Whose face could be brighter than was Palamon’s when he heard those words, and who could step more lightly than did Arcite? Every one thanked the Duke for his kindness to the princes, while they rode off to Thebes with high hopes and light hearts.
When the day of the tournament came, great buildings stood in a circle on the plain beside the grove. Within them stretched an immense arena in which the knights must fight. Great marble gates opened on to the space at either side.
Palamon and Arcite found it easy to bring a hundred knights to Athens. So splendid were the preparations for the tournament that every one was eager to fight in it.
Emelia alone was sad as the day of the fighting came nearer. Her maidens heard her say, “Oh that I might not wed at all! I love the free life of the woods. I love to hunt, and to ride, and to roam. Why cannot Palamon and Arcite love each other as they used to do long ago, and leave me free?”
On the morning of the tournament Duke Theseus and his queen sat with Emelia on a high seat overlooking the lists. When the trumpet sounded, Arcite and his knights rode in through the western gate. His red banner shone bright against the white marble pillars. At the same moment Palamon entered from the east, and his white banner floated out against the blue sky.
Soon the heralds ceased galloping up and down, and the whole space was left to the warriors.
The trumpets sounded “Advance,” and the fray began. Through the bright sunshine they fought, advancing here, and beaten back there, till at last Palamon was hurled from his horse and taken prisoner.
The trumpets sounded, and all stood still while Theseus called out, “Ho! no more. All is over. Arcite of Thebes khall wed Emelia.” Then the people shouted till it seemed that the great marble gates would fall.
In the eagerness of the fight Emelia had begun to like the warriors who fought for her, and her liking grew ever stronger as they showed their worth. When Arcite rode towards her with glowing face she was proud of him, and leant forward to welcome him gladly.
But as he galloped, his horse started aside and he was thrown to the ground. He was too much hurt to rise. So he was lifted by his knights and carried to the palace. There he was cared for in every way, but nothing could save him.
Before he died, he called for Emelia and Palamon.
“No words can tell the sorrow I bear because I must leave thee, my lady! Alas, death tears me from thee! Farewell, my wife! farewell, my Emelia! Ah, take me softly in thine arms, and listen while I speak! For years I have had strife with my dear cousin Palamon. Yet now I say to thee, in all this world I never have met with one so worthy to be loved as Palamon, that hath served thee, and will serve thee, his life long. Ah, if ever thou dost wed, let it be Palamon!”
His voice began to fail. “Emelia!” he said, and died.