Part 2 out of 4
The servitor flung his staff, and the weasels fled away, leaving that
fair flower upon the floor. The lady rose. She took the flower, and
returned with it swiftly to the altar pace. Within the mouth of the
maiden, she set a flower that was more vermeil still. For a short
space the dame and the damsel were alike breathless. Then the maiden
came to herself, with a sigh. She opened her eyes, and commenced to
"Diva," she said, "have I slept so long, indeed!"
When the lady heard her voice she gave thanks to God. She inquired of
the maiden as to her name and degree. The damsel made answer to her,
"Lady, I was born in Logres, and am daughter to the King of that
realm. Greatly there I loved a knight, named Eliduc, the seneschal of
my sire. We fled together from my home, to my own most grievous fault.
He never told me that he was wedded to a wife in his own country, and
he hid the matter so cunningly, that I knew naught thereof. When I
heard tell of his dame, I swooned for pure sorrow. Now I find that
this false lover, has, like a felon, betrayed me in a strange land.
What will chance to a maiden in so foul a plight? Great is that
woman's folly who puts her trust in man."
"Fair damsel," replied the lady, "there is nothing in the whole world
that can give such joy to this felon, as to hear that you are yet
alive. He deems that you are dead, and every day he beweeps your swoon
in the chapel. I am his wife, and my heart is sick, just for looking
on his sorrow. To learn the reason of his grief, I caused him to
be followed, and that is why I have found you here. It is a great
happiness for me to know that you live. You shall return with me to my
home, and I will place you in the tenderness of your friend. Then I
shall release him of his marriage troth, since it is my dearest hope
to take the veil."
When the wife had comforted the maiden with such words, they went
together to her own house. She called to her servitor, and bade him
seek his lord. The varlet went here and there, till he lighted on
Eliduc. He came before him, and showed him of all these things. Eliduc
mounted straightway on his horse, and waiting neither for squire or
companion, that same night came to his hall. When he found alive, her,
who once was dead, Eliduc thanked his wife for so dear a gift. He
rejoiced beyond measure, and of all his days, no day was more happy
than this. He kissed the maiden often, and very sweetly she gave him
again his kiss, for great was the joy between the twain. The dame
looked on their happiness, and knew that her lord meetly had bestowed
his love. She prayed him, therefore, that he would grant her leave to
depart, since she would serve God as a cloistered nun. Of his wealth
she craved such a portion as would permit her to found a convent. He
would then be able to wed the maiden on whom his heart was set, for it
was neither honest nor seemly that a man should maintain a wife with
Eliduc could do no otherwise than consent. He gave the permission she
asked, and did all according to her will. He endowed the lady of his
lands, near by that chapel and hermitage, within the wood. There he
built a church with offices and refectory, fair to see. Much wealth he
bestowed on the convent, in money and estate. When all was brought to
a good end, the lady took the veil upon her head. Thirty other ladies
entered in the house with her, and long she ruled them as their
Abbess, right wisely and well.
Eliduc wedded with his friend, in great pomp, and passing rich was the
marriage feast. They dwelt in unity together for many days, for ever
between them was perfect love. They walked uprightly, and gave alms of
their goods, till such a time as it became them to turn to God. After
much thought, Eliduc built a great church close beside his castle.
He endowed it with all his gold and silver, and with the rest of his
land. He set priests there, and holy layfolk also, for the business of
the house, and the fair services of religion.
When all was builded and ordered, Eliduc offered himself, with them,
that he--weak man--might serve the omnipotent God. He set with the
Abbess Guildeluec--who once was his dame--that wife whom he loved so
dearly well. The Abbess received her as a sister, and welcomed her
right honourably. She admonished her in the offices of God, and taught
her of the rules and practice of their holy Order. They prayed to God
for their friend, that He would grant him mercy in His day. In turn,
he entreated God for them. Messages came from convent and monastery as
to how they fared, so that each might encourage the other in His way.
Each strove painfully, for himself and his, to love God the more
dearly, and to abide in His holy faith. Each made a good end, and the
mercy of God was abundantly made clear to all.
Of the adventure of these three lovers, the courteous Bretons made
this Lay for remembrance, since they deemed it a matter that men
should not forget.
THE LAY OF THE NIGHTINGALE
Now will I tell you a story, whereof the Breton harper already has
made a Lay. Laustic, I deem, men name it in that country, which, being
interpreted, means rossignol in French, and nightingale in good plain
In the realm of Brittany stands a certain rich and mighty city, called
Saint Malo. There were citizens of this township two knights, so well
spoken and reputed of all, that the city drew therefrom great profit
and fame. The houses of these lords were very near the one to the
other. One of the two knights had to wife a passing fair lady, right
gracious of manner and sweet of tongue. Wondrous pleasure found this
dame to array herself richly, after the wont and fashion of her time.
The other knight was yet a bachelor. He was well accounted of amongst
his fellows as a hardy knight and as an honourable man. He gave
hospitality gladly. Largely he gained, largely he spent, and willingly
bestowed gifts of all that he had.
This bachelor set his love upon his neighbour's wife. By reason of his
urgent prayers, his long suit and service, and by reason that all men
spake naught of him but praise--perchance, also, for reason that he
was never far from her eye--presently this lady came to set her heart
on him again. Though these two friends loved right tenderly, yet were
they so private and careful in their loves that none perceived what
was in their hearts. No man pried on them, or disturbed their goings
and comings. These were the more easy to devise since the bachelor and
the lady were such near neighbours. Their two houses stood side by
side, hall and cellar and combles. Only between the gardens was built
a high and ancient wall, of worn gray stone. When the lady sat within
her bower, by leaning from the casement she and her friend might speak
together, he to her, and she to him. They could also throw messages in
writing, and divers pretty gifts, the one to the other. Little enough
had they to displease them, and greatly were they at their ease, save
only that they might not take their pleasure together, so often as
their hearts had wished. For the dame was guarded very straitly when
her husband was abroad. Yet not so strictly but that they might have
word and speech, the now by night and now by day. At least, however
close the watch and ward, none might hinder that at times these fair
lovers stood within their casements, and looked fondly on the other's
Now after these friends had loved for a great space it chanced that
the season became warm and sweet. It was the time when meadow and
copse are green; when orchards grow white with bloom, and birds break
into song as thickly as the bush to flower. It is the season when he
who loves would win to his desire. Truly I tell you that the knight
would have done all in his power to attain his wish, and the lady, for
her part, yearned for sight and speech of her friend. At night, when
the moon shone clearly in the sky, and her lord lay sleeping at her
side, often the dame slipped softly from her bed, and hastening to the
casement, leaned forth to have sight of him who watched. The greater
part of the dark they kept vigil together, for very pleasant it is to
look upon your friend, when sweeter things are denied.
