294 THE LADY OF THE FOUNTAIN
then rose slowly to his feet. Creeping forward step by step he took the garments from off the saddle and put them on him, and painfully he mounted the horse. When he was seated the damsel came forth and greeted him, and glad was he when he saw her and inquired what castle that was before him.
' It belongs to a widowed countess,' answered the maiden. ' Her husband left her two earldoms, but it is all that remains of her broad lands, for they have been torn from her by a young earl, because she would not marry him.'
' That is a pity,' replied Owen, but he said no more, for he was too weak to talk much. Then the maiden guided him to the castle, and kindled a fire, and brought him food. And there he stayed and was tended for three months, till he was handsomer than ever he was.
At noon one day Owen heard a sound of arms outside the castle, and he asked of the maiden what it was.
' It is the earl of whom I spoke to thee,' she answered, ' who has come with a great host to carry off my mistress.'
' Beg of her to lend me a horse and armour,' said Owen, and the maiden did so, but the countess laughed somewhat bitterly as she answered :
' Nay, but I will give them to him, and such a horse and armour and weapons as he has never had yet, though I know not what use they will be to him. Yet mayhap it will save them from falling into the hands of my enemies.'
The horse was brought out and Owen rode forth with two pages behind him, and they saw the great host encamped before them.
' Where is the earl ? ' said he, and the pages answered :
' In yonder troop where are four yellow standards.'
' Await me,' said Owen, ' at the gate of the castle,