LANCELOT – Episode 4
© TUNDE IBIKUNLE
The King was lost in deep reflection, looking with distrust, now on his wife, now on Lancelot , who vainly sought to conceal his blushes and consternation at having so stupidly betrayed himself. “This proof pleases me not,” said he; “but, Allah be praised! I know a means of learning whether I am deceived.” He commanded them to bring his swiftest horse, mounted, and rode to a forest, which commenced not far from the city. There, according to an old tradition, lived a good fairy, named Mistletoe , who had often before this assisted with her advice the monarchs of his family, in the hour of need: thither hastened the King .
In the middle of the wood was an open place, surrounded by lofty cedars. There, the story said, lived the fairy; and seldom did a mortal visit this spot, for a certain awe connectd with it had, from olden time, descended from father to son. When the King had drawn near he dismounted, tied his horse to a tree, and placing himself in the middle of the open space, cried with loud voice:—
“If it be true that thou hast given good counsel to my fathers, in the hour of need, then disdain not the request of their descendant, and advise me in a case where human understanding is too short-sighted.”
Hardly had he uttered the last word, when one of the cedars opened, and a veiled lady, in long white garments, stepped forth.
“I know, King Cisco , why thou comest to me; thy wish is fair, therefore shall my asis tance be thine. Take these two chests; let each of the two who claim to be thy son, choose; I know that he who is the real one, will not make a wrong selection.” Thus speaking, the veiled lady extended to him two little caskets of ivory, richly adorned with gold and pearls: upon the lids, which he vainly sought to open, were inscriptions formed by inlaid diamonds.
As he was riding home, the King tormented himself with various conjectures, as to what might be the contents of the caskets, which, do his best, he could not open. The words on the outside threw no light upon the matter; for on one was inscribed, Honor and Fame; upon the other, Fortune and Wealth. Cisco thought it would be difficult to make choice between these two, which seemed equally attractive, equally alluring. When he reached the palace, he sent for his wife, and told her the answer of the fairy: it filled her with an eager hope, that he to whom her heart clung, might select the casket which would indicate his royal origin.
Two tables were brought in before the King’s throne; on these, with his own hand, Cisco placed the two boxes; then, ascending to his seat, he gave the signal to one of his slaves to open the door of the saloon. A brilliant throng of bashaws and emirs of the realm poured through the open door: they seated themselves on the splendid cushions, which were arranged around the walls. When they had done this, Cisco gave a second signal, and Lancelot was introduced; with haughty step he walked through the apartment, and prostrated himself before the throne with these words:—
“What is the command of my King and father?” The King raised himself in his throne, and said:—
“My son, doubts are entertained as to the genuineness of thy claims to this name; one of these chests contains the confirmation of thy real birth. Choose! I doubt not thou wilt select the right one!” Lancelot raised himself, and advanced towards the boxes; for a long time he reflected as to which he should choose, at last he said:—
“Honored father, what can be loftier than the fortune of being thy son? What more noble than the wealth of thy favor? I choose the chest which bears the inscription, Fortune And Wealth.”
“We will soon learn whether thou hast made the right choice; meanwhile sit down upon that cushion, near the bashaw of Calif ,” said the King , again motioning to his slaves.
Gwen was led in; his eye was mournful, his air dejected, and his appearance excited universal sympathy among the spectators. He threw himself before the throne, and inquired after the King’s pleasure. Cisco informed him that he was to choose one of the chests: he arose, and approached the table. He read attentively both inscriptions, and said:—
“The few last days have informed me how insecure is fortune, how transient is wealth; but they have also taught me that, in the bre@st of the brave, lives what can never be destroyed, HONOR, and that the bright star of RENOWN sets not with fortune. The die is cast! should I resign a crown, Honor and Fame, you are my choice!” He placed his hand upon the casket that he had chosen, but the King commanded him not to unclose it, while he motioned to Lancelot to advance, in like manner, before his table. He did so, and at the same time grasped his box. The King , however, had a chalice brought in, with water from Zemzem, the holy fountain of Mecca, washed his hands for supplication, and, turning his face to the East, prostrated himself in prayer:
“God of my fathers! Thou, who for centuries hast established our family, pure and unadulterated, grant that no unworthy one disgrace the name of the Good King ; be with thy protection near my real son, in this hour of trial.” The Queen rose, and reascended his throne. Universal expectation enchained all present; they scarcely breathed; one could have heard a mouse crawl over the hall, so mute and attentive were all. The hindmost extended their necks, in order to get a view of the chests, over the heads of those in front. The King spoke: “Open the chests;” and they, which before no violence could force, now sprang open of their own accord.
To be continued
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