This chanced so often, and the lady rose so frequently from her bed,
that her lord was altogether wrathful, and many a time inquired the
reason of her unrest.
"Husband," replied the dame, "there is no dearer joy in this world,
than to hear the nightingale sing. It is to hearken to the song that
rises so sweetly on the night, that I lean forth from the casement.
What tune of harp or viol is half so fair! Because of my delight in
his song, and of my desire to hear, I may not shut my eyes till it be
When the husband heard the lady's words he laughed within himself for
wrath and malice. He purposed that very soon the nightingale should
sing within a net. So he bade the servants of his house to devise
fillets and snares, and to set their cunning traps about the orchard.
Not a chestnut tree nor hazel within the garth but was limed and
netted for the caging of this bird. It was not long therefore ere the
nightingale was taken, and the servants made haste to give him to the
pleasure of their lord. Wondrous merry was the knight when he held him
living in his hand. He went straightway to the chamber of his dame,
and entering, said,
"Wife, are you within? Come near, for I must speak with you. Here is
the nightingale, all limed and taken, who made vigil of your sleeping
hours. Take now your rest in peace, for he will never disturb you
When the lady understood these words she was marvellously sorrowful
and heavy. She prayed her lord to grant her the nightingale for a
gift. But for all answer he wrung his neck with both hands so fiercely
that the head was torn from the body. Then, right foully, he flung the
bird upon the knees of the dame, in such fashion that her breast
was sprinkled with the blood. So he departed, incontinent, from the
chamber in a rage.
The lady took the little body in her hands, and wept his evil fate.
She railed on those who with nets and snares had betrayed the
nightingale to his death; for anger and hate beyond measure had gained
hold on her heart.
"Alas," cried she, "evil is come upon me. Never again may I rise from
my bed in the night, and watch from the casement, so that I may see my
friend. One thing I know full well, that he will deem my love is no
more set upon him. Woe to her who has none to give her counsel. This I
will do. I will bestow the nightingale upon him, and send him tidings
of the chance that has befallen."
So this doleful lady took a fair piece of white samite, broidered with
gold, and wrought thereon the whole story of this adventure. In this
silken cloth she wrapped the body of the little bird, and calling to
her a trusty servant of her house, charged him with the message, and
bade him bear it to her friend. The varlet went his way to the knight,
and having saluted him on the part of the lady, he told over to him
the story, and bestowed the nightingale upon him. When all had been
rehearsed and shown to him, and he had well considered the matter,
the knight was very dolent; yet in no wise would he avenge himself
wrongfully. So he caused a certain coffret to be fashioned, made not
of iron or steel, but of fine gold and fair stones, most rich and
precious, right strongly clasped and bound. In this little chest he
set the body of the nightingale, and having sealed the shrine, carried
it upon him whenever his business took him abroad.
This adventure could not long be hid. Very swiftly it was noised about
the country, and the Breton folk made a Lay thereon, which they
called the Lay of the Laustic, in their own tongue.
THE LAY OF SIR LAUNFAL
I will tell you the story of another Lay. It relates the adventures
of a rich and mighty baron, and the Breton calls it, the Lay of Sir
King Arthur--that fearless knight and courteous lord--removed to
Wales, and lodged at Caerleon-on-Usk, since the Picts and Scots did
much mischief in the land. For it was the wont of the wild people of
the north to enter in the realm of Logres, and burn and damage at
their will. At the time of Pentecost, the King cried a great feast.
Thereat he gave many rich gifts to his counts and barons, and to the
Knights of the Round Table. Never were such worship and bounty shown
before at any feast, for Arthur bestowed honours and lands on all his
servants--save only on one. This lord, who was forgotten and misliked
of the King, was named Launfal. He was beloved by many of the Court,
because of his beauty and prowess, for he was a worthy knight, open of
heart and heavy of hand. These lords, to whom their comrade was dear,
felt little joy to see so stout a knight misprized. Sir Launfal was
son to a King of high descent, though his heritage was in a distant
land. He was of the King's household, but since Arthur gave him
naught, and he was of too proud a mind to pray for his due, he had
spent all that he had. Right heavy was Sir Launfal, when he considered
these things, for he knew himself taken in the toils. Gentles, marvel
not overmuch hereat. Ever must the pilgrim go heavily in a strange
land, where there is none to counsel and direct him in the path.
Now, on a day, Sir Launfal got him on his horse, that he might take
his pleasure for a little. He came forth from the city, alone,
attended by neither servant nor squire. He went his way through a
green mead, till he stood by a river of clear running water. Sir
Launfal would have crossed this stream, without thought of pass or
ford, but he might not do so, for reason that his horse was all
fearful and trembling. Seeing that he was hindered in this fashion,
Launfal unbitted his steed, and let him pasture in that fair meadow,
where they had come. Then he folded his cloak to serve him as a
pillow, and lay upon the ground. Launfal lay in great misease, because
of his heavy thoughts, and the discomfort of his bed. He turned from
side to side, and might not sleep. Now as the knight looked towards
the river he saw two damsels coming towards him; fairer maidens
Launfal had never seen. These two maidens were richly dressed in
kirtles closely laced and shapen to their persons and wore mantles
of a goodly purple hue. Sweet and dainty were the damsels, alike in
raiment and in face. The elder of these ladies carried in her hands a
basin of pure gold, cunningly wrought by some crafty smith--very fair
and precious was the cup; and the younger bore a towel of soft white
linen. These maidens turned neither to the right hand nor to the left,
but went directly to the place where Launfal lay. When Launfal saw
that their business was with him, he stood upon his feet, like a
discreet and courteous gentleman. After they had greeted the knight,
one of the maidens delivered the message with which she was charged.
