till the blood ran down.

When Florimell saw him, she made her palfrey gallop. Off it flew, like the wind, with the thud of the other horse’s hoofs and the crash of branches to urge it on.

Florimell’s golden hair flew behind her, till it looked like the shining track of a shooting star. Her face was white, and her frightened eyes shone like crystal.

Some knights who saw her flash through the trees on her white palfrey, like a streak of light, thought that she must be a spirit.

But when they saw the ugly robber on his panting horse, they knew that he was real enough. They rode hard after him, and frightened him so much that he hid himself in the thickest part of the forest.

Florimell passed the knights without seeing them. And even after the robber had ceased to follow her, she fancied that she heard his rough voice and the thud of his horse’s hoofs, and made her white palfrey go faster and yet more fast.

At last, as the palfrey tossed its head in its stride, it jerked the reins from out her tired little hands, and went on where it pleased.

All through the night they fled. The wild deer ran, startled, before them, and all the other beasts of the woods wondered at the sight of a white palfrey that galloped where it would under the grey boughs of the forest, carrying a lady whose hair gleamed like gold in the light of the stars. When rosy dawn had come, the horse stopped at last, too tired to do anything but stand and pant with foam-flecked mouth and heaving sides.

Then Florimell got off his back and coaxed him slowly on.

When they had wandered thus for hours, they came to a hill that shaded a thickly wooded valley. Over the tops of the tall trees in the valley Florimell saw a little blue curl of smoke. Glad at heart to think of finding a shelter and resting-place for her horse and herself, she led her palfrey towards it.

In a gloomy glen she found a little cottage built of sticks and reeds and turf. A wicked, ugly old witch and her wicked, ugly son lived in this hut. When Florimell came to the door, the old woman was sitting on the dusty floor, busy with some of her evil magic. When she looked up and saw beautiful Florimell, with her golden hair, and her face like a drooping white lily, she got a great fright. For she thought that Florimell was a good spirit come to punish her for all the bad things she had done.

But Florimell, with tears trickling down and making her face look like a lily in the dew, begged her, in gentle, pleading words, to give her shelter.

And so gentle and beautiful and sorrowful was Florimell, that, for the first time in the whole of her wicked life, the old witch felt some pity in her cruel heart. She told Florimell not to cry, and bade her sit down and rest. So Florimell sat down on the dusty floor and rested, as a little bird rests after a storm. She tried to tidy her robes that were rent by the branches and briars through which she had passed, and she smoothed her hair, and arranged her sparkling jewels.

The old hag sat and stared at her, and could not say a word, so much did she marvel at Florimell’s wondrous beauty.

When it was midday, the witch’s son came in. At the sight of Florimell he was as frightened as his mother had been, and stared in wonder and in fear. But Florimell spoke to them both so gently and so kindly that soon they no longer feared her.

She stayed with them in the wretched little hut for some time. And in that time the witch’s son came to love her, and to long to have her for his wife. He tried to do everything that he thought would please her. He would bring her from the woods the rosiest of the wild apples, and the prettiest of the wildflowers he made into garlands for her hair. He caught young birds and taught them to whistle the tunes she liked, and young squirrels he caught and tamed and gave to her.

But Florimell feared both him and his wicked old mother. When her palfrey had rested, and grazed on the grass in the glen until it was quite strong once more, at daybreak one morning she put its golden trappings on again and rode away. She shivered at each shadow, and trembled at each sound, because she was so afraid that the witch or her son would follow her.

But these two wicked people slept until it was broad daylight and Florimell was far away. When they awoke and found her gone, they were furiously angry, and the witch’s son was so frantic that he scratched his own face and bit himself, and tore at his rough long hair.

‘I shall bring her back, or else kill her!’ said the witch.

Then she went to a dark cave, and called out of it a horrible beast like a hyena. Its back was speckled with a thousand colours, and it could run faster than any other beast.

‘Fetch Florimell back to me!’ said the witch, ‘or else tear her in pieces!’

Off the beast rushed, and before long it saw Florimell on her white horse riding through the trees.

There was no need to make the palfrey gallop when it saw the hideous beast with long, soft strides coming swiftly after it. The white palfrey went as fast as a race-horse, but the beast went as fast as the wind. As they came out of the forest, the beast’s hot breath was close behind Florimell. And by that time her horse was so tired that its pace slackened. They had come to where there were no more trees, and in front of them lay yellow sand, and a long, long stretch of blue-green sea. When Florimell saw the sea, she leaped from her tired horse and ran and ran.

‘I had rather be drowned,’ she thought, ‘than be killed by that loathsome monster.’

Now, an old fisherman had been drying his nets on the sand, and while they dried he slept in the bottom of his little boat, that lay heaving gently up and down in the shallows.

When Florimell saw this boat, she ran towards it and jumped in, and, with an oar, pushed it off into deeper water. The beast got to the water’s edge just too late, for it was afraid of the sea and dared not follow her. In a rage it fell upon the white palfrey and tore it in pieces, and was eating it when a good knight who knew Florimell passed that way. He knew that the white horse was Florimell’s, so he attacked the beast, and cut it and struck it so furiously with his sword that all its strength was beaten out of it and he could easily have killed it. But the knight thought that he would rather catch the strange beast and lead it home with him.

Lying on the sand near the dead white palfrey, he saw a golden girdle that sparkled with jewels, and that he had seen worn by Florimell. With this girdle he bound the beast, and led it after him like a dog. As he led it, he met a wicked giantess, and while he fought with her the beast escaped and ran away back to the witch’s hut.

