Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: French Mediaeval Romances from the Lays of Marie de France
Author: France, Marie de
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "French Mediaeval Romances from the Lays of Marie de France" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



FRENCH MEDIAEVAL ROMANCES

_From the Lays of Marie de France_

_Translated by Eugene Mason_.



1911



INTRODUCTION


The tales included in this little book of translations are derived
mainly from the "Lays" of Marie de France. I do not profess them to be
a complete collection of her stories in verse. The ascription varies.
Poems which were included in her work but yesterday are withdrawn
to-day, and new matter suggested by scholars to take the place of the
old. I believe it to be, however, a far fuller version of Marie's
"Lays" than has yet appeared, to my knowledge, in English. Marie's
poems are concerned chiefly with love. To complete my book I have
added two famous mediaeval stories on the same excellent theme.
This, then, may be regarded as a volume of French romances, dealing,
generally, with one aspect of mediaeval life.

An age so feminist in its sympathies as ours should be attracted the
more easily to Marie de France, because she was both an artist and a
woman. To deliver oneself through any medium is always difficult. For
a woman of the Middle Ages to express herself publicly by any means
whatever was almost impossible. A great lady, a great Saint or
church-woman, might do so very occasionally. But the individuality
of the ordinary wife was merged in that of her husband, and for one
Abbess of Shrewsbury or Whitby, for one St. Clare or St. Hilda, there
were how many thousand obscure sisters, who were buried in the daily
routine of a life hidden with Christ in God! Doubtless the artistic
temperament burst out now and again in woman, and would take no
denial. It blew where it listed, appearing in the most unexpected
places. A young nun in a Saxon convent, for instance, would write
little dramas in Latin for the amusement and edification of the noble
maidens under her charge. These comedies, written in the days of the
Emperor Otho, can be read with pleasure in the reign of King George,
by those who find fragrant the perfumes of the past. They deal with
the pious legends of the Saints, and are regarded with wistful
admiration by the most modern of Parisian playwrights. In their
combination of audacity and simplicity they could only be performed by
Saxon religious in the times of Otho, or by marionettes in the more
self-conscious life of to-day. Or, again, an Abbess, the protagonist
of one of the great love stories of the world, by sheer force of
personality, would compose letters to one--how immeasurably her moral
inferior, in spite of his genius--expressing with an unexampled
poignancy the most passionate emotions of the heart. Or, to take my
third illustration, here are a woman's poems written in an age when
literature was almost entirely in the hands of men. Consider the
strength of character which alone induced these three ladies to stray
from the beaten paths of their sex. To the average woman it was
enough to be an object of art herself, or to be the inspiration of
masterpieces by man. But these three women of the Middle Ages--and
such as they--shunned the easier way, and, in their several spheres,
were by deliberate effort, self-conscious artists.

The place and date of birth of Marie de France are unknown--indeed
the very century in which she lived has been a matter of dispute. Her
poems are written in the French of northern France; but that does not
prove her necessarily to be a Frenchwoman. French was the tongue
of the English Court, and many Englishmen have written in the same
language. Indeed, it is a very excellent vehicle for expression.
Occasionally, Marie would insert English words in her French text, the
better to convey her meaning; but it does not follow therefrom that
the romances were composed in England. It seems strange that so
few positive indications of her race and home are given in her
poems--nothing is contained beyond her Christian name and the bare
statement that she was of France. She took great pride in her work,
which she wrought to the best of her ability, and was extremely
jealous of that bubble-reputation. Yet whilst this work was an
excellent piece of self-portraiture, it reveals not one single fact
or date on which to go. A consensus of critical opinion presumes that
Marie was a subject of the English Crown, born in an ancient town
called Pitre, some three miles above Rouen, in the Duchy of Normandy.
This speculation is based largely on the unwonted topographical
accuracy of her description of Pitre, given in "The Lay of the Two
Lovers." Such evidence, perhaps, is insufficient to obtain a judgment
in a Court of Law. The date when Marie lived was long a matter of
dispute. The Prologue to her "Lays" contains a dedication to some
unnamed King; whilst her "Fables" is dedicated to a certain Count
William. These facts prove her to have been a person of position and
repute. The King was long supposed to be Henry the Third of England,
and this would suggest that she lived in the thirteenth century.
An early scholar, the Abbé de La Rue, in fact, said that this was
"undoubtedly" the case, giving cogent reasons in support of his
contention. But modern scholarship, in the person of Gaston Paris,
has decided that the King was Henry the Second, of pious memory; the
Count, William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, his natural son by Fair
Rosamund; and that Marie must be placed in the second half of the
twelfth century. This shows that scholarship is not an exact science,
and that such words as "doubtless" should not be employed more than
necessary. A certain Eastern philosopher, when engaged in instructing
the youth of his country, used always to conclude his lectures with
the unvarying formula, "But, gentlemen, all that I have told you is
probably wrong." This sage was a wise man (not always the same thing),
and his example should be had in remembrance. It seems possible (and
one hesitates to use a stronger word) that the "Lays" of Marie were
actually written at the Court of Henry of England. From political
ambition the King was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine, a lady of
literary tastes, who came from a family in which the patronage of
singers was a tradition. Her husband, too, had a pronounced liking for
literature. He was fond of books, and once paid a visit to Glastonbury
to visit King Arthur's tomb. These, perhaps, are limited virtues, but
Henry the Second had need of every rag. It is somewhat difficult to
recognise in that King of the Prologue, "in whose heart all gracious
things are rooted," the actual King who murdered Becket; who turned
over picture-books at Mass, and never confessed or communicated. It is
yet more difficult to perceive "joy as his handmaid" who, because of
the loss of a favourite city, threatened to revenge himself on God, by
robbing Him of that thing--_i.e._, the soul--He desired most in him;
and whose very last words were an echo of Job's curse upon the day
that he was born. Marie's phrases may be regarded, perhaps, as a
courtly flourish, rather than as conveying truth with mathematical
precision. If not, we should be driven to suggest an alternative to
the favourite simile of lying like an epitaph. But I think it unlikely
that Marie suffered with a morbidly sensitive conscience. There is
little enough real devotion to be met with in her "Lays"; and if
her last book--a translation from the Latin of the Purgatory of St.
Patrick--is on a subject she avoids in her earlier work, it was
written under the influence of some high prelate, and may be regarded
as a sign that she watched the shadows cast by the western sun
lengthening on the grass.

Gaston Paris suggests 1175 as an approximate date for the composition
of the "Lays" of Marie de France. Their success was immediate and
unequivocal, as indeed was to be expected in the case of a lady
situated so fortunately at Court. We have proof of this in the
testimony of Denis Pyramus, the author who wrote a Life of St. Edmund
the King, early in the following century. He says, in that poem, "And
also Dame Marie, who turned into rhyme and made verses of 'Lays' which
are not in the least true. For these she is much praised, and her
rhyme is loved everywhere; for counts, barons, and knights greatly
admire it, and hold it dear. And they love her writing so much, and
take such pleasure in it, that they have it read, and often copied.
These Lays are wont to please ladies, who listen to them with delight,
for they are after their own hearts." It is no wonder that the lords
and ladies of her century were so enthralled by Marie's romances, for
her success was thoroughly well deserved. Even after seven hundred
years her colours remain surprisingly vivid, and if the tapestry is
now a little worn and faded in places, we still follow with interest
the movements of the figures wrought so graciously upon the arras. Of
course her stories are not original; but was any plot original at
any period of the earth's history? This is not only an old, but an
iterative world. The source of Marie's inspiration is perfectly clear,
for she states it emphatically in quite a number of her Lays. This
adventure chanced in Brittany, and in remembrance thereof the Bretons
made a Lay, which I heard sung by the minstrel to the music of his
rote. Marie's part consisted in reshaping this ancient material in her
own rhythmic and coloured words. Scholars tell us that the essence of
her stories is of Celtic rather than of Breton origin. It may be so;
though to the lay mind this is not a matter of great importance one
way or the other; but it seems better to accept a person's definite
statement until it is proved to be false. The Breton or Celtic
imagination had peculiar qualities of dreaminess, and magic and
mystery. Marie's mind was not cast in a precisely similar mould.
Occasionally she is successful enough; but generally she gives the
effect of building with a substance the significance of which she does
not completely realise. She may be likened to a child playing with
symbols which, in the hand of the enchanter, would be of tremendous
import. Her treatment of Isoude, for example, in "The Lay of the
Honeysuckle," is quite perfect in tone, and, indeed, is a little
masterpiece in its own fashion. But her sketch of Guenevere in "The
Lay of Sir Launfal" is of a character that one does not recall with
pleasure. To see how Arthur's Queen might be treated, we have but
to turn to the pages of a contemporary, and learn from Chrestien de
Troyes' "Knight of the Cart," how an even more considerable poet
than Marie could deal with a Celtic legend. The fact is that Marie's
romances derive farther back than any Breton or Celtic dream. They
were so old that they had blown like thistledown about the four
quarters of the world. Her princesses came really neither from Wales
nor Brittany. They were of that stuff from which romance is shaped.
"Her face was bright as the day of union; her hair dark as the night
of separation; and her mouth was magical as Solomon's seal." You can
parallel her "Lays" from folklore, from classical story and antiquity.
Father and son fight together unwittingly in "The Lay of Milon";
but Rustum had striven with Sohrab long before in far Persia, and
Cuchulain with his child in Ireland. Such stories are common property.
The writer takes his own where he finds it. Marie is none the less
admirable because her stories were narrated by the first man in Eden;
neither are Boccaccio and the Countess D'Aulnoy blameworthy since they
told again what she already had related so well. Marie, indeed, was an
admirable narrator. That was one of her shining virtues. As a piece of
artful tale telling, a specimen of the craft of keeping a situation in
suspense, the arrival of the lady before Arthur's Court, in "The Lay
of Sir Launfal," requires a deal of beating. The justness and fineness
of her sentiment in all that concerns the delicacies of the human
heart are also remarkable. But her true business was that of the
storyteller. In that trade she was almost unapproachable in her day.
There may have been--indeed, there was--a more considerable poet
living; but a more excellent writer of romances, than the author of
"Eliduc," it would have been difficult to find.

The ladies who found the "Lays" of Marie after their own hearts
were not only admirers of beautiful stories; they had the delicate
privilege also of admiring themselves in their habit as they
lived--perhaps even lovelier than in reality--amidst their accustomed
surroundings. The pleasure of a modern reader in such tales as these
is enhanced by the light they throw on the household arrangements and
customs of the gentlefolk of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It
may be of interest to consider some of these domestic arrangements, as
illustrated by stories included in the present volume.

The corporate life of a mediaeval household centered in the hall. It
was office and dining and billiard room, and was common to gentle and
simple alike. The hall was by far the largest room in the house. It
was lighted by windows, and warmed by an open fire of logs. The smoke
drifted about the roof, escaping finally by the simple means of a
lantern placed immediately above the hearth. A beaten floor was
covered by rushes and fresh hay, or with rugs in that part affected by
the more important members of the household. The lord himself and his
wife sat in chairs upon a raised daïs. The retainers were seated
on benches around the wall, and before them was spread the dining
table--a mere board upon trestles--which was removed when once the
meal was done. After supper, chess and draughts were played, or (as
we may see in "The Lay of the Thorn") minstrels sang ballads and the
guest contributed to the general entertainment by the recital of such
jests and adventures as commended themselves to his taste. If the hall
may be considered as the dining room of the mediaeval home, the garden
might almost be looked upon as the drawing room. You would probably
get more real privacy in the garden than in any other part of the
crowded castle, including the lady's chamber. It is no wonder that
we read of Guenevere taking Launfal aside for a little private
conversation in her pleasaunce. It was not only the most private,
but also the most delightful room in the house--ceiled with blue and
carpeted with green. The garden was laid out elaborately with a perron
and many raised seats. Trees stood about the lawn in tubs, and there
was generally a fountain playing in the centre, or possibly a pond,
stocked with fish. Fruit trees and flower beds grew thickly about the
garden, and a pleasanter place of perfume and colour and shade it
would be difficult to imagine in the summer heat. The third room of
which we hear continually in these romances is the lady's chamber. It
served the purpose of a boudoir as well as that of a sleeping room,
and consequently had little real privacy. It contained the marriage
chest with its store of linen, and also the bed. This bed recurs
eternally in mediæval tales. It was used as a seat during the day, and
as a resting-place of nights. It was a magnificent erection, carved
and gilded, and inlaid with ivory. Upon it was placed a mattress of
feathers, and a soft pillow. The sheets were of linen or silk, and
over all was spread a coverlet of some precious material. An excellent
description of such a couch is given in "The Lay of Gugemar." This
chamber served also as a bath room, and there the bath was taken,
piping hot, in the strange vessel, fashioned somewhat like a churn,
that we see in pictures of the Middle Ages.

Of the dress of the ladies who moved about the castle, seeing
themselves reflected from Marie's pages as in a polished mirror, I
am not competent to speak. The type of beauty preferred by the old
romancers was that of a child's princess of fairy tale--blue-eyed,
golden-haired, and ruddy of cheek. The lady would wear a shift of
linen, "white as meadow flower." Over this was worn a garment of fur
or silk, according to the season; and, above all, a vividly coloured
gown, all in one line from neck to feet, shapen closely to the figure,
or else the more loosely fitting bliaut. Her girdle clipped her
closely about the waist, falling to the hem of her skirt, and her feet
were shod in soundless shoes, without heels. The hair was arranged in
two long braids, brought forward over her shoulders; as worn by those
smiling Queens wrought upon the western porch of Chartres Cathedral.
Out of doors, and, indeed, frequently within, as may be proved by a
reference to "The Lay of the Ash Tree," the lady was clad in a mantle
and a hood. It must have taken a great deal of time and travail to
appear so dainty a production. But to become poetry for others, it is
necessary for a woman first to be prose to herself.

I am afraid the raw material of this radiant divinity had much to
endure before she suffered her sea change. In mediaeval illustrations
we see the maiden sitting demurely in company, with downcast eyes, and
hands folded modestly in her lap. This unnatural restraint was induced
by the lavish compulsion of the rod. If there was one text, above all
others, approved and acted upon by fathers and mothers of the Middle
Ages, it was that exhorting parents not to cocker their child, neither
to wink at his follies, but to beat him on the sides with a stick.
Turn to "The Lay of the Thorn," and mark the gusto with which a mother
disciplines her maid. Parents trained their children with blows.
Husbands (ah, the audacity of the mediaeval husband) scattered the
like seeds of kindness on their wives. In a book written for the
edification of his unmarried daughters, Chaucer's contemporary, the
Knight of La Tour Landry, tells the following interesting anecdote.
A man had a scolding wife, who railed ungovernably upon him before
strangers, "and he that was angry of her governance smote her with his
first down to the earth; and then with his foot he struck her on the
visage, and broke her nose; and all her life after that she had her
nose crooked, the which shent and disfigured her visage after, that
she might not for shame show her visage, it was so foul blemished. And
this she had for her evil and great language that she was wont to say
to her husband. And therefore the wife ought to suffer, and let the
husband have the words, and to be master." May I give yet another
illustration before we pass from the subject. This time it is taken
not from a French knight, but from a sermon of the great Italian
preacher, St. Bernardino of Siena. "There are men who can bear more
patiently with a hen that lays a fresh egg every day than with their
own wives; and sometimes when the hen breaks a pipkin or a cup he
will spare it a beating, simply for love of the fresh egg which he
is unwilling to lose. Oh, raving madmen! who cannot bear a word from
their own wives, though they bear them such fair fruit; but when the
woman speaks a word more than they like, then they catch up a stick,
and begin to cudgel her; while the hen that cackles all day, and gives
you no rest, you take patience with her for the sake of her miserable
egg--and sometimes she will break more in your house than she herself
is worth, yet you bear it in patience for the egg's sake. Many
fidgetty fellows, who sometimes see their wives turn out less neat and
dainty than they would like, smite them forthwith; and meanwhile the
hen may make a mess on the table, and you suffer her. Have patience;
it is not right to beat your wife for every cause, no!"

At the commencement of this Introduction I stated that Marie's
romances are concerned mainly with love. Her talent was not very
wide nor rich, and I have no doubt that there were facets of her
personality which she was unable to get upon paper. The prettiest
girl in the world can only give what she has to give. By the time any
reader reaches the end of this volume he will be assured that the
stories are stories of love. Probably he will have noticed also that,
in many cases, the lady who inspires the most delicate of sentiments
is, incidentally, a married woman. He may ask why this was so; and in
answer I propose to conclude my paper with a few observations upon the
subject of mediaeval love.

I doubt in my own mind whether romance writers do not exaggerate what
was certainly a characteristic of the Middle Ages. To be ordinary
is to be uninteresting; and it is obvious that the stranger the
experience, the more likely is it to attract the interest and
attention of the hearer. Blessed is the person--as well as the
country--who has no history. But it was really very difficult for
the twelfth century poet to write a love story, with a maiden as the
central figure. The noble maiden seldom had a love story. It is
true enough that she was sometimes referred to in the choice of her
husband: two young ladies in "A Story of Beyond the Sea" are both
consulted in the matter. As a rule, however, her inclination was not
permitted to stand in the way of the interests of her parents or
guardians. She was betrothed in childhood, and married very young, for
mercenary or political reasons, to a husband much older than herself.
We read of a girl of twelve being married to a man of fifty. There was
no great opportunity for a love story here; and the strange entreaty,
on the part of the nameless French poet, to love the maidens for the
sake of Christ's love, passed over the heads of the romance writers.
Not that the mediæval maidens showed any shrinking from matrimony.
"Fair daughter, I have given you a husband." "Blessed be God," said
the damsel. There spoke a contented spirit. Things have changed, and
we can but sigh after the good old times.

But the maiden inevitably became the wife, and the whirligig of Time
brought in his revenges. The lady now found herself the most important
member of her sex, in a dwelling filled with men. She had few women
about her person, and the confidant of a great dame in old romance is,
frequently enough, her chamberlain. These young men had no chance of
marriage, and naturally strove to gain the attention of a lady, whose
favour was to them so important a matter. A mediæval knight was the
sworn champion of God and the ladies--but more especially the latter.
The chatelaine, herself, found time hang heavily on her hands.
Amusements were few; books limited in number; a husband not of
absorbing interest; so she turned to such distractions as presented
themselves. The prettier a lady, the sweeter the incense and flattery
swung beneath her nose; for this was one of the disadvantages of
marrying an attractive woman. "It is hard to keep a wife whom everyone
admires; and if no one admires her it is hard to have to live with her
yourself." One of these distractions took the shape of Courts of Love,
where the bored but literary chatelaine discussed delicate problems of
conduct pertaining to the heart. The minstrel about the lady's castle,
for his part, sought her favourable notice not only by his songs but
also by giving an object lesson of his melancholy condition. One would
imagine that his proceedings were not always calculated to further
their purpose. A famous singer, for instance, in honour of a lady who
was named Lupa, caused himself to be sewn in a wolf's skin, and ran
before the hounds till he was pulled down, half dead. Another great
minstrel and lover bought a leper's gown and bowl and clapper from
some afflicted wretch. He mutilated his forefinger, and sat before his
lady's door, in the company of a piteous crowd of sick and maimed, to
await her alms. No doubt he trusted that his devotion would procure
him a different kind of charity. From such discussions as these, and
from conduct such as this, a type of love came into being which was
peculiar to the period. Since the lovers were not bound in the sweet
and common union of children and home, since on the side of the lady
all was of grace and nought of debt, they searched out other bands to
unite them together. These they found in a system of devotion, silence
and faithfulness, which added a dignity to their relations. These
virtues they took so seriously that we find the Chatelaine of Vergi
dying because she believed her lover to have betrayed her trust. The
mediaeval romancer contemplated such unions with joy and pity; but
for all their virtues we must not deceive ourselves with words. Such
honour was rooted in dishonour, and the measure of their guilt was
that they debased the moral currency. Presently the greatest of all
the poets of the Middle Ages would arise, to teach a different fashion
of devotion. His was a love that sought no communion with its object,
neither speech nor embrace. It was sufficient for Dante to contemplate
Beatrice from afar, as one might kneel before the picture of a saint.
I do not say that a love like this--so spiritual and so aloof--will
ever be possible to men. It did not suffice even to Dante, for all
his tremendous moral muscle. Human love must always and inevitably be
founded on a physical basis. But the burning drop of idealism that
Dante contributed to the passion of the Middle Ages has made possible
the love of which we now and again catch a glimpse in the union of
select natures. And that the seed of such flowering may be carried
about the world is one of the fairest hopes and possibilities of the
human race.

EUGENE MASON.

The originals of these narratives are to be found in Roquefort's
edition of the Poésies de Marie de France; in a volume of the
Nouvelles Françoises en Prose, edited by Moland and D'Héricault; and
in M. Gaston Raynaud's text of La Chatelaine de Vergi.



CONTENTS


INTRODUCTION

I. PROLOGUE BY WAY OF DEDICATION

II. THE LAY OF GUGEMAR

III. THE LAY OF THE DOLOROUS KNIGHT

IV. THE LAY OF ELIDUC

V. THE LAY OF THE NIGHTINGALE

VI. THE LAY OF SIR LAUNFAL

VII. THE LAY OF THE TWO LOVERS

VIII. THE LAY OF THE WERE-WOLF

IX. THE LAY OF THE ASH TREE

X. THE LAY OF THE HONEYSUCKLE

XI. THE LAY OF EQUITAN

XII. THE LAY OF MILON

XIII. THE LAY OF YONEC

XIV. THE LAY OF THE THORN

XV. THE LAY OF GRAELENT

XVI. A STORY OF BEYOND THE SEA

XVII. THE CHATELAINE OF VERGI



I


PROLOGUE

BY WAY OF DEDICATION

Those to whom God has given the gift of comely speech, should not hide
their light beneath a bushel, but should willingly show it abroad. If
a great truth is proclaimed in the ears of men, it brings forth fruit
a hundred-fold; but when the sweetness of the telling is praised of
many, flowers mingle with the fruit upon the branch.

According to the witness of Priscian, it was the custom of ancient
writers to express obscurely some portions of their books, so that
those who came after might study with greater diligence to find the
thought within their words. The philosophers knew this well, and were
the more unwearied in labour, the more subtle in distinctions, so that
the truth might make them free. They were persuaded that he who would
keep himself unspotted from the world should search for knowledge,
that he might understand. To set evil from me, and to put away my
grief, I purposed to commence a book. I considered within myself
what fair story in the Latin or Romance I could turn into the common
tongue. But I found that all the stories had been written, and
scarcely it seemed the worth my doing, what so many had already done.
Then I called to mind those Lays I had so often heard. I doubted
nothing--for well I know--that our fathers fashioned them, that men
should bear in remembrance the deeds of those who have gone before.
Many a one, on many a day, the minstrel has chanted to my ear. I would
not that they should perish, forgotten, by the roadside. In my turn,
therefore, I have made of them a song, rhymed as well as I am able,
and often has their shaping kept me sleepless in my bed.

In your honour, most noble and courteous King, to whom joy is a
handmaid, and in whose heart all gracious things are rooted, I have
brought together these Lays, and told my tales in seemly rhyme. Ere
they speak for me, let me speak with my own mouth, and say, "Sire, I
offer you these verses. If you are pleased to receive them, the fairer
happiness will be mine, and the more lightly I shall go all the days
of my life. Do not deem that I think more highly of myself than I
ought to think, since I presume to proffer this, my gift." Hearken now
to the commencement of the matter.



II


THE LAY OF GUGEMAR

Hearken, oh gentles, to the words of Marie. When the minstrel tells
his tale, let the folk about the fire heed him willingly. For his part
the singer must be wary not to spoil good music with unseemly words.
Listen, oh lordlings, to the words of Marie, for she pains herself
grievously not to forget this thing. The craft is hard--then approve
the more sweetly him who carols the tune. But this is the way of the
world, that when a man or woman sings more tunably than his fellows,
those about the fire fall upon him, pell-mell, for reason of their
envy. They rehearse diligently the faults of his song, and steal away
his praise with evil words. I will brand these folk as they deserve.
They, and such as they, are like mad dogs--cowardly and felon--who
traitorously bring to death men better than themselves. Now let the
japer, and the smiler with his knife, do me what harm they may. Verily
they are in their right to speak ill of me.

Hearken, oh gentles, to the tale I set before you, for thereof the
Bretons already have made a Lay. I will not do it harm by many words,
and here is the commencement of the matter. According to text and
scripture, now I relate a certain adventure, which bechanced in the
realm of Brittany, in days long gone before.

In that time when Arthur maintained his realm, the now in peace, the
now in war, the King counted amongst his vassals a certain baron,
named Oridial. This knight was lord of Leon, and was very near to his
prince's heart, both in council chamber and in field. From his wife he
had gotten two children, the one a son and the other a fair daughter.
Nogent, he had called the damsel at the font, and the dansellon was
named Gugemar--no goodlier might be found in any realm. His mother had
set all her love upon the lad, and his father shewed him every good
that he was able. When the varlet was no more a child, Oridial sent
him to the King, to be trained as a page in the courtesies of the
Court. Right serviceable was he in his station, and meetly praised
of all. The term of his service having come, and he being found of
fitting years and knowledge, the King made him knight with his own
hand, and armed him in rich harness, according to his wish. So Gugemar
gave gifts to all those about his person, and bidding farewell, took
leave, and departed from the Court. Gugemar went his way to Flanders,
being desirous of advancement, for in that kingdom ever they have
strife and war. Neither in Loraine nor Burgundy, Anjou nor Gascony,
might be found in that day a better knight than he, no, nor one his
peer. He had but one fault, since of love he took no care. There was
neither dame nor maiden beneath the sky, however dainty and kind, to
whom he gave thought or heed, though had he required her love of any
damsel, very willingly would she have granted his desire. Many there
were who prayed him for his love, but might have no kiss in return. So
seeing that he refrained his heart in this fashion, men deemed him a
strange man, and one fallen into a perilous case.

In the flower of his deeds the good knight returned to his own land,
that he might see again his father and lord, his mother and his
sister, even as he very tenderly desired. He lodged with them for the
space of a long month, and at the end of that time had envy to hunt
within the wood. The night being come, Gugemar summoned his prickers
and his squires, and early in the morning rode within the forest.
Great pleasure had Gugemar in the woodland, and much he delighted in
the chase. A tall stag was presently started, and the hounds being
uncoupled, all hastened in pursuit--the huntsmen before, and the good
knight following after, winding upon his horn. Gugemar rode at a great
pace after the quarry, a varlet riding beside, bearing his bow, his
arrows and his spear. He followed so hotly that he over-passed the
chase. Gazing about him he marked, within a thicket, a doe hiding with
her fawn. Very white and wonderful was this beast, for she was without
spot, and bore antlers upon her head. The hounds bayed about her, but
might not pull her down. Gugemar bent his bow, and loosed a shaft
at the quarry. He wounded the deer a little above the hoof, so that
presently she fell upon her side. But the arrow glanced away, and
returning upon itself, struck Gugemar in the thigh, so grievously,
that straightway he fell from his horse upon the ground. Gugemar lay
upon the grass, beside the deer which he had wounded to his hurt. He
heard her sighs and groans, and perceived the bitterness of her pity.
Then with mortal speech the doe spake to the wounded man in such
fashion as this, "Alas, my sorrow, for now am I slain. But thou,
Vassal, who hast done me this great wrong, do not think to hide from
the vengeance of thy destiny. Never may surgeon and his medicine heal
your hurt. Neither herb nor root nor potion can ever cure the wound
within your flesh: For that there is no healing. The only balm to
close that sore must be brought by a woman, who for her love will
suffer such pain and sorrow as no woman in the world has endured
before. And to the dolorous lady, dolorous knight. For your part you
shall do and suffer so great things for her, that not a lover beneath
the sun, or lovers who are dead, or lovers who yet shall have their
day, but shall marvel at the tale. Now, go from hence, and let me die
in peace."

Gugemar was wounded twice over--by the arrow, and by the words he was
dismayed to hear. He considered within himself to what land he must go
to find this healing for his hurt, for he was yet too young to die. He
saw clearly, and told it to his heart, that there was no lady in his
life to whom he could run for pity, and be made whole of his wound. He
called his varlet before him,

"Friend," said he, "go forthwith, and bring my comrades to this place,
for I have to speak with them."

The varlet went upon his errand, leaving his master sick with the heat
and fever of his hurt. When he was gone, Gugemar tore the hem from his
shirt, and bound it straitly about his wound. He climbed painfully
upon the saddle, and departed without more ado, for he was with child
to be gone before any could come to stay him from his purpose. A green
path led through the deep forest to the plain, and his way across the
plain brought him to a cliff, exceeding high, and to the sea. Gugemar
looked upon the water, which was very still, for this fair harbourage
was land-locked from the main. Upon this harbour lay one only vessel,
bearing a rich pavilion of silk, daintily furnished both without and
within, and well it seemed to Gugemar that he had seen this ship
before. Beneath the sky was no ship so rich or precious, for there was
not a sail but was spun of silk, and not a plank, from keel to mast,
but showed of ebony. Too fair was the nave for mortal man, and Gugemar
held it in sore displeasure. He marvelled greatly from what country it
had come, and wondered long concerning this harbour, and the ship that
lay therein. Gugemar got him down from his horse upon the shore, and
with mighty pain and labour climbed within the ship. He trusted to
find merchantmen and sailors therein, but there was none to guard, and
none he saw. Now within the pavilion was a very rich bed, carved by
cunning workmen in the days of King Solomon. This fair bed was wrought
of cypress wood and white ivory, adorned with gold and gems most
precious. Right sweet were the linen cloths upon the bed, and so soft
the pillow, that he who lay thereon would sleep, were he sadder than
any other in the world. The counterpane was of purple from the vats
of Alexandria, and over all was set a right fair coverlet of cloth of
gold. The pavilion was litten by two great waxen torches, placed in
candlesticks of fine gold, decked with jewels worth a lord's ransom.
So the wounded knight looked on ship and pavilion, bed and candle, and
marvelled greatly. Gugemar sat him down upon the bed for a little,
because of the anguish of his wound. After he had rested a space he
got upon his feet, that he might quit the vessel, but he found that
for him there was no return. A gentle wind had filled the sails, and
already he was in the open sea. When Gugemar saw that he was far from
land, he was very heavy and sorrowful. He knew not what to do, by
reason of the mightiness of his hurt. But he must endure the adventure
as best he was able; so he prayed to God to take him in His keeping,
and in His good pleasure to bring him safe to port, and deliver him
from the peril of death. Then climbing upon the couch, he laid his
head upon the pillow, and slept as one dead, until, with vespers, the
ship drew to that haven where he might find the healing for his hurt.

Gugemar had come to an ancient city, where the King of that realm held
his court and state. This King was full of years, and was wedded to
a dame of high degree. The lady was of tender age, passing fresh and
fair, and sweet of speech to all. Therefore was the King jealous of
his wife beyond all measure. Such is the wont of age, for much it
fears that old and young cannot mate together, and that youth will
turn to youth. This is the death in life of the old.

The castle of this ancient lord had a mighty keep. Beneath this tower
was a right fair orchard, together with a close, shut in by a wall of
green marble, very strong and high. This wall had one only gate, and
the door was watched of warders, both night and day. On the other side
of this garden was the sea, so that none might do his errand in the
castle therefrom, save in a boat. To hold his dame in the greater
surety, the King had built a bower within the wall; there was no
fairer chamber beneath the sun. The first room was the Queen's chapel.
Beyond this was the lady's bedchamber, painted all over with shapes
and colours most wonderful to behold. On one wall might be seen Dame
Venus, the goddess of Love, sweetly flushed as when she walked the
water, lovely as life, teaching men how they should bear them in loyal
service to their lady. On another wall, the goddess threw Ovid's book
within a fire of coals. A scroll issuing from her lips proclaimed that
those who read therein, and strove to ease them of their pains, would
find from her neither service nor favour. In this chamber the lady was
put in ward, and with her a certain maiden to hold her company. This
damsel was her niece, since she was her sister's child, and there was
great love betwixt the twain. When the Queen walked within the garden,
or went abroad, this maiden was ever by her side, and came again with
her to the house. Save this damsel, neither man nor woman entered in
the bower, nor issued forth from out the wall. One only man possessed
the key of the postern, an aged priest, very white and frail. This
priest recited the service of God within the chapel, and served the
Queen's plate and cup when she ate meat at table.

Now, on a day, the Queen had fallen asleep after meat, and on her
awaking would walk a little in the garden. She called her companion to
her, and the two went forth to be glad amongst the flowers. As they
looked across the sea they marked a ship drawing near the land, rising
and falling upon the waves. Very fearful was the Queen thereat, for
the vessel came to anchorage, though there was no helmsman to direct
her course. The dame's face became sanguine for dread, and she turned
her about to flee, because of her exceeding fear. Her maiden, who was
of more courage than she, stayed her mistress with many comforting
words. For her part she was very desirous to know what this thing
meant. She hastened to the shore, and laying aside her mantle, climbed
within this wondrous vessel. Thereon she found no living soul, save
only the knight sleeping fast within the pavilion. The damsel looked
long upon the knight, for pale he was as wax, and well she deemed
him dead. She returned forthwith to the Queen, and told her of this
marvel, and of the good knight who was slain.

"Let us go together on the ship," replied the lady. "If he be dead we
may give him fitting burial, and the priest shall pray meetly for his
soul. Should he be yet alive perchance he will speak, and tell us of
his case."

Without more tarrying the two damsels mounted on the ship, the lady
before, and her maiden following after. When the Queen entered in the
pavilion she stayed her feet before the bed, for joy and grief of what
she saw. She might not refrain her eyes from gazing on the knight,
for her heart was ravished with his beauty, and she sorrowed beyond
measure, because of his grievous hurt. To herself she said, "In a bad
hour cometh the goodly youth." She drew near the bed, and placing her
hand upon his breast, found that the flesh was warm, and that the
heart beat strongly in his side. Gugemar awoke at the touch, and
saluted the dame as sweetly as he was able, for well he knew that he
had come to a Christian land. The lady, full of thought, returned him
his salutation right courteously, though the tears were yet in her
eyes. Straightway she asked of him from what realm he came, and of
what people, and in what war he had taken his hurt.

"Lady," answered Gugemar, "in no battle I received this wound. If it
pleases you to hear my tale I will tell you the truth, and in nothing
will I lie. I am a knight of Little Brittany. Yesterday I chased a
wonderful white deer within the forest. The shaft with which I struck
her to my hurt, returned again on me, and caused this wound upon my
thigh, which may never be searched, nor made whole. For this wondrous
Beast raised her plaint in a mortal tongue. She cursed me loudly, with
many evil words, swearing that never might this sore be healed, save
by one only damsel in the world, and her I know not where to find.
When I heard my luckless fate I left the wood with what speed I might,
and coming to a harbour, not far from thence, I lighted on this ship.
For my sins I climbed therein. Then without oars or helm this boat
ravished me from shore; so that I know not where I have come, nor what
is the name of this city. Fair lady, for God's love, counsel me of
your good grace, for I know not where to turn, nor how to govern the
ship."

The lady made answer, "Fair sir, willingly shall I give you such good
counsel as I may. This realm and city are the appanage of my husband.
He is a right rich lord, of high lineage, but old and very full of
years. Also he is jealous beyond all measure; therefore it is that I
see you now. By reason of his jealousy he has shut me fast between
high walls, entered by one narrow door, with an ancient priest to keep
the key. May God requite him for his deed. Night and day I am guarded
in this prison, from whence I may never go forth, without the
knowledge of my lord. Here are my chamber and my chapel, and here I
live, with this, my maiden, to bear me company. If it pleases you to
dwell here for a little, till you may pass upon your way, right gladly
we shall receive you, and with a good heart we will tend your wound,
till you are healed."

When Gugemar heard this speech he rejoiced greatly. He thanked the
lady with many sweet words, and consented to sojourn in her hall
awhile. He raised himself upon his couch, and by the courtesy of the
damsels left the ship. Leaning heavily upon the lady, at the end he
won to her maiden's chamber, where there was a fair bed covered with a
rich dossal of broidered silk, edged with fur. When he was entered in
this bed, the damsels came bearing clear water in basins of gold, for
the cleansing of his hurt. They stanched the blood with a towel of
fine linen, and bound the wound strictly, to his exceeding comfort. So
after the vesper meal was eaten, the lady departed to her own chamber,
leaving the knight in much ease and content.

Now Gugemar set his love so fondly upon the lady that he forgot his
father's house. He thought no more of the anguish of his hurt, because
of another wound that was beneath his breast. He tossed and sighed in
his unrest, and prayed the maiden of his service to depart, so that
he might sleep a little. When the maid was gone, Gugemar considered
within himself whether he might seek the dame, to know whether her
heart was warmed by any ember of the flame that burned in his. He
turned it this way and that, and knew not what to do. This only was
clear, that if the lady refused to search his wound, death, for him,
was sure and speedy.

"Alas," said he, "what shall I do! Shall I go to my lady, and pray her
pity on the wretch who has none to give him counsel? If she refuse
my prayer, because of her hardness and pride, I shall know there is
nought for me but to die in my sorrow, or, at least, to go heavily all
the days of my life."

Then he sighed, and in his sighing lighted on a better purpose; for he
said within himself that doubtless he was born to suffer, and that
the best of him was tears. All the long night he spent in vigil and
groanings and watchfulness. To himself he told over her words and her
semblance. He remembered the eyes and the fair mouth of his lady, and
all the grace and the sweetness, which had struck like a knife at his
heart. Between his teeth he cried on her for pity, and for a little
more would have called her to his side. Ah, had he but known the fever
of the lady, and how terrible a lord to her was Love, how great had
been his joy and solace. His visage would have been the more sanguine,
which was now so pale of colour, because of the dolour that was his.
But if the knight was sick by reason of his love, the dame had small
cause to boast herself of health. The lady rose early from her bed,
since she might not sleep. She complained of her unrest, and of Love
who rode her so hardly. The maiden, who was of her company, saw
clearly enough that all her lady's thoughts were set upon the knight,
who, for his healing, sojourned in the chamber. She did not know
whether his thoughts were given again to the dame. When, therefore,
the lady had entered in the chapel, the damsel went straightway to the
knight. He welcomed her gladly, and bade her be seated near the bed.
Then he inquired, "Friend, where now is my lady, and why did she rise
so early from her bed?"

Having spoken so far, he became silent, and sighed.

"Sir," replied the maiden softly, "you love, and are discreet, but be
not too discreet therein. In such a love as yours there is nothing to
be ashamed. He who may win my lady's favour has every reason to be
proud of his fortune. Altogether seemly would be your friendship, for
you are young, and she is fair."

The knight made answer to the maiden, "I am so fast in the snare, that
I pray the fowler to slay me, if she may not free me from the net.
Counsel me, fair sweet friend, if I may hope of kindness at her hand."

Then the maiden of her sweetness comforted the knight, and assured him
of all the good that she was able. So courteous and debonair was the
maid.

When the lady had heard Mass, she hastened back to the chamber. She
had not forgotten her friend, and greatly she desired to know whether
he was awake or asleep, of whom her heart was fain. She bade her
maiden to summon him to her chamber, for she had a certain thing in
her heart to show him at leisure, were it for the joy or the sorrow of
their days.

Gugemar saluted the lady, and the dame returned the knight his
courtesy, but their hearts were too fearful for speech. The knight
dared ask nothing of his lady, for reason that he was a stranger in a
strange land, and was adread to show her his love. But--as says the
proverb--he who will not tell of his sore, may not hope for balm to
his hurt. Love is a privy wound within the heart, and none knoweth of
that bitterness but the heart alone. Love is an evil which may last
for a whole life long, because of man and his constant heart. Many
there be who make of Love a gibe and a jest, and with specious words
defame him by boastful tales. But theirs is not love. Rather it is
folly and lightness, and the tune of a merry song. But let him who
has found a constant lover prize her above rubies, and serve her with
loyal service, being altogether at her will. Gugemar loved in this
fashion, and therefore Love came swiftly to his aid. Love put words in
his mouth, and courage in his heart, so that his hope might be made
plain.

