Palamon at that moment came to the narrow iron-barred window through which alone he and his cousin could see the sky and the fields and the city. He saw the morning light fall on the fair buildings of Athens, and on the plains and hills beyond. Then a glad song which burst from Emelia’s happy heart floated up to him. He looked down. Before him stood the maiden bathed in sunlight.
She seemed to him the very Spirit of Beauty. He thought of all the joy and life and freedom that he could never have. He started back from the window and cried aloud.
His cousin Arcite sprang from his couch and said, “My cousin, what aileth thee? I pray thee that thou bear our imprisonment in patience. Sad it is in truth, but we must abide it. We can do nought else.”
But Palamon said: “Thou art mistaken. Prison walls drew not that cry from me. An arrow hath entered my heart through mine eye, and I am wounded. What life can give is bound up for me in the fairness of a maiden who roams in yonder garden. Be she Spirit or woman I know not! But this I know, was never woman nor Spirit half so fair before.”
“Spirit of Beauty,” he cried, “if thou choosest to take the form of a radiant woman here before me in this garden, pity my wretchedness! Save us from this prison, and if that may not be, have pity on our country and help our fallen friends.”
Arcite pressed forward and leant over Palamon’s shoulder. The window was only a narrow slit, and the wall through which it was cut was thick, so it was not easy for Arcite to see into the garden. At last he caught a glimpse of Emelia.
“Oh, how lovely she is!” he said. “I shall die of my wish to serve her. Most beautiful of maidens she is, truly.”
When Palamon heard this, he turned on Arcite, looked coldly at him and asked, “Sayest thou so in earnest or in jest?”
“Nay, truly in earnest, my cousin; I have little will to jest!”
Palamon looked fiercely at him and said, “Little honor to thee then! Hast thou forgotten thine oath of truest brotherhood to me, and mine to thee? Hast thou forgotten thy promise to help me in all I do? How, then, canst thou dream of claiming to love my lady? This thou shalt not do, false Arcite! I loved her first, and told thee, and thou must help me to win her if ever we escape. Thine honor demands this of thee. Otherwise thou art no true knight.”
But Arcite drew himself up scornfully and said, “Rather it is thou that art false! A moment ago thou didst not know whether she were maiden or Spirit! I loved her first for what she is, and told thee as my brother! But even if thou hadst loved her first, could I, because of that, refuse to love the fairest of maidens? Besides, why should we strive? Thou knowest too well that thou shalt never win her smile, nor yet shall I! These prison walls so thick and black leave no hope for us. We fight as did the fabled dogs for the bone. They fought all day, yet neither won. There came a kite while they raged, and carried off the bone. Love thou the maid if thou wilt. I shall love her till I die.”