King Horn: A Medieval Romance
Adapted for Reader’s Theatre by Charmae Cottom from the translation by Susanna Fein
Teachers may combine the characters to meet the needs of their classroom. I have a full class and need numerous parts, but you may interchange several of the characters. The Narrators’ roles may be played by one student. The Saracen Invader and Allof may also be the Saracen Commander, Messenger, Giant, Palmer, Good Knight, and Arnoldin. Godild may also be a maiden. Any of the male characters may double as one of King Horn’s friends
King Allof/Murry of Sudenne, Horn’s father
Godild, Horn’s mother
Horn/Godmod, age fifteen
Athulf, Horn’s good friend
Fikenild, Horn’s bad friend
Ten friends of Horn
King Allof’s two riding companions
King Aylmer of Westness
Althelbrus, King Aylmer’s steward
King Thurston of Ireland
Arnoldin, Athulf’s cousin
Summary. Our story opens in west England with a narrator harkening to the audience to listen. Horn, the fairest youth ever born, has no equal. When Horn is fifteen, his father King Allof of Sudenne is killed by invading Saracens. His mother Queen Godild finds refuge in a cave, where she prays for Horn’s safety. Because of Horn’s beauty, the Saracens spare him, setting him adrift with his twelve friends on a ship. Among the friends are Athulf and Fikenild. The youths land safely on the shore of Westness, where King Aylmer receives them kindly and takes a special liking to Horn. And so does his daughter Rimenild!
Scene: A beautiful garden near a shore.
NARRATOR 1: (stage right, singing while strumming a musical instrument)
They all shall be glad
Who listen to my song!
I shall sing you a song!
(Allof and Godild enter with Horn, stage left. Narrator stops singing.)
King Allof was the good king of Westness, and Godild his good queen. None were fairer. And their son was Horn—a fairer child was never born in any king’s land, for the rain couldn’t dampen nor the sun shine on a more beautiful child than he: brighter than any glass, as white as any lily-flower, his color as red as a rose. He was fair, brave, and fifteen winters old.
(Allof and Godild exit. Athulf, Fikenild, and ten other friends enter.)
He had twelve companions under his leadership—all rich men’s sons, fair young men—to play with him. He loved two the most: one was named Athulf Child, and the other Fikenild. Athulf was the best, and Fikenild the worst.
(Horn and friends exit, stage right. Allof and two companions enter, riding, and meet Saracens.)
It was on a summer’s day, as I will tell you. The good King Allof rode for his leisure along the shore where he normally rode. With him rode only two others—all too few were they then! At the coast they encountered fifteen ships of fierce Saracens who had arrived on land. He asked them what they sought or brought.
We intend to kill your people who stubbornly believe in Christ–and you, as we intend, shall never escape!
(Sword fight ensues.)
The king and his two companions were forced to dismount their horses. Although very frightened, they gripped their swords and struck the Saracens. They struck under shields, causing some to die. The king had too little help against so many, who easily killed the king and his two companions! The pagans came to the land and took control of it. The Saracens killed all the people. allowing no one to live, no stranger or relative, unless he forsook his religion and adopted theirs.
(Time change shown by backdrop. The land is dark, and the people are sad. Godild enters sorrowfully.)
Of all women, the saddest then was Godild. She wept sorely for Allof and even more for Horn.
Godild bore so much sorrow that she couldn’t take any more! She departed the hall, away from her maidens, and went under a rock where she dwelled alone. There she served God against the pagan religion. There she served Christ in hiding, so the pagans didn’t know about it, and always she prayed on behalf of her child Horn, that Christ be kind to him.
GODILD: (in anguished prayer)
Oh God, why do you forsake me? You’ve taken my husband, never for me to see him again, and my son is gone—I don’t know where! He’s in the pagans’ hands now, along with his fellows.
(Goldild hides away. Horn enters, stage right)
Great was the beauty Jesus Christ bestowed on Horn. The pagans planned to kill him. Some wanted to flog him. But Horn was too beautiful to kill. His beauty saved the children from being slain.
SARACEN INVADER: (arrogantly)
Horn, you’re brave, handsome, and radiant. You’re fair and strong, straight and tall. If you and your friends were to escape alive and kill us, I’d be responsible. Therefore you and your friends have to go out to sea, depart on a ship, sink to the bottom! The sea will drown you, and that won’t give us any grief! For, were you to remain alive, we’d all have to pay for your father’s death by sword or knife.
The children went to the shore, wringing their hands, and boarded the ship at the command. Horn had been frightened before, but never worse than then. The sea surged, and Horn had to sail. The ship traveled rapidly. They thought they’d die. All day, all night, till daylight rose, Horn was tossed in the sea until he saw land.
