LADY OF THE FOUNTAIN
from The Mabinogion
by Charlotte Guest 
Arthur was at Caerlleon upon Usk; and one day
he sat in his chamber; and with him were Owain
the son of Urien, and Kynon the son of Clydno,
and Kai the son of Kyner; and Gwenhwyvar and her
handmaidens at needlework by the window. And if
it should be said that there was a porter at Arthur's
palace, there was none. Glewlwyd Gavaelvawr was
there, acting as porter, to welcome guests and
strangers, and to receive them with honour, and
to inform them of the manners and customs of the
Court; and to direct those who came to the Hall
or to the presence-chamber, and those who came
to take up their lodging.
In the centre of the chamber King Arthur sat upon
a seat of green rushes, over which was spread
a covering of flame-coloured satin, and a cushion
of red satin was under his elbow.
Then Arthur spoke, "If I thought you would
not disparage me," said he, "I would
sleep while I wait for my repast; and you can
entertain one another with relating tales, and
can obtain a flagon of mead and some meat from
Kai." And the King went to sleep. And Kynon
the son of Clydno asked Kai for that which Arthur
had promised them. "I, too, will have the
good tale which he promised to me," said
Kai. "Nay," answered Kynon, "fairer
will it be for thee to fulfill Arthur's behest,
in the first place, and then we will tell thee
the best tale that we know." So Kai went
to the kitchen and to the mead- cellar, and returned
bearing a flagon of mead and a golden goblet,
and a handful of skewers, upon which were broiled
collops of meat. Then they ate the collops and
began to drink the mead. "Now," said
Kai, "it is time for you to give me my story."
"Kynon," said Owain, "do thou pay
to Kai the tale that is his due." "Truly,"
said Kynon, "thou are older, and art a better
teller of tales, and hast seen more marvellous
things than I; do thou therefore pay Kai his tale."
"Begin thyself," quoth Owain, "with
the best that thou knowest." "I will
do so," answered Kynon.
was the only son of my mother and father, and
I was exceedingly aspiring, and my daring was
very great. I thought there was no enterprise
in the world too mighty for me, and after I had
achieved all the adventures that were in my own
country, I equipped myself, and set forth to journey
through deserts and distant regions. And at length
it chanced that I came to the fairest valley in
the world, wherein were trees of equal growth;
and a river ran through the valley, and a path
was by the side of the river. And I followed the
path until mid-day, and continued my journey along
the remainder of the valley until the evening;
and at the extremity of a plain I came to a large
and lustrous Castle, at the foot of which was
a torrent. And I approached the Castle, and there
I beheld two youths with yellow curling hair,
each with a frontlet of gold upon his head, and
clad in a garment of yellow satin, and they had
gold clasps upon their insteps. In the hand of
each of them was an ivory bow, strung with the
sinews of the stag; and their arrows had shafts
of the bone of the whale, and were winged with
peacock's feathers; the shafts also had golden
heads. And they had daggers with blades of gold,
and with hilts of the bone of the whale. And they
were shooting their daggers.
a little way from them I saw a man in the prime
of life, with his beard newly shorn, clad in a
robe and a mantle of yellow satin; and round the
top of his mantle was a band of gold lace. On
his feet were shoes of variegated leather, fastened
by two bosses of gold. When I saw him, I went
towards him and saluted him, and such was his
courtesy that he no sooner received my greeting
than he returned it. And he went with me towards
the Castle. Now there were no dwellers in the
Castle except those who were in one hall. And
there I saw four-and-twenty damsels, embroidering
satin at a window. And this I tell thee, Kai,
that the least fair of them was fairer than the
fairest maid thou hast ever beheld in the Island
of Britain, and the least lovely of them was more
lovely than Gwenhwyvar, the wife of Arthur, when
she has appeared loveliest at the Offering, on
the day of the Nativity, or at the feast of Easter.
They rose up at my coming, and six of them took
my horse, and divested me of my armour; and six
others took my arms, and washed them in a vessel
until they were perfectly bright. And the third
six spread cloths upon the tables and prepared
meat. And the fourth six took off my soiled garments,
and placed others upon me; namely, an under-vest
and a doublet of fine linen, and a robe, and a
surcoat, and a mantle of yellow satin with a broad
gold band upon the mantle. And they placed cushions
both beneath and around me, with coverings of
red linen; and I sat down. Now the six maidens
who had taken my horse, unharnessed him, as well
as if they had been the best squires in the Island
of Britain. Then, behold, they brought bowls of
silver wherein was water to wash, and towels of
linen, some green and some white; and I washed.
And in a little while the man sat down to the
table. And I sat next to him, and below me sat
all the maidens, except those who waited on us.
And the table was of silver, and the cloths upon
the table were of linen; and no vessel was served
upon the table that was not either of gold or
of silver, or of buffalo-horn. And our meat was
brought to us. And verily, Kai, I saw there every
sort of meat and every sort of liquor that I have
ever seen elsewhere; but the meat and the liquor
were better served there than I have ever seen
them in any other place.
the repast was half over, neither the man nor
any one of the damsels spoke a single word to
me; but when the man perceived that it would be
more agreeable to me to converse than to eat any
more, he began to inquire of me who I was. I said
I was glad to find that there was some one who
would discourse with me, and that it was not considered
so great a crime at that Court for people to hold
converse together. 'Chieftain,' said the man,
'we would have talked to thee sooner, but we feared
to disturb thee during thy repast; now, however,
we will discourse.' Then I told the man who I
was, and what was the cause of my journey; and
said that I was seeking whether any one was superior
to me, or whether I could gain the mastery over
all. The man looked upon me, and he smiled and
said, 'If I did not fear to distress thee too
much, I would show thee that which thou seekest.'
