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Old-Fashioned Fairy Book, The

THE FALCON-KING.

(From one of Marie's Lays.)

THERE lived once, in Britain, an old knight who was lord of Caerwent, a city situated on the River Douglas. He was wealthy and avaricious, and the sole heir to his possessions, a lovely daughter, he kept locked up in a high tower, under the care of a cross governess. His one fear was that this daughter would marry, and thus give some one the right to lay claim to the gold that was dearer to him than life itself. To prevent her from getting a husband, the old knight used every method he could think of to keep off visitors; and any stray caller at the castle was set upon by fierce dogs, who would tear one to pieces as soon as gnaw a beef-bone![318]

Day after day the father rode off to the hunt, the governess told her beads, and the damsel moped within the tower. One morning she was at her wheel, singing a mournful ditty, and sighing from time to time, as she glanced over the tree-tops at the roofs and spires of the distant city, when suddenly the sky above her window was darkened, and she heard a whirring noise, as of mighty wings astir. A falcon of huge size and noble mien flew in at the casement, and lit submissively at her feet. The maiden stroked his proud head, and at once the bird changed to a beautiful young man, who, in a gentle voice, begged her to have no fear of him, as he was not only a devoted lover but the humblest of her slaves.

"Bid me go if you will," said the prince, "and deeply as I should regret your command, you will see how quickly I shall obey it. Long have I watched you from afar, and dearly I love you. For your sake, I have acquired the art of magic, enabling me to assume this shape in order to reach your prison."

"Oh! but I don't want you to go!" cried the poor little mewed-up damsel, who was tired to death of having nobody to talk to.

As she had never seen a man younger than her[319] father, it was a great astonishment to her to find that the prince's hair was dark and his cheek unwrinkled and rosy as a ripe peach.

What he meant by being a lover, she did not in the least understand. Only, it was pleasant to hear him talk in his kind, low voice; and praises were so rare to her, that they sounded sweet as honey dropping from his lips.

As a matter of course, the afternoon passed quickly; but at last, startled by the noise of a key grating in the lock of the door, the prince quickly assumed his bird-shape, and promising to come again upon the morrow, flew out of the window. The governess could not imagine what had put her prisoner in such a silly state of cheerfulness, as she thought it; and, boxing the poor girl's ears for smiling, gave her a long piece of poetry to learn by heart, and allowed her nothing but bread and water for her tea.

Next day the falcon came again, and for many days he continued his visits, until the girl grew to love him as he loved her, and promised to be his wife. Once a month the chaplain was accustomed to come to see her, and to make her say a catechism the longest ever heard of. When next the day came around for his[320] visit, what was her surprise, instead of the stern chaplain, to find a gentle and kind old priest, who, when left alone with her, avowed himself to be a friend of the falcon-prince.

"As your father is a wicked and unworthy son of the church, and the prince a noble and devoted one, I cannot but approve of the marriage between you and your beloved," the old man said. "The ceremony will now be performed, and may heaven's blessing rest upon you both."

The falcon-prince arrived at the same moment, bearing in his beak a wedding-ring of large bright diamonds. The couple were married, and the prince told his wife that, very soon, he would be able to furnish her also with wings to leave the tower.

One day the governess, coming in unexpectedly, found the girl toying with a beautiful ring, which she hurriedly concealed in her mattress. Spite of all the governess' efforts, she could not find the jewel; nor could she succeed in drawing from her captive any explanation of how she had come by it. The governess told the father, who redoubled his precautions and set spies to watch upon the outside of the tower. In a few days, the spies reported to him that they had seen[321] a bird of the largest size fly in at the maiden's window, remain there for some hours, and then fly out again.

"I'll be a match for this carrier-pigeon of hers!" said the old knight with malicious glee. That night a trap was set upon the outside of the window, surrounded by sharp knives, so that anything passing through it would inevitably be caught or wounded grievously. The young wife awaited her husband anxiously, for it was the day fixed for her escape. Soon he arrived; but as he touched the window the trap fell, and although he managed to pass in, a long trail of blood was left behind him.

"Lose no time, my beloved!" he said, in a voice altered by pain. "Our enemies are upon us. Put this bracelet on your arm, and spring into the air after me, without fear."

She obeyed, and found herself upborne by magic wings, which carried her more swiftly than the wind over forest tops, shining river, and city spires and domes. Glorious as was her airy flight, she could see that her companion grew weaker. They arrived in a country adjoining the one in which she had lived, and stopped immediately above a splendid palace—alighting in the marble balcony of a chamber furnished[322] with the utmost magnificence. Here the falcon regained his man's shape, and, with despair, his wife saw that he was deathly pale, while the blood poured from a wound beneath his heart.