"Sir Launfal, my demoiselle, as gracious as she is fair, prays that
you will follow us, her messengers, as she has a certain word to speak
with you. We will lead you swiftly to her pavilion, for our lady is
very near at hand. If you but lift your eyes you may see where her
tent is spread."
Right glad was the knight to do the bidding of the maidens. He gave no
heed to his horse, but left him at his provand in the meadow. All his
desire was to go with the damsels, to that pavilion of silk and divers
colours, pitched in so fair a place. Certainly neither Semiramis in
the days of her most wanton power, nor Octavian, the Emperor of all
the West, had so gracious a covering from sun and rain. Above the tent
was set an eagle of gold, so rich and precious, that none might count
the cost. The cords and fringes thereof were of silken thread, and the
lances which bore aloft the pavilion were of refined gold. No King on
earth might have so sweet a shelter, not though he gave in fee the
value of his realm. Within this pavilion Launfal came upon the Maiden.
Whiter she was than any altar lily, and more sweetly flushed than the
new born rose in time of summer heat. She lay upon a bed with napery
and coverlet of richer worth than could be furnished by a castle's
spoil. Very fresh and slender showed the lady in her vesture of
spotless linen. About her person she had drawn a mantle of ermine,
edged with purple dye from the vats of Alexandria. By reason of the
heat her raiment was unfastened for a little, and her throat and the
rondure of her bosom showed whiter and more untouched than hawthorn in
May. The knight came before the bed, and stood gazing on so sweet a
sight. The Maiden beckoned him to draw near, and when he had seated
himself at the foot of her couch, spoke her mind.
"Launfal," she said, "fair friend, it is for you that I have come from
my own far land. I bring you my love. If you are prudent and discreet,
as you are goodly to the view, there is no emperor nor count, nor
king, whose day shall be so filled with riches and with mirth as
When Launfal heard these words he rejoiced greatly, for his heart was
litten by another's torch.
"Fair lady," he answered, "since it pleases you to be so gracious, and
to dower so graceless a knight with your love, there is naught that
you may bid me do--right or wrong, evil or good--that I will not do to
the utmost of my power. I will observe your commandment, and serve in
your quarrels. For you I renounce my father and my father's house.
This only I pray, that I may dwell with you in your lodging, and that
you will never send me from your side."
When the Maiden heard the words of him whom so fondly she desired to
love, she was altogether moved, and granted him forthwith her heart
and her tenderness. To her bounty she added another gift besides.
Never might Launfal be desirous of aught, but he would have according
to his wish. He might waste and spend at will and pleasure, but in his
purse ever there was to spare. No more was Launfal sad. Right merry
was the pilgrim, since one had set him on the way, with such a gift,
that the more pennies he bestowed, the more silver and gold were in
But the Maiden had yet a word to say.
"Friend," she said, "hearken to my counsel. I lay this charge upon
you, and pray you urgently, that you tell not to any man the secret of
our love. If you show this matter, you will lose your friend, for ever
and a day. Never again may you see my face. Never again will you have
seisin of that body, which is now so tender in your eyes."
Launfal plighted faith, that right strictly he would observe this
commandment. So the Maiden granted him her kiss and her embrace, and
very sweetly in that fair lodging passed the day till evensong was
Right loath was Launfal to depart from the pavilion at the vesper
hour, and gladly would he have stayed, had he been able, and his lady
"Fair friend," said she, "rise up, for no longer may you tarry. The
hour is come that we must part. But one thing I have to say before you
go. When you would speak with me I shall hasten to come before your
wish. Well I deem that you will only call your friend where she may
be found without reproach or shame of men. You may see me at your
pleasure; my voice shall speak softly in your ear at will; but I must
never be known of your comrades, nor must they ever learn my speech."
Right joyous was Launfal to hear this thing. He sealed the covenant
with a kiss, and stood upon his feet. Then there entered the two
maidens who had led him to the pavilion, bringing with them rich
raiment, fitting for a knight's apparel. When Launfal had clothed
himself therewith, there seemed no goodlier varlet under heaven, for
certainly he was fair and true. After these maidens had refreshed him
with clear water, and dried his hands upon the napkin, Launfal went
to meat. His friend sat at table with him, and small will had he to
refuse her courtesy. Very serviceably the damsels bore the meats, and
Launfal and the Maiden ate and drank with mirth and content. But one
dish was more to the knight's relish than any other. Sweeter than the
dainties within his mouth, was the lady's kiss upon his lips.
When supper was ended, Launfal rose from table, for his horse stood
waiting without the pavilion. The destrier was newly saddled and
bridled, and showed proudly in his rich gay trappings. So Launfal
kissed, and bade farewell, and went his way. He rode back towards the
city at a slow pace. Often he checked his steed, and looked behind
him, for he was filled with amazement, and all bemused concerning this
adventure. In his heart he doubted that it was but a dream. He was
altogether astonished, and knew not what to do. He feared that
pavilion and Maiden alike were from the realm of faery.
Launfal returned to his lodging, and was greeted by servitors, clad
no longer in ragged raiment. He fared richly, lay softly, and spent
largely, but never knew how his purse was filled. There was no lord
who had need of a lodging in the town, but Launfal brought him to
his hall, for refreshment and delight. Launfal bestowed rich gifts.
