THE ADVENTURES OF KING HORN
Retold by F. J. H. Darton
Murray was King of Suddenne in the west country, a wise king whom all
his subjects honoured. Godhild was his queen, and no woman of that day
was lovelier than she. Their son was named Horn; and when Horn was
fifteen years old, the sun shone and the rain fell on no fairer boy.
Twelve squires, each one the son of a man of noble birth, were chosen
to be Horn's companions. Athulf was the best and truest of them, and
dearest to Horn's heart; and one Fikenhild was the basest among them.
It pleased King Murry, on a certain summer's day, to ride, as was his
wont, by the seashore, with only two comrades. Suddenly, as they rode,
they came upon a strange sight. There before them on the edge of the
waves lay fifteen ships beached, full of fierce Saracens; and many
other Saracens went busily to and fro upon the shore. "What seek you
here, pagan men?" cried Murry at that sight. "What wares do you bring
to this my land of Suddenne?" For he thought them to be merchants from
a far land,
"We are come to slay all your folk who believe in Christ," answered
one of them; "and that we do right soon. As for you, you go not hence
alive. "Thereat Murry was sorely troubled in heart. Nevertheless, he
made no sign of fear. He and his two companions, with bold mien, leapt
down from their horses, to fight more readily, and drew their swords,
and fell upon the pagans. Many a stout blow they dealt; many a Saracen
felt the strength of their arms: but for all their might and valour,
they were but three against a host. From every side the enemy fell
upon them unceasingly, and in a little time they lay there dead upon
the sand. Then the Saracens left their ships and spread over the whole
of Suddenne, slaying and burning and laying waste wheresoever they
came. None might live, were he stranger or friend or native of the
land, unless he forswore the Christian faith and became a pagan.
Of all women in those days Godhild the queen was saddest. Her kingdom
was lost, her husband cruelly slain, and all her days were filled with
grief. But worse befell her, for on a certain day the Saracens came
suddenly and took Horn prisoner and carried him away. Godhild escaped,
and in her dire distress fled alone to a distant cave, and there lay
hid, worshipping her God in secret, and praying that He would save her
son from harm.
Horn and his companions—for all his twelve squires had been captured
with him—seemed in sorry case. The savage pagans were for killing all
Christians. But their chief Emir wished to have no innocent blood on
his hands, and spoke out boldly. "We might well slay you, Horn," he
said; "you are young and fair and strong, and will grow yet
stronger. Perchance, if we spare you now, you will some day return and
be avenged upon us, when you have come to your full power. Yet we
ourselves will not put you to death; the guilt shall not be on us, but
on the sea. To the sea will we give you and your comrades; the sea
shall be your judge, to save or drown you as it will."
Weeping and wringing their hands, Horn and his comrades were led down
to the seashore. There a boat was made ready for them, with oars, but
no rudder or sail.
All their tears were vain: the Saracens forced them aboard, and turned
the little craft adrift into the wide ocean.
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.