"Lady," said he, "I die for your love. I am in fever because of my
wound, and if you care not to heal my hurt I would rather die. Fair
friend, I pray you for grace. Do not gainsay me with evil words."

The lady hearkened with a smile to Gugemar's speech. Right daintily
and sweetly she replied, "Friend, yea is not a word of two letters. I
do not grant such a prayer every day of the week, and must you have
your gift so quickly?"

"Lady," cried he, "for God's sake pity me, and take it not amiss. She,
who loves lightly, may make her lover pray for long, so that she may
hide how often her feet have trodden the pathway with another friend.
But the honest dame, when she has once given her heart to a friend,
will not deny his wish because of pride. The rather she will find her
pride in humbleness, and love him again with the same love he has
set on her. So they will be glad together, and since none will have
knowledge or hearing of the matter, they will rejoice in their youth.
Fair, sweet lady, be this thy pleasure?"

When the lady heard these words well she found them honest and true.
Therefore without further prayings and ado she granted Gugemar her
love and her kiss. Henceforward Gugemar lived greatly at his ease, for
he had sight and speech of his friend, and many a time she granted him
her embrace and tenderness, as is the wont of lovers when alone.

For a year and a half Gugemar dwelt with his lady, in solace and great
delight. Then Fortune turned her wheel, and in a trice cast those
down, whose seat had been so high. Thus it chanced to them, for they
were spied upon and seen.

On a morning in summer time the Queen and the damoiseau sat fondly
together. The knight embraced her, eyes and face, but the lady stayed
him, saying, "Fair sweet friend, my heart tells me that I shall lose
you soon, for this hidden thing will quickly be made clear. If you are
slain, may the same sword kill me. But if you win forth, well I know
that you will find another love, and that I shall be left alone with
my thoughts. Were I parted from you, may God give me neither joy, nor
rest, nor peace, if I would seek another friend. Of that you need have
no fear. Friend, for surety and comfort of my heart deliver me now
some sark of thine. Therein I will set a knot, and make this covenant
with you, that never will you put your love on dame or maiden, save
only on her who shall first unfasten this knot. Then you will ever
keep faith with me, for so cunning shall be my craft, that no woman
may hope to unravel that coil, either by force or guile, or even with
her knife."

So the knight rendered the sark to his lady, and made such bargain as
she wished, for the peace and assurance of her mind.

For his part the knight took a fair girdle, and girt it closely about
the lady's middle. Right secret was the clasp and buckle of this
girdle. Therefore he required of the dame that she would never grant
her love, save to him only, who might free her from the strictness of
this bond, without injury to band or clasp. Then they kissed together,
and entered into such covenant as you have heard.

That very day their hidden love was made plain to men. A certain
chamberlain was sent by that ancient lord with a message to the Queen.
This unlucky wretch, finding that in no wise could he enter within the
chamber, looked through the window, and saw. Forthwith he hastened
to the King, and told him that which he had seen. When the agèd lord
understood these words, never was there a sadder man than he. He
called together the most trusty sergeants of his guard, and coming
with them to the Queen's chamber, bade them to thrust in the door.
When Gugemar was found therein, the King commanded that he should be
slain with the sword, by reason of the anguish that was his. Gugemar
was in no whit dismayed by the threat. He started to his feet, and
gazing round, marked a stout rod of fir, on which it is the use for
linen to be hung. This he took in hand, and faced his foes, bidding
them have a care, for he would do a mischief to them all. The King
looked earnestly upon the fearless knight, inquiring of him who he
was, and where he was born, and in what manner he came to dwell within
his house. So Gugemar told over to him this story of his fate. He
showed him of the Beast that he had wounded to his hurt; of the nave,
and of his bitter wound; of how he came within the realm, and of the
lady's surgery. He told all to the ancient lord, to the last moment
when he stood within his power. The King replied that he gave no
credence to his word, nor believed that the story ran as he had said.
If, however, the vessel might be found, he would commit the knight
again to the waves. He would go the more heavily for the knight's
saining, and a glad day would it be if he made shipwreck at sea. When
they had entered into this covenant together, they went forth to the
harbour, and there discovered the barge, even as Gugemar had said. So
they set him thereon, and prayed him to return unto his own realm.

Without sail or oar the ship parted from that coast, with no further
tarrying. The knight wept and wrung his hands, complaining of his
lady's loss, and of her cherishing. He prayed the mighty God to grant
him speedy death, and never to bring him home, save to meet again
with her who was more desirable than life. Whilst he was yet at his
orisons, the ship drew again to that port, from whence she had first
come. Gugemar made haste to get him from the vessel, so that he might
the more swiftly return to his own land. He had gone but a little way
when he was aware of a squire of his household, riding in the company
of a certain knight. This squire held the bridle of a destrier in his
hand, though no man rode thereon. Gugemar called to him by name, so
that the varlet looking upon him, knew again his lord. He got him to
his feet, and bringing the destrier to his master, set the knight
thereon. Great was the joy, and merry was the feast, when Gugemar
returned to his own realm. But though his friends did all that they
were able, neither song nor game could cheer the knight, nor turn him
from dwelling in his unhappy thoughts. For peace of mind they urged
that he took to himself a wife, but Gugemar would have none of their
counsel. Never would he wed a wife, on any day, either for love or for
wealth, save only that she might first unloose the knot within his
shirt. When this news was noised about the country, there was neither
dame nor damsel in the realm of Brittany, but essayed to unfasten the
knot. But there was no lady who could gain to her wish, whether by
force or guile.

Now will I show of that lady, whom Gugemar so fondly loved. By the
counsel of a certain baron the ancient King set his wife in prison.
She was shut fast in a tower of grey marble, where her days were bad,
and her nights worse. No man could make clear to you the great pain,
the anguish and the dolour, that she suffered in this tower, wherein,
I protest, she died daily. Two years and more she lay bound in prison,
where warders came, but never joy or delight. Often she thought upon
her friend.

"Gugemar, dear lord, in an evil hour I saw you with my eyes. Better
for me that I die quickly, than endure longer my evil lot. Fair
friend, if I could but win to that coast whence you sailed, very
swiftly would I fling myself in the sea, and end my wretched life."
When she had said these words she rose to her feet, and coming to
the door was amazed to find therein neither bolt nor key. She issued
forth, without challenge from sergeant or warder, and hastening to the
harbour, found there her lover's ship, made fast to that very rock,
from which she would cast her down. When she saw the barge she climbed
thereon, but presently bethought her that on this nave her friend had
gone to perish in the sea. At this thought she would have fled again
to the shore, but her bones were as water, and she fell upon the deck.
So in sore travail and sorrow, the vessel carried her across the
waves, to a port of Brittany, guarded by a castle, strong and very
fair. Now the lord of this castle was named Meriadus. He was a right
warlike prince, and had made him ready to fight with the prince of a
country near by. He had risen very early in the morning, to send forth
a great company of spears, the more easily to ravage this neighbour's
realm. Meriadus looked forth from his window, and marked the ship
which came to port. He hastened down the steps of the perron, and
calling to his chamberlain, came with what speed he might to the nave.
Then mounting the ladder he stood upon the deck. When Meriadus found
within the ship a dame, who for beauty seemed rather a fay than a mere
earthly woman, he seized her by her mantle, and brought her swiftly to
his keep. Right joyous was he because of his good fortune, for lovely
was the lady beyond mortal measure. He made no question as to who had
set her on the barge. He knew only that she was fair, and of high
lineage, and that his heart turned towards her with so hot a love as
never before had he put on dame or damsel. Now there dwelt within the
castle a sister of this lord, who was yet unwed. Meriadus bestowed the
lady in his sister's chamber, because it was the fairest in the tower.
Moreover he commanded that she should be meetly served, and held
in all reverence. But though the dame was so richly clothed and
cherished, ever was she sad and deep in thought. Meriadus came often
to cheer her with mirth and speech, by reason that he wished to gain
her love as a free gift, and not by force. It was in vain that he
prayed her for grace, since she had no balm for his wound. For answer
she showed him the girdle about her body, saying that never would she
give her love to man, save only to him who might unloose the buckle of
that girdle, without harm to belt or clasp. When Meriadus heard these
words, he spoke in haste and said,

"Lady, there dwells in this country a very worthy knight, who will
take no woman as wife, except she first untie a certain crafty knot in
the hem of a shirt, and that without force or knife. For a little I
would wager that it was you who tied this knot."

When the lady heard thereof her breath went from her, and near she
came to falling on the ground. Meriadus caught her in his arms, and
cut the laces of her bodice, that she might have the more air. He
strove to unfasten her girdle, but might not dissever the clasp. Yea,
though every knight in the realm essayed to unfasten that cincture, it
would not yield, except to one alone.

Now Meriadus made the lists ready for a great jousting, and called to
that tournament all the knights who would aid him in his war. Many a
lord came at his bidding, and with them Gugemar, amongst the first.
Meriadus had sent letters to the knight, beseeching him, as friend and
companion, not to fail him in this business. So Gugemar hastened to
the need of his lord, and at his back more than one hundred spears.
All these Meriadus welcomed very gladly, and gave them lodging within
his tower. In honour of his guest, the prince sent two gentlemen to
his sister, praying her to attire herself richly, and come to hall,
together with the dame whom he loved so dearly well. These did as they
were bidden, and arrayed in their sweetest vesture, presently entered
in the hall, holding each other by the hand. Very pale and pensive was
the lady, but when she heard her lover's name her feet failed beneath
her, and had not the maiden held her fast, she would have fallen on
the floor. Gugemar rose from his seat at the sight of the dame, her
fashion and her semblance, and stood staring upon her. He went a
little apart, and said within himself, "Can this be my sweet friend,
my hope, my heart, my life, the fair lady who gave me the grace of her
love? From whence comes she; who might have brought her to this far
land? But I speak in my folly, for well I know that this is not my
dear. A little red, a little white, and all women are thus shapen.
My thoughts are troubled, by reason that the sweetness of this lady
resembles the sweetness of that other, for whom my heart sighs and
trembles. Yet needs must that I have speech of the lady."

Gugemar drew near to the dame. He kissed her courteously, and found
no word to utter, save to pray that he might be seated at her side.
Meriadus spied upon them closely, and was the more heavy because of
their trouble. Therefore he feigned mirth.

"Gugemar, dear lord, if it pleases you, let this damsel essay to untie
the knot of your sark, if so be she may loosen the coil."

Gugemar made answer that very willingly he would do this thing. He
called to him a squire who had the shirt in keeping, and bade him seek
his charge, and deliver it to the dame. The lady took the sark in
hand. Well she knew the knot that she had tied so cunningly, and was
so willing to unloose; but for reason of the trouble at her heart, she
did not dare essay. Meriadus marked the distress of the damsel, and
was more sorrowful than ever was lover before.

"Lady," said he, "do all that you are able to unfasten this coil."

So at his commandment she took again to her the hem of the shirt, and
lightly and easily unravelled the tie.

Gugemar marvelled greatly when he saw this thing. His heart told him
that of a truth this was his lady, but he could not give faith to his
eyes.

"Friend, are you indeed the sweet comrade I have known? Tell me truly
now, is there about your body the girdle with which I girt you in your
own realm?"

He set his hands to her waist, and found that the secret belt was yet
about her sides.


"Fair sweet friend, tell me now by what adventure I find you here, and
who has brought you to this tower?"

So the lady told over to her friend the pain and the anguish and the
dolour of the prison in which she was held; of how it chanced that she
fled from her dungeon, and lighting upon a ship, entered therein, and
came to this fair haven; of how Meriadus took her from the barge, but
kept her in all honour, save only that ever he sought for her love;
"but now, fair friend, all is well, for you hold your lady in your
arms."

Gugemar stood upon his feet, and beckoned with his hand.

"Lords," he cried, "hearken now to me. I have found my friend, whom
I have lost for a great while. Before you all I pray and require of
Meriadus to yield me my own. For this grace I give him open thanks.
Moreover I will kneel down, and become his liege man. For two years,
or three, if he will, I will bargain to serve in his quarrels, and
with me, of riders, a hundred or more at my back."

Then answered Meriadus, "Gugemar, fair friend, I am not yet so shaken
or overborne in war, that I must do as you wish, right humbly. This
woman is my captive. I found her: I hold her: and I will defend my
right against you and all your power."

When Gugemar heard these proud words he got to horse speedily, him and
all his company. He threw down his glove, and parted in anger from
the tower. But he went right heavily, since he must leave behind his
friend. In his train rode all those knights who had drawn together
to that town for the great tournament. Not a knight of them all but
plighted faith to follow where he led, and to hold himself recreant
and shamed if he failed his oath.


That same night the band came to the castle of the prince with whom
Meriadus was at war. He welcomed them very gladly, and gave them
lodging in his tower. By their aid he had good hope to bring this
quarrel to an end. Very early in the morning the host came together to
set the battle in array. With clash of mail and noise of horns they
issued from the city gate, Gugemar riding at their head. They drew
before the castle where Meriadus lay in strength, and sought to take
it by storm. But the keep was very strong, and Meriadus bore himself
as a stout and valiant knight. So Gugemar, like a wary captain, sat
himself down before the town, till all the folk of that place were
deemed by friend and sergeant to be weak with hunger. Then they took
that high keep with the sword, and burnt it with fire. The lord
thereof they slew in his own hall; but Gugemar came forth, after such
labours as you have heard, bearing his lady with him, to return in
peace to his own land.

From this adventure that I have told you, has come the Lay that
minstrels chant to harp and viol--fair is that song and sweet the
tune.



III


THE LAY OF THE DOLOROUS KNIGHT

Hearken now to the Lay that once I heard a minstrel chanting to his
harp. In surety of its truth I will name the city where this story
passed. The Lay of the Dolorous Knight, my harper called his song,
but of those who hearkened, some named it rather, The Lay of the Four
Sorrows.

In Nantes, of Brittany, there dwelt a dame who was dearly held of
all, for reason of the much good that was found in her. This lady was
passing fair of body, apt in book as any clerk, and meetly schooled in
every grace that it becometh dame to have. So gracious of person was
this damsel, that throughout the realm there was no knight could
refrain from setting his heart upon her, though he saw her but one
only time. Although the demoiselle might not return the love of so
many, certainly she had no wish to slay them all. Better by far that
a man pray and require in love all the dames of his country, than run
mad in woods for the bright eyes of one. Therefore this dame gave
courtesy and good will to each alike. Even when she might not hear a
lover's words, so sweetly she denied his wish that the more he held
her dear and was the more her servant for that fond denial. So because
of her great riches of body and of heart, this lady of whom I tell,
was prayed and required in love by the lords of her country, both by
night and by day.

Now in Brittany lived four young barons, but their names I cannot
tell. It is enough that they were desirable in the eyes of maidens for
reason of their beauty, and that men esteemed them because they were
courteous of manner and open of hand. Moreover they were stout and
hardy knights amongst the spears, and rich and worthy gentlemen of
those very parts. Each of these four knights had set his heart upon
the lady, and for love of her pained himself mightily, and did all
that he was able, so that by any means he might gain her favour. Each
prayed her privily for her love, and strove all that he could to make
him worthy of the gift, above his fellows. For her part the lady was
sore perplexed, and considered in her mind very earnestly, which of
these four knights she should take as friend. But since they all were
loyal and worthy gentlemen, she durst not choose amongst them; for
she would not slay three lovers with her hand so that one might have
content. Therefore to each and all, the dame made herself fair and
sweet of semblance. Gifts she gave to all alike. Tender messages she
sent to each. Every knight deemed himself esteemed and favoured above
his fellows, and by soft words and fair service diligently strove to
please. When the knights gathered together for the games, each of
these lords contended earnestly for the prize, so that he might be
first, and draw on him the favour of his dame. Each held her for his
friend. Each bore upon him her gift--pennon, or sleeve, or ring. Each
cried her name within the lists.

Now when Eastertide was come, a great tournament was proclaimed to be
held beyond the walls of Nantes, that rich city. The four lovers were
the appellants in this tourney, and from every realm knights rode
to break a lance in honour of their dame. Frenchman and Norman and
Fleming; the hardiest knights of Brabant, Boulogne and Anjou; each
came to do his devoir in the field. Nor was the chivalry of Nantes
backward in this quarrel, but till the vespers of the tournament was
come, they stayed themselves within the lists, and struck stoutly for
their lord. After the four lovers had laced their harness upon them,
they issued forth from the city, followed by the knights who were of
their company in this adventure. But upon the four fell the burden of
the day, for they were known of all by the embroidered arms upon their
surcoat, and the device fashioned on the shield. Now against the four
lovers arrayed themselves four other knights, armed altogether in
coats of mail, and helmets and gauntlets of steel. Of these stranger
knights two were of Hainault, and the two others were Flemings. When
the four lovers saw their adversaries prepare themselves for the
combat, they had little desire to flee, but hastened to join them in
battle. Each lowered his spear, and choosing his enemy, met him so
eagerly that all men wondered, for horse and man fell to the earth.
The four lovers recked little of their destriers, but freeing their
feet from the stirrups bent over the fallen foe, and called on him to
yield. When the friends of the vanquished knights saw their case,
they hastened to their succour; so for their rescue there was a great
press, and many a mighty stroke with the sword.

The damsel stood upon a tower to watch these feats of arms. By their
blazoned coats and shields she knew her knights; she saw their
marvellous deeds, yet might not say who did best, nor give to one the
praise. But the tournament was no longer a seemly and ordered battle.
The ranks of the two companies were confused together, so that every
man fought against his fellow, and none might tell whether he struck
his comrade or his foe. The four lovers did well and worshipfully, so
that all men deemed them worthy of the prize. But when evening was
come, and the sport drew to its close, their courage led them to
folly. Having ventured too far from their companions, they were set
upon by their adversaries, and assailed so fiercely that three were
slain outright. As to the fourth he yet lived, but altogether mauled
and shaken, for his thigh was broken, and a spear head remained in his
side. The four bodies were fallen on the field, and lay with those who
had perished in that day. But because of the great mischief these
four lovers had done their adversaries, their shields were cast
despitefully without the lists; but in this their foemen did
wrongfully, and all men held them in sore displeasure.

Great were the lamentation and the cry when the news of this mischance
was noised about the city. Such a tumult of mourning was never before
heard, for the whole city was moved. All men hastened forth to the
place where the lists were set. Meetly to mourn the dead there rode
nigh upon two thousand knights, with hauberks unlaced, and uncovered
heads, plucking upon their beards. So the four lovers were placed each
upon his shield, and being brought back in honour to Nantes, were
carried to the house of that dame, whom so greatly they had loved.
When the lady knew this distressful adventure, straightway she fell
to the ground. Being returned from her swoon, she made her complaint,
calling upon her lovers each by his name.

"Alas," said she, "what shall I do, for never shall I know happiness
again. These four knights had set their hearts upon me, and despite
their great treasure, esteemed my love as richer than all their
wealth. Alas, for the fair and valiant knight! Alas, for the loyal and
generous man! By gifts such as these they sought to gain my favour,
but how might lady bereave three of life, so as to cherish one. Even
now I cannot tell for whom I have most pity, or who was closest to my
mind. But three are dead, and one is sore stricken; neither is there
anything in the world which can bring me comfort. Only this is there
to do--to give the slain men seemly burial, and, if it may be, to heal
their comrade of his wounds."

So, because of her great love and nobleness, the lady caused these
three distressful knights to be buried well and worshipfully in a
rich abbey. In that place she offered their Mass penny, and gave rich
offerings of silver and of lights besides. May God have mercy on them
in that day. As for the wounded knight she commanded him to be carried
to her own chamber. She sent for surgeons, and gave him into their
hands. These searched his wounds so skilfully, and tended him with so
great care, that presently his hurt commenced to heal. Very often was
the lady in the chamber, and very tenderly she cherished the stricken
man. Yet ever she felt pity for the three Knights of the Sorrows, and
ever she went heavily by reason of their deaths.

Now on a summer's day, the lady and the knight sat together after
meat. She called to mind the sorrow that was hers; so that, in a
space, her head fell upon her breast, and she gave herself altogether
to her grief. The knight looked earnestly upon his dame. Well he might
see that she was far away, and clearly he perceived the cause.

"Lady," said he, "you are in sorrow. Open now your grief to me. If you
tell me what is in your heart perchance I may find you comfort."

"Fair friend," replied she, "I think of what is gone, and remember
your companions, who are dead. Never was lady of my peerage, however
fair and good and gracious, ever loved by four such valiant gentlemen,
nor ever lost them in one single day. Save you--who were so maimed and
in such peril--all are gone. Therefore I call to mind those who loved
me so dearly, and am the saddest lady beneath the sun. To remember
these things, of you four I shall make a Lay, and will call it the Lay
of the Four Sorrows."

When the knight heard these words he made answer very swiftly, "Lady,
name it not the Lay of the Four Sorrows, but, rather, the Lay of the
Dolorous Knight. Would you hear the reason why it should bear this
name? My three comrades have finished their course; they have nothing
more to hope of their life. They are gone, and with them the pang of
their great sorrow, and the knowledge of their enduring love for you.
I alone have come, all amazed and fearful, from the net wherein they
were taken, but I find my life more bitter than my comrades found the
grave. I see you on your goings and comings about the house. I may
speak with you both matins and vespers. But no other joy do I get--
neither clasp nor kiss, nothing but a few empty, courteous words.
Since all these evils are come upon me because of you, I choose death
rather than life. For this reason your Lay should bear my name, and be
called the Lay of the Dolorous Knight. He who would name it the Lay
of the Four Sorrows would name it wrongly, and not according to the
truth."

"By my faith," replied the lady, "this is a fair saying. So shall the
song be known as the Lay of the Dolorous Knight."

Thus was the Lay conceived, made perfect, and brought to a fair birth.
For this reason it came by its name; though to this day some call it
the Lay of the Four Sorrows. Either name befits it well, for the story
tells of both these matters, but it is the use and wont in this land
to call it the Lay of the Dolorous Knight. Here it ends; no more is
there to say. I heard no more, and nothing more I know. Perforce I
bring my story to a close.



IV


THE LAY OF ELIDUC

Now will I rehearse before you a very ancient Breton Lay. As the tale
was told to me, so, in turn, will I tell it over again, to the best of
my art and knowledge. Hearken now to my story, its why and its reason.

In Brittany there lived a knight, so courteous and so brave, that in
all the realm there was no worthier lord than he. This knight was
named Eliduc. He had wedded in his youth a noble lady of proud race
and name. They had long dwelt together in peace and content, for their
hearts were fixed on one another in faith and loyalty. Now it chanced
that Eliduc sought his fortune in a far land, where there was a great
war. There he loved a Princess, the daughter of the King and Queen of
those parts. Guillardun was the maiden's name, and in all the realm
was none more fair. The wife of Eliduc had to name, Guildeluec, in her
own country. By reason of these two ladies their story is known as the
Lay of Guildeluec and Guillardun, but at first it was rightly called
the Lay of Eliduc. The name is a little matter; but if you hearken to
me you shall learn the story of these three lovers, in its pity and
its truth.

Eliduc had as lord and suzerain, the King of Brittany over Sea. The
knight was greatly loved and cherished of his prince, by reason of his
long and loyal service. When the King's business took him from his
realm, Eliduc was his master's Justice and Seneschal. He governed the
country well and wisely, and held it from the foe with a strong hand.
Nevertheless, in spite of all, much evil was appointed unto him.
Eliduc was a mighty hunter, and by the King's grace, he would chase
the stag within the woods. He was cunning and fair as Tristan, and
so wise in venery, that the oldest forester might not gainsay him in
aught concerning the shaw. But by reason of malice and envy, certain
men accused him to the King that he had meddled with the royal
pleasaunce. The King bade Eliduc to avoid his Court. He gave no reason
for his commandment, and the knight might learn nothing of the cause.
Often he prayed the King that he might know whereof he was accused.
Often he begged his lord not to heed the specious and crafty words of
his foes. He called to mind the wounds he had gained in his master's
wars, but was answered never a word. When Eliduc found that he might
get no speech with his lord, it became his honour to depart. He
returned to his house, and calling his friends around him, opened
out to them this business of the King's wrath, in recompense for his
faithful service.

"I did not reckon on a King's gratitude; but as the proverb says, it
is useless for a farmer to dispute with the horse in his plough. The
wise and virtuous man keeps faith to his lord, and bears goodwill to
his neighbour, not for what he may receive in return."

Then the knight told his friends that since he might no longer stay in
his own country, he should cross the sea to the realm of Logres, and
sojourn there awhile, for his solace. His fief he placed in the hands
of his wife, and he required of his men, and of all who held him dear,
that they would serve her loyally. Having given good counsel to the
utmost of his power, the knight prepared him for the road. Right heavy
were his friends and kin, that he must go forth from amongst them.

Eliduc took with him ten knights of his household, and set out on his
journey. His dame came with him so far as she was able, wringing her
hands, and making much sorrow, at the departure of her husband. At the
end he pledged good faith to her, as she to him, and so she returned
to her own home. Eliduc went his way, till he came to a haven on the
sea. He took ship, and sailed to the realm of Totenois, for many kings
dwell in that country, and ever there were strife and war. Now, near
to Exeter, in this land, there dwelt a King, right rich and strong,
but old and very full of years. He had no son of his body, but one
maid only, young, and of an age to wed. Since he would not bestow this
damsel on a certain prince of his neighbours, this lord made mortal
war upon his fellow, spoiling and wasting all his land. The ancient
King, for surety, had set his daughter within a castle, fair and very
strong. He had charged the sergeants not to issue forth from the
gates, and for the rest there was none so bold as to seek to storm the
keep, or even to joust about the barriers. When Eliduc was told of
this quarrel, he needed to go no farther, and sojourned for awhile
in the land. He turned over in his mind which of these princes dealt
unjustly with his neighbour. Since he deemed that the agèd king was
the more vexed and sorely pressed in the matter, he resolved to aid
him to the best of his might, and to take arms in his service. Eliduc,
therefore, wrote letters to the King, telling him that he had quitted
his own country, and sought refuge in the King's realm. For his part
he was willing to fight as a mercenary in the King's quarrel, and if a
safe conduct were given him, he and the knights of his company would
ride, forthwith, to their master's aid. This letter, Eliduc sent by
the hands of his squires to the King. When the ancient lord had read
the letter, he rejoiced greatly, and made much of the messengers. He
summoned his constable, and commanded him swiftly to write out the
safe conduct, that would bring the baron to his side. For the rest he
bade that the messengers meetly should be lodged and apparelled, and
that such money should be given them as would be sufficient to their
needs. Then he sealed the safe conduct with his royal seal, and sent
it to Eliduc, straightway, by a sure hand.

When Eliduc came in answer to the summons, he was received with great
honour by the King. His lodging was appointed in the house of a grave
and courteous burgess of the city, who bestowed the fairest chamber on
his guest. Eliduc fared softly, both at bed and board. He called to
his table such good knights as were in misease, by reason of prison or
of war. He charged his men that none should be so bold as to take pelf
or penny from the citizens of the town, during the first forty days of
their sojourn. But on the third day, it was bruited about the streets,
that the enemy were near at hand. The country folk deemed that they
approached to invest the city, and to take the gates by storm. When
the noise and clamour of the fearful burgesses came to the ears of
Eliduc, he and his company donned their harness, and got to horse,
as quickly as they might. Forty horsemen mounted with him; as to the
rest, many lay sick or hurt within the city, and others were captives
in the hands of the foe. These forty stout sergeants waited for no
sounding of trumpets; they hastened to seek their captain at his
lodging, and rode at his back through the city gate.

"Sir," said they, "where you go, there we will follow, and what you
bid us, that shall we do."

"Friends," made answer the knight, "I thank you for your fellowship.
There is no man amongst us but who wishes to molest the foe, and do
them all the mischief that he is able. If we await them in the town,
we defend ourselves with the shield, and not with the sword. To my
mind it is better to fall in the field than to hide behind walls; but
if any of you have a wiser counsel to offer, now let him speak."

"Sir," replied a soldier of the company, "through the wood, in good
faith, there runs a path, right strict and narrow. It is the wont of
the enemy to approach our city by this track. After their deeds of
arms before the walls, it is their custom to return by the way they
came, helmet on saddle bow, and hauberk unbraced. If we might catch
them, unready in the path, we could trouble them very grievously, even
though it be at the peril of our lives."

"Friends," answered Eliduc, "you are all the King's men, and are bound
to serve him faithfully, even to the death. Come, now, with me where
I will go, and do that thing which you shall see me do. I give you my
word as a loyal gentleman, that no harm shall hap to any. If we gain
spoil and riches from the foe, each shall have his lot in the ransom.
At the least we may do them much hurt and mischief in this quarrel."

Eliduc set his men in ambush, near by that path, within the wood. He
told over to them, like a cunning captain, the crafty plan he had
devised, and taught them how to play their parts, and to call upon
his name. When the foe had entered on that perilous path, and were
altogether taken in the snare, Eliduc cried his name, and summoned his
companions to bear themselves like men. This they did stoutly, and
assailed their enemy so fiercely that he was dismayed beyond measure,
and his line being broken, fled to the forest. In this fight was the
constable taken, together with fifty and five other lords, who owned
themselves prisoners, and were given to the keeping of the squires.
Great was the spoil in horse and harness, and marvellous was the
wealth they gained in gold and ransom. So having done such great deeds
in so short a space, they returned to the city, joyous and content.

The King looked forth from a tower. He feared grievously for his men,
and made his complaint of Eliduc, who--he deemed--had betrayed him in
his need. Upon the road he saw a great company, charged and laden with
spoil. Since the number of those who returned was more than those who
went forth, the king knew not again his own. He came down from the
tower, in doubt and sore trouble, bidding that the gates should be
made fast, and that men should mount upon the walls. For such coil as
this, there was slender warrant. A squire who was sent out, came back
with all speed, and showed him of this adventure. He told over the
story of the ambush, and the tale of the prisoners. He rehearsed how
the constable was taken, and that many a knight was wounded, and many
a brave man slain. When the King might give credence thereto, he had
more joy than ever king before. He got him from his tower, and going
before Eliduc, he praised him to his face, and rendered him the
captives as a gift. Eliduc gave the King's bounty to his men. He
bestowed on them besides, all the harness and the spoil; keeping, for
his part, but three knights, who had won much honour in the battle.
From this day the King loved and cherished Eliduc very dearly. He held
the knight, and his company, for a full year in his service, and at
the end of the year, such faith had he in the knight's loyalty, that
he appointed him Seneschal and Constable of his realm.

Eliduc was not only a brave and wary captain; he was also a courteous
gentleman, right goodly to behold.

That fair maiden, the daughter of the King, heard tell of his deeds,
and desired to see his face, because of the good men spake of him. She
sent her privy chamberlain to the knight, praying him to come to her
house, that she might solace herself with the story of his deeds, for
greatly she wondered that he had no care for her friendship. Eliduc
gave answer to the chamberlain that he would ride forthwith, since
much he desired to meet so high a dame. He bade his squire to saddle
his destrier, and rode to the palace, to have speech with the lady.
Eliduc stood without the lady's chamber, and prayed the chamberlain to
tell the dame that he had come, according to her wish. The chamberlain
came forth with a smiling face, and straightway led him in the
chamber. When the princess saw the knight, she cherished him very
sweetly, and welcomed him in the most honourable fashion. The knight
gazed upon the lady, who was passing fair to see. He thanked her
courteously, that she was pleased to permit him to have speech with so
high a princess. Guillardun took Eliduc by the hand, and seated him
upon the bed, near her side. They spake together of many things, for
each found much to say. The maiden looked closely upon the knight, his
face and semblance; to her heart she said that never before had she
beheld so comely a man. Her eyes might find no blemish in his person,
and Love knocked upon her heart, requiring her to love, since her time
had come. She sighed, and her face lost its fair colour; but she cared
only to hide her trouble from the knight, lest he should think her the
less maidenly therefore. When they had talked together for a great
space, Eliduc took his leave, and went his way. The lady would have
kept him longer gladly, but since she did not dare, she allowed him
to depart. Eliduc returned to his lodging, very pensive and deep in
thought. He called to mind that fair maiden, the daughter of his
King, who so sweetly had bidden him to her side, and had kissed him
farewell, with sighs that were sweeter still. He repented him right
earnestly that he had lived so long a while in the land without
seeking her face, but promised that often he would enter her palace
now. Then he remembered the wife whom he had left in his own house. He
recalled the parting between them, and the covenant he made, that good
faith and stainless honour should be ever betwixt the twain. But the
maiden, from whom he came, was willing to take him as her knight! If
such was her will, might any pluck him from her hand?

All night long, that fair maiden, the daughter of the King, had
neither rest nor sleep. She rose up, very early in the morning, and
commanding her chamberlain, opened out to him all that was in her
heart. She leaned her brow against the casement.

"By my faith," she said, "I am fallen into a deep ditch, and sorrow
has come upon me. I love Eliduc, the good knight, whom my father made
his Seneschal. I love him so dearly that I turn the whole night upon
my bed, and cannot close my eyes, nor sleep. If he assured me of his
heart, and loved me again, all my pleasure should be found in his
happiness. Great might be his profit, for he would become King of this
realm, and little enough is it for his deserts, so courteous is he and
wise. If he have nothing better than friendship to give me, I choose
death before life, so deep is my distress."

When the princess had spoken what it pleased her to say, the
chamberlain, whom she had bidden, gave her loyal counsel.

"Lady," said he, "since you have set your love upon this knight, send
him now--if so it please you--some goodly gift-girdle or scarf or
ring. If he receive the gift with delight, rejoicing in your favour,
you may be assured that he loves you. There is no Emperor, under
Heaven, if he were tendered your tenderness, but would go the more
lightly for your grace."

The damsel hearkened to the counsel of her chamberlain, and made
reply, "If only I knew that he desired my love! Did ever maiden woo
her knight before, by asking whether he loved or hated her? What if he
make of me a mock and a jest in the ears of his friends! Ah, if the
secrets of the heart were but written on the face! But get you ready,
for go you must, at once."

"Lady," answered the chamberlain, "I am ready to do your bidding."

"You must greet the knight a hundred times in my name, and will place
my girdle in his hand, and this my golden ring."

When the chamberlain had gone upon his errand, the maiden was so
sick at heart, that for a little she would have bidden him return.
Nevertheless, she let him go his way, and eased her shame with words.

"Alas, what has come upon me, that I should put my heart upon a
stranger. I know nothing of his folk, whether they be mean or high;
nor do I know whether he will part as swiftly as he came. I have done
foolishly, and am worthy of blame, since I have bestowed my love very
lightly. I spoke to him yesterday for the first time, and now I pray
him for his love. Doubtless he will make me a song! Yet if he be the
courteous gentleman I believe him, he will understand, and not deal
hardly with me. At least the dice are cast, and if he may not love me,
I shall know myself the most woeful of ladies, and never taste of joy
all the days of my life."


Whilst the maiden lamented in this fashion, the chamberlain hastened
to the lodging of Eliduc. He came before the knight, and having
saluted him in his lady's name, he gave to his hand the ring and the
girdle. The knight thanked him earnestly for the gifts. He placed the
ring upon his finger, and the girdle he girt about his body. He said
no more to the chamberlain, nor asked him any questions; save only
that he proffered him a gift. This the messenger might not have, and
returned the way he came. The chamberlain entered in the palace and
found the princess within her chamber. He greeted her on the part of
the knight, and thanked her for her bounty.

"Diva, diva," cried the lady hastily, "hide nothing from me; does he
love me, or does he not?"

"Lady," answered the chamberlain, "as I deem, he loves you, and truly.
Eliduc is no cozener with words. I hold him for a discreet and prudent
gentleman, who knows well how to hide what is in his heart. I gave him
greeting in your name, and granted him your gifts. He set the ring
upon his finger, and as to your girdle, he girt it upon him, and
belted it tightly about his middle. I said no more to him, nor he to
me; but if he received not your gifts in tenderness, I am the more
deceived. Lady, I have told you his words: I cannot tell you his
thoughts. Only, mark carefully what I am about to say. If Eliduc had
not a richer gift to offer, he would not have taken your presents at
my hand."

"It pleases you to jest," said the lady. "I know well that Eliduc does
not altogether hate me. Since my only fault is to cherish him too
fondly, should he hate me, he would indeed be blameworthy. Never again
by you, or by any other, will I require him of aught, or look to him
for comfort. He shall see that a maiden's love is no slight thing,
lightly given, and lightly taken again--but, perchance, he will not
dwell in the realm so long as to know of the matter."

"Lady, the knight has covenanted to serve the King, in all loyalty,
for the space of a year. You have full leisure to tell, whatever you
desire him to learn."

When the maiden heard that Eliduc remained in the country, she
rejoiced very greatly. She was glad that the knight would sojourn
awhile in her city, for she knew naught of the torment he endured,
since first he looked upon her. He had neither peace nor delight, for
he could not get her from his mind. He reproached himself bitterly.
He called to remembrance the covenant he made with his wife, when he
departed from his own land, that he would never be false to his oath.
But his heart was a captive now, in a very strong prison. He desired
greatly to be loyal and honest, but he could not deny his love for the
maiden--Guillardun, so frank and so fair.

Eliduc strove to act as his honour required. He had speech and sight
of the lady, and did not refuse her kiss and embrace. He never spoke
of love, and was diligent to offend in nothing. He was careful in
this, because he would keep faith with his wife, and would attempt no
matter against his King. Very grievously he pained himself, but at the
end he might do no more. Eliduc caused his horse to be saddled, and
calling his companions about him, rode to the castle to get audience
of the King. He considered, too, that he might see his lady, and learn
what was in her heart. It was the hour of meat, and the King having
risen from table, had entered in his daughter's chamber. The King was
at chess, with a lord who had but come from over-sea. The lady sat
near the board, to watch the movements of the game. When Eliduc came
before the prince, he welcomed him gladly, bidding him to seat himself
close at hand. Afterwards he turned to his daughter, and said,
"Princess, it becomes you to have a closer friendship with this lord,
and to treat him well and worshipfully. Amongst five hundred, there is
no better knight than he."

When the maiden had listened demurely to her father's commandment,
there was no gayer lady than she. She rose lightly to her feet, and
taking the knight a little from the others, seated him at her side.
They remained silent, because of the greatness of their love. She did
not dare to speak the first, and to him the maid was more dreadful
than a knight in mail. At the end Eliduc thanked her courteously for
the gifts she had sent him; never was grace so precious and so kind.
The maiden made answer to the knight, that very dear to her was the
use he had found for her ring, and the girdle with which he had belted
his body. She loved him so fondly that she wished him for her husband.
If she might not have her wish, one thing she knew well, that she
would take no living man, but would die unwed. She trusted he would
not deny her hope.

"Lady," answered the knight, "I have great joy in your love, and thank
you humbly for the goodwill you bear me. I ought indeed to be a
happy man, since you deign to show me at what price you value our
friendship. Have you remembered that I may not remain always in your
realm? I covenanted with the King to serve him as his man for the
space of one year. Perchance I may stay longer in his service, for I
would not leave him till his quarrel be ended. Then I shall return to
my own land; so, fair lady, you permit me to say farewell."

The maiden made answer to her knight, "Fair friend, right sweetly I
thank you for your courteous speech. So apt a clerk will know, without
more words, that he may have of me just what he would. It becomes my
love to give faith to all you say."