Launfal redeemed the poor captive. Launfal clothed in scarlet the
minstrel. Launfal gave honour where honour was due. Stranger and
friend alike he comforted at need. So, whether by night or by day,
Launfal lived greatly at his ease. His lady, she came at will and
pleasure, and, for the rest, all was added unto him.
Now it chanced, the same year, about the feast of St. John, a company
of knights came, for their solace, to an orchard, beneath that tower
where dwelt the Queen. Together with these lords went Gawain and his
cousin, Yvain the fair. Then said Gawain, that goodly knight, beloved
and dear to all,
"Lords, we do wrong to disport ourselves in this pleasaunce without
our comrade Launfal. It is not well to slight a prince as brave as he
is courteous, and of a lineage prouder than our own."
Then certain of the lords returned to the city, and finding Launfal
within his hostel, entreated him to take his pastime with them in that
fair meadow. The Queen looked out from a window in her tower, she and
three ladies of her fellowship. They saw the lords at their pleasure,
and Launfal also, whom well they knew. So the Queen chose of her Court
thirty damsels--the sweetest of face and most dainty of fashion--and
commanded that they should descend with her to take their delight in
the garden. When the knights beheld this gay company of ladies come
down the steps of the perron, they rejoiced beyond measure. They
hastened before to lead them by the hand, and said such words in their
ear as were seemly and pleasant to be spoken. Amongst these merry and
courteous lords hasted not Sir Launfal. He drew apart from the throng,
for with him time went heavily, till he might have clasp and greeting
of his friend. The ladies of the Queen's fellowship seemed but kitchen
wenches to his sight, in comparison with the loveliness of the maiden.
When the Queen marked Launfal go aside, she went his way, and seating
herself upon the herb, called the knight before her. Then she opened
out her heart.
"Launfal, I have honoured you for long as a worthy knight, and have
praised and cherished you very dearly. You may receive a queen's whole
love, if such be your care. Be content: he to whom my heart is given,
has small reason to complain him of the alms."
"Lady," answered the knight, "grant me leave to go, for this grace is
not for me. I am the King's man, and dare not break my troth. Not for
the highest lady in the world, not even for her love, will I set this
reproach upon my lord."
When the Queen heard this, she was full of wrath, and spoke many hot
and bitter words.
"Launfal," she cried, "well I know that you think little of woman and
her love. There are sins more black that a man may have upon his soul.
Traitor you are, and false. Right evil counsel gave they to my lord,
who prayed him to suffer you about his person. You remain only for his
harm and loss."
Launfal was very dolent to hear this thing. He was not slow to take up
the Queen's glove, and in his haste spake words that he repented long,
and with tears.
"Lady," said he, "I am not of that guild of which you speak. Neither
am I a despiser of woman, since I love, and am loved, of one who would
bear the prize from all the ladies in the land. Dame, know now and be
persuaded, that she, whom I serve, is so rich in state, that the very
meanest of her maidens, excels you, Lady Queen, as much in clerkly
skill and goodness, as in sweetness of body and face, and in every
The Queen rose straightway to her feet, and fled to her chamber,
weeping. Right wrathful and heavy was she, because of the words that
had besmirched her. She lay sick upon her bed, from which, she said,
she would never rise, till the King had done her justice, and righted
this bitter wrong. Now the King that day had taken his pleasure within
the woods. He returned from the chase towards evening, and sought the
chamber of the Queen. When the lady saw him, she sprang from her bed,
and kneeling at his feet, pleaded for grace and pity. Launfal--she
said--had shamed her, since he required her love. When she had put him
by, very foully had he reviled her, boasting that his love was already
set on a lady, so proud and noble, that her meanest wench went more
richly, and smiled more sweetly, than the Queen. Thereat the King
waxed marvellously wrathful, and swore a great oath that he would set
Launfal within a fire, or hang him from a tree, if he could not deny
this thing, before his peers.
Arthur came forth from the Queen's chamber, and called to him three
of his lords. These he sent to seek the knight who so evilly had
entreated the Queen. Launfal, for his part, had returned to his
lodging, in a sad and sorrowful case. He saw very clearly that he had
lost his friend, since he had declared their love to men. Launfal sat
within his chamber, sick and heavy of thought. Often he called upon
his friend, but the lady would not hear his voice. He bewailed his
evil lot, with tears; for grief he came nigh to swoon; a hundred times
he implored the Maiden that she would deign to speak with her knight.
Then, since the lady yet refrained from speech, Launfal cursed his hot
and unruly tongue. Very near he came to ending all this trouble with
his knife. Naught he found to do but to wring his hands, and call upon
the Maiden, begging her to forgive his trespass, and to talk with him
again, as friend to friend.
But little peace is there for him who is harassed by a King. There
came presently to Launfal's hostel those three barons from the Court.
These bade the knight forthwith to go with them to Arthur's presence,
to acquit him of this wrong against the Queen. Launfal went forth, to
his own deep sorrow. Had any man slain him on the road, he would
have counted him his friend. He stood before the King, downcast and
speechless, being dumb by reason of that great grief, of which he
showed the picture and image.
Arthur looked upon his captive very evilly.
"Vassal," said he, harshly, "you have done me a bitter wrong. It was a
foul deed to seek to shame me in this ugly fashion, and to smirch the
honour of the Queen. Is it folly or lightness which leads you to boast
of that lady, the least of whose maidens is fairer, and goes more
richly, than the Queen?"
Launfal protested that never had he set such shame upon his lord.
Word by word he told the tale of how he denied the Queen, within the
orchard. But concerning that which he had spoken of the lady, he owned
the truth, and his folly. The love of which he bragged was now lost to
him, by his own exceeding fault. He cared little for his life, and was
content to obey the judgment of the Court.
Right wrathful was the King at Launfal's words. He conjured his barons
to give him such wise counsel herein, that wrong might be done to
none. The lords did the King's bidding, whether good came of the
matter, or evil. They gathered themselves together, and appointed a
certain day that Launfal should abide the judgment of his peers. For
his part Launfal must give pledge and surety to his lord, that he
would come before this judgment in his own body. If he might not give
such surety then he should be held captive till the appointed day.
