There was once a King of England named Athelwold. Earl, baron, thane, knight, and bondsman, all loved him; for he set on high the wise and the just man, and put down the spoiler and the robber. At that time a man might carry gold about with him, as much as fifty pounds, and not fear loss. Traders and merchants bought and sold at their ease without danger of plunder. But it was bad for the evil person and for such as wrought shame, for they had to lurk and hide away from the King's wrath; yet was it unavailing, for he searched out the evil-doer and punished him, wherever he might be. The fatherless and the widow found a sure friend in the King; he turned not away from the complaint of the helpless, but avenged them against the oppressor, were he never so strong. Kind was he to the poor, neither at any time thought he the fine bread upon his own table too good to give to the hungry.
But a death-sickness fell on King Athelwold, and when he knew that his end was near he was greatly troubled, for he had one little daughter of tender age, named Goldborough, and he grieved to leave her.
"O my little daughter, heir to all the land, yet so young thou canst not walk upon it; so helpless that thou canst not tell thy wants and yet hast need to give commandment like a queen! For myself I would not care, being old and not afraid to die. But I had hoped to live till thou shouldst be of age to wield the kingdom; to see thee ride on horseback through the land, and round about a thousand knights to do thy bidding. Alas, my little child, what will become of thee when I am gone?"
Then King Athelwold summoned his earls and barons, from Roxborough to Dover, to come and take counsel with him as he lay a-dying on his bed at Winchester. And when they all wept sore at seeing the King so near his end, he said, "Weep not, good friends, for since I am brought to death's door your tears can in nowise deliver me; but rather give me your counsel. My little daughter that after me shall be your queen; tell me in whose charge I may safely leave both her and England till she be grown of age to rule?"
And with one accord they answered him, "In the charge of Earl Godrich of Cornwall, for he is a right wise and a just man, and held in fear of all the land. Let him be ruler till our queen be grown."
Then the King sent for a fair linen cloth, and thereon having laid the mass-book and the chalice and the paton, he made Earl Godrich swear upon the holy bread and wine to be a true and faithful guardian of his child, without blame or reproach, tenderly to entreat her, and justly to govern the realm till she should be twenty winters old; then to seek out the best, the bravest, and the strongest man as husband for her and deliver up the kingdom to her hand. And when Earl Godrich had so sworn, the King shrived him clean of all his sins. Then having received his Saviour he folded his hands, saying, "Domine, in manus tuas;" and so he died.
There was sorrow and mourning among all the people for the death of good King Athelwold. Many the mass that was sung for him and the psalter that was said for his soul's rest. The bells tolled and the priests sang, and the people wept; and they gave him a kingly burial.
Then Earl Godrich began to govern the kingdom; and all the nobles and all the churls, both free and thrall, came and did allegiance to him. He set in all the castles strong knights in whom he could trust, and appointed justices and sheriffs and peace-sergeants in all the shires. So he ruled the country with a firm hand, and not a single wight dare disobey his word, for all England feared him. Thus, as the years went on, the earl waxed wonderly strong and very rich.
Goldborough, the King's daughter, throve and grew up the fairest woman in all the land, and she was wise in all manner of wisdom that is good and to be desired. But when the time drew on that Earl Godrich should give up the kingdom to her, he began to think within himself—"Shall I, that have ruled so long, give up the kingdom to a girl, and let her be queen and lady over me? And to what end? All these strong earls and barons, governed by a weaker hand than mine, would throw off the yolk and split up England into little baronies, evermore fighting betwixt themselves for mastery. There would cease to be a kingdom, and so there would cease to be a queen. She cannot rule it, and she shall not have it. Besides, I have a son. Him will I teach to rule and make him king."
So the earl let his oath go for nothing, and went to Winchester where the maiden was, and fetched her away and carried her off to Dover to a castle that is by the seashore. Therein he shut her up and dressed her in poor clothes, and fed her on scanty fare; neither would he let any of her friends come near her.
