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Giants and mortals alike
barred his way; small would have been his chance of ever reaching
Babylon had not Oberon himself watched over him, and sent him help when
he knew it not. Only one thing he asked of Huon in return--to keep
himself from ill-doing and lies, so that he might be worthy to drink
from the golden cup.

And thus it came to pass that after many perils Huon knocked at the
first of the four gates of the city.

No sound was heard in answer to his knock, so he seized the great bell
that hung there, and rang it loudly. At this a porter opened a little
lattice, and asked what great lord it might be who demanded admittance
in so rude a fashion, to which Huon answered hotly that he was an envoy
from the emperor Charles, and that if the porter refused him entrance he
would have to answer for it to his own master.

At that the porter said that if the stranger was an infidel like
themselves, the gates should be thrown open at once, but that, should he
allow any Christian to enter, he would pay for it with his head.

'But I am as much a Saracen as yourself,' said Huon, who only thought of
getting into Babylon and paid no heed to the lie he was telling, or to
the dishonour of his words. Then the gates were opened wide, and he
entered.

It was not till he was crossing the bridge which stood before the second
gate that the wickedness of what he had done came upon him, and then he
felt ashamed, and sorry, and frightened altogether. And how should he
pass through the other three gates without again denying his faith and
steeping himself in dishonour? He was about to turn back in despair,
when he remembered the two good gifts of a giant whom he had overcome--a
suit of armour which no sword could pierce, and a ring which would throw
open all doors. So he showed the ring to the porters that guarded all
the other three doors, and soon found himself in the garden of the
palace.

Even the groves of palms, and the trees of delicious fruits, could not
make him forget the lie he had uttered. Indeed, if he had wished to do
so, he could not, for presently he came to a fountain beside which was
written that no traitor should drink thereof on pain of being destroyed
by the serpent that dwelt therein. At this Huon suddenly felt himself
forsaken of all, and he sat down and wept bitterly.

'O noble King Oberon, listen to me once more,' he cried, and tremblingly
blew his horn.

'I help no liars,' said the fairy king when the blast echoed through the
forest, and, though Huon could not hear his answer, the silence soon
told him what it was.

'If he slays me, at least it will be soon over,' he thought to himself,
and, putting forth all his strength, he blew a fresh blast.

This time it was so loud that it reached the ears of the lord of
Babylon, who was sitting at a feast in the Hall of Moonbeams. And he
rose up, together with his nobles and their squires and their wives and
daughters, and every one in the palace from the least to the greatest,
and began to dance and sing. They sang and danced as long as the horn
kept on blowing, and when it had ceased the ruler of Babylon called to
his lords and bade them follow him into the garden, as of a surety some
great enchanter must have strayed therein.

'Seek him and bring him to me, wherever I be,' commanded the emir; but
the gardens were so large, and it took so long to find Huon, that the
emir went back into the palace and laid himself down on a pile of soft
cushions at the end of the hall.

By his side on a great carved chair was the king of a neighbouring
country, who arrived hither only a few days before to beg for the hand
of the emir's fair daughter, the princess Esclaramonde, who was said to
be the loveliest maiden in the whole world. To be sure, it was whispered
among the courtiers that the princess did not look on him with a
favourable eye, when she had watched his arrival from behind her
lattice, and that more than once she had protested that she was too ill
to leave her room when sent for by her father; but of course, if
marriage was resolved upon, it would have to be.

Huon had heard talk of these things between his guards when they were
marching through the gardens that were almost as big as a town, and up
the long flight of marble steps that led to the palace. He said nothing;
perhaps by this time he had learnt a little wisdom, but he knew who the
man was whose dress was so rich and his air so proud, and before anyone
even saw him lift his arm the king's head was rolling in the dust.

For a moment all remained still, too astonished to speak. Then the emir
recovered his wits, and ordered Huon to be carried off to a dungeon, and
not to be let go or the guards lives would be forfeit. But quick as
thought Huon held out his hand with the ring on it.

'Do you know this?' he said, and the king started back at the sight of
it, and cried to the soldiers to let the prisoner go, for in that place
he might do whatsoever he would. At this permission Huon turned to where
the princess Esclaramonde was sitting by her father, and kissed her
thrice.

The emir was not altogether pleased at this fashion of Huon's, but he
said nothing, and in a moment the knight told him how the emperor had
sent him to pray the emir to become a Christian, otherwise he should
proceed against him with a mighty host.

