One of the bravest knights in King Arthur’s Court was Sir Geraint. Once he was in the forest with Queen Guinevere and one of her maidens, when a lady, a knight, and a dwarf rode by. The queen told the maiden to go to the dwarf and ask who his master was.
As the maiden approached them, she saw that the knight had a very proud face. She asked the dwarf his master’s name, but he said, roughly:
“I do not know.”
“If you do not know,” answered the maiden, “I will ask him myself.”
She started to ride up to the knight, but the dwarf struck at her with his whip. Upon this, she went back and told the queen and Sir Geraint what had passed. Sir Geraint was very angry, and he said to the queen:
“Fair queen, I will ride after this knight and his dwarf and avenge the insult done to your maiden. If I succeed, I shall return in three days.”
“Do so,” said the queen, “and I trust you will succeed, not only in this, but in all things you attempt. Some day you will love some fair lady. Before you marry her, bring her to me, and no matter how poor or how rich she may be, I will clothe her for her wedding in the most beautiful garments in the world. They shall shine like the sun.”
So off rode Sir Geraint, keeping at some distance behind the lady, the knight, and the dwarf. At last, after passing through many woods, he lost sight of them as they disappeared beyond the top of a hill. Sir Geraint rode up, and saw below him, in a valley, the one street of a little town. On one side was a fortress, so new that the stone of which it was built was still white; while on the other side stood a gray old castle, fast falling into decay. He saw the three people he was following enter the fortress.
In the little town there was a great deal of noise and bustle. At first Sir Geraint could not find any place to stay, for the houses were all full. He stopped before a servant who was scouring his master’s armor, and asked what all the noise meant. The servant said:
“The Sparrow-hawk,” and went on working.
Then he met an old man carrying a sack of corn, and asked him the same question. The old man made the same reply. Next Sir Geraint approached one who was making armor, and questioned him. Without looking up the man replied:
“Friend, he who works for the Sparrow-hawk has little time for answering questions.”
Sir Geraint was vexed, and said:
“I am weary of hearing of your Sparrow-hawk. I do not understand what you mean. Will you not tell me where I can find a place to stay for to-night? And will you not sell me some armor? I have but my sword.”
Then the man looked up, and said:
“Your pardon, sir. We are all very busy here, for to-morrow we hold a tournament, and our work is not half done. I cannot give you armor, for we need all that we have in the town. As to lodging, all the room is taken. However, perhaps Earl Iniol in the castle will receive you.”
“Sir Geraint rode over to the gray old castle, and as the gate was open, entered the ruined courtyard. Dismounting, he went into the hall. Here he found the earl, an elderly man dressed in clothes which had once been handsome, but were now old and worn. To him Sir Geraint said:
“Good sir, I seek lodging for the night.”
The old Earl Iniol answered:
“Sir, I was once rich and am now poor; nevertheless, I will gladly give you the best I have.”
As he spoke, some one in the castle began to sing. The voice was very sweet. Sir Geraint thought he had never heard any one sing so wonderfully.
“That is my daughter Enid,” said the earl.
Then he took Sir Geraint into a room in which sat an old lady in a faded velvet gown. She was the earl’s wife. By her side stood Enid in a faded silk gown. She was as beautiful as her voice was sweet, and after watching her, Sir Geraint said to himself:
“I already love this maiden.”
He said nothing out loud, only looked at her. Earl Iniol spoke to her:
“Enid, this good knight will stay with us. His horse is in the courtyard; take it to the stall and give it corn. Then go into the town and buy us some food.”
Sir Geraint wished to put away his horse himself, but the old earl said:
“Sir, we are very poor, but we cannot permit our guest to do any work. I pray you, stay here.”
So Enid took the horse to the stall. After that, she went into the town and soon returned with meat and sweet cakes. Then, because most of the rooms in the old castle were in ruins, she cooked the meat in the same hall in which they were to eat. When the meal was ready, she waited on her father and her mother and Sir Geraint. The knight watched her and loved her more and more.
When they had risen from the table, he said to the earl:
“My lord, pray tell me what the people of this town mean when they speak of the Sparrow-hawk.”
The earl’s face grew sad, as he said:
“That is the name given to the young knight who rules in this town.”
“Does he live in the fortress?” asked Sir Geraint. “And do a lady and a dwarf ride with him?”
“Yes,” said the earl.