Upon this I became anxious and sorrowful, and
when the man perceived it, he said, 'If thou wouldest
rather that I should show thee thy disadvantage
than thine advantage, I will do so. Sleep here
to- night, and in the morning arise early, and
take the road upwards through the valley until
thou reachest the wood through which thou camest
hither. A little way within the wood thou wilt
meet with a road branching off to the right, by
which thou must proceed, until thou comest to
a large sheltered glade with a mound in the centre.
And thou wilt see a black man of great stature
on the top of the mound. He is not smaller in
size than two of the men of this world. He has
but one foot; and one eye in the middle of his
forehead. And he has a club of iron, and it is
certain that there are no two men in the world
who would not find their burden in that club.
And he is not a comely man, but on the contrary
he is exceedingly ill-favoured; and he is the
woodward of that wood. And thou wilt see a thousand
wild animals grazing around him. Inquire of him
the way out of the glade, and he will reply to
thee briefly, and will point out the road by which
thou shalt find that which thou art in quest of.'
long seemed that night to me. And the next morning
I arose and equipped myself, and mounted my horse,
and proceeded straight through the valley to the
wood; and I followed the cross-road which the
man had pointed out to me, till at length I arrived
at the glade. And there was I three times more
astonished at the number of wild animals that
I beheld, than the man had said I should be. And
the black man was there, sitting upon the top
of the mound. Huge of stature as the man had told
me that he was, I found him to exceed by far the
description he had given me of him. As for the
iron club which the man had told me was a burden
for two men, I am certain, Kai, that it would
be a heavy weight for four warriors to lift; and
this was in the black man's hand. And he only
spoke to me in answer to my questions. Then I
asked him what power he held over those animals.
'I will show thee, little man,' said he. And he
took his club in his hand, and with it he struck
a stag a great blow so that he brayed vehemently,
and at his braying the animals came together,
as numerous as the stars in the sky, so that it
was difficult for me to find room in the glade
to stand among them. There were serpents, and
dragons, and divers sorts of animals. And he looked
at them, and bade them go and feed; and they bowed
their heads, and did him homage as vassals to
the black man said to me, 'Seest thou now, little
man, what power I hold over these animals?' Then
I inquired of him the way, and he became very
rough in his manner to me; however, he asked me
whither I would go? And when I told him who I
was and what I sought, he directed me. 'Take,'
said he, 'that path that leads towards the head
of the glade, and ascend the wooded steep until
thou comest to its summit; and there thou wilt
find an open space like to a large valley, and
in the midst of it a tall tree, whose branches
are greener than the greenest pine-trees. Under
this tree is a fountain, and by the side of the
fountain a marble slab, and on the marble slab
a silver bowl, attached by a chain of silver,
so that it may not be carried away. Take the bowl
and throw a bowlful of water upon the slab, and
thou wilt hear a mighty peal of thunder, so that
thou wilt think that heaven and earth are trembling
with its fury. With the thunder there will come
a shower so severe that it will be scarce possible
for thee to endure it and live. And the shower
will be of hailstones; and after the shower, the
weather will become fair, but every leaf that
was upon the tree will have been carried away
by the shower. Then a flight of birds will come
and alight upon the tree; and in thine own country
thou didst never hear a strain so sweet as that
which they will sing. And at the moment thou art
most delighted with the song of the birds, thou
wilt hear a murmuring and complaining coming towards
thee along the valley. And thou wilt see a knight
upon a coal-black horse, clothed in black velvet,
and with a pennon of black linen upon his lance;
and he will ride unto thee to encounter thee with
the utmost speed. If thou fleest from him he will
overtake thee, and if thou abidest there, as sure
as thou art a mounted knight, he will leave thee
on foot. And if thou dost not find trouble in
that adventure, thou needest not seek it during
the rest of thy life.'
I journeyed on, until I reached the summit of
the steep, and there I found everything as the
black man had described it to me. And I went up
to the tree, and beneath it I saw the fountain,
and by its side the marble slab, and the silver
bowl fastened by the chain. Then I took the bowl,
and cast a bowlful of water upon the slab; and
thereupon, behold, the thunder came, much more
violent than the black man had led me to expect;
and after the thunder came the shower; and of
a truth I tell thee, Kai, that there is neither
man nor beast that can endure that shower and
live. For not one of those hailstones would be
stopped, either by the flesh or by the skin, until
it had reached the bone. I turned my horse's flank
towards the shower, and placed the beak of my
shield over his head and neck, while I held the
upper part of it over my own head. And thus I
withstood the shower. When I looked on the tree
there was not a single leaf upon it, and then
the sky became clear, and with that, behold the
birds lighted upon the tree, and sang. And truly,
Kai, I never heard any melody equal to that, either
before or since. And when I was most charmed with
listening to the birds, lo, a murmuring voice
was heard through the valley, approaching me and
saying, 'Oh, Knight, what has brought thee hither?
What evil have I done to thee, that thou shouldst
act towards me and my possessions as thou hast
this day? Dost thou not know that the shower to-day
has left in my dominions neither man nor beast
alive that was exposed to it?' And thereupon,
behold, a Knight on a black horse appeared, clothed
in jet-black velvet, and with a tabard of black
linen about him. And we charged each other, and,
as the onset was furious, it was not long before
I was overthrown. Then the Knight passed the shaft
of his lance through the bridle rein of my horse,
and rode off with the two horses, leaving me where
I was. And he did not even bestow so much notice
upon me as to imprison me, nor did he despoil
me of my arms. So I returned along the road by
which I had come. And when I reached the glade
where the black man was, I confess to thee, Kai,
it is a marvel that I did not melt down into a
liquid pool, through the shame that I felt at
the black man's derision. And that night I came
to the same castle where I had spent the night
preceding. And I was more agreeably entertained
that night than I had been the night before; and
I was better feasted, and I conversed freely with
the inmates of the castle, and none of them alluded
to my expedition to the fountain, neither did
I mention it to any; and I remained there that
night. When I arose on the morrow, I found, ready
saddled, a dark bay palfrey, with nostrils as
red as scarlet; and after putting on my armour,
and leaving there my blessing, I returned to my
own Court. And that horse I still possess, and
he is in the stable yonder. And I declare that
I would not part with him for the best palfrey
in the Island of Britain.
