The Red Romance Book, by Andrew Lang

How Oberon Saved Huon

Oberon was so rejoiced that Huon had at last made friends with him, that he did everything that he could think of to give pleasure to the knight and his friends.

‘There is nothing in the world that I cannot have by wishing for it,’ said he, ‘and all I possess is yours. And to prove that my words are not vain I will set before you the richest feast that ever you ate. After you have finished, you shall go whithersoever you will.’

So they ate and drank to their hearts’ content, but, before they departed, Oberon bade one of his fairy knights to bring him his golden cup, which he showed to Huon.

‘Behold,’ he said, ‘this cup is empty, and will so remain, if any man who has done a deadly sin should seek to drink of it. But he who has led a goodly life, the moment that he takes it in his hands it will become full of wine. Make proof of it yourself, and if you are found worthy the cup shall be yours.’

‘Alas, sir,’ answered Huon, ‘I fear very greatly that I have sinned too deeply for that cup to have any virtue for me, but yet I have repented, and desire from henceforth to wrong no one.’ Then he lifted the cup, and the wine brimmed over.

Oberon was right glad when he saw this sight, and gave the cup into his keeping.

‘As long as you are true and faithful, you shall never lack drink in it,’ said he, ‘but if you do falsely to any man, it will lose all its virtue and my help will go from you also. I have likewise another gift for you: take this horn of ivory, and when you are in great straits, and will blow it, however far I may be, I will come to you, and will bring with me a great company to lend you aid. But beware, as you set store by my friendship and by your life, that you do not blow the horn lightly.’

‘I give you great thanks for your kindness, and will hearken to your words,’ said Huon; ‘and now, I pray, let me depart hence to do the emperor’s bidding.’

So the knight and the fairy king took leave of each other, and they fared on their way, and in the evening they sat and rested in a green meadow, and ate and drank of the food that Oberon had given them. Now Huon was uplifted by the gifts the king had given him, and thought that he himself must be in some way better than other men, to be singled out for such honour, and, as young men will, he began to boast and talk idly, making pretence that he doubted the magic qualities of the horn and the cup, so that he might prove them at once before his company.

‘It was a fair adventure for me when I spoke to Oberon,’ said he, ‘and that I did not listen to the counsel of Gerames. When I fulfil my mission and return unto the court of the emperor, I will present him with the cup, the like of which he has not got in all his treasury. But as for the horn, how do I know if Oberon spoke the truth concerning it?’

‘Oh, sir, be not rash, I entreat you!’ cried Gerames, ‘for he charged you straitly not to blow the horn save in your direst need.’

‘Ay, surely,’ answered Huon, ‘but for all that I will try what power it has,’ and, raising it to his mouth, he blew a loud blast.

At that all the company rose up, and sang and danced joyfully, and Garyn, Huon’s uncle, begged him to blow the horn once more.

Oberon heard it, though he was full many miles away.

‘What man is so bold as to seek to do him ill whom I love best in all the world?’ said Oberon. ‘I wish myself and a hundred good men in his company’; and in an instant Huon and his friends beheld the horses’ skins flashing in the bushes. Then Huon’s soul smote him, and he bowed his head before Oberon, saying:

‘Sir, I have done ill; tell me quickly if death must be my punishment?’

‘Where are those that would work you evil?’ asked Oberon sternly; but in spite of his wrath Huon took heart of grace, and, confessing his folly, prayed for pardon, which Oberon granted him for very pity, knowing, he said, that Huon would have much to suffer, some things through the wicked ways of others, but more from his own pride and self-will. Then, bidding the young man farewell afresh, the fairy king rode back to the wood.

All befell just as the fairy king had foretold. 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.

A knight standing with his sword raised and his foot on the chest of a dead giant, saluting the people watching in the lists

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. Carry him away from the island and place him on the mainland, only never more let mine eyes light on him. Be careful also to bring back to me my golden cup, my horn, and my fairy armour, for it is long since he has shown himself unworthy of them.’

So Mallebron swam straightway to the island, and, finding Huon fast bound, as Oberon had said, he loosed him, and he stood on his feet. But when Huon heard the message of Oberon he was sore angered, and, forgetting his own misdeeds, complained bitterly of Oberon’s hardness of heart in commanding that the gifts he had given him should be yielded up again. But, wail as he might, he could not move Mallebron, who bade him farewell, and departed with Oberon’s treasures.

It were long to tell of Huon’s adventures after he had left the island. At one time he took service with a minstrel and was his varlet. At another time he was forced to play chess for the hand of a king’s daughter, but refused to marry her when he had won the game. Unknowingly, he once fought with Gerames, and only found out who he was in the course of the battle. He afterwards entered the city with him, and visited Esclaramonde, who was a captive in the palace, and right glad were they to meet. After that he and some French knights who had joined him were besieged in the castle by the Paynims, and were rescued by a French ship, which carried Huon and Esclaramonde and all the company on their way to Wana, together with much treasure which they had found in the castle.