“Ah, then he is the man I am in search of,” said Sir Geraint. “I must fight with him before three days are over. I am Geraint of King Arthur’s Court.”
“I know your name well,” said the earl. “We often hear of your great deeds at Camelot. Many times have I related to my Enid the story of your brave deeds.”
“I am bound to do my duty with the other knights,” answered Sir Geraint. “And now tell me more of this Sparrow-hawk.”
“Alas! He is my nephew,” said the earl. “At one time I ruled this town. My nephew, the Sparrow-hawk, was powerful, too, and he asked to unite our power by marrying Enid, but neither she nor I wished it. Then he collected a body of men and attacked me, and took all my wealth, leaving me nothing but this old castle.”
“Tomorrow,” said Sir Geraint, “I will fight in the tournament with this Sparrow-hawk, and conquer him, and give you back your lands. But I lack armor.”
“I can give you armor, although it is old and rusty,” said the earl. “But no one is allowed to fight in this tournament unless there is some lady he loves best in all the world. Then he fights for the sake of this lady, and if he wins, receives the prize, which he in turn gives to her.”
“What is the prize?” asked Sir Geraint.
“A hawk, a sparrow-hawk made of gold. This nephew of mine is very strong and has always overcome every knight who has opposed him in these tournaments, which are held yearly. It is because he has won the prize so often that he is called the Sparrow-hawk. But tell me, is there some lady whom you love?”
Then Sir Geraint said:
“I love this child of yours, my lord, and will gladly make her my wife if you will permit it.”
The earl was very glad, but Enid was afraid, for she thought she was not worthy of such a great knight. Yet, she knew she loved him, and said so, and soon promised to go with him to Arthur’s Court within three days.
The next morning, the earl and Sir Geraint and Enid went to the field where the tournament was to take place. Many knights and ladies were there. The ladies sat under a pavilion which was draped in purple velvet ornamented with gold, while the knights were on horseback. A herald blew a trumpet, and the knight who was called the Sparrow-hawk galloped into the field.
He rode around it three times, and then went up to the pavilion and said to his lady:
“I give you the gold sparrow-hawk again, because no one dares to fight with me for it.”
Then Sir Geraint rode forward in his rusty armor and said:
“I will fight with you.”
The knight looked upon him, and gave a very scornful laugh as he rode at Sir Geraint. The two clashed together and began to fight fiercely, while all the people watched. Twice they had to stop and rest. For a long time they seemed evenly matched, and no one could decide which would win. But when Sir Geraint looked to where Enid sat in her faded silk gown among the richly dressed ladies in the pavilion, he grew very strong and struck his enemy such a blow that he fell to the earth.
“Now, Sparrow-hawk,” said Sir Geraint, “I have overthrown you. You must do two things: you must ride with your lady and your dwarf to Arthur’s Court and ask pardon of Queen Guinevere because your dwarf struck her maiden; and you must restore all the riches you have taken from your good uncle, Earl Iniol.”
This the knight promised to do. And afterwards, in Arthur’s Court, he grew very sorry for his evil deeds, and became a good man.
Meanwhile, Enid was making ready to go to Arthur’s Court with Sir Geraint. She was sorry that she had only her robe of faded silk. She remembered a robe her mother had given her before the Sparrow-hawk took their riches. It was of velvet, the color of mother-of-pearl, with gold leaves and flowers and birds embroidered upon it.
While she was thinking of this beautiful robe, her mother entered the room, carrying it. Enid gave a cry of joy, and her mother told her that the Sparrow-hawk had just given it back, together with other robes and gold and jewels. “Put it on, Enid,” she said, and helped her daughter to array herself in the handsome gown exclaiming: “How beautiful you look, my dear child! Sir Geraint may well be proud to fetch such a fair lady to King Arthur’s Court.”
Just then the earl entered to tell them that the knight wanted Enid to ride with him to Camelot in the faded silk dress in which he had first seen her.
Enid, although she was deeply disappointed, at once put on again her faded gown. When Sir Geraint came in he saw that the earl’s wife was also disappointed, so he told them that the queen had promised to dress his bride in the most beautiful robes in the world for her wedding. At this both the ladies were much pleased.
So after bidding farewell to her parents, Enid rode with Sir Geraint to Camelot, where the queen welcomed her, and gave her a robe that was as bright as the sun. Then the good Archbishop of Canterbury married Sir Geraint and Enid amid great rejoicings.