Once there was a castle on the banks of the river Scheldt, where Antwerp stands today. The castle was not full of light and joy for all within its walls, for a princess named Elsje was kept a prisoner there.
Her father and mother had died when she was a little child and left her in the care of a count who was to be her guardian. This man hoped to get her lands and estate, so he shut her up as a prisoner in the castle. If any knight should fight and overcome him, the princess would be freed, but the wicked count was very strong and skilled in war, so no one had ever tried to meet him in battle.
The princess was lovely and also kind to bird. She was especially fond of seven swans and fed them every day. Each one was tame enough to take its food out of her hand. The princess was very lonely, however, for she had no human companions. She never thought that the swans could repay her kindness, but the seven swans were birds only in form. They had been changed from pretty maidens into swans by a wicked fairy, and here is how it came about:
Once, while the good king of Gelderland had gone out hunting in the forest with his lords and retainers. Once during the hunt he rode off ahead of them, pursuing a deer. He got so far from his companions that he lost his way. When he came near a hut in the woods, he wanted to ask how he might get back to his palace. He met an old woman there. She promised to show him the way out and back home. At once the king pulled out his purse to hand her a gold coin, but the old woman waved her hand to show she did not want the money, saying: "You have to marry my daughter and make her your queen for the help I can give. If you do not, you can never get home again."
The king hesitated, for he had seven daughters at home. On her dying bed the queen had made him promise her that the children should always be first in his thoughts. If he should marry again, would his new wife be good to them? He would much rather that they should first see their future mother and love her too, before he married anew.
But now he was very weary and hungry, and feared wandering alone in the forest. The old woman said to him quite sharply:
"If you refuse, you will never get out of these woods. Come into my hut and have a meal."
The king went inside. A beautiful maiden was sitting there, but he did not like her looks. The king shuddered out of fear that she might be some evil creature in a human shape.
She rose from her seat and came forward to greet him as if she had been waiting for him. A table was spread with plenty of good things to eat. After the meal he kept his promise to the old woman; he took the beautiful girl on his steed and rode straight to his castle. The horse seemed to know the right way all of a sudden.
That evening the wedding took place with great pomp. All remarked on her beauty, but the king still feared that his new wife was wicked and cruel. Therefore he took his seven children off into a castle that was deep in the forests and not easily found. Even he himself had trouble in getting to it, until a wise old woman gave him a ball of yarn. If one threw this ball on the ground, it would unroll of itself along the fit paths to where he wanted it to roll. The king could now visit the forest palace and his seven daughters there and play with them.
The new wife noticed he often went away and became jealous and scolding, and at last she found out from the palace servants that he had a ball that he used to follow into the woods, and where he kept the ball.
Then his second queen made seven little coats and in each one she sewed an evil charm that her wicked old mother had taught her. She found an opportunity to use the ball too and came to the castle in the forest. There she pretended to be glad to see the children, and told them that she had brought each one a present. The little daughteres were delighted. They put on their new coats, and then gleefully danced together, joining hands as in a chorus. But in a few minutes a strange feeling came over them. Wings grew where their arms had been, their necks lengthened, while their legs shortened and their toes became weblike. They were into swans and flew out of the window and out of sight.
The seven swans enjoyed life in the air and soon joined the great flock that belonged to the king of the neighbouring country of Brabant, where the princess Elsje was kept in the castle on the Scheldt River. The royal swanherd had a thousand or more birds under his care, but noticed the seven pretty birds among his other swans, and wondered where they had come from.
The seven swan maidens soon got acquainted with all the other swans, and learned about the captive princess in the castle. When she every day called them to be fed, they sometimes found her in tears, wishing to fly away from her prison - a castle with gardens and a swan lake, but still a place where she pined away. This made them long to help her. However, the oldest of the other swans only scorned the idea.
The seven swan sisters were different from the other birds. And once a week they used to fly back to Gelderland where they came from, to their old forest home and playground, to have a look at their father, who came there on set days. He never dreamed that the swans were his children.
While the seven daughters were alone there, the enchantment failed for a quarter of an hour. During these few minutes they played together in the woods as girls, just as they had used to before they had been changed into swans.
They also found the way to the royal palace gardens. There they circled around their father'shead and tried to show their feelings. The king noticed this, and gave strict orders that no one should shoot an arrow, throw a net, or lay a trap for these birds.