of a truth, Kai, no man ever before confessed
to an adventure so much to his own discredit,
and verily it seems strange to me, that neither
before nor since have I heard of any person besides
myself who knew of this adventure, and that the
subject of it should exist within King Arthur's
dominions, without any other person lighting upon
quoth Owain, "would it not be well to go
and endeavour to discover that place?"
the hand of my friend," said Kai, "often
dost thou utter that with thy tongue which thou
wouldst not make good with thy deeds."
very truth," said Gwenhwyvar, "it were
better thou wert hanged, Kai, than to use such
uncourteous speech towards a man like Owain."
the hand of my friend, good Lady," said Kai,
"thy praise of Owain is not greater than
With that Arthur awoke, and asked if he had not
been sleeping a little.
Lord," answered Owain, "thou hast slept
it time for us to go to meat?"
is, Lord," said Owain.
Then the horn for washing was sounded, and the
King and all his household sat down to eat. And
when the meal was ended, Owain withdrew to his
lodging, and made ready his horse and his arms.
On the morrow, with the dawn of day, he put on
his armour, and mounted his charger, and travelled
through distant lands and over desert mountains.
And at length he arrived at the valley which Kynon
had described to him; and he was certain that
it was the same that he sought. And journeying
along the valley by the side of the river, he
followed its course till he came to the plain
and within sight of the Castle. When he approached
the Castle, he saw the youths shooting their daggers
in the place where Kynon had seen them, and the
yellow man, to whom the Castle belonged, standing
hard by. And no sooner had Owain saluted the yellow
man than he was saluted by him in return.
And he went forward towards the Castle, and there
he saw the chamber, and when he had entered the
chamber he beheld the maidens working at satin
embroidery, in chairs of gold. And their beauty
and their comeliness seemed to Owain far greater
than Kynon had represented to him. And they rose
to wait upon Owain, as they had done to Kynon,
and the meal which they set before him gave more
satisfaction to Owain than it had done to Kynon.
About the middle of the repast, the yellow man
asked Owain the object of his journey. And Owain
made it known to him, and said, "I am in
quest of the Knight who guards the fountain."
Upon this the yellow man smiled, and said that
he was as loth to point out that adventure to
Owain as he had been to Kynon. However, he described
the whole to Owain, and they retired to rest.
The next morning Owain found his horse made ready
for him by the damsels, and he set forward and
came to the glade where the black man was. And
the stature of the black man seemed more wonderful
to Owain than it had done to Kynon, and Owain
asked of him his road, and he showed it to him.
And Owain followed the road, as Kynon had done,
till he came to the green tree; and he beheld
the fountain, and the slab beside the fountain,
with the bowl upon it. And Owain took the bowl,
and threw a bowlful of water upon the slab. And,
lo, the thunder was heard, and after the thunder
came the shower, much more violent than Kynon
had described, and after the shower the sky became
bright. And when Owain looked at the tree, there
was not one leaf upon it. And immediately the
birds came, and settled upon the tree, and sang.
And when their song was most pleasing to Owain,
he beheld a Knight coming towards him through
the valley, and he prepared to receive him; and
encountered him violently. Having broken both
their lances, they drew their swords, and fought
blade to blade. Then Owain struck the Knight a
blow through his helmet, head-piece and visor,
and through the skin, and the flesh, and the bone,
until it wounded the very brain. Then the black
Knight felt that he had received a mortal wound,
upon which he turned his horse's head, and fled.
And Owain pursued him, and followed close upon
him, although he was not near enough to strike
him with his sword. Thereupon Owain descried a
vast and resplendent Castle. And they came to
the Castle gate. And the black Knight was allowed
to enter, and the portcullis was let fall upon
Owain; and it struck his horse behind the saddle,
and cut him in two, and carried away the rowels
of the spurs that were upon Owain's heels. And
the portcullis descended to the floor. And the
rowels of the spurs and part of the horse were
without, and Owain with the other part of the
horse remained between the two gates, and the
inner gate was closed, so that Owain could not
go thence; and Owain was in a perplexing situation.
And while he was in this state, he could see through
an aperture in the gate, a street facing him,
with a row of houses on each side. And he beheld
a maiden, with yellow curling hair, and a frontlet
of gold upon her head; and she was clad in a dress
of yellow satin, and on her feet were shoes of
variegated leather. And she approached the gate,
and desired that it should be opened. "Heaven
knows, Lady," said Owain, "it is no
more possible for me to open to thee from hence,
than it is for thee to set me free." "Truly,"
said the damsel, "it is very sad that thou
canst not be released, and every woman ought to
succour thee, for I never saw one more faithful
in the service of ladies than thou. As a friend
thou art the most sincere, and as a lover the
most devoted. Therefore," quoth she, "whatever
is in my power to do for thy release, I will do
it. Take this ring and put it on thy finger, with
the stone inside thy hand; and close thy hand
upon the stone. And as long as thou concealest
it, it will conceal thee. When they have consulted
together, they will come forth to fetch thee,
in order to put thee to death; and they will be
much grieved that they cannot find thee. And I
will await thee on the horseblock yonder; and
thou wilt be able to see me, though I cannot see
thee; therefore come and place thy hand upon my
shoulder, that I may know that thou art near me.
And by the way that I go hence, do thou accompany
Then she went away from Owain, and he did all
that the maiden had told him. And the people of
the Castle came to seek Owain, to put him to death,
and when they found nothing but the half of his
horse, they were sorely grieved.