The two lovers spoke together no further; each was well assured of
what was in the other's heart. Eliduc rode back to his lodging, right
joyous and content. Often he had speech with his friend, and passing
great was the love which grew between the twain.

Eliduc pressed on the war so fiercely that in the end he took captive
the King who troubled his lord, and had delivered the land from its
foes. He was greatly praised of all as a crafty captain in the field,
and a hardy comrade with the spear. The poor and the minstrel counted
him a generous knight. About this time that King, who had bidden
Eliduc avoid his realm, sought diligently to find him. He had sent
three messengers beyond the seas to seek his ancient Seneschal. A
strong enemy had wrought him much grief and loss. All his castles were
taken from him, and all his country was a spoil to the foe. Often and
sorely he repented him of the evil counsel to which he had given ear.
He mourned the absence of his mightiest knight, and drove from his
councils those false lords who, for malice and envy, had defamed him.
These he outlawed for ever from his realm. The King wrote letters to
Eliduc, conjuring him by the loving friendship that was once between
them, and summoning him as a vassal is required of his lord, to hasten
to his aid, in that his bitter need. When Eliduc heard these tidings
they pressed heavily upon him, by reason of the grievous love he bore
the dame. She, too, loved him with a woman's whole heart. Between the
two there was nothing but the purest love and tenderness. Never by
word or deed had they spoiled their friendship. To speak a little
closely together; to give some fond and foolish gift; this was the sum
of their love. In her wish and hope the maiden trusted to hold the
knight in her land, and to have him as her lord. Naught she deemed
that he was wedded to a wife beyond the sea.

"Alas," said Eliduc, "I have loitered too long in this country, and
have gone astray. Here I have set my heart on a maiden, Guillardun,
the daughter of the King, and she, on me. If, now, we part, there is
no help that one, or both, of us, must die. Yet go I must. My lord
requires me by letters, and by the oath of fealty that I have sworn.
My own honour demands that I should return to my wife. I dare not
stay; needs must I go. I cannot wed my lady, for not a priest in
Christendom would make us man and wife. All things turn to blame. God,
what a tearing asunder will our parting be! Yet there is one who will
ever think me in the right, though I be held in scorn of all. I will
be guided by her wishes, and what she counsels that will I do. The
King, her sire, is troubled no longer by any war. First, I will go to
him, praying that I may return to my own land, for a little, because
of the need of my rightful lord. Then I will seek out the maiden, and
show her the whole business. She will tell me her desire, and I shall
act according to her wish."

The knight hesitated no longer as to the path he should follow. He
went straight to the King, and craved leave to depart. He told him
the story of his lord's distress, and read, and placed in the King's
hands, the letters calling him back to his home. When the King had
read the writing, and knew that Eliduc purposed to depart, he was
passing sad and heavy. He offered the knight the third part of his
kingdom, with all the treasure that he pleased to ask, if he would
remain at his side. He offered these things to the knight--these, and
the gratitude of all his days besides.

"Do not tempt me, sire," replied the knight. "My lord is in such
deadly peril, and his letters have come so great a way to require me,
that go I must to aid him in his need. When I have ended my task, I
will return very gladly, if you care for my services, and with me a
goodly company of knights to fight in your quarrels."

The King thanked Eliduc for his words, and granted him graciously the
leave that he demanded. He gave him, moreover, all the goods of his
house; gold and silver, hound and horses, silken cloths, both rich and
fair, these he might have at his will. Eliduc took of them discreetly,
according to his need. Then, very softly, he asked one other gift.
If it pleased the King, right willingly would he say farewell to the
princess, before he went. The King replied that it was his pleasure,
too. He sent a page to open the door of the maiden's chamber, and to
tell her the knight's request. When she saw him, she took him by
the hand, and saluted him very sweetly. Eliduc was the more fain of
counsel than of claspings. He seated himself by the maiden's side, and
as shortly as he might, commenced to show her of the business. He had
done no more than read her of his letters, than her face lost its fair
colour, and near she came to swoon. When Eliduc saw her about to fall,
he knew not what he did, for grief. He kissed her mouth, once and
again, and wept above her, very tenderly. He took, and held her fast
in his arms, till she had returned from her swoon.

"Fair dear friend," said he softly, "bear with me while I tell you
that you are my life and my death, and in you is all my comfort. I
have bidden farewell to your father, and purposed to go back to my own
land, for reason of this bitter business of my lord. But my will is
only in your pleasure, and whatever the future brings me, your counsel
I will do."

"Since you cannot stay," said the maiden, "take me with you, wherever
you go. If not, my life is so joyless without you, that I would wish
to end it with my knife."

Very sweetly made answer Sir Eliduc, for in honesty he loved honest
maid, "Fair friend, I have sworn faith to your father, and am his man.
If I carried you with me, I should give the lie to my troth. Let this
covenant be made between us. Should you give me leave to return to my
own land I swear to you on my honour as a knight, that I will come
again on any day that you shall name. My life is in your hands.
Nothing on earth shall keep me from your side, so only that I have
life and health."

Then she, who loved so fondly, granted her knight permission to
depart, and fixed the term, and named the day for his return. Great
was their sorrow that the hour had come to bid farewell. They gave
rings of gold for remembrance, and sweetly kissed adieu. So they
severed from each other's arms.

Eliduc sought the sea, and with a fair wind, crossed swiftly to the
other side. His lord was greatly content to learn the tidings of his
knight's return. His friends and his kinsfolk came to greet him, and
the common folk welcomed him very gladly. But, amongst them all, none
was so blithe at his home-coming as the fair and prudent lady who was
his wife. Despite this show of friendship, Eliduc was ever sad, and
deep in thought. He went heavily, till he might look upon his friend.
He felt no happiness, nor made pretence of any, till he should meet
with her again. His wife was sick at heart, because of the coldness of
her husband. She took counsel with her soul, as to what she had done
amiss. Often she asked him privily, if she had come short or offended
in any measure, whilst he was without the realm. If she was accused by
any, let him tell her the accusation, that she might purge herself of
the offence.

"Wife," answered Eliduc, "neither I, nor any other, charge you with
aught that is against your honour to do. The cause of my sorrow is
in myself. I have pledged my faith to the King of that country, from
whence I come, that I will return to help him in his need. When my
lord the King has peace in his realm, within eight days I shall be
once more upon the sea. Great travail I must endure, and many pains I
shall suffer, in readiness for that hour. Return I must, and till then
I have no mind for anything but toil; for I will not give the lie to
my plighted word."

Eliduc put his fief once more in the hands of his dame. He sought
his lord, and aided him to the best of his might. By the counsel and
prowess of the knight, the King came again into his own. When the term
appointed by his lady, and the day she named for his return drew near,
Eliduc wrought in such fashion that peace was accorded between the
foes. Then the knight made him ready for his journey, and took thought
to the folk he should carry with him. His choice fell on two of his
nephews, whom he loved very dearly, and on a certain chamberlain of
his household. These were trusted servitors, who were of his inmost
mind, and knew much of his counsel. Together with these went his
squires, these only, for Eliduc had no care to take many. All these,
nephew and squire and chamberlain, Eliduc made to promise, and confirm
by an oath, that they would reveal nothing of his business.

The company put to sea without further tarrying, and, crossing
quickly, came to that land where Eliduc so greatly desired to be. The
knight sought a hostel some distance from the haven, for he would
not be seen of any, nor have it bruited that Eliduc was returned. He
called his chamberlain, and sent him to his friend, bearing letters
that her knight had come, according to the covenant that had been
made. At nightfall, before the gates were made fast, Eliduc issued
forth from the city, and followed after his messenger. He had clothed
himself in mean apparel, and rode at a footpace straight to the city,
where dwelt the daughter of the King. The chamberlain arrived before
the palace, and by dint of asking and prying, found himself within the
lady's chamber. He saluted the maiden, and told her that her lover
was near. When Guillardun heard these tidings she was astonied beyond
measure, and for joy and pity wept right tenderly. She kissed the
letters of her friend, and the messenger who brought such welcome
tidings. The chamberlain prayed the lady to attire and make her ready
to join her friend. The day was spent in preparing for the adventure,
according to such plan as had been devised. When dark was come,
and all was still, the damsel stole forth from the palace, and the
chamberlain with her. For fear that any man should know her again,
the maiden had hidden, beneath a riding cloak, her silken gown,
embroidered with gold. About the space of a bow shot from the city
gate, there was a coppice standing within a fair meadow. Near by this
wood, Eliduc and his comrades awaited the coming of Guillardun. When
Eliduc saw the lady, wrapped in her mantle, and his chamberlain
leading her by the hand, he got from his horse, and kissed her right
tenderly. Great joy had his companions at so fair a sight. He set
her on the horse, and climbing before her, took bridle in glove,
and returned to the haven, with all the speed he might. He entered
forthwith in the ship, which put to sea, having on board none, save
Eliduc, his men, and his lady, Guillardun. With a fair wind, and a
quiet hour, the sailors thought that they would swiftly come to shore.
But when their journey was near its end, a sudden tempest arose on the
sea. A mighty wind drove them far from their harbourage, so that their
rudder was broken, and their sail torn from the mast. Devoutly they
cried on St. Nicholas, St. Clement, and Madame St. Mary, to aid them
in this peril. They implored the Mother that she would approach her
Son, not to permit them to perish, but to bring them to the harbour
where they would come. Without sail or oar, the ship drifted here and
there, at the mercy of the storm. They were very close to death, when
one of the company, with a loud voice began to cry, "What need is
there of prayers! Sir, you have with you, her, who brings us to our
death. We shall never win to land, because you, who already have a
faithful wife, seek to wed this foreign woman, against God and His
law, against honour and your plighted troth. Grant us to cast her in
the sea, and straightway the winds and the waves will be still."

When Eliduc heard these words he was like to come to harm for rage.

"Bad servant and felon traitor," he cried, "you should pay dearly for
your speech, if I might leave my lady."

Eliduc held his friend fast in his arms, and cherished her as well as
he was able. When the lady heard that her knight was already wedded
in his own realm, she swooned where she lay. Her face became pale and
discoloured; she neither breathed nor sighed, nor could any bring
her any comfort. Those who carried her to a sheltered place, were
persuaded that she was but dead, because of the fury of the storm.
Eliduc was passing heavy. He rose to his feet, and hastening to his
squire, smote him so grievously with an oar, that he fell senseless on
the deck. He haled him by his legs to the side of the ship and flung
the body in the sea, where it was swiftly swallowed by the waves. He
went to the broken rudder, and governed the nave so skilfully, that it
presently drew to land. So, having come to their fair haven, they cast
anchor, and made fast their bridge to the shore. Dame Guillardun lay
yet in her swoon, and seemed no other than if she were really dead.
Eliduc's sorrow was all the more, since he deemed that he had slain
her with his hand. He inquired of his companions in what near place
they might lay the lady to her rest, "for I will not bid her farewell,
till she is put in holy ground with such pomp and rite as befit the
obsequies of the daughter of a King." His comrades answered him never
a word, for they were all bemused by reason of what had befallen.
Eliduc, therefore, considered within himself to what place he should
carry the lady. His own home was so near the haven where he had come,
that very easily they could ride there before evening. He called to
mind that in his realm there was a certain great forest, both long and
deep. Within this wood there was a little chapel, served by a holy
hermit for forty years, with whom Eliduc had oftimes spoken.

"To this holy man," he said, "I will bear my lady. In his chapel he
shall bury her sweet body. I will endow him so richly of my lands,
that upon her chantry shall be founded a mighty abbey. There some
convent of monks or nuns or canons shall ever hold her in remembrance,
praying God to grant her mercy in His day."

Eliduc got to horse, but first took oath of his comrades that never,
by them, should be discovered, that which they should see. He set his
friend before him on the palfrey, and thus the living and the dead
rode together, till they had entered the wood, and come before the
chapel. The squires called and beat upon the door, but it remained
fast, and none was found to give them any answer. Eliduc bade that one
should climb through a window, and open the door from within. When
they had come within the chapel they found a new made tomb, and writ
thereon, that the holy hermit having finished his course, was made
perfect, eight days before Passing sad was Eliduc, and esmayed. His
companions would have digged a second grave, and set therein, his
friend; but the knight would in no wise consent, for--he said--he
purposed to take counsel of the priests of his country, as to building
some church or abbey above her tomb. "At this hour we will but lay her
body before the altar, and commend her to God His holy keeping."
He commanded them to bring their mantles and make a bed upon the
altar-pace. Thereon they laid the maiden, and having wrapped her close
in her lover's cloak, left her alone. When the moment came for Eliduc
to take farewell of his lady, he deemed that his own last hour had
come. He kissed her eyes and her face.

"Fair friend," said he, "if it be pleasing to God, never will I bear
sword or lance again, or seek the pleasures of this mortal world. Fair
friend, in an ill hour you saw me! Sweet lady, in a bitter hour you
followed me to death! Fairest, now were you a queen, were it not for
the pure and loyal love you set upon me? Passing sad of heart am I for
you, my friend. The hour that I have seen you in your shroud, I will
take the habit of some holy order, and every day, upon your tomb, I
will tell over the chaplet of my sorrow."

Having taken farewell of the maiden, Eliduc came forth from the
chapel, and closed the doors. He sent messages to his wife, that he
was returning to his house, but weary and overborne. When the dame
heard these tidings, she was happy in her heart, and made ready to
greet him. She received her lord tenderly; but little joy came of her
welcome, for she got neither smiles in answer, nor tender words in
return. She dared not inquire the reason, during the two days Eliduc
remained in the house. The knight heard Mass very early in the
morning, and then set forth on the road leading to the chapel where
the maiden lay. He found her as he had parted, for she had not come
back from her swoon, and there was neither stir in her, nor breath. He
marvelled greatly, for he saw her, vermeil and white, as he had known
her in life. She had lost none of her sweet colour, save that she was
a little blanched. He wept bitterly above her, and entreated for her
soul. Having made his prayer, he went again to his house.

On a day when Eliduc went forth, his wife called to her a varlet of
her household, commanding him to follow his lord afar off, and mark
where he went, and on what business. She promised to give him harness
and horses, if he did according to her will. The varlet hid himself in
the wood, and followed so cunningly after his lord, that he was not
perceived. He watched the knight enter the chapel, and heard the
cry and lamentation that he made. When Eliduc came out, the varlet
hastened to his mistress, and told her what he had seen, the tears and
dolour, and all that befell his lord within the hermitage. The lady
summoned all her courage.

"We will go together, as soon as we may, to this hermitage. My lord
tells me that he rides presently to the Court to speak with the King.
I knew that my husband loved this dead hermit very tenderly, but I
little thought that his loss would make him mad with grief."

The next day the dame let her lord go forth in peace. When, about
noon, Eliduc rode to the Court to greet his King, the lady rose
quickly, and carrying the varlet with her, went swiftly to the
hermitage. She entered the chapel, and saw the bed upon the
altar-pace, and the maiden thereon, like a new sprung rose. Stooping
down the lady removed the mantle. She marked the rigid body, the long
arms, and the frail white hands, with their slender fingers, folded on
the breast. Thus she learned the secret of the sorrow of her lord. She
called the varlet within the chapel, and showed him this wonder.

"Seest thou," she said, "this woman, who for beauty shineth as a gem!
This lady, in her life, was the lover of my lord. It was for her that
all his days were spoiled by grief. By my faith I marvel little at
his sorrow, since I, who am a woman too, will--for pity's sake or
love--never know joy again, having seen so fair a lady in the dust."

So the wife wept above the body of the maiden. Whilst the lady
sat weeping, a weasel came from under the altar, and ran across
Guillardun's body. The varlet smote it with his staff, and killed it
as it passed. He took the vermin and flung it away. The companion of
this weasel presently came forth to seek him. She ran to the place
where he lay, and finding that he would not get him on his feet,
seemed as one distraught. She went forth from the chapel, and hastened
to the wood, from whence she returned quickly, bearing a vermeil
flower beneath her teeth. This red flower she placed within the mouth
of that weasel the varlet had slain, and immediately he stood upon his
feet. When the lady saw this, she cried to the varlet,

"Throw, man, throw, and gain the flower."

The servitor flung his staff, and the weasels fled away, leaving that
fair flower upon the floor. The lady rose. She took the flower, and
returned with it swiftly to the altar pace. Within the mouth of the
maiden, she set a flower that was more vermeil still. For a short
space the dame and the damsel were alike breathless. Then the maiden
came to herself, with a sigh. She opened her eyes, and commenced to
speak.

"Diva," she said, "have I slept so long, indeed!"

When the lady heard her voice she gave thanks to God. She inquired of
the maiden as to her name and degree. The damsel made answer to her,
"Lady, I was born in Logres, and am daughter to the King of that
realm. Greatly there I loved a knight, named Eliduc, the seneschal of
my sire. We fled together from my home, to my own most grievous fault.
He never told me that he was wedded to a wife in his own country, and
he hid the matter so cunningly, that I knew naught thereof. When I
heard tell of his dame, I swooned for pure sorrow. Now I find that
this false lover, has, like a felon, betrayed me in a strange land.
What will chance to a maiden in so foul a plight? Great is that
woman's folly who puts her trust in man."

"Fair damsel," replied the lady, "there is nothing in the whole world
that can give such joy to this felon, as to hear that you are yet
alive. He deems that you are dead, and every day he beweeps your swoon
in the chapel. I am his wife, and my heart is sick, just for looking
on his sorrow. To learn the reason of his grief, I caused him to
be followed, and that is why I have found you here. It is a great
happiness for me to know that you live. You shall return with me to my
home, and I will place you in the tenderness of your friend. Then I
shall release him of his marriage troth, since it is my dearest hope
to take the veil."

When the wife had comforted the maiden with such words, they went
together to her own house. She called to her servitor, and bade him
seek his lord. The varlet went here and there, till he lighted on
Eliduc. He came before him, and showed him of all these things. Eliduc
mounted straightway on his horse, and waiting neither for squire or
companion, that same night came to his hall. When he found alive, her,
who once was dead, Eliduc thanked his wife for so dear a gift. He
rejoiced beyond measure, and of all his days, no day was more happy
than this. He kissed the maiden often, and very sweetly she gave him
again his kiss, for great was the joy between the twain. The dame
looked on their happiness, and knew that her lord meetly had bestowed
his love. She prayed him, therefore, that he would grant her leave to
depart, since she would serve God as a cloistered nun. Of his wealth
she craved such a portion as would permit her to found a convent. He
would then be able to wed the maiden on whom his heart was set, for it
was neither honest nor seemly that a man should maintain a wife with
either hand.

Eliduc could do no otherwise than consent. He gave the permission she
asked, and did all according to her will. He endowed the lady of his
lands, near by that chapel and hermitage, within the wood. There he
built a church with offices and refectory, fair to see. Much wealth he
bestowed on the convent, in money and estate. When all was brought to
a good end, the lady took the veil upon her head. Thirty other ladies
entered in the house with her, and long she ruled them as their
Abbess, right wisely and well.

Eliduc wedded with his friend, in great pomp, and passing rich was the
marriage feast. They dwelt in unity together for many days, for ever
between them was perfect love. They walked uprightly, and gave alms of
their goods, till such a time as it became them to turn to God. After
much thought, Eliduc built a great church close beside his castle.
He endowed it with all his gold and silver, and with the rest of his
land. He set priests there, and holy layfolk also, for the business of
the house, and the fair services of religion.

When all was builded and ordered, Eliduc offered himself, with them,
that he--weak man--might serve the omnipotent God. He set with the
Abbess Guildeluec--who once was his dame--that wife whom he loved so
dearly well. The Abbess received her as a sister, and welcomed her
right honourably. She admonished her in the offices of God, and taught
her of the rules and practice of their holy Order. They prayed to God
for their friend, that He would grant him mercy in His day. In turn,
he entreated God for them. Messages came from convent and monastery as
to how they fared, so that each might encourage the other in His way.
Each strove painfully, for himself and his, to love God the more
dearly, and to abide in His holy faith. Each made a good end, and the
mercy of God was abundantly made clear to all.

Of the adventure of these three lovers, the courteous Bretons made
this Lay for remembrance, since they deemed it a matter that men
should not forget.



V


THE LAY OF THE NIGHTINGALE

Now will I tell you a story, whereof the Breton harper already has
made a Lay. Laustic, I deem, men name it in that country, which, being
interpreted, means rossignol in French, and nightingale in good plain
English.

In the realm of Brittany stands a certain rich and mighty city, called
Saint Malo. There were citizens of this township two knights, so well
spoken and reputed of all, that the city drew therefrom great profit
and fame. The houses of these lords were very near the one to the
other. One of the two knights had to wife a passing fair lady, right
gracious of manner and sweet of tongue. Wondrous pleasure found this
dame to array herself richly, after the wont and fashion of her time.
The other knight was yet a bachelor. He was well accounted of amongst
his fellows as a hardy knight and as an honourable man. He gave
hospitality gladly. Largely he gained, largely he spent, and willingly
bestowed gifts of all that he had.

This bachelor set his love upon his neighbour's wife. By reason of his
urgent prayers, his long suit and service, and by reason that all men
spake naught of him but praise--perchance, also, for reason that he
was never far from her eye--presently this lady came to set her heart
on him again. Though these two friends loved right tenderly, yet were
they so private and careful in their loves that none perceived what
was in their hearts. No man pried on them, or disturbed their goings
and comings. These were the more easy to devise since the bachelor and
the lady were such near neighbours. Their two houses stood side by
side, hall and cellar and combles. Only between the gardens was built
a high and ancient wall, of worn gray stone. When the lady sat within
her bower, by leaning from the casement she and her friend might speak
together, he to her, and she to him. They could also throw messages in
writing, and divers pretty gifts, the one to the other. Little enough
had they to displease them, and greatly were they at their ease, save
only that they might not take their pleasure together, so often as
their hearts had wished. For the dame was guarded very straitly when
her husband was abroad. Yet not so strictly but that they might have
word and speech, the now by night and now by day. At least, however
close the watch and ward, none might hinder that at times these fair
lovers stood within their casements, and looked fondly on the other's
face.

Now after these friends had loved for a great space it chanced that
the season became warm and sweet. It was the time when meadow and
copse are green; when orchards grow white with bloom, and birds break
into song as thickly as the bush to flower. It is the season when he
who loves would win to his desire. Truly I tell you that the knight
would have done all in his power to attain his wish, and the lady, for
her part, yearned for sight and speech of her friend. At night, when
the moon shone clearly in the sky, and her lord lay sleeping at her
side, often the dame slipped softly from her bed, and hastening to the
casement, leaned forth to have sight of him who watched. The greater
part of the dark they kept vigil together, for very pleasant it is to
look upon your friend, when sweeter things are denied.

This chanced so often, and the lady rose so frequently from her bed,
that her lord was altogether wrathful, and many a time inquired the
reason of her unrest.

"Husband," replied the dame, "there is no dearer joy in this world,
than to hear the nightingale sing. It is to hearken to the song that
rises so sweetly on the night, that I lean forth from the casement.
What tune of harp or viol is half so fair! Because of my delight in
his song, and of my desire to hear, I may not shut my eyes till it be
morn."

When the husband heard the lady's words he laughed within himself for
wrath and malice. He purposed that very soon the nightingale should
sing within a net. So he bade the servants of his house to devise
fillets and snares, and to set their cunning traps about the orchard.
Not a chestnut tree nor hazel within the garth but was limed and
netted for the caging of this bird. It was not long therefore ere the
nightingale was taken, and the servants made haste to give him to the
pleasure of their lord. Wondrous merry was the knight when he held him
living in his hand. He went straightway to the chamber of his dame,
and entering, said,

"Wife, are you within? Come near, for I must speak with you. Here is
the nightingale, all limed and taken, who made vigil of your sleeping
hours. Take now your rest in peace, for he will never disturb you
more."

When the lady understood these words she was marvellously sorrowful
and heavy. She prayed her lord to grant her the nightingale for a
gift. But for all answer he wrung his neck with both hands so fiercely
that the head was torn from the body. Then, right foully, he flung the
bird upon the knees of the dame, in such fashion that her breast
was sprinkled with the blood. So he departed, incontinent, from the
chamber in a rage.

The lady took the little body in her hands, and wept his evil fate.
She railed on those who with nets and snares had betrayed the
nightingale to his death; for anger and hate beyond measure had gained
hold on her heart.

"Alas," cried she, "evil is come upon me. Never again may I rise from
my bed in the night, and watch from the casement, so that I may see my
friend. One thing I know full well, that he will deem my love is no
more set upon him. Woe to her who has none to give her counsel. This I
will do. I will bestow the nightingale upon him, and send him tidings
of the chance that has befallen."

So this doleful lady took a fair piece of white samite, broidered with
gold, and wrought thereon the whole story of this adventure. In this
silken cloth she wrapped the body of the little bird, and calling to
her a trusty servant of her house, charged him with the message, and
bade him bear it to her friend. The varlet went his way to the knight,
and having saluted him on the part of the lady, he told over to him
the story, and bestowed the nightingale upon him. When all had been
rehearsed and shown to him, and he had well considered the matter,
the knight was very dolent; yet in no wise would he avenge himself
wrongfully. So he caused a certain coffret to be fashioned, made not
of iron or steel, but of fine gold and fair stones, most rich and
precious, right strongly clasped and bound. In this little chest he
set the body of the nightingale, and having sealed the shrine, carried
it upon him whenever his business took him abroad.

This adventure could not long be hid. Very swiftly it was noised about
the country, and the Breton folk made a Lay thereon, which they
called the Lay of the Laustic, in their own tongue.



VI


THE LAY OF SIR LAUNFAL

I will tell you the story of another Lay. It relates the adventures
of a rich and mighty baron, and the Breton calls it, the Lay of Sir
Launfal.

King Arthur--that fearless knight and courteous lord--removed to
Wales, and lodged at Caerleon-on-Usk, since the Picts and Scots did
much mischief in the land. For it was the wont of the wild people of
the north to enter in the realm of Logres, and burn and damage at
their will. At the time of Pentecost, the King cried a great feast.
Thereat he gave many rich gifts to his counts and barons, and to the
Knights of the Round Table. Never were such worship and bounty shown
before at any feast, for Arthur bestowed honours and lands on all his
servants--save only on one. This lord, who was forgotten and misliked
of the King, was named Launfal. He was beloved by many of the Court,
because of his beauty and prowess, for he was a worthy knight, open of
heart and heavy of hand. These lords, to whom their comrade was dear,
felt little joy to see so stout a knight misprized. Sir Launfal was
son to a King of high descent, though his heritage was in a distant
land. He was of the King's household, but since Arthur gave him
naught, and he was of too proud a mind to pray for his due, he had
spent all that he had. Right heavy was Sir Launfal, when he considered
these things, for he knew himself taken in the toils. Gentles, marvel
not overmuch hereat. Ever must the pilgrim go heavily in a strange
land, where there is none to counsel and direct him in the path.

Now, on a day, Sir Launfal got him on his horse, that he might take
his pleasure for a little. He came forth from the city, alone,
attended by neither servant nor squire. He went his way through a
green mead, till he stood by a river of clear running water. Sir
Launfal would have crossed this stream, without thought of pass or
ford, but he might not do so, for reason that his horse was all
fearful and trembling. Seeing that he was hindered in this fashion,
Launfal unbitted his steed, and let him pasture in that fair meadow,
where they had come. Then he folded his cloak to serve him as a
pillow, and lay upon the ground. Launfal lay in great misease, because
of his heavy thoughts, and the discomfort of his bed. He turned from
side to side, and might not sleep. Now as the knight looked towards
the river he saw two damsels coming towards him; fairer maidens
Launfal had never seen. These two maidens were richly dressed in
kirtles closely laced and shapen to their persons and wore mantles
of a goodly purple hue. Sweet and dainty were the damsels, alike in
raiment and in face. The elder of these ladies carried in her hands a
basin of pure gold, cunningly wrought by some crafty smith--very fair
and precious was the cup; and the younger bore a towel of soft white
linen. These maidens turned neither to the right hand nor to the left,
but went directly to the place where Launfal lay. When Launfal saw
that their business was with him, he stood upon his feet, like a
discreet and courteous gentleman. After they had greeted the knight,
one of the maidens delivered the message with which she was charged.

"Sir Launfal, my demoiselle, as gracious as she is fair, prays that
you will follow us, her messengers, as she has a certain word to speak
with you. We will lead you swiftly to her pavilion, for our lady is
very near at hand. If you but lift your eyes you may see where her
tent is spread."

Right glad was the knight to do the bidding of the maidens. He gave no
heed to his horse, but left him at his provand in the meadow. All his
desire was to go with the damsels, to that pavilion of silk and divers
colours, pitched in so fair a place. Certainly neither Semiramis in
the days of her most wanton power, nor Octavian, the Emperor of all
the West, had so gracious a covering from sun and rain. Above the tent
was set an eagle of gold, so rich and precious, that none might count
the cost. The cords and fringes thereof were of silken thread, and the
lances which bore aloft the pavilion were of refined gold. No King on
earth might have so sweet a shelter, not though he gave in fee the
value of his realm. Within this pavilion Launfal came upon the Maiden.
Whiter she was than any altar lily, and more sweetly flushed than the
new born rose in time of summer heat. She lay upon a bed with napery
and coverlet of richer worth than could be furnished by a castle's
spoil. Very fresh and slender showed the lady in her vesture of
spotless linen. About her person she had drawn a mantle of ermine,
edged with purple dye from the vats of Alexandria. By reason of the
heat her raiment was unfastened for a little, and her throat and the
rondure of her bosom showed whiter and more untouched than hawthorn in
May. The knight came before the bed, and stood gazing on so sweet a
sight. The Maiden beckoned him to draw near, and when he had seated
himself at the foot of her couch, spoke her mind.

"Launfal," she said, "fair friend, it is for you that I have come from
my own far land. I bring you my love. If you are prudent and discreet,
as you are goodly to the view, there is no emperor nor count, nor
king, whose day shall be so filled with riches and with mirth as
yours."

When Launfal heard these words he rejoiced greatly, for his heart was
litten by another's torch.

"Fair lady," he answered, "since it pleases you to be so gracious, and
to dower so graceless a knight with your love, there is naught that
you may bid me do--right or wrong, evil or good--that I will not do to
the utmost of my power. I will observe your commandment, and serve in
your quarrels. For you I renounce my father and my father's house.
This only I pray, that I may dwell with you in your lodging, and that
you will never send me from your side."

When the Maiden heard the words of him whom so fondly she desired to
love, she was altogether moved, and granted him forthwith her heart
and her tenderness. To her bounty she added another gift besides.
Never might Launfal be desirous of aught, but he would have according
to his wish. He might waste and spend at will and pleasure, but in his
purse ever there was to spare. No more was Launfal sad. Right merry
was the pilgrim, since one had set him on the way, with such a gift,
that the more pennies he bestowed, the more silver and gold were in
his pouch.

But the Maiden had yet a word to say.

"Friend," she said, "hearken to my counsel. I lay this charge upon
you, and pray you urgently, that you tell not to any man the secret of
our love. If you show this matter, you will lose your friend, for ever
and a day. Never again may you see my face. Never again will you have
seisin of that body, which is now so tender in your eyes."

Launfal plighted faith, that right strictly he would observe this
commandment. So the Maiden granted him her kiss and her embrace, and
very sweetly in that fair lodging passed the day till evensong was
come.

Right loath was Launfal to depart from the pavilion at the vesper
hour, and gladly would he have stayed, had he been able, and his lady
wished.

"Fair friend," said she, "rise up, for no longer may you tarry. The
hour is come that we must part. But one thing I have to say before you
go. When you would speak with me I shall hasten to come before your
wish. Well I deem that you will only call your friend where she may
be found without reproach or shame of men. You may see me at your
pleasure; my voice shall speak softly in your ear at will; but I must
never be known of your comrades, nor must they ever learn my speech."

Right joyous was Launfal to hear this thing. He sealed the covenant
with a kiss, and stood upon his feet. Then there entered the two
maidens who had led him to the pavilion, bringing with them rich
raiment, fitting for a knight's apparel. When Launfal had clothed
himself therewith, there seemed no goodlier varlet under heaven, for
certainly he was fair and true. After these maidens had refreshed him
with clear water, and dried his hands upon the napkin, Launfal went
to meat. His friend sat at table with him, and small will had he to
refuse her courtesy. Very serviceably the damsels bore the meats, and
Launfal and the Maiden ate and drank with mirth and content. But one
dish was more to the knight's relish than any other. Sweeter than the
dainties within his mouth, was the lady's kiss upon his lips.

When supper was ended, Launfal rose from table, for his horse stood
waiting without the pavilion. The destrier was newly saddled and
bridled, and showed proudly in his rich gay trappings. So Launfal
kissed, and bade farewell, and went his way. He rode back towards the
city at a slow pace. Often he checked his steed, and looked behind
him, for he was filled with amazement, and all bemused concerning this
adventure. In his heart he doubted that it was but a dream. He was
altogether astonished, and knew not what to do. He feared that
pavilion and Maiden alike were from the realm of faery.

Launfal returned to his lodging, and was greeted by servitors, clad
no longer in ragged raiment. He fared richly, lay softly, and spent
largely, but never knew how his purse was filled. There was no lord
who had need of a lodging in the town, but Launfal brought him to
his hall, for refreshment and delight. Launfal bestowed rich gifts.
Launfal redeemed the poor captive. Launfal clothed in scarlet the
minstrel. Launfal gave honour where honour was due. Stranger and
friend alike he comforted at need. So, whether by night or by day,
Launfal lived greatly at his ease. His lady, she came at will and
pleasure, and, for the rest, all was added unto him.

Now it chanced, the same year, about the feast of St. John, a company
of knights came, for their solace, to an orchard, beneath that tower
where dwelt the Queen. Together with these lords went Gawain and his
cousin, Yvain the fair. Then said Gawain, that goodly knight, beloved
and dear to all,

"Lords, we do wrong to disport ourselves in this pleasaunce without
our comrade Launfal. It is not well to slight a prince as brave as he
is courteous, and of a lineage prouder than our own."

Then certain of the lords returned to the city, and finding Launfal
within his hostel, entreated him to take his pastime with them in that
fair meadow. The Queen looked out from a window in her tower, she and
three ladies of her fellowship. They saw the lords at their pleasure,
and Launfal also, whom well they knew. So the Queen chose of her Court
thirty damsels--the sweetest of face and most dainty of fashion--and
commanded that they should descend with her to take their delight in
the garden. When the knights beheld this gay company of ladies come
down the steps of the perron, they rejoiced beyond measure. They
hastened before to lead them by the hand, and said such words in their
ear as were seemly and pleasant to be spoken. Amongst these merry and
courteous lords hasted not Sir Launfal. He drew apart from the throng,
for with him time went heavily, till he might have clasp and greeting
of his friend. The ladies of the Queen's fellowship seemed but kitchen
wenches to his sight, in comparison with the loveliness of the maiden.
When the Queen marked Launfal go aside, she went his way, and seating
herself upon the herb, called the knight before her. Then she opened
out her heart.

"Launfal, I have honoured you for long as a worthy knight, and have
praised and cherished you very dearly. You may receive a queen's whole
love, if such be your care. Be content: he to whom my heart is given,
has small reason to complain him of the alms."

"Lady," answered the knight, "grant me leave to go, for this grace is
not for me. I am the King's man, and dare not break my troth. Not for
the highest lady in the world, not even for her love, will I set this
reproach upon my lord."

When the Queen heard this, she was full of wrath, and spoke many hot
and bitter words.

"Launfal," she cried, "well I know that you think little of woman and
her love. There are sins more black that a man may have upon his soul.
Traitor you are, and false. Right evil counsel gave they to my lord,
who prayed him to suffer you about his person. You remain only for his
harm and loss."

Launfal was very dolent to hear this thing. He was not slow to take up
the Queen's glove, and in his haste spake words that he repented long,
and with tears.

"Lady," said he, "I am not of that guild of which you speak. Neither
am I a despiser of woman, since I love, and am loved, of one who would
bear the prize from all the ladies in the land. Dame, know now and be
persuaded, that she, whom I serve, is so rich in state, that the very
meanest of her maidens, excels you, Lady Queen, as much in clerkly
skill and goodness, as in sweetness of body and face, and in every
virtue."

The Queen rose straightway to her feet, and fled to her chamber,
weeping. Right wrathful and heavy was she, because of the words that
had besmirched her. She lay sick upon her bed, from which, she said,
she would never rise, till the King had done her justice, and righted
this bitter wrong. Now the King that day had taken his pleasure within
the woods. He returned from the chase towards evening, and sought the
chamber of the Queen. When the lady saw him, she sprang from her bed,
and kneeling at his feet, pleaded for grace and pity. Launfal--she
said--had shamed her, since he required her love. When she had put him
by, very foully had he reviled her, boasting that his love was already
set on a lady, so proud and noble, that her meanest wench went more
richly, and smiled more sweetly, than the Queen. Thereat the King
waxed marvellously wrathful, and swore a great oath that he would set
Launfal within a fire, or hang him from a tree, if he could not deny
this thing, before his peers.

Arthur came forth from the Queen's chamber, and called to him three
of his lords. These he sent to seek the knight who so evilly had
entreated the Queen. Launfal, for his part, had returned to his
lodging, in a sad and sorrowful case. He saw very clearly that he had
lost his friend, since he had declared their love to men. Launfal sat
within his chamber, sick and heavy of thought. Often he called upon
his friend, but the lady would not hear his voice. He bewailed his
evil lot, with tears; for grief he came nigh to swoon; a hundred times
he implored the Maiden that she would deign to speak with her knight.
Then, since the lady yet refrained from speech, Launfal cursed his hot
and unruly tongue. Very near he came to ending all this trouble with
his knife. Naught he found to do but to wring his hands, and call upon
the Maiden, begging her to forgive his trespass, and to talk with him
again, as friend to friend.

But little peace is there for him who is harassed by a King. There
came presently to Launfal's hostel those three barons from the Court.
These bade the knight forthwith to go with them to Arthur's presence,
to acquit him of this wrong against the Queen. Launfal went forth, to
his own deep sorrow. Had any man slain him on the road, he would
have counted him his friend. He stood before the King, downcast and
speechless, being dumb by reason of that great grief, of which he
showed the picture and image.

Arthur looked upon his captive very evilly.

"Vassal," said he, harshly, "you have done me a bitter wrong. It was a
foul deed to seek to shame me in this ugly fashion, and to smirch the
honour of the Queen. Is it folly or lightness which leads you to boast
of that lady, the least of whose maidens is fairer, and goes more
richly, than the Queen?"

Launfal protested that never had he set such shame upon his lord.
Word by word he told the tale of how he denied the Queen, within the
orchard. But concerning that which he had spoken of the lady, he owned
the truth, and his folly. The love of which he bragged was now lost to
him, by his own exceeding fault. He cared little for his life, and was
content to obey the judgment of the Court.

Right wrathful was the King at Launfal's words. He conjured his barons
to give him such wise counsel herein, that wrong might be done to
none. The lords did the King's bidding, whether good came of the
matter, or evil. They gathered themselves together, and appointed a
certain day that Launfal should abide the judgment of his peers. For
his part Launfal must give pledge and surety to his lord, that he
would come before this judgment in his own body. If he might not give
such surety then he should be held captive till the appointed day.
When the lords of the King's household returned to tell him of their
counsel, Arthur demanded that Launfal should put such pledge in his
hand, as they had said. Launfal was altogether mazed and bewildered at
this judgment, for he had neither friend nor kindred in the land. He
would have been set in prison, but Gawain came first to offer himself
as his surety, and with him, all the knights of his fellowship. These
gave into the King's hand as pledge, the fiefs and lands that they
held of his Crown. The King having taken pledges from the sureties,
Launfal returned to his lodging, and with him certain knights of his
company. They blamed him greatly because of his foolish love, and
chastened him grievously by reason of the sorrow he made before men.
Every day they came to his chamber, to know of his meat and drink, for
much they feared that presently he would become mad.

