Chapter 8

CHAPTER IX

THE ORTHODOX RESCUE OF GUENEVERE

OW the tale tells how the cave narrowed and again turned sharply, so that Jurgen came as through a corridor into quite another sort of underground chamber. Yet th is also was a discomfortable place.

Here, suspended from the roof of the vault, was a kettle of quivering red flames. These lighted a very old and villainous-looking man in full armour, girded with a sword, and crowned royally: he sat erect upon a throne, motionless, with staring eyes th at saw nothing. Back of him Jurgen noted many warriors seated in rows, and all staring at Jurgen with wide-open eyes that saw nothing. The red flaming of the kettle was reflected in all these eyes, and to observe this was not pleasant.

Jurgen waited non-committally. Nothing happened. Then Jurgen saw that at this unengaging monarch's feet were three chests. The lids had been ripped from two of them, and these were filled with silver coins. Upon the middle chest, immediately before the king, sat a woman, with her face resting against the knees of the glaring, withered, motionless old rascal.

"And this is a young woman. Obviously! Observe the glint of that thick coil of hair ! the rich curve of the neck! Oh, clearly, a tidbit fit to fight for, against any moderate odds!"

So ran the thoughts of Jurgen. Bold as a dragon now, he stepped forward and lifted the girl's head.

Her eyes were closed. She was, even so, the most beautiful creature Jurgen had ever imagined.

"She does not breathe. And yet, unless memory fails me, this is certainly a living woman in my arms. Evidently this is a sleep induced by necromancy. Well, it is not for nothing I have read so many fairy tales. There are orthodoxies to be observed in the awakening of every enchanted princess. And Lisa, wherever she may be, poor dear ! is nowhere in this neighbourhood, because I hear nobody talking. So I may consider myself at liberty to do the traditional thing by this princess. Indeed, it is the only fair thing for me to do, and justice demands it."

In consequence, Jurgen kissed the girl. Her lips parted and softened, and they assumed a not unpleasant sort of submissive ardour. Her eyes, enormous when seen thus closely, had languorously opened, had viewed him without wonder, and then the lids had fallen, about half-way, just as, Jurgen remembered, the eyelids of a woman ought to do when she is being kissed properly. She clung a little, and now she shivered a little, but not with cold: Jurgen perfectly remembered that ecstatic shudder convulsing a woman's body: everything, in fine, was quite as it should be. So Jurgen put an end to the kiss, which, as you may surmise, was a tolerably lengthy affair.

His heart was pounding as though determined to burst from his body, and he could feel the blood tingling at his finger-tips. He wondered what in the world had come over him, who was too old for such emotions.

Yet, truly, this was the loveliest girl that Jurgen had ever imagined. Fair was she to look on, with her shining grey eyes and small smiling lips, a fairer person might no man boast of having seen. And she regarded Jurgen graciously, with her cheeks fl ushed by that red flickering overhead, and she was very lovely to observe. She was clothed in a robe of flame-coloured silk, and about her

neck was a collar of red gold. When she spoke her voice was music.

"I knew that you would come," the girl said, happily.

"I am very glad that I came," observed Jurgen.

"But time presses."

"Time sets an admirable example, my dear Princess-"

"Oh, messire, but do you not perceive that you have brought life into this horrible place ? You have given of this life to me, in the most direct and speedy fashion. But life is very contagious. Already it is spreading by infection."

And Jurgen regarded the old king, as the girl indicated. The withered ruffian stayed motionless : but from his nostrils came slow augmenting jets of vapour, as though he were beginning to breathe in a chill place. This was odd, because the cave was not cold.

"And all the others too are snorting smoke," says Jurgen. "Upon my word I think this is a delightful place to be leaving."

First, though, he unfastened the king's sword-belt, and girded himself therewith, sword, dagger and all. "Now I have arms befitting my fine shirt," says Jurgen.

Then the girl showed him a sort of passage way, by which they ascended forty-nine steps roughly hewn in stone, and so came to daylight. At the top of the stairway was an iron trapdoor, and this door at the girl's instruction Jurgen lowered. There was n o way of fastening the door from without.

"But Thragnar is not to be stopped by bolts or padlocks," the girl said. " Instead, we must straightway mark this door with a cross, since that is a symbol which Thragnar cannot pass."

Jurgen's hand had gone instinctively to his throat. Now he shrugged. "My dear young lady, I no longer carry the cross. I must fight Thragnar with other weapons."

"Two sticks will serve, laid crosswise-"

Jurgen submitted that nothing would be easier than to lift the trapdoor, and thus dislodge the sticks. "They will tumble apart without anyone having to touch them, and then what becomes of your crucifix?"

"Why, how quickly you think of everything!" she said, admiringly. "Here is a strip from my sleeve, then. We will tie the twigs together."

Jurgen did this, and laid upon the trapdoor a recognisable crucifix. "Still, when anyone raises the trapdoor whatever lies upon it will fall off. Without disparaging the potency of your charm, I cannot but observe that in this case it is peculiarl y difficult to handle. Magician or no, I would put heartier faith in a stout padlock."

So the girl tore another strip, from the hem of her gown, and then another from her right sleeve, and with these they fastened their cross to the surface of the trapdoor, in such a fashion that the twigs could not be dislodged from beneath. They mounte d the fine steed whose bridle was marked with a coronet, the girl riding pillion, and they turned westward, since the girl said this was best.

For, as she now told Jurgen, she was Guenevere, the daughter of Gogyrvan, King of Glathion and the Red Islands. So Jurgen told her he was the Duke of Logreus, because he felt it was not appropriate for a pawnbroker to be rescuing princesses: and he swo re, too, that he would restore her safely to her father, whatever Thragnar might attempt. And all the story of her nefarious capture and imprisonment by King Thragnar did Dame Guenevere relate to Jurgen, as they rode together through the pleasant May morn ing.

She considered the Troll King could not well molest them. "For now you have his charmed sword, Caliburn, the only weapon with which Thragnar can be slain. Besides, the sign of the cross he cannot pass. He beholds and trembles."

"My dear Princess, he has but to push up the trapdoor from beneath, and the cross, being tied to the trapdoor, is promptly moved out of his way. Failing this expedient, he can always come out of the cave by the other opening, through which I enter ed. If this Thragnar has any intelligence at all and a reasonable amount of tenacity, he will presently be at hand."

"Even so, he can do no harm unless we accept a present from him. The difficulty is that he will come in disguise."

"Why, then, we will accept gifts from nobody."

"There is, moreover, a sign by which you may distinguish Thragnar. For if you deny what he says, he will promptly concede you are in the right. This was the curse put upon him by Miramon Lluagor, for a detection and a hindrance."

"By that unhuman trait," says Jurgen, "Thragnar ought to be very easy to distinguish."

Chapter 10