Fellows, there’s good news! I hear birds sing. I see grass grow. Happily, we’re all alive! Our ship has come to shore.
(They leave the ship, stepping onto ground along the shore. The ship sets off.)
Now, ship, good day, along the waves! May no water drown you by sea’s edge. Calmly may you steer so that no water hurts you. If you should come to Sudenne, greet them who know me.
Greet well good Queen Godild, my mother. Tell the heathen king, the enemy of Jesus Christ,
that I have arrived here safely on land, and say that he shall find death, thus, by my hand!
The ship floated away, and Horn Child wept. The children walked to town, by dale and by down. They met Aylmer—may Christ give him good fortune! The King of Westness—may Christ bless him!
KING AYLMER: (speaking kindly)
Lads, where are you from? You are thirteen very brave young men. By God who created me, I’ve never seen so fine a fellowship stand in the land of Westness. Tell me what you seek.
We are from Sudenne, from good kin, of Christian blood, from very good families. Pagans arrived there and deprived Christians of life. They killed and cut up many Christian men.
As Christ may guide me, they put us onto a galley to sport with the sea. Day after day, with no sail or rudder, our ship drifted on and on. It has come here ashore. You could slay us now, or bind our hands, but please, by your will, help us so that we don’t die!
KING AYLMER: (cheerfully)
Say, child, what’s your name? Only play shall befall you.
I am called Horn, just come from a boat on the shore. Be well, king!
Horn Child, your name suits you. A horn sounds so gently by dales and by hills. A horn carries a loud sound through every town. So may your name spring from king to king, and your fairness abound all round Westness. Horn, you’re so very dear, I’ll not abandon you.
(King Aylmer rides home, taking with him the foundling Horn along with his companions. The king enters the hall among his own knights. He beckons to his steward Athelbrus.)
Steward, take here my foundling and instruct him, by your profession, about wood and river, and about how to pluck a harp with nimble fingers. Teach him all the arts you’ve ever known: how to carve before me and serve my cup. Arrange, too, for his fellows to have service with us. Regarding Horn Child, you understand, teach him all about harp and song.
NARRATOR 1: (strumming and singing with instrument)
Athelbrus began to teach Horn and his fellows. Horn willingly learned everything the man taught him, in and out of court. And people everywhere loved Horn Child. Rimenild, the king’s own daughter, loved him most of all, for he was on her mind.
Summary. In this act we learn the extent to which King Aylmer’s daughter Rimenild is attracted to Horn. She asks the king’s steward Athelbrus to bring him to her room. Afraid that Rimenild is up to no good, Athelbrus brings Horn’s friend Athulf instead. Mistaking him for Horn, Rimenild tells Athulf that she loves him. When she discovers that Athelbrus has tricked her, she threatens to have him hanged, whereupon Athelbrus brings Horn to her. Rimenild asks him to marry her, but Horn refuses, saying that he is a foundling and unworthy. Upon this rebuff, Rimenild falls in a swoon. Horn takes her in his arms, kisses her, and asks her to have her father make him a knight so that he might marry her.
Scene: Rimenild in her bed chamber.
Rimenild loved Horn passionately, for he was fair and also good, although she dared not speak even a word to him at table or in hall, among all the knights. Her sorrow and pain never ceased, day or night, for she couldn’t speak with fair and noble Horn. Because she couldn’t be with him, she had care and pain in her heart. She devised a plan.
RIMENILD: (in her bed chamber, stage left, speaking to her maiden)
Please find Athelbrus and Horn. Bring them to my chambers. I feel ill. (swoons)
MESSENGER: (finding Athelbrus, stage right)
Athelbrus, our maiden is sick. She sends for you and Horn. Please come quickly. She’s not at all happy!
ATHELBUS: (aside, concerned)
I don’t understand what Rimenild is up to. I’m not sure what to do. This is strange indeed. (contemplating) Aha, I’ll take someone else with me in place of Horn. Until I know her true intentions, I’ll instead take Athulf, Horn’s best friend.
(Athulf enters, stage left.)
Athulf, you must go with me right now to Rimenild’s bower, to speak privately with her so that I may understand her will. You’re like Horn. You’ll trick her. Please understand, I’m deeply worried she’ll lead Horn astray.
(Athelbrus and Athulf both go to Rimenild’s bower. Rimenild believes she is talking to Horn.)
RIMENILD: (sitting beside him quietly and beginning to whisper privately)
Horn, I’ve loved you deeply and very long. You shall plight your troth in my hand, to marry me properly as your wife, and I to hold you as my lord.
