* Amongst all the characters of early British history none is more
interesting or occupies a more conspicuous place, than the hero of
this tale. Urien, his father, was prince of Rheged, a district
comprising the present Cumberland and part of the adjacent country.
His valor and the consideration in which he was held are a frequent
theme of Bardic song, and form the subject of several very spirited
odes by Taliesin. Among the Triads there is one relating to him; it is
"Three Knights of Battle were in the court of Arthur: Cadwr the Earl
of Cornwall, Launcelot du Lac, and Owain the son of Urien. And this
was their characteristic,- that they would not retreat from battle,
neither for spear, nor for arrow, nor for sword. And Arthur never
had shame in battle the day he saw their faces there. And they were
called the Knights of Battle."
"Now," quoth Owain, "would it not be well to go and endeavor to
discover that place?"
"By the hand of my friend," said Kay, "often dost thou utter that
with thy tongue which thou wouldest not make good with thy deeds."
"In very truth," said Guenever, "it were better thou wert hanged,
Kay, than to use such uncourteous speech towards a man like Owain."
"By the hand of my friend, good lady," said Kay; "thy praise of
Owain is not greater than mine."
With that Arthur awoke, and asked if he had not been sleeping a
"Yes, lord," answered Owain, "thou hast slept awhile."
"Is it time for us to go to meat?"
"It is, lord," said Owain.
Then the horn for washing was sounded, and the king and all his
household sat down to eat. And when the meal was ended, Owain withdrew
to his lodging, and made ready his horse and his arms.
On the morrow with the dawn of day he put on his armor, and
mounted his charger, and travelled through distant lands, and over
desert mountains. And at length he arrived at the valley which Kynon
had described to him, and he was certain that it was the same that
he sought. And journeying along the valley, by the side of the
river, he followed its course till he came to the plain, and within
sight of the castle. When he approached the castle, he saw the
youths shooting with their bows, in the place where Kynon had seen
them, and the yellow man, to whom the castle belonged, standing hard
by. And no sooner had Owain saluted the yellow man, than he was
saluted by him in return.
And he went forward towards the castle, and there he saw the
chamber; and when he had entered the chamber, he beheld the maidens
working at satin embroidery, in chains of gold. And their beauty and
their comeliness seemed to Owain far greater than Kynon had
represented to him. And they arose to wait upon Owain, as they had
done to Kynon. And the meal which they set before him gave even more
satisfaction to Owain than it had done to Kynon.
About the middle of the repast the yellow man asked Owain the object
of his journey. And Owain made it known to him, and said, "I am in
quest of the knight who guards the fountain." Upon this the yellow man
smiled, and said that he was as loath to point out that adventure to
him as he had been to Kynon. However, he described the whole to Owain,
and they retired to rest.
The next morning Owain found his horse made ready for him by the
damsels, and he set forward and came to the glade where the black
man was. And the stature of the black man seemed more wonderful to
Owain than it had done to Kynon; and Owain asked of him his road,
and he showed it to him. And Owain followed the road till he came to
the green tree; and he beheld the fountain, and the slab beside the
fountain, and the bowl upon it. And Owain took the bowl and threw a
bowlful of water upon the slab. And, lo! the thunder was heard, and
after the thunder came the shower, more violent than Kynon had
described, and after the shower the sky became bright. And immediately
the birds came and settled upon the tree and sang. And when their song
was most pleasing to Owain, he beheld a knight coming towards him
through the valley; and he prepared to receive him, and encountered
him violently. Having broken both their lances, they drew their swords
and fought blade to blade. Then Owain struck the knight a blow through
his helmet, head-piece, and visor, and through the skin, and the
flesh, and the bone, until it wounded the very brain. Then the black
knight felt that he had received a mortal wound, upon which he
turned his horse's head and fled. And Owain pursued him, and
followed close upon him, although he was not near enough to strike him
with his sword. Then Owain descried a vast and resplendent castle; and
they came to the castle gate. And the black knight was allowed to
enter, and the portcullis was let fall upon Owain; and it struck his
horse behind the saddle, and cut him in two, and carried away the
rowels of the spurs that were upon Owain's heels. And the portcullis
descended to the floor. And the rowels of the spurs and part of the
horse were without, and Owain with the other part of the horse
remained between the two gates, and the inner gate was closed, so that
Owain could not go thence; and Owain was in a perplexing situation.