And Owain vanished from among them, and went to
the maiden, and placed his hand upon her shoulder;
whereupon she set off, and Owain followed her,
until they came to the door of a large and beautiful
chamber, and the maiden opened it, and they went
in, and closed the door. And Owain looked around
the chamber, and behold there was not even a single
nail in it that was not painted with gorgeous
colours; and there was not a single panel that
had not sundry images in gold portrayed upon it.
The maiden kindled a fire, and took water in a
silver bowl, and put a towel of white linen on
her shoulder, and gave Owain water to wash. Then
she placed before him a silver table, inlaid with
gold; upon which was a cloth of yellow linen;
and she brought him food. And of a truth, Owain
had never seen any kind of meat that was not there
in abundance, but it was better cooked there than
he had ever found it in any other place. Nor did
he ever see so excellent a display of meat and
drink, as there. And there was not one vessel
from which he was served, that was not of gold
or of silver. And Owain ate and drank, until late
in the afternoon, when lo, they heard a mighty
clamour in the Castle; and Owain asked the maiden
what that outcry was. "They are administering
extreme unction," said she, "to the
Nobleman who owns the Castle." And Owain
went to sleep.
The couch which the maiden had prepared for him
was meet for Arthur himself; it was of scarlet,
and fur, and satin, and sendal, and fine linen.
In the middle of the night they heard a woful
outcry. "What outcry again is this?"
said Owain. "The Nobleman who owned the Castle
is now dead," said the maiden. And a little
after daybreak, they heard an exceeding loud clamour
and wailing. And Owain asked the maiden what was
the cause of it. "They are bearing to the
church the body of the Nobleman who owned the
And Owain rose up, and clothed himself, and opened
a window of the chamber, and looked towards the
Castle; and he could see neither the bounds, nor
the extent of the hosts that filled the streets.
And they were fully armed; and a vast number of
women were with them, both on horseback and on
foot; and all the ecclesiastics in the city, singing.
And it seemed to Owain that the sky resounded
with the vehemence of their cries, and with the
noise of the trumpets, and with the singing of
the ecclesiastics. In the midst of the throng,
he beheld the bier, over which was a veil of white
linen; and wax tapers were burning beside and
around it, and none that supported the bier was
lower in rank than a powerful Baron.
Never did Owain see an assemblage so gorgeous
with satin, and silk, and sendal. And following
the train, he beheld a lady with yellow hair falling
over her shoulders, and stained with blood; and
about her a dress of yellow satin, which was torn.
Upon her feet were shoes of variegated leather.
And it was a marvel that the ends of her fingers
were not bruised, from the violence with which
she smote her hands together. Truly she would
have been the fairest lady Owain ever saw, had
she been in her usual guise. And her cry was louder
than the shout of the men, or the clamour of the
trumpets. No sooner had he beheld the lady, than
he became inflamed with her love, so that it took
entire possession of him.
Then he inquired of the maiden who the lady was.
"Heaven knows," replied the maiden,
"she may be said to be the fairest, and the
most chaste, and the most liberal, and the wisest,
and the most noble of women. And she is my mistress;
and she is called the Countess of the Fountain,
the wife of him whom thou didst slay yesterday."
"Verily," said Owain, "she is the
woman that I love best." "Verily,"
said the maiden, "she shall also love thee
not a little."
And with that the maid arose, and kindled a fire,
and filled a pot with water, and placed it to
warm; and she brought a towel of white linen,
and placed it around Owain's neck; and she took
a goblet of ivory, and a silver basin, and filled
them with warm water, wherewith she washed Owain's
head. Then she opened a wooden casket, and drew
forth a razor, whose haft was of ivory, and upon
which were two rivets of gold. And she shaved
his beard, and she dried his head, and his throat,
with the towel. Then she rose up from before Owain,
and brought him to eat. And truly Owain had never
so good a meal, nor was he ever so well served.
When he had finished his repast, the maiden arranged
his couch. "Come here," said she, "and
sleep, and I will go and woo for thee." And
Owain went to sleep, and the maiden shut the door
of the chamber after her, and went towards the
Castle. When she came there, she found nothing
but mourning, and sorrow; and the Countess in
her chamber could not bear the sight of any one
through grief. Luned came and saluted her, but
the Countess answered her not. And the maiden
bent down towards her, and said, "What aileth
thee, that thou answerest no one to-day?"
"Luned," said the Countess, "what
change hath befallen thee, that thou hast not
come to visit me in my grief? It was wrong in
thee, and I having made thee rich; it was wrong
in thee that thou didst not come to see me in
my distress. That was wrong in thee." "Truly,"
said Luned, "I thought thy good sense was
greater than I find it to be. Is it well for thee
to mourn after that good man, or for anything
else, that thou canst not have?" "I
declare to heaven," said the Countess, "that
in the whole world there is not a man equal to
him." "Not so," said Luned, "for
an ugly man would be as good as, or better than
he." "I declare to heaven," said
the Countess, "that were it not repugnant
to me to cause to be put to death one whom I have
brought up, I would have thee executed, for making
such a comparison to me. As it is, I will banish
thee." "I am glad," said Luned,
"that thou hast no other cause to do so,
than that I would have been of service to thee
where thou didst not know what was to thine advantage.
And henceforth evil betide whichever of us shall
make the first advance towards reconciliation
to the other; whether I should seek an invitation
from thee, or thou of thine own accord shouldst
send to invite me."
With that Luned went forth: and the Countess arose
and followed her to the door of the chamber, and
began coughing loudly. And when Luned looked back,
the Countess beckoned to her; and she returned
to the Countess. "In truth," said the
Countess, "evil is thy disposition; but if
thou knowest what is to my advantage, declare
it to me." "I will do so," quoth
knowest that except by warfare and arms it is
impossible for thee to preserve thy possessions;
delay not, therefore, to seek some one who can
defend them." "And how can I do that?"
said the Countess. "I will tell thee,"
said Luned. "Unless thou canst defend the
fountain, thou canst not maintain thy dominions;
and no one can defend the fountain, except it
be a knight of Arthur's household; and I will
go to Arthur's Court, and ill betide me, if I
return thence without a warrior who can guard
the fountain as well as, or even better than,
he who defended it formerly." "That
will be hard to perform," said the Countess.
