LANCELOT THE FALSE PRINCE – Episode 3
© TUNDE IBIKUNLE
The anger of the prince had abated; in tears, he cried out to the old man, “My heart tells me that you are my father; by the memory of my mother, I conjure you—hear me!”
“Alas! God guard us!” answered he: “already he again begins to talk wildly. How can the man come by such crazy thoughts?” Thereupon, seizing Lancelot ’s arm, he made him accompany him down the hill. They both mounted fine and richly-caparisoned coursers, and rode at the head of the procession, across the plain. They tied the hands of the unfortunate prince, however, and bound him securely upon a dromedary. Two horsemen rode constantly by his side, who kept a watchful eye upon his every movement.
The old prince was Cisco , King of the Wechabites. For some time had he lived without children; at last a prince, for whom he had so ardently longed, was born to him. But the astrologer, whom he consulted respecting the destiny of his son, told him that, until his twenty-second year, he would be in danger of being supplanted by an enemy. On that account, in order that he might be perfectly safe, had the King given him, to be brought up, to his old and tried friend, Gaius ; and twenty-two sad years had lived without looking upon him.
This did the King impart to his supposed son, and seemed delighted beyond measure with his figure and dignified demeanor.
When they reached the King’s dominions, they were everywhere received by the inhabitants with shouts of joy; for the rumor of the prince’s arrival had spread like wildfire through the cities and towns. In the streets through which they proceeded, arches of flowers and branches were er£cted; bright carpets of all colors adorned the houses; and the people loudly praised God and his prophet, who had discovered to them so noble a prince. All this filled the proud heart of the tailor with delight: so much the more unhappy did it make the real Gwen , who, still bound, followed the procession in silent despair. In this universal jubilee, though it was all in his honor, no one paid him any attention. A thousand, and again a thousand, voices shouted the name of Gwen ; but of him who really bore this name, of him none took notice: at most, only one or two inquired whom they were carrying with them, so tightly bound, and frightfully in the ears of the prince sounded the answer of his guards, “It is a mad tailor.”
The procession at last reached the capital of the King , where all was prepared for their reception with still more brilliancy than in the other cities. The Queen , an elderly woman of majestic appearance, awaited them, with her whole court, in the most splendid saloon of the castle. The floor of this room was covered with a large carpet; the walls were adorned with bright blue tapestry, which was suspended from massive silver hooks, by cords and tassels of gold.
It was dark by the time the procession came up, and accordingly many globular colored lamps were lighted in the saloon, which made night brilliant as day; but with the clearest brilliancy and most varied colors, shone those in the farthest part of the saloon, where the Queen was seated upon a throne. The throne stood upon four steps, and was of pure gold, inlaid with amethysts. The four most illustrious emirs held a canopy of crimson silk over the head of their mistress; and the sheik of Calif cooled her with a fan of peacock feathers. Thus awaited the Queen her husband and son; the latter she had never looked on since his birth, but significant dreams had so plainly shown her the object of her longings, that she would know him out of thousands.
Now they heard the noise of the approaching troop; trumpets and drums mingled with the huzzas of the populace; the hoofs of the horses sounded on the court of the palace; steps came nearer and nearer; the doors of the room flew open, and, through rows of prostrate attendants, hastened the King , holding his son by the hand, towards the mother’s throne.
“Here,” said he, “do I bring to thee, him for whom thou hast so often longed.”
The Queen , however, interrupted him, crying: “This is not my son! These are not the features which the Prophet has shown me in my dreams!”
Just as the King was about to rebuke her superstition, the door of the saloon sprang open, and Prince Gwen rushed in, followed by his guards, whom an exertion of his whole strength had enabled him to escape. Breathless, he threw himself before the throne, exclaiming:—
“Here will I die! Kill me, cruel father, for this disgrace I can endure no longer!”
All were confounded at these words; they pressed around the unfortunate one, and already were the guards, who had hurried up, on the point of seizing him and replacing his fetters, when the Queen , who had thus far looked on in mute astonishment, sprang from the throne.
“Hold!” she cried; “this, and no other, is my son! This is he, who, though my eyes have never seen him, is well known to my heart!” The guards had involuntarily fallen back from Gwen , but the King , foaming with rage, commanded them to bind the madman.
“It is mine to decide,” he cried with commanding tone; “and here we will judge, not by a woman’s dreams, but by sure and infallible signs. This,” pointing to Lancelot , “is my son, for he has brought me the dagger, the real token of my friend Gaius .”
