The Knight of the Lion

    In the high Middle Ages the king of Friesland had a daughter who was so beautiful and kind, so chaste and gentle, that heaven sent a Unicorn to be her constant companion in the gardens of the palace. For this reason she became known as The White Lady, Ward of the Unicorn.

     In time she married a brave knight of good lineage and grand estates, and when she moved to his castle the Unicorn went too and continued to be her faithful companion.

     Soon the White Lady was as beloved in her new home as she had been in the old and, as was the custom of the time, many young knights sought to become her champion and wear her emblem in battle. They were the sons of kings, dukes and barons, but out of them all her heart settled on one of the most humble.  She chose Bartholomew as her knight and champion and she gave him her scarf to wear as a mascot.

     With. a glad heart Bartholomew rode out into the world and, although he had been a bold enough knight before, he now felt invincible. Everywhere he went he overcame evil and at every tournament he was acclaimed the champion. With each triumph Bartholomew proclaimed loudly in whose name he acted and the fame of the White Lady spread far and wide.

     Whilst on his travels Bartholomew woke one night in terror to find himself under attack from a lion in whose cave he had unwittingly chosen to sleep. He defended himself and a fierce struggle followed. They were well matched and their contest continued until dawn. At first light they stopped fighting and drew apart, both of them exhausted and injured. They rested for a long time and as the knight watched the lion he found himself admiring the creature more than he feared it. Then the lion did a surprising thing: he lay down defenselessly at Bartholomew's feet and held out a paw in friendship.

     From that day on the knight and the lion were never parted. Bartholomew became known as the Knight of the Lion and his fame and that of his lady spread even further.

     From time to time in his travels the Knight of the Lion visited the White Lady to tell of his adventures. A great love grew up between them, but it was also a chaste love that gave her husband no cause for jealousy. The Unicorn still sat by her in the garden and condoned their love.

     One day when Bartholomew arrived at her castle he was stopped at the gate by a squire in black livery with a golden lion embroidered on the tunic. 'Sir, you cannot enter,"  'he  said, 'this place is in mourning.'

     'In mourning, for whom? the knight asked, surprised because no one of note had been ailing on his last visit.

     'Why, the White Lady, sir. She passed away just yesterday A sudden illness. No one within can speak for grief.'

     The knight's world seemed to fall apart there on the drawbridge and all that he had accomplished in his lady's name suddenly tasted like ashes in his mouth. In a fit of rage and grief he cast his weapons and armor into the moat and ran off wildly into the nearby forest. There, for a while, his grief turned to madness and he stumbled about aimlessly like a blind and savage beast.

     Back at the castle the messenger in black left the gate and sought out the White Lady, whose health and spirits had never been better, save perhaps for a certain longing to see her champion again.

     'Lady' he said, 'I have news for you of the Knight of the Lion.'

     Seeing the emblem on his tunic, she ,believed this. 'What news?' she asked.

     'Lady, he is dead,"  said the messenger. 'Just yesterday, in the woods nearby, he was killed on his way to visit you, set upon by twelve outlaws. Both he and his beast were slain and their heads taken as trophies.' The White Lady fainted with grief.

     This man in black was a rogue knight who had long coveted the White Lady from afar and while she was unconscious he tied her up and bundled her into a sack. Slipping from the castle, he bore her away on horseback to his castle. It was securely positioned high in the mountains with a precipitous drop on three sides whilst the fourth side was protected by a dragon. Once there the White Lady was locked in a tower and the rogue knight threatened not to release her until she agreed to become his bride. Imprisoned in the tower, she was separated from all that gave her life meaning and fell into a desperate state. 

     Meanwhile, the Knight of the Lion was rescued from his madness by his faithful lion who guarded and protected him from the worst excesses of his torment until a degree of sanity returned.

     Whilst recovering, the knight heard from a passing stranger that his lady was still alive and all his former strength and confidence returned to him. Riding on the lion's back, he went straight to the White  Lady's castle to pledge himself to her rescue. There he found her husband and his knights recovering from an heroic attempt to storm the rogue knight's castle.  They had been heavily defeated and were nursing the dreadful wounds inflicted by the fearsome dragon.  They were ill prepared to stage a second attack on the castle so, after rearming himself, the Knight of the Lion went into the mountains with his beast.

     The rogue knight's dark castle, although not large, seemed impregnable as the Knight of the Lion approached it. But before he could even attempt to enter the castle he had to slay the dragon which was lying seemingly asleep at the castle gate. The knight fitted his lance to its rest, raised his shield and charged.

     Dragons can rarely be trusted to be asleep when they seem to be and this one was no exception. Lazily, it raised its golden eyes, opened its jaws as if to yawn and met the charge with a blast of flame. The ferocious heat not only nearly roasted the knight in his armor but knocked him and the lion head over heels back down the rocky track and almost off the edge of the mountain. Gamely they picked themselves up, reeking of burned flesh and fur, and charged again, only to be knocked back as before. They tried a third time but still could not get near enough to the dragon to use the lance.

     As the knight and his lion picked themselves up for a third time they knew they had met their match, but pride forbade them from turning back in defeat. As they retired to lick their wounds they suddenly heard a movement on the path below Up through the acrid smoke now wreathing the scorched mountain, and shining like the moon amidst the murk, came the lady's Unicorn.

     There was a wild light in its eyes as it passed and the knight and lion drew back in silence to let it go. Up the blackened, rocky path it went until it confronted the dragon, then the Unicorn reared up defiantly on its hind legs and uttered an awful cry. 

     The dragon replied with a fiery roar and the Unicorn glowed first red then pink amid the torrent. The Unicorn was neither knocked from its feet nor burned to a crisp and when the flames died down it lowered its horn and charged.  The dragon reared up in alarm and tried to spread its great wings, but they crashed into the gatehouse above. So the ferocious beast attacked, lashing out with taloned, forearms, its flaming jaws poised to crush the snowy, graceful neck. 

     Sparks flashed from the Unicorn's feet

and it took to the air like a thunderbolt, streaking past the slashing claws and 

vicious fangs to drive its horn almost to hilt into the dragon's angry heart.

     The dragon fell dead into the moat, almost crushing the Unicorn as it did. Then the knight rode up and beheaded it before all three victors entered the castle together. The Unicorn's horn was steaming a dark vapor as it cleansed itself of the dragon's blood.

     Everyone in the castle fled before them and when the rogue knight realized his defenses had been breached, and he was powerless against these assailants, he dropped dead with rage.

     So the White Lady was set free and rode home on her beloved Unicorn with her knight and his lion by her side. There were great celebrations on her arrival and her husband was overjoyed to see her. The knight and his lion were hailed as heroes and handsomely rewarded before setting off again on their travels.