Now there was in Denmark a certain King called Birkabeyn, who had three children, two daughters and a son. And Birkabeyn fell sick, and knowing that death had stricken him, he called for Godard, whom he thought his truest friend, and said, "Godard, here I commend my children to thee. Care for them, I pray thee, and bring them up as befits the children of a king. When the boy is grown and can bear a helm upon his head and wield a spear, I charge thee to make him king of Denmark. Till then hold my estate and royalty in charge for him." And Godard swore to guard the children zealously, and to give up the kingdom to the boy. Then Birkabeyn died and was buried. But no sooner was the King laid in his grave than Godard despised his oath; for he took the children, Havelok and his two little sisters, Swanborough and Helfled, and shut them up in a castle with barely clothes to cover them. And Havelok, the eldest, was scarce three years old.
One day Godard came to see the children, and found them all crying of hunger and cold; and he said angrily, "How now! What is all this crying about?" The boy Havelok answered him, "We are very hungry, for we get scarce anything to eat. Is there no more corn, that men cannot make bread and give us? We are very hungry." But his little sisters only sat shivering with the cold, and sobbing, for they were too young to be able to speak. The cruel Godard cared not. He went to where the little girls sat, and drew his knife, and took them one after another and cut their throats. Havelok, seeing this sorry sight, was terribly afraid, and fell down on his knees begging Godard to spare his life. So earnestly he pleaded that Godard was fain to listen: and listening he looked upon the knife, red with the children's blood; and when he saw the still, dead faces of the little ones he had slain, and looked upon their brother's tearful face praying for life, his cruel courage failed him quite. He laid down the knife. He would that Havelok were dead, but feared to slay him for the silence that would come. So the boy pleaded on; and Godard stared at him as though his wits were gone; then turned upon his heel and came out from the castle. "Yet," he thought, "if I should let him go, one day he may wreak me mischief and perchance seize the crown. But if he dies, my children will be lords of Denmark after me." Then Godard sent for a fisherman whose name was Grim, and he said, "Grim, you know you are my bondsman. Do now my bidding, and to-morrow I shall make thee free and give thee gold and land. Take this child with thee to-night when thou goest a fishing, and at moonrise cast him in the sea, with a good anchor fast about his neck to keep him down. To-day I am thy master and the sin is mine. To-morrow thou art free."
Then Grim took up the child and bound him fast, and having thrust a gag into his mouth so that he could not speak, he put him in a bag and took him on his back and carried him home. When Grim got home his wife took the bag from off his shoulders and cast it upon the ground within doors; and Grim told her of his errand. Now as it drew to midnight he said, "Rise up, wife, and blow up the fire to light a candle, and get me my clothes, for I must be stirring." But when the woman came into the room where Havelok lay, she saw a bright light round the boy's head, like a sunbeam, and she called to her husband to come and see. And when he came they both marveled at the light and what it might mean, for it was very bright and shining. Then they unbound Havelok and took away the gag, and turning down his shirt they found a king-mark fair and plain upon his right shoulder. "God help us, wife," said Grim, "but this is surely the heir of Denmark, son of Birkabeyn our King! Ay, and he shall be King in spite of Godard." Then Grim fell down at the boy's feet and said, "Forgive me, my King, that I knew thee not. We are thy subjects and henceforth will feed and clothe thee till thou art grown a man and can bear shield and spear. Then deal thou kindly by me and mine, as I shall deal with thee. But fear not Godard. He shall never know, and I shall be a bondsman still, for I will never be free till thou, my King, shall set me free."
Then was Havelok very glad, and he sat up and begged for bread. And they hastened and fetched bread and cheese and butter and milk; and for very hunger the boy ate up the whole loaf, for he was well-nigh famished. And after he had eaten, Grim made a fair bed and undressed Havelok and laid him down to rest, saying, "Sleep, my son; sleep fast and sound and have no care, for nought shall harm thee."
On the morrow Grim went to Godard, and telling him he had drowned the boy, asked for his reward. But Godard bade him go home and remain a bondsman, and be thankful that he was not hanged for so wicked a deed. After a while Grim, beginning to fear that both himself and Havelok might be slain, sold all his goods, his corn, and cattle, and fowls, and made ready his little ship, tarring and pitching it till not a seam nor a crack could be found, and setting a good mast and sail therein. Then with his wife, his three sons, his two daughters, and Havelok, he entered into the ship and sailed away from Denmark; and a strong north wind arose and drove the vessel to England, and carried it up the Humber so far as Lindesay, where it grounded on the sands. Grim got out of the boat with his wife and children and Havelok, and then drew it ashore.