ATHULF: (shuddering and noticeably scared; whispering in her ear with a stammer)
Don’t say any more, I beg you! You must stop speaking, for Horn’s not here, nor are we at all alike! Horn is fair and splendid.
(Rimenild grows upset.)
He is fairer by one rib than any man alive. Even if Horn were under the ground or a thousand miles away, I’d never be false to him.
RIMENILD: (turning around to face Athelbrus)
Athelbrus, you foul thief, you’ll never be dear to me! Get out of my bower! May shame fall on you! May ill fortune seize you and hang you on an evil cross! This is not Horn! He is much better looking!
ALTHELBRUS: (perplexed, kneeling on the ground)
Ah, my own lady, listen to me for a moment. Hear why I hesitated to bring Horn near you.
Horn is fair and splendid—no one’s his equal—and good King Aylmer placed him in my care. If Horn were near you, I might anxiously suspect that you’d take pleasure with him, and, between the two of you, the king would certainly be angry at us. Ah, spare me your reproach, my lady and queen! I shall fetch Horn for you, whatever anyone cares.
RIMENILD: (breaking into a smile, laughing, and acting giddy)
Go at once and send him in this afternoon, dressed as a squire. After the king rises, Horn will stay with me till nearly evening. I’ll have my will of him. I don’t care what people say!
(Athelbrus and Athulf immediately leave the bower, stage left. Horn, stage right, is before the king at table, ready to pour wine. Althebrus returns, stage right.)
Horn, you must go courteously to the bower to speak with young Rimenild, daughter of our king. Your words have to be courageous; you must restrain your heart. Horn, as true as you are to me, you won’t regret it.
(Horn nods. He and Althebrus leave, stage right. Lights dim, stage right, and Horn reenters, stage left, into Rimenild’s bower. He kneels and greets Rimenild. As he looks at Rimenild, a light seems to shine in the bower. Rimenild is surrounded by her maidens.)
Rimenild, may you and your assembled maidens be well. Our king’s steward sent me to your bower to talk with you. My lady, what is your will?
RIMENILD: (standing up, taking Horn by the hand, clasping him, and kissing him)
Welcome, Horn, by evening and morn! Because of you, I’ve had so much sorrow I can’t rest or have sleep or pleasure. Horn, you’ll soon assuage my long-held sorrow. You will, with no denial, marry me! Horn, pity me! Plight me your troth!
HORN: (carefully considering what he ought to say)
May Christ guide you and give you heaven’s bliss with your husband, whoever on earth he’ll be! I’m born a slave and also your father’s foundling. It doesn’t fall naturally to me to marry you. There’s no proper wedding between a thrall and the king’s daughter.
(Rimenild acts perplexed. She moans, swoons, and throws up her arms in a faint, with Horn catching her. They begin to kiss.)
Rimenild, dear one, help me be dubbed as a knight, sweet one, by all your power, before my lord the king. Have him knight me, and then my servitude will wholly transform to knighthood. I will grow greater, and then, Rimenild, I’ll do your bidding and marry you!
Now, Horn, in truth, I believe you, by your oath. You shall be made knight within a fortnight.
Take here this cup and these rings too. Go to Steward Athelbrus, and tell him to keep his promise. Say that I graciously beseech him that he should, for you, bow in hall at the king’s foot so that, by his oath, he’ll knight you with his sword. He’ll be well rewarded with silver and gold. Now may Christ lend him success in urging your business!
(Horn exits, stage left.)
NARRATOR 2: (strumming a lyre and singing)
Horn found Athelbrus, gave him the rings, and told him to go before the king. Horn, you will be rewarded!
(Lights fade on stage.)
ACT 3, SCENE 1
Summary. Athelbrus encourages King Aylmer to knight Horn. As soon as it happens, Rimenild wants Horn to marry her, but he says that he must first prove his merit as a knight. Rimenild gives him a ring, explaining that when he looks at it and thinks of her, he will overcome all enemies. Riding a handsome steed, Horn sets forth on his quest. He quickly finds and slays at least a hundred Saracens. The next day Rimenild tells him that she dreamt about a great fish that escaped from her net. The significance of her dream is clear when Fikenild, envious of Horn, tells King Aylmer that Horn plans to kill him and marry Rimenild. He says that Horn is at that moment in bed with Rimenild. King Aylmer, rushing to his daughter’s chamber, finds Rimenild embracing Horn. He orders Horn to leave the castle. Before departing, Horn instructs Athulf to guard Rimenild. He tells Rimenild that he expects to be back in seven years. If he does not return by that time, she is to take another husband.
Scene: The king’s castle. Enter Althebrus.