The lords of the household came together on the day appointed for this
judgment. The King was on his chair, with the Queen sitting at his
side. The sureties brought Launfal within the hall, and rendered him
into the hands of his peers. Right sorrowful were they because of his
plight. A great company of his fellowship did all that they were able
to acquit him of this charge. When all was set out, the King demanded
the judgment of the Court, according to the accusation and the answer.
The barons went forth in much trouble and thought to consider this
matter. Many amongst them grieved for the peril of a good knight in
a strange land; others held that it were well for Launfal to suffer,
because of the wish and malice of their lord. Whilst they were thus
perplexed, the Duke of Cornwall rose in the council, and said,

"Lords, the King pursues Launfal as a traitor, and would slay him with
the sword, by reason that he bragged of the beauty of his maiden,
and roused the jealousy of the Queen. By the faith that I owe this
company, none complains of Launfal, save only the King. For our part
we would know the truth of this business, and do justice between the
King and his man. We would also show proper reverence to our own liege
lord. Now, if it be according to Arthur's will, let us take oath of
Launfal, that he seek this lady, who has put such strife between him
and the Queen. If her beauty be such as he has told us, the Queen will
have no cause for wrath. She must pardon Launfal for his rudeness,
since it will be plain that he did not speak out of a malicious heart.
Should Launfal fail his word, and not return with the lady, or should
her fairness fall beneath his boast, then let him be cast off from our
fellowship, and be sent forth from the service of the King."

This counsel seemed good to the lords of the household. They sent
certain of his friends to Launfal, to acquaint him with their
judgment, bidding him to pray his damsel to the Court, that he might
be acquitted of this blame. The knight made answer that in no wise
could he do this thing. So the sureties returned before the judges,
saying that Launfal hoped neither for refuge nor for succour from
the lady, and Arthur urged them to a speedy ending, because of the
prompting of the Queen.

The judges were about to give sentence upon Launfal, when they saw
two maidens come riding towards the palace, upon two white ambling
palfreys. Very sweet and dainty were these maidens, and richly clothed
in garments of crimson sendal, closely girt and fashioned to their
bodies. All men, old and young, looked willingly upon them, for fair
they were to see. Gawain, and three knights of his company, went
straight to Launfal, and showed him these maidens, praying him to
say which of them was his friend. But he answered never a word. The
maidens dismounted from their palfreys, and coming before the dais
where the King was seated, spake him fairly, as they were fair.

"Sire, prepare now a chamber, hung with silken cloths, where it is
seemly for my lady to dwell; for she would lodge with you awhile."

This gift the King granted gladly. He called to him two knights of his
household, and bade them bestow the maidens in such chambers as were
fitting to their degree. The maidens being gone, the King required of
his barons to proceed with their judgment, saying that he had sore
displeasure at the slowness of the cause.

"Sire," replied the barons, "we rose from Council, because of the
damsels who entered in the hall. We will at once resume the sitting,
and give our judgment without more delay."

The barons again were gathered together, in much thought and trouble,
to consider this matter. There was great strife and dissension amongst
them, for they knew not what to do. In the midst of all this noise and
tumult, there came two other damsels riding to the hall on two Spanish
mules. Very richly arrayed were these damsels in raiment of fine
needlework, and their kirtles were covered by fresh fair mantles,
embroidered with gold. Great joy had Launfal's comrades when they
marked these ladies. They said between themselves that doubtless they
came for the succour of the good knight. Gawain, and certain of his
company, made haste to Launfal, and said, "Sir, be not cast down.
Two ladies are near at hand, right dainty of dress, and gracious of
person. Tell us truly, for the love of God, is one of these your
friend?"

But Launfal answered very simply that never before had he seen these
damsels with his eyes, nor known and loved them in his heart.

The maidens dismounted from their mules, and stood before Arthur, in
the sight of all. Greatly were they praised of many, because of their
beauty, and of the colour of their face and hair. Some there were who
deemed already that the Queen was overborne.

The elder of the damsels carried herself modestly and well, and
sweetly told over the message wherewith she was charged.

"Sire, make ready for us chambers, where we may abide with our lady,
for even now she comes to speak with thee."

The King commanded that the ladies should be led to their companions,
and bestowed in the same honourable fashion as they. Then he bade the
lords of his household to consider their judgment, since he would
endure no further respite. The Court already had given too much time
to the business, and the Queen was growing wrathful, because of the
blame that was hers. Now the judges were about to proclaim their
sentence, when, amidst the tumult of the town, there came riding to
the palace the flower of all the ladies of the world. She came mounted
upon a palfrey, white as snow, which carried her softly, as though she
loved her burthen. Beneath the sky was no goodlier steed, nor one more
gentle to the hand. The harness of the palfrey was so rich, that no
king on earth might hope to buy trappings so precious, unless he sold
or set his realm in pledge. The Maiden herself showed such as I will
tell you. Passing slim was the lady, sweet of bodice and slender of
girdle. Her throat was whiter than snow on branch, and her eyes were
like flowers in the pallor of her face. She had a witching mouth, a
dainty nose, and an open brow. Her eyebrows were brown, and her golden
hair parted in two soft waves upon her head. She was clad in a shift
of spotless linen, and above her snowy kirtle was set a mantle of
royal purple, clasped upon her breast. She carried a hooded falcon
upon her glove, and a greyhound followed closely after. As the Maiden
rode at a slow pace through the streets of the city, there was none,
neither great nor small, youth nor sergeant, but ran forth from his
house, that he might content his heart with so great beauty. Every man
that saw her with his eyes, marvelled at a fairness beyond that of any
earthly woman. Little he cared for any mortal maiden, after he had
seen this sight. The friends of Sir Launfal hastened to the knight, to
tell him of his lady's succour, if so it were according to God's will.

"Sir comrade, truly is not this your friend? This lady is neither
black nor golden, mean nor tall. She is only the most lovely thing in
all the world."

When Launfal heard this, he sighed, for by their words he knew again
his friend. He raised his head, and as the blood rushed to his face,
speech flowed from his lips.

"By my faith," cried he, "yes, she is indeed my friend. It is a small
matter now whether men slay me, or set me free; for I am made whole of
my hurt just by looking on her face."

The Maiden entered in the palace--where none so fair had come
before--and stood before the King, in the presence of his household.
She loosed the clasp of her mantle, so that men might the more easily
perceive the grace of her person. The courteous King advanced to meet
her, and all the Court got them on their feet, and pained themselves
in her service. When the lords had gazed upon her for a space, and
praised the sum of her beauty, the lady spake to Arthur in this
fashion, for she was anxious to begone.

"Sire, I have loved one of thy vassals,--the knight who stands in
bonds, Sir Launfal. He was always misprized in thy Court, and his
every action turned to blame. What he said, that thou knowest; for
over hasty was his tongue before the Queen. But he never craved her in
love, however loud his boasting. I cannot choose that he should come
to hurt or harm by me. In the hope of freeing Launfal from his bonds,
I have obeyed thy summons. Let now thy barons look boldly upon my
face, and deal justly in this quarrel between the Queen and me."

The King commanded that this should be done, and looking upon her
eyes, not one of the judges but was persuaded that her favour exceeded
that of the Queen.

Since then Launfal had not spoken in malice against his lady, the
lords of the household gave him again his sword. When the trial had
come thus to an end the Maiden took her leave of the King, and made
her ready to depart. Gladly would Arthur have had her lodge with him
for a little, and many a lord would have rejoiced in her service, but
she might not tarry. Now without the hall stood a great stone of dull
marble, where it was the wont of lords, departing from the Court, to
climb into the saddle, and Launfal by the stone. The Maiden came
forth from the doors of the palace, and mounting on the stone, seated
herself on the palfrey, behind her friend. Then they rode across the
plain together, and were no more seen.

The Bretons tell that the knight was ravished by his lady to an
island, very dim and very fair, known as Avalon. But none has had
speech with Launfal and his faery love since then, and for my part I
can tell you no more of the matter.



VII


THE LAY OF THE TWO LOVERS

Once upon a time there lived in Normandy two lovers, who were passing
fond, and were brought by Love to Death. The story of their love was
bruited so abroad, that the Bretons made a song in their own tongue,
and named this song the Lay of the Two Lovers.

In Neustria--that men call Normandy--there is verily a high and
marvellously great mountain, where lie the relics of the Two Children.
Near this high place the King of those parts caused to be built a
certain fair and cunning city, and since he was lord of the Pistrians,
it was known as Pistres. The town yet endures, with its towers and
houses, to bear witness to the truth; moreover the country thereabouts
is known to us all as the Valley of Pistres.

This King had one fair daughter, a damsel sweet of face and gracious
of manner, very near to her father's heart, since he had lost his
Queen. The maiden increased in years and favour, but he took no heed
to her trothing, so that men--yea, even his own people--blamed him
greatly for this thing. When the King heard thereof he was passing
heavy and dolent, and considered within himself how he might be
delivered from this grief. So then, that none should carry off his
child, he caused it to be proclaimed, both far and near, by script and
trumpet, that he alone should wed the maid, who would bear her in his
arms, to the pinnacle of the great and perilous mountain, and that
without rest or stay. When this news was noised about the country,
many came upon the quest. But strive as they would they might not
enforce themselves more than they were able. However mighty they were
of body, at the last they failed upon the mountain, and fell with
their burthen to the ground. Thus, for a while, was none so bold as to
seek the high Princess.

Now in this country lived a squire, son to a certain count of that
realm, seemly of semblance and courteous, and right desirous to win
that prize, which was so coveted of all. He was a welcome guest at the
Court, and the King talked with him very willingly. This squire had
set his heart upon the daughter of the King, and many a time spoke in
her ear, praying her to give him again the love he had bestowed upon
her. So seeing him brave and courteous, she esteemed him for the gifts
which gained him the favour of the King, and they loved together in
their youth. But they hid this matter from all about the Court. This
thing was very grievous to them, but the damoiseau thought within
himself that it were good to bear the pains he knew, rather than
to seek out others that might prove sharper still. Yet in the end,
altogether distraught by love, this prudent varlet sought his friend,
and showed her his case, saying that he urgently required of her that
she would flee with him, for no longer could he endure the weariness
of his days. Should he ask her of the King, well he knew that by
reason of his love he would refuse the gift, save he bore her in his
arms up the steep mount. Then the maiden made answer to her lover, and
said,

"Fair friend, well I know you may not carry me to that high place.
Moreover should we take to flight, my father would suffer wrath and
sorrow beyond measure, and go heavily all his days. Certainly my love
is too fond to plague him thus, and we must seek another counsel, for
this is not to my heart. Hearken well. I have kindred in Salerno, of
rich estate. For more than thirty years my aunt has studied there the
art of medicine, and knows the secret gift of every root and herb.
If you hasten to her, bearing letters from me, and show her your
adventure, certainly she will find counsel and cure. Doubt not that
she will discover some cunning simple, that will strengthen your body,
as well as comfort your heart. Then return to this realm with your
potion, and ask me at my father's hand. He will deem you but a
stripling, and set forth the terms of his bargain, that to him alone
shall I be given who knows how to climb the perilous mountain, without
pause or rest, bearing his lady between his arms."

When the varlet heard this cunning counsel of the maiden, he rejoiced
greatly, and thanking her sweetly for her rede, craved permission to
depart. He returned to his own home, and gathering together a goodly
store of silken cloths most precious, he bestowed his gear upon the
pack horses, and made him ready for the road. So with a little company
of men, mounted on swift palfreys, and most privy to his mind, he
arrived at Salerno. Now the squire made no long stay at his lodging,
but as soon as he might, went to the damsel's kindred to open out his
mind. He delivered to the aunt the letters he carried from his friend,
and bewailed their evil case. When the dame had read these letters
with him, line by line, she charged him to lodge with her awhile, till
she might do according to his wish. So by her sorceries, and for
the love of her maid, she brewed such a potion that no man, however
wearied and outworn, but by drinking this philtre, would not be
refreshed in heart and blood and bones. Such virtue had this medicine,
directly it were drunken. This simple she poured within a little
flacket, and gave it to the varlet, who received the gift with great
joy and delight, and returned swiftly to his own land.

The varlet made no long sojourn in his home. He repaired straightway
to the Court, and, seeking out the King, required of him his fair
daughter in marriage, promising, for his part, that were she given
him, he would bear her in his arms to the summit of the mount. The
King was no wise wrath at his presumption. He smiled rather at his
folly, for how should one so young and slender succeed in a business
wherein so many mighty men had failed. Therefore he appointed a
certain day for this judgment. Moreover he caused letters to be
written to his vassals and his friends--passing none by--bidding them
to see the end of this adventure. Yea, with public cry and sound of
trumpet he bade all who would, come to behold the stripling carry his
fair daughter to the pinnacle of the mountain. And from every region
round about men came to learn the issue of this thing. But for her
part the fair maiden did all that she was able to bring her love to a
good end. Ever was it fast day and fleshless day with her, so that by
any means she might lighten the burthen that her friend must carry in
his arms.

Now on the appointed day this young dansellon came very early to the
appointed place, bringing the flacket with him. When the great company
were fully met together, the King led forth his daughter before them;
and all might see that she was arrayed in nothing but her smock. The
varlet took the maiden in his arms, but first he gave her the flask
with the precious brewage to carry, since for pride he might not
endure to drink therefrom, save at utmost peril. The squire set forth
at a great pace, and climbed briskly till he was halfway up the mount.
Because of the joy he had in clasping his burthen, he gave no thought
to the potion. But she--she knew the strength was failing in his
heart.

"Fair friend," said she, "well I know that you tire: drink now, I pray
you, of the flacket, and so shall your manhood come again at need."

But the varlet answered,

"Fair love, my heart is full of courage; nor for any reason will I
pause, so long as I can hold upon my way. It is the noise of all this
folk--the tumult and the shouting--that makes my steps uncertain.
Their cries distress me, I do not dare to stand."

But when two thirds of the course was won, the grasshopper would have
tripped him off his feet. Urgently and often the maiden prayed him,
saying,

"Fair friend, drink now of thy cordial."

But he would neither hear, nor give credence to her words. A mighty
anguish filled his bosom. He climbed upon the summit of the mountain,
and pained himself grievously to bring his journey to an end. This he
might not do. He reeled and fell, nor could he rise again, for the
heart had burst within his breast.

When the maiden saw her lover's piteous plight, she deemed that he had
swooned by reason of his pain. She kneeled hastily at his side, and
put the enchanted brewage to his lips, but he could neither drink nor
speak, for he was dead, as I have told you. She bewailed his evil lot,
with many shrill cries, and flung the useless flacket far away. The
precious potion bestrewed the ground, making a garden of that desolate
place. For many saving herbs have been found there since that day by
the simple folk of that country, which from the magic philtre derived
all their virtue.

But when the maiden knew that her lover was dead, she made such
wondrous sorrow, as no man had ever seen. She kissed his eyes and
mouth, and falling upon his body, took him in her arms, and pressed
him closely to her breast. There was no heart so hard as not to be
touched by her sorrow; for in this fashion died a dame, who was fair
and sweet and gracious, beyond the wont of the daughters of men.

Now the King and his company, since these two lovers came not again,
presently climbed the mountain to learn their end. But when the King
came upon them lifeless, and fast in that embrace, incontinent he fell
to the ground, bereft of sense. After his speech had returned to him,
he was passing heavy, and lamented their doleful case, and thus did
all his people with him.

Three days they kept the bodies of these two fair children from earth,
with uncovered face. On the third day they sealed them fast in a
goodly coffin of marble, and by the counsel of all men, laid them
softly to rest on that mountain where they died. Then they departed
from them, and left them together, alone.

Since this adventure of the Two Children this hill is known as the
Mountain of the Two Lovers, and their story being bruited abroad, the
Breton folk have made a Lay thereof, even as I have rehearsed before
you.



VIII


THE LAY OF THE WERE-WOLF

Amongst the tales I tell you once again, I would not forget the Lay of
the Were-Wolf. Such beasts as he are known in every land. Bisclavaret
he is named in Brittany; whilst the Norman calls him Garwal.

It is a certain thing, and within the knowledge of all, that many a
christened man has suffered this change, and ran wild in woods, as
a Were-Wolf. The Were-Wolf is a fearsome beast. He lurks within the
thick forest, mad and horrible to see. All the evil that he may, he
does. He goeth to and fro, about the solitary place, seeking man, in
order to devour him. Hearken, now, to the adventure of the Were-Wolf,
that I have to tell.

In Brittany there dwelt a baron who was marvellously esteemed of all
his fellows. He was a stout knight, and a comely, and a man of office
and repute. Right private was he to the mind of his lord, and dear to
the counsel of his neighbours. This baron was wedded to a very worthy
dame, right fair to see, and sweet of semblance. All his love was set
on her, and all her love was given again to him. One only grief had
this lady. For three whole days in every week her lord was absent from
her side. She knew not where he went, nor on what errand. Neither did
any of his house know the business which called him forth.

On a day when this lord was come again to his house, altogether
joyous and content, the lady took him to task, right sweetly, in
this fashion, "Husband," said she, "and fair, sweet friend, I have a
certain thing to pray of you. Right willingly would I receive this
gift, but I fear to anger you in the asking. It is better for me to
have an empty hand, than to gain hard words."

When the lord heard this matter, he took the lady in his arms, very
tenderly, and kissed her.

"Wife," he answered, "ask what you will. What would you have, for it
is yours already?"

"By my faith," said the lady, "soon shall I be whole. Husband, right
long and wearisome are the days that you spend away from your home.
I rise from my bed in the morning, sick at heart, I know not why. So
fearful am I, lest you do aught to your loss, that I may not find any
comfort. Very quickly shall I die for reason of my dread. Tell me now,
where you go, and on what business! How may the knowledge of one who
loves so closely, bring you to harm?"

"Wife," made answer the lord, "nothing but evil can come if I tell you
this secret. For the mercy of God do not require it of me. If you but
knew, you would withdraw yourself from my love, and I should be lost
indeed."

When the lady heard this, she was persuaded that her baron sought to
put her by with jesting words. Therefore she prayed and required
him the more urgently, with tender looks and speech, till he was
overborne, and told her all the story, hiding naught.

"Wife, I become Bisclavaret. I enter in the forest, and live on prey
and roots, within the thickest of the wood."

After she had learned his secret, she prayed and entreated the more as
to whether he ran in his raiment, or went spoiled of vesture.

"Wife," said he, "I go naked as a beast."

"Tell me, for hope of grace, what you do with your clothing?"

"Fair wife, that will I never. If I should lose my raiment, or even be
marked as I quit my vesture, then a Were-Wolf I must go for all the
days of my life. Never again should I become man, save in that hour my
clothing were given back to me. For this reason never will I show my
lair."

"Husband," replied the lady to him, "I love you better than all the
world. The less cause have you for doubting my faith, or hiding any
tittle from me. What savour is here of friendship? How have I made
forfeit of your love; for what sin do you mistrust my honour? Open now
your heart, and tell what is good to be known."

So at the end, outwearied and overborne by her importunity, he could
no longer refrain, but told her all.

"Wife," said he, "within this wood, a little from the path, there is a
hidden way, and at the end thereof an ancient chapel, where oftentimes
I have bewailed my lot. Near by is a great hollow stone, concealed by
a bush, and there is the secret place where I hide my raiment, till I
would return to my own home."

On hearing this marvel the lady became sanguine of visage, because of
her exceeding fear. She dared no longer to lie at his side, and turned
over in her mind, this way and that, how best she could get her from
him. Now there was a certain knight of those parts, who, for a great
while, had sought and required this lady for her love. This knight had
spent long years in her service, but little enough had he got thereby,
not even fair words, or a promise. To him the dame wrote a letter, and
meeting, made her purpose plain.

"Fair friend," said she, "be happy. That which you have coveted so
long a time, I will grant without delay. Never again will I deny your
suit. My heart, and all I have to give, are yours, so take me now as
love and dame."

Right sweetly the knight thanked her for her grace, and pledged her
faith and fealty. When she had confirmed him by an oath, then she told
him all this business of her lord--why he went, and what he became,
and of his ravening within the wood. So she showed him of the chapel,
and of the hollow stone, and of how to spoil the Were-Wolf of his
vesture. Thus, by the kiss of his wife, was Bisclavaret betrayed.
Often enough had he ravished his prey in desolate places, but from
this journey he never returned. His kinsfolk and acquaintance came
together to ask of his tidings, when this absence was noised abroad.
Many a man, on many a day, searched the woodland, but none might find
him, nor learn where Bisclavaret was gone.

The lady was wedded to the knight who had cherished her for so long a
space. More than a year had passed since Bisclavaret disappeared. Then
it chanced that the King would hunt in that self-same wood where the
Were-Wolf lurked. When the hounds were unleashed they ran this way and
that, and swiftly came upon his scent. At the view the huntsman winded
on his horn, and the whole pack were at his heels. They followed him
from morn to eve, till he was torn and bleeding, and was all adread
lest they should pull him down. Now the King was very close to the
quarry, and when Bisclavaret looked upon his master, he ran to him for
pity and for grace. He took the stirrup within his paws, and fawned
upon the prince's foot. The King was very fearful at this sight, but
presently he called his courtiers to his aid.

"Lords," cried he, "hasten hither, and see this marvellous thing. Here
is a beast who has the sense of man. He abases himself before his foe,
and cries for mercy, although he cannot speak. Beat off the hounds,
and let no man do him harm. We will hunt no more to-day, but return to
our own place, with the wonderful quarry we have taken."

The King turned him about, and rode to his hall, Bisclavaret following
at his side. Very near to his master the Were-Wolf went, like any dog,
and had no care to seek again the wood. When the King had brought him
safely to his own castle, he rejoiced greatly, for the beast was fair
and strong, no mightier had any man seen. Much pride had the King in
his marvellous beast. He held him so dear, that he bade all those who
wished for his love, to cross the Wolf in naught, neither to strike
him with a rod, but ever to see that he was richly fed and kennelled
warm. This commandment the Court observed willingly. So all the day
the Wolf sported with the lords, and at night he lay within the
chamber of the King. There was not a man who did not make much of the
beast, so frank was he and debonair. None had reason to do him wrong,
for ever was he about his master, and for his part did evil to none.
Every day were these two companions together, and all perceived that
the King loved him as his friend.

Hearken now to that which chanced.

The King held a high Court, and bade his great vassals and barons, and
all the lords of his venery to the feast. Never was there a goodlier
feast, nor one set forth with sweeter show and pomp. Amongst those who
were bidden, came that same knight who had the wife of Bisclavaret for
dame. He came to the castle, richly gowned, with a fair company, but
little he deemed whom he would find so near. Bisclavaret marked his
foe the moment he stood within the hall. He ran towards him, and
seized him with his fangs, in the King's very presence, and to the
view of all. Doubtless he would have done him much mischief, had not
the King called and chidden him, and threatened him with a rod. Once,
and twice, again, the Wolf set upon the knight in the very light of
day. All men marvelled at his malice, for sweet and serviceable was
the beast, and to that hour had shown hatred of none. With one consent
the household deemed that this deed was done with full reason, and
that the Wolf had suffered at the knight's hand some bitter wrong.
Right wary of his foe was the knight until the feast had ended, and
all the barons had taken farewell of their lord, and departed, each to
his own house. With these, amongst the very first, went that lord whom
Bisclavaret so fiercely had assailed. Small was the wonder that he was
glad to go.

No long while after this adventure it came to pass that the courteous
King would hunt in that forest where Bisclavaret was found. With the
prince came his wolf, and a fair company. Now at nightfall the King
abode within a certain lodge of that country, and this was known of
that dame who before was the wife of Bisclavaret. In the morning the
lady clothed her in her most dainty apparel, and hastened to the
lodge, since she desired to speak with the King, and to offer him a
rich present. When the lady entered in the chamber, neither man nor
leash might restrain the fury of the Wolf. He became as a mad dog in
his hatred and malice. Breaking from his bonds he sprang at the lady's
face, and bit the nose from her visage. From every side men ran to the
succour of the dame. They beat off the wolf from his prey, and for a
little would have cut him in pieces with their swords. But a certain
wise counsellor said to the King,

"Sire, hearken now to me. This beast is always with you, and there is
not one of us all who has not known him for long. He goes in and out
amongst us, nor has molested any man, neither done wrong or felony to
any, save only to this dame, one only time as we have seen. He has
done evil to this lady, and to that knight, who is now the husband of
the dame. Sire, she was once the wife of that lord who was so close
and private to your heart, but who went, and none might find where he
had gone. Now, therefore, put the dame in a sure place, and
question her straitly, so that she may tell--if perchance she knows
thereof--for what reason this Beast holds her in such mortal hate. For
many a strange deed has chanced, as well we know, in this marvellous
land of Brittany."

The King listened to these words, and deemed the counsel good. He laid
hands upon the knight, and put the dame in surety in another place. He
caused them to be questioned right straitly, so that their torment was
very grievous. At the end, partly because of her distress, and partly
by reason of her exceeding fear, the lady's lips were loosed, and she
told her tale. She showed them of the betrayal of her lord, and how
his raiment was stolen from the hollow stone. Since then she knew not
where he went, nor what had befallen him, for he had never come
again to his own land. Only, in her heart, well she deemed and was
persuaded, that Bisclavaret was he.

Straightway the King demanded the vesture of his baron, whether this
were to the wish of the lady, or whether it were against her wish.
When the raiment was brought him, he caused it to be spread before
Bisclavaret, but the Wolf made as though he had not seen. Then that
cunning and crafty counsellor took the King apart, that he might give
him a fresh rede.

"Sire," said he, "you do not wisely, nor well, to set this raiment
before Bisclavaret, in the sight of all. In shame and much tribulation
must he lay aside the beast, and again become man. Carry your wolf
within your most secret chamber, and put his vestment therein. Then
close the door upon him, and leave him alone for a space. So we shall
see presently whether the ravening beast may indeed return to human
shape."

The King carried the Wolf to his chamber, and shut the doors upon
him fast. He delayed for a brief while, and taking two lords of his
fellowship with him, came again to the room. Entering therein, all
three, softly together, they found the knight sleeping in the King's
bed, like a little child. The King ran swiftly to the bed and taking
his friend in his arms, embraced and kissed him fondly, above a
hundred times. When man's speech returned once more, he told him of
his adventure. Then the King restored to his friend the fief that was
stolen from him, and gave such rich gifts, moreover, as I cannot tell.
As for the wife who had betrayed Bisclavaret, he bade her avoid his
country, and chased her from the realm. So she went forth, she and her
second lord together, to seek a more abiding city, and were no more
seen.

The adventure that you have heard is no vain fable. Verily and indeed
it chanced as I have said. The Lay of the Were-Wolf, truly, was
written that it should ever be borne in mind.



IX


THE LAY OF THE ASH TREE

Now will I tell you the Lay of the Ash Tree, according to the story
that I know.

In ancient days there dwelt two knights in Brittany, who were
neighbours and close friends. These two lords were brave and worthy
gentlemen, rich in goods and lands, and near both in heart and home.
Moreover each was wedded to a dame. One of these ladies was with
child, and when her time was come, she was delivered of two boys. Her
husband was right happy and content. For the joy that was his, he sent
messages to his neighbour, telling that his wife had brought forth two
sons, and praying that one of them might be christened with his name.
The rich man was at meat when the messenger came before him. The
servitor kneeled before the dais, and told his message in his ear. The
lord thanked God for the happiness that had befallen his friend,
and bestowed a fair horse on the bringer of good tidings. His wife,
sitting at board with her husband, heard the story of the messenger,
and smiled at his news. Proud she was, and sly, with an envious heart,
and a rancorous tongue. She made no effort to bridle her lips, but
spoke lightly before the servants of the house, and said,

"I marvel greatly that so reputable a man as our neighbour, should
publish his dishonour to my lord. It is a shameful thing for any wife
to have two children at a birth. We all know that no woman brings
forth two at one bearing, except two husbands have aided her therein."

Her husband looked upon her in silence for awhile, and when he spoke
it was to blame her very sternly.

"Wife," he said, "be silent. It is better to be dumb, than to utter
such words as these. As you know well, there is not a breath to
tarnish this lady's good name."

The folk of the house, who listened to these words, stored them in
their hearts, and told abroad the tale, spoken by their lady. Very
soon it was known throughout Brittany. Greatly was the lady blamed for
her evil tongue, and not a woman who heard thereof--whether she were
rich or poor--but who scorned her for her malice. The servant who
carried the message, on his return repeated to his lord of what he had
seen and heard. Passing heavy was the knight, and knew not what to
do. He doubted his own true wife, and suspected her the more sorely,
because she had done naught that was in any way amiss.

The lady, who so foully slandered her fellow, fell with child in the
same year. Her neighbour was avenged upon her, for when her term was
come, she became the mother of two daughters. Sick at heart was she.
She was right sorrowful, and lamented her evil case.

"Alas," she said, "what shall I do, for I am dishonoured for all
my days. Shamed I am, it is the simple truth. When my lord and his
kinsfolk shall hear of what has chanced, they will never believe me
a stainless wife. They will remember how I judged all women in my
plight. They will recall how I said before my house, that my neighbour
could not have been doubly a mother, unless she had first been doubly
a wife. I have the best reason now to know that I was wrong, and I am
caught in my own snare. She who digs a pit for another, cannot tell
that she may not fall into the hole herself. If you wish to speak
loudly concerning your neighbour, it is best to say nothing of him
but in praise. The only way to keep me from shame, is that one of my
children should die. It is a great sin; but I would rather trust to
the mercy of God, than suffer scorn and reproach for the rest of my
life."

The women about her comforted her as best they might in this trouble.
They told her frankly that they would not suffer such wrong to be
done, since the slaying of a child was not reckoned a jest. The lady
had a maiden near her person, whom she had long held and nourished.
The damsel was a freeman's daughter, and was greatly loved and
cherished of her mistress. When she saw the lady's tears, and heard
the bitterness of her complaint, anguish went to her heart, like a
knife. She stooped over her lady, striving to bring her comfort.

"Lady," she said, "take it not so to heart. Give over this grief, for
all will yet be well. You shall deliver me one of these children, and
I will put her so far from you, that you shall never see her again,
nor know shame because of her. I will carry her safe and sound to the
door of a church. There I will lay her down. Some honest man shall
find her, and--please God--will be at the cost of her nourishing."

Great joy had the lady to hear these words. She promised the maiden
that in recompense of her service, she would grant her such guerdon
as she should wish. The maiden took the babe--yet smiling in her
sleep--and wrapped her in a linen cloth. Above this she set a piece of
sanguine silk, brought by the husband of this dame from a bazaar in
Constantinople--fairer was never seen. With a silken lace they bound
a great ring to the child's arm. This ring was of fine gold, weighing
fully an ounce, and was set with garnets most precious.

Letters were graven thereon, so that those who found the maid might
understand that she came of a good house. The damsel took the child,
and went out from the chamber. When night was come, and all was still,
she left the town, and sought the high road leading through the
forest. She held on her way, clasping the baby to her breast, till
from afar, to her right hand, she heard the howling of dogs and the
crowing of cocks. She deemed that she was near a town, and went the
lighter for the hope, directing her steps, there, whence the noises
came. Presently the damsel entered in a fair city, where was an Abbey,
both great and rich. This Abbey was worshipfully ordered, with many
nuns in their office and degree, and an Abbess in charge of all. The
maiden gazed upon the mighty house, and considered its towers and
walls, and the church with its belfry. She went swiftly to the door,
and setting the child upon the ground, kneeled humbly to make her
prayer.

"Lord," said she, "for the sake of Thy Holy Name, if such be Thy will,
preserve this child from death."

Her petition ended, the maiden looked about her, and saw an ash tree,
planted to give shadow in a sunny place. It was a fair tree, thick and
leafy, and was divided into four strong branches. The maiden took the
child again in her arms, and running to the ash, set her within the
tree. There she left her, commending her to the care of God. So she
returned to her mistress, and told her all that she had done.

Now in this Abbey was a porter, whose duty it was to open the doors of
the church, before folk came to hear the service of God. This night
he rose at his accustomed hour, lighted candles and lamps, rang the
bells, and set wide the doors. His eyes fell upon the silken stuff
within the ash. He thought at first that some bold thief had hidden
his spoil within the tree. He felt with his hand to discover what it
might be, and found that it was a little child. The porter praised
God for His goodness; he took the babe, and going again to his house,
called to his daughter, who was a widow, with an infant yet in the
cradle.

"Daughter," he cried, "get from bed at once; light your candle, and
kindle the fire. I bring you a little child, whom I have found within
our ash. Take her to your breast; cherish her against the cold, and
bathe her in warm water."

The widow did according to her father's will. She kindled a fire, and
taking the babe, washed and cherished her in her need. Very certain
she was, when she saw that rich stuff of crimson samite, and the
golden ring about the arm, that the girl was come of an honourable
race. The next day, when the office was ended, the porter prayed the
Abbess that he might have speech with her as she left the church. He
related his story, and told of the finding of the child. The Abbess
bade him to fetch the child, dressed in such fashion as she was
discovered in the ash. The porter returned to his house, and showed
the babe right gladly to his dame. The Abbess observed the infant
closely, and said that she would be at the cost of her nourishing,
and would cherish her as a sister's child. She commanded the porter
strictly to forget that he took her from the ash. In this manner it
chanced that the maiden was tended of the Abbess. The lady considered
the maid as her niece, and since she was taken from the ash, gave her
the name of Frêne. By this name she was known of all, within the Abbey
precincts, where she was nourished.

When Frêne came to that age in which a girl turns to woman, there was
no fairer maiden in Brittany, nor so sweet a damsel. Frank, she was,
and open, but discreet in semblance and in speech. To see her was to
love her, and to prize her smile above the beauty of the world. Now at
Dol there lived a lord of whom much good was spoken. I will tell you
his name. The folk of his country called him Buron. This lord heard
speak of the maiden, and began to love her, for the sweetness men
told of her. As he rode home from some tournament, he passed near the
convent, and prayed the Abbess that he might look upon her niece. The
Abbess gave him his desire. Greatly was the maiden to his mind.
Very fair he found her, sweetly schooled and fashioned, modest and
courteous to all. If he might not win her to his love, he counted
himself the more forlorn. This lord was at his wits end, for he knew
not what to do. If he repaired often to the convent, the Abbess would
consider of the cause of his comings, and he would never again see the
maiden with his eyes. One thing only gave him a little hope. Should he
endow the Abbey of his wealth, he would make it his debtor for ever.
In return he might ask a little room, where he might abide to have
their fellowship, and, at times, withdraw him from the world. This he
did. He gave richly of his goods to the Abbey. Often, in return, he
went to the convent, but for other reasons than for penitence and
peace. He besought the maiden, and with prayers and promises,
persuaded her to set upon him her love. When this lord was assured
that she loved him, on a certain day he reasoned with her in this
manner.

"Fair friend," said he, "since you have given me your love, come with
me, where I can cherish you before all the world. You know, as well
as I, that if your aunt should perceive our friendship, she would be
passing wrath, and grieve beyond measure. If my counsel seems good,
let us flee together, you with me, and I with you. Certes, you shall
never have cause to regret your trust, and of my riches you shall have
the half."

When she who loved so fondly heard these words, she granted of her
tenderness what it pleased him to have, and followed after where he
would. Frêne fled to her lover's castle, carrying with her that silken
cloth and ring, which might do her service on a day. These the Abbess
had given her again, telling her how one morning at prime she was
found upon an ash, this ring and samite her only wealth, since she was
not her niece. Right carefully had Frêne guarded her treasure from
that hour. She shut them closely in a little chest, and this coffret
she bore with her in her flight, for she would neither lose them nor
forget.

The lord, with whom the maiden fled, loved and cherished her very
dearly. Of all the men and servants of his house, there was not
one--either great or small--but who loved and honoured her for her
simplicity. They lived long together in love and content, till the
fair days passed, and trouble came upon this lord. The knights of his
realm drew together, and many a time urged that he should put away his
friend, and wed with some rich gentlewoman. They would be joyous if a
son were born, to come after to his fief and heritage. The peril was
too great to suffer that he remained a bachelor, and without an heir.
Never more would they hold him as lord, or serve him with a good
heart, if he would not do according to their will.

There being naught else to do, the lord deferred to this counsel of
his knights, and begged them to name the lady whom he needs must wed.

"Sir," answered they, "there is a lord of these parts, privy to our
counsel, who has but one child, a maid, his only heir. Broad lands
will he give as her dowry. This damsel's name is Coudre, and in all
this country there is none so fair. Be advised: throw away the ash rod
you carry, and take the hazel as your staff.[1] The ash is a barren
stock; but the hazel is thick with nuts and delight. We shall be
content if you take this maiden as your wife, so it be to the will of
God, and she be given you of her kinsfolk."

Buron demanded the hand of the lady in marriage, and her father and
kin betrothed her to the lord. Alas! it was hid from all, that these
two were twin sisters. It was Frêne's lot to be doubly abandoned, and
to see her lover become her sister's husband. When she learned that
her friend purposed taking to himself a wife, she made no outcry
against his falseness. She continued to serve her lord faithfully, and
was diligent in the business of his house. The sergeant and the varlet
were marvellously wrathful, when they knew that she must go from
amongst them. On the day appointed for the marriage, Buron bade his
friends and acquaintance to the feast. Together with these came
the Archbishop, and those of Dol who held of him their lands. His
betrothed was brought to his home by her mother. Great dread had the
mother because of Frêne, for she knew of the love that the lord bore
the maiden, and feared lest her daughter should be a stranger in her
own hall. She spoke to her son-in-law, counselling him to send Frêne
from his house, and to find her an honest man for her husband. Thus
there would be quittance between them. Very splendid was the feast.
Whilst all was mirth and jollity, the damsel visited the chambers, to
see that each was ordered to her lord's pleasure. She hid the torment
in her heart, and seemed neither troubled nor downcast. She compassed
the bride with every fair observance, and waited upon her right
daintily.

[Footnote 1: This is a play on words; Frêne in the French, meaning
ash, and Coudre meaning hazel.]

Her courage was marvellous to that company of lords and ladies, who
observed her curiously. The mother of the bride regarded her also, and
praised her privily. She said aloud that had she known the sweetness
of this lady, she would not have taken her lover from her, nor spoiled
her life for the sake of the bride. The night being come the damsel
entered in the bridal chamber to deck the bed against her lord. She
put off her mantle, and calling the chamberlains, showed them how
their master loved to lie. His bed being softly arrayed, a coverlet
was spread upon the linen sheets. Frêne looked upon the coverlet:
in her eyes it showed too mean a garnishing for so fair a lord.
She turned it over in her mind, and going to her coffret she took
therefrom that rich stuff of sanguine silk, and set it on the couch.
This she did not only in honour of her friend, but that the Archbishop
might not despise the house, when he blessed the marriage bed,
according to the rite. When all was ready the mother carried the bride
to that chamber where she should lie, to disarray her for the night.
Looking upon the bed she marked the silken coverlet, for she had never
seen so rich a cloth, save only that in which she wrapped her child.
When she remembered of this thing, her heart turned to water. She
summoned a chamberlain.

"Tell me," she said, "tell me in good faith where this garniture was
found."

"Lady," he made reply, "that you shall know. Our damsel spread it on
the bed, because this dossal is richer than the coverlet that was
there before."

The lady called for the damsel. Frêne came before her in haste, being
yet without her mantle. All the mother moved within her, as she plied
her with questions.

"Fair friend, hide it not a whit from me. Tell me truly where this
fair samite was found; whence came it; who gave it to you? Answer
swiftly, and tell me who bestowed on you this cloth?"