On the shore he built a house of earth and dwelt therein, and from that time the place was called Grimsby, after Grim.
Grim did not want for food, for he was a good fisherman both with net and hook, and he would go out in his boat and catch all manner of fish—sturgeons, turbot, salmon, cod, herrings, mackerel, flounders, and lampreys, and he never came home empty-handed. He had four baskets made for himself and his sons, and in these they used to carry the fish to Lincoln, to sell them, coming home laden with meat and meal, and hemp and rope to make new nets and lines. Thus they lived for twelve years. But Havelok saw that Grim worked very hard, and being now grown a strong lad, he bethought him "I eat more than Grim and all his five children together, and yet do nothing to earn the bread. I will no longer be idle, for it is a shame for a man not to work." So he got Grim to let him have a basket like the rest, and next day took it out heaped with fish, and sold them well, bringing home silver money for them. After that he never stopped at home idle. But soon there arose a great dearth, and corn grew so dear that they could not take fish enough to buy bread for all. Then Havelok, since he needed so much to eat, determined that he would no longer be a burden to the fisherman. So Grim made him a coat of a piece of an old sail, and Havelok set off to Lincoln barefoot to seek for work.
It so befell that Earl Godrich's cook, Bertram, wanted a scullion, and took Havelok into his service. There was plenty to eat and plenty to do. Havelok drew water and chopped wood, and brought twigs to make fires, and carried heavy tubs and dishes, but was always merry and blythe. Little children loved to play with him; and grown knights and nobles would stop to talk and laugh with him, although he wore nothing but rags of old sail-cloth which scarcely covered his great limbs, and all admired how fair and strong a man God had made him. The cook liked Havelok so much that he bought him new clothes, with shoes and hose; and when Havelok put them on, no man in the kingdom seemed his peer for strength and beauty. He was the tallest man in Lincoln, and the strongest in England.
Earl Godrich assembled a Parliament in Lincoln, and afterward held games. Strong men and youths came to try for mastery at the game of putting the stone. It was a mighty stone, the weight of an heifer. He was a stalwart man who could lift it to his knee, and few could stir it from the ground. So they strove together, and he who put the stone an inch farther than the rest was to be made champion. But Havelok, though he had never seen the like before, took up the heavy stone, and put it twelve feet beyond the rest, and after that none would contend with him. Now this matter being greatly talked about, it came to the ears of Earl Godrich, who bethought him—"Did not Athelwold bid me marry his daughter to the strongest man alive? In truth, I will marry her to this cook's scullion. That will abase her pride; and when she is wedded to a bondsman she will be powerless to injure me. That will be better than shutting her up; better than killing her." So he sent and brought Goldborough to Lincoln, and set the bells ringing, and pretended great joy, for he said, "Goldborough, I am going to marry thee to the fairest and stalwartest man living." But Goldborough answered she would never wed any one but a king. "Ay, ay, my girl; and so thou wouldst be queen and lady over me? But thy father made me swear to give thee to the strongest man in England, and that is Havelok, the cook's scullion; so willing or not willing to-morrow thou shalt wed." Then the earl sent for Havelok and said, "Master, will you marry?" "Not I," said Havelok; "for I cannot feed nor clothe a wife. I have no house, no cloth, no victuals. The very clothes I wear do not belong to me, but to Bertram the cook, as I do." "So much the better," said the earl; "but thou shalt either wed her that I shall bring thee, or else hang from a tree. So choose." Then Havelok said he would sooner wed. Earl Godrich went back to Goldborough and threatened her with burning at the stake unless she yielded to his bidding. So, thinking it God's will, the maid consented. And on the morrow they were wed by the Archbishop of York, who had come down to the Parliament, and the earl told money out upon the mass-book for her dower.
