Chapter XVII. THE STORY OF HAVELOK THE DANE
THE good king of whom we read in the last chapter was called Athelwold, and the poet tells us that there were happy days in England while he reigned. But at length he became sick unto death. Then was he sore grieved, because he had no child to sit upon the throne after him save a maiden very fair. But so young was she that she could neither "go on foot nor speak with mouth." So, in this grief and trouble, the King wrote to all his nobles, "from Roxburgh all unto Dover," bidding them come to him.
And all who had the writings came to the King, where he lay at Winchester. Then, when they were all come, Athelwold prayed them to be faithful to the young Princess, and to choose one of themselves to guard her until she was of age to rule.
So Godrich, Earl of Cornwall, was chosen to guard the Princess. For he was a true man, wise in council, wise in deed, and he swore to protect his lady until she was of such age as no longer to have need of him. Then he would wed her, he swore, to the best man in all the land.
So, happy in thought that his daughter should reign after him in peace, the King died, and there was great sorrow and mourning throughout the land. But the people remained at peace, for the Earl ruled well and wisely.
"From Dover to Roxburgh
All England of him stood in awe,
All England was of him adread."
Meanwhile the Princess Goldboru grew daily more and more fair. And when Earl Godrich saw how fair and noble she became, he sighed and asked himself:—
"Whether she should be
Queen and lady over me.
Whether she should all England,
And me, and mine, have in her hand.
Nay, he said,
'I have a son, a full fair knave,
He shall England all have,
He shall be king, he shall be sire.'"
Then, full of his evil purpose, Godrich thought no more of his oath to the dead king, but cast Goldboru into a darksome prison, where she was poorly clad and ill-fed.
Now it befell that at this time there was a right good king in Denmark. He had a son named Havelok and two fair daughters. And feeling death come upon him, he left his children in the care of his dear friend Godard, and so died.
But no sooner was the King in his grave than the false Godard took Havelok and his two sisters and thrust them into a dungeon.
"And in the castle did he them do
Where no man might come them to,
Of their kin. There they prison'd were,
There they wept oft sort,
Both for hunger and for cold,
Ere they were three winters old.
Scantily he gave them clothes,
And cared not a nut for his oaths,
He them nor clothed right, nor fed,
Nor them richly gave to bed.
Thane Godard was most sickerly
Under God the most traitorly
That ever in earth shapen was
Except the wicked Judas."
After a time the traitor went to the tower where the children were, and there he slew the two little girls. But the boy Havelok he spared.
"For the lad that little was,
He kneeled before that Judas
And said, 'Lord, mercy now!
Homage, Lord, to you I vow!
All Denmark I to you will give
If that now you let me live.'"
So the wicked Earl spared the lad for the time. But he did not mean that he should live. Anon he called a fisherman to him and said:—
"Grim, thou wist thou art my thral,
Wilt thou do my will all
That I will bid thee?
To-morrow I shall make thee free,
And give thee goods, and rich thee make,
If that thou wilt this child take
And lead him with thee, to-night,
When thou seest it is moonlight,
Unto the sea, and do him in!
And I will take on me the sin."
Grim, the fisherman, rejoiced at the thought of being free and rich. So he took the boy, and wound him in an old cloth, and stuffed an old coat into his mouth, so that he might not cry aloud. Then he thrust him into a sack, and thus carried him home to his cottage.
But when the moon rose, and Grim made ready to drown the child, his wife saw a great light come from the sack. And opening it, they found therein the prince. Then they resolved, instead of drowning him, to save and nourish him as their own child. But they resolved also to hide the truth from the Earl.
At break of day, therefore, Grim set forth to tell Godard that his will was done. But instead of the thanks and reward promised to him, he got only evil words. So, speeding homeward from that traitor, he made ready his boat, and with his wife and three sons and two daughters and Havelok, they set sail upon the high sea, fleeing for their lives.
Presently a great wind arose which blew them to the coast of England. And when they were safely come to land, Grim drew up his boat upon the shore, and there he build him a hut, and there he lived, and to this day men call the place Grimsby.
Years passed. Havelok lived with the fisherman, and grew great and fair and strong. And as Grim was poor, the Prince thought it no dishonor to work for his living, and he became in time a cook's scullion.
Havelok had to work hard. But although he worked hard he was always cheerful and merry. He was so strong that at running, jumping, or throwing a stone no one could beat him. Yet he was so gentle that all the children of the place loved him and played with him.
"Him loved all, quiet or bold,
Knight, children, young and old,
All him loved that him saw,
Both high men and low,
Of him full wide the word sprang
How he was meek, how he was strong."
At last even the wicked Godrich in his palace heard of Havelok in the kitchen. "Now truly this is the best man in England," he said, with a sneer. And thinking to bring shame on Goldboru, and wed her with a kitchen knave, he sent for Havelok.
"Master, wilt wed?" he asked, when the scullion was brought before him.
"Nay," quoth Havelok, "by my life what should I do with a wife? I could not feed her, nor clothe her, nor shoe her. Whither should I bring a woman? I have no cot, I have no stick nor twig. I have neither bread nor sauce, and no clothes but one old coat. These clothes even that I wear are the cook's, and I am his knave."
At that Godrich shook with wrath. Up he sprang and began to beat Havelok without mercy.
"And said, 'Unless thou her take,
That I well ween thee to make,
I shall hangen thee full high
Or I shall thrusten out thine eye.'"
Then seeing that there was no help for it, and that he must either be wedded or hanged, Havelok consented to marry Goldboru. So the Princess was brought, "the fairest woman under the moon." And she, sore afraid at the anger and threats of Godrich, durst not do aught to oppose the wedding. So were they "espoused fair and well" by the Archbishop of York, and Havelok took his bride home to Grimsby.
You may be sure that Havelok, who was so strong and yet so gentle, was kind to his beautiful young wife. But Goldboru was unhappy, for she could not forget the disgrace that had come upon her. She could not forget that she was a princess, and that she had been forced to wed a low-born kitchen knave. But one night, as she lay in bed weeping, an angel appeared to her and bade her sorrow no more, for it was no scullion that she had wed, but a king's son. So Goldboru was comforted.
And of all that afterward befell Havelok and Goldboru, of how they went to Denmark and overcame the traitor there, and received the kingdom; and of how they returned again to England, and of how Godrich was punished, you must read for yourselves in the book of Havelok the Dane. But this one thing more I will tell you, that Havelok and Goldboru lived happily together until they died. They loved each other so tenderly that they were never angry with each other. They had fifteen children, and all the sons became kings and all the daughters became queens.
I should like to tell you many more of these early English metrical romances. I should like to tell you of Guy of Warwick, of King Horn, of William and the Werewolf, and of many others. But, indeed, if I told all the stories I should like to tell this book would have no end. So we must leave them and pass on.
BOOKS TO READ
The Story of Havelok the Dane, rendered into later English by Emily Hickey. The Lay of Havelok the Dane, edited by W. W. Skeat in the original English.