The wicked queen knew all about these swans, but she never told her husband. She let him mourn for his children year after year.
Now while the swan sisters were thinking of rescuing the princess Elsje, a good fairy who lived on the Lek River, knew how to destroy the evil stepmother's enchantments. She fastened on the neck of the oldest of the seven swans a message to the princess that the seven swans had been enchanted by an evil queen, and how to to break the charm and bring them back to human form. how to break the charm. The princess was to make seven little coats of swan feathers, and while she did it, she was not to speak a word to any soul, for seven months. At the end of that time, she was to put a coat on each of the swan sisters. Then they would at once become maidens again.
Now in Gelderland there lived a handsome young knight, who wore a suit of armor of silver steel and had a plume of snow white feathers in his helmet. He was as brave as a lion and loved to rescue poor people from robbers and to help all who were in trouble.
One day, while out hunting, he by chance reached the castle in the woods, where the king had kept his children and to which the seven swans flew every week. He drew his bow and was just about to shoot, when the birds dropped their feather suits and seven pretty maidens stood before him.
"Oh, good sir, hurt us not," they cried, "we are human, only for a quarter of an hour; but, oh, do come and follow us. We'll guide you to a princess in distress and you can save her."
The knight was delighted to hear these words, for the task the swan maidens proposed was just what he longed to attempt. They had hardly told their story, before they had to resume their swan forms. It was agreed that Fuzzy and Black Eye, the whitest and the strongest of the seven swans, should be the pilots of the knight to the well-guarded castle, where the princess was a captive. The five swans flew back to the flock, but the absence of the other two was not noticed by the king's swanherd.
So, guided by his brace of snowy white and feathered pilots, who kept in the air above him, the knight made his way through the forests and across the country, until he came to the Scheldt River. There were no boats, the current was rapid and the river wide. How should he get across?
"Oh, how shall we help our knight down such a flood as this?" said Fuzzy to Black Eye.
While the silver knight was wondering, the good fairy who had sent the message to the princess, stepped out from among the river weeds. She had a star crown on her head and a wand of gold in her hand. She spoke thus to the knight:
"Take that dead tree trunk, which lies on the ground, all wreathed with vines, and launch it into the river, for my power extends only over the water. Because of your knightly record as a brave hero, I shall have these swans guide you to the castle. Once on shore, you must fight your own battle. Promise to rescue the princess."
The knight took oath, on the hilt of his sword, that he would. Then the fairy touched the dead tree and it became a pretty boat, shaped like a shell. She bade the two swans take their places in front. Then touching the wild vines, growing on the log, and throwing them over their long curved snow-white necks, lo! they became silver harness, to draw the boat, and silver bridles, which the rider standing in the boat, held, as the birds darted swiftly forward.
He waved his thanks and farewell in gratitude to the fairy.
"Good speed and sure success to you," cried the fairy." "You will find the princess doing my work."
It was to be a battle of enchantments, for the good fairy was trying to undo the spell, which the wicked stepmother, the king's wife, had cast over the swan maidens. Yet she could do nothing on land without the aid of a brave knight. She had been a long time waiting for such a hero. Now he had come.
To make effective the charm of restoring swan maidens to human forms, while she was making the feather coats, it was absolutely necessary for the Princess Elsje to do two hard things; one was, not to speak a word till the coats were finished, and the swans transformed; the second was not to ask the knight who he was or where he came from. Even when he was her husband, she must be silent on this matter. She had to promise this, or the good fairy would do nothing.
Into the swan boat, the young knight in his shining silver-steel armor, bravely stepped. Then with their four web feet beating tirelessly under the river waves, that curled against their breasts, the two strong birds drew the shell boat until they were near the castle in Brabant.
It was a day of tournament, and hundreds of lords and ladies were gathered together to see the knights on horseback rush at each other in the game of friendly rivalry, as rough as war, in which sometimes men were killed. The herald sounded the trumpet to call forth a champion for the imprisoned maiden. Whosoever should vanquish the cruel count should have the lady's strong castle and her rich estate. Glorious in her beauty, Princess Elsje sat in the place of honour, crowned with flowers, as she had sat again and again before, but never a word had she spoken to a soul.
The echoes of the first trumpet blast died away. No one came.
The second summons sounded. None answered.
