There was once a knight who was well-practised in all knightly virtues, yet still remained unmarried, for he had no eye for the beauty of women. It happened one evening as he was hunting that he came across a spring in the forest; and at its edge there sat a man, pale and ghostly, who was graced with such beauty that the knight was overcome with it.
He asked the man his name, and at first received no answer. At last the man spoke: “My spirit has been bound to this spring for a hundredfold years, and here I must wait until the enchantment which binds me here is broken.”
“How can this be done?” asked the knight, ready to swear his life to the man’s service.
“One must love me with unchanging faithfulness for a time of twelve months: and if this is done I shall become mortal, and my fate will be joined with the one who freed me from my curse.”
“Then I will be the one who does so,” said the knight, “and be faithful to you until the end of time: I swear it by all that I am.”
Joy shone from the spirit’s face then, and he said: “Come to me in the hour before midnight whenever the moon is full. Twelve months – then I’ll be free, and we can leave this spring together.” And before they parted he gave the knight a lily from the water’s edge, as a sign of his love: and the knight kept it at his breast, where it stayed fresh and beautiful no matter the time that had passed.
In the twelfth month from that day it happened that the count and his retinue came to stay at the knight’s castle, and for the week that he stayed there the knight was obliged to serve him with dances and feasts. Among the guests there was another who loved the knight, and had loved him long: and one night when the knight had drunk more wine than was wise he led this other to dance, and with the touch of his lips against the admirer’s hand he betrayed his love in the forest.
“Ah,” said the happy visitor, “give me then this lily as a sign of your love!” – But the lily wilted in the moment it was taken from the knight’s breast.
The knight remembered his oath at that, and at once repented of what he had done. He fled into the forest, to find his love’s lonely spring and beg his forgiveness: but the beautiful spirit was nowhere to be seen, and though he wept his name he saw nothing but shadows, and no sound came to his ears but a single heartbroken sigh.
There was a great storm that night, as the chronicle tells it, and a great fire alit in the knight’s castle and burned it down all to ash; and the count and all those who came with him burned also. But the knight was not found until the next day: he lay dead beside a spring in the forest, and none could say how it had come that he died.