ATHELBRUS: (arriving joyfully into the hall)
King, now listen to the best of stories. Today you must host a festival. I advise you to dub Horn as knight and have him wield your arms. He’ll prove a good knight for you.
KING AYLMER: (enthusiastically)
That’s a good thing to do! Horn pleases me well, and knighthood well suits him. He will have my dubbing, and his twelve companions shall be my other favorites. I’ll knight them all to fight for me!
(Horn and his twelve companions arrive before King Aylmer. He dubs Horn a knight, touching him gently with a sword. Athulf then falls to his knee and addresses King Aylmer.)
Now Sir Horn is knighted. He was born in Sudenne, as the lord of lands and of us who stand with him. He has your arms and your shield, to fight with in field. Now let him knight us all, for such is his right.
KING AYLMER: (responding quickly)
Now do what you will.
(Horn dismounts and dubs his knights. They have a great feast and party.)
Rimenild was not there. It already seemed seven years to her. She called for Horn, who then visits her in her bower, along with Athulf.
Scene: Rimenild’s bower, stage left. Rimenild welcomes Sir Horn and Sir Athulf.
Knight, now it’s time to sit next to me. Now do what we spoke of—take me as your wife. Now that you have your will, release me from this pain!
Rimenild, now be calm. I’ll do all your will. But before I woo you, I’ll ride with a spear
and prove my knighthood. We’re now young knights, all risen today into that rank. This is the manner by which a knight must act: I must fight with some other knight for my love, before I take you as wife. May Christ bless me today for your love. I’ll do deeds of prowess with my shield in the midst of the field. If I return alive, I’ll take you as wife.
Knight, I trust you. Because you are true, accept here this gold ring. It is suited to your dubbing. Engraved on it is: “Rimenild the young, your beloved.” No one know any better ring under the sun. Wear it for my love. Bear it on your finger. The stone has such power that you won’t be captured by death or slain unjustly anywhere, if you simply look at it and think of your beloved. Your friend Sir Athulf shall have another one. Horn, I sorrowfully commend you to Christ. May Christ give you success and bring you back sound!
(Horn kisses her, and Rimenild blesses him as he leaves.)
Horn went to the stable where he took his good horse, black as coal. With weapons he armed himself. He fed his horse, set it prancing, and sang happily. He rode for about a mile and then saw a ship moored nearby, filled with heathen hounds.
What do you want? What has brought you to this land?
We plan to conquer this land and slay those in it!
(A sword fight erupts while the narrator reports.)
Horn gripped his sword and wiped it on his arm. He hit the Saracen so hard that his head fell to his toes. Then the pagan hounds started to attack Horn all alone. He looked upon his ring, thought of Rimenild the young, and slew the best of them—a hundred at least! No one could count all that he killed! Of those who’d come ashore, he left few alive. Horn took the leader’s severed head and set it on top of his sword. He traveled home to the hall.
(Horn returns to the king with the head on a spear.)
King, be well, and your knights with you! Today I rode for my sport after my dubbing. I found a ship moored in the flowing channel with foreign men of Saracen race, who intended to mortally torment you and everyone you know. They began to attack me, but my sword didn’t fail me. I struck them down at once. Here’s the leader’s head! King, I’ve repaid you now for making me a knight!
(The king raises his cup to Horn. Fikenild, to the side, pours out his mead, breaks his cup, and snarls at Horn. Lights fade.)
ACT 3, SCENE 2
Summary: Horn enters the bower to find Rimenild weeping. She explains that she dreamt she was fishing, and a large fish got the better of her and she could not capture it. She feared she would lose the fish that she wanted. Horn interprets the dream to mean that Rimenild is fearful she will lose him. He vows his love to her and professes that he will marry her. Unfortunately, however, Fikenild reports the situation falsely to King Aylmer, who sends Horn away, fulfilling Rimenild’s dream.
Scene: Lights, stage left, to Rimenild’s bower. Rimenild weeps as Horn enters.
Dear one, your mercy, why do you weep so pitifully?
I scarcely weep now compared to how I will before I sleep! It seemed to me in a dream that I rode to go fishing. I cast my net to sea, and it held quite long, but all of a sudden, a giant fish made my net burst. That fish got the better of me—I couldn’t capture it! I was afraid I’d lose the fish I wanted to choose.
By Christ and Saint Stephen, here’s what your dream means: I shall never deceive you nor do what displeases you. I shall take you as my own to hold and to know before any other creature. I shall keep my promise. I shall marry you.
(Rimenild continues to cry hard, and Horn comforts her.)
Beloved dear one, you shall hear more: your dream will happen. Someone will injure us. The fish that broke your net, indeed, it is something that will harm us. Indeed, it will come to pass.