"I am dying," he exclaimed. "Help me to my bed yonder, and may heaven grant me strength to tell my people that you are their lawful queen."

The poor wife aided her husband to lie down, but when he would have spoken to her again, his voice was gone—a moment more, and he was dead.

And now in what a mournful plight the pretty new queen found herself! Soon the attendants would, no doubt, come flocking into the room, to discover their sovereign murdered in his bed, and a stranger cowering by his side. Terror lent speed to her feet, and hastening back to the balcony, she ran down a long flight of stairs communicating with the outer court and garden of the palace. Thence she escaped to wander into the forest, and until day broke again she never ceased to walk. For some days she remained concealed in the forest, living upon fruit and berries, until at last hunger drove her to the cottage of a poor laborer. The wife of this man was very ill, and the queen offered to stay and nurse her, which[323] was gratefully accepted. So faithful and devoted an attendant she proved that, when the woman of the house got well, both husband and wife insisted their stranger guest should make her home with them. In this secluded retreat, where only a stray huntsman now and then passed by, the queen remained until a beautiful son was born to her. And now, she felt a burning desire to have her boy educated in a manner worthy of his father's rank; and poverty, that had seemed so light a burden to herself, grew heavy when it weighed on him. When the baby was three years old, a gay hunting-party passed that way, among them a rich and childless lady, who, charmed with the beauty of the boy, offered to adopt him on the spot.

The poor queen wept so bitterly at thought of parting with her treasure, that the lady, who was a kind-hearted person, proposed she should accompany them and serve in the capacity of the boy's governess.

To this plan the queen made no objection; and, bidding an affectionate farewell to her humble friends, she took her place with the boy in a travelling carriage sent to fetch them.


Years rolled on, and the child born in the forest had[324] reached the age of twenty-one. He was a handsome, manly youth, and skilled in all athletic exercises. About this time, the family of his adopted mother was invited to be present at a great religious ceremony in an abbey upon the borders of a neighboring kingdom. Among the many attendants of the nobles summoned for the occasion, was the real mother, who came dressed in deep mourning and wearing a veil over her face; and one of the guests was the wicked old knight, her father. The abbot of the monastery threw open the doors of the chapel, that had long been sealed, and all flocked into it. There, in the centre, stood a bier covered with cloth of gold and surrounded by blazing wax-lights, while about it knelt an hundred priests, at prayer. After a mass had been sung, the abbot announced that in yonder bier lay the remains of the late king, their master, who, as all his faithful subjects knew, was foully murdered twenty-one years before; and that, by the terms of the king's will, found some time after his death, the throne rightfully belonged to a lady who had been married in secret by their sovereign, and was by him commended to their truest love and honor. "For many long years," added the good abbot, "we have sought vainly for the widow of our[325] lamented ruler; not the faintest trace of her has ever been found, and we have resolved to meet here and choose to-day a successor to our king."

"Here is a worthy successor to your king!" cried a voice from the throng; and the unfortunate queen, throwing back her veil, pointed to her astonished son. "Behold the rightful heir! Who dares to say that he is not the image of his father? I am the queen you have so long sought, and this youth is, unknown to himself, my son. In proof of it, here is the marriage ring given me by the king."

"And in proof of it," exclaimed a venerable priest, coming forward, "I attest that I performed the marriage ceremony between our king and this poor lady. Her appearance and her claim remove the seal from my promise of secresy, and I unhesitatingly declare this youth to be our lawful sovereign."

All eyes turned upon the young man, and all tongues proclaimed his marvellous resemblance to the king. The abbot knelt at the young man's feet and offered him a golden crown carried on a velvet cushion. Loud cries of joy and cheers filled the air, when suddenly the unfortunate queen was seen to totter toward the bier of her husband.[326]

"I am glad to die on this spot," she said, snatching up the sword that lay upon the tomb and placing it in her son's hand; then, bidding him avenge the sad fate of his parents, she immediately expired. At the same moment, a white-haired knight tried to steal away from the church; but when the ancient priest perceived him, the fugitive was denounced as the murderer of their king. Seized by the populace, the wretched old miser was hurried to instant death; his grandson was carried in triumph to the palace, and there installed as king.

The new monarch reigned long and wisely—an example for all future sovereigns.


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