HEN SAID THE King, "Horn, follow your own counsel"; then he sent for his knights, and many of them followed Horn, so that he had a thousand or more at his command. The wind favoured their course, and in a few hours the ships cast anchor on the shore of Westland. Horn left his forces in a wood while he went on to learn what was doing. Well did he know the way, and lightly did he leap over the stones. As he went he met a pilgrim, and asked him the latest news, who answered, "I come from a wedding feast--but the bride's true love is far away, and she only weeps. I could not stay to see her grief."
"May God help me!" said Horn: "but this is sorrowful news. Let us change garments, good pilgrim. I must go to the feast, and once there I vow. I will give them something by which to remember Horn!" He blackened his eyebrows, and took the pilgrim's hat and staff, and when he reached the gate of the palace, the porter was for turning him back, but Horn took him up and flung him over the bridge, and then went on to the hall where the feast was being held. He sat down among the lowest, on the beggar's bench, and glowered round from under his blackened eyebrows. At a distance he saw Riminild sitting like one in a dream; then she rose to pour out mead and wine for the knights and squires, and Horn cried out, "Fair Queen, if ye would have God's blessing, let the beggar's turn come next."
She set down the flagon of wine, and poured him out brown beer in a jug, saying: "There, drink that off at a draught, thou boldest of beggar men!" But he gave it to the beggars, his companions, saying "I am not come to drink jugs of beer, but goblets of wine. Fair Queen," he cried, "thou deemest me a beggar, but I am rather a fisherman, come to haul in my net, which I left seven years ago hanging from a fair hand here in Westland." Then was Riminild much troubled within herself, and she looked hard at Horn. She reached him the goblet and said, "Drink wine then, fisherman, and tell me who thou art."
He drank from the goblet, and then dropped into it the gold ring, and said, "Look, O Queen, at what thou findest in the goblet, and ask no more who I am." The Queen withdrew into her bower with her four maidens, and when she saw the gold ring that she had given to Horn, she was sore distressed, and cried out, "Childe Horn must be dead, for this is his ring."
She then sent one of her waiting-maids to command the stranger to her presence, and Horn, all unrecognised, appeared before her. "Tell me, honest pilgrim, where thou gottest this ring?" she asked him.
"I took it," said he, "from the finger of a man whom I found lying sick unto death in a wood. Loudly he was bewailing himself and the lady of his heart, one Riminild, who should at this time have wedded him." As he spoke he drew his cap down over his eyes, which were full of tears.
Then Riminild cried, "Break, heart, in my bosom! Horn is no more--he who hath already caused thee so many tender pangs." She threw herself on her couch and called for a knife, to kill the bridegroom and herself.
Her maidens shrieked with fear, but Horn flung his arms around her and pressed her to his heart. Then he cast away hat and staff, and wiped the brown stain from his face, and stood up before his love in his own fair countenance, asking, "Dear love, Riminild, know thou me not now? Away with your grief and kiss me--I am Horn!--Horn, your true lover and born slave."
She gazed into his eyes. At first she could not believe that it was he, but at last she could doubt no longer; she fell upon his neck, and in the sweet greetings that followed were two sick hearts made whole.
"Horn, you miscreant! how could you play me such a trick?"
"Have patience, sweet love, maid Riminild, and I will tell you all. Now let me go and finish my work, and when it is done I will come and rest at your side."
So he left her, and went back to the forest, and Riminild sent for Athulf, who met her with a doleful countenance. "Athulf!" she cried, "rejoice with me! Horn has come--I tell you Horn is here!"
"Alas!" said Athulf, "that cannot be. Who hath brought thee such an idle tale? Day and night have I stood here watching for him, but he came not, and much I fear me the noble Horn is dead."
"I tell you he is living," she said--"aye, and more alive than ever. Go to the forest and find him--he is there with all his faithful followers."
Athulf made haste to the forest, still unbelieving, but soon his heart bounded for joy, for there rode Horn in his shining armour at the head of his troops. Athulf rode to his side, and they returned together to the city, where Riminild was watching them from her turret. And Horn pointed to her and cried to his company, "Knights, yonder is my bride--help me to win her!"
Then was there a fierce storming of the gate--the shock of it shook Riminild's tower--and Horn and his heroes burst, all unheralded, into the King's hall. Fierce and furious was the bridal dance that followed; the tumult of it rose up to Riminild, and she prayed, "God preserve my lover in this wild confusion!"
Right merrily danced her dancer, and all unscathed he flashed through the hall, thanks to his true love and God's care. King Aylmer and the bridegroom confronted him and the younger, the bridegroom King, asked him what he sought there. "I seek my bride," said he, "and if you do not give her up to me I will have your life."
"Better thou should have the bride than that," said the other; "though I would sooner be torn in pieces than give thee either." And he defended himself bravely, but it availed him naught. Horn struck off his head from his shoulders, so that it bounded across the hall. Then cried Horn to the other guests, "The dance is over!" after which he proclaimed a truce, and, throwing himself down on a couch, spake thus to King Aylmer: "I was born in Southland, of a royal race. The pagan Vikings slew King Altof, my father, and put me out to sea with my twelve companions. You did train me for the order of knighthood, and I have dishonoured it by no unworthy deeds, though you did drive me from your kingdom, thinking I meant to disgrace you through your daughter. But that which you credited me with I never contemplated. Accept me then, O King, for your son-in-law. Yet will I not claim my bride till I have won back my kingdom of Southland. That will I accomplish quickly, with the help of my brave knights and such others as I pray you to lend me, leaving in pledge therefor the fairest jewel in my crown, until King Horn shall be able to place Queen Riminild beside him on his father's throne."
As he spoke Riminild entered, and Horn took her hand and led her to her father, and the young couple stood before the old King--a right royal pair. Then King Aylmer spoke jestingly, "Truly I once did chide a young knight in my wrath, but never King Horn, whom I now behold for the first time. Never would I have spoken roughly to King Horn, much less forbidden him to woo a Princess."
Then all the knights and lords came offering their good wishes to the happy pair; and the old house-steward, Athelbrus, would have bent the knee to his former pupil, but Horn took the old man in his arms and embraced him, thanking him for all the pains he had taken with his breeding.
Horn's twelve companions came also, and did him homage as their sovereign, and he rejoiced to see them all, but especially Athulf the brave and true. "Athulf," he told him, "thou hast helped me to win my bride here, now come with me to Southland and help me to make a home for her. And you, too, shall win a lady--I have already chosen her; her name is Swanhild, and she will look fair even beside Riminild." Then did Athulf rejoice, but Figold, the traitor, was ready to sink into the ground with shame and envy.
Then Horn returned to his ship, taking Athulf with him, but Figold he left behind. Truly it is ill knowing what to do with a traitor, whether you take him to the field or leave him at home.