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Christabel is a lovely, innocent young woman who goes out into the woods one spooky night at midnight to pray. While she's praying, she is startled by another young woman named Geraldine. Poor Geraldine claims to have been kidnapped and left beneath the tree for some unknown reason by her assailants. Ignoring the massive holes in Geraldine's story, Christabel gives Geraldine shelter for the night, promising that her father, Sir Leoline, will handle the bad guys and keep Geraldine safe.
Because no one is awake and Christabel is a very pampered lady who has no idea how to make up a guest bed for a damsel in distress, she brings Geraldine to share her bed. Once in the bedroom, though, it turns out that Geraldine is not only strikingly beautiful but also some kind of witch or vampire or something (we're not sure what, exactly). She puts a spell on poor, innocent Christabel that makes it impossible for Christabel to tell anyone about what she and Geraldine do in that bed. The spell works so well that even the speaker doesn't know exactly what happened, and the reader is never fully informed either. What we do know is that they were both naked and there is a lot of talk about bosoms. Oh, and Christabel didn't seem to mind too much.
The next morning, the speaker tells us some more about Christabel's dead mother. Did we forget to mention that part? Don't worry, the speaker won't let anyone forget about it, and neither will Sir Leoline. It turns out that he has made a law that the bells will continue to ring about a million times (we may be exaggerating, but only a little) every morning, so that he remembers the day he woke up to his wife being dead after she gave birth to his daughter. For the record, we're pretty sure Sir Leoline doesn't get many party invitations.
Geraldine and Christabel wake up. Though Christabel is wrestling with the feeling that something sinister has happened, she's not able to articulate it and goes about her business. That business is introducing Geraldine to Sir Leoline.
It turns out that Geraldine is the daughter of Leoline's long-lost best friend. They had a fight about something and they never spoke to each other again. Leoline decides that this is a really good excuse to offer his old friend an olive branch and mend their friendship.
All of this sounds lovely, doesn't it? Just one problem: during the storytelling and reminiscing, Christabel is seeing flashes of Geraldine's true form. People are noticing that she's freaking out, but she can't tell anyone what she sees or remembers because of that stupid spell. All the while, Geraldine is working some kind of magic—either just her feminine magic or actual black magic—and convincing Leoline that she's just an innocent victim. She does this despite the fact that Christabel is begging him to just send Geraldine away. Even his trusted bard has told him that he's had a vision that something pretty awful is going on, and it involves his lovely, innocent daughter.
Leoline gets really angry at all the rude behavior, and…and…well, that's the end—seriously. We're all left hanging. An unfinished poem doesn't sound like a big deal until you get wrapped up in the story and then get cut off just when things are heating up.