The third blast had not ended, before the knight in the silver steel armor stepped forward. He asked the maiden if she would accept him as her husband, if he overcame the count. She spoke not a word, but nodded her head, beaming with a joy that inspired him to valour.
The Silver Knight threw down his glove as a challenge.
Again the trumpet pealed and the two champions rushed at each other. All expected that the count, being so heavy and strong would win, but the battle was soon decided, for the Silver Knight was victorious. The count, senseless, and with a broken head, was borne off the field.
Now the knight had been told not to expect his bride to speak to him until after the marriage, but to be content with a nod of her head and the language of her eyes. Yet those eyes spoke to him their message, and he was full of joy.
Even when he asked her whether she would marry him, without ever now, or hereafter, asking who he was, or whence he came, her answer was with a nod of the head, and a low bow, with one of her hands on her heart and the other raised to heaven. This was enough. He was satisfied.
The wedding was celebrated with great pomp and joy. For many weeks afterwards, the silent princess kept busy with her needle, making little coats of swan feathers, but of this her husband seemed to approve and gladly he praised his bride's industry.
Now on the day when the seven swans from Gelderland were accustomed to fly back to their old home, the forest castle, and before they had risen from the water to stretch their wings, the princess called them, and each by name before her. Then, in the presence of her knight, she threw the coats over them. Instantly feathers, wings, arched necks and webbed feet disappeared, and seven lovely maidens stood before them. Now, since their father had died, they all asked to stay in Brabant and serve the princess at her court. This offer she gladly accepted.
But the princess had no sooner regained the use of her voice than she seemed consumed with a curiosity she had not felt before. In the new joy of having fulfilled one promise, made to the river fairy in behalf of the swan sisters, she forgot that made to the knight, her husband. Her eagerness to know who and whence he was increased, until one day she burst out, with the questions. The knight reminded her of her vow which, with solemn gesture, she had made to him, before he risked his life for her. When she urged that his love for her could not be deep or real, if he kept a secret from her, he made answer:
"It is not I that love less, or have broken faith. It is you." Then, rushing out of the palace, he leaped upon his horse and disappeared in the forest, riding back to Gelderland, and the princess though no longer a captive, but free and rich, was sorrowful and lonely.
The story-teller has travelled many times in the land of the Belgians. There he saw hotels named "The Seven Churches," in one of which he slept. He asked how it was, that a hotel should be named after churches, and why there should be seven of them?
This was the answer, and here is the story.
After the holy Saint Patrick had left Ireland free from snakes, it was a pleasanter country to dwell in, and people were kinder to each other than ever before. There were still, however, many rough fellows still in the island, and fights between the clans were common.
Yet such was the beauty of the colleens, or young maidens, that oftentimes these warlike chiefs fell in love with the daughters of men who were their enemies. Then there was trouble in the families, for the Irish are very proud of their blood and ancestors. In those days, every tribe was jealous of the other. It was the rule, that all maidens must marry only the men, of whom their fathers approved. This was for fear they might get a spalpeen in the family.
Now there was a lovely daughter of a famous chief, who lived in a castle, with plenty of green vines growing on the walls. Her name was Eileen, and her favourite plant was the shamrock. For Saint Patrick had taught that its three parts, growing on one stem, made a true symbol of the triune Deity, whom all good people ought to worship. The life was one, the leaves were three. Eileen was a Christian maid, and the shamrock was like the voice of a friend, that spoke to her every day, saying "be faithful and pure."
Hearing of the fame and beauty of this loveliest maid in Erin, a handsome and noble chief, ,in a neighboring county, sought her hand in marriage. How proud and happy he would feel, if she, as his wife, should grace his castle! Besides, an alliance, with her powerful father, would greatly add to the glory of his own name and prowess.
So, according to the ancient custom of the country, he told the wish of his heart to her father, before asking the maiden herself.
Her parents were pleased to have the chief thus propose the match, for they had already thought to marry their daughter to him, for he was also a brave warrior.
But there was one drawback. The ardent lover and would-be husband was a pagan, still under the spell of bad fairies, and the wrong kind of people, who told him not to believe in the true God. The men in whom he trusted, and whose advice he followed, would not go to church, or keep the Sabbath day. The good rulers of the church had passed a law, which they named "the truce of God"; that, at certain seasons of the year, during three days, there should be no fighting. But this pagan chief cared nothing for this law, and was very cruel in many ways. Nearly all the good people in Ireland called him a spalpeen.