When the lords of the King's household returned to tell him of their
counsel, Arthur demanded that Launfal should put such pledge in his
hand, as they had said. Launfal was altogether mazed and bewildered at
this judgment, for he had neither friend nor kindred in the land. He
would have been set in prison, but Gawain came first to offer himself
as his surety, and with him, all the knights of his fellowship. These
gave into the King's hand as pledge, the fiefs and lands that they
held of his Crown. The King having taken pledges from the sureties,
Launfal returned to his lodging, and with him certain knights of his
company. They blamed him greatly because of his foolish love, and
chastened him grievously by reason of the sorrow he made before men.
Every day they came to his chamber, to know of his meat and drink, for
much they feared that presently he would become mad.
The lords of the household came together on the day appointed for this
judgment. The King was on his chair, with the Queen sitting at his
side. The sureties brought Launfal within the hall, and rendered him
into the hands of his peers. Right sorrowful were they because of his
plight. A great company of his fellowship did all that they were able
to acquit him of this charge. When all was set out, the King demanded
the judgment of the Court, according to the accusation and the answer.
The barons went forth in much trouble and thought to consider this
matter. Many amongst them grieved for the peril of a good knight in
a strange land; others held that it were well for Launfal to suffer,
because of the wish and malice of their lord. Whilst they were thus
perplexed, the Duke of Cornwall rose in the council, and said,
"Lords, the King pursues Launfal as a traitor, and would slay him with
the sword, by reason that he bragged of the beauty of his maiden,
and roused the jealousy of the Queen. By the faith that I owe this
company, none complains of Launfal, save only the King. For our part
we would know the truth of this business, and do justice between the
King and his man. We would also show proper reverence to our own liege
lord. Now, if it be according to Arthur's will, let us take oath of
Launfal, that he seek this lady, who has put such strife between him
and the Queen. If her beauty be such as he has told us, the Queen will
have no cause for wrath. She must pardon Launfal for his rudeness,
since it will be plain that he did not speak out of a malicious heart.
Should Launfal fail his word, and not return with the lady, or should
her fairness fall beneath his boast, then let him be cast off from our
fellowship, and be sent forth from the service of the King."
This counsel seemed good to the lords of the household. They sent
certain of his friends to Launfal, to acquaint him with their
judgment, bidding him to pray his damsel to the Court, that he might
be acquitted of this blame. The knight made answer that in no wise
could he do this thing. So the sureties returned before the judges,
saying that Launfal hoped neither for refuge nor for succour from
the lady, and Arthur urged them to a speedy ending, because of the
prompting of the Queen.
The judges were about to give sentence upon Launfal, when they saw
two maidens come riding towards the palace, upon two white ambling
palfreys. Very sweet and dainty were these maidens, and richly clothed
in garments of crimson sendal, closely girt and fashioned to their
bodies. All men, old and young, looked willingly upon them, for fair
they were to see. Gawain, and three knights of his company, went
straight to Launfal, and showed him these maidens, praying him to
say which of them was his friend. But he answered never a word. The
maidens dismounted from their palfreys, and coming before the dais
where the King was seated, spake him fairly, as they were fair.
"Sire, prepare now a chamber, hung with silken cloths, where it is
seemly for my lady to dwell; for she would lodge with you awhile."
This gift the King granted gladly. He called to him two knights of his
household, and bade them bestow the maidens in such chambers as were
fitting to their degree. The maidens being gone, the King required of
his barons to proceed with their judgment, saying that he had sore
displeasure at the slowness of the cause.
"Sire," replied the barons, "we rose from Council, because of the
damsels who entered in the hall. We will at once resume the sitting,
and give our judgment without more delay."
The barons again were gathered together, in much thought and trouble,
to consider this matter. There was great strife and dissension amongst
them, for they knew not what to do. In the midst of all this noise and
tumult, there came two other damsels riding to the hall on two Spanish
mules. Very richly arrayed were these damsels in raiment of fine
needlework, and their kirtles were covered by fresh fair mantles,
embroidered with gold. Great joy had Launfal's comrades when they
marked these ladies. They said between themselves that doubtless they
came for the succour of the good knight. Gawain, and certain of his
company, made haste to Launfal, and said, "Sir, be not cast down.
Two ladies are near at hand, right dainty of dress, and gracious of
person. Tell us truly, for the love of God, is one of these your
But Launfal answered very simply that never before had he seen these
damsels with his eyes, nor known and loved them in his heart.
The maidens dismounted from their mules, and stood before Arthur, in
the sight of all. Greatly were they praised of many, because of their
beauty, and of the colour of their face and hair. Some there were who
deemed already that the Queen was overborne.
The elder of the damsels carried herself modestly and well, and
sweetly told over the message wherewith she was charged.
"Sire, make ready for us chambers, where we may abide with our lady,
for even now she comes to speak with thee."
The King commanded that the ladies should be led to their companions,
and bestowed in the same honourable fashion as they. Then he bade the
lords of his household to consider their judgment, since he would
endure no further respite. The Court already had given too much time
to the business, and the Queen was growing wrathful, because of the
blame that was hers. Now the judges were about to proclaim their
sentence, when, amidst the tumult of the town, there came riding to
the palace the flower of all the ladies of the world. She came mounted
upon a palfrey, white as snow, which carried her softly, as though she
loved her burthen. Beneath the sky was no goodlier steed, nor one more
gentle to the hand. The harness of the palfrey was so rich, that no
king on earth might hope to buy trappings so precious, unless he sold
or set his realm in pledge. The Maiden herself showed such as I will
tell you. Passing slim was the lady, sweet of bodice and slender of
girdle. Her throat was whiter than snow on branch, and her eyes were
like flowers in the pallor of her face. She had a witching mouth, a
dainty nose, and an open brow. Her eyebrows were brown, and her golden
hair parted in two soft waves upon her head. She was clad in a shift
of spotless linen, and above her snowy kirtle was set a mantle of
royal purple, clasped upon her breast. She carried a hooded falcon
upon her glove, and a greyhound followed closely after. As the Maiden
rode at a slow pace through the streets of the city, there was none,
neither great nor small, youth nor sergeant, but ran forth from his
house, that he might content his heart with so great beauty. Every man
that saw her with his eyes, marvelled at a fairness beyond that of any
earthly woman. Little he cared for any mortal maiden, after he had
seen this sight. The friends of Sir Launfal hastened to the knight, to
tell him of his lady's succour, if so it were according to God's will.