(Lights rise stage right on the king’s court where King Aylmer and Fikenild sit at the table.)
FIKENILD: (in a jealous and lying tone)
Aylmer, I warn you, Horn will destroy you! I heard what he said. He swore by his sword
to take your life and to take Rimenild to wife. He lies now in her bower under the bedcovers
with Rimenild your daughter—and so he does quite often! Exile him from the land before he does more harm!
(Aylmer, furious, runs stage left into Rimenild’s bower where Horn lies in Rimenild’s embrace.)
Horn, get out, you evil foundling! Get off the bower floor and away from Rimenild your whore! Leave this land at once! You’ve no business here! Unless you flee right now, I’ll strike you with my sword!
Offended, Horn went to the stable, saddled his horse, grabbed his sword, and laced on his coat of mail. He didn’t let anyone see him as he briefly returned to Rimenild, who was heartbroken and sobbing.
Sweetheart, darling, now you have had your dream. The fish that tore your net sends me away. The king begins to fight me. He intends to drive me away. Therefore, farewell! I must leave you and go to a strange land. In order to have adventures, I’ll dwell there seven full years. At the end of seven years, if I don’t return or send a message, take a husband. Don’t hesitate on my account. Now hold me in your arms, and kiss me a long time!
(They embrace and Rimenild falls to ground. Horn turns to Athulf.)
Knight, so true, protect well my new love. You’ve never failed to protect and look after Rimenild.
(Horn leaves, and Athulf turns to hide his weeping.)
NARRATOR 3: (strumming an instrument)
Horn traveled forth. He hired a good ship that carried him away from Westness. The wind arose and drove him onto land.
Summary. Horn travels to Ireland and, to disguise himself, changes his name to Godmod. At the shore, he meets Berild and Athild, King Thurston’s sons. It is Christmas time. They are attacked by pagans and a giant, and Berild and Athild are killed. Upon learning that these are the same pagans who killed his father, Horn slays the giant. Horn thus defends Ireland and avenges his father. King Thurston is so grateful that he makes him his heir and gives him his daughter Ermenild to marry, but Horn refuses to wed her. Horn stays in Ireland for seven years, until he receives gets word that Rimenild is to be married. He leaves to return to Westness.
Scene: Horn lands ashore and meets Athild and Berild, stage left, with the king’s court stage right.
What do you want here, stranger? What is your name?
Godmod I’m called. I am far from home, having arrived by boat to seek my best fortune.
Well may you be found, knight. Stay with me awhile. Indeed, as I may die, you shall serve the king! I’ve never seen so fair a knight!
(The three of them go before the king. Horn kneels.)
King, you must greet him. Use Godmod to defend your land, and then no one will harm you, for he’s the fairest who’s ever come to this land.
Most dearly you are welcome here! Go quickly now, Berild, and make him comfortable. Wherever you go a-wooing, you’ll have to challenge him with your glove! He’ll drive off any girl you plan to propose to. On account of Godmod’s good looks, you’ll prosper nowhere!
Scene: Set change to resemble Christmas. The giant appears on stage, with more pagans.
GIANT: (issuing a challenge)
Sit, King, by king,
And heed my tiding.
Here do pagans arrive,
Well more than five.
They’re here at hand,
King, in your land.
One must take the fight
Against three knights.
If your three slay our one,
From your land we’ll be gone;
But, if our one slays your three,
All this land ours shall be.
Tomorrow the fighting
Starts with the sun’s rising.
Godmod shall be one. Berild shall be another. The third one shall be Athild, his brother. They are the strongest and best at arms. But what can help us? I fear we’re all dead!
GODMOD: (dressed in his mail, standing before the giant with his companions)
Sir King, it’s not right for one to fight against three—three Christians to fight against one pagan hound! So I shall, alone without companions, readily deal them death with my sword. King, come to the field to behold me! See how we shall oppose each other and strike blows!
(A sword fight ensues between the giant and Horn. There are many blows between the two contenders. Horn defeats the giant)
Knight, pause awhile, if you please. I’ve never felt by anyone’s hand such hard strokes, in any land, except from the very powerful King Murry. He was of Horn’s kin. I slew him in Sudenne!
You murdered my father!
(Horn strikes him under his shield, looks at his ring from Rimenild, and strikes the giant in the heart. There is chaos as the pagans run for their ship. In the sword fight, the king’s sons are killed. Horn fights the pagans till they are all dead.)
Scene: King Thurston’s court, stage right. His two sons lie dead in the hall.
Godmod, had you not come, we would all be dead! You’re both good and fair. I make you here my heir. My sons are slain and taken from life. I have one daughter—no one alive is as lovely!—
Ermenild, a fair maid bright as a summer’s day. I intend to give her to you, and here you’ll be king.