When the witch saw Florimell’s jewelled girdle she was glad, for she thought that the beast must have killed Florimell. She ran with it to her son, but the sight of it, without Florimell, made him so angry that he tried to kill both the beast and his mother. The witch was so frightened that she set all her magic to work, to try to comfort her son. With snow and mercury and wax she made an image as like Florimell as she could. Its cheeks were rosy, like Florimell’s, and she took two little burning lamps and put them in silver sockets, so that they looked just like Florimell’s bright eyes. Her hair she made of the very finest golden wire. She dressed the image in some clothes that Florimell, in her flight, had left behind her, and round its waist she fastened Florimell’s jewelled girdle. Then she put a wicked fairy inside the image, and told him to do his very best to act and to talk and to walk like Florimell. This image she then led to her son, and he thought it was the real Florimell come back, and was delighted. The false Florimell was not afraid of him as the real Florimell had been, and would walk in the woods with him, and listen, quite pleased, to all that he had to say.

But as they were in the forest one day, a bad knight saw them, and thought the false Florimell so beautiful that he seized her and rode away with her, and left the witch’s son more sad and angry than ever.

When the real Florimell had escaped from the beast, the little boat that she pushed off from the shore went gaily sailing onward and onward with the tide. They were far out at sea when the old fisherman awoke. He got a great fright when he found himself far from the shore, and with a lovely lady beside him. But he was a very bad old man, and when he saw Florimell’s fine jewels and beautiful clothes he thought he would rob her. He knocked her down into the bottom of his boat amongst the fishes’ scales, and might have killed her, had not Florimell screamed and screamed for help. There was no ship near, and the waves and the sea-birds could not help her.

But it chanced that the shepherd of all the flocks in the sea was driving his chariot that way. He was an old man with long white hair and beard. Sometimes on a stormy day one may see him far out at sea, as he drives his flocks that look from far away like snowy froth and foam.

When the shepherd saw the wicked fisherman struggling with Florimell, he beat the old robber so hard with his staff that there soon was very little life left in him. Then he lifted Florimell, all tearful and trembling, into his chariot. When she could only cry, he gently kissed her. But his lips were frosty cold, and icicles from his long white beard dropped on to her breast and made her shiver.

He took her to his home in a hollow rock at the bottom of the sea, and he asked her to be his wife.

‘I cannot marry you,’ said Florimell. ‘I do not love you. My only love is Marinell.’

Then the cunning old shepherd by magic made himself look like a fairy knight, and thought that Florimell would love him.

‘I do not love you. I love Marinell,’ still was Florimell’s answer.

He then tried to frighten Florimell and make her marry him, whether she would or not. He turned himself into dreadful shapes—giants, and all sorts of animals and monsters. He went inside the waves, and made terrifying storms rage. But nothing that he might do would make Florimell consent to marry him.

At last he imprisoned her in a dark cavern.

‘She will soon tire of that, and then she will marry me,’ said he to himself.

But Florimell said the more, ‘I love only Marinell. I am glad to suffer, because I suffer for Marinell’s dear sake.’

She might have died there, and been buried under the sea-flowers of scarlet and green, and had the gay little fishes dart over her grave, and none might ever have known.

But, by happy chance, Marinell came that way. He heard her voice coming out of her prison far beneath the sea, like the echo of a sad song, and suddenly he knew that he loved her.

The sea-nymph, his mother, told Neptune, King of the Seas, that his shepherd had imprisoned a beautiful maiden in his darkest cave, and begged him to set Florimell free, that she might become Marinell’s wife.

So Florimell was set free at last, and all her troubles were ended.

Marinell took her away from the kingdom under the sea back to Fairyland, and they were married in a castle by the golden strand. Every beautiful lady and every brave knight in Fairyland was there. They had tournaments every day, and each knight fought for the lady he thought the most beautiful and loved the best.

Marinell was victor in every fight but one, and in this he was beaten by another brave knight. This knight had on his shield a device of a blazing sun on a golden field.

When he had fought and won the prize, this shield was stolen from him by the wicked knight who had run away with the false Florimell. No one could see the faces of the knights, for their helmets covered them. So when the wicked knight came forward, carrying the blazing shield, and pretended that he had won the prize, Florimell, who was queen of the revels, handed him the victor’s garland, and praised him for having fought so well.

‘I did not fight for you!’ roughly answered the knight. ‘I would not fight for you! I fight for one more beautiful.’

Florimell blushed for shame, but before any one could answer him, the knight drew forward the false Florimell and threw back her veil.

And even Marinell could not tell that she was not his own beautiful bride that he loved so dearly, so exactly like the real Florimell had the witch made the image.

Just then the knight whose shield had been stolen pushed through the crowd.

‘You false coward with your borrowed plumes!’ he cried. ‘Where is the sword you pretend that you fought with? Where are your wounds?’

With that he showed his own bloody sword, and his own bleeding wounds, and every one knew that the wicked knight had lied when he said that it was he who had won the fight.

‘This is not the real Florimell!’ said the brave knight of the blazing shield, pointing at the image. ‘It is a wicked fairy, who is a fit mate for this base coward. Bring forward Florimell the bride, and let us see them side by side!’

So Florimell, blushing till her face looked like a nosegay of roses and lilies, was led forward, and stood beside the image of herself. But no sooner did she come near the image, than the image melted away, and vanished altogether. Nothing of it was left but the girdle of gold and jewels that Florimell had lost on the day she escaped from the witch’s hut. And this the brave knight picked up, and clasped round Florimell’s waist. The wicked knight had his armour taken from him, and was beaten until he ran howling away.

And Florimell, the fairest lady in all Fairyland, lived happily ever after with her gallant husband, Marinell, the Lord of the Golden Strand.