"Go, however, and make proof of that which
thou hast promised."
Luned set out, under the pretence of going to
Arthur's Court; but she went back to the chamber
where she had left Owain; and she tarried there
with him as long as it might have taken her to
have travelled to the Court of King Arthur. And
at the end of that time, she apparelled herself
and went to visit the Countess. And the Countess
was much rejoiced when she saw her, and inquired
what news she brought from the Court. "I
bring thee the best of news," said Luned,
"for I have compassed the object of my mission.
When wilt thou, that I should present to thee
the chieftain who has come with me hither?"
"Bring him here to visit me to-morrow, at
mid-day," said the Countess, "and I
will cause the town to be assembled by that time."
And Luned returned home. And the next day, at
noon, Owain arrayed himself in a coat, and a surcoat,
and a mantle of yellow satin, upon which was a
broad band of gold lace; and on his feet were
high shoes of variegated leather, which were fastened
by golden clasps, in the form of lions. And they
proceeded to the chamber of the Countess.
Right glad was the Countess of their coming, and
she gazed steadfastly upon Owain, and said, "Luned,
this knight has not the look of a traveller."
"What harm is there in that, lady?"
said Luned. "I am certain," said the
Countess, "that no other man than this chased
the soul from the body of my lord." "So
much the better for thee, lady," said Luned,
"for had he not been stronger than thy lord
he could not have deprived him of life. There
is no remedy for that which is past, be it as
it may." "Go back to thine abode,"
said the Countess, "and I will take counsel."
The next day the Countess caused all her subjects
to assemble, and showed them that her earldom
was left defenceless, and that it could not be
protected but with horse and arms, and military
skill. "Therefore," said she, "this
is what I offer for your choice: either let one
of you take me, or give your consent for me to
take a husband from elsewhere to defend my dominions."
So they came to the determination that it was
better that she should have permission to marry
some one from elsewhere; and, thereupon, she sent
for the bishops and archbishops to celebrate her
nuptials with Owain. And the men of the earldom
did Owain homage.
And Owain defended the Fountain with lance and
sword. And this is the manner in which he defended
it: Whensoever a knight came there he overthrew
him, and sold him for his full worth, and what
he thus gained he divided among his barons and
his knights; and no man in the whole world could
be more beloved than he was by his subjects. And
it was thus for the space of three years.It befell
that as Gwalchmai went forth one day with King
Arthur, he perceived him to be very sad and sorrowful.
And Gwalchmai was much grieved to see Arthur in
this state; and he questioned him, saying, "Oh,
my lord! what has befallen thee?" "In
sooth, Gwalchmai," said Arthur, "I am
grieved concerning Owain, whom I have lost these
three years, and I shall certainly die if the
fourth year passes without my seeing him. Now
I am sure, that it is through the tale which Kynon
the son of Clydno related, that I have lost Owain."
"There is no need for thee," said Gwalchmai,
"to summon to arms thy whole dominions on
this account, for thou thyself and the men of
thy household will be able to avenge Owain, if
he be slain; or to set him free, if he be in prison;
and, if alive, to bring him back with thee."
And it was settled according to what Gwalchmai
Then Arthur and the men of his household prepared
to go and seek Owain, and their number was three
thousand, besides their attendants. And Kynon
the son of Clydno acted as their guide. And Arthur
came to the Castle where Kynon had been before,
and when he came there the youths were shooting
in the same place, and the yellow man was standing
hard by. When the yellow man saw Arthur he greeted
him, and invited him to the Castle; and Arthur
accepted his invitation, and they entered the
Castle together. And great as was the number of
his retinue, their presence was scarcely observed
in the Castle, so vast was its extent. And the
maidens rose up to wait on them, and the service
of the maidens appeared to them all to excel any
attendance they had ever met with; and even the
pages who had charge of the horses were no worse
served, that night, than Arthur himself would
have been in his own palace.
The next morning Arthur set out thence, with Kynon
for his guide, and came to the place where the
black man was. And the stature of the black man
was more surprising to Arthur than it had been
represented to him. And they came to the top of
the wooded steep, and traversed the valley till
they reached the green tree, where they saw the
fountain, and the bowl, and the slab. And upon
that, Kai came to Arthur and spoke to him. "My
lord," said he, "I know the meaning
of all this, and my request is, that thou wilt
permit me to throw the water on the slab, and
to receive the first adventure that may befall."
And Arthur gave him leave.
Then Kai threw a bowlful of water upon the slab,
and immediately there came the thunder, and after
the thunder the shower. And such a thunderstorm
they had never known before, and many of the attendants
who were in Arthur's train were killed by the
shower. After the shower had ceased the sky became
clear; and on looking at the tree they beheld
it completely leafless. Then the birds descended
upon the tree, and the song of the birds was far
sweeter than any strain they had ever heard before.
Then they beheld a knight on a coal- black horse,
clothed in black satin, coming rapidly towards
them. And Kai met him and encountered him, and
it was not long before Kai was overthrown. And
the knight withdrew, and Arthur and his host encamped
for the night.
And when they arose in the morning, they perceived
the signal of combat upon the lance of the Knight.
And Kai came to Arthur, and spoke to him: "My
lord," said he, "though I was overthrown
yesterday, if it seem good to thee, I would gladly
meet the Knight again to-day." "Thou
mayst do so," said Arthur. And Kai went towards
the Knight. And on the spot he overthrew Kai,
and struck him with the head of his lance in the
forehead, so that it broke his helmet and the
head-piece, and pierced the skin and the flesh,
the breadth of the spear-head, even to the bone.