Nevertheless, this chief was so rich and powerful, that Eileen's parents insisted upon her marrying him. They hoped, too, that she, with her gentle ways, would change the brutish fellow's disposition.
But Eileen thought that this would be like trying to tame a tiger, or a lion; for bad passions raged in him as in the wild beasts. Tigers and lions look very grand, but they are not pleasant to live with.
Seeing that her father was determined to marry her off to this cruel man, and had even named the day of the marriage, and that her mother was sewing upon her wedding dress. Eileen resolved to leave home and escape to Belgic Land, across the sea.
But how could she get away, and out of the country? She knew no ship captains or sailors. Then, as everybody knows, the coast of Ireland was studded with high, round towers, from which the sentinels could see all who came and went.
One night, weary of thinking over her troubles, she fell asleep and dreamed. And this was her dream.
A great company of fairies flew over the sea, from Belgic Land, and greeted her with welcoming hands, smiles and curtsies. They all seemed to be standing on a sod, cut from the ground, like a large garden. She recognized some of the flowers, the marguerite daisy, with its round golden heart and white petals, like rays, or strips, around the centre; the lily, that grew along the river Lys, called the fleur-de-lys; the blue wax flower, and some Oriental plants, such as the tulip and orange blossom. Besides these, there were the hazel tree buds, the blossoms of the apple tree, and several other pretty things that grow in the lowlands of Flanders, or high up among the highlands of the Ardennes. Some had come from the East, and some from the South, but together they gave Eileen the idea that Belgic Land would make for her a charming home, because she loved flowers so dearly. They were to her, as the very thoughts of God.
In her dream also, she seemed to be out of doors, and on a high hill, overlooking the beautiful lakes of Killarney, when the faiiy band, on the cloud-like garden, settled on the ground near her. The queen, or leader of the fairies, with a radiant star on her forehead, and a silvery wand in her right hand, stepped off the green sward and, dropping a curtsey, said:
"We have heard of your troubles, pretty maid, and have come to invite you to our country. You can travel on this magic sod, which will float on the water; and, in the fair weather of this coming day, you can reach our soil. Now, you must come with us."
"Oh, thank you," said Eiileen, "but I cannot leave my shamrocks, and my chickens."
"No, nor need you. Take them along with you. We'll promise that you can keep them with you; or, we'll change them into whatever form of life you may desire."
Eileen quickly ran to the hen house, in her father's croft, and gathered up her seven tiny chicks in her apron. This she held with one hand, while with the other, she grasped two shamrock plants, for she could not leave either of her favourites behind. She had to hurry, because the fairies can work only at night, and they all disappear at sunrise.
Returning from her father's croft and barn, she stepped on the magic sod, and in a moment, was floating off and down towards the sea. By the time they had got well out upon the salt water, the eastern sky began to get, first gray, and then faintly red. Thereupon, the chief fairy spoke to her and said:
"We must disappear now, but we shall meet you in our Belgic land, and shall always help you. Don't for one moment, be afraid. The sod will float you, and tomorrow night, we shall be there, on the strand, to greet you. Command us, for we love you, and will do your will. We are sure you will be happy in our country, where you are needed. Good-bye." The chief fairy waved her wand, and at once the whole company disappeared.
Eileen looked around, over the floating garden, but every one of the fairies had vanished. There was nothing to be seen, but the flowers, the grass, and the little chicks, that were running about, as if they thought it great fun. Indeed, they were having the time of their lives; for, being so small, they thought the whole world was bounded by that sod.
Meanwhile, soft breezes were blowing, and the sun shone out, keeping her warm. She needed this, for she had come away with only the thin clothes, which she wore in the house.
Towards evening, she began to feel lonely, and cried for her mother. For the first time in her life, she was afraid. The little chicks had found some low branches of a bush; and, roosting there, comfortably had closed their eyes. They stuck their little heads under their tiny wings, and were soon fast asleep. Eileen envied them, for she was in terror, as the awful sense of loneliness, and of being so far away from home, and father and mother, came upon her. She kept wondering what they might be thinking about her. Would the fairies keep their promise? Or, would they forget? Might not the wind arise, and in the storm, would she not be drowned?