Now after he was wed, Havelok knew not what to do, for he saw how greatly Earl Godrich hated him. He thought he would go and see Grim. When he got to Grimsby he found that Grim was dead, but his children welcomed Havelok and begged him bring his wife thither, since they had gold and silver and cattle. And when Goldborough came, they made a feast, sparing neither flesh nor fowl, wine nor ale. And Grim's sons and daughters served Havelok and Goldborough.
Sorrowfully Goldborough lay down at night, for her heart was heavy at thinking she had wedded a bondsman. But as she fretted she saw a light, very bright like a blaze of fire, which came out of Havelok's mouth. And she thought, "Of a truth but he must be nobly born." Then she looked on his shoulder, and saw the king mark, like a fair cross of red gold, and at the same time she heard an angel say—
"Goldborough, leave sorrowing, for Havelok is a king's son, and shall be king of England and of Denmark, and thou queen."
Then was Goldborough glad, and kissed Havelok, who, straightway waking, said, "I have had a strange dream. I dreamed I was on a high hill, whence I could see all Denmark; and I thought as I looked that it was all mine. Then I was taken up and carried over the salt sea to England, and methought I took all the country and shut it within my hand." And Goldborough said, "What a good dream is this! Rejoice, for it means that thou shalt be king of England and of Denmark. Take now my counsel and get Grim's sons to go with thee to Denmark."
In the morning Havelok went to the church and prayed to God to speed him in his undertaking. Then he came home and found Grim's three sons just going off fishing. Their names were Robert the Red, William Wendut, and Hugh Raven. He told them who he was, how Godard had slain his sisters, and delivered him over to Grim to be drowned, and how Grim had fled with him to England. Then Havelok asked them to go with him to Denmark, promising to make them rich men. To this they gladly agreed, and having got ready their ship and victualed it, they set sail with Havelok and his wife for Denmark. The place of their landing was hard by the castle of a Danish earl named Ubbe, who had been a faithful friend to King Birkabeyn. Havelok went to Earl Ubbe, with a gold ring for a present, asking leave to buy and sell goods from town to town in that part of the country. Ubbe, beholding the tall, broad-shouldered, thick-chested man, so strong and cleanly made, thought him more fit for a knight than for a peddler. He bade Havelok bring his wife and come and eat with him at his table. So Havelok went to fetch Goldborough, and Robert the Red and William Wendut led her between them till they came to the castle, where Ubbe, with a great company of knights, welcomed them gladly. Havelok stood a head taller than any of the knights, and when they sat at table Ubbe's wife ate with him, and Goldborough with Ubbe. It was a great feast, and after the feast Ubbe sent Havelok and his friends to Bernard Brown, bidding him take care of them till next day. So Bernard received the guests and gave them a fine supper.
Now in the night there came sixty-one thieves to Bernard's house. Each had a drawn sword and a long knife, and they called to Bernard to undo the door. He started up and armed himself, and told them to go away. But the thieves defied him, and with a great boulder broke down the door. Then Havelok, hearing the din, rose up, and seizing the bar of the door stood on the threshold and threw the door wide open, saying, "Come in, I am ready for you!" First came three against him with their swords, but Havelok slew these with the door bar at a single blow; the fourth man's crown he broke; he smote the fifth upon the shoulders, the sixth athwart the neck, and the seventh on the breast; so they fell dead. Then the rest drew back and began to fling their swords like darts at Havelok, till they had wounded him in twenty places. In spite of that, in a little while he had killed a score of the thieves. Then Hugh Raven, waking up, called Robert and William Wendut. One seized a staff, each of the others a piece of timber as big as his thigh, and Bernard his axe, and all three ran out to help Havelok. So well did Havelok and his fellows fight, breaking ribs and arms and shanks, and cracking crowns, that not a thief of all the sixty-one was left alive. Next morning, when Ubbe rode past and saw the sixty-one dead bodies, and heard what Havelok had done, he sent and brought both him and Goldborough to his own castle, and fetched a leech to tend his wounds, and would not hear of his going away; for, said he, "This man is better than a thousand knights."