The damsel made answer to her:

"Lady, my aunt, the Abbess, gave me this silken stuff, and charged me
to keep it carefully. At the same time she gave me a ring, which those
who put me forth, had bound upon me."

"Fair friend, may I see this ring?"

"Certes, lady, I shall be pleased to show it."

The lady looked closely on the ring, when it was brought. She knew
again her own, and the crimson samite flung upon the bed. No doubt was
in her mind. She knew and was persuaded that Frêne was her very child.
All words were spoken, and there was nothing more to hide.

"Thou art my daughter, fair friend."

Then for reason of the pity that was hers, she fell to the ground, and
lay in a swoon. When the lady came again to herself, she sent for her
husband, who, all adread, hastened to the chamber. He marvelled the
more sorely when his wife fell at his feet, and embracing him closely,
entreated pardon for the evil that she had done.

Knowing nothing of her trespass, he made reply, "Wife, what is this?
Between you and me there is nothing to call for forgiveness. Pardon
you may have for whatever fault you please. Tell me plainly what is
your wish."

"Husband, my offence is so black, that you had better give me
absolution before I tell you the sin. A long time ago, by reason of
lightness and malice, I spoke evil of my neighbour, whenas she bore
two sons at a birth. I fell afterwards into the very pit that I had
digged. Though I told you that I was delivered of a daughter, the
truth is that I had borne two maids. One of these I wrapped in our
stuff of samite, together with the ring you gave me the first time we
met, and caused her to be laid beside a church. Such a sin will out.
The cloth and the ring I have found, and I have recognised our maid,
whom I had lost by my own folly. She is this very damsel--so fair and
amiable to all--whom the knight so greatly loved. Now we have married
the lord to her sister."

The husband made answer, "Wife, if your sin be double, our joy is
manifold. Very tenderly hath God dealt with us, in giving us back our
child. I am altogether joyous and content to have two daughters for
one. Daughter, come to your father's side."

The damsel rejoiced greatly to hear this story. Her father tarried no
longer, but seeking his son-in-law, brought him to the Archbishop, and
related the adventure. The knight knew such joy as was never yet. The
Archbishop gave counsel that on the morrow he would part him and her
whom he had joined together. This was done, for in the morning he
severed them, bed and board. Afterwards he married Frêne to her
friend, and her father accorded the damsel with a right good heart.
Her mother and sister were with her at the wedding, and for dowry her
father gave her the half of his heritage. When they returned to their
own realm they took Coudre, their daughter, with them. There she was
granted to a lord of those parts, and rich was the feast.

When this adventure was bruited abroad, and all the story, the Lay of
the Ash Tree was written, so called of the lady, named Frêne.



X


THE LAY OF THE HONEYSUCKLE

With a glad heart and right good mind will I tell the Lay that men
call Honeysuckle; and that the truth may be known of all it shall be
told as many a minstrel has sung it to my ear, and as the scribe hath
written it for our delight. It is of Tristan and Isoude, the Queen.
It is of a love which passed all other love, of love from whence came
wondrous sorrow, and whereof they died together in the self-same day.

King Mark was sorely wrath with Tristan, his sister's son, and bade
him avoid his realm, by reason of the love he bore the Queen. So
Tristan repaired to his own land, and dwelt for a full year in South
Wales, where he was born. Then since he might not come where he would
be, Tristan took no heed to his ways, but let his life run waste to
Death. Marvel not overmuch thereat, for he who loves beyond measure
must ever be sick in heart and hope, when he may not win according
to his wish. So sick in heart and mind was Tristan that he left his
kingdom, and returned straight to the realm of his banishment, because
that in Cornwall dwelt the Queen. There he hid privily in the deep
forest, withdrawn from the eyes of men; only when the evening was
come, and all things sought their rest, he prayed the peasant and
other mean folk of that country, of their charity to grant him shelter
for the night. From the serf he gathered tidings of the King. These
gave again to him what they, in turn, had taken from some outlawed
knight. Thus Tristan learned that when Pentecost was come King Mark
purposed to hold high Court at Tintagel, and keep the feast with pomp
and revelry; moreover that thither would ride Isoude, the Queen.

When Tristan heard this thing he rejoiced greatly, since the Queen
might not adventure through the forest, except he saw her with his
eyes. After the King had gone his way, Tristan entered within the
wood, and sought the path by which the Queen must come. There he cut a
wand from out a certain hazel-tree, and having trimmed and peeled it
of its bark, with his dagger he carved his name upon the wood. This he
placed upon her road, for well he knew that should the Queen but mark
his name she would bethink her of her friend. Thus had it chanced
before. For this was the sum of the writing set upon the wand, for
Queen Isoude's heart alone: how that in this wild place Tristan had
lurked and waited long, so that he might look upon her face, since
without her he was already dead. Was it not with them as with the
Honeysuckle and the Hazel tree she was passing by! So sweetly laced
and taken were they in one close embrace, that thus they might remain
whilst life endured. But should rough hands part so fond a clasping,
the hazel would wither at the root, and the honeysuckle must fail.
Fair friend, thus is the case with us, nor you without me, nor I
without you.

Now the Queen fared at adventure down the forest path. She spied the
hazel wand set upon her road, and well she remembered the letters
and the name. She bade the knights of her company to draw rein, and
dismount from their palfreys, so that they might refresh themselves a
little. When her commandment was done she withdrew from them a space,
and called to her Brangwaine, her maiden, and own familiar friend.
Then she hastened within the wood, to come on him whom more she loved
than any living soul. How great the joy between these twain, that once
more they might speak together softly, face to face. Isoude showed him
her delight. She showed in what fashion she strove to bring peace
and concord betwixt Tristan and the King, and how grievously his
banishment had weighed upon her heart. Thus sped the hour, till it
was time for them to part; but when these lovers freed them from
the other's arms, the tears were wet upon their cheeks. So Tristan
returned to Wales, his own realm, even as his uncle bade. But for the
joy that he had had of her, his friend, for her sweet face, and for
the tender words that she had spoken, yea, and for that writing upon
the wand, to remember all these things, Tristan, that cunning harper,
wrought a new Lay, as shortly I have told you. Goatleaf, men call this
song in English. Chèvrefeuille it is named in French; but Goatleaf
or Honeysuckle, here you have the very truth in the Lay that I have
spoken.



XI


THE LAY OF EQUITAN

In ancient days many a noble lord lived in Brittany beyond the Seas.
By reason of their courtesy and nobleness they would gladly keep
in remembrance the deeds that were done in the land. That these
marvellous things should not be forgotten they fashioned them into
Lays. Amongst these Lays I have heard tell of one which is not made to
die as though it had never been.

Equitan, lord of Nantes, was a loyal and courteous gentleman, of great
worth, beloved by all in his own country. He was set on pleasure, and
was Love's lover, as became a gentle knight. Like many others who dote
on woman, he observed neither sense nor measure in love. But it is in
the very nature of Love that proportion cannot enter into the matter.

Equitan had for seneschal a right brave and loyal knight, who was
captain of his army, and did justice in his realm. He was often abroad
upon his master's business, for the King would not forego his delight
for any reason whatever. To dance, to hunt, to fish within the
river--this was all his joy. This seneschal was married to a wife,
by whom great evil came upon the land. Very desirable was the lady;
passing tender of body, and sweet of vesture, coiffed and fretted with
gold. Her eyes were blue; her face warmly coloured, with a fragrant
mouth, and a dainty nose. Certainly she had no peer in all the realm.
The King had heard much in praise of this lady and many a time
saluted her upon the way. He had also sent her divers gifts. Often he
considered in his mind how best he might get speech with the dame. For
his privy pleasure this amorous King went to chase in that country
where the seneschal had his castle. The lady being in her own house,
Equitan craved a lodging for the night. By this means when the hunt
was done, he could speak with her, and show what was in his heart.
Equitan found the lady as discreet as courteous. He looked closely
upon her, for she was fair of face and person, and sweet of semblance
and address. Love bound him captive to his car. The god loosed a shaft
which entered deeply in his breast. The arrow pierced to his heart,
and from thenceforth he cared nothing for measure, or kingship, or
delight. Equitan was so surprised of the lady, that he remained silent
and pensive. He heard nothing, and nothing he could do. All night he
lay in unrest upon the bed, reproaching himself for what had come to
pass.

"Alas," said he, "what evil fate has led me into this land! The sight
only of this lady has put such anguish into my heart that my members
fail beneath me. It is Love, I deem, who rides me thus cruelly. But
if I love this lady I shall do a great wrong. She is the wife of my
seneschal, and it is my duty to keep the same love and faith to him as
I would wish him to observe with me. If by any means I could know what
is in her mind, I should be the easier, for torment is doubled that
you bear alone. There is not a dame, however curst, but would rather
love than not; for if she were a contemner of love where would be her
courtesy? But if she loves, there is not a woman under the sky who
would not suck thereout all the advantage that she may. If the matter
came to the ears of the seneschal, he ought not to think too hardly
of me. He cannot hope to keep such treasure for himself alone; and,
certes, I shall claim my portion."

Equitan tossed on his bed, and sighed. His thoughts were still on the
lady, so that in a little he said, "I think of the ford, before I come
to the river. I go too quickly, for I know not yet whether the lady
will take me as her friend. But know I will as swiftly as I can, since
I cannot get rest or sleep. I will come before her as soon as it is
day, and if she feels as I feel, the sooner I shall be rid of my
pain."

The King kept vigil till the daylight came at last. He arose and went
forth, as if to the chase. He returned presently, telling that he
was sick, and going straight to his chamber, lay upon his bed. The
seneschal was very troubled, for he could not imagine the sickness of
which his master felt the pangs. He counselled his wife to seek their
guest, that she might cheer and comfort him in his trouble. When they
were alone the King opened to her his heart. He told her that he was
dying for her love, and that if she had no more than friendship to
offer, he preferred death before life.

"Sire," replied the dame, "I require a little time to think of what
you say, for I cannot answer yes or no, without thought, in a business
of this moment. I am not of your wealth, and you are too high a lord,
for your love to do more than rest lightly on me. When you have had
your desire, it will as lightly fly away. My sorrow would be overlong,
if I should love you, and grant you what you wish. It is much the
best that between you and me love should not be spoken of. You are
a puissant prince; my husband is one of your vassals, and faith and
trust should bind us--not the dangerous bond of love. Love is only
lasting between like and like. Better is the love of an honest man--so
he be of sense and worth--than that of a prince or king, with no
loyalty in him. She who sets her love more highly than she can reach,
may pluck no fruit from the tree. The rich man deems that love is his
of right. He prays little of his friend, for he thinks none dare
take her from his hand, and that her tenderness is his by prize of
lordship."

When she had ceased, Equitan made answer, "Lady, I can offer you but
short thanks for your words, since they savour of scant courtesy. You
speak of love as a burgess makes a bargain. Those who desire to get,
rather than to give, often find that they have the worser half of the
business. There is no lady under heaven--so she be courteous and kind
and of a good heart--but would grant her grace to a true lover, even
though she have beneath her cloak only a rich prince in his castle.
Those who care but for a fresh face--tricksters in love as a cozener
with dice--are justly flouted and deceived, as oftentimes we see. None
wastes pity on him who receives the stripes he deserves. Dear lady,
let me make myself plain. Do not regard me as your King; look on me as
your servant and your friend. I give my word and plight my troth that
all my happiness shall be found in your pleasure. Let me not die for
your love. You shall be the Dame, and I the page; you shall be the
scornful beauty, and I the prayer at your knee."

The King prayed the lady so urgently, so tenderly he sued for grace,
that at the last she assured him of her love, and gave him the gift
of her heart. They granted rings one to another, and pledged affiance
between them. They kept this faith, and guarded this love, till they
died together, and there was an end to all.

Equitan and the lady loved for a great while without it coming to the
ears of any. When the King desired to have speech of his friend,
he told his household that he would be alone, since it was the day
appointed for his bleeding. The King having shut the doors of his
chamber, there was none so bold as to enter therein, save he were
bidden of his lord. Whilst he was busied in this fashion, the
seneschal sat in open court to hear the pleas and right the wrong. He
was as much to the King's mind, as his wife was to the King's heart.
The lord was so assotted upon the lady that he would neither take
to himself a wife, nor listen to a word upon the matter. His people
blamed him loudly, so loudly that it came to the ears of the lady. She
was passing heavy, for she feared greatly that the barons would have
their way. When next she had speech with Equitan, in place of the kiss
and sweetness of her customary greeting, she came before him making
great sorrow and in tears. The King inquiring the reason of her
dolour, the lady replied, "Sire, I lament our love, and the trouble I
always said would be mine. You are about to wed the daughter of some
King, and my good days are over. Everybody says so, and I know it to
be true. What will become of me when you put me away! I will die,
rather than lose you, for I may have no other comfort."

The King made answer very tenderly, "Fair friend, you need not fear.
There will never be wife of mine to put you from me. I shall never
wed, except your husband die, and then it is you who would be my queen
and lady. I will leave you for no other dame."

The lady thanked him sweetly for his words. Much was she beholden to
him in her heart. Since she was assured that he would not leave her
for any other, she turned over swiftly in her mind the profit that
would come from her husband's death. Much happiness might be bought at
a little cost, if Equitan would lend his aid.

The King made answer that he would do her will to the utmost of his
power, whether her counsel were for good or evil.

"Sire," said the lady, "let it please you to hunt the forest within
the country where I dwell. You can lodge in my lord's castle, and
there you must be bled. Three days after your surgery is done, you
must call for your bath. My lord shall be bled with you, so that he
may go to his bathing at the same time. It will be your part to keep
him at your side, and make him your constant companion. It will be
mine to heat the water, and to carry the baths to your chamber. My
husband's bath shall boil so fiercely, that no breathing man, having
entered therein, may come forth living. When he is dead you must call
for your people, and show them how the seneschal has died suddenly in
his bath."

Because of his love the King granted her desire, and promised to do
according to her will. Before three months were done the King rode to
the chase within the lady's realm. He caused surgeons to bleed him for
his health, and the seneschal with him. He said that he would take his
bath on the third day, and the seneschal required his, too, to be made
ready. The lady caused the water to be heated, and carried the baths
to the chamber. According to her device she set a bath beside each
bed, filling with boiling water that bath which her lord should enter.
Her lord had gone forth for a little, so for a space the King and the
lady were alone. They sat on the husband's bed, and looked tenderly
each on the other, near by that heated bath. The door of the chamber
was kept by a young damsel to give them warning. The seneschal made
haste to return, and would have struck on the door of the chamber, but
was stayed by the maiden. He put her by, and in his impatience flung
the door wide open. Entering he found his master and his wife clasped
in each other's arms. When the King saw the seneschal he had no
thought but to hide his dishonour. He started up, and sprang with
joined feet in the bath that was filled with boiling water. There he
perished miserably, in the very snare he had spread for another, who
was safe and sound. The seneschal marked what had happened to the
King. In his rage he turned to his wife, and laying hands upon her
thrust her, head first, in the self-same bath. So they died together,
the King first, and the lady afterwards, with him.

Those who are willing to listen to fair words, may learn from this
ensample, that he who seeks another's ill often brings the evil upon
himself.

As I have told you before, of this adventure the Bretons made the Lay
of Equitan, the lady whom he loved, and of their end.



XII


THE LAY OF MILON

He who would tell divers tales must know how to vary the tune. To
win the favour of any, he must speak to the understanding of all. I
purpose in this place to show you the story of Milon, and--since few
words are best--I will set out the adventure as briefly as I may.

Milon was born in South Wales. So great was his prowess that from the
day he was dubbed knight there was no champion who could stand before
him in the lists. He was a passing fair knight, open and brave,
courteous to his friends, and stern to his foes. Men praised his name
in whatever realm they talked of gallant deeds--Ireland, Norway, and
Wales, yea, from Jutland even to Albania. Since he was praised by the
frank, he was therefore envied of the mean. Nevertheless, by reason of
his skill with the spear, he was counted a very worshipful knight, and
was honourably entreated by many a prince in divers lands.

In Milon's own realm there lived a lord whose name has gone from
mind. With this baron dwelt his daughter, a passing fair and gracious
damsel. Much talk had this maiden heard of Milon's knightly deeds, so
that she began to set her thoughts upon him, because of the good men
spoke of him. She sent him a message by a sure hand, saying that if
her love was to his mind, sweetly would it be to her heart. Milon
rejoiced greatly when he knew this thing. He thanked the lady for her
words, giving her love again in return for her own, and swearing that
he would never depart therefrom any day of his days. Beyond this
courteous answer Milon bestowed on the messenger costly gifts, and
made him promises that were richer still.

"Friend," said he, "of your charity I pray you that I may have speech
with my friend, in such a fashion that none shall know of our meeting.
Carry her this, my golden ring. Tell her, on my part, that so she
pleases she shall come to me, or, if it be her better pleasure, I will
go to her."

The messenger bade farewell, and returned to his lady. He placed the
ring in her hand, saying that he had done her will, as he was bidden
to do.

Right joyous was the damsel to know that Milon's love was tender as
her own. She required her friend to come for speech within the private
garden of her house, where she was wont to take her delight. Milon
came at her commandment. He came so often, and so dearly she loved
him, that in the end she gave him all that maid may give. When the
damsel perceived how it was with her, she sent messages to her friend,
telling him of her case, and making great sorrow.

"I have lost my father and all his wealth," said the lady, "for when
he hears of this matter he will make of me an example. Either I shall
be tormented with the sword, or else he will sell me as a slave in a
far country."

(For such was the usage of our fathers in the days of this tale).

Milon grieved sorely, and made answer that he would do the thing the
damsel thought most seemly to be done.

"When the child is born," replied the lady, "you must carry him
forthwith to my sister. She is a rich dame, pitiful and good, and is
wedded to a lord of Northumberland. You will send messages with the
babe--both in writing and by speech--that the little innocent is her
sister's child. Whether it be a boy or girl his mother will have
suffered much because of him, and for her sister's sake you will pray
her to cherish the babe. Beyond this I shall set your signet by a lace
about his neck, and write letters wherein shall be made plain the name
of his sire, and the sad story of his mother. When he shall have grown
tall, and of an age to understand these matters, his aunt will give
him your ring, and rehearse to him the letter. If this be done,
perchance the orphan will not be fatherless all his days."

Milon approved the counsel of the lady, and when her time had come she
was brought to bed of a boy. The old nurse who tended her mistress
was privy to the damsel's inmost mind. So warily she went to work, so
cunning was she in gloss and concealment, that none within the palace
knew that there was aught to hide. The damsel looked upon her boy, and
saw that he was very fair. She laced the ring about his neck, and set
the letter that it were death to find, within a silken chatelaine. The
child was then placed in his cradle, swathed close in white linen. A
pillow of feathers was put beneath his head, and over all was laid a
warm coverlet, wadded with fur. In this fashion the ancient nurse
gave the babe to his father, who awaited him within the garden. Milon
commended the child to his men, charging them to carry him loyally, by
such towns as they knew, to that lady beyond the Humber. The servitors
set forth, bearing the infant with them. Seven times a day they
reposed them in their journey, so that the women might nourish
the babe, and bathe and tend him duly. They served their lord so
faithfully, keeping such watch upon the way, that at the last they
won to the lady to whom they were bidden. The lady received them
courteously, as became her breeding. She broke the seal of the letter,
and when she was assured of what was therein, marvellously she
cherished the infant. These having bestowed the boy in accordance with
their lord's commandment, returned to their own land.

Milon went forth from his realm to serve beyond the seas for guerdon.
His friend remained within her house and was granted by her father in
marriage to a right rich baron of that country. Though this baron was
a worthy knight, justly esteemed of all his fellows, the damsel was
grieved beyond measure when she knew her father's will. She called to
mind the past, and regretted that Milon had gone from the country,
since he would have helped her in her need.

"Alas!" said the lady, "what shall I do? I doubt that I am lost, for
my lord will find that his bride is not a maid. If this becomes known
they will make me a bondwoman for all my days. Would that my friend
were here to free me from this coil. It were good for me to die rather
than to live, but by no means can I escape from their hands. They
have set warders about me, men, old and young, whom they call my
chamberlains, contemners of love, who delight themselves in sadness.
But endure it I must, for, alas, I know not how to die."

So on the appointed day the lady was wedded to the baron, and her
husband took her to dwell with him in his fief.

When Milon returned to his own country he was right heavy and
sorrowful to learn of this marriage. He lamented his wretched case,
but in this he found comfort, that he was not far from the realm where
the lady abode whom so tenderly he loved. Milon commenced to think
within himself how best he might send letters to the damsel that he
was come again to his home, yet so that none should have knowledge
thereof. He wrote a letter, and sealed it with his seal. This message
he made fast to the neck, and hid within the plumage of a swan that
was long his, and was greatly to his heart. He bade his squire to
come, and made him his messenger.

"Change thy raiment swiftly," said he, "and hasten to the castle of my
friend. Take with thee my swan, and see that none, neither servant nor
handmaid, delivers the bird to my lady, save thyself alone."

The squire did according to his lord's commandment. He made him ready
quickly, and went forth, bearing the swan with him. He went by the
nearest road, and passing through the streets of the city, came before
the portal of the castle. In answer to his summons the porter drew
near.

"Friend," said he, "hearken to me. I am of Caerleon, and a fowler by
craft. Within my nets I have snared the most marvellous swan in the
world. This wondrous bird I would bestow forthwith upon your lady, but
perforce I must offer her the gift with my own hand."

"Friend," replied the porter, "fowlers are not always welcomed of
ladies. If you come with me I will bring you where I may know whether
it pleases my lady to have speech with you and to receive your gift."

The porter entered in the hall, where he found none but two lords
seated at a great table, playing chess for their delight. He swiftly
returned on his steps, and the fowler with him, so furtively withal
that the lords were not disturbed at their game, nor perceived aught
of the matter. They went therefore to the chamber of the lady. In
answer to their call the door was opened to them by a maiden, who
led them before her dame. When the swan was proffered to the lady
it pleased her to receive the gift. She summoned a varlet of her
household and gave the bird to his charge, commanding him to keep it
safely, and to see that it ate enough and to spare.

"Lady," said the servitor, "I will do your bidding. We shall never
receive from any fowler on earth such another bird as this. The swan
is fit to serve at a royal table, for the bird is plump as he is
fair."

The varlet put the swan in his lady's hands. She took the bird kindly,
and smoothing his head and neck, felt the letter that was hidden
beneath its feathers. The blood pricked in her veins, for well she
knew that the writing was sent her by her friend. She caused the
fowler to be given of her bounty, and bade the men to go forth from
her chamber. When they had parted the lady called a maiden to her aid.
She broke the seal, and unfastening the letter, came upon the name of
Milon at the head. She kissed the name a hundred times through her
tears. When she might read the writing she learned of the great pain
and dolour that her lover suffered by day and by night. In you--he
wrote--is all my pleasure, and in your white hands it lies to heal me
or to slay. Strive to find a plan by which we may speak as friend to
friend, if you would have me live. The knight prayed her in his letter
to send him an answer by means of the swan. If the bird were well
guarded, and kept without provand for three days, he would of a surety
fly back to the place from whence he came, with any message that the
lady might lace about his neck.

When the damsel had considered the writing, and understood what was
put therein, she commanded that her bird should be tended carefully,
and given plenteously to eat and to drink. She held him for a month
within her chamber, but this was less from choice, than for the craft
that was necessary to obtain the ink and parchment requisite for her
writing. At the end she wrote a letter according to her heart, and
sealed it with her ring. The lady caused the swan to fast for three
full days; then having concealed the message about his neck, let him
take his flight. The bird was all anhungered for food, and remembering
well the home from which he drew, he returned thither as quickly as
his wings might bear him.

He knew again his town, and his master's house, and descended to the
ground at Milon's very feet. Milon rejoiced greatly when he marked his
own. He caught the bird by his wings, and crying for his steward, bade
him give the swan to eat. The knight removed the missive from the
messenger's neck. He glanced from head to head of the letter, seeking
the means that he hoped to find, and the salutation he so tenderly
wished. Sweet to his heart was the writing, for the lady wrote that
without him there was no joy in her life, and since it was his desire
to hear by the swan, it would be her pleasure also.

For twenty years the swan was made the messenger of these two lovers,
who might never win together. There was no speech between them, save
that carried by the bird. They caused the swan to fast for three days,
and then sent him on his errand. He to whom the letter came, saw to
it that the messenger was fed to heart's desire. Many a time the swan
went upon his journey, for however strictly the lady was held of her
husband, there was none who had suspicion of a bird.

The dame beyond the Humber nourished and tended the boy committed to
her charge with the greatest care. When he was come to a fitting age
she made him to be knighted of her lord, for goodly and serviceable
was the lad. On the same day the aunt read over to him the letter, and
put in his hand the ring. She told him the name of his mother, and his
father's story. In all the world there was no worthier knight, nor a
more chivalrous and gallant gentleman. The lad hearkened diligently to
the lady's tale. He rejoiced greatly to hear of his father's prowess,
and was proud beyond measure of his renown. He considered within
himself, saying to his own heart, that much should be required of his
father's son, and that he would not be worthy of his blood if he did
not endeavour to merit his name. He determined therefore that he would
leave his country, and seek adventure as a knight errant, beyond the
sea. The varlet delayed no longer than the evening. On the morrow he
bade farewell to his aunt, who having warned and admonished him for
his good, gave him largely of her wealth, to bring him on his way. He
rode to Southampton, that he might find a ship equipped for sea, and
so came to Barfleur. Without any tarrying the lad went straight to
Brittany, where he spent his money and himself in feasts and in
tourneys. The rich men of the land were glad of his friendship, for
there was none who bore himself better in the press with spear or with
sword. What he took from the rich he bestowed on such knights as were
poor and luckless. These loved him greatly, since he gained largely
and spent freely, granting of his wealth to all. Wherever this knight
sojourned in the realm he bore away the prize. So debonair was he and
chivalrous that his fame and praise crossed the water, and were noised
abroad in his own land. Folk told how a certain knight from beyond the
Humber, who had passed the sea in quest of wealth and honour, had so
done, that by reason of his prowess, his liberality, and his modesty,
men called him the Knight Peerless, since they did not know his name.

This praise of the good knight, and of his deeds, came to be heard of
Milon. Very dolent was he and sorely troubled that so young a knight
should be esteemed above his fathers. He marvelled greatly that the
stout spears of the past had not put on their harness and broken a
lance for their ancient honour. One thing he determined, that he
would cross the sea without delay, so that he might joust with the
dansellon, and abate his pride. In wrath and anger he purposed to
fight, to beat his adversary from the saddle, and bring him at last
to shame. After this was ended he would seek his son, of whom he had
heard nothing, since he had gone from his aunt's castle. Milon caused
his friend to know of his wishes. He opened out to her all his
thought, and craved her permission to depart. This letter he sent by
the swan, commending the bird to her care.

When the lady heard of her lover's purpose, she thanked him for his
courtesy, for greatly was his counsel to her mind. She approved his
desire to quit the realm for the sake of his honour, and far from
putting let and hindrance in his path, trusted that in the end he
would bring again her son. Since Milon was assured of his friend's
goodwill, he arrayed himself richly, and crossing the sea to Normandy,
came afterwards into the land of the Bretons. There he sought
the friendship of the lords of that realm, and fared to all the
tournaments of which he might hear. Milon bore himself proudly, and
gave graciously of his wealth, as though he were receiving a gift.
He sojourned till the winter was past in that land, he, and a brave
company of knights whom he held in his house with him. When Easter
had come, and the season that men give to tourneys and wars and the
righting of their private wrongs, Milon considered how he could meet
with the knight whom men called Peerless. At that time a tournament
was proclaimed to be held at Mont St. Michel. Many a Norman and Breton
rode to the game; knights of Flanders and of France were there in
plenty, but few fared from England. Milon drew to the lists amongst
the first. He inquired diligently of the young champion, and all men
were ready to tell from whence he came, and of his harness, and of the
blazon on his shield. At length the knight appeared in the lists and
Milon looked upon the adversary he so greatly desired to see. Now in
this tournament a knight could joust with that lord who was set over
against him, or he could seek to break a lance with his chosen foe. A
player must gain or lose, and he might find himself opposed either
by his comrade or his enemy. Milon did well and worshipfully in the
press, and was praised of many that day. But the Knight Peerless
carried the cry from all his fellows, for none might stand before him,
nor rival him in skill and address. Milon observed him curiously. The
lad struck so heavily, he thrust home so shrewdly, that Milon's hatred
changed to envy as he watched. Very comely showed the varlet, and
much to Milon's mind. The older knight set himself over against the
champion, and they met together in the centre of the field. Milon
struck his adversary so fiercely, that the lance splintered in his
gauntlet; but the young knight kept his seat without even losing a
stirrup. In return his spear was aimed with such cunning that he bore
his antagonist to the ground. Milon lay upon the earth bareheaded, for
his helmet was unlaced in the shock. His hair and beard showed
white to all, and the varlet was heavy to look on him whom he had
overthrown. He caught the destrier by the bridle, and led him before
the stricken man.

"Sir," said he, "I pray you to get upon your horse. I am right grieved
and vexed that I should have done this wrong. Believe me that it was
wrought unwittingly."

Milon sprang upon his steed. He approved the courtesy of his
adversary, and looking upon the hand that held his bridle, he knew
again his ring. He made inquiry of the lad.

"Friend," said he, "hearken to me. Tell me now the name of thy sire.
How art thou called; who is thy mother? I have seen much, and gone to
and fro about the world. All my life I have journeyed from realm to
realm, by reason of tourneys and quarrels and princes' wars, yet never
once by any knight have I been borne from my horse. This day I am
overthrown by a boy, and yet I cannot help but love thee."

The varlet answered, "I know little of my father. I understand that
his name is Milon, and that he was a knight of Wales. He loved the
daughter of a rich man, and was loved again. My mother bore me in
secret, and caused me to be carried to Northumberland, where I was
taught and tended. An old aunt was at the costs of my nourishing. She
kept me at her side, till of all her gifts she gave me horse and arms,
and sent me here, where I have remained. In hope and wish I purpose to
cross the sea, and return to my own realm. There I would seek out my
father, and learn how it stands between him and my mother. I will show
him my golden ring, and I will tell him of such privy matters that he
may not deny our kinship, but must love me as a son, and ever hold me
dear."

When Milon heard these words he could endure them no further. He got
him swiftly from his horse, and taking the lad by the fringe of his
hauberk, he cried, "Praise be to God, for now am I healed. Fair
friend, by my faith thou art my very son, for whom I came forth from
my own land, and have sought through all this realm."

The varlet climbed from the saddle, and stood upon his feet. Father
and son kissed each other tenderly, with many comfortable words. Their
love was fair to see, and those who looked upon their meeting, wept
for joy and pity.


Milon and his son departed from the tournament so soon as it came
to an end, for the knight desired greatly to speak to the varlet at
leisure, and to open before him all his mind. They rode to their
hostel, and with the knights of their fellowship, passed the hours in
mirth and revelry. Milon spoke to the lad of his mother. He told him
of their long love, and how she was given by her father in marriage to
a baron of his realm. He rehearsed the years of separation, accepted
by both with a good heart, and of the messenger who carried letters
between them, when there was none they dared to trust in, save only
the swan.

The son made answer,

"In faith, fair father, let us return to our own land. There I will
slay this husband, and you shall yet be my mother's lord."

This being accorded between them, on the morrow they made them ready
for the journey, and bidding farewell to their friends, set forth for
Wales. They embarked in a propitious hour, for a fair wind carried the
ship right swiftly to its haven. They had not ridden far upon their
road, when they met a certain squire of the lady's household on his
way to Brittany, bearing letters to Milon. His task was done long
before sundown in chancing on the knight. He gave over the sealed
writing with which he was charged, praying the knight to hasten to his
friend without any tarrying, since her husband was in his grave. Milon
rejoiced greatly when he knew this thing. He showed the message to his
son, and pressed forward without pause or rest. They made such speed,
that at the end they came to the castle where the lady had her
lodging. Light of heart was she when she clasped again her child.
These two fond lovers sought neither countenance of their kin, nor
counsel of any man. Their son handselled them together, and gave the
mother to his sire. From the day they were wed they dwelt in wealth
and in sweetness to the end of their lives.

Of their love and content the minstrel wrought this Lay. I, also, who
have set it down in writing, have won guerdon enough just by telling
over the tale.



XIII


THE LAY OF YONEC

Since I have commenced I would not leave any of these Lays untold.
The stories that I know I would tell you forthwith. My hope is now to
rehearse to you the story of Yonec, the son of Eudemarec, his mother's
first born child.

In days of yore there lived in Britain a rich man, old and full of
years, who was lord of the town and realm of Chepstow. This town is
builded on the banks of the Douglas, and is renowned by reason of many
ancient sorrows which have there befallen. When he was well stricken
in years this lord took to himself a wife, that he might have children
to come after him in his goodly heritage. The damsel, who was bestowed
on this wealthy lord, came of an honourable house, and was kind and
courteous, and passing fair. She was beloved by all because of her
beauty, and none was more sweetly spoken of from Chepstow to Lincoln,
yea, or from there to Ireland. Great was their sin who married the
maiden to this aged man. Since she was young and gay, he shut her fast
within his tower, that he might the easier keep her to himself. He set
in charge of the damsel his elder sister, a widow, to hold her more
surely in ward. These two ladies dwelt alone in the tower, together
with their women, in a chamber by themselves. There the damsel might
have speech of none, except at the bidding of the ancient dame. More
than seven years passed in this fashion. The lady had no children for
her solace, and she never went forth from the castle to greet her
kinsfolk and her friends. Her husband's jealousy was such that when
she sought her bed, no chamberlain or usher was permitted in her
chamber to light the candles. The lady became passing heavy. She spent
her days in sighs and tears. Her loveliness began to fail, for she
gave no thought to her person. Indeed at times she hated the very
shadow of that beauty which had spoiled all her life.

Now when April had come with the gladness of the birds, this lord rose
early on a day to take his pleasure in the woods. He bade his sister
to rise from her bed to make the doors fast behind him. She did his
will, and going apart, commenced to read the psalter that she carried
in her hand. The lady awoke, and shamed the brightness of the sun with
her tears. She saw that the old woman was gone forth from the chamber,
so she made her complaint without fear of being overheard.

"Alas," said she, "in an ill hour was I born. My lot is hard to be
shut in this tower, never to go out till I am carried to my grave. Of
whom is this jealous lord fearful that he holds me so fast in prison?
Great is a man's folly always to have it in mind that he may be
deceived. I cannot go to church, nor hearken to the service of God. If
I might talk to folk, or have a little pleasure in my life, I should
show the more tenderness to my husband, as is my wish. Very greatly
are my parents and my kin to blame for giving me to this jealous old
man, and making us one flesh. I cannot even look to become a widow,
for he will never die. In place of the waters of baptism, certainly he
was plunged in the flood of the Styx. His nerves are like iron, and
his veins quick with blood as those of a young man. Often have I heard
that in years gone by things chanced to the sad, which brought their
sorrows to an end. A knight would meet with a maiden, fresh and fair
to his desire. Damsels took to themselves lovers, discreet and brave,
and were blamed of none. Moreover since these ladies were not seen of
any, except their friends, who was there to count them blameworthy!
Perchance I deceive myself, and in spite of all the tales, such
adventures happened to none. Ah, if only the mighty God would but
shape the world to my wish!"

When the lady had made her plaint, as you have known, the shadow of a
great bird darkened the narrow window, so that she marvelled what it
might mean. This falcon flew straightway into the chamber, jessed and
hooded from the glove, and came where the dame was seated. Whilst
the lady yet wondered upon him, the tercel became a young and comely
knight before her eyes. The lady marvelled exceedingly at this
sorcery. Her blood turned to water within her, and because of her
dread she hid her face in her hands. By reason of his courtesy the
knight first sought to persuade her to put away her fears.

"Lady," said he, "be not so fearful. To you this hawk shall be as
gentle as a dove. If you will listen to my words I will strive to make
plain what may now be dark. I have come in this shape to your tower
that I may pray you of your tenderness to make of me your friend. I
have loved you for long, and in my heart have esteemed your love above
anything in the world. Save for you I have never desired wife or maid,
and I shall find no other woman desirable, until I die. I should have
sought you before, but I might not come, nor even leave my own realm,
till you called me in your need. Lady, in charity, take me as your
friend."

The lady took heart and courage whilst she hearkened to these words.
Presently she uncovered her face, and made answer. She said that
perchance she would be willing to give him again his hope, if only she
had assurance of his faith in God. This she said because of her fear,
but in her heart she loved him already by reason of his great beauty.
Never in her life had she beheld so goodly a youth, nor a knight more
fair.

"Lady," he replied, "you ask rightly. For nothing that man can give
would I have you doubt my faith and affiance. I believe truly in God,
the Maker of all, who redeemed us from the woe brought on us by our
father Adam, in the eating of that bitter fruit. This God is and was
and ever shall be the life and light of us poor sinful men. If you
still give no credence to my word, ask for your chaplain; tell him
that since you are sick you greatly desire to hear the Service
appointed by God to heal the sinner of his wound. I will take your
semblance, and receive the Body of the Lord. You will thus be
certified of my faith, and never have reason to mistrust me more."

When the sister of that ancient lord returned from her prayers to the
chamber, she found that the lady was awake. She told her that since it
was time to get her from bed, she would make ready her vesture.
The lady made answer that she was sick, and begged her to warn the
chaplain, for greatly she feared that she might die. The agèd dame
replied,

"You must endure as best you may, for my lord has gone to the woods,
and none will enter in the tower, save me."

Right distressed was the lady to hear these words. She called a
woman's wiles to her aid, and made seeming to swoon upon her bed. This
was seen by the sister of her lord, and much was she dismayed. She set
wide the doors of the chamber, and summoned the priest. The chaplain
came as quickly as he was able, carrying with him the Lord's Body. The
knight received the Gift, and drank of the Wine of that chalice; then
the priest went his way, and the old woman made fast the door behind
him.

The knight and the lady were greatly at their ease; a comelier and a
blither pair were never seen. They had much to tell one to the other,
but the hours passed till it was time for the knight to go again to
his own realm. He prayed the dame to give him leave to depart, and she
sweetly granted his prayer, yet so only that he promised to return
often to her side.

"Lady," he made answer, "so you please to require me at any hour, you
may be sure that I shall hasten at your pleasure. But I beg you to
observe such measure in the matter, that none may do us wrong. This
old woman will spy upon us night and day, and if she observes our
friendship, will certainly show it to her lord. Should this evil
come upon us, for both it means separation, and for me, most surely,
death."

The knight returned to his realm, leaving behind him the happiest lady
in the land. On the morrow she rose sound and well, and went lightly
through the week. She took such heed to her person, that her former
beauty came to her again. The tower that she was wont to hate as her
prison, became to her now as a pleasant lodging, that she would not
leave for any abode and garden on earth. There she could see her
friend at will, when once her lord had gone forth from the chamber.
Early and late, at morn and eve, the lovers met together. God grant
her joy was long, against the evil day that came.

The husband of the lady presently took notice of the change in
his wife's fashion and person. He was troubled in his soul, and
misdoubting his sister, took her apart to reason with her on a day.
He told her of his wonder that his dame arrayed her so sweetly, and
inquired what this should mean. The crone answered that she knew no
more than he, "for we have very little speech one with another. She
sees neither kin nor friend; but, now, she seems quite content to
remain alone in her chamber."

The husband made reply,

"Doubtless she is content, and well content. But by my faith, we must
do all we may to discover the cause. Hearken to me. Some morning when
I have risen from bed, and you have shut the doors upon me, make
pretence to go forth, and let her think herself alone. You must hide
yourself in a privy place, where you can both hear and see. We shall
then learn the secret of this new found joy."

