Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Bradley Norton and PG Distributed
FRENCH MEDIAEVAL ROMANCES
_From the Lays of Marie de France_
_Translated by Eugene Mason_.
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Poems which were included in her work but yesterday are withdrawn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 Abbe 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 dais. 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 mediaeval 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 mediaeval 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 mediaeval 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
The originals of these narratives are to be found in Roquefort's
edition of the Poesies de Marie de France; in a volume of the
Nouvelles Francoises en Prose, edited by Moland and D'Hericault; and
in M. Gaston Raynaud's text of La Chatelaine de Vergi.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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 aged 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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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.
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
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
"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 aged 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
"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
"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."