V. Sister Agrippina

But when she had waited all day and all night, and there was still no sign of Agrippina, the Queen, as a mother, began to feel in her heart that she had lost her beautiful daughter. She went with a heavy heart to tell the King the full tale.

He said: “Oh, that’s a wise doctor – the wisest of his profession! It’s none other than Andolosia, whom you so falsely deceived. I perceive that whoever bestowed that good fortune on him also endowed him with the wisdom to regain the Purse should he come from its possession. Fortune wills that he, and none other, have the Purse; and if Fortune had so willed, then I, or the next man, would also have such a Purse. There are many men in England but only one King – and I am he. Such is the lot granted me by God and Fortune. And it is Andolosia’s lot to be the sole possessor of this purse; if we only had our daughter again!”

“Your Majesty, be so good as to send out messengers to try to discover where she is before she is reduced to poverty and misery,” pleaded the Queen.

“I’m sending no messengers out. We would be held in disgrace for not having taken better care of her.”

Andolosia, alone in the wild, uninhabited wood with Agrippina, flung the doctor’s robe to the ground, threw the loathsome nose away, and stepped roughly towards the Princess. She recognised him at once, and the shock shot through every limb, rendering her speechless. For his eyes were rolling in his head, he was gnashing his teeth, and he gave the appearance of being ready to strike her to death. Drawing a knife, he hacked her girdle off – his hurry was too great to untie it – and separated the Purse, rudely flinging the girdle far away. Then he opened his jerkin and laced the Purse to its accustomed place.

Agrippina, watching all this, trembled like an aspen in the wind. Andolosia spat out in his fury: “You false, deceitful woman, now you’re in my hands, now I’ll share with you the good faith you shared with me when you cut my Purse away and sewed an impotent one on in its place! Now you can see that it’s back where it belongs; now try asking your mother and old lady’s-maid for help and advice, and snap your fingers for a sparkling drink to dupe me with! And even if both those fiends were here with you, all their arts would never help you to take the Purse from me again!

“Oh Agrippina, how could you have it in your heart to show such bad grace to me, who was so faithful to you! I would have shared my heart, my soul, my person and possessions, with you. How could you have it in your heart to drive so manly a knight, who jousted and tourneyed every day for your sake, to such extreme poverty, without showing me the slightest sign of pity? The King and Queen mocked and made carnival fun of me, and the memory still rankles in my heart, for the evil you did me drove me to despair. I was about to hang myself when Mary, Mother of God, came with Grace to my aid against pernicious temptation; and I shall serve her faithfully until the closing of my days. If I had proceeded, you would have been the cause of my losing life and soul, honour and possessions. And when you had the virtuous Purse in your power, and you were told that I was poorer than a church-mouse, and had had to ride away on my own after having dismissed all my servants, you were reluctant to send me a small sum to help me home to my friends with some honour intact. Now speak your judgement: is it not right and proper that I should show you the mercy you showed me?”

Agrippina was filled with terror and did not know what to say. Looking up to Heaven, she nervously began to speak: “Rigid and virtuous knight, Andolosia, I confess that I have behaved harshly and dishonourably towards you. I beg you to make allowances for the diffidence, ignorance and recklessness which Nature has given in greater degrees to women, both young and old, than to the male sex. Do not force this matter to a bitter conclusion, but lay down your anger at this poor girl; return good for evil, as becomes a just and honourable knight.”

“The injury, disgrace and grief you have occasioned me are still so alive in my heart, that I cannot leave you unpunished.”

“Oh Andolosia, reconsider! People would speak great dishonour of you if you harmed a poor woman whom you held prisoner in a desert. Without doubt, every mention of this would be ignominious to your knighthood.”

Andolosia replied, “Well, I shall resist my anger, and I give you my word as a knight that I shall injure neither your honour nor your body. But you have a keepsake from me, and you must keep it till the grave, to hold me in your mind.”