I’ll continue to serve you, King, before you die. Whenever I desire your daughter, she’ll refuse me nothing.
Scene: Horn in the woods, shooting. A page approaches.
Dear friend, what are you doing now here?
Sir, I can tell you briefly: from Westness I seek Sir Horn on behalf of Rimenild, the fair maiden who grieves for him night and day. A king shall wed her on Sunday and take her to bed; he is King Mody of Reynes, Horn’s enemy. I’ve walked far along the seashore. I’m cannot find him by any report, nor have I heard about him in lands far or near. Wailaway the while! May guile overtake him!
HORN: (holding back tears)
May much good come to you, man. Horn stands here by your side. Return to Rimenild and tell her not to mourn. I’ll be there on time, on Sunday before prime.
Horn and the page exit stage right. Rimenild enters stage left. As Rimenild walks center stage wringing her hands, the drowned page washes ashore.
RIMENILD: (looking at the message)
Oh no, no! My messenger has returned, but he is speechless! How will I ever find my true knight Horn?
Scene: Stage right, King Thurston of Ireland’s court.
King Thurston, I come to you to reveal my true identity. I’ve served you well as your knight for seven years, but now you must know that Rimenild of Westness is my own bride, and I am family of the King of Sudenne, unjustly slain. Wise King, repay me my service. Help me win Rimenild! Quickly! Do not delay! I’ll act well to establish your daughter’s marriage, for she’ll have as husband Athulf, my good friend. He’s one of the best and truest of knights.
Horn, do all your will. I’ll summon throughout the land battle-ready knights, very skilled men to go with you as shipmates, back with you to Westness, to win your Rimenild.
ACT 5, SCENE 1
Summary. In Odysseus fashion, Horn returns to Westness and exchanges clothes with a palmer to sneak into Rimenild’s wedding. After a scuffle with the gatekeeper, Horn arrives at the wedding to find a very sorrowful Rimenild pouring wine. He beseeches her for a cup, and she thinks he is very bold for a beggar. He then asks her about a fish to remind her of her dream and drops her ring into his drinking horn. Seeing the ring, she snatches it up, runs to her chamber to examine it, and sends one of her maidens to find the palmer, to ask him where he got the ring. Horn (as the palmer) returns to Rimenild’s bower and tells her that Horn gave him the ring before dying on a ship. Rimenild wants to kill herself, but Horn intervenes.
Scene: Stage right, Horn’s ship arrives in Westness.
Palmer, you must tell me the truth if you value your head. Why have you come from town?
I come from a wedding, the cruel wedding of maiden Rimenild. She couldn’t dry what she wept from her eyes. She said “she did not want to be wedded with gold. She had a husband, though he was away.” I was in the hall, inside the castle wall, but then I slipped away. I couldn’t stand the grief! There was pitiful sorrow. The bride weeps bitterly.
As Christ counsels me, we have to exchange clothes. Take my robe, and give me your cloak.
Today I shall drink there in such a way that some will be sorry.
(The palmer and Horn exchange clothes. Horn twists his face and distorts his looks to be disguised.)
Porter, let me into the wedding!
You don’t belong with this group. Be gone!
Kindly I say to you, Porter, I am of this party. Please let me enter!
No, I say! Be gone!
(Horn pushes the wicket door till it flies open and throws the porter over the rail, breaking three of his ribs.)
Scene: Stage left, a wedding feast in progress, with Rimenild crazed and weeping. She holds a drinking horn, toasting knights and squires in a distracted way. Horn sneaks in, unrecognized.
Queen so noble, come hither to me. Pour to us right away. The beggars are first.
RIMENILD: (filling a cup for him)
Take this cup and drink up this wine. I think I’ve never seen a beggar so bold!
Queen so dear, no wine will I taste unless it be from a white cup. You think I’m a beggar. In fact, I’m a fisherman arrived far from home to seek my best fortune. My net lies near here in a fair shelter. I’ve laid it there now for seven years. I’ve come now to see whether it’s caught any fish. Should any fish be in it, you shall win it. Because I’ve come to fish, I’ll not drink from a cup. So far have I traveled, drink to Horn from a horn!
RIMENILD: (staring at the stranger with curiosity)
Drink your fill and tell me afterwards if you ever saw Horn under cover of woods.
(Horn drinks from the horn and throws his ring in its bottom.)
Queen, consider what I threw into the drink.
Scene: Stage right, Rimenild in her chamber with her maidens.
RIMENILD: (going to her bower and examining the ring)
Dear maidens, what if my Horn is dead? Why would this odd stranger have his ring and not know my knight? (grabbing one of her maidens) You must go back to the palmer! Find him fast!
