Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Mary MacLeod

The Battle For The Shield

That night, when every one slept, Duessa stole secretly to the lodgings of the pagan knight Joyless. She found him wide awake, restless, and troubled, busily devising how he might annoy his foe. To him she spoke many untrue words.

"Dear Joyless," she said, "I am so glad that you have come. I have passed many sad hours for the sake of Faithless, whom this traitor slew. He has treated me very cruelly, keeping me shut up in a dark cave; but now I will take shelter with you from his disdainful spite. To you belongs the inheritance of your brother, Faithless. Let him not be unavenged."

"Fair lady, grieve no more for past sorrows," said Joyless; "neither be afraid of present peril, for needless fear never profited any one, nor is it any good to lament over misfortunes that cannot be helped. Faithless is dead, his troubles are over; but I live, and I will avenge him."

"Oh, but I fear what may happen," she answered, "and the advantage is on his side."

"Why, lady, what advantage can there be when both fight alike?" asked Joyless.

"Yes, but he bears a charmed shield," said Duessa, "and also enchanted armour that no one can pierce. None can wound the man that wears them."

"Charmed or enchanted, I care not at all," said Joyless fiercely, "nor need you tell me anything more about them. But, fair lady, go back whence you came and rest awhile. To-morrow I shall subdue the Red Cross Knight, and give you the heritage of dead Faithless."

"Wherever I am, my secret aid shall follow you," she answered, and then she left him.

At the first gleam of dawn the Red Cross Knight sprang up and dressed himself for battle in his sun-bright armour. Forth he stepped into the hall, where there were many waiting to gaze at him, curious to know what fate was in store for the stranger knight. Many minstrels were there, making melody to drive away sadness; many singers that could tune their voices skilfully to harp and viol; many chroniclers that could tell old stories of love and war.

Soon after, came the pagan knight, Joyless, warily armed in woven mail. He looked sternly at the Red Cross Knight, who cared not at all how any living creature looked at him. Cups of wine were brought to the warriors, with dainty Eastern spices, and they both swore a solemn oath to observe faithfully the laws of just and fair fighting.

At last, with royal pomp, came the Queen. She was led to a railed-in space of the green field, and placed under a stately canopy. On the other side, full in all men's view, sat Duessa, and on a tree near was hung the shield of Faithless. Both Duessa and the shield were to be given to the victor.

A shrill trumpet bade them prepare for battle. The pagan knight was stout and strong, and his blows fell like great iron hammers. He fought for cruelty and vengeance. The Red Cross Knight was fierce, and full of youthful courage; he fought for praise and honour. So furious was their onslaught that sparks of fire flew from their shields, and deep marks were hewn in their helmets.

Thus they fought, the one for wrong, the other for right, and each tried to put his foe to shame. At last Joyless chanced to look at his brother's shield which was hanging near. The sight of this doubled his anger, and he struck at his foe with such fury that the Knight reeled twice, and seemed likely to fall. To those who looked on, the end of the battle appeared doubtful, and false Duessa began to call loudly to Joyless,—

"Thine the shield, and I, and all!"

Directly the Red Cross Knight heard her voice he woke out of the faintness that had overcome him; his faith, which had grown weak, suddenly became strong, and he shook off the deadly cold that was creeping over him.

This time he attacked Joyless with such vigour that he brought him down upon his knees. Lifting his sword, he would have slain him, when suddenly a dark cloud fell between them. Joyless was seen no more; he had vanished! The Knight called aloud to him, but received no answer: his foe was completely hidden by the darkness.

Duessa rose hastily from her place, and ran to the Red Cross Knight, saying,—

"O noblest Knight, be angry no longer! Some evil power has covered your enemy with the cloud of night, and borne him away to the regions of darkness. The conquest is yours, I am yours, the shield and the glory are yours."

Then the trumpets sounded, and running heralds made humble homage, and the shield, the cause of all the enmity, was brought to the Red Cross Knight. He went to the Queen, and, kneeling before her, offered her his service, which she accepted with thanks and much satisfaction, greatly praising his chivalry.

So they marched home, the Knight next the Queen, while all the people followed with great glee, shouting and clapping their hands. When they got to the palace the Knight was given gentle attendants and skilled doctors, for he had been badly hurt in the fight. His wounds were washed with wine, and oil, and healing herbs, and all the while lovely music was played round his bed to beguile him from grief and pain.

While this was happening, Duessa secretly left the palace, and stole away to the Kingdom of Darkness, which is ruled over by the Queen of Night. This queen was a friend of her own, and was always ready to help in any bad deeds. Duessa told her of what had befallen the pagan knight, Joyless, and persuaded her to carry him away to her own dominions. Here he was placed under the care of a wonderful doctor, who was able to cure people by magic, and Duessa hastened back to the House of Pride.

When she got there she was dismayed to find that the Red Cross Knight had already left, although he was not nearly healed from the wounds which he had received in battle.

The reason why he left was this. One day his servant, whose name you may remember was Prudence, came and told him that he had discovered in the palace a huge, deep dungeon, full of miserable prisoners. Hundreds of men and women were there, wailing and lamenting—grand lords and beautiful ladies, who, from foolish behaviour or love of idle pomp, had wasted their wealth and fallen into the power of the wicked Queen of Pride.

When the good Red Cross Knight heard this, he determined to stay no longer in such a place of peril.

Rising before dawn, he left by a small side door, for he knew that if he were seen he would be at once put to death. To him the place no more seemed beautiful; it filled him with horror and disgust. Riding under the castle wall, the way was strewn with hundreds of dead bodies of those who had perished miserably. Such was the dreadful sight of the House of Pride.