But, happy though Huon felt on the road home again, he heard with wrath that Gerard, his brother, had persuaded the emperor that by now Huon must be dead, and that he was rightful heir to the duchy. It was so long since any tidings had been received of Huon — for none had fared that way — that some thought Gerard spoke reasonably, and upheld his suit, which in the end was granted by Charles. And no sooner was the new duke invested with the lands than he began to oppress all his subjects, till the duchess his mother died of grief at the misery of her people.

‘He shall pay me for that,’ muttered Huon grimly.

There was one thing, however, that could not be delayed a moment more than was needed, and this was the marriage between Huon and Esclaramonde, for the princess had promised to become a Christian and to receive baptism at the hands of the pope. So they bade the captain put into the port nearest to Rome, and, taking horse, rode thither as fast as they might.

The pope was seated on his throne with his threefold crown on his head, holding counsel with his cardinals, when Huon and his company entered the hall two by two, and saluted humbly. At the sight of Huon leading Esclaramonde by the hand, the pope, who had once visited the court of the duke of Bordeaux, and remembered the face of Huon, rose up to greet him, kissed him on both cheeks, and bade him tell his adventures, and how he had fared.

‘Ill enough, good sir, and these others also,’ answered Huon; ‘but I have by grace won through it all, and I have brought the daughter of the great emir of the Paynims, whom I desire you should make my wife, after she has been baptized by your hands.’

‘Huon,’ said the pope, ‘all this pleases me right well to do, and it is my will that you tarry with me here this night.’

So they tarried; and the next day the wedding feast was held, and there were great rejoicings in the pope’s palace. And early the next morning, Huon and his wife and his friends took ship for Bordeaux.

But not yet were Huon’s trials ended. Gerard, his brother, had no mind to give up his lands and honours lightly, and many were the plots that he laid against Huon. Indeed, he not only contrived to throw the new-comers into prison, but prevailed on the emperor to journey himself to Bordeaux, to the intent that Huon should be put to death, which would have happened had it not been for the timely help of Oberon.

It was thus it came about.

The fairy king was seated at dinner in his palace in the wood, when the knowledge came to him that the emperor Charles had taken an oath to hang Huon ere he slept, and at the thought thereof he broke into weeping.

‘I have sore punished the sins he has committed,’ said he, ‘and great has been my wrath. But now it is time that I help him, or he will be gone from me. So I wish my table and all that is on it near to the emperor’s table, only about two feet higher. And I will that on my table be set my cup and horn and armour. And I wish that with me shall go a hundred thousand men, such as I am wont to have in battle.’

Great was the marvel of the emperor when this table appeared beside him, and he took it for an enchantment of duke Names; but Huon and Gerames and Esclaramonde, who were present at the feast with fetters on their wrists, knew that Oberon had come to their deliverance.

Soon the clank of swords was heard throughout the streets, and you could not see the stones for the armed men who stood on them.

‘See that none leave the gates,’ said Oberon, ‘and when you hear the blast of my ivory horn, come to me in the palace, and slay everyone you shall meet on the way’; and so saying he entered the hall, and many of his lords with him. Their dresses were the richest that had ever been seen, and on their necks they wore collars of precious stones. As the king passed by Charles, he knocked against him, so that his hat fell upon the ground.

‘Who is this dwarf who so rudely has shouldered me?’ asked the emperor, ‘and whence comes he? I will see what he will do, for, small as he is, he is the fairest creature that ever I saw.’

Leaving the emperor behind him, the fairy king came to the spot where Huon and the captives were standing, and he wished that the fetters might fall off their feet, and that they might be free men. Then silently he led them before Charles, and caused them to sit down at his own table, and bade the lords of the court drink out of the magic cup after Huon and Esclaramonde and Gerames had drunk out of it. But only for duke Names would the wine bubble up.

Afterwards Oberon ordered Gerard to confess his sins and his plots that he had plotted, which out of very shame he was constrained to do, and then Oberon prayed the emperor to command Gerard and those who had helped him to work ill to be hanged on the gallows which had been reared for Huon, and this was done also; and the emperor Charles and Huon, duke of Bordeaux, made reconciliation together.


‘Come to me in my city of Mommur four years from now, Huon,’ said Oberon, ‘and I will give you my realm and my dignity, for I know in truth I shall not long abide in this world. But beware, as you love your life, that you fail not to be with me at the day I have appointed, else I shall cause you to die an ill-death.’

When he heard, Huon stooped down and kissed his feet, and said:

‘Sir, for this great boon I thank you.’

[From Huon of Bordeaux.]

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57