(The maiden runs out, finds the palmer [Horn in disguise], and brings him to Rimenild’s bower.)
Palmer so true, the ring you threw in—say where you got it and how you came hither.
By Saint Giles, I traveled many miles, far from home, to seek my best fortune and beg for food, for such then was my lot. Heading to a ship by the shore, I found Sir Horn standing there. He said that he planned to travel to Westness. The ship took to sea. Good Horn sickened and died. For his love, he prayed me to go with this ring—so often he kissed it!—to Rimenild the young. May Christ give his soul rest.
Heart, burst asunder! You no longer have Horn, for whom you’ve pined sorely! (falls on bed) Maiden, bring me knives that I might put myself and my hated king out of misery!
Beloved one, don’t you know who I am? I am your own Horn, Horn of Westness! Kiss me in your arms.
(They embrace and kiss.)
Rimenild, I must rush down to the forest’s edge. My knights are there—worthy and skilled men, armed under clothing. They will disturb the king and his guests at these feasts. Today I shall catch them. Now I will fetch my men!
(Horn runs out, dropping his cloak. Rimenild leaves the bower and finds Athulf high in his tower, frowning.)
ATHULF: (seeing Rimenild)
Horn is too late! He entrusted Rimenild to me, that I look after her. I’ve always looked out, and yet, Horn, you never come! Now it’s too late, and she is married to a hateful king!
Athulf, be glad! Go swiftly to Horn! He’s in the forest with many friends.
(Athulf leaps upon hearing the news. He has longed for Horn. He catches up with Horn and happily kisses him.)
ACT 5, SCENE 2
Summary: Horn is reunited with his friend Athulf and commits his story to King Aylmer. He pledges to fight the Saracens in Sudenne and leaves aboard a ship armed to fight. Horn eventually is reunited with his mother, kills the pagan ruler of Sudenne, and returns for Rimenild. While he is away, Fikenild attempts to marry Rimenild, but Horn returns and cuts off his head. They live happily ever after. Amen!
Scene: Stage left, Westness, at King Aylmer’s court. Horn and his men act out the killing of the wedding guests and King Mody.
Horn and his men gathered and entered the unlocked gates. At the wedding feast, the delicacies were rich. No tongue might describe the merriment sung there. But King Aylmer’s men and Rimenild’s intended husband King Mody lost their lives that day. King Aylmer and those left alive vowed they wouldn’t betray Horn, swearing loyal oaths, but Horn did not know of Fikenild’s falseness.
HORN: (addressing King Aylmer)
King of the land, you know my story. I was born in Sudenne. My father was king by blood. You made me a knight, and I have proven my knighthood. You drove me out of your land and called me a fierce traitor. You thought that I’d done what I never even considered: lie with Rimenild. Certainly, I deny it! Nor will I ever do so before I win Sudenne. Protect her for me until I restore my heritage. With this Irish page beside me, I will penetrate that land and avenge my father! I’ll be king of Sudenne and learn the speech of kings. Then shall Rimenild the young lie with King Horn.
Scene: Stage right, Sudenne. Horn, an Irishman, and Athulf enact the ship passage from Westness to Sudenne.
Horn began to board the ship with his Irish companion and Athulf his friend. He would bring no others. The ship began to move. The wind blew loudly. Within five days the ship reached land along Sudenne’s coast and came to rest around midnight. Horn proceeded at once, taking Athulf by the hand and going on the land. They found a knight under a shield, lying down on the field. On the shield was drawn a cross of Jesus Christ’s law. Adorned in well-fashioned arms, the knight lay asleep.
HORN: (addressing the Good Knight)
Knight, wake up! Tell me what you guard and why you sleep here. The cross emblem says you are Christian, but unless you prove it, my sword will cut you to pieces!
GOOD KNIGHT: (shuddering)
I have wrongly served pagans against my will. I was once Christian. Upon this island have come
Saracens, hideous and black. They made me forsake Jesus and to keep watch at this passage for Horn, who’s now come of age and dwells to the west. He’s a good knight with the best! With their hands they slew this land’s king, and many hundred with him. It seems therefore strange to me that Horn’s not returned to fight. May God give him strength! May the wind drive him hither to kill them all! They slew King Murry, Horn’s powerful kinsman. They exiled Horn from the land, and twelve children went with him. My child Athulf the good, my own offspring, was with him. If Horn is whole and sound, then Athulf suffers no wound. He loved Horn deeply, and he him in return. If only I might see those two, then I wouldn’t care if I died!
Knight, be happy then, because we’re both here—Athulf and Horn his friend!