Having devised this snare the twain went their ways. Alas, for those
who were innocent of their counsel, and whose feet would soon be
tangled in the net.

Three days after, this husband pretended to go forth from his house.
He told his wife that the King had bidden him by letters to his Court,
but that he should return speedily. He went from the chamber, making
fast the door. His sister arose from her bed, and hid behind her
curtains, where she might see and hear what so greedily she desired
to know. The lady could not sleep, so fervently she wished for her
friend. The knight came at her call, but he might not tarry, nor
cherish her more than one single hour. Great was the joy between them,
both in word and tenderness, till he could no longer stay. All this
the crone saw with her eyes, and stored in her heart. She watched the
fashion in which he came, and the guise in which he went. But she was
altogether fearful and amazed that so goodly a knight should wear the
semblance of a hawk. When the husband returned to his house--for
he was near at hand--his sister told him that of which she was the
witness, and of the truth concerning the knight. Right heavy was he
and wrathful. Straightway he contrived a cunning gin for the slaying
of this bird. He caused four blades of steel to be fashioned, with
point and edge sharper than the keenest razor. These he fastened
firmly together, and set them securely within that window, by which
the tercel would come to his lady. Ah, God, that a knight so fair
might not see nor hear of this wrong, and that there should be none to
show him of such treason.

On the morrow the husband arose very early, at daybreak, saying that
he should hunt within the wood. His sister made the doors fast behind
him, and returned to her bed to sleep, because it was yet but dawn.
The lady lay awake, considering of the knight whom she loved so
loyally. Tenderly she called him to her side. Without any long
tarrying the bird came flying at her will. He flew in at the open
window, and was entangled amongst the blades of steel. One blade
pierced his body so deeply, that the red blood gushed from the wound.
When the falcon knew that his hurt was to death, he forced himself to
pass the barrier, and coming before his lady fell upon her bed, so
that the sheets were dabbled with his blood. The lady looked upon her
friend and his wound, and was altogether anguished and distraught.

"Sweet friend," said the knight, "it is for you that my life is lost.
Did I not speak truly that if our loves were known, very surely I
should be slain?"

On hearing these words the lady's head fell upon the pillow, and for a
space she lay as she were dead. The knight cherished her sweetly. He
prayed her not to sorrow overmuch, since she should bear a son who
would be her exceeding comfort. His name should be called Yonec. He
would prove a valiant knight, and would avenge both her and him by
slaying their enemy. The knight could stay no longer, for he was
bleeding to death from his hurt. In great dolour of mind and body he
flew from the chamber. The lady pursued the bird with many shrill
cries. In her desire to follow him she sprang forth from the window.
Marvellous it was that she was not killed outright, for the window was
fully twenty feet from the ground. When the lady made her perilous
leap she was clad only in her shift. Dressed in this fashion she set
herself to follow the knight by the drops of blood which dripped from
his wound. She went along the road that he had gone before, till she
lighted on a little lodge. This lodge had but one door, and it was
stained with blood. By the marks on the lintel she knew that Eudemarec
had refreshed him in the hut, but she could not tell whether he was
yet within. The damsel entered in the lodge, but all was dark, and
since she might not find him, she came forth, and pursued her way. She
went so far that at the last the lady came to a very fair meadow. She
followed the track of blood across this meadow, till she saw a city
near at hand. This fair city was altogether shut in with high walls.
There was no house, nor hall, nor tower, but shone bright as silver,
so rich were the folk who dwelt therein. Before the town lay a still
water. To the right spread a leafy wood, and on the left hand, near by
the keep, ran a clear river. By this broad stream the ships drew to
their anchorage, for there were above three hundred lying in the
haven. The lady entered in the city by the postern gate. The gouts of
freshly fallen blood led her through the streets to the castle. None
challenged her entrance to the city; none asked of her business in the
streets; she passed neither man nor woman upon her way. Spots of red
blood lay on the staircase of the palace. The lady entered and found
herself within a low ceiled room, where a knight was sleeping on a
pallet. She looked upon his face and passed beyond. She came within a
larger room, empty, save for one lonely couch, and for the knight who
slept thereon. But when the lady entered in the third chamber she saw
a stately bed, that well she knew to be her friend's. This bed was of
inwrought gold, and was spread with silken cloths beyond price. The
furniture was worth the ransom of a city, and waxen torches in sconces
of silver lighted the chamber, burning night and day. Swiftly as the
lady had come she knew again her friend, directly she saw him with her
eyes. She hastened to the bed, and incontinently swooned for grief.
The knight clasped her in his arms, bewailing his wretched lot, but
when she came to her mind, he comforted her as sweetly as he might.

"Fair friend, for God's love I pray you get from hence as quickly as
you are able. My time will end before the day, and my household, in
their wrath, may do you a mischief if you are found in the castle.
They are persuaded that by reason of your love I have come to my
death. Fair friend, I am right heavy and sorrowful because of you."

The lady made answer, "Friend, the best thing that can befall me is
that we shall die together. How may I return to my husband? If he
finds me again he will certainly slay me with the sword."

The knight consoled her as he could. He bestowed a ring upon his
friend, teaching her that so long as she wore the gift, her husband
would think of none of these things, nor care for her person, nor seek
to revenge him for his wrongs. Then he took his sword and rendered it
to the lady, conjuring her by their great love, never to give it to
the hand of any, till their son should be counted a brave and worthy
knight. When that time was come she and her lord would go--together
with the son--to a feast. They would lodge in an Abbey, where should
be seen a very fair tomb. There her son must be told of this death;
there he must be girt with this sword. In that place shall be
rehearsed the tale of his birth, and his father, and all this bitter
wrong. And then shall be seen what he will do.

When the knight had shown his friend all that was in his heart, he
gave her a bliaut, passing rich, that she might clothe her body, and
get her from the palace. She went her way, according to his command,
bearing with her the ring, and the sword that was her most precious
treasure. She had not gone half a mile beyond the gate of the city
when she heard the clash of bells, and the cries of men who lamented
the death of their lord. Her grief was such that she fell four
separate times upon the road, and four times she came from out her
swoon. She bent her steps to the lodge where her friend had refreshed
him, and rested for awhile. Passing beyond she came at last to her own
land, and returned to her husband's tower. There, for many a day, she
dwelt in peace, since--as Eudemarec foretold--her lord gave no thought
to her outgoings, nor wished to avenge him, neither spied upon her any
more.

In due time the lady was delivered of a son, whom she named Yonec.
Very sweetly nurtured was the lad. In all the realm there was not his
like for beauty and generosity, nor one more skilled with the spear.
When he was of a fitting age the King dubbed him knight. Hearken now,
what chanced to them all, that self-same year.

It was the custom of that country to keep the feast of St. Aaron with
great pomp at Caerleon, and many another town besides. The husband
rode with his friends to observe the festival, as was his wont.
Together with him went his wife and her son, richly apparelled. As the
roads were not known of the company, and they feared to lose their
way, they took with them a certain youth to lead them in the straight
path. The varlet brought them to a town; in all the world was none so
fair. Within this city was a mighty Abbey, filled with monks in
their holy habit. The varlet craved a lodging for the night, and the
pilgrims were welcomed gladly of the monks, who gave them meat and
drink near by the Abbot's table. On the morrow, after Mass, they would
have gone their way, but the Abbot prayed them to tarry for a little,
since he would show them his chapter house and dormitory, and all the
offices of the Abbey. As the Abbot had sheltered them so courteously,
the husband did according to his wish.

Immediately that the dinner had come to an end, the pilgrims rose from
table, and visited the offices of the Abbey. Coming to the chapter
house they entered therein, and found a fair tomb, exceeding great,
covered with a silken cloth, banded with orfreys of gold. Twenty
torches of wax stood around this rich tomb, at the head, the foot, and
the sides. The candlesticks were of fine gold, and the censer swung in
that chantry was fashioned from an amethyst. When the pilgrims saw
the great reverence vouchsafed to this tomb, they inquired of the
guardians as to whom it should belong, and of the lord who lay
therein. The monks commenced to weep, and told with tears, that in
that place was laid the body of the best, the bravest, and the fairest
knight who ever was, or ever should be born. "In his life he was King
of this realm, and never was there so worshipful a lord. He was slain
at Caerwent for the love of a lady of those parts. Since then the
country is without a King. Many a day have we waited for the son of
these luckless lovers to come to our land, even as our lord commanded
us to do."

When the lady heard these words she cried to her son with a loud voice
before them all.

"Fair son," said she, "you have heard why God has brought us to this
place. It is your father who lies dead within this tomb. Foully was he
slain by this ancient Judas at your side."

With these words she plucked out the sword, and tendered him the
glaive that she had guarded for so long a season. As swiftly as she
might she told the tale of how Eudemarec came to have speech with his
friend in the guise of a hawk; how the bird was betrayed to his death
by the jealousy of her lord; and of Yonec the falcon's son. At the end
she fell senseless across the tomb, neither did she speak any further
word until the soul had gone from her body. When the son saw that his
mother lay dead upon her lover's grave, he raised his father's sword
and smote the head of that ancient traitor from his shoulders. In
that hour he avenged his father's death, and with the same blow gave
quittance for the wrongs of his mother. As soon as these tidings were
published abroad, the folk of that city came together, and setting the
body of that fair lady within a coffin, sealed it fast, and with due
rite and worship placed it beside the body of her friend. May God
grant them pardon and peace. As to Yonec, their son, the people
acclaimed him for their lord, as he departed from the church.

Those who knew the truth of this piteous adventure, after many days
shaped it to a Lay, that all men might learn the plaint and the dolour
that these two friends suffered by reason of their love.



XIV


THE LAY OF THE THORN

Whosoever counts these Lays as fable, may be assured that I am not of
his mind. The dead and past stories that I have told again in divers
fashions, are not set down without authority. The chronicles of these
far off times are yet preserved in the land. They may be read by the
curious at Caerleon, or in the monastery of St. Aaron. They may be
heard in Brittany, and in many another realm besides. To prove how
the remembrance of such tales endures, I will now relate to you the
adventure of the Two Children, making clear what has remained hidden
to this very hour.

In Brittany there lived a prince, high of spirit, fair of person,
courteous and kind to all. This Childe was a King's son, and there
were none to cherish him but his father and his father's wife, for
his mother was dead. The King held him dearer than aught else in the
world, and close he was to the lady's heart. The lady, for her part,
had a daughter by another husband than the King. Very dainty was the
maiden, sweet of colour and of face, passing young and fair. Both
these children, born to so high estate, were right tender of age, for
the varlet, who was the elder of the twain, was but seven years. The
two children loved together very sweetly. Nothing seemed of worth to
one, if it were not shared with the other. They were nourished at the
same table, went their ways together, and lived side by side. The
guardians who held them in ward, seeing their great love, made no
effort to put them apart, but allowed them to have all things in
common. The love of these children increased with their years, but
Dame Nature brought another love to youth and maid than she gave to
the child. They delighted no more in their old frolic and play. Such
sport gave place to clasp and kisses, to many words, and to long
silences. To savour their friendship they took refuge in an attic of
the keep, but all the years they had passed together, made the new
love flower more sweetly in their hearts, as each knew well. Very pure
and tender was their love, and good would it have been if they could
have hidden it from their fellows. This might not be, for in no great
while they were spied upon, and seen.

It chanced upon a day that this prince, so young and debonair, came
home from the river with an aching head, by reason of the heat. He
entered in a chamber, and shutting out the noise and clamour, lay
upon his bed, to ease his pain. The Queen was with her daughter in a
chamber, instructing her meetly in that which it becomes a maid to
know. Closer to a damsel's heart is her lover than her kin. So soon as
she heard that her friend was come again to the house, she stole forth
from her mother, without saying word to any, and accompanied by none,
went straight to the chamber where he slept. The prince welcomed her
gladly, for they had not met together that day. The lady, who thought
no wrong, condoled with him in his sickness, and of her sweetness gave
him a hundred kisses to soothe his hurt. Too swiftly sped the time
in this fashion. Presently the Queen noticed that the damsel was no
longer with her at her task. She rose to her feet, and going quickly
to the chamber of the prince, entered therein without call or knock,
for the door was unfastened on the latch. When the Queen saw these two
lovers fondly laced in each other's arms, she knew and was certified
of their love. Right wrathful was the Queen. She caught the maiden
by the wrist, and shut her fast in her room. She prayed the King to
govern his son more strictly, and to hold him in such ward about the
Court that he might get no speech with the damsel. Since he could have
neither sight nor word of his friend, save only the sound of weeping
from her chamber, the prince determined to tarry no further in the
palace. He sought his father the self-same hour, and showed him what
was in his mind.

"Sire," said he, "I crave a gift. If it pleases you to be a father to
your son, make me now a knight. I desire to seek another realm, and to
serve some prince for guerdon. The road calls me, for many a knight
has won much riches with his sword."

The King did not refuse the lad's request, but accorded it should be
even as he wished. He prayed the prince to dwell for a year about the
Court, that he might the more readily assist at such tourneys and
follow such feats of arms as were proclaimed in the kingdom. This the
prince agreed to do--the more readily because there was nothing else
to be done. He remained therefore at the Court, moving ever by his
father's side. The maiden, for her part, was in the charge of her
mother, who reproached her always for that she had done amiss. The
Queen did not content herself with reproaches and threats. She used
the sharp discipline upon her, so that the maiden suffered grievously
in her person. Sick at heart was the varlet whilst he hearkened to the
beatings, the discipline and the chastisement wherewith her mother
corrected the damsel. He knew not what to do, for well he understood
that his was the fault, and that by reason of him was her neck bowed
down in her youth. More and more was he tormented because of his
friend.

More and more the stripes with which she was afflicted became heavier
for him to bear. He shut himself close within his chamber, and making
fast the door, gave his heart over to tears.

"Alas," cried he, "what shall I do! How may the ill be cured that I
have brought on us by my lightness and folly! I love her more than
life, and, certes, if I may not have my friend I will prove that I can
die for her, though I cannot live without her."

Whilst the prince made this lamentation, the Queen came before the
King.

"Sir," said she, "I pledge my oath and word as a crowned lady that I
keep my daughter as strictly as I may. Think to your own son, and see
to it that he cannot set eyes on the maid. He considers none other
thing but how to get clasp and speech of his friend."

For this reason the King guarded his son about the Court as closely as
the Queen held the maiden in her chamber. So vigilant was the watch
that these pitiful lovers might never have word together. They had no
leisure to meet; they never looked one on the other; nor heard tidings
of how they did, whether by letter or by sergeant.

They lived this death in life till the same year--eight days before
the Feast of St. John--the varlet was dubbed knight. The King spent
the day in the chase, and returning, brought with him great store of
fowl and venison that he had taken. After supper, when the tables were
removed, the King seated himself for his delight upon a carpet spread
before the dais, his son and many a courteous lord with him. The fair
company gave ear to the Lay of Alys, sweetly sung by a minstrel from
Ireland, to the music of his rote. When his story was ended, forthwith
he commenced another, and related the Lay of Orpheus; none being so
bold as to disturb the singer, or to let his mind wander from the
song. Afterwards the knights spoke together amongst themselves. They
told of adventures which in ancient days had chanced to many, and were
noised about Brittany. Amongst these lords sat a damsel, passing sweet
of tongue. In her turn she told of a certain adventure which awaited
the adventurous at the Ford of the Thorn, once every year, on the
vigil of St. John, "but much I doubt whether now there be knights
so bold as to dare the perils of that passage." When the newly made
knight heard these words his pride quickened within him. He considered
that although he was belted with the sword, he had as yet done no deed
to prove his courage in the eyes of men. He deemed the time had come
to show his hardihood, and to put to silence the malicious lips. He
stood upon his feet, calling upon damsel, King and barons to hearken
to his voice, and spake out manfully in the ears of great and small.

"Lords," cried he, "whatever says the maiden, I boast before you all
that on St. John's Eve I will ride alone to the Ford of the Thorn, and
dare this adventure, whether it bring me gain or whether it bring me
loss."

The King was right heavy to hear these words. He thought them to be
the gab and idle speech of a boy.

"Fair son," said he, "put this folly from your mind."

But when the King was persuaded that whether it were foolishness or
wisdom the lad was determined to go his way, and abide the issue of
the adventure,

"Go swiftly," said he, "in the care of God. Since risk your life you
must, play it boldly like a pawn, and may God grant you heart's desire
and happy hours."

The self-same night, whilst the lad lay sleeping in his bed, that
fair lady, his friend, was in much unrest in hers. The tidings of her
lover's boast had been carried quickly to her chamber, and sorely was
she adread for what might chance. When the Eve of St. John was come,
and the day drew towards evening, the varlet, with all fair hopes,
made him ready to ride to the Ford Adventurous. He had clad himself
from basnet to shoes in steel, and mounted on a strong destrier, went
his road to essay the Passage of the Thorn. Whilst he took his path
the maiden took hers. She went furtively to the orchard, that she
might importune God to bring her friend again, safe and sound to his
own house. She seated herself on the roots of a tree, and with sighs
and tears lamented her piteous case.

"Father of Heaven," said the girl, "Who was and ever shall be, be
pitiful to my prayer. Since it is not to Thy will that any man should
be wretched, be merciful to a most unhappy maid. Fair Sire, give back
the days that are gone, when my friend was at my side, and grant that
once again I may be with him. Lord God of Hosts, when shall I be
healed? None knows the bitterness of my sorrow, for none may taste
thereof, save such as set their heart on what they may not have. These
only, Lord, know the wormwood and the gall."

Thus prayed the maiden, seated on the roots of that ancient tree, her
feet upon the tender grass. At the time of her orisons much was she
sought and inquired after in the palace, but none might find where she
had hidden. The damsel herself was given over altogether to her love
and her sorrow, and had no thought for anything, save for prayers and
tears. The night wore through, and dawn already laced the sky, when
she fell on a little slumber, in the tree where she was sheltered. She
woke with a start, but returned to her sleep more deeply than before.
She had not slept long, when herseemed she was ravished from the
tree--but I cannot make this plain for I know no wizardry--to that
Ford of the Thorn, where her friend and lover had repaired. The knight
looked upon the sleeping maiden, and marvelled at so fair a sight. All
adread was the lady when she came from her slumber, for she knew not
where she lay, and wondered greatly. She covered her head by reason of
her exceeding fear, but the knight consoled her courteously.

"Diva," said he, "there is no reason for terror. If you are an earthly
woman, speaking with a mortal tongue, tell me your story. Tell me in
what guise and manner you came so suddenly to this secret place."

The maiden began to be of more courage, till she remembered that she
was no longer in the orchard of the castle. She inquired of the knight
to what haunt she had come.

"Lady," he made answer, "you are laid at the Ford of the Thorn, where
adventures chance to the seeker, sometimes greatly against the mind,
and sometimes altogether according to the heart."

"Ah, dear God," cried the lady, "now shall I be made whole. Sir, look
a little closer upon me, for I have been your friend. Thanks be to
God, who so soon has heard my prayer."

This was the beginning of adventures which happened that night to the
seeker. The maiden hastened to embrace her lover. He got him nimbly
from his horse, and taking her softly between his arms, kissed her
with more kisses than I can tell. Then they sat together beneath the
thorn, and the damsel told how she fell asleep within that old tree in
the pleasaunce, of how she was rapt from thence in her slumber, and of
how, yet sleeping, he came upon her by the Ford. When the knight had
hearkened to all that she had to say, he looked from her face, and
glancing across the river, marked a lord, with lifted lance, riding
to the ford. This knight wore harness of a fair vermeil colour, and
bestrode a horse white of body, save for his two ears, which were red
as the rider's mail. Slender of girdle was this knight, and he made no
effort to enter the river, but drew rein upon the other side of the
passage, and watched. The varlet said to his friend that it became
his honour to essay some feats of arms with this adversary. He got to
horse, and rode to the river, leaving the maiden beneath the thorn.
Had she but found another horse at need, very surely would she have
ridden to his aid. The two knights drew together as swiftly as their
steeds could bear them. They thrust so shrewdly with the lance, that
their shields were split and broken. The spears splintered in the
gauntlet, and both champions were unhorsed by the shock, rolling on
the sand; but nothing worse happened to them. Since they had neither
squire nor companion to help them on their feet, they pained them
grievously to get them from the ground. When they might climb upon
their steeds, they hung again the buckler about the neck, and lowered
their ashen spears. Passing heavy was the varlet, for shame that his
friend had seen him thrown. The two champions met together in the
onset, but the prince struck his adversary so cunningly with the
lance, that the laces of his buckler were broken, and the shield fell
from his body. When the varlet saw this he rejoiced greatly, for he
knew that the eyes of his friend were upon him. He pressed his quarrel
right fiercely, and tumbling his foe from the saddle, seized his horse
by the bridle.[2]

The two knights passed the ford, and the prince feared sorely because
of the skill and mightiness of his adversary. He could not doubt that
if they fell upon him together he would perish at their hands. He put
the thought from mind, for he would not suspect them of conduct so
unbecoming to gentle knight, and so contrary to the laws of chivalry.
If they desired some passage of arms, doubtless they would joust as
gentlemen, and each for himself alone. When these three knights were
mounted on their steeds, they crossed the ford with courtesy and
order, each seeking to give precedence to his companion. Having come
to the bank the stranger knights prayed the prince to run a course for
their pleasure. He answered that it was his wish, too, and made him
ready for the battle. The prince rejoiced greatly when he saw one of
these two adversaries ride a little apart, that he might the more
easily observe the combat. He was assured that he would suffer no
felony at their hands. For their part the two knights were persuaded
that they had to do with an errant who had ridden to the ford for no
other gain than honour and praise. The two adversaries took their
places within the lists. They lowered their lance, and covering their
bodies with the shield, smote fiercely together. So rude was the shock
that the staves of the spears were broken, and the strong destriers
were thrown upon their haunches. Neither of the good knights had lost
his saddle. Each of the combatants got him to his feet, and drawing
the sword, pressed upon his fellow, till the blood began to flow. When
the knight who judged this quarrel saw their prowess, he came near,
and commanded that the battle should cease. The adversaries drew
apart, and struck no further blow with the sword. Right courteously
and with fair words he spake to the prince. "Friend," said the knight,
"get to your horse, and break a lance with me. Then we can go in
peace, for our time grows short. You must endure till the light be
come if you hope to gain the prize. Do your devoir, valiantly,
for should you chance to be thrown in this course, or slain by
misadventure, you have lost your desire. None will ever hear of this
adventure; all your life you will remain little and obscure. Your
maiden will be led away by the victor, seated on the good Castilian
horse you have gained by right of courage. Fight bravely. The
trappings of the destrier are worth the spoil of a king's castle, and
as for the horse himself he is the swiftest and the fairest in the
world. Be not amazed that I tell you of these matters. I have watched
you joust, and know you for a hardy knight and a gallant gentleman.
Besides I stand to lose horse and harness equally with you."

[Footnote 2: There is here some omission in the manuscript.]

The prince listened to these words, and accorded that the knight spoke
wisely and well. He would willingly have taken counsel of the maiden,
but first, as surely he knew, he must joust with this knight. He
gathered the reins in his glove, and choosing a lance with an ashen
staff, opposed himself to his adversary. The combatants met together
so fiercely that the lance pierced the steel of the buckler; yet
neither lost stirrup by the shock. When the prince saw this he smote
the knight so shrewdly that he would have fallen from the saddle, had
he not clung to the neck of his destrier. Of his courtesy the prince
passed on, and refrained his hand until his enemy had recovered his
seat. On his return he found the knight full ready to continue his
devoir. Each of the champions plucked forth his sword, and sheltered
him beneath his shield. They struck such mighty blows that the
bucklers were hewn in pieces, but in spite of all they remained firm
in the saddle. The maiden was aghast whilst she watched the melée. She
had great fear for her friend, lest mischief should befall him, and
she cried loudly to the knight that, for grace, he should give over
this combat, and go his way. Very courteous was the knight, and meetly
schooled in what was due to maidens. He saluted the damsel, and,
together with his companion, rode straightway from the ford. The
prince watched them pass for a little, then without further tarrying
he went swiftly to the maiden, where, all fearful and trembling, she
knelt beneath the thorn. The lady stood upon her feet as her lover
drew near. She climbed behind him on the saddle, for well she knew
that their pains were done. They fared so fast that when it was yet
scarce day they came again to the palace. The King saw them approach,
and rejoiced greatly at his son's prowess; but at this he marvelled
much, that he should return with the daughter of the Queen.

The self-same day of this home-coming--as I have heard tell--the King
had summoned to Court his barons and vassals because of a certain
quarrel betwixt two of his lords. This quarrel being accorded between
them, and come to a fair end, the King related to that blithe company
the story of this adventure. He told again that which you know, of how
the prince defended the Ford, of the finding of the maiden beneath the
thorn, of the mighty joust, and of that white horse which was taken
from the adversary.

The prince both then and thereafter caused the horse to be entreated
with the greatest care. He received the maiden to wife, and cherished
her right tenderly. She, and the steed on which she would always ride,
were his richest possessions. The destrier lived many years in much
honour, but on a day when his master was taking the harness from his
head, he fell and died forthwith.

Of the story which has been set before you the Bretons wrought a Lay.
They did not call the song the Lay of the Ford, although the adventure
took place at a river; neither have they named it The Lay of the Two
Children. For good or ill the rhyme is known as the Lay of the Thorn.
It begins well and endeth better, for these kisses find their fruition
in marriage.



XV


THE LAY OF GRAELENT

Now will I tell you the adventure of Graelent, even as it was told to
me, for the Lay is sweet to hear, and the tune thereof lovely to bear
in mind.

Graelent was born in Brittany of a gentle and noble house, very comely
of person and very frank of heart. The King who held Brittany in that
day, made mortal war upon his neighbours, and commanded his vassals to
take arms in his quarrel. Amongst these came Graelent, whom the King
welcomed gladly, and since he was a wise and hardy knight greatly was
he honoured and cherished by the Court. So Graelent strove valiantly
at tourney and at joust, and pained himself mightily to do the enemy
all the mischief that he was able. The Queen heard tell the prowess of
her knight, and loved him in her heart for reason of his feats of arms
and of the good men spoke of him. So she called her chamberlain apart,
and said, "Tell me truly, hast thou not often heard speak of that fair
knight, Sir Graelent, whose praise is in all men's mouths?"

"Lady," answered the chamberlain, "I know him for a courteous
gentleman, well spoken of by all."

"I would he were my friend," replied the lady, "for I am in much
unrest because of him. Go thou, and bid him come to me, so he would be
worthy of my love." "Passing gracious and rich is your gift, lady, and
doubtless he will receive it with marvellous joy. Why, from here to
Troy there is no priest even, however holy, who in looking on your
face would not lose Heaven in your eyes."

Thereupon the chamberlain took leave of the Queen, and seeking
Graelent within his lodging saluted him courteously, and gave him the
message, praying him to come without delay to the palace.

"Go before, fair friend," answered the knight, "for I will follow you
at once."

So when the chamberlain was gone Graelent caused his grey horse to be
saddled, and mounting thereon, rode to the castle, attended by his
squire. He descended without the hall, and passing before the King
entered within the Queen's chamber. When the lady saw him she embraced
him closely, and cherished and honoured him sweetly. Then she made the
knight to be seated on a fair carpet, and to his face praised him
for his exceeding comeliness. But he answered her very simply and
courteously, saying nothing but what was seemly to be said. Then the
Queen kept silence for a great while, considering whether she should
require him to love her for the love of love; but at the last, made
bold by passion, she asked if his heart was set on any maid or dame.

"Lady," said he, "I love no woman, for love is a serious business,
not a jest. Out of five hundred who speak glibly of love, not one
can spell the first letter of his name. With such it is idleness,
or fulness of bread, or fancy, masking in the guise of love. Love
requires of his servants chastity in thought, in word and in deed. If
one of two lovers is loyal, and the other jealous and false, how may
their friendship last, for Love is slain! But sweetly and discreetly
love passes from person to person, from heart to heart, or it is
nothing worth. For what the lover would, that would the beloved; what
she would ask of him that should he go before to grant. Without accord
such as this, love is but a bond and a constraint. For above all
things Love means sweetness, and truth, and measure; yea, loyalty to
the loved one and to your word. And because of this I dare not meddle
with so high a matter."

The Queen heard Graelent gladly, finding him so tripping of tongue,
and since his words were wise and courteous, at the end she discovered
to him her heart.

"Friend, Sir Graelent, though I am a wife, yet have I never loved my
lord. But I love you very dearly, and what I have asked of you will
you not go before to grant?"

"Lady," said he, "give me pity and forgiveness, but this may not be.
I am the vassal of the King, and on my knees have pledged him loyalty
and faith, and sworn to defend his life and honour. Never shall he
have shame because of me."

With these words Sir Graelent took his leave of the Queen, and went
his way.

Seeing him go in this fashion the Queen commenced to sigh. She was
grieved in her heart, and knew not what to do. But whatever chanced
she would not renounce her passion, so often she required his love by
means of soft messages and costly gifts, but he refused them all. Then
the Queen turned from love to hate, and the greatness of her passion
became the measure of her wrath, for very evilly she spoke of Graelent
to the King. So long as the war endured Graelent remained in that
realm. He spent all that he had upon his company, for the King grudged
wages to his men. The Queen persuaded the King to this, counselling
him that by withholding the pay of the sergeants, Graelent might in no
wise flee the country, nor take service with another lord. So at the
end Graelent was wonderfully downcast, nor was it strange that he was
sad, for there remained nothing which he might pledge, but one poor
steed, and when this was gone, no horse had he to carry him from the
country.

It was now the month of May, when the hours are long and warm. The
burgess, with whom Graelent lodged, had risen early in the morning,
and with his wife had gone to eat with neighbours in the town. No one
was in the house except Graelent, no squire, nor archer, nor servant,
save only the daughter of his host, a very courteous maid. When the
hour for dinner was come she prayed the knight that they might sit at
board together. But he had no heart for mirth, and seeking out his
squire bade him bridle and saddle his horse, for he had no care to
eat.

"I have no saddle," replied the squire.

"Friend," said the demoiselle, "I will lend you bridle and saddle as
well."

So when the harness was done upon him, Graelent mounted his horse, and
went his way through the town, clad in a cloak of sorry fur, which
he had worn overlong already. The townsfolk in the street turned and
stared upon him, making a jest of his poverty, but of their jibes
he took no heed, for such act but after their kind, and seldom show
kindliness or courtesy.

Now without the town there spread a great forest, thick with trees,
and through the forest ran a river. Towards this forest Graelent rode,
deep in heavy thought, and very dolent. Having ridden for a little
space beneath the trees, he spied within a leafy thicket a fair white
hart, whiter even than snow on winter branches. The hart fled before
him, and Graelent followed so closely in her track that man and deer
presently came together to a grassy lawn, in the midst of which sprang
a fountain of clear, sweet water. Now in this fountain a demoiselle
disported herself for her delight. Her raiment was set on a bush near
by, and her two maidens stood on the bank busied in their lady's
service. Graelent forgot the chase at so sweet a sight, since never
in his life had he seen so lovely a dame. For the lady was slender in
shape and white, very gracious and dainty of colour, with laughing
eyes and an open brow, certainly the most beautiful thing in all the
world. Graelent dared not draw nigh the fountain for fear of troubling
the dame, so he came softly to the bush to set hands upon her raiment.
The two maidens marked his approach, and at their fright the lady
turned, and calling him by name, cried with great anger,

"Graelent, put my raiment down, for it will profit you little even if
you carry it away, and leave me naked in this wood. But if you are
indeed too greedy of gain to remember your knighthood, at least return
me my shift, and content yourself with my mantle, since it will bring
you money, as it is very good."

"I am not a merchant's son," answered Graelent merrily, "nor am I a
huckster to sell mantles in a booth. If your cloak were worth the
spoil of three castles I would not now carry it from the bush. Come
forth from your bathing, fair friend, and clothe yourself in your
vesture, for you have to say a certain word to me."

"I will not trust myself to your hand, for you might seize upon me,"
answered the lady, "and I tell you frankly that I put no faith in your
word, nor have had any dealings with your school."

Then Graelent answered still more merrily, "Lady, needs must I suffer
your wrath. But at least I will guard your raiment till you come forth
from the well and, fairest, very dainty is your body in my eyes."

When the lady knew that Graelent would not depart, nor render again
her raiment, then she demanded surety that he would do her no hurt.
This thing was accorded between them, so she came forth from the
fountain, and did her vesture upon her. Then Graelent took her gently
by the left hand, and prayed and required of her that she would grant
him love for love. But the lady answered, "I marvel greatly that you
should dare to speak to me in this fashion, for I have little reason
to think you discreet. You are bold, sir knight, and overbold, to seek
to ally yourself with a woman of my lineage."

Sir Graelent was not abashed by the dame's proud spirit, but wooed and
prayed her gently and sweetly, promising that if she granted him her
love he would serve her in all loyalty, and never depart therefrom
all the days of his life. The demoiselle hearkened to the words of
Graelent, and saw plainly that he was a valiant knight, courteous and
wise. She thought within herself that should she send him from her,
never might she find again so sure a friend. Since, then, she knew him
worthy of her love, she kissed him softly, and spoke to him in this
manner, "Graelent, I will love you none the less truly, though we have
not met until this day. But one thing is needful that our love may
endure. Never must you speak a word by which this hidden thing may
become known. I will furnish you with deniers in your purse, with
cloth of silk, with silver and with gold. Night and day will I stay
with you, and great shall be the love between us twain. You shall
see me riding at your side; you may talk and laugh with me at your
pleasure, but I must never be seen of your comrades, nor must they
know aught concerning your bride. Graelent, you are loyal, brave, and
courteous, and comely enough to the view. For you I spread my snare
at the fountain; for you shall I suffer heavy pains, as well I knew
before I set forth on this adventure. Now must I trust to your
discretion, for if you speak vainly and boastfully of this thing then
am I undone. Remain now for a year in this country, which shall be for
you a home that your lady loves well. But noon is past, and it is time
for you to go. Farewell, and a messenger shortly shall tell you that
which I would have you do."

Graelent took leave of the lady, and she sweetly clasped and kissed
him farewell. He returned to his lodging, dismounted from his steed,
and entering within a chamber, leaned from the casement, considering
this strange adventure. Looking towards the forest he saw a varlet
issue therefrom riding upon a palfrey. He drew rein before Graelent's
door, and taking his feet from the stirrup, saluted the knight. So
Graelent inquired from whence he rode, and of his name and business.

"Sir," answered he, "I am the messenger of your lady. She sends you
this destrier by my hand, and would have me enter in your service, to
pay your servitors their wages and to take charge of your lodging."

When Graelent heard this message he thought it both good and fair. He
kissed the varlet upon the cheek, and accepting his gift, caused the
destrier--which was the noblest, the swiftest and the most speedy
under the sun--to be led to the stable. Then the varlet carried his
baggage to his master's chamber, and took therefrom a large cushion
and a rich coverlet which he spread upon the couch. After this he drew
thereout a purse containing much gold and silver, and stout cloth
fitting for the knight's apparel. Then he sent for the host, and
paying him what was owing, called upon him to witness that he was
recompensed most largely for the lodging. He bade him also to seek out
such knights as should pass through the town to refresh and solace
themselves in the company of his lord. The host was a worthy man. He
made ready a plenteous dinner, and inquired through the town for such
poor knights as were in misease by reason of prison or of war. These
he brought to the hostelry of Sir Graelent, and comforted them with
instruments of music, and with all manner of mirth. Amongst them sat
Graelent at meat, gay and debonair, and richly apparelled. Moreover,
to these poor knights and the harpers Graelent gave goodly gifts, so
that there was not a citizen in all the town who did not hold him in
great worship, and regard him as his lord.

From this moment Graelent lived greatly at his ease, for not a cloud
was in his sky. His lady came at will and pleasure; all day long they
laughed and played together, and at night she lay softly at his side.
What truer happiness might he know than this? Often, besides, he rode
to such tournaments of the land as he was able, and all men esteemed
him for a stout and worthy knight. Very pleasant were his days, and
his love, and if such things might last for ever he had nothing else
to ask of life.

When a full year had passed by, the season drew to the Feast of
Pentecost. Now it was the custom of the King to summon at that tide
his barons and all who held their fiefs of him to his Court for a rich
banquet. Amongst these lords was bidden Sir Graelent. After men had
eaten and drunk the whole day, and all were merry, the King commanded
the Queen to put off her royal robes, and to stand forth upon the
dais. Then he boasted before the company,

"Lord barons, how seems it to you? Beneath the sky is there a lovelier
Queen than mine, be she maid, lady or demoiselle?"

So all the lords made haste to praise the Queen, and to cry and affirm
that in all the world was neither maid nor wife so dainty, fresh and
fair. Not a single voice but bragged of her beauty, save only that
of Graelent. He smiled at their folly, for his heart remembered his
friend, and he held in pity all those who so greatly rejoiced in the
Queen. So he sat with covered head, and with face bent smiling to the
board. The Queen marked his discourtesy, and drew thereto the notice
of the King.

"Sire, do you observe this dishonour! Not one of these mighty lords
but has praised the beauty of your wife, save Graelent only, who makes
a mock of her. Always has he held me in envy and despite."

The King commanded Graelent to his throne, and in the hearing of all
bade the knight to tell, on his faith as vassal to his liege, for what
reason he had hid his face and laughed.

"Sire," answered Graelent to the King, "Sire, hearken to my words. In
all the world no man of your lineage does so shameful a deed as this.
You make your wife a show upon a stage. You force your lords to praise
her just with lies, saying that the sun does not shine upon her peer.
One man will tell the truth to your face, and say that very easily can
be found a fairer dame than she."

Right heavy was the King when he heard these words. He conjured
Graelent to tell him straightly if he knew a daintier dame.

"Yes, Sire, and thirty times more gracious than the Queen."

The Queen was marvellously wrathful to hear this thing, and prayed her
husband of his grace to compel the knight to bring that woman to the
Court of whose beauty he made so proud a boast.

"Set us side by side, and let the choice be made between us. Should
she prove the fairer let him go in peace; but if not, let justice be
done on him for his calumny and malice."

So the King bade his guards to lay hands on Graelent, swearing that
between them never should be love nor peace, nor should the knight
issue forth from prison, until he had brought before him her whose
beauty he had praised so much.

Graelent was held a captive. He repented him of his hasty words, and
begged the King to grant him respite. He feared to have lost his
friend, and sweated grievously with rage and mortification. But though
many of the King's house pitied him in his evil case, the long days
brought him no relief, until a full year went by, and once again the
King made a great banquet to his barons and his lieges. Then was
Graelent brought to hall, and put to liberty on such terms that he
would return bringing with him her whose loveliness he had praised
before the King. Should she prove so desirable and dear, as his boast,
then all would be well, for he had naught to fear. But if he returned
without his lady, then he must go to judgment, and his only hope would
be in the mercy of the King.

Graelent mounted his good horse, and parted from the Court sad and
wrathful. He sought his lodging, and inquired for his servant, but
might not find him. He called upon his friend, but the lady did not
heed his voice. Then Graelent gave way to despair, and preferred death
to life. He shut himself within his chamber, crying upon his dear one
for grace and mercy, but from her he got neither speech nor comfort.
So seeing that his love had withdrawn herself from him by reason of
his grievous fault, he took no rest by night or day, and held his life
in utter despite. For a full year he lived in this piteous case, so
that it was marvellous to those about him that he might endure his
life.

On the day appointed the sureties brought Graelent where the King was
set in hall with his lords. Then the King inquired of Graelent where
was now his friend.

"Sire," answered the knight, "she is not here, for in no wise might I
find her. Now do with me according to your will."

"Sir Graelent," said the King, "very foully have you spoken. You have
slandered the Queen, and given all my lords the lie. When you go from
my hands never will you do more mischief with your tongue."

