The Knight of the Swan
ONE day Roland stood at the window of a castle overlooking the Rhine, while Charlemagne and Duke Namon sat on the balcony outside, enjoying the pleasant breeze that was wafted to them from the not far-distant sea. All at once the clear-ringing sound of a bell reached their ears. At first it seemed far away; but it came slowly nearer and nearer, until the whole air seemed filled with the sweet, simple music. By this time all eyes in the castle were turned in the direction whence the sounds seemed to come. The windows and doors, the battlements and the towers, were crowded with knights and ladies, squires, pages, and menials, all charmed by the sweet tones, and all anxious to know by what strange power they were produced.
"What seest thou down the river?" asked the king of the watchman on the tower.
"My lord," answered the watchman, "I see nothing save the waving of the reeds in the wind, and the long ripple of the waves on the shelving banks."
Still louder and clearer rang the bell; still nearer and nearer it seemed to come. All Nature appeared to be listening.
"Watchman," cried the king again, "seest thou yet any thing?"
"I see," answered the watchman, "a mist, like a little silver cloud, resting upon the water, and coming slowly toward us. But I cannot distinguish aught else."
Sweeter and sweeter grew the sounds, like the music of angel voices in the air. The hearts of the listeners stood still; they held their breath; they feared to break the wondrous spell.
"Watchman," cried the king, "what seest thou now?"
"My lord," answered now the watchman, "I see a white swan floating on the water; and on its neck there is a crown of gold; and behind it is a silver boat made like the shell of a scallop, which it draws by a silken cord; and in the scallop sits a knight in full armor. But the device on his shield is a strange one, and I cannot tell from what land he comes. In the bow of the boat hangs a little bell; but I know not whether the sound which so ravishes our ears is made by its ringing, or whether it is the song of the swan."
And now the swan and the strange little boat were plainly seen by all the inmates of the castle. Slowly they drew nearer and nearer to the quay. At last the boat came alongside of the landing place, and stopped. The music, too, ceased as soon as the swan left off rowing. Then certain of the king's men stepped down to the water-side; and one whose name was Nibelung, and who had come from the unknown Northland, gave the stranger his hand, and helped him from the scallop. And the swan turned about, and swam away in the direction whence he had come, drawing the empty shell-boat behind him. And the strange, sweet music, which began again as soon as the swan commenced rowing, grew fainter and still more faint, until at last it died away in the far distance, and was never heard again.
The strange knight, who was ever afterward known as the Knight of the Swan, was led into the presence of the king. But he spoke not a word to any one; and although he seemed right nobly bred, and courteous, it was soon plain to all that he was quite dumb. Before the king there stood warriors from every land,—Frenchmen, Italians, Greeks, Persians, Goths, Saxons, and Danes; and he commanded each of these to speak in his own tongue to the stranger. But the Knight of the Swan answered not a word, nor seemed to understand what they said to him. Then Roland saw that a blue ribbon was tied around the stranger's neck, and that to it was fastened a small roll of parchment.
"My lord," said he to the king, "perhaps this roll will tell who he is, and why he comes in this strange manner to you."
"Take the parchment," said the king, "and see if any thing is written thereon."
And Roland unloosed the ribbon from the stranger's neck and opened the roll, and read these words: "MY NAME IS GERARD SWAN, OF THE RACE OF LOHENGRIN. I SEEK A HOME WITH YOU, AND A WIFE, AND A FIEF OF LANDS."
"Right welcome are you, Sir Gerard of the Swan!" said the king, taking his hand. "You shall have all for which you have come, and much more."
Then Nibelung, by the king's command, unarmed the knight, and carried his sword and shield and rich armor to the guard room. And the clothing which the stranger wore beneath his armor was of the most princely kind,—of purple velvet embroidered with gold. And he had upon his hand a ring of curious workmanship, in which was set a cross that glittered like the rays of the sun. And the king took off his own mantle of crimson silk and rich ermine, and threw it over the knight's shoulders.
And a banquet was held that day in token of rejoicing for the victories so lately won; and the Knight of the Swan sat at the right hand of the king.
"Why does my uncle show so great honor to a stranger?" asked Roland afterward.
"He is a godsend," said Duke Namon. "Wherever he is, there will Heaven's favor be; and whatever cause he may espouse, it will prosper."
"He looks, indeed, like a strong-hearted knight," thought Roland.
Not many days after this, Charlemagne and his warriors returned to Aix. And the Knight of the Swan proved himself to be in all things upright and trustworthy. He soon learned to talk; and, next to Duke Namon, he was long looked up to as the ablest of the king's advisers. And so highly did Charlemagne esteem him, that he gave him to his sister, the Princess Adalis, in marriage, and made him the Duke of Ardennes. But no man durst ever ask him whence he came, or to what race he belonged.