The emir laughed in scorn as he listened to Huon's vain boast.

'Fifteen envoys has he despatched on a like errand,' answered he, 'and
all fifteen have I hanged. Right willingly should you make the sixteenth
but for the ring which you wear. Tell me, I pray you, whence you got
it?'

But when Huon confessed that it had been given him by the giant, the
emir waxed more wroth than before, and ordered his guards to seize him
and cast him into prison, which in the end they did, though he resisted
them well by reason of the harness that was on him.

For a long space Huon lingered in that dark prison, and sad indeed would
have been his lot had it not been for the secret visits of the princess
Esclaramonde, who, the better to preserve his life, assured her father
of his death.

At length, when the emir was sore beset by the army of the giant
Agrapart, she deemed it a favourable time to betray to her father that
Huon was still alive in his prison, and was ready to do battle with the
giant if, as was usual in that country, the princess's hand should be
given to the victor. Both the emir and the giant agreed that their
quarrel should stand or fall by single combat, and so the fight began.

[Illustration: HUON DEFEATS THE GIANT AGRAPART]

Huon felt in his heart that there was more at stake than even the hand
of the princess. He stood forth as the champion of Christendom amidst a
host of pagans, and it behoved him to strike with all his strength. In
the end the victory was his, and the giant Agrapart was overcome, but
his life was spared on condition that he would serve the emir faithfully
all his days, which solemn oath he took gladly. After that, Huon drew
out the cup the fairy king had given him, and, having made the sign of
the cross over it, it was filled with wine, and he drank of it. For he
had long since repented of the lie he had told, and was clean again.
Then the emir tried to drink also, but no wine would come.

'You must forsake your false gods, and be a Christian such as I am,'
said Huon, 'and if you like not fair words you shall see how an armed
host pleases you;' but, as was natural, the ruler of Babylon was not the
man to be moved by such persuasions. He angrily bade Huon cease, and to
speak to him no more on the matter or all the hosts of Charlemagne
himself should not avail to save his head.

'You will repent you too late,' said Huon, and blew his horn.

At first the emir and his courtiers began to dance and sing wildly, they
knew not wherefore, while in the wood far away Oberon heard the sound.
'Huon, my friend, has great need of me,' he thought to himself, 'and his
ill-doings have been punished enough, so I will pardon him, for there is
not in all the world so noble a man. Therefore I wish myself at his
side, with a thousand men behind me.' And in another moment, no man
could tell how, Oberon and his men were within the walls of Babylon. The
guards of the palace fell before them on every hand, till at last they
reached the emir himself.

'He is yours to spare or to slay,' said Oberon, and once more the knight
gave the Paynim his choice.

'Be a Christian or you die,' said Huon, and the emir made answer:

'I will never forsake my own.' They were the last words he spoke, for
his head rolled upon the floor. After that Huon cut off the emir's beard
and pulled out four of his teeth, and hid them in the beard of his old
friend Gerames, who had lately returned to Babylon.

'Now I must leave you,' said Oberon, when these things were over. 'See
that in all ways you behave yourself as a good and true knight should
do, and have no share in ill-doings. I bid you take ship and carry the
princess Esclaramonde, your bride, into France, and guard her from all
ills on the way. And if you do not that which I bid you, great evil
shall happen unto you.'

But, alas! no sooner was the ship out of sight of land than the good
counsels of Oberon faded out of Huon's mind, and he fell into many sins.
The cup would not fill with wine, and Oberon was deaf to the blast of
the horn. Then an awful tempest arose; the ship struck on a rock and was
rent in pieces, and all were drowned save Huon and the princess, who
were washed on an island. But even here they were not safe, for Huon was
bound and tortured, and left under a tree, while Esclaramonde was
carried away by the pirates who were dwellers on the isle.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, the knowledge of Huon's plight had reached Oberon, and, angry
though he was, he began to think how best to send help to him, when a
monster of the sea, called Mallebron, who had before given him aid on
his journey to Babylon, begged to be allowed to deliver him once more.

'It pleases me well,' answered Oberon, 'that this caitiff Huon should
suffer pain for the evil that he has wrought, but if you love him so
much that for his sake you shall endure to wear the shape of a fish for
twenty years longer I will grant you your wish on two conditions.



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