Stories from Old English Poetry/The Story of Candace

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THE STORY OF CANDACE.

(FROM CHAUCER AND SPENSER.)

The first part of this story is found in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” where it is left in an unfinished state. Spenser afterward takes up the story of Candace in the second canto of the fourth book of “Faery Queen,” which celebrates the life-long friendship of Cambello and Triamond. I have taken some liberties with the two stories in order to unite them gracefully, but they are very slight and immaterial.


The famous old Emperor Cambuscan made a grand feast in his royal palace to celebrate his victory over the sovereign of the Russias. On his right hand was his son Cambello, bravest of knights, and on the other side sat his fair daughter Candace, who was of all princesses most learned and prudent.

While they sat amid the noise and rejoicing of the feast, word was brought to the Emperor that a messenger stayed without, bearing presents to the court. On this he was ordered to be ushered into the royal presence. In a few moments, while all waited expectant, a swarthy figure, dressed in Oriental guise, came in.

With one hand he led by a silver bridle a horse of shining brass, which moved obedient to its keeper’s bidding. In his other hand he held a small mirror; by his side hung a sword bare of its scabbard, and on the thumb of his right hand he wore a ring of dazzling brightness.

When he had approached the Emperor Cambuscan, this stranger knight bowed low and spoke thus:—

“Most potent sovereign of the West, the lord of Araby and Ind sends you these gifts with friendly greeting. This horse, of such magic power that he who knows its secret can ride through the air as if he were borne aloft on wings wheresoever he chooses; a mirror, in which he who looks can see who is his true friend or his sworn foe. In it any lady can see if her lover be true, or any prince can determine who among his subjects is a traitor. With these, he sends also this sword, which makes its owner invincible to enemies, and this ring, whose wonderful powers are unequaled in magic. He upon whose finger it is worn, can understand the language of animals, the properties of plants, and it shall also have power to stanch the blood from any wound, howsoever dangerous, which its wearer shall receive.”

The Emperor thanked the ambassador from his brother of Araby, with many thanks, and made him welcome at his festivities. The gifts were received with great honor, and were divided between the monarch and his children. Cambuscan himself retained the magic horse and the mirror, Cambello took the sword, and to Candace, already noted for her learning, the ring was given, so that by its aid she became the wisest princess in all Europe.

Now upon each of these gifts there hangs a tale more wonderful than any of those with which the Persian Sultana beguiled her lord. But our fortunes go now with Candace and her ring, and the happy issue out of deadly battle which it brought to her brother Cambello.

Now this brother and sister loved each other with great affection, so that their friendship stood as a pattern of fraternal love. Although Candace had many suitors among the best born knights, yet she refused all, content in the society of her brother and her books, and caring naught for any wooers who appeared to sue for her.

But at length the people began to clamor for the marriage of the princess, desiring that she should be united to some one worthy of her high deserts. When Cambello saw that this was the people’s will, he announced that he would hold a grand tournament in the kingdom, at which all brave foreign princes and knights should be bidden. Each who entered the lists should engage in fight with Cambello, and he who was able to conquer him, should be the husband of Candace.

There were three lovers of Candace, who, on hearing this announcement, resolved at once to risk their lives for her. These three were the twin-born brothers, Priamond, Dyamond, and Triamond, who all bore charmed lives. It happened in this wise:—They were the children of a fay who dwelt deep in the heart of an enchanted forest. There in a secluded bower had the fay reared her brave sons. But alas! they were of mortal sire, and from their earliest youth the shadow of their death hung over their mother, who was a fairy of immortal birth and lineage.

When they were still babes, she went to the dread abode of the Fates, to entreat them to spare the lives of her three boys. Atropos, angry at the request, refused her such a boon; but Clotho, the youngest and most pitiful of the Parcæ, permitted her to look into the web of destiny and behold the threads of her sons’ lives,

To her grief the fay beheld them clipped short in early manhood. Then the mother, with moving words, entreated the Fates to let each inherit the other’s life, so that when the fatal shears of Atropos severed the thread of Priamond’s life, his ghost should pass into Dyamond’s frame, and when his life was ended, both together should be added to Triamond, that his life and strength might be pieced out with the warp of his brothers’ lives. This boon was granted to her prayers, and with this the fay was forced to be content.

These three brothers came to the tournament of Cambello, in martial array, attended by a herald, who proclaimed loudly, before them, the high deeds in arms for which they were already famous.

Cambello entered into combat with his magic sword, sent by the Arabian monarch. On his finger also he wore the enchanted ring which had the power to stanch blood. Trebly armed with these and his own valor, he went forth to battle in his sister’s cause.

The arena was spread thick with glittering white sand, so firm and hard that even the horses’ hoofs scarce dented its level surface. About the inclosure were seats for hundreds of spectators, and aloft, in the stateliest place, sat Candace to view the conflict. Above the heads of the spectators were draped rich canopies of crimson and gold, rarest products of the looms of Persia and of Ind. Everywhere the most splendid preparations were made for the tourney.

The first who met the weapon of Cambello was Priamond, who fought long and gallantly. At the last the sharp spear-head of Cambello found out a crevice in his thick armor, and gave him such a thrust in his side that from the wound his life gushed forth. Then his brave spirit, instead of seeking at once the grim shades of Hades, entered into the mortal shape of Dyamond, who from that moment was twice eager for the affray.

Inspired by double soul and valor Dyamond was hardly to be subdued, and for a long time the victory seemed doubtful,—till, with one gigantic blow, Cambello wielded his good sword, and struck from his body the head of his brave adversary.

Then as the united lives of his two brothers passed into the breast of Triamond, a great cry of defiance escaped his throat. Not one whit dismayed at the prowess of Cambello, he burned to engage with him hand to hand.

At the next morning’s dawn, behold the two champions clad in glittering armor, with helmets closed, and arms newly put in order, met on the snowy field.

Like two clouds charged with black thunder-bolts, they meet each other, and are merged in dire conflict. Blow rang on blow, blood stained the fair sand, weapons were broken and thrown aside, and yet without stay, the battle waged, and each combatant seemed untiring and incapable of defeat. Already the sun stood in the centre of the heavens, and Candace had begun to fear for her brother’s safety, in spite of the charmed weapon which he bore, and begged that the fight might cease.

As the noontide waned, sounds of surprise and admiration were heard to arise from the assembled spectators, and the crowd shrank away to either side. Through the parting multitude drove a silver chariot, drawn by four tawny lions, who moved obedient to the reins. In the chariot stood a lady, dazzlingly beautiful, who bore in one hand a wand twined with an olive wreath, and in the other a cup filled with a rare liquid called nepenthe, which none but brave warriors are able to quaff.

This lady was in truth the fairy Cambina, the sister of Triamond, who, despairing of the issue of the fight, had come to make peace between them.

When she reached the side of the two combatants, Cambina waved her olive-clad wand, and at once their arms fell powerless, and their swords seemed glued to the earth. As soon as this was wrought, Cambina offered them both a draught of the liquor which she bore, and they, thirsty with their hard fight, accepted it eagerly. In the contents of the cup, all enmity and cause of quarrel was forgotten, and by the help of Cambina, a friendship was that moment cemented between them which was never broken.

Cambello gave his sister Candace to Triamond, who gladly accepted her as his bride; and the lovely fay was content to link herself with the mortal Cambello, so that with this exchange of sisters the two knights were still closer knit in bonds of affection.

And so famous did their friendship become, that among all the knights of Faery their names stood for a sign of brotherly union, in arms and in love.

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