One by one, the bright planets came out, and the stars followed. Yet the larger lights seemed only to blink, and say, "what a foolish girl, to leave her home and go afar!"
Then Eileen looked at her shamrock and thought of what good Saint Patrick had taught her ancestors. After that, a sense of peace folded her like a garment. Surely, God was near.
Looking up, in the dark night, toward the south and the west, where the last faint glow of light seemed to linger, she felt happier. Next, she saw lights moving on the distant shore. She rubbed her eyes. The sparkles and gleams seemed to be gaining in brightness. Yes, it was really so< The fairies were all there and waltzing about, until, as she came nearer, they looked like a shower of tiny stars, or a swarm of fireflies.
Pretty soon, the big sod slipped up against the shore, with a little bump. In a moment more, it seemed to be a part of the country itself, and the little chicks hopped ashore. Then the fairies led Eileen into a very pretty building, which looked something like a palace, but more like a church. There, a feast was spread, and she sat down to eat heartily, and drink plentifully, while the fairies waited upon her.
Then they led her into a nicely furnished sleeping chamber. Upon a silken couch, with fine dresses near at hand, she was soon fast asleep. The fairies brought up the shamrock plants and placed them on a table of Flemish oak, very dark and fine. The little chicks were kept in a coop, with plenty of food and water, and sticks to perch on.
In the morning, she cast her eyes, upon the home-plant, that told her of her Heavenly Father's love. Then, after praying for her father and mother, she looked out upon a lovely landscape, rich in flowers; for she was now in Flanders, where the poppies and daisies grow.
Yet when she looked inquiringly for church spires, or round towers, or grand castles, they were not there. The people, going to work, or ploughing in the soft fields, seemed poor folks. Indeed, no men or women that she saw, had any gold on their persons. This, indeed, was the Belgic Land of long, long ago.
Eileen soon found that the inhabitants needed to be told of the good news of God, which the blessed Saint Patrick had taught the Irish. While she had enough to eat and drink, and plenty of pretty clothes to wear, she thought of the many people, who were not only poor, but who did not know of the Father in heaven. Why should she dwell in a rich castle, and dress in costly garments, when others were not only without these, but were also very ignorant.
So Eileen travelled through the country, and told the Belgian people the same good news from Heaven, which Saint Patrick had brought to her Irish ancestors. Wherever she went, she took one of her shamrocks with her, and taught the same lesson.
One of her plants, which she put into the ground, became the parent of others, in many varieties, so that the fields of Flanders were green, where once was only sterile sand. Cows and sheep found food, where, of old, was nothing but waste land. In time, the city of Ghent became a floral capital, with as wonderful a market for bulbs and blossoms, as Haarlem was for tulips and hyacinths, in Holland. These were rich in all the colors, with which the Father in Heaven had tinted the blooms of the field, and the opening buds of the fruit trees.
The most astonishing change took place, wherever Eileen stayed long enough to gather a congregation of people. She patiently taught them the lesson, of which the shamrock was the symbol; and, in each of seven places, she left one of her chickens. Somehow, from the love that was left behind, by this good woman, and around each living creature, there grew up a church, and every one of these churches was given a name after the Irish princess, Saint Eileen, though often pronounced differently in Flemish. To this day, the people in seven cities of Belgium, cherish the memory of the sweet lady, who spent her life in blessing their fathers.
Yet the dream story and the fairy tale are scarce more wonderful than the historic reality of ancient Christian Ireland's gifts to Belgium. The story-teller adds, for the benefit of older folk, that the dream story and the fairy tale are scarcely more wonderful than the historic reality of ancient Erin's missionary gifts to Belgic Land.
Ever so many centuries ago, when all Belgium was part of the great forests, that covered nearly all of northern Europe, there was a chief of a powerful tribe, who was named Halwyn; or, as we shall call him, WineCrust, or Crusty Wine. He was famous for loving three things, wine, women and song. Being a magician, he had great power over young maidens, many of whom thought they would like to marry him.
This Halwyn got his name from a curious custom which he had. He was very fond of anything sweet, whether it were honey or the sugary crust, left, by old or sweet wine, on the sides of barrels and the wooden vessels, in which the wine had stood for a long time. He chipped or broke it off, and ate it as if it were candy. So people called him Sir Halwyn, or Wine-Crust.