And Kai returned to his companions.
After this, all the household of Arthur went forth,
one after the other, to combat the Knight, until
there was not one that was not overthrown by him,
except Arthur and Gwalchmai. And Arthur armed
himself to encounter the Knight. "Oh, my
lord," said Gwalchmai, "permit me to
fight with him first." And Arthur permitted
him. And he went forth to meet the Knight, having
over himself and his horse a satin robe of honour
which had been sent him by the daughter of the
Earl of Rhangyw, and in this dress he was not
known by any of the host. And they charged each
other, and fought all that day until the evening,
and neither of them was able to unhorse the other.
The next day they fought with strong lances, and
neither of them could obtain the mastery.
And the third day they fought with exceeding strong
lances. And they were incensed with rage, and
fought furiously, even until noon. And they gave
each other such a shock that the girths of their
horses were broken, so that they fell over their
horses' cruppers to the ground. And they rose
up speedily, and drew their swords, and resumed
the combat; and the multitude that witnessed their
encounter felt assured that they had never before
seen two men so valiant or so powerful. And had
it been midnight, it would have been light from
the fire that flashed from their weapons. And
the Knight gave Gwalchmai a blow that turned his
helmet from off his face, so that the Knight knew
that it was Gwalchmai. Then Owain said, "My
lord Gwalchmai, I did not know thee for my cousin,
owing to the robe of honour that enveloped thee;
take my sword and my arms." Said Gwalchmai,
"Thou, Owain, art the victor; take thou my
sword." And with that Arthur saw that they
were conversing, and advanced towards them. "My
lord Arthur," said Gwalchmai, "here
is Owain, who has vanquished me, and will not
take my arms." "My lord," said
Owain, "it is he that has vanquished me,
and he will not take my sword." "Give
me your swords," said Arthur, "and then
neither of you has vanquished the other."
Then Owain put his arms around Arthur's neck,
and they embraced. And all the host hurried forward
to see Owain, and to embrace him; and there was
nigh being a loss of life, so great was the press.
And they retired that night, and the next day
Arthur prepared to depart. "My lord,"
said Owain, "this is not well of thee; for
I have been absent from thee these three years,
and during all that time, up to this very day,
I have been preparing a banquet for thee, knowing
that thou wouldst come to seek me. Tarry with
me, therefore, until thou and thy attendants have
recovered the fatigues of the journey, and have
And they all proceeded to the Castle of the Countess
of the Fountain, and the banquet which had been
three years preparing was consumed in three months.
Never had they a more delicious or agreeable banquet.
And Arthur prepared to depart. Then he sent an
embassy to the Countess, to beseech her to permit
Owain to go with him for the space of three months,
that he might show him to the nobles and the fair
dames of the Island of Britain. And the Countess
gave her consent, although it was very painful
to her. So Owain came with Arthur to the Island
of Britain. And when he was once more amongst
his kindred and friends, he remained three years,
instead of three months, with them.And as Owain
one day sat at meat, in the city of Caerlleon
upon Usk, behold a damsel entered upon a bay horse,
with a curling mane and covered with foam, and
the bridle and so much as was seen of the saddle
were of gold. And the damsel was arrayed in a
dress of yellow satin. And she came up to Owain,
and took the ring from off his hand. "Thus,"
said she, "shall be treated the deceiver,
the traitor, the faithless, the disgraced, and
the beardless." And she turned her horse's
head and departed.
Then his adventure came to Owain's remembrance,
and he was sorrowful; and having finished eating
he went to his own abode and made preparations
that night. And the next day he arose but did
not go to the Court, but wandered to the distant
parts of the earth and to uncultivated mountains.
And he remained there until all his apparel was
worn out, and his body was wasted away, and his
hair was grown long. And he went about with the
wild beasts and fed with them, until they became
familiar with him; but at length he grew so weak
that he could no longer bear them company. Then
he descended from the mountains to the valley,
and came to a park that was the fairest in the
world, and belonged to a widowed Countess.
One day the Countess and her maidens went forth
to walk by a lake, that was in the middle of the
park. And they saw the form of a man. And they
were terrified. Nevertheless they went near him,
and touched him, and looked at him. And they saw
that there was life in him, though he was exhausted
by the heat of the sun. And the Countess returned
to the Castle, and took a flask full of precious
ointment, and gave it to one of her maidens. "Go
with this," said she, "and take with
thee yonder horse and clothing, and place them
near the man we saw just now. And anoint him with
this balsam, near his heart; and if there is life
in him, he will arise through the efficacy of
this balsam. Then watch what he will do."
And the maiden departed from her, and poured the
whole of the balsam upon Owain, and left the horse
and the garments hard by, and went a little way
off, and hid herself to watch him. In a short
time she saw him begin to move his arms; and he
rose up, and looked at his person, and became
ashamed of the unseemliness of his appearance.
Then he perceived the horse and the garments that
were near him. And he crept forward till he was
able to draw the garments to him from off the
saddle. And he clothed himself, and with difficulty
mounted the horse. Then the damsel discovered
herself to him, and saluted him. And he was rejoiced
when he saw her, and inquired of her, what land
and what territory that was. "Truly,"
said the maiden, "a widowed Countess owns
yonder Castle; at the death of her husband, he
left her two Earldoms, but at this day she has
but this one dwelling that has not been wrested
from her by a young Earl, who is her neighbour,
because she refused to become his wife."
"That is pity," said Owain. And he and
the maiden proceeded to the Castle; and he alighted
there, and the maiden conducted him to a pleasant
chamber, and kindled a fire and left him.
And the maiden came to the Countess, and gave
the flask into her hand. "Ha! maiden,"
said the Countess, "where is all the balsam?"