GOOD KNIGHT: (leaping toward Horn and clasping him in his arms)
Young men, how have you been? Do you hope to win this land and dwell here? Sweet Horn Child, your mother Godild still lives! She won’t lack for joy when she learns you’re alive!
Blessed be the time that I’ve come to Sudenne with an Irishman! We’ll catch the pagan hounds and put them to death! So shall we teach them our language!
(Horn blows his horn. The people of Sudenne emerge and hug one another.)
Horn soon caused chapels and churches to be built. He ordered the bells to be rung and the priests to sing masses. He sought out his mother’s place in the rock’s wall. He kissed and honored her, and established her in the royal castle. He began to wear the crown and host merry feasts. He ruled there joyously, but Rimenild suffered for it.
Scene: Stage left, Westness. Fikenild acts out the building of a tower, setting Rimenild within it.
While Horn was away, Fikenild schemed how to succeed. He gave rewards to the rich, both young and old, so that they’d ally with him. He had stone and lime brought in for the purpose of building a castle surrounded by water, so that none might enter it except for a bird in flight. Only when the sea withdrew could anyone approach it.
Thus did Fikenild proceed to injure Rimenild. He plotted to marry her forcibly. King Aylmer dared not refuse him and has now set the day for Fikenild to wed her. Rimenild was distraught and wept tears of blood.
Scene: Stage right, Sudenne. Horn lying asleep.
This same night the noble Horn dreamt a nightmare about Rimenild his mate: that she had been taken into a ship, and the ship began to capsize. He feared his beloved would drown! Rimenild tried to swim to land, but Fikenild thrust against her with his sword’s hilt. Horn awoke frightened in his bed!
HORN: (addressing Athulf)
Athulf, friend, let’s now rush to the ship! Fikenild has deceived me—he does something horrible to Rimenild! May Christ, for his five wounds, drive us faster tonight!
Scene: The action moves left, as Horn and companions sail to the tower in Westness.
Horn rode to his ship with his knights by his side. The ship began to sail in a good healthy wind. Fikenild went to the king before dawn. He intended to wed Rimenild that night.
He brought her, in the dark, into his new fortress. They began the feast before the sun rose.
Horn’s ship halted in the Stour under Rimenild’s bower. She didn’t know Horn was alive or that he’d arrived. She didn’t know that castle because it was so new.
The sea began to withdraw. Then Horn saw his friend the fair knight Arnoldin, Athulf’s cousin,
stationed in that tide to await King Horn.
King Horn, king’s son, you are welcome here. Today Sir Fikenild will wed your wife Rimenild.
He has plotted against you. He’s had this tower built just for Rimenild’s sake. No one may enter there by any contrivance. Horn, may Christ guide you now so that you don’t lose Rimenild!
Men, you are the best knights from the west, but now you must trick the trickster. Gird yourselves with swords and follow me into the castle. Sing joyously and make merry, so that Fikenild might hear it.
(The men, dressed as minstrels, go to the castle, disguised to gain entry.)
Who sings at my door?
Harpers, jugglers, and fiddlers.
Then let them in.
HORN: (sits down on a bench and begins to sing and play his harp)
Rimenild, my Rimenild. How you paint the sky and light the lovely night . . .
RIMENILD: (moans and falls in a faint)
(Horn, heartsick, looks upon his ring and then at Rimenild. Going to the table, he cuts off Fikenild’s head and strikes down Fikenild’s men in a row. King Aylmer, old and weak, retreats in the background.)
I have overthrown Fikenild. Kind Arnoldin is now King of Westness! Offer tribute to him!
Horn took Rimenild by the hand, led her to the shore, and took with him Athelbrus, good steward of her father’s house.
(Horn, Rimenild, Athulf and Athelbrus sail to the land of King Mody, stage right.)
The sea began to flow, and Horn sailed swiftly. They arrived in a new realm by a most favorable current.
There the king had been King Mody, whom Horn had slain. Horn made Athelbrus king, as a reward for his good teaching.
In honor of Sir Horn’s learning, Athelbrus became king there. Horn again went to sea, and the wind drove him well.
(Horn, Rimenild, and Athulf sail to Ireland, stage left.)
Horn arrived in Ireland, where he had once felt grief. There he had Sir Athulf marry maid Ermenild.
Athulf became King of Ireland.
(Horn and Rimenild sail to Sudenne, stage right.)
And Horn came to Sudenne, to his own family, and made Rimenild his queen there.
And as it should happen, King Horn and Queen Rimenild lived always in true love, and they loved well God’s law.
Now they’re both dead. May Christ lead us to heaven!
ALL NARRATORS: (singing in harmony, C chord)