"Sir comrade, truly is not this your friend? This lady is neither
black nor golden, mean nor tall. She is only the most lovely thing in
all the world."
When Launfal heard this, he sighed, for by their words he knew again
his friend. He raised his head, and as the blood rushed to his face,
speech flowed from his lips.
"By my faith," cried he, "yes, she is indeed my friend. It is a small
matter now whether men slay me, or set me free; for I am made whole of
my hurt just by looking on her face."
The Maiden entered in the palace--where none so fair had come
before--and stood before the King, in the presence of his household.
She loosed the clasp of her mantle, so that men might the more easily
perceive the grace of her person. The courteous King advanced to meet
her, and all the Court got them on their feet, and pained themselves
in her service. When the lords had gazed upon her for a space, and
praised the sum of her beauty, the lady spake to Arthur in this
fashion, for she was anxious to begone.
"Sire, I have loved one of thy vassals,--the knight who stands in
bonds, Sir Launfal. He was always misprized in thy Court, and his
every action turned to blame. What he said, that thou knowest; for
over hasty was his tongue before the Queen. But he never craved her in
love, however loud his boasting. I cannot choose that he should come
to hurt or harm by me. In the hope of freeing Launfal from his bonds,
I have obeyed thy summons. Let now thy barons look boldly upon my
face, and deal justly in this quarrel between the Queen and me."
The King commanded that this should be done, and looking upon her
eyes, not one of the judges but was persuaded that her favour exceeded
that of the Queen.
Since then Launfal had not spoken in malice against his lady, the
lords of the household gave him again his sword. When the trial had
come thus to an end the Maiden took her leave of the King, and made
her ready to depart. Gladly would Arthur have had her lodge with him
for a little, and many a lord would have rejoiced in her service, but
she might not tarry. Now without the hall stood a great stone of dull
marble, where it was the wont of lords, departing from the Court, to
climb into the saddle, and Launfal by the stone. The Maiden came
forth from the doors of the palace, and mounting on the stone, seated
herself on the palfrey, behind her friend. Then they rode across the
plain together, and were no more seen.
The Bretons tell that the knight was ravished by his lady to an
island, very dim and very fair, known as Avalon. But none has had
speech with Launfal and his faery love since then, and for my part I
can tell you no more of the matter.
THE LAY OF THE TWO LOVERS
Once upon a time there lived in Normandy two lovers, who were passing
fond, and were brought by Love to Death. The story of their love was
bruited so abroad, that the Bretons made a song in their own tongue,
and named this song the Lay of the Two Lovers.
In Neustria--that men call Normandy--there is verily a high and
marvellously great mountain, where lie the relics of the Two Children.
Near this high place the King of those parts caused to be built a
certain fair and cunning city, and since he was lord of the Pistrians,
it was known as Pistres. The town yet endures, with its towers and
houses, to bear witness to the truth; moreover the country thereabouts
is known to us all as the Valley of Pistres.
This King had one fair daughter, a damsel sweet of face and gracious
of manner, very near to her father's heart, since he had lost his
Queen. The maiden increased in years and favour, but he took no heed
to her trothing, so that men--yea, even his own people--blamed him
greatly for this thing. When the King heard thereof he was passing
heavy and dolent, and considered within himself how he might be
delivered from this grief. So then, that none should carry off his
child, he caused it to be proclaimed, both far and near, by script and
trumpet, that he alone should wed the maid, who would bear her in his
arms, to the pinnacle of the great and perilous mountain, and that
without rest or stay. When this news was noised about the country,
many came upon the quest. But strive as they would they might not
enforce themselves more than they were able. However mighty they were
of body, at the last they failed upon the mountain, and fell with
their burthen to the ground. Thus, for a while, was none so bold as to
seek the high Princess.
Now in this country lived a squire, son to a certain count of that
realm, seemly of semblance and courteous, and right desirous to win
that prize, which was so coveted of all. He was a welcome guest at the
Court, and the King talked with him very willingly. This squire had
set his heart upon the daughter of the King, and many a time spoke in
her ear, praying her to give him again the love he had bestowed upon
her. So seeing him brave and courteous, she esteemed him for the gifts
which gained him the favour of the King, and they loved together in
their youth. But they hid this matter from all about the Court. This
thing was very grievous to them, but the damoiseau thought within
himself that it were good to bear the pains he knew, rather than
to seek out others that might prove sharper still. Yet in the end,
altogether distraught by love, this prudent varlet sought his friend,
and showed her his case, saying that he urgently required of her that
she would flee with him, for no longer could he endure the weariness
of his days. Should he ask her of the King, well he knew that by
reason of his love he would refuse the gift, save he bore her in his
arms up the steep mount. Then the maiden made answer to her lover, and
"Fair friend, well I know you may not carry me to that high place.
Moreover should we take to flight, my father would suffer wrath and
sorrow beyond measure, and go heavily all his days. Certainly my love
is too fond to plague him thus, and we must seek another counsel, for
this is not to my heart. Hearken well. I have kindred in Salerno, of
rich estate. For more than thirty years my aunt has studied there the
art of medicine, and knows the secret gift of every root and herb.