Now the curious thing about Sir Halwyn and his castle, was, that it was supposed that he had been married more than once. Yet no one ever saw his wife with him, or met any one of the wives he had had; for no other chief or nobleman was ever admitted into his castle. It was because he had such a fine voice, and could sing so well, that he was invited into other castles. Yet he never made any return of the courtesies which he had received. It was rumored about, in Flanders, that he had married in distant places and brought his brides, one after another, to his own castle; yet, no one in Flanders or the Ardennes ever saw or heard of them afterwards.
So, in time, in spite of his good singing, Halwyn's reputation was so bad, that no king or noble would allow his daughter, when out hunting, to go anywhere near the stronghold of Sir Halwyn. Moreover, it was suspected that he was a magician, and used his magic craft very cruelly.
In those forest days, girls were trained to riding, wrestling, and the use of the sword, spear and shield. The women often went to war with their husbands and brothers, and fought the enemy, both in the tribal fights and those against the Romans.
Now there was a beautiful maiden, named Quirina, one of several daughters of the king of Arlon, and she was his favourite and best beloved child. Her father, mother, brother, and her only sister, who was never jealous of her, vied with each other in making her presents of ornaments, and clothes, and pretty things, that would please her; and all this, she repaid with sweet and tender affection.
Quirina was unusually well skilled in horsemanship, and the use of the sword and spear. She had brown eyes and hair of the same color, but much darker, and was tall and slender but very strong.
Though bold in hunting, she was very fond also of pretty clothes, and when she dressed herself in her best, there was no woman, young or old, in the castle hall, even on great occasions, that looked finer than she. In fact, it was well known, through all Belgic Land, that no maiden possessed a richer wardrobe than Quirina. Many times Sir Halwyn had tried to win her; and, by openly making love to her, and by offering her father a title and home for his daughter, he hoped to succeed. Or, he strove to lure her away, by telling of his great castle and domain; but had never succeeded. Yet, as much as ever, he seemed determined to persevere and win her.
Quirina, on the other hand, openly declined; for she was secretly determined not to be his wife. By this time, also, her father, mother, brother and sister, had heard the evil reports about Sir Halwyn, and that none of his wives had ever been heard from, after once entering his castle. They steadfastly warned their dear sister to beware of the fellow, as a dangerous person, and not even, in the ardor of her chase after deer, to get too near his domain.
One day, every one was surprised, when Quirina asked her father to give his consent for her to go to visit Sir Halwyn's castle. In the words of the old Flemish ballad, he answered.
"O neen! myn dochter neen gy niet; Die derwaert gaen en keeren niet."
In English, this is:
"O no, my daughter; no, not so, They ne'er return who thereward go."
Then Quirina asked her mother, but she replied to her daughter, exactly as her father had done.
Then she sought the advice of her older sister, whether she should go to Sir Halwyn's castle.
The answer made was the same.
Finally of her brother, she made the same request. His reply was different from that of the others; for he trusted that his sister's wit would extricate her from any difficulty.
"Go where thou wilt, all's one to me, But see thou keep'st thine honour free, Thy crown bear firm and uprightly."
After receiving these answers, though secretly encouraged, more by what her brother had purposely refrained from saying, than from what he had said, this is what the maiden Quirina did:
She went up into that part of her father's castle called the Virgin's Bower, which, in ancient days, was a room upstairs and off from the main hall, or "house." It was reached, by a stairway built on the outside. There, in her room, she dressed herself in her finest robes.
First she put on a chemise, which was soft as silk. Over this, was a skirt and bodice, richly trimmed with lace, made of threads of gold. Her crimson petticoat, showing behind that part of her dress which was open in front, was studded with golden stars. Around her neck, she clasped strings of pearls. Finally, on her head, she placed a coronet, rich in precious stones. In her resplendent attire, she stood forth as fair in face, and form, and as gorgeously arrayed, as any queen on earth.
Then hieing to her father's stable, she chose from the stalls a horse that was the finest and fleetest of them all. Leaping upon its back, she sat astride the steed, riding like a man. Clapping her ankles against its sides, she rode off in the direction of Halwyn's castle, singing aloud, until the woods re-echoed her gladness. She had scarcely reached the middle of the forest, when Sir Halwyn, having heard her song, came riding along.
He cantered up to her, swung off his big hat, which had a long feather in it and bowing low, twice cried out "gegroet," which is the Flemish for "Greeting" and "Welcome." He called her "Fair maid, with the clear brown eyes."