And while he was in this state, he could see through an aperture in
the gate a street facing him, with a row of houses on each side. And
he beheld a maiden, with yellow, curling hair, and a frontlet of
gold upon her head; and she was clad in a dress of yellow satin, and
on her feet were shoes of variegated leather. And she approached the
gate, and desired that it should be opened. "Heaven knows, lady," said
Owain, "it is no more possible for me to open to thee from hence, than
it is for thee to set me free." And he told her his name, and who he
was. "Truly," said the damsel, "it is very sad that thou canst not
be released; and every woman ought to succor thee, for I know there is
no one more faithful in the service of ladies than thou. Therefore,"
quoth she, "whatever is in my power to do for thy release, I will do
it. Take this ring, and put it on thy finger, with the stone inside
thy hand, and close thy hand upon the stone. And as long as thou
concealest it, it will conceal thee. When they come forth to fetch
thee, they will be much grieved that they cannot find thee. And I will
await thee on the horseblock yonder, and thou wilt be able to see
me, though I cannot see thee. Therefore come and place thy hand upon
my shoulder, that I may know that thou art near me. And by the way
that I go hence, do thou accompany me."
Then the maiden went away from Owain, and he did all that she had
told him. And the people of the castle came to seek Owain to put him
to death; and when they found nothing but the half of his horse,
they were sorely grieved.
And Owain vanished from among them, and went to the maiden, and
placed his hand upon her shoulder; whereupon she set off, and Owain
followed her, until they came to the door of a large and beautiful
chamber, and the maiden opened it, and they went in. And Owain
looked around the chamber, and behold there was not a single nail in
it that was not painted with gorgeous colors, and there was not a
single panel that had not sundry images in gold portrayed upon it.
The maiden kindled a fire, and took water in a silver bowl, and gave
Owain water to wash. Then she placed before him a silver table, inlaid
with gold; upon which was a cloth of yellow linen, and she brought him
food. And, of a truth, Owain never saw any kind of meat that was not
there in abundance, but it was better cooked there than he had ever
found it in any other place. And there was not one vessel from which
he was served that was not of gold or of silver. And Owain ate and
drank until late in the afternoon, when, lo! they heard a mighty
clamor in the castle, and Owain asked the maiden what it was. "They
are administering extreme unction," said she, "to the nobleman who
owns the castle." And she prepared a couch for Owain which was meet
for Arthur himself, and Owain went to sleep.
And a little after daybreak he heard an exceeding loud clamor and
wailing, and asked the maiden what was the cause of it. "They are
bearing to the church the body of the nobleman who owned the castle."
And Owain rose up, and clothed himself, and opened a window of the
chamber, and looked towards the castle; and he could see neither the
bounds nor the extent of the hosts that filled the streets. And they
were fully armed; and a vast number of women were with them, both on
horseback and on foot, and all the ecclesiastics in the city
singing. In the midst of the throng he beheld the bier, over which was
a veil of white linen; and wax tapers were burning beside and around
it; and none that supported the bier was lower in rank than a powerful
Never did Owain see an assemblage so gorgeous with silk* and
satin. And, following the train, he beheld a lady with yellow hair
falling over her shoulders, and stained with blood; and about her a
dress of yellow satin, which was torn. Upon her feet were shoes of
variegated leather. And it was a marvel that the ends of her fingers
were not bruised from the violence with which she smote her hands
together. Truly she would have been the fairest lady Owain ever saw
had she been in her usual guise. And her cry was louder than the shout
of the men or the clamor of the trumpets. No sooner had he beheld
the lady than he became inflamed with her love, so that it took entire
possession of him.
* Before the sixth century all the silk used by Europeans had been
brought to them by the Seres, the ancestors of the present
Boukharians, whence it derived its Latin name of Serica. In 551 the
silkworm was brought by two monks to Constantinople; but the
manufacture of silk was confined to the Greek empire till the year
1130, when Roger, king of Sicily, returning from a crusade,
collected some manufacturers from Athens and Corinth, and
established them at Palermo, whence the trade was gradually
disseminated over Italy. The varieties of silk stuffs known at this
time were velvet, satin (which was called samite), and taffety (called
cendal or sendall), all of which were occasionally stitched with
gold and silver.
Then he inquired of the maiden who the lady was. "Heaven knows,"
replied the maiden, "she is the fairest, and the most chaste, and
the most liberal, and the most noble of women. She is my mistress, and
she is called the Countess of the Fountain, the wife of him whom
thou didst slay yesterday." "Verily," said Owain, "she is the woman
that I love best." "Verily," said the maiden, "she shall also love
thee, not a little."
Then the maiden prepared a repast for Owain, and truly he thought he
had never before so good a meal, nor was he ever so well served.