"Have I not used it all?" said she.
"Oh, maiden," said the Countess, "I
cannot easily forgive thee this; it is sad for
me to have wasted seven-score pounds' worth of
precious ointment upon a stranger whom I know
not. However, maiden, wait thou upon him, until
he is quite recovered."
And the maiden did so, and furnished him with
meat and drink, and fire, and lodging, and medicaments,
until he was well again. And in three months he
was restored to his former guise, and became even
more comely than he had ever been before.
One day Owain heard a great tumult, and a sound
of arms in the Castle, and he inquired of the
maiden the cause thereof. "The Earl,"
said she, "whom I mentioned to thee, has
come before the Castle, with a numerous army,
to subdue the Countess." And Owain inquired
of her whether the Countess had a horse and arms
in her possession. "She has the best in the
world," said the maiden. "Wilt thou
go and request the loan of a horse and arms for
me," said Owain, "that I may go and
look at this army?" "I will," said
And she came to the Countess, and told her what
Owain had said. And the Countess laughed. "Truly,"
said she, "I will even give him a horse and
arms for ever; such a horse and such arms had
he never yet, and I am glad that they should be
taken by him to-day, lest my enemies should have
them against my will to-morrow. Yet I know not
what he would do with them."
The Countess bade them bring out a beautiful black
steed, upon which was a beechen saddle, and a
suit of armour, for man and horse. And Owain armed
himself, and mounted the horse, and went forth,
attended by two pages completely equipped, with
horses and arms. And when they came near to the
Earl's army, they could see neither its extent
nor its extremity. And Owain asked the pages in
which troop the Earl was. "In yonder troop,"
said they, "in which are four yellow standards.
Two of them are before, and two behind him."
"Now," said Owain, "do you return
and await me near the portal of the Castle."
So they returned, and Owain pressed forward until
he met the Earl. And Owain drew him completely
out of his saddle, and turned his horse's head
towards the Castle, and though it was with difficulty,
he brought the Earl to the portal, where the pages
awaited him. And in they came. And Owain presented
the Earl as a gift to the Countess. And said to
her, "Behold a requital to thee for thy blessed
The army encamped around the Castle. And the Earl
restored to the Countess the two Earldoms he had
taken from her, as a ransom for his life; and
for his freedom he gave her the half of his own
dominions, and all his gold, and his silver, and
his jewels, besides hostages.
And Owain took his departure. And the Countess
and all her subjects besought him to remain, but
Owain chose rather to wander through distant lands
And as he journeyed, he heard a loud yelling in
a wood. And it was repeated a second and a third
time. And Owain went towards the spot, and beheld
a huge craggy mound, in the middle of the wood;
on the side of which was a grey rock. And there
was a cleft in the rock, and a serpent was within
the cleft. And near the rock stood a black lion,
and every time the lion sought to go thence, the
serpent darted towards him to attack him. And
Owain unsheathed his sword, and drew near to the
rock; and as the serpent sprang out, he struck
him with his sword, and cut him in two. And he
dried his sword, and went on his way, as before.
But behold the lion followed him, and played about
him, as though it had been a greyhound that he
They proceeded thus throughout the day, until
the evening. And when it was time for Owain to
take his rest, he dismounted, and turned his horse
loose in a flat and wooded meadow. And he struck
fire, and when the fire was kindled, the lion
brought him fuel enough to last for three nights.
And the lion disappeared. And presently the lion
returned, bearing a fine large roebuck. And he
threw it down before Owain, who went towards the
fire with it.
And Owain took the roebuck, and skinned it, and
placed collops of its flesh upon skewers, around
the fire. The rest of the buck he gave to the
lion to devour. While he was doing this, he heard
a deep sigh near him, and a second, and a third.
And Owain called out to know whether the sigh
he heard proceeded from a mortal; and he received
answer that it did. "Who art thou?"
said Owain. "Truly," said the voice,
"I am Luned, the handmaiden of the Countess
of the Fountain." "And what dost thou
here?" said Owain. "I am imprisoned,"
said she, "on account of the knight who came
from Arthur's Court, and married the Countess.
And he stayed a short time with her, but he afterwards
departed for the Court of Arthur, and has not
returned since. And he was the friend I loved
best in the world. And two of the pages in the
Countess's chamber traduced him, and called him
a deceiver. And I told them that they two were
not a match for him alone. So they imprisoned
me in the stone vault, and said that I should
be put to death, unless he came himself to deliver
me, by a certain day; and that is no further off
than the day after to-morrow. And I have no one
to send to seek him for me. And his name is Owain
the son of Urien." "And art thou certain
that if that knight knew all this, he would come
to thy rescue?" "I am most certain of
it," said she.
When the collops were cooked, Owain divided them
into two parts, between himself and the maiden;
and after they had eaten, they talked together,
until the day dawned. And the next morning Owain
inquired of the damsel, if there was any place
where he could get food and entertainment for
that night. "There is, Lord," said she;
"cross over yonder, and go along the side
of the river, and in a short time thou wilt see
a great Castle, in which are many towers, and
the Earl who owns that Castle is the most hospitable
man in the world. There thou mayst spend the night."
Never did sentinel keep stricter watch over his
lord, than the lion that night over Owain.
And Owain accoutred his horse, and passed across
by the ford, and came in sight of the Castle.
And he entered it, and was honourably received.
And his horse was well cared for, and plenty of
fodder was placed before him. Then the lion went
and lay down in the horse's manger; so that none
of the people of the Castle dared to approach
him. The treatment which Owain met with there
was such as he had never known elsewhere, for
every one was as sorrowful as though death had
been upon him. And they went to meat; and the
Earl sat upon one side of Owain, and on the other
side his only daughter. And Owain had never seen
any more lovely than she. Then the lion came and
placed himself between Owain's feet, and he fed
him with every kind of food that he took himself.