Quirina smilingly returned his salutation and seemed pleased to ride with him. Then their horses cantered on, while they chatted by the way. Sir Halwyn never seemed more charming in his manners, or more brilliant in his conversation. She let him choose where they should ride and the hours passed very pleasantly.
Suddenly they came to an opening in the forest. Quirina looked over to the left, and beheld a frightful picture, which revealed the true character of Sir Halwyn; for there, from the crossbeam of a long gallows frame, hung the bodies of no fewer than sixteen maidens, whom this brutish murderer had cruelly put to death.
The monster and magician Halwyn, for such he was, now appeared in his true character. With a scowl, he cried out:
"Most beautiful of all women, though you are, you are now to die; but, since you are so lovely, I shall allow you to choose the manner of your death. Yet decide quickly, for you have but a moment to live."
Quirina, perfectly cool, instead of piteously entreating the magician Halwyn to spare her life, thanked him for allowing her a choice between the gallows and beheading, and made re piy
"Well, if I must decide, let me die under your bright sword. But first, remove your velvet cloak and fine silk doublet; for a young girl's blood spurts out high in the air, and I should be sorry to have your fine clothes ruined by blood stains."
Making haste to throw aside his velvet cloak, and then to unlace his silk coat, rich in gold decoration, Halwyn, while busy at this task, suddenly found his head off.
The maiden had deftly drawn his sword from its sheath, and with one skilful sweep of the blade, cut his neck through.
The magician's head tumbled at her feet, but his tongue uttered these words, beseeching her:
"Take my hunting horn, and go into yonder grain field, and blow it; so that my servants and friends may know my fate."
"Not I," shouted the angry maiden. "I'll follow no murderer's counsel."
"Well, then, please go under the gallows frame yonder. There you will find a pot of salve. Bring it, and anoint my red neck with it."
"Never," cried the maiden. "I shall follow no murderer's counsel."
She propped up the headless corpse, as if Halwyn were still looking at the gallows, and enjoying the sight of the sixteen maidens' bodies hung there.
She took up the head, and repairing to the fountain, she washed it in the spring water, which was clear and cold, until all the blood was off it. Then, rolling it up under his cloak to conceal it, and again sitting astride her horse, she galloped away, singing a song of victory.
When half through the wood, she met Halwyn's father.
"Beautiful maiden," said he, "have you seen my son?"
"I have left him well placed. He sits in the green field, playing with sixteen of his girls."
Further on, Halwyn's brother came riding along.
"Fair one, have you chanced to meet my brother, today?"
"Oh, yes, sir. Your brother is a renowned lord. He told me the secrets of his art today, with sixteen maidens, well guarded, around him."
A few furlongs further, she met Halwyn's sister, who asked her the news, and whether she had seen anything of her brother.
"Oh, yes!" answered Quirina, "you must ride further on. Then you will see him with sixteen lovely girls around him. He is a hero, isn't he?"
Again, as she rode homeward, she met Halwyn's mother, who inquired about her son.
"Madam," answered Quirina, "your son is dead. I have his head in my lap and my apron, covering it, is stained red with his blood;" and she rushed past her.
The mother, in grief and rage, called after Quirina, angrily:
"Oh, if you had told me that first, you could never have ridden past me."
"Ha! you ugly woman, you are lucky that I let you off with your life, and did not lay you out stiff like your son."
Then she rode away furiously. Reaching her father's castle, she blew a blast on the horn, which no man could exceed. Her father, brother, mother, sister, and all the men of the garrison rushed together and warm was their greeting.
Not one of them knew, or suspected, what had happened; for everything else was forgotten in the joy of seeing and welcoming her back alive. In fact, she kept the surprise, which she had in store for them, to the hour of the banquet.
Then at night, when all were arrayed in their finest clothes, and each one stood in his proper place, at the long table, and the gleemen had sung a ballad or two, and it was time to sit down to partake of the viands:
Quirina walked into the hall, carrying a huge dish, on top of which, was a big napkin. All the company wondered what was under the cover. She set it down on the table, and lifted the napkin.
And lo! It was the head of the magician Halwyn.
Then the blasts of the hornmen, and the deafening shouts from the warriors, told only too well how they enjoyed the gruesome sight of the wicked magician's head.