Now that same night, after he had gone to bed, Ubbe awoke about midnight and saw a great light shining from the chamber where Havelok and Goldborough lay. He went softly to the door and peeped in to see what it meant. They were lying fast asleep, and the light was streaming from Havelok's mouth. Ubbe went and called his knights, and they also came in and saw this marvel. It was brighter than a hundred burning tapers; bright enough to count money by. Havelok lay on his left side with his back towards them, uncovered to the waist; and they saw the king-mark on his right shoulder sparkle like shining gold and carbuncle. Then knew they that it was King Birkabeyn's son, and seeing how like he was to his father, they wept for joy. Thereupon Havelok awoke, and all fell down and did him homage, saying he should be their king. On the morrow Ubbe sent far and wide and gathered together earl and baron, dreng and thane, clerk, knight and burgess, and told them all the treason of Godard, and how Havelok had been nurtured and brought up by Grim in England. Then he showed them their King, and the people shouted for joy at having so fair and strong a man to rule them. And first Ubbe sware fealty to Havelok, and after him the others both great and small. And the sheriffs and constables and all that held castles in town or burg came out and promised to be faithful to him. Then Ubbe drew his sword and dubbed Havelok a knight, and set a crown upon his head and made him King. And at the crowning they held merry sports—jousting with sharp spears, tilting at the shield, wrestling, and putting the shot. There were harpers and pipers and gleemen with their tabors; and for forty days a feast was held with rich meats in plenty and the wine flowed like water. And first the King made Robert and William Wendut and Hugh Raven barons, and gave them land and fee. Then when the feast was done, he set out with a thousand knights and five thousand sergeants to seek for Godard. Godard was a-hunting with a great company of men, and Robert riding on a good steed found him and bade him to come to the King. Godard smote him and set on his knights to fight with Robert and the King's men. They fought till ten of Godard's men were slain; the rest began to flee. "Turn again, O knights!" cried Godard; "I have fed you and shall feed you yet. Forsake me not in such a plight." So they turned about and fought again. But the King's men slew every one of them, and took Godard and bound him and brought him to Havelok. Then King Havelok summoned all his nobles to sit in judgment and say what should be done to such a traitor. And they said, "Let him be dragged to the gallows at the mare's tail, and hanged by the heels in fetters, with this writing over him: 'This is he that drove the King out of the land, and took the life of the King's sisters.'" So Godard suffered his doom, and none pitied him.
Then Havelok gave his scepter into Earl Ubbe's hand to rule Denmark on his behalf, and after that took ship and came to Grimsby, where he built a priory for black monks to pray evermore for the peace of Grim's soul. But when Earl Godrich understood that Havelok and his wife were come to England, he gathered together a great army at Lincoln on the 17th of March, and came to Grimsby to fight with Havelok and his knights. It was a great battle, wherein more than a thousand knights were slain. The field was covered with pools of blood. Hugh Raven and his brothers, Robert and William, did valiantly and slew many earls; but terrible was Earl Godrich to the Danes, for his sword was swift and deadly. Havelok came to him and reminding him of the oath he sware to Athelwold that Goldborough should be queen, bade him yield the land. But Godrich defied him, and running forward with his heavy sword cut Havelok's shield in two. Then Havelok smote him to the earth with a blow upon the helm; but Godrich arose and wounded him upon the shoulder, and Havelok, smarting with the cut, ran upon his enemy and hewed off his right hand. Then he took Earl Godrich and bound him and sent him to the Queen. And when the English knew that Goldborough was the heir of Athelwold, they laid by their swords and came and asked pardon of the Queen. And with one accord they took Earl Godrich and bound him to a stake and burned him to ashes, for the great outrage he had done.
Then all the English nobles came and sware fealty to Havelok and crowned him King in London. Of Grim's two daughters, Havelok wedded Gunild, the elder, to Earl Reyner of Chester; and Levive, the younger, fair as a new rose blossom opening to the sun, he married to Bertram, the cook, whom he made Earl of Cornwall in the room of Godrich.
Sixty years reigned Havelok and Goldborough in England, and they had fifteen children, who all became kings and queens. All the world spake of the great love that was between them. Apart, neither knew joy or happiness. They never grew weary of each other, for their love was ever new; and not a word of anger passed between them all their lives.