Then the King spoke with a high voice to his barons.

"Lords, I pray and command you to give judgment in this matter. You
heard the blame that Graelent set upon me before all my Court. You
know the deep dishonour that he fastened on the Queen. How may such a
disloyal vassal deal honestly with his lord, for as the proverb tells,
'Hope not for friendship from the man who beats your dog!'"

The lords of the King's household went out from before him, and
gathered themselves together to consider their judgment. They kept
silence for a great space, for it was grievous to them to deal harshly
with so valiant a knight. Whilst they thus refrained from words a
certain page hastened unto them, and prayed them not to press the
matter, for (said he) "even now two young maidens, the freshest maids
in all the realm, seek the Court. Perchance they bring succour to
the good knight, and, so it be the will of God, may deliver him from
peril." So the lords waited right gladly, and presently they saw two
damsels come riding to the palace. Very young were these maidens, very
slender and gracious, and daintily cloaked in two fair mantles. So
when the pages had hastened to hold their stirrup and bridle, the
maidens dismounted from their palfreys and entering within the hall
came straight before the King.

"Sire," said one of the two damsels, "hearken now to me. My lady
commands us to pray you to put back this cause for a while, nor to
deliver judgment therein, since she comes to plead with you for the
deliverance of this knight."

When the Queen heard this message she was filled with shame, and made
speed to get her from the hall Hardly had she gone than there entered
two other damsels, whiter and more sweetly flushed even than their
fellows. These bade the King to wait for a little, since their
mistress was now at hand. So all men stared upon them, and praised
their great beauty, saying that if the maid was so fair, what then
must be the loveliness of the dame. When, therefore, the demoiselle
came in her turn, the King's household stood upon their feet to give
her greeting. Never did woman show so queenly to men's sight as did
this lady riding to the hall. Passing sweet she was to see, passing
simple and gracious of manner, with softer eyes and a daintier face
than girl of mother born. The whole Court marvelled at her beauty, for
no spot or blemish might be found in her body. She was richly dressed
in a kirtle of vermeil silk, broidered with gold, and her mantle was
worth the spoil of a king's castle. Her palfrey was of good race,
and speedy; the harness and trappings upon him were worth a thousand
livres in minted coin. All men pressed about her, praising her face
and person, her simplicity and queenlihead. She came at slow pace
before the King, and dismounting from the palfrey, spoke very
courteously in this fashion.

"Sire," said she, "hearken to me, and you, lord barons, give heed to
my pleading. You know the words Graelent spake to the King, in the
ears of men, when the Queen made herself a show before the lords,
saying that often had he seen a fairer lady. Very hasty and foolish
was his tongue, since he provoked the King to anger. But at least he
told the truth when he said that there is no dame so comely but that
very easily may be found one more sweet than she. Look now boldly upon
my face, and judge you rightly in this quarrel between the Queen and
me. So shall Sir Graelent be acquitted of this blame."

Then gazing upon her, all the King's household, lord and lackey,
prince and page, cried with one voice that her favour was greater than
that of the Queen. The King himself gave judgment with his barons that
this thing was so; therefore Sir Graelent was acquitted of his blame,
and declared a free man.

When judgment was given the lady took her leave of the King, and
attended by her four damsels departed straightway from the hall upon
her palfrey. Sir Graelent caused his white horse to be saddled, and
mounting, followed hotly after her through the town. Day after day
he rode in her track, pleading for pity and pardon, but she gave him
neither good words nor bad in answer. So far they fared that at last
they came to the forest, and taking their way through a deep wood rode
to the bank of a fair, clear stream. The lady set her palfrey to the
river, but when she saw that Graelent also would enter therein she
cried to him,

"Stay, Graelent, the stream is deep, and it is death for you to
follow."

Graelent took no heed to her words, but forced his horse to enter the
river, so that speedily the waters closed above his head. Then the
lady seized his bridle, and with extreme toil brought horse and rider
back again to land.

"Graelent," said she, "you may not pass this river, however mightily
you pain yourself, therefore must you remain alone on this bank."

Again the lady set her palfrey to the river, but Graelent could not
suffer to see her go upon her way alone. Again he forced his horse to
enter the water; but the current was very swift and the stream was
very deep, so that presently Graelent was torn from his saddle, and
being borne away by the stream came very nigh to drown. When the four
maidens saw his piteous plight they cried aloud to their lady, and
said,

"Lady, for the love of God, take pity on your poor friend. See, how he
drowns in this evil case. Alas, cursed be the day you spake soft words
in his ear, and gave him the grace of your love. Lady, look how the
current hurries him to his death. How may your heart suffer him to
drown whom you have held so close! Aid him, nor have the sin on your
soul that you endured to let the man who loved you die without your
help."

When the lady heard the complaint of her maidens, no longer could
she hide the pity she felt in her heart. In all haste she turned her
palfrey to the river, and entering the stream clutched her lover by
the belt. Thus they won together to the bank. There she stripped the
drowned man of his raiment, and wrapping him fast in her own dry
mantle cherished him so meetly that presently he came again to life.
So she brought him safely into her own land, and none has met Sir
Graelent since that day.

But the Breton folk still hold firmly that Graelent yet liveth with
his friend. His destrier, when he escaped him from the perilous river,
grieved greatly for his master's loss. He sought again the mighty
forest, yet never was at rest by night or day. No peace might he find,
but ever pawed he with his hoofs upon the ground, and neighed so
loudly that the noise went through all the country round about. Many a
man coveted so noble a steed, and sought to put bit and bridle in his
mouth, yet never might one set hands upon him, for he would not suffer
another master. So each year in its season the forest was filled with
the cry and the trouble of this noble horse which might not find its
lord.

This adventure of the good steed and of the stout knight, who went
to the land of faery with his love, was noised abroad throughout all
Brittany, and the Bretons made a Lay thereof which was sung in
the ears of many people, and was called a Lay of the Death of Sir
Graelent.



XVI


A STORY OF BEYOND THE SEA

In times gone by there lived a Count of Ponthieu, who loved chivalry
and the pleasures of the world beyond measure, and moreover was a
stout knight and a gallant gentleman. In the self-same day there lived
a Count of St. Pol, who was lord of much land, and a right worthy man.
One grief he had, that there was no heir of his body; but a sister was
his, a prudent woman and a passing good gentlewoman, who was dame of
Dommare in Ponthieu. This lady had a son, Thibault by name, who was
heir to this County of St. Pol, but he was a poor man so long as his
uncle lived. He was a prudent knight, valiant and skilled with the
spear, noble and fair. Greatly was he loved and honoured of all honest
people, for he was of high race and gentle birth.

The Count of Ponthieu, of whom the tale hath spoken, had to wife a
very worthy lady. He and his dame had but one child, a daughter,
very good and gracious, who increased with her days in favour and in
virtues; and the maid was of some sixteen years. The third year after
her birth her mother died, whereof she was sorely troubled and right
heavy. The Count, her father, took to himself another wife with no
long tarrying, a dame of gentle race and breeding. Of this lady he got
him quickly a son; very near was the boy to his father's heart. The
lad grew with his years in stature and in valour, and gave promise to
increase in all good qualities.

The Count of Ponthieu marked my lord Thibault of Dommare. He summoned
the knight to his castle, and made him of his house for guerdon. When
Sir Thibault was of his fellowship he rejoiced greatly, for the Count
prospered in goods and in praise by reason of his servant's deeds. As
they came from a tournament on a day, the Count and my lord Thibault
together, the Count required of his companion and said,

"Thibault, by the aid of God tell me truly which jewel of my crown
shines the fairest in your eyes!"

"Sir," replied Messire Thibault, "I am only a beggar, but so help me
God, of all the jewels in your crown I love and covet none, save only
my demoiselle, your daughter."

When he heard this thing the Count had great content. He laughed in
his heart and said,

"Thibault, I will grant her to the beggar, if it be to her mind."

"Sir," answered he, "thanks and gramercy. May God make it up to you."

Then went the Count to his daughter, and said,

"Fair daughter, I have promised you in marriage, so it go not against
your heart."

"Sir," inquired the maid, "to whom?"

"In the name of God, to a loyal man, and a true man, of whom much is
hoped; to a knight of my own household, Thibault of Dommare."

"Dear sir," answered the maiden sweetly, "if your county were a
kingdom, and I were the king's only child, I would choose him as my
husband, and gladly give him all that I had."

"Daughter," said the Count, "blessed be your pretty person, and the
hour that you were born."

Thus was this marriage made. The Count of Ponthieu and the Count of
St. Pol were at the feast, and many another honourable man besides.
Great was the joy in which they met, fair was the worship, and
marvellous the delight. The bride and groom lived together in all
happiness for five years. This was their only sorrow, that it pleased
not our Lord Jesus Christ that they should have an heir to their
flesh.

On a night Sir Thibault lay in his bed. He considered within himself
and said,

"Lord, whence cometh it that I love this dame so fondly, and she me,
yet we may have no heir of our bodies to serve God and to do a little
good in the world?"

Then he remembered my lord St. James, the Apostle of Spain, who gives
to the fervent supplicant that which rightly he desires. Earnestly, to
his own heart, he promised that he would walk a pilgrim in his way.
His wife lay sleeping at his side, but when she came from out her
sleep, he took her softly in his arms, and required of her that she
would bestow on him a gift.

"Sir," said the lady, "what gift would you have?"

"Wife," he made answer, "that you shall know when it is mine."

"Husband," said she, "if it be mine to grant, I will give it you,
whatever the price."

"Wife," he said, "I pray you to grant me leave to seek my lord St.
James the Apostle, that he may intercede with our Lord Jesus Christ to
bestow on us an heir of our flesh, whereby God may be served in this
world and Holy Church glorified."

"Sir," cried the lady, "sweet and dear it is that you should crave
such bounty, and I grant the permission you desire right willingly."

Deep and long was the tenderness that fell betwixt these twain. Thus
passed a day, and another day, and yet a third. On this third day it
chanced that they lay together in their bed, and it was night. Then
said the dame,

"Husband, I pray and require of you a gift."

"Wife," he replied, "ask, and I will give it you, if by any means I
can."

"Husband," she said, "I require leave to come with you on this errand
and journey."

When Messire Thibault heard this thing he was right sorrowful, and
said,

"Wife, grievous would be the journey to your body, for the way is very
long, and the land right strange and perilous."

Said she,

"Husband, be not in doubt because of me. You shall be more hindered of
your squire than of your wife."

"Dame," said he, "as God wills and as you wish."

The days went, and these tidings were so noised abroad that the Count
of Ponthieu heard thereof. He commanded my lord Sir Thibault to his
house, and said,

"Thibault, you are a vowed pilgrim, as I hear, and my daughter too!"

"Sir," answered he, "that is verily and truly so."

"Thibault," replied the Count, "as to yourself what pleases you is to
my mind also, but concerning my daughter that is another matter."

"Sir," made answer Sir Thibault, "go she must, and I cannot deny her."

"Since this is so," said the Count, "part when you will. Make ready
for the road your steeds, your palfreys, and the pack horses, and I
will give you riches and gear enough for the journey."

"Sir," said Messire Thibault, "thanks and gramercy."

Thus these pilgrims arrayed them, and sought that shrine with
marvellous joy. They fared so speedily upon the way, that at length
they came near to my lord St. James, by less than two days faring.
That night they drew to a goodly town. After they had eaten in the
hostel, Sir Thibault called for the host and inquired of him the road
for the morrow, how it ran, and whether it were smooth.

"Fair sir," replied the innkeeper to the knight, "at the gate of this
town you will find a little wood. Beyond the wood a strong smooth road
runs for the whole day's journey."

Hearing this they asked no more questions, but the beds being laid
down, they went to their rest. The morrow broke full sweetly. The
pilgrims rose lightly from their beds as soon as it was day, and made
much stir and merriment. Sir Thibault rose also, since he might not
sleep, but his head was heavy. He therefore called his chamberlain,
and said,

"Rise quickly, and bid the company to pack the horses and go their
way. Thou shalt remain with me, and make ready our harness, for I am a
little heavy and disquieted."

The chamberlain made known to the sergeants the pleasure of their
lord, so that presently they took the road. In no great while Messire
Thibault and his dame got them from the bed, and arraying their
persons, followed after their household. The chamberlain folded the
bed linen, and it was yet but dawn, though warm and fair. The three
went forth through the gate of the city, those three together, with no
other companion save God alone, and drew near to the forest. When they
came close they found two roads, the one good, the other ill; so that
Sir Thibault said to his chamberlain,

"Put spurs to your horse, and ride swiftly after our people. Bid them
await our coming, for foul it is for lady and knight to pass through
this wood with so little company."

The servitor went speedily, and Messire Thibault entered the forest.
He drew rein beside the two roads, for he knew not which to follow.

"Wife," he said, "which way is ours?"

"Please God, the good," she answered.

Now in this wood were robbers, who spoiled the fair way, and made wide
and smooth the false, so that pilgrims should mistake and wander from
the path. Messire Thibault lighted from his horse. He looked from one
to the other, and finding the wrong way broader and more smooth than
the true, he cried,

"Wife, come now; in the name of God, this."

They had proceeded along this road for some quarter of a mile when the
path grew strict and narrow, and boughs made dark the way.

"Wife," said the knight, "I fear that we fare but ill."

When he had thus spoken he looked before him, and marked four armed
thieves, seated on four strong horses, and each bore lance in hand.
Thereupon he glanced behind him, and, lo, four other robbers, armed
and set in ambush, so he said,

"Dame, be not affrighted of aught that you may see from now."

Right courteously Sir Thibault saluted the robbers in his path, but
they gave no answer to his greeting. Afterwards he sought of them
what was in their mind, and one replied that he should know anon.
The thief, who had thus spoken, drew towards my lord Thibault, with
outstretched sword, thinking to smite him in the middle. Messire
Thibault saw the blow about to fall, and it was no marvel if he feared
greatly. He sprang forward nimbly, as best he might, so that the
glaive smote the air. Then as the robber staggered by, Sir Thibault
seized him fiercely, and wrested the sword from his hand. The knight
advanced stoutly against those three from whom the thief had come. He
struck the foremost amidst the bowels, so that he perished miserably.
Then he turned and went again to that one who had first come against
him with the sword, and slew him also. Now it was decreed of God that
after the knight had slain three of this company of robbers, that
the five who were left, encompassed him round about, and killed his
palfrey. Sir Thibault tumbled flat upon his back, although he was not
wounded to his hurt. Since he had neither sword nor other harness
he could do no more. The thieves therefore stripped him to his very
shirt, his boots and hosen, and binding him hand and foot with a
baldrick, cast him into a thorn bush, right thick and sharp. When
they had done this they hastened to the lady. From her they took her
palfrey and her vesture, even to the shift. Passing fair was the lady;
she wept full piteously, and never was dame more sorrowful than she.
Now one of these bold robbers stared upon the lady, and saw that she
was very fair. He spoke to his companions in this fashion,

"Comrades, I have lost my brother in this broil. I will take this
woman for his blood money."

But the others made answer,

"I, too, have lost my kin. I claim as much as you, and my right is
good as yours."

So said a third, and a fourth, and a fifth. Then spake yet another.

"In keeping of the lady will be found neither peace nor profit. Rather
let us lead her from here within the forest, there do our pleasure
upon her, and then put her again upon the path, so that she may go her
way."

Thus they did as they had devised together, and left her on the road.

Right sick at heart was Messire Thibault when he saw her so entreated,
but nothing could he do. He bore no malice against his wife by reason
of that which had befallen, for well he knew that it, was by force,
and not according to her will. When he saw her again, weeping bitterly
and altogether shamed, he called to her, and said,

"Wife, for God's love unloose me from these bonds, and deliver me from
the torment that I suffer, for these thorns are sharper than I can
endure."

The lady hastened to the place where Sir Thibault lay, and marked a
sword flung behind the bush, belonging to one of those felons that
were slain. She took the glaive, and went towards her lord, filled
full of wrath and evil thoughts because of what had chanced to her.
She feared greatly lest her husband should bear malice for that which
he had seen, reproaching her upon a day, and taunting her for what was
past. She said,

"Sir, you are out of your pain already."

She raised the sword, and came towards her husband, thinking to strike
him midmost the body. When he marked the falling glaive he deemed that
his day had come, for he was a naked man, clad in nought but his shirt
and hosen. He trembled so sorely that his bonds were loosed, and the
lady struck so feebly that she wounded him but little, severing that
baldrick with which his hands were made fast. Thereat the knight brake
the cords about his legs, and leaping upon his feet, cried, "Dame,
by the grace of God it is not to-day that you shall slay me with the
sword."

Then she made answer, "Truly, sir, the sorer grief is mine."

Sir Thibault took the sword, and set it again in the sheath,
afterwards he put his hand upon the lady's shoulder, and brought her
back by the path they had fared. At the fringe of the woodland he
found a large part of his fellowship, who were come to meet him. When
these saw their lord and lady so spoiled and disarrayed they inquired
of them, "Sir, who hath put you in this case?"

He set them by, saying that they had fallen amongst felons who had
done them much mischief.

Mightily the sergeants lamented; but presently they fetched raiment
from the packs, and arrayed them, for enough they had and to spare. So
they climbed into the saddle, and continued their journey.

They rode that day, nor for aught that had chanced did Messire
Thibault show sourer countenance to the lady. At nightfall they came
to a goodly town, and there took shelter in an inn. Messire Thibault
sought of his host if there was any convent of nuns in those parts
where a lady might repose her. The host made answer to him,

"Sir, you are served to your wish. Just beyond the walls is a right
fair religious house, with many holy women."

On the morrow Messire Thibault went to this house, and heard Mass.
Afterwards he spoke to the Abbess and her chapter, praying that he
might leave his lady in their charge, until his return; and this they
accorded very willingly. Messire Thibault bestowed the lady in this
convent, with certain of his house to do her service, and went his way
to bring his pilgrimage to a fair end. When he had knelt before the
shrine, and honoured the Saint, he came again to the convent and the
lady. He gave freely of his wealth to the house, and taking to himself
his wife, returned with her to their own land, in the same joy and
honour as he had brought her forth, save only that they lay not
together.

Great was the gladness of the folk of that realm when Sir Thibault
returned to his home. The Count of Ponthieu, the father of his wife
was there, and there, too, was his uncle the Count of St. Pol. Many
worthy and valiant gentlemen came for his welcome, and a fair company
of dames and maidens likewise honoured the lady. That day the Count
of Ponthieu sat at meat with my lord Thibault, and ate from the same
dish, the two together. Then it happed that the Count spake to him,

"Thibault, fair son, he who journeys far hears many a strange matter
and sees many strange sights, which are hidden from those who sit over
the fire. Tell me therefore, of your favour, something of all you have
seen and heard since you went from amongst us."

Messire Thibault answered shortly that he knew no tale worth the
telling. The Count would take no denial, but plagued him so sorely,
begging him of his courtesy to tell over some adventure, that at the
last he was overborne.

"Sir, I will narrate a story, since talk I must; but at least let it
be in your private ear, if you please, and not for the mirth of all."

The Count replied that his pleasure was the same. After meat, when men
had eaten their fill, the Count rose in his chair, and taking my lord
Thibault by the hand, entreated,

"Tell me now, I pray, that which it pleases you to tell, for there are
few of the household left in hall."

Then Messire Thibault began to relate that which chanced to a knight
and a dame, even as it has been rehearsed before you in this tale;
only he named not the persons to whom this lot was appointed. The
Count, who was wise and sober of counsel, inquired what the knight had
done with the lady. Thibault made answer that the knight had brought
the lady back by the way she went, with the same joy and worship as he
led her forth, save only that they slept not together.

"Thibault," said the Count, "your knight walked another road than I
had trod. By my faith in God and my love for you, I had hanged this
dame by her tresses to a tree. The laces of her gown would suffice if
I could find no other cord."

"Sir," said Messire Thibault, "you have but my word. The truth can
only be assured if the lady might bear witness and testify with her
own mouth."

"Thibault," said the Count, "know you the name of this knight?"

"Sir," cried Messire Thibault, "I beg you again to exempt me from
naming the knight to whom this sorrow befell. Know of a truth that his
name will bring no profit."

"Thibault," said the Count, "it is my pleasure that his name should
not be hid."

"Sir," answered Thibault, "tell I must, as you will not acquit me; but
I take you to witness that I speak only under compulsion, since gladly
I would have kept silence, had this been your pleasure, for in the
telling there is neither worship nor honour."

"Thibault," replied the Count, "without more words I would know
forthwith who was the knight to whom this adventure chanced. By the
faith that you owe to your God and to me, I conjure you to tell me his
name, since it is in your mind."

"Sir," replied Messire Thibault, "I will answer by the faith I owe
my God and you, since you lay this charge upon me. Know well, and be
persuaded, that I am the knight on whom this sorrow lighted. Hold it
for truth that I was sorely troubled and sick of heart. Be assured
that never before have I spoken to any living man about the business,
and moreover that gladly would I have held my peace, had such been
your will."

When the Count heard this adventure he was sore astonied, and
altogether cast down. He kept silence for a great space, speaking
never a word. At the last he said, "Thibault, was it indeed my child
who did this thing?"

"Sir, it is verily and truly so."

"Thibault," said the Count, "sweet shall be your vengeance, since you
have given her again to my hand."

Because of his exceeding wrath the Count sent straightway for his
daughter, and demanded of her if those things were true of which
Messire Thibault had spoken. She inquired of the accusation, and her
father answered, "That you would have slain him with the sword, even
as he has told me?"

"Sir, of a surety."

"And wherefore would you slay your husband?"

"Sir, for reason that I am yet heavy that he is not dead."

When the Count heard the lady speak in this fashion, he answered her
nothing, but suffered in silence until the guests had departed. After
these were gone, the Count came on a day to Rue-sur-Mer, and Messire
Thibault with him, and the Count's son. With them also went the lady.
Then the Count caused a ship to be got ready, very stout and speedy,
and he made the dame to enter in the boat. He set also on the ship an
untouched barrel, very high and strong. These three lords climbed into
the nave, with no other company, save those sailors who should labour
at the oar. The Count commanded the mariners to put the ship to sea,
and all marvelled greatly as to what he purposed, but there was none
so bold as to ask him any questions. When they had rowed a great way
from the land, the Count bade them to strike the head from out the
barrel. He took that dame, his own child, who was so dainty and so
fair, and thrust her in the tun, whether she would or whether she
would not. This being done he caused the cask to be made fast again
with staves and wood, so that the water might in no manner enter
therein. Afterwards he dragged the barrel to the edge of the deck, and
with his own hand cast it into the sea, saying,

"I commend thee to the wind and waves."

Passing heavy was Messire Thibault at this, and the lady's brother
also, and all who saw. They fell at the Count's feet, praying him of
his grace that she might be delivered from the barrel. So hot was his
wrath that he would not grant their prayer, for aught that they might
do or say. They therefore left him to his rage, and turning to the
Heavenly Father, besought our Lord Jesus Christ that of His most sweet
pity He would have mercy on her soul, and give her pardon for her
sins.

The ship came again to land, leaving the lady in sore peril and
trouble, even as the tale has told you. But our Lord Jesus Christ, who
is Lord and Father of all, and desireth not the death of a sinner, but
rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live--as each day
He showeth us openly by deed, by example and by miracle--sent succour
to this lady, even as you shall hear. For a ship from Flanders, laden
with merchandise, marked this barrel drifting at the mercy of winds
and waters, before ever the Count and his companions were come ashore.
One of the merchants said to his comrades,

"Friends, behold a barrel drifting in our course. If we may reach it,
perchance we may find it to our gain."

This ship was wont to traffic with the Saracens in their country, so
the sailors rowed towards the barrel, and partly by cunning and partly
by strength, at the last got it safely upon the deck. The merchants
looked long at the cask. They wondered greatly what it could be, and
wondering, they saw that the head of the barrel was newly closed. They
opened the cask, and found therein a woman at the point of death, for
air had failed her. Her body was gross, her visage swollen, and the
eyes started horribly from her head. When she breathed the fresh air
and felt the wind blow upon her, she sighed a little, so that the
merchants standing by, spoke comfortably to her, but she might not
answer them a word. In the end, heart and speech came again to her.
She spoke to the chapmen and the sailors who pressed about her, and
much she marvelled how she found herself amongst them. When she
perceived that she was with merchants and Christian men she was the
more easy, and fervently she praised Jesus Christ in her heart,
thanking Him for the loving kindness which had kept her from death.
For this lady was altogether contrite in heart, and earnestly desired
to amend her life towards God, repenting the trespass she had done
to others, and fearing the judgment that was rightly her due. The
merchants inquired of the lady whence she came, and she told them the
truth, saying that she was a miserable wretch and a poor sinner, as
they could see for themselves. She related the cruel adventure which
had chanced to her, and prayed them to take pity on a most unhappy
lady, and they answered that mercy they would show. So with meat and
drink her former beauty came to her again.

Now this merchant ship fared so far that she came to the land of the
Paynims, and cast anchor in the port of Aumarie. Galleys of these
Saracens came to know their business, and they answered that they were
traffickers in divers merchandise in many a realm. They showed them
also the safe conduct they carried of princes and mighty lords that
they might pass in safety through their countries to buy and sell
their goods. The merchants got them to land in this port, taking the
lady with them. They sought counsel one of the other to know what it
were best to do with her. One was for selling her as a slave, but his
companion proposed to give her as a sop to the rich Soudan of Aumarie,
that their business should be the less hindered. To this they all
agreed. They arrayed the lady freshly in broidered raiment, and
carried her before the Soudan, who was a lusty young man. He accepted
their gift, receiving the lady with a right glad heart, for she was
passing fair. The Soudan inquired of them as to who she was.

"Sire," answered the merchants, "we know no more than you, but
marvellous was the fashion in which she came to our hands."

The gift was so greatly to the Soudan's mind that he served the
chapmen to the utmost of his power. He loved the lady very tenderly,
and entreated her in all honour. He held and tended her so well, that
her sweet colour came again to her, and her beauty increased beyond
measure. The Soudan sought to know by those who had the gift of
tongues as to the lady's home and race, but these she would not reveal
to any. He was the more thoughtful therefore, because he might see
that she was a dame of birth and lineage. He inquired of her as to
whether she were a Christian woman, promising that if she would deny
her faith, he would take her as his wife, since he was yet unwed. The
lady saw clearly that it were better to be converted by love than
perforce; so she answered that her religion was to do her master's
pleasure. When she had renounced her faith, and rejected the Christian
law, the Soudan made her his dame according to the use and wont of
this country of the Paynim. He held her very dear, cherishing her in
all honour, for his love waxed deeper as the days wore on.

In due time it was with this lady after the manner of women, and she
came to bed of a son. The Soudan rejoiced greatly, being altogether
merry and content. The lady, for her part, lived in fair fellowship
with the folk of her husband's realm. Very courteous was she, and
very serviceable, so that presently she was instructed in the Saracen
tongue. In no long while after the birth of her son she conceived of
a maid, who in the years that befell grew passing sweet and fair, and
richly was she nurtured as became the daughter of so high a prince.
Thus for two years and a half the lady dwelt with the Paynim in much
softness and delight.

Now the story keeps silence as to the lady and the Soudan, her
husband, till later, as you may hear, and returns to the Count of
Ponthieu, the son of the Count, and to my lord Thibault of Dommare,
who were left grieving for the dame who was flung into the sea, as you
have heard, nor knew aught of her tidings, but deemed that she were
rather dead than alive. Now tells the story--and the truth bears
witness to itself and is its own confirmation--that the Count was in
Ponthieu, together with his son, and Messire Thibault. Very heavy was
the Count, for in no wise could he get his daughter from his mind,
and grievously he lamented the wrong that he had done her. Messire
Thibault dared not take to himself another wife, because of the
anguish of his friend. The son of the Count might not wed also;
neither durst he to become knight, though he was come to an age when
such things are greatly to a young man's mind.

On a day the Count considered deeply the sin that he had committed
against his own flesh. He sought the Archbishop of Rheims in
confession, and opened out his grief, telling in his ear the crime
that he had wrought. He determined to seek those holy fields beyond
the sea, and sewed the Cross upon his mantle. When Messire Thibault
knew that his lord, the Count, had taken the Cross, he confessed him,
and did likewise. And when the Count's son was assured of the purpose
of his sire and of Messire Thibault, whom he loved dearly, he took the
Cross with them. Passing heavy was the Count to mark the Sign upon his
son's raiment.

"Fair son, what is this you have done; for now the land remains
without a lord!"

The son answered, and said, "Father, I wear the Sign first and
foremost for the love of God; afterwards for the saving of my soul,
and by reason that I would serve and honour Him to the utmost of my
power, so long as I have life in my body."

The Count put his realm in ward full wisely. He used diligence in
making all things ready, and bade farewell to his friends. Messire
Thibault and the son of the Count ordered their business, and the
three set forth together, with a fair company. They came to that holy
land beyond the sea, safe of person and of gear. There they made
devout pilgrimage to every place where they were persuaded it was meet
to go, and God might be served. When the Count had done all that
he was able, he deemed that there was yet one thing to do. He gave
himself and his fellowship to the service of the Temple for one year;
and at the end of this term he purposed to seek his country and his
home. He sent to Acre, and made ready a ship against his voyage. He
took his leave of the Knights Templar, and other lords of that land,
and greatly they praised him for the worship that he had brought them.
When the Count and his company were come to Acre they entered in the
ship, and departed from the haven with a fair wind. But little was
their solace. For when they drew to the open sea a strong and horrible
tempest sprang suddenly upon them, so that the sailors knew not where
they went, and feared each hour that all would be drowned. So piteous
was their plight that, with ropes, they bound themselves one to
another, the son to the father, the uncle to the nephew, according as
they stood. The Count, his son, and Messire Thibault for their part,
fastened themselves together, so that the same end should chance to
all. In no long time after this was done they saw land, and inquired
of the shipmen whither they were come. The mariners answered that this
realm belonged to the Paynim, and was called the Land of Aumarie. They
asked of the Count,

"Sire, what is your will that we do? If we seek the shore, doubtless
we shall be made captives, and fall into the hands of the Saracen."

The Count made answer, "Not my will, but the will of Jesus Christ be
done. Let the ship go as He thinks best. We will commit our bodies and
our lives to His good keeping, for a fouler and an uglier death we
cannot die, than to perish in this sea."

They drove with the wind along the coast of Aumarie, and the galleys
and warships of the Saracens put out to meet them. Be assured that
this was no fair meeting, for the Paynims took them and led them
before the Soudan, who was lord of that realm. There they gave him
the goods and the bodies of these Christians as a gift. The Soudan
sundered this fair fellowship, setting them in many places and in
divers prisons; but since the Count, his son, and Messire Thibault
were so securely bound together, he commanded that they should be cast
into a dungeon by themselves, and fed upon the bread of affliction and
the water of affliction. So it was done, even as he commanded. In this
prison they lay for a space, till such time as the Count's son fell
sick. His sickness was so grievous that the Count and Messire Thibault
feared greatly that this sorrow was to death.

Now it came to pass that the Soudan held high Court because of the day
of his birth, for such was the custom of the Saracens. After they had
well eaten, the Saracens stood before the Soudan, and said,

"Sire, we require of you our right."

He inquired of what right they were speaking, and they answered,

"Sire, a Christian captive to set as a mark for our arrows."

When the Soudan heard this he gave no thought to such a trifle, but
made reply,

"Get you to the prison, and take out that captive who has the least of
life in him."

The Paynim hastened to the dungeon, and brought forth the Count,
bearded, unkempt and foredone. The Soudan marked his melancholy case,
so he said to them, "This man has not long to live; take him hence,
and do your will on him."

The wife of the Soudan, of whom you have heard, the daughter of this
very Count, was in the hall, when they brought forth her father to
slay him. Immediately that her eyes fell upon him the blood in her
veins turned to water; not so much that she knew him as her sire, but
rather that Nature tugged at her heart strings. Then spake the dame to
the Soudan, "Husband, I, too, am French, and would gladly speak with
this poor wretch ere he die, if so I may."

"Wife," answered the Soudan, "truly, yes; it pleases me well."

The lady came to the Count. She took him apart, and bidding the
Saracens fall back, she inquired of him whence he was.

"Lady, I am from the kingdom of France, of a county that men call
Ponthieu."

When the lady heard this her bowels were moved. Earnestly she demanded
his name and race.

"Of a truth, lady, I have long forgotten my father's house, for I have
suffered such pain and anguish since I departed, that I would rather
die than live. But this you may know, that I--even the man who speaks
to you--was once the Count of Ponthieu."

The lady hearkened to this, but yet she made no sign. She went from
the Count, and coming to the Soudan, said,

"Husband, give me this captive as a gift, if such be your pleasure. He
knows chess and draughts and many fair tales to bring solace to the
hearer. He shall play before you, and we will make our pastime of his
skill."

"Wife," answered the Soudan, "I grant him to you very willingly; do
with him as you wish."

The lady took the captive, and bestowed him in her chamber. The
gaolers sought another in his stead, and brought forth my lord
Thibault, the husband to the dame. He came out in tatters, for he was
clothed rather in his long hair and great beard, than in raiment. His
body was lean and bony, and he seemed as one who had endured pain and
sorrow enough, and to spare. When the lady saw him she said to the
Soudan,

"Husband, with this one also would I gladly speak, if so I may."

"Wife," answered the Soudan, "it pleases me well."

The lady came to my lord Thibault, and inquired of him whence he was.

"Lady, I am of the realm of that ancient gentleman who was taken from
prison before me. I had his daughter to wife, and am his knight."

The lady knew well her lord, so she returned to the Soudan, and said
to him, "Husband, great kindness will you show me, if you give me this
captive also."

"Wife," said the Soudan, "I grant him to you very willingly."

She thanked him sweetly, and bestowed the gift in her chamber, with
the other.

The archers hastened together, and drawing before the Soudan said,
"Sire, you do us wrong, for the day is far spent."

They went straight to the prison, and brought forth the son of the
Count, shagged and filthy, as one who had not known of water for many
a day. He was a young man, so young that his beard had not come on
him, but for all his youth he was so thin and sick and weak, that
he scarce could stand upon his feet. When the lady saw him she had
compassion upon him. She came to him asking whose son he was and of
his home, and he replied that he was son to that gentleman, who was
first brought out of the dungeon. She knew well that this was her
brother, but she made herself strange unto him.

"Husband," said she to the Soudan, "verily you will shew kindness to
your wife beyond measure if you grant me this captive. He knows chess
and draughts and other delights passing fair to see and hear."

And the Soudan made answer, "Wife, by our holy law if they were a
hundred I would give them all to you gladly."

The lady thanked him tenderly, and bestowed the captive swiftly in
her chamber. The Saracens went again to the prison and fetched out
another, but the lady left him to his fate, when she looked upon his
face. So he won a martyr's crown, and our Lord Jesus Christ received
his soul. As for the dame, she hid herself from the sight, for it gave
her little joy, this slaying of the Christian by the Paynims.

The lady came to her chamber, and at her coming the captives would
have got them to their feet, but she made signs that they should
remain seated. Drawing close she made gestures of friendship. The
Count, who was very shrewd, asked at this, "Lady, when will they slay
us?"

She answered that their time had not yet come.

"Lady," said he, "the sorer grief is ours, for we are so anhungered,
that for a little our souls would leave our bodies."

The lady went out, and bade meat to be made ready. This she carried
in, giving to each a little, and to each a little drink. When they had
eaten, they had yet greater hunger than before. In this manner she fed
them, little by little, ten times a day, for she deemed that should
they eat to their desire, they would die of repletion. For this reason
she caused them to break their fast temperately. Thus the good lady
dealt with them for the first seven days, and at nights, by her grace,
they lay softly at their ease. She did away with their rags, and clad
them in seemly apparel. When the week was done she set before them
meat and drink to their heart's desire, so that their strength
returned to them again. They had chess and draughts, and played these
games to their great content. The Soudan was often with them. He
watched the play, and took pleasure in their gladness. But the lady
refrained, so that none might conceive, either by speech or fashion,
that he had known her before.

Now a short while after this matter of the captives, the story tells
that the Soudan had business enough of his own, for a mighty Sultan
laid waste his realm, and sought to do him much mischief. To avenge
his wrong the Soudan commanded his vassals from every place, and
assembled a great host. When the lady knew this, she entered the
chamber where the captives lay, and sitting amidst them lifted her
hand, and said, "Sirs, you have told me somewhat of your business; now
will I be assured whether you are true men or not. You told me that in
your own land you were once the Count of Ponthieu, that this man was
wedded to your daughter, and that this other was your son. Know that I
am a Saracen, having the science of astrology; so I tell you plainly
that you were never so near to a shameful death, as you are now, if
you hide from me the truth. What chanced to your daughter, the wife of
this knight?"

"Lady," replied the Count, "I deem her to be dead."

"How came she to her death?"

"Certes, lady," said the Count, "because for once she received her
deserts."

"Tell me of these deservings," said the dame.

Then the Count began to tell, with tears, of how she was wedded, but
was yet a barren wife; how the good knight vowed pilgrimage to my lord
St. James in Galicia, and how the lady prayed that she might go with
him, which prayer he granted willingly. He told how they went their
way with joy, till alone, in the deep wood, they met with sturdy
felons who set upon them. The good knight might do nothing against so
many, for he was a naked man; but despite of all, he slew three, and
five were left, who killed his palfrey, and spoiling him to the very
shirt, bound him hands and feet, and flung him into a thorn bush. They
spoiled the lady also and stole her palfrey from her. When they looked
upon her, and saw that she was fair, each would have taken her.
Afterwards they accorded that she should be to all, and having
had their will in her despite, they departed and left her weeping
bitterly. This the good knight saw, so he besought her courteously to
unloose his hands, that they might get them from the wood. But the
lady marked a sword belonging to one of these felons that were slain.
She handselled it, and hastening where he lay, cried in furious
fashion, "You are unbound already." Then she raised the naked sword,
and struck at his body. But by the loving kindness of God, and the
vigour of the knight, she but sundered the bonds that bound him, so
that he sprang forth, and wounded as he was, cried, "Dame, by the
grace of God it is not to-day that you shall kill me with the sword."

At this word that fair lady, the wife of the Soudan, spoke suddenly,
and said,

"Ah, sir, you have told the tale honestly, and very clear it is why
she would have slain him."

"For what reason, lady?"

"Certes," answered she, "for reason of the great shame which had
befallen her."

When Messire Thibault heard this he wept right tenderly, and said,
"Alas, what part had she in this wickedness! May God keep shut the
doors of my prison if I had shown her the sourer face therefore,
seeing that her will was not in the deed."

"Sir," said the lady, "she feared your reproach. But tell me which is
the more likely, that she be alive or dead?"

"Lady," said Thibault, "we know not what to think."

"Well I know," cried the Count, "of the great anguish we have
suffered, by reason of the sin I sinned against her."

"If it pleased God that she were yet living," inquired the lady, "and
tidings were brought which you could not doubt, what would you have to
say?"

"Lady," said the Count, "I should be happier than if I were taken from
this prison, or were granted more wealth than ever I have had in my
life."

"Lady," said Messire Thibault, "so God give me no joy of my heart's
dearest wish, if I had not more solace than if men crowned me King of
France."

"Certes, lady," said the dansellon, who was her brother, "none could
give or promise me aught so sweet, as the life of that sister, who was
so fair and good."

When the lady hearkened to these words her heart yearned with
tenderness. She praised God, rendering Him thanks, and said to them,
"Be sure that you speak with unfeigned lips."

And they answered and said that they spoke with unfeigned lips. Then
the lady began to weep with happy tears, and said to them, "Sir, now
may you truly say that you are my father, for I am that daughter on
whom you wrought such bitter justice. And you, Messire Thibault, are
my lord and husband; and you, sir dansellon, are my brother."