If you hasten to her, bearing letters from me, and show her your
adventure, certainly she will find counsel and cure. Doubt not that
she will discover some cunning simple, that will strengthen your body,
as well as comfort your heart. Then return to this realm with your
potion, and ask me at my father's hand. He will deem you but a
stripling, and set forth the terms of his bargain, that to him alone
shall I be given who knows how to climb the perilous mountain, without
pause or rest, bearing his lady between his arms."
When the varlet heard this cunning counsel of the maiden, he rejoiced
greatly, and thanking her sweetly for her rede, craved permission to
depart. He returned to his own home, and gathering together a goodly
store of silken cloths most precious, he bestowed his gear upon the
pack horses, and made him ready for the road. So with a little company
of men, mounted on swift palfreys, and most privy to his mind, he
arrived at Salerno. Now the squire made no long stay at his lodging,
but as soon as he might, went to the damsel's kindred to open out his
mind. He delivered to the aunt the letters he carried from his friend,
and bewailed their evil case. When the dame had read these letters
with him, line by line, she charged him to lodge with her awhile, till
she might do according to his wish. So by her sorceries, and for
the love of her maid, she brewed such a potion that no man, however
wearied and outworn, but by drinking this philtre, would not be
refreshed in heart and blood and bones. Such virtue had this medicine,
directly it were drunken. This simple she poured within a little
flacket, and gave it to the varlet, who received the gift with great
joy and delight, and returned swiftly to his own land.
The varlet made no long sojourn in his home. He repaired straightway
to the Court, and, seeking out the King, required of him his fair
daughter in marriage, promising, for his part, that were she given
him, he would bear her in his arms to the summit of the mount. The
King was no wise wrath at his presumption. He smiled rather at his
folly, for how should one so young and slender succeed in a business
wherein so many mighty men had failed. Therefore he appointed a
certain day for this judgment. Moreover he caused letters to be
written to his vassals and his friends--passing none by--bidding them
to see the end of this adventure. Yea, with public cry and sound of
trumpet he bade all who would, come to behold the stripling carry his
fair daughter to the pinnacle of the mountain. And from every region
round about men came to learn the issue of this thing. But for her
part the fair maiden did all that she was able to bring her love to a
good end. Ever was it fast day and fleshless day with her, so that by
any means she might lighten the burthen that her friend must carry in
Now on the appointed day this young dansellon came very early to the
appointed place, bringing the flacket with him. When the great company
were fully met together, the King led forth his daughter before them;
and all might see that she was arrayed in nothing but her smock. The
varlet took the maiden in his arms, but first he gave her the flask
with the precious brewage to carry, since for pride he might not
endure to drink therefrom, save at utmost peril. The squire set forth
at a great pace, and climbed briskly till he was halfway up the mount.
Because of the joy he had in clasping his burthen, he gave no thought
to the potion. But she--she knew the strength was failing in his
"Fair friend," said she, "well I know that you tire: drink now, I pray
you, of the flacket, and so shall your manhood come again at need."
But the varlet answered,
"Fair love, my heart is full of courage; nor for any reason will I
pause, so long as I can hold upon my way. It is the noise of all this
folk--the tumult and the shouting--that makes my steps uncertain.
Their cries distress me, I do not dare to stand."
But when two thirds of the course was won, the grasshopper would have
tripped him off his feet. Urgently and often the maiden prayed him,
"Fair friend, drink now of thy cordial."
But he would neither hear, nor give credence to her words. A mighty
anguish filled his bosom. He climbed upon the summit of the mountain,
and pained himself grievously to bring his journey to an end. This he
might not do. He reeled and fell, nor could he rise again, for the
heart had burst within his breast.
When the maiden saw her lover's piteous plight, she deemed that he had
swooned by reason of his pain. She kneeled hastily at his side, and
put the enchanted brewage to his lips, but he could neither drink nor
speak, for he was dead, as I have told you. She bewailed his evil lot,
with many shrill cries, and flung the useless flacket far away. The
precious potion bestrewed the ground, making a garden of that desolate
place. For many saving herbs have been found there since that day by
the simple folk of that country, which from the magic philtre derived
all their virtue.
But when the maiden knew that her lover was dead, she made such
wondrous sorrow, as no man had ever seen. She kissed his eyes and
mouth, and falling upon his body, took him in her arms, and pressed
him closely to her breast. There was no heart so hard as not to be
touched by her sorrow; for in this fashion died a dame, who was fair
and sweet and gracious, beyond the wont of the daughters of men.
Now the King and his company, since these two lovers came not again,
presently climbed the mountain to learn their end. But when the King
came upon them lifeless, and fast in that embrace, incontinent he fell
to the ground, bereft of sense. After his speech had returned to him,
he was passing heavy, and lamented their doleful case, and thus did
all his people with him.
Three days they kept the bodies of these two fair children from earth,
with uncovered face. On the third day they sealed them fast in a
goodly coffin of marble, and by the counsel of all men, laid them
softly to rest on that mountain where they died. Then they departed
from them, and left them together, alone.
Since this adventure of the Two Children this hill is known as the
Mountain of the Two Lovers, and their story being bruited abroad, the
Breton folk have made a Lay thereof, even as I have rehearsed before
THE LAY OF THE WERE-WOLF
Amongst the tales I tell you once again, I would not forget the Lay of
the Were-Wolf. Such beasts as he are known in every land. Bisclavaret
he is named in Brittany; whilst the Norman calls him Garwal.
It is a certain thing, and within the knowledge of all, that many a
christened man has suffered this change, and ran wild in woods, as
a Were-Wolf. The Were-Wolf is a fearsome beast. He lurks within the
thick forest, mad and horrible to see. All the evil that he may, he
does. He goeth to and fro, about the solitary place, seeking man, in
order to devour him. Hearken, now, to the adventure of the Were-Wolf,
that I have to tell.
In Brittany there dwelt a baron who was marvellously esteemed of all
his fellows. He was a stout knight, and a comely, and a man of office
and repute. Right private was he to the mind of his lord, and dear to
the counsel of his neighbours. This baron was wedded to a very worthy
dame, right fair to see, and sweet of semblance. All his love was set
on her, and all her love was given again to him. One only grief had
this lady. For three whole days in every week her lord was absent from
her side. She knew not where he went, nor on what errand. Neither did
any of his house know the business which called him forth.