Then she left him, and went towards the castle. When she came there
she found nothing but mourning and sorrow; and the Countess in her
chamber could not bear the sight of any one through grief. Luned,
for that was the name of the maiden, saluted her, but the Countess
answered her not. And the maiden bent down towards her, and said,
"What aileth thee that thou answerest no one to-day?" "Luned," said
the Countess, "what change hath befallen thee that thou hast not
come to visit me in my grief? It was wrong in thee, and I so sorely
afflicted." "Truly," said Luned, "I thought thy good sense was greater
than I find it to be. Is it well for thee to mourn after that good
man, or for anything else that thou canst not have?" "I declare to
Heaven," said the Countess, "that in the whole world there is not a
man equal to him." "Not so," said Luned, "for an ugly man would be
as good as, or better than he." "I declare to Heaven," said the
Countess, "that were it not repugnant to me to put to death one whom I
have brought up I would have thee executed for making such
comparison to me. As it is, I will banish thee." "I am glad," said
Luned, "that thou hast no other cause to do so than that I would
have been of service to thee, where thou didst not know what was to
thine advantage. Henceforth evil betide whichever of us shall make the
first advance towards reconciliation to the other, whether I should
seek an invitation from thee, or thou of thine own accord shouldst
send to invite me."
With that Luned went forth; and the Countess arose and followed
her to the door of the chamber, and began coughing loudly. And when
Luned looked back the Countess beckoned to her, and she returned to
the Countess. "In truth," said the Countess, "evil is thy disposition;
but if thou knowest what is to my advantage, declare it to me." "I
will do so," said she.
"Thou knowest that, except by warfare and arms, it is impossible for
thee to preserve thy possessions; delay not, therefore, to seek some
one who can defend them." "And how can I do that?" said the
Countess. "I will tell thee," said Luned; "unless thou canst defend
the fountain thou canst not maintain thy dominions; and no one can
defend the fountain except it be a knight of Arthur's household. I
will go to Arthur's court, and ill betide me if I return not thence
with a warrior who can guard the fountain as well as, or even
better, than he who defended it formerly." "That will be hard to
perform," said the Countess. "Go, however, and make proof of that
which thou hast promised."
Luned set out under the pretence of going to Arthur's court; but she
went back to the mansion where she had left Owain, and she tarried
there as long as it might have taken her to travel to the court of
King Arthur and back. And at the end of that time she apparelled
herself, and went to visit the Countess. And the Countess was much
rejoiced when she saw her, and inquired what news she brought from the
court. "I bring thee the best of news," said Luned, "for I have
compassed the object of my mission. When wilt thou that I should
present to thee the chieftain who has come with me thither?" "Bring
him here to visit me to-morrow," said the Countess, "and I will
cause the town to be assembled by that time."
And Luned returned home. And the next day, at noon, Owain arrayed
himself in a coat and a surcoat, and a mantle of yellow satin, upon
which was a broad band of gold lace; and on his feet were high shoes
of variegated leather, which were fastened by golden clasps, in the
form of lions. And they proceeded to the chamber of the Countess.
Right glad was the Countess of their coming. And she gazed
steadfastly upon Owain, and said, "Luned, this knight has not the look
of a traveller." "What harm is there in that, lady?" said Luned. "I am
certain," said the Countess, "that no other man than this chased the
soul from the body of my lord." "So much the better for thee, lady,"
said Luned, "for had he not been stronger than thy lord, he could
not have deprived him of life. There is no remedy for that which is
past, be it as it may." "Go back to thine abode," said the Countess,
"and I will take counsel."
The next day the Countess caused all her subjects to assemble, and
showed them that her earldom was left defenceless, and that it could
not be protected but with horse and arms, and military skill.
"Therefore," said she, "this is what I offer for your choice: either
let one of you take me, or give your consent for me to take a
husband from elsewhere, to defend my dominions."
So they came to the determination that it was better that she should
have permission to marry some one from elsewhere; and thereupon she
sent for the bishops and archbishops, to celebrate her nuptials with
Owain. And the men of the earldom did Owain homage.
And Owain defended the fountain with lance and sword. And this is
the manner in which he defended it. Whensoever a knight came there, he
overthrew him, and sold him for his full worth. And what he thus
gained he divided among his barons and his knights, and no man in
the whole world could be more beloved than he was by his subjects. And
it was thus for the space of three years.*
* There exists an ancient poem, printed among those of Taliesin,
called the Elegy of Owain ap Urien, and containing several very
beautiful and spirited passages. It commences:
"The soul of Owain ap Urien,
May its Lord consider its exigencies!
Reged's chief the green turf covers."
In the course of this Elegy, the bard, alluding to the incessant
welfare with which this chieftain harassed his Saxon foes, exclaims:
"Could England sleep with the light upon her eyes!"
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