Then she rehearsed to them in what manner she was found of the
chapmen, and how they bestowed her as a gift on the Soudan. They were
very glad, and rejoiced mightily, humbling themselves before her, but
she forbade them to show their mirth, saying, "I am a Saracen, and
have renounced the faith; otherwise I should not be here, but were
dead already. Therefore I pray and beseech you as you love your lives
and would prolong your days, whatever you may see or hear, not to show
me any affection, but keep yourselves strange to me, and leave me to
unravel the coil. Now I will tell why I have revealed myself to you.
My husband, the Soudan, rides presently to battle. I know well,
Messire Thibault, that you are a hardy knight, and I will pray the
Soudan to take you with him. If ever you were brave, now is the time
to make it plain. See to it that you do him such service that he have
no grievance against you."

The lady departed forthwith, and coming before the Soudan, said,
"Husband, one of my captives desires greatly to go with you, if such
be your pleasure."

"Wife," answered he, "I dare not put myself in his hand, for fear that
he may do me a mischief."

"Husband, he will not dare to be false, since I hold his companions as
hostages."

"Wife," said he, "I will take him with me, because of your counsel,
and I will deliver him a good horse and harness, and all that warrior
may require."

The lady returned straightway to the chamber. She said to Messire
Thibault, "I have persuaded the Soudan to bring you to the battle. Act
therefore manfully."

At this her brother knelt at her knee, praying her to plead with the
Soudan that he might go also.

"That I may not do," said she, "or the thing will be too clear."

The Soudan ordered his business, and went forth, Messire Thibault
being with him, and came upon the enemy. According to his word, the
Soudan had given to the knight both horse and harness. By the will of
Jesus Christ, who faileth never such as have faith and affiance in
Him, Messire Thibault did such things in arms that in a short space
the enemies of the Soudan were put under his feet. The Soudan rejoiced
greatly at his knight's deeds and his victory, and returned bringing
many captives with him. He went straight to the dame, and said, "Wife,
by my law I have naught but good to tell of your prisoner, for he has
done me faithful service. So he deny his faith, and receive our holy
religion, I will grant him broad lands, and find him a rich heiress in
marriage."

"Husband, I know not, but I doubt if he will do this thing."

No more was spoken of the matter; but the lady set her house in order,
as best she was able, and coming to her captives said, "Sirs, go
warily, so that the Saracens see nothing of what is in our mind; for,
please God, we shall yet win to France and the county of Ponthieu."

On a day the lady came before the Soudan. She went in torment, and
lamented very grievously.

"Husband, it is with me as it was before. Well I know it, for I have
fallen into sore sickness, and my food has no relish in my mouth, no,
not since you went to the battle."

"Wife, I am right glad to hear that you are with child, although your
infirmity is very grievous unto me. Consider and tell me those things
that you deem will be to your healing, and I will seek and procure
them whatever the cost."

When the lady heard this, her heart beat lightly in her breast. She
showed no semblance of joy, save this only, that she said, "Husband,
my old captive tells me that unless I breathe for awhile such air as
that of my native land, and that quickly, I am but dead, for in nowise
have I long to live."

"Wife," said the Soudan, "your death shall not be on my conscience.
Consider and show me where you would go, and there I will cause you to
be taken."

"Husband, it is all one to me, so I be out of this city."

Then the Soudan made ready a ship, both fair and strong, and garnished
her plenteously with wines and meats.

"Husband," said the lady to the Soudan, "I will take of my captives
the aged and the young, that they may play chess and draughts at my
bidding, and I will carry with me my son for my delight."

"Wife," answered he, "your will is my pleasure. But what shall be done
with the third captive?"

"Husband, deal with him after your desire."

"Wife, I desire that you take him on the ship; for he is a brave man,
and will keep you well, both on land and sea, if you have need of his
sword."

The lady took leave of the Soudan, bidding him farewell, and urgently
he prayed her to return so soon as she was healed of her sickness. The
stores being put upon the ship and all things made ready, they entered
therein and set sail from the haven. With a fair wind they went very
swiftly, so that the shipmen sought the lady, saying, "Madam, this
wind is driving the boat to Brindisi. Is it your pleasure to take
refuge there, or to go elsewhere?"

"Let the ship keep boldly on her course," answered the lady to them,
"for I speak French featly and other tongues also, so I will bring you
to a good end."

They made such swift passage by day and by night, that according to
the will of Our Lord they came quickly to Brindisi. The ship cast
anchor safely in the harbour, and they lighted on the shore, being
welcomed gladly by the folk of that country. The lady, who was very
shrewd, drew her captives apart, and said, "Sirs, I desire you to
call to mind the pledge and the covenant you have made. I must now be
certain that you are true men, remembering your oaths and plighted
words. I pray you to let me know, by all that you deem of God, whether
you will abide or not by our covenant together; for it is yet not too
late to return to my home."

They answered, "Lady, know beyond question that the bargain we have
made we will carry out loyally. By our faith in God and as christened
men we will abide by this covenant; so be in no doubt of our
assurance."

"I trust you wholly," replied the lady; "but, sirs, see here my son,
whom I had of the Soudan, what shall we do with him?"

"Lady, the boy is right welcome, and to great honour shall he come in
our own land."

"Sirs," said the dame, "I have dealt mischievously with the Soudan,
for I have stolen my person from him, and the son who was so dear to
his heart."

The lady went again to the shipmen, and lifting her hand, said to
them, "Sirs, return to the Soudan whence you came, and greet him with
this message. Tell him that I have taken from him my body and the son
he loved so well, that I might deliver my father, my lord, and my
brother from the prison where they were captive."

When the sailors heard this they were very dolent, but there was
naught that they might do. They set sail for their own country, sad
and very heavy by reason of the lady, of the young lad, whom they
loved greatly, and of the captives who were escaped altogether from
their hand.

For his part the Count arrayed himself meetly by grace of merchants
and Templars, who lent him gladly of their wealth. He abode in the
town, together with his fellowship, for their solace, till they made
them ready for the journey, and took the road to Rome. The Count
sought the Pontiff, and his company with him. Each confessed him
of the secrets of his heart, and when the Bishop heard thereof,
he accepted their devotion, and comforted them right tenderly. He
baptised the child, who was named William. He reconciled the lady with
Holy Church, and confirmed the lady and Messire Thibault her lord, in
their marriage bond, reknitting them together, giving penance to each,
and absolution for their sins. After this they made no long sojourn
in Rome, but took their leave of the Apostle who had honoured them so
greatly. He granted them his benison, and commended them to God. So
they went their way in great solace and delight, praising God and His
Mother, and all the calendar of saints, and rendering thanks for the
mercies which had been vouchsafed to them. Journeying thus they
came at last to the country of their birth, and were met by a fair
procession of bishops and abbots, monks and priests, who had desired
them fervently. But of all these welcomes they welcomed most gladly
her who was recovered from death, and had delivered her sire, her
lord, and her brother from the hands of the Paynim, even as you have
heard. There we leave them for awhile, and will tell you of the
shipmen and Saracens who had fared with them across the sea.

The sailors and Saracens who had carried them to Brindisi, returned
as quickly as they were able, and with a fair wind cast anchor before
Aumarie. They got them to land, very sad and heavy, and told their
tidings to the Soudan. Right sorrowful was the Soudan, and neither for
time nor reason could he forget his grief. Because of this mischief he
loved that daughter the less who tarried with him, and showed her the
less courtesy. Nevertheless the maiden increased in virtue and in
wisdom, so that the Paynim held her in love and honour, praising her
for the good that was known of her. But now the story is silent as to
that Soudan who was so tormented by reason of the flight of his dame
and captives; and comes again to the Count of Ponthieu, who was
welcomed to his realm with such pomp and worship, as became a lord of
his degree.

In no long while after his return the son of the Count was dubbed
knight, and rich was the feast. He became a knight both chivalrous and
brave. Greatly he loved all honourable men, and gladly he bestowed
fair gifts on the poor knights and poor gentlewomen of the country.
Much was he esteemed of lord and hind, for he was a worthy knight,
generous, valiant and debonair, proud only to his foes. Yet his days
on earth were but a span, which was the sorer pity, for he died
lamented of all.

Now it befell that the Count held high Court, and many a knight and
lord sat with him at the feast. Amongst these came a very noble man
and knight, of great place, in Normandy, named my lord Raoul des
Preaux. This Raoul had a daughter, passing sweet and fair. The Count
spoke so urgently to Raoul and to the maiden's kin that a marriage
was accorded between William, his grandson, the son of the Soudan of
Aumarie, and the daughter of my lord Raoul, the heiress to all his
wealth. William wedded the damsel with every rich observance, and in
right of his wife this William became Lord of Preaux.

For a long while the realm had peace from its foes.

Messire Thibault dwelt with the lady, and had of her two sons, who
in later days were worthy gentlemen of great worship. The son of the
Count of Ponthieu, of whom we have spoken much and naught but good,
died shortly after, to the grief of all the land. The Count of St. Pol
was yet alive; therefore the two sons of my lord Thibault were heirs
to both these realms, and attained thereto in the end. That devout
lady, their mother, because of her contrite heart, gave largely to
the poor; and Messire Thibault, like the honourable gentleman he was,
abounded in good works so long as he was quick.

Now it chanced that the daughter of the lady, who abode with the
Soudan her father, increased greatly in favour and in virtue. She was
called The Fair Captive, by reason that her mother had left her in
the Soudan's keeping, as you have heard. A certain brave Turk in the
service of the Soudan--Malakin of Baudas by name--saw this damsel, so
fair and gracious, and desired her dearly in his heart, because of the
good men told of her. He came before his master, and said to him,

"Sire, in return for his labour your servant craves a gift."

"Malakin," returned the Soudan, "what gift would you have?"

"Sire, I would dare to tell it to your face, if only she were not so
high above my reach."

The Sultan who was both shrewd and quick witted made reply,

"Say out boldly what is in your mind, for I hold you dear, and
remember what you have done. If there is aught it beseems me to
grant--saving only my honour--be assured that it is yours."

"Sire, well I know that your honour is without spot, nor would I seek
anything against it. I pray you to bestow on your servant--if so it be
your pleasure--my lady your daughter, for she is the gift I covet most
in all the world."

The Soudan kept silence, and considered for a space. He knew well that
Malakin was both valiant and wise, and might easily come to great
honour and degree. Since the servant was worthy of his high desire,
the Soudan said, "By my law you have required of me a great thing, for
I love my daughter dearly, and have no other heir. You know well, and
it is the simple truth, that she comes of the best and bravest blood
in France, for her mother is the child of the Count of Ponthieu. But
since you too are valiant, and have done me loyal service, for my part
I will give her to you willingly, save only that it be to the maiden's
mind."

"Sire," said Malakin, "I would not take her against her wish."

The Soudan bade the girl be summoned. When she came, he said, "Fair
daughter, I have granted you in marriage, if it pleases you."

"Sir," answered the maiden, "my pleasure is in your will."

The Soudan took her by the hand, saying, "Take her, Malakin, the maid
is yours."

Malakin received her with a glad heart, and wedded her according to
the Paynim rite, bringing her to his house right joyously, with the
countenance of all his friends. Afterwards he returned with her to his
own land. The Soudan escorted them upon their way, with such a fair
company of his household as seemed good to him. Then he bade farewell
to his child and her lord, and returned to his home. But a great part
of his fellowship he commanded to go with her for their service,
Malakin came back to his own land, where he was welcomed right gladly
of his friends, and served and honoured by all the folk of his realm.
He lived long and tenderly with his wife, neither were they childless,
as this story testifies. For of this lady, who was called the Fair
Captive, was born the mother of that courteous Turk, the Sultan
Saladin, an honourable, a wise, and a conquering lord.



XVII


THE CHATELAINE OF VERGI

There are divers men who make a great show of loyalty, and pretend to
such discretion in the hidden things they hear, that at the end folk
come to put faith in them. When by their false seeming they have
persuaded the simple to open out to them their love and their deeds,
then they noise the matter about the country, and make it their song
and their mirth. Thus it chances that the lesser joy is his who has
bared to them his heart. For the sweeter the love, the more bitter is
the pang that lovers know, when each deems the other to have bruited
abroad the secret he should conceal. Oftentimes these blabbers do such
mischief with their tongue, that the love they spoil comes to its
close in sorrow and in care. This indeed happened in Burgundy to a
brave and worthy knight, and to the Lady of Vergi. This knight loved
his lady so dearly that she granted him her tenderness, on such
covenant as this--that the day he showed her favour to any, that very
hour he would lose the love and the grace she bestowed on him. To seal
this bond they devised together that the knight should come a days to
an orchard, at such hour as seemed good to his friend. He must remain
coy in his nook within the wall till he might see the lady's lapdog
run across the orchard. Then without further tarrying he should enter
her chamber, knowing full well she was alone, whom so fondly he
desired to greet. This he did, and in this fashion they met together
for a great while, none being privy to their sweet and stolen love,
save themselves alone.

The knight was courteous and fair, and by reason of his courage was
right welcome to that Duke who was lord of Burgundy. He came and went
about the Court, and that so often that the Duchess set her mind upon
him. She cared so little to hide her thought, that had his heart not
been in another's keeping, he must surely have perceived in her eyes
that she loved him. But however tender her semblance the knight showed
no kindness in return, for he marked nothing of her inclination.
Passing troubled was the dame that he should treat her thus; so that
on a day she took him apart, and sought to make him of her counsel.

"Sir, as men report, you are a brave and worthy knight, for the which
give God thanks. It would not be more than your deserts, if you had
for friend a lady in so high a place that her love would bring to you
both honour and profit. How richly could such a lady serve you!"

"Lady," said he, "I have never yet had this in my thought."

"By my faith," she answered, "it seems to me that the longer you wait,
the less is your hope. Perchance the lady will stoop very readily from
her throne, if you but kneel at her knee."

The knight replied, "Lady, by my faith, I know little why you speak
such words, and I understand their meaning not at all. I am neither
duke nor count to dare to set my love in so high a seat. There is
nought in me to gain the love of so sovereign a dame, pain me how I
may."

"Such things have been," said she, "and so may chance again. Many more
marvellous works have been wrought than this, and the day of miracles
is not yet past. Tell me, know you not yet that you have gained the
love of some high princess, even mine?"

The knight made answer forthwith, "Lady, I know it not. I would desire
to have your love in a fair and honourable fashion; but may God keep
me from such love between us, as would put shame upon my lord. In no
manner, nor for any reason, will I enter on such a business as would
lead me to deal my true and lawful lord so shrewd and foul a wrong."

Bitter at heart was the dame to see her love so scorned.

"Fie upon you," she cried, "and who required of you any such thing?"

"Ah, lady, to God be the praise; you have said enough to make your
meaning passing plain."

The lady strove no more to show herself kind to him. Great was the
wrath and sharp the malice that she hid within her heart, and well she
purposed that, if she might, she would avenge herself speedily. All
the day she considered her anger. That night as she lay beside the
Duke she began to sigh, and afterwards to weep. Presently the Duke
inquired of her grief, bidding her show it him forthwith.

"Certes," said the dame, "I make this great sorrow because no prince
can tell who is his faithful servant, and who is not. Often he gives
the more honour and wealth to those who are traitors rather than
friends, and sees nothing of their wrong."

"In faith, wife," answered the Duke, "I know not why you speak these
words. At least I am free of such blame as this, for in nowise would I
nourish a traitor, if only a traitor I knew him to be."

"Hate then this traitor," cried she,--and she named a name--"who gives
me no peace, praying and requiring me the livelong day that I should
grant him my love. For a great while he had been in this mind--as he
says--but did not dare to speak his thoughts. I considered the whole
matter, fair lord, and resolved to show it you at once. It is likely
enough to be true that he cherished this hope, for we have never heard
that he loves elsewhere. I entreat you in guerdon, to look well to
your own honour, since this, as you know, is your duty and right."

Passing grievous was this business to the Duke. He answered to the
lady,

"I will bring it to a head, and very quickly, as I deem."

That night the Duke lay upon a bed of little ease. He could neither
sleep nor rest, by reason of that lord, his friend, who, he was
persuaded, had done him such bitter wrong as justly to have forfeited
his love. Because of this he kept vigil the whole night through. He
rose very early on the morrow, and bade him come whom his wife had put
to blame, although he had done nothing blameworthy. Then he took him
to task, man to man, when there were but these two together.

"Certes," he said, "it is a heavy grief that you who are so comely
and brave, should yet have no honour in you. You have deceived me the
more, for I have long believed you to be a man of good faith, giving
loyalty, at least, to me, in return for the love I have given to you.
I know not how you can have harboured such a felon's wish, as to pray
and require the Duchess to grant you her grace. You are guilty of such
treachery that conduct more vile it would be far to seek. Get you
hence from my realm. You have my leave to part, and it is denied to
you for ever. If you return here it will be at your utmost peril, for
I warn you beforehand that if I lay hands upon you, you will die a
shameful death."

When the knight heard this judgment, such wrath and mortification
were his that his members trembled beneath him. He called to mind his
friend, of whom he would have no joy, if he might not come and go and
sojourn in that realm from which the Duke had banished him. Moreover
he was sick at heart that his lord should deem him a disloyal traitor,
without just cause. He knew such sore discomfort that he held himself
as dead and betrayed.

"Sire," said he, "for the love of God believe this never, neither
think that I have been so bold. To do that of which you wrongfully
charge me, has never entered my mind, not one day, nor for one single
hour. Who has told you this lie has wrought a great ill."

"You gain nothing by such denials," answered the Duke, "for of a
surety the thing is true. I have heard from her own lips the very
guise and fashion in which you prayed and required her love, like the
envious traitor that you are. Many another word it may well be that
you spoke, as to which the lady of her courtesy keeps silence."

"My lady says what it pleases her to say," replied the dolorous
knight, "and my denials are lighter than her word. Naught is there for
me to say; nothing is left for me to do, so that I may be believed
that this adventure never happened."

"Happen it did, by my soul," said the Duke, remembering certain words
of his wife. Well he deemed that he might be assured of the truth,
if but the lady's testimony were true that this lord had never loved
otherwhere. Therefore the Duke said to the knight, "If you will pledge
your faith to answer truly what I may ask, I shall be certified by
your words whether or not you have done this deed of which I misdoubt
you."

The knight had but one desire--to turn aside his lord's wrath, which
had so wrongfully fallen upon him. He feared only lest he should be
driven from the land where lodged the dame who was the closest to his
mind. Knowing nothing of what was in the Duke's thought, he considered
that his question could only concern the one matter; so he replied
that without fraud or concealment he would do as his lord had said.
Thus he pledged his faith, and the Duke accepted his affiance.

When this was done the Duke made question,

"I have loved you so dearly that at the bottom of my heart I cannot
believe you guilty of such shameless misdoing as the Duchess tells me.
I would not credit it a moment, if you yourself were not the cause of
my doubtfulness. From your face, the care you bestow upon your person,
and a score of trifles, any who would know, can readily see that you
are in love with some lady. Since none about the Court perceives
damsel or dame on whom you have set your heart, I ask myself whether
indeed it may not be my wife, who tells me that you have entreated her
for love. Nothing that any one may do can take this suspicion from my
mind, except you tell me yourself that you love elsewhere, making it
so plain that I am left without doubt that I know the naked truth. If
you refuse her name you will have broken your oath, and forth from my
realm you go as an outlawed man."

The knight had none to give him counsel. To himself he seemed to stand
at the parting of two ways, both one and the other leading to death.
If he spoke the simple truth (and tell he must if he would not be a
perjurer) then was he as good as dead; for if he did such wrong as to
sin against the covenant with his lady and his friend, certainly he
would lose her love, so it came to her knowledge. But if he concealed
the truth from the Duke, then he was false to his oath, and had lost
both country and friend. But little he recked of country, so only he
might keep his Love, since of all his riches she was the most dear.
The knight called to heart and remembrance the fair joy and the solace
that were his when he had this lady between his arms. He considered
within himself that if by reason of his misdoing she came to harm, or
were lost to him, since he might not take her where he went, how could
he live without her. It would be with him also, as erst with the
Castellan of Couci, who having his Love fast only in his heart, told
over in his song,

  Ah, God, strong Love, I sit and weep alone,
    Remembering the solace that was given;
  The tender guise, the semblance that was shown
    By her, my friend, my comrade, and my Heaven.

  When grief brings back the joy that was mine own,
    I would the heart from out my breast were riven.
  Ah, Lord, the sweet words hushed, the beauty flown;
    Would God that I were dead, and low, and shriven.

The knight was in anguish such as this, for he knew not whether to
make clear the truth, or to lie and be banished from the country.

Whilst he was deep in thought, turning over in his mind what it were
best to do, tears rose in his heart and flowed from his eyes, so that
his face was wet, by reason of the sorrow that he suffered. The Duke
had no more mirth than the knight, deeming that his secret was so
heavy that he dared not make it plain. The Duke spoke swiftly to his
friend,

"I see clearly that you fear to trust me wholly, as a knight should
trust his lord. If you confess your counsel privily to me, you cannot
think that I shall show the matter to any man. I would rather have my
teeth drawn one by one, than speak a word."

"Ah," cried the knight, "for God's love, have pity, Sire. I know not
what I ought to say, nor what will become of me; but I would rather
die than lose what lose I shall if she only hears that you have the
truth, and that you heard it from my lips, whilst I am a living man."

The Duke made answer,

"I swear to you by my body and my soul, and on the faith and love I
owe you again by reason of your homage, that never in my life will I
tell the tale to any creature born, or even breathe a word or make a
sign about the business."

With the tears yet running down his face the knight said to him,

"Sire, right or wrong, now will I show my secret. I love your niece of
Vergi, and she loves me, so that no friends can love more fondly."

"If you wish to be believed," replied the Duke, "tell me now, if any,
save you two alone, knows anything of this joy?"

And the knight made answer to him,

"Nay, not a creature in the world."

Then said the Duke,

"No love is so privy as that. If none has heard thereof, how do you
meet together, and how devise time and place?"

"By my faith, Sire, I will tell you all, and keep back nothing, since
you know so much of our counsel."

So he related the whole story of his goings to and fro within the
pleasaunce; of that first covenant with his friend, and of the office
of the little dog.

Then said the Duke,

"I require of you that I may be your comrade at such fair meeting.
When you go again to the orchard, I too, would enter therein, and
mark for myself the success of your device. As for my niece she shall
perceive naught."

"Sire, if it be your will it is my pleasure also; save, only, that you
find it not heavy or burdensome. Know well that I go this very night."

The Duke said that he would go with him, for the vigil would in no
wise be burdensome, but rather a frolic and a game. They accorded
between them a place of meeting, where they would draw together on
foot, and alone. When nightfall was come they fared to the hostel of
the Duke's niece, for her dwelling was near at hand. They had not
tarried long in the garden, when the Duke saw his niece's lapdog run
straight to that end of the orchard where the knight was hidden.
Wondrous kindness showed the knight to his lady's dog. Immediately he
took his way to her lodging, and left his master in his nook by the
wall. The Duke followed after till he drew near the chamber, and held
himself coy, concealing him as best he might. It was easy enough to
do this, for a great tree stood there, high and leafy, so that he was
covered close as by a shield. From this place he marked the little dog
enter the chamber, and presently saw his niece issue therefrom, and
hurry forth to meet her lover in the pleasaunce. He was so close that
he could see and hear the solace of that greeting, the salutation of
her mouth and of her hands. She embraced him closely in her fair white
arms, kissing him more than a hundred times, whilst she spoke many
comforting words. The knight for his part kissed her again, and held
her fast, praising her with many tender names.

"My lady, my friend, my love," said he, "heart and mistress and hope,
and the sum of all that I hold dear, know well that I have yearned to
be with you as we are now, every day and all day long since we met."

"Sweet lord, sweet friend, sweet love," replied the lady, "never has a
day nor an hour gone by but I was awearied of its length. But I grieve
no longer over the past, for I have my heart's desire when you are
with me, joyous and well. Right welcome are you to your friend."

And the knight made answer,

"Love, you are welcome and wellmet."

From his place of hiding, near the entrance to the chamber, the Duke
hearkened to every word. His niece's voice and face were so familiar
to him, that he could not doubt that the Duchess had lied. Greatly was
he content, for he was now assured that his friend had not done amiss
in that of which he had misdoubted him. All through the night he kept
watch and ward. But during his vigil the dame and the knight, close
and sleepless in the chamber, knew such joy and tenderness as it is
not seemly should be told or heard, save of those who hope themselves
to attain such solace, when Love grants them recompense for all their
pains. For he who desires nothing of this joy and quittance, even
if it were told him, would but listen to a tongue he could not
understand, since his heart is not turned to Love, and none can know
the wealth of such riches, except Love whisper it in his ear. Of such
kingdom not all are worthy: for there joy goes without anger, and
solace is crowned with fruition. But so fleet are things sweet, that
to the lover his joy seems to find but a brief content. So pleasant
is the life he passes that he wishes his night a week, his week to
stretch to a month, the month become a year, and one year three, and
three years twenty, and the twenty attain to a hundred. Yea, when the
term and end were reached, he would that the dusk were closing, rather
than the dawn had come.

This was the case with the lover whom the Duke awaited in the orchard.
When day was breaking, and he durst remain no longer, he came with his
lady to the door. The Duke marked the fashion of their leave-taking,
the kisses given and granted, the sighs and the weeping as they bade
farewell. When they had wept many tears, and devised an hour for their
next meeting, the knight departed in this fashion, and the lady shut
the door. But so long as she might see him, she followed his going
with her pretty eyes, since there was nothing better she could do.

When the Duke knew the postern was made fast, he hastened on his road
until he overtook the knight, who to himself was making his complaint
of the season, that all too short was his hour. The same thought
and the self same words were hers from whom he had parted, for the
briefness of the time had betrayed her delight, and she had no praises
for the dawn. The knight was deep in his thought and speech, when he
was overtaken by the Duke. The Duke embraced his friend, greeting him
very tenderly. Then he said to him,

"I pledge my faith that I will love you all the days of my life, never
on any day seeking to do you a mischief, for you have told me the very
truth, and have not lied to me by a single word."

"Sire," he made answer, "thanks and gramercy. But for the love of
God I require and pray of you that it be your pleasure to hide this
counsel; for I should lose my love, and the peace and comfort of my
life--yea, and should die without sin of my own, if I deemed that any
other in this realm than yourself knew aught of the business."

"Now speak of it never," replied the Duke. "Know that the counsel
shall be kept so hidden, that by me shall not a syllable be spoken."

On this covenant they came again whence they had set forth together.
That day, when men sat at meat, the Duke showed to his knight a
friendlier semblance and a fairer courtesy than ever he had done
before. The Duchess felt such wrath and despitefulness at this,
that--without any leasing--she rose from the table, and making
pretence of sudden sickness, went to lie upon her bed, where she found
little softness. When the Duke had eaten and washed and made merry, he
afterwards sought his wife's chamber, and causing her to be seated on
her bed, commanded that none should remain, save himself. So all men
went forth at his word, even as he had bidden. Thereupon the Duke
inquired of the lady how this evil had come to her, and of what she
was sick. She made answer,

"As God hears me, never till I ate at table did I deem that you had so
little sense or decency, as when I saw you making much of him, who, I
have told you already, strove to bring shame and disgrace on me. When
I watched you entreat him with more favour than even was your wont,
such great sorrow and such great anger took hold on me, that I could
not contain myself in the hall."

"Sweet friend," replied the Duke, "know that I shall never
believe--either from your lips or from those of any creature in the
world--that the story ever happened as you rehearsed it. I am so deep
in his counsel that he has my quittance, for I have full assurance
that he never dreamed of such a deed. But as to this you must ask of
me no more."

The Duke went straightway from the chamber, leaving the lady sunk in
thought. However long she had to live, never might she know an hour's
comfort, till she had learnt something of that secret of which the
Duke forbade her to seek further. No denial could now stand in her
way, for in her heart swiftly she devised a means to unriddle this
counsel, so only she might endure until the evening, and the Duke was
in her arms. She was persuaded that, beyond doubt, such solace would
win her wish more surely than wrath or tears. For this purpose she
held herself coy, and when the Duke came to lie at her side she betook
herself to the further side of the bed, making semblance that his
company gave her no pleasure. Well she knew that such show of anger
was the device to put her lord beneath her feet. Therefore she turned
her back upon him, that the Duke might the more easily be drawn by
the cords of her wrath. For this same reason when he had no more than
kissed her, she burst out,

"Right false and treacherous and disloyal are you to make such a
pretence of affection, who yet have never loved me truly one single
day. All these years of our wedded life I have been foolish enough to
believe, what you took such pains in the telling, that you loved
me with a loyal heart. To-day I see plainly that I was the more
deceived."

"In what are you deceived?" inquired the Duke.

"By my faith," cried she, who was sick of her desire, "you warn me
that I be not so bold as to ask aught of that of which you know the
secret."

"In God's name, sweet wife, of what would you know?"

"Of all that he has told you, the lies and the follies he has put in
your mind, and led you to believe. But it matters little now whether I
hear it or not, for I remember how small is my gain in being your true
and loving wife. For good or for ill I have shown you all my counsel.
There was nothing that was known and seen of my heart that you were
not told at once; and of your courtesy you repay me by concealing your
mind. Know, now, without doubt, that never again shall I have in you
such affiance, nor grant you my love with such sweetness, as I have
bestowed them in the past."


Thereat the Duchess began to weep and sigh, making the most tender
sorrow that she was able. The Duke felt such pity for her grief that
he said to her,

"Fairest and dearest, your wrath and anger are more heavy than I can
bear; but learn that I cannot tell what you wish me to say without
sinning against my honour too grievously."

Then she replied forthwith,

"Husband, if you do not tell me, the reason can only be that you do
not trust me to keep silence in the business. I wonder the more sorely
at this, because there is no matter, either great or small, that you
have told me, which has been published by me. I tell you honestly that
never in my life could I be so indiscreet."

When she had said this, she betook her again to her tears. The Duke
kissed and embraced her, and was so sick of heart that strength failed
him to keep his purpose.

"Fair wife," he said to her, "by my soul I am at my wits' end. I have
such trust and faith in you that I deem I should hide nothing, but
show you all that I know. Yet I dread that you will let fall some
word. Know, wife--and I tell it you again--that if ever you betray
this counsel you will get death for your payment."

The Duchess made answer,

"I agree to the bargain, for it is not possible that I should deal you
so shrewd a wrong."

Then he who loved her, because of his faith and his credence in her
word, told all this story of his niece, even as he had learned it from
the knight. He told how those two were alone together in the shadow of
the wall, when the little dog ran to them. He showed plainly of that
coming forth from the chamber, and of the entering in; nothing was
hid, he concealed naught of that he had heard and seen. When the
Duchess understood that the love of a mighty dame was despised for the
sake of a lowly gentlewoman, her humiliation was bitter in her mouth
as death. She showed no semblance of despitefulness, but made covenant
and promise with the Duke to keep the matter close, saying that should
she repeat his tale he might hang her from a tree.

Time went very heavily with the lady, till she could get speech with
her, whom she hated from the hour she knew her to be the friend of him
who had caused her such shame and grief. She was persuaded that for
this reason he would not give her love, in return for that she set on
him. She confirmed herself in her purpose, that at such time and place
she saw the Duke speaking with his niece, she would go swiftly to the
lady, and tell out all her mind, hiding nothing because it was evil.
Neither time nor place was met, till Pentecost was come, and the Duke
held high Court, commanding to the feast all the ladies of his realm,
amongst the first that lady, his niece, who was the Chatelaine of
Vergi. When the Duchess looked on her, the blood pricked in her veins,
for reason that she hated her more than aught else in the world. She
had the courage to hide her malice, and greeted the lady more gladly
than ever she had done before. But she yearned to show openly the
anger that burned in her heart, and the delay was much against her
mind. On Pentecost, whilst the tables were removed, the Duchess
brought the ladies to her chamber with her, that, apart from the
throng, they might the more graciously attire them for the dance. She
deemed her hour had come, and having no longer the power to refrain
her lips, she said gaily, as if in jest,

"Chatelaine, array yourself very sweetly, since there is a fair and
worthy lord you have to please."

The lady answered right simply,

"In truth, madam, I know not what you are thinking of; but for my part
I wish for no such friendship as may not be altogether according to my
honour and to that of my lord."

"I grant that readily," replied the Duchess, "you are a good mistress,
and have an apt pupil in your little dog."

The ladies returned with the Duchess to the hall, where the dances
were already set. They had listened to the tale, but could not mark
the jest. The chatelaine remained in the chamber. Her colour came and
went, and because of her wrath and trouble the heart throbbed thickly
in her breast. She passed within a tiring chamber, where a little
maiden was lying at the foot of the bed; but for grief she might not
perceive her. The chatelaine flung herself upon the bed, bewailing her
evil plight, for she was exceedingly sorrowful. She said,

"Ah, Lord God, take pity on me! What may this mean, that I have
listened to my lady's reproaches because of the training of my little
dog! This she can have learned from none--as well I know--save from
him whom I have loved, and who has betrayed me. He would never have
shown her this thing, except that he was her familiar friend, and
doubtless loves her more dearly than me, whom he has betrayed. I see
now the value of his oaths, since he finds it so easy to fail in his
covenant. Sweet God, and I loved him so fondly, more fondly than any
woman has loved before; who never had him from my thoughts one single
hour, whether it were night or day. For he was my mirth and my carol;
in him were my joy and my pleasure; he alone was my solace and
comfort. Ah, my friend, how can this have come; you who were always
with me, even when I might not see you with my eyes! What ill has
befallen you, that you durst prove false to me? I deemed you more
faithful--God take me in His keeping--than ever was Tristan to Isoude.
May God pity a poor fool, I loved you half as much again than I had
love for myself. From the first to the last of our friendship, never
by thought, or by word, or by deed, have I done amiss; there is no
wrong doing, trifling or great, to make plain your hatred, or to
excuse so vile a betrayal as this scorning of our love for a fresher
face, this desertion of me, this proclaiming of our secret. Alas, my
friend, I marvel greatly; for as God is my witness my heart was not
thus towards you. If God had offered me all the kingdoms of the world,
yea, and His Heaven and its Paradise besides, I would have refused
them gladly, had my gain meant the losing of you. For you were my
wealth and my song and my health, and nothing can hurt me any more,
since my heart has learnt that yours no longer loves me. Ah, lasting,
precious love! Who could have guessed that he would deal this blow, to
whom I gave the grace of my tenderness--who said that I was his lady
both in body and in soul, and he the slave at my bidding. Yea, he told
it over so sweetly, that I believed him faithfully, nor thought in any
wise that his heart would bear wrath and malice against me, whether
for Duchess or for Queen. How good was this love, since the heart in
my breast must always cleave to his! I counted him to be my friend, in
age as in youth, our lives together; for well I knew that if he died
first I should not dare to endure long without him, because of the
greatness of my love. The grave, with him, would be fairer, than life
in a world where I might never see him with my eyes. Ah, lasting,
precious love! Is it then seemly that he should publish our counsel,
and destroy her who had done him no wrong? When I gave him my love
without grudging, I warned him plainly, and made covenant with him,
that he would lose me the self same hour that he made our tenderness a
song. Since part we must, I may not live after so bitter a sorrow; nor
would I choose to live, even if I were able. Fie upon life, it has no
savour in it. Since it pleases me naught, I pray to God to grant me
death, and--so truly as I have loved him who requites me thus--to have
mercy on my soul. I forgive him his wrong, and may God give honour and
life to him who has betrayed and delivered me to death. Since it
comes from his hand, death, meseems, is no bitter potion; and when I
remember his love, to die for his sake is no grievous thing."

When the chatelaine had thus spoken she kept silence, save only that
she said in sighing,

"Sweet friend, I commend you to God."

With these words she strained her arms tightly across her breast, the
heart failed her, and her face lost its fair colour. She swooned in
her anguish, and lay back, pale and discoloured in the middle of the
bed, without life or breath.

Of this her friend knew nothing, for he sought his delight in the
hall, at carol and dance and play. But amongst all those ladies he had
no pleasure in any that he saw, since he might not perceive her to
whom his heart was given, and much he marvelled thereat. He took the
Duke apart, and said in his ear,

"Sire, whence is this that your niece tarries so long, and comes not
to the dancing? Have you put her in prison?"

The Duke looked upon the dancers, for he had not concerned himself
with the revels. He took his friend by the hand, and led him directly
to his wife's chamber. When he might not find her there he bade the
knight seek her boldly in the tiring chamber; and this he did of his
courtesy that these two lovers might solace themselves with clasp and
kiss. The knight thanked his lord sweetly, and entered softly in the
chamber, where his friend lay dark and discoloured upon the bed. Time
and place being met together, he took her in his arms and touched her
lips. But when he found how cold was her mouth, how pale and rigid her
person, he knew by the semblance of all her body that she was quite
dead. In his amazement he cried out swiftly,

"What is this? Alas, is my dear one dead?"

The maiden started from the foot of the bed where she still lay,
making answer,

"Sir, I deem truly that she be dead. Since she came to this room
she has done nothing but call upon death, by reason of her friend's
falsehood, whereof my lady assured her, and because of a little dog,
whereof my lady made her jest. This sorrow brought her to her death."

When the knight understood from this that the words he had spoken to
the Duke had slain his friend, he was discomforted beyond measure.

"Alas," said he, "sweet love, the most gracious and the best that ever
knight had, loyal and true, how have I slain you, like the faithless
traitor that I am! It were only just that I should receive the wages
for my deed, so that you could have gone free of blame. But you were
so faithful of heart that you took it on yourself to pay the price.
Then I will do justice on myself for the treason I have wrought."

The knight drew from its sheath a sword that was hanging from the
wall, and thrust it throught his heart. He pained himself to fall
upon his lady's body; and because of the mightiness of his hurt, bled
swiftly to death. The maiden fled forth from the chamber, when she
marked these lifeless lovers, for she was all adread at what she saw.
She lighted on the Duke, and told him all that she had heard and seen,
keeping back nothing. She showed him the beginning of the matter, and
also of the little dog, whereof the Duchess had spoken.

Hearken all to what befell. The Duke went straightway to the tiring
chamber, and drew from out the wound that sword by which the knight
lay slain. He said no word, but hastened forthwith to the hall where
the guests were yet at their dancing. Entering there he acquitted
himself of his promise, for he smote the Duchess on the head with the
naked sword he carried in his hand. He struck the blow without one
word, since his wrath was too deep for speech. The Duchess fell at his
feet, in the sight of the barons of his realm, whereat the feast was
sorely troubled, for in place of mirth and carol, now were blood and
death. Then the Duke told loudly and swiftly, before all who cared to
hear, this pitiful story, in the midst of his Court. There was not one
but wept, and his tears were the more piteous when he beheld those two
lovers who lay dead in the chamber, and the Duchess in her hall. So
the Court broke up in dole and anger, for of this deed came mighty
mischief. On the morrow the Duke caused the lovers to be laid in one
tomb, and the Duchess in a place apart. But of this adventure the Duke
had such bitterness that never was he known to laugh again. He took
the Cross, and went beyond the sea, where joining himself to the
Knights Templar, he never returned to his own realm.

Ah, God! all this mischief and encumbrance chanced to the knight by
reason of his making plain that he should have hid, and of publishing
what his friend forbade him to speak, if he would keep her love. From
this ensample we may learn that it is not seemly to love, and tell. He
who blabs and blazons his friendship gets not one kiss the more; but
he who goes discreetly preserves life and love and fame. For the
friendship of the discreet lover falls not before the mine of such
false and felon pryers as burrow privily into their neighbour's secret
love.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "French Mediaeval Romances from the Lays of Marie de France" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home