And he never saw anything equal to the sadness
of the people.
In the middle of the repast the Earl began to
bid Owain welcome. "Then," said Owain,
"behold, it is time for thee to be cheerful."
"Heaven knows," said the Earl, "that
it is not thy coming that makes us sorrowful,
but we have cause enough for sadness and care."
"What is that?" said Owain. "I
have two sons," replied the Earl, "and
yesterday they went to the mountains to hunt.
Now there is on the mountain a monster who kills
men and devours them, and he seized my sons; and
to-morrow is the time he has fixed to be here,
and he threatens that he will then slay my sons
before my eyes, unless I will deliver into his
hands this my daughter. He has the form of a man,
but in stature he is no less than a giant."
said Owain, "that is lamentable. And which
wilt thou do?" "Heaven knows,"
said the Earl, "it will be better that my
sons should be slain against my will, than that
I should voluntarily give up my daughter to him
to ill-treat and destroy." Then they talked
about other things, and Owain stayed there that
The next morning they heard an exceeding great
clamour, which was caused by the coming of the
giant with the two youths. And the Earl was anxious
both to protect his Castle and to release his
two sons. Then Owain put on his armour and went
forth to encounter the giant, and the lion followed
him. And when the giant saw that Owain was armed,
he rushed towards him and attacked him. And the
lion fought with the giant much more fiercely
than Owain did. "Truly," said the giant,
"I should find no difficulty in fighting
with thee, were it not for the animal that is
with thee." Upon that Owain took the lion
back to the Castle and shut the gate upon him,
and then he returned to fight the giant, as before.
And the lion roared very loud, for he heard that
it went hard with Owain. And he climbed up till
he reached the top of the Earl's hall, and thence
he got to the top of the Castle, and he sprang
down from the walls and went and joined Owain.
And the lion gave the giant a stroke with his
paw, which tore him from his shoulder to his hip,
and his heart was laid bare, and the giant fell
down dead. Then Owain restored the two youths
to their father.
The Earl besought Owain to remain with him, and
he would not, but set forward towards the meadow
where Luned was. And when he came there he saw
a great fire kindled, and two youths with beautiful
curling auburn hair were leading the maiden to
cast her into the fire. And Owain asked them what
charge they had against her. And they told him
of the compact that was between them, as the maiden
had done the night before. "And," said
they, "Owain has failed her, therefore we
are taking her to be burnt." "Truly,"
said Owain, "he is a good knight, and if
he knew that the maiden was in such peril, I marvel
that he came not to her rescue; but if you will
accept me in his stead, I will do battle with
you." "We will," said the youths,
"by him who made us."
And they attacked Owain, and he was hard beset
by them. And with that the lion came to Owain's
assistance, and they two got the better of the
young men. And they said to him, "Chieftain,
it was not agreed that we should fight save with
thyself alone, and it is harder for us to contend
with yonder animal than with thee." And Owain
put the lion in the place where the maiden had
been imprisoned, and blocked up the door with
stones, and he went to fight with the young men,
as before. But Owain had not his usual strength,
and the two youths pressed hard upon him. And
the lion roared incessantly at seeing Owain in
trouble; and he burst through the wall until he
found a way out, and rushed upon the young men,
and instantly slew them. So Luned was saved from
Then Owain returned with Luned to the dominions
of the Countess of the Fountain. And when he went
thence he took the Countess with him to Arthur's
Court, and she was his wife as long as she lived.And
then he took the road that led to the Court of
the savage black man, and Owain fought with him,
and the lion did not quit Owain until he had vanquished
him. And when he reached the Court of the savage
black man he entered the hall, and beheld four-and-twenty
ladies, the fairest that could be seen. And the
garments which they had on were not worth four-and
twenty pence, and they were as sorrowful as death.
And Owain asked them the cause of their sadness.
And they said, "We are the daughters of Earls,
and we all came here with our husbands, whom we
dearly loved. And we were received with honour
and rejoicing. And we were thrown into a state
of stupor, and while we were thus, the demon who
owns this Castle slew all our husbands, and took
from us our horses, and our raiment, and our gold,
and our silver; and the corpses of our husbands
are still in this house, and many others with
them. And this, Chieftain, is the cause of our
grief, and we are sorry that thou art come hither,
lest harm should befall thee."
And Owain was grieved when he heard this. And
he went forth from the Castle, and he beheld a
knight approaching him, who saluted him in a friendly
and cheerful manner, as if he had been a brother.
And this was the savage black man. "In very
sooth," said Owain, "it is not to seek
thy friendship that I am here." "In
sooth," said he, "thou shalt not find
it then." And with that they charged each
other, and fought furiously. And Owain overcame
him, and bound his hands behind his back. Then
the black savage besought Owain to spare his life,
and spoke thus: "My lord Owain," said
he, "it was foretold that thou shouldst come
hither and vanquish me, and thou hast done so.
I was a robber here, and my house was a house
of spoil; but grant me my life, and I will become
the keeper of an Hospice, and I will maintain
this house as an Hospice for weak and for strong,
as long as I live, for the good of thy soul."
And Owain accepted this proposal of him, and remained
there that night.
And the next day he took the four-and-twenty ladies,
and their horses, and their raiment, and what
they possessed of goods and jewels, and proceeded
with them to Arthur's Court. And if Arthur was
rejoiced when he saw him, after he had lost him
the first time, his joy was now much greater.
And of those ladies, such as wished to remain
in Arthur's Court remained there, and such as
wished to depart departed.
And thenceforward Owain dwelt at Arthur's Court
greatly beloved, as the head of his household,
until he went away with his followers; and those
were the army of three hundred ravens which Kenverchyn
had left him. And wherever Owain went with these
he was victorious.
And this is the tale of THE LADY OF THE FOUNTAIN.
LADY OF THE FOUNTAIN
Translated by Charlotte Guest