“He stole it,” cried Gwen ; “my unsuspicious confidence has he treacherously abused!” But the King hearkened not to the voice of his son, for he was wont in all things obstinately to follow his own judgment. He bade them forcibly drag the unfortunate Gwen from the saloon, and himself retired with Lancelot to his chamber, filled with anger at his wife, with whom, nevertheless, he had lived in happiness for five-and-twenty years. The Queen was full of grief at this affair; she was perfectly convinced that an impostor had taken possession of the King’s heart, so numerous and distinct had been the dreams which pointed out the unhappy Gwen as her son. When her sorrow had a little abated, she reflected on the means of convincing her husband of his mistake. This was indeed difficult, for he who had passed himself off as her son, had presented the dagger, the token of recognition, and had, moreover, as she learned, become acquainted with so much of Gwen ’s early life from the lips of the prince himself, as to be able to play his part without betraying himself.
She called to her the men who had attended the King to the pillar Getrum , in order to have the whole matter exactly laid before her, and then took counsel with her most trusty female slaves. She chose, and in a moment rejected, this means and that; at length, Frost , an old and cunning Lady in waiting , spoke.
“If I have heard rightly, honored mistress, the one who bore this dagger called him whom thou holdest to be thy son, a crazy tailor, Lancelot ?”
“Yes, it is so,” answered the Queen ; “but what wilt thou make of that?”
“What think you,” proceeded the slave, “of this impostor’s having stitched his own name upon your son? If this be so, we have an excellent way of catching the deceiver, which I will impart to you in private.”
The Queen gave ear to her slave, and the latter whispered to her a plan which seemed to please her, for she immediately got ready to go to the King . The Queen was a sensible woman, and knew not only the weak side of her husband, but also the way to take advantage of it. She seemed therefore to give up, and to be willing to acknowledge her son, only offering one condition: the King , whom the outbreak between himself and his wife had grieved, agreed thereto, and she said:—
“I would fain have from each a proof of his skill; another, perhaps, would have them contend in riding, in single conflict, or in hurling spears: but these are things which every one can do; I will give them something which will require both knowledge and dexterity. It shall be this; each shall make a caftan, and a pair of pantaloons, and then will we see at once who can make the finest ones.”
The King laughingly answered, “Ah! thou hast hit on a fine expedient! Shall my son contend with a mad tailor, to see who can make the best caftan? No! that cannot be.” The Queen , however, cried out, that he had already agreed to the condition, and her husband, who was a man of his word, at length yielded, though he swore, should the mad tailor make his caftan ever so beautiful, he would never acknowledge him as his son.
The King thereupon went to his son, and entreated him to submit to the caprices of his mother, who now positively wished to see a caftan from his hands. The heart of the good Lancelot laughed with delight; if that be all that is wanting, thought he to himself, then shall the lady Queen soon behold me with joy. Two rooms had been fitted up, one for the prince, the other for the tailor; there were they to try their skill, and eache n ished with shears, needles, thread, and a sufficient quantity of silk.
The King was very eager to see what sort of a caftan his son would bring to light, but the heart of the Queen beat unquietly, from apprehension lest her stratagem might be unsuccessful. Two days had they been confined to their work; on the third, the King sent for his wife, and when she appeared, dispatched her to the apartments to bring the two caftans and their makers. With triumphant air Lancelot walked in, and extended his garment before the astonished eyes of the King .
“Behold, father,” said he, “look, mother! see if this be not a masterpiece of a caftan. I will leave it to the most skilful court-tailor, upon a wager, whether he can produce such another.”
The Queen , smiling, turned to Gwen :— “And thou, my son, what hast thou brought?”
Indignantly he cast the silk and shears upon the floor.
“They have taught me to tame horses, and to swing my sabre; and my lance will strike you a mark at sixty paces. But the art of the needle is unknown to me; it were unworthy a pupil of Gaius , the King of shallow town !”
Lancelot secret “Oh, thou true son of my heart!” exclaimed the Queen . “Ah, that I might embrace thee, and call thee, son! Forgive me, husband and master,” she continued, turning to the King , “for having set on foot this stratagem against you. See you not now who is prince, and who tailor? Of a truth the caftan which your King son has made, is magnificent, and I would fain ask with what master he has learned!”
To be continued
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