Agrippina had been in such dire fear for her life that she had completely forgotten about the horns on her head. But once Andolosia had guaranteed her life and honour, she recovered her composure, and said: “I wish to God I were free of these horns and back in my father’s palace.”

Hearing her make a wish, Andolosia suddenly noticed the Hat lying on the ground beside her, so he ran over, snatched it up and tied it tight to his belt. Agrippina could see from this that he was held the Hat especially dear, and it was the agent by which means she had twice been carried off. Fuming at herself, she thought: ‘You had both the treasures in your keeping and you couldn’t hold on to them’. But she hid her anger from Andolosia and asked him very sweetly to remove the horns and take her home to her father.

“In short,” he said, “the horns have a home on your head for life. But I shall willingly take you within sight of your father’s palace; I am never setting foot inside there again.”

She asked him a second time, then a third. But in vain.

When Agrippina saw that no amount of pleading could mollify him, she said: “If I must then bear these horns and look misshapen, I do not wish to return to England, or be seen by anyone who knows me – father, mother or anyone else. So take me to the End of the World, where none will recognise me.”

“There is nowhere you would be better off than with your father and mother, the King and Queen,” said Andolosia.

But she would not agree. “Take me to a nunnery, so I can live apart from the world.”

“Is that what you desire? Are you in earnest?”

And she said, “Yes.”

Then he put on the Hat and took her to Hibernia, close to the End of the World, and little distance from St. Patrick’s Purgatory. They arrived in an isolated field, where there was a large and stately nunnery which admitted only ladies of noble birth. Leaving Agrippina sitting alone in the field, Andolosia entered the convent and sought out the Abbess. He told her that he had brought a noble and honourable maiden, beautiful and healthy, but with growths on her head which made her too ashamed to live among her friends: “So she wishes to be where no one knows her. And if you accept her, I shall pay for her maintenance threefold.”

“The fee is two hundred crowns, for I provide every lady with a maid and supply all that she needs. So if you want to pay this threefold, bring her here.”

Agrippina before the convent

He soon returned with Agrippina, who thanked the Abbess for her reception with such modesty, and dropped so graceful a curtsey, that the Abbess knew her to be of noble lineage; and she felt sad that this beautiful girl should bear those cursed horns on her head.

“Agrippina,” she said, “is it your wish to make this convent your home?”

“It is, dear Abbess,” said Agrippina in the humblest of voices.

“And will you be obedient to me, and chant in the choir at matins and all the other services? If you cannot perform a task, will you learn how to do it? That is all that our Order requires. Anyone who wishes to enter another Order, or to take a husband, is free to do so. But the money given for her maintenance will never be returned.”

Agrippina replied: “Dear lady, for my part, the venerable traditions and customs of your honourable convent shall not be altered or broken.”

Then Andolosia paid the Abbess six hundred crowns and recommended Agrippina to her care; and she expressly promised to do her utmost, being delighted to have received so much ready money. So Andolosia took his leave the Abbess, who was a Countess by birth; and she told her new charge: “Go and escort your friend out.”

When they were at the doors, Andolosia said: “Agrippina, God bless you, and may it be His will that you long remain in health and acquire eternal bliss in this convent.”

“May it be so. Amen,” she said, then burst into tears. “O rigid, virtuous knight, now you have accomplished your unbending will on this poor girl. Now the year is long, there are many days, and the hours are unequal; and I have sincere faith in God that there will yet come a happy hour when your noble heart will be moved to charity, and your mind and mood given to mercy. At that time remember me, your prisoner in this desolation; display pity towards me, and release me, for I can serve neither God nor the world, so averse am I to these horns.”

These words found Andolosia’s heart, and he could give no reply. Then, saying “God’s will be done,” he went his way.

Agrippina sadly shut the doors and returned to the Abbess, who gave her a chamber and a serving-maid to serve her. All alone, she served God to the best of her powers, although she did not have a mind for prayer.

CHAPTER 6, A Royal Wedding in Cyprus

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