LANCELOT – Episode 2
© TUNDE IBIKUNLE
The journeyman tailor, Lancelot , was much astonished at this information; from this time he looked upon Prince Gwen with envious eyes, irritated because fortune conferred upon him, though already he passed for the nephew of a mighty bashaw, the dignity of a king’s son; but on him, whom she had endowed with all things necessary for a prince, bestowed in ridicule, an obscure lineage, and an every-day vocation. He instituted a comparison between himself and the prince. He was obliged to confess that the latter was a man of very lively aspect; that fine sparkling eyes belonged to him, a boldly-arched nose, a gentlemanly, complaisant demeanor, in a word, all the external accomplishments, which every one is wont to commend. But numerous as were the charms he found in his companion, still he was compelled to acknowledge to himself, that a Lancelot would be no less acceptable to the royal father than the genuine prince.
These thoughts pursued Lancelot the whole day; with them he went to sleep in the nearest night-lodgings; but when he awoke in the morning, and his eye rested upon Gwen sleeping near him, who was reposing so quietly, and could dream of his now certain fortune, then arose in him the thought of gaining, by stratagem or violence, what unpropitious destiny had denied him. The dagger, the returning prince’s token of recognition, hung in the sleeper’s girdle; he softly drew it forth, to plunge it in the bre@st of its owner. Nevertheless, the peaceable soul of the journeyman recoiled before thoughts of murder; he contented himself with appropriating the dagger, and bridling for himself the faster horse of the prince; and, ere Gwen awoke to see himself despoiled of all his hopes, his perfidious companion was several miles upon his way.
The day on which Lancelot robbed the prince was the first of the holy month Ramadan, and he had therefore four days to reach the pillar Getrum , the locality of which was well known to him. Although the region wherein it was situated could at farthest be at a distance of but four days’ journey, still he hastened to reach it, through a constant fear of being overtaken by the real prince.
By the end of the second day, he came in sight of the pillar Getrum . It stood upon a little elevation, in the midst of an extensive plain, and could be seen at a distance of two or three leagues. Lancelot ’s heart beat high at the sight: though he had had time enough on horseback, for the last two days, to think of the part he was to play, still a consciousness of guilt made him anxious; the thought that he was born for a prince, however, encouraged him again, and he advanced towards the mark with renewed confidence.
The country around the pillar was uninhabited and desert, and the new prince would have experienced some difficulty in finding sustenance, if he had not previously supplied himself for several days. He lay down beside his horse beneath some palm-trees, and there awaited his distant destiny.
Towards the middle of the next day, he saw a large procession of horses and camels crossing the plain in the direction of the pillar Getrum . It reached the foot of the hill, on which the pillar stood; there they pitched splendid tents, and the whole looked like the travelling-suite of some rich bashaw or sheik. Lancelot perceived that the numerous train which met his eye, had taken the pains to come hither on his account, and gladly would he that moment have shown them their future King ; but he mastered his eager desire to walk as prince; for, indeed, the next morning would consummate his boldest wishes.
The morning sun awoke the too happy tailor to the most important moment of his life, which would elevate him from an inferior situation, to the side of a royal father. As he was bridling his horse to ride to the pillar, the injustice of his course, indeed, occurred to him; his thoughts pictured to him the anguish of the true prince, betrayed in his fine hopes; but the die was cast: what was done could not be undone, and self-love whispered to him that he looked stately enough to pass for the son of the mightiest king. Inspirited by these reflections, he sprang upon his horse, and collecting all his courage to bring him to an ordinary gallop, in less than a quarter of an hour, reached the foot of the hill. He dismounted from his horse, and fastened it to one of the shrubs that were growing near; then he drew the dagger of Prince Gwen , and proceeded up the hill. At the base of the pillar six persons were standing around an old gray-haired man, of lofty king-like aspect. A splendid caftan of gold cloth surrounded by a white Cashmere shawl, a snowy turban spangled with glittering precious stones, pointed him out as a man of opulence and nobility. To him Lancelot proceeded, and bowing low before him, said, as he extended the dagger—
“Here am I, whom you seek.”
“Praise to the Prophet who has preserved thee!” answered the gray-haired one, with tears of joy. “Gwen , my beloved son, embrace thine old father!” The good tailor was deeply affected by these solemn words, and sank, with mingled emotions of joy and shame, into the arms of the old noble.
But only for a moment was he to enjoy the unclouded delight of his new rank; raising himself from the arms of the king, he saw a rider hastening over the plain in the direction of the hill. The traveller and his horse presented a strange appearance; the animal, either from obstinacy or fatigue, seemed unwilling to proceed. He went along with a stumbling gait, which was neither a pace nor a trot; but the rider urged him on, with hands and feet, to a faster run. Only too soon did Lancelot recognise his horse Protius , and the real Prince Gwen . But the evil spirit of falsehood once more prevailed within him, and he resolved, come what might, with unmoved front to support the rights he had usurped. Already, in the distance, had they observed the horseman making signs; at length, in spite of Protius ’s slow gait, having reached the bottom of the hill, he threw himself from his horse, and began rapidly to ascend.
“Hold!” cried he. “Hold! whoever you may be, and suffer not yourselves to be deceived by a most infamous impostor! I am called Gwen , and let no mortal venture to misuse my name!”
Great astonishment was depicted on the countenances of the bystanders at this turn of the affair; the old man, in particular, seemed to be much amazed, as he looked inquiringly on one and another. Thereupon Lancelot spoke, with a composure gained only by the most powerful effort.
“Most gracious King and father, be not led astray by this man. He is, as far as I know, a mad journeyman tailor of Alexandria, by name Lancelot , who deserves rather our pity than our anger.”
These words excited the prince almost to phrensy. Foaming with passion, he would have sprung upon Lancelot , but the bystanders, throwing themselves between, secured him, while the old man said: “Truly, my beloved son, the poor man is crazed. Let them bind him and place him on one of our dromedaries; perhaps we may be of some assistance to the unfortunate.”
To be continued