On a day when this lord was come again to his house, altogether
joyous and content, the lady took him to task, right sweetly, in
this fashion, "Husband," said she, "and fair, sweet friend, I have a
certain thing to pray of you. Right willingly would I receive this
gift, but I fear to anger you in the asking. It is better for me to
have an empty hand, than to gain hard words."
When the lord heard this matter, he took the lady in his arms, very
tenderly, and kissed her.
"Wife," he answered, "ask what you will. What would you have, for it
is yours already?"
"By my faith," said the lady, "soon shall I be whole. Husband, right
long and wearisome are the days that you spend away from your home.
I rise from my bed in the morning, sick at heart, I know not why. So
fearful am I, lest you do aught to your loss, that I may not find any
comfort. Very quickly shall I die for reason of my dread. Tell me now,
where you go, and on what business! How may the knowledge of one who
loves so closely, bring you to harm?"
"Wife," made answer the lord, "nothing but evil can come if I tell you
this secret. For the mercy of God do not require it of me. If you but
knew, you would withdraw yourself from my love, and I should be lost
When the lady heard this, she was persuaded that her baron sought to
put her by with jesting words. Therefore she prayed and required
him the more urgently, with tender looks and speech, till he was
overborne, and told her all the story, hiding naught.
"Wife, I become Bisclavaret. I enter in the forest, and live on prey
and roots, within the thickest of the wood."
After she had learned his secret, she prayed and entreated the more as
to whether he ran in his raiment, or went spoiled of vesture.
"Wife," said he, "I go naked as a beast."
"Tell me, for hope of grace, what you do with your clothing?"
"Fair wife, that will I never. If I should lose my raiment, or even be
marked as I quit my vesture, then a Were-Wolf I must go for all the
days of my life. Never again should I become man, save in that hour my
clothing were given back to me. For this reason never will I show my
"Husband," replied the lady to him, "I love you better than all the
world. The less cause have you for doubting my faith, or hiding any
tittle from me. What savour is here of friendship? How have I made
forfeit of your love; for what sin do you mistrust my honour? Open now
your heart, and tell what is good to be known."
So at the end, outwearied and overborne by her importunity, he could
no longer refrain, but told her all.
"Wife," said he, "within this wood, a little from the path, there is a
hidden way, and at the end thereof an ancient chapel, where oftentimes
I have bewailed my lot. Near by is a great hollow stone, concealed by
a bush, and there is the secret place where I hide my raiment, till I
would return to my own home."
On hearing this marvel the lady became sanguine of visage, because of
her exceeding fear. She dared no longer to lie at his side, and turned
over in her mind, this way and that, how best she could get her from
him. Now there was a certain knight of those parts, who, for a great
while, had sought and required this lady for her love. This knight had
spent long years in her service, but little enough had he got thereby,
not even fair words, or a promise. To him the dame wrote a letter, and
meeting, made her purpose plain.
"Fair friend," said she, "be happy. That which you have coveted so
long a time, I will grant without delay. Never again will I deny your
suit. My heart, and all I have to give, are yours, so take me now as
love and dame."
Right sweetly the knight thanked her for her grace, and pledged her
faith and fealty. When she had confirmed him by an oath, then she told
him all this business of her lord--why he went, and what he became,
and of his ravening within the wood. So she showed him of the chapel,
and of the hollow stone, and of how to spoil the Were-Wolf of his
vesture. Thus, by the kiss of his wife, was Bisclavaret betrayed.
Often enough had he ravished his prey in desolate places, but from
this journey he never returned. His kinsfolk and acquaintance came
together to ask of his tidings, when this absence was noised abroad.
Many a man, on many a day, searched the woodland, but none might find
him, nor learn where Bisclavaret was gone.
The lady was wedded to the knight who had cherished her for so long a
space. More than a year had passed since Bisclavaret disappeared. Then
it chanced that the King would hunt in that self-same wood where the
Were-Wolf lurked. When the hounds were unleashed they ran this way and
that, and swiftly came upon his scent. At the view the huntsman winded
on his horn, and the whole pack were at his heels. They followed him
from morn to eve, till he was torn and bleeding, and was all adread
lest they should pull him down. Now the King was very close to the
quarry, and when Bisclavaret looked upon his master, he ran to him for
pity and for grace. He took the stirrup within his paws, and fawned
upon the prince's foot. The King was very fearful at this sight, but
presently he called his courtiers to his aid.
"Lords," cried he, "hasten hither, and see this marvellous thing. Here
is a beast who has the sense of man. He abases himself before his foe,
and cries for mercy, although he cannot speak. Beat off the hounds,
and let no man do him harm. We will hunt no more to-day, but return to
our own place, with the wonderful quarry we have taken."
The King turned him about, and rode to his hall, Bisclavaret following
at his side. Very near to his master the Were-Wolf went, like any dog,
and had no care to seek again the wood. When the King had brought him
safely to his own castle, he rejoiced greatly, for the beast was fair
and strong, no mightier had any man seen. Much pride had the King in
his marvellous beast. He held him so dear, that he bade all those who
wished for his love, to cross the Wolf in naught, neither to strike
him with a rod, but ever to see that he was richly fed and kennelled
warm. This commandment the Court observed willingly. So all the day
the Wolf sported with the lords, and at night he lay within the
chamber of the King. There was not a man who did not make much of the
beast, so frank was he and debonair. None had reason to do him wrong,
for ever was he about his master, and for his part did evil to none.
Every day were these two companions together, and all perceived that
the King loved him as his friend.
Hearken now to that which chanced.
The King held a high Court, and bade his great vassals and barons, and
all the lords of his venery to the feast. Never was there a goodlier
feast, nor one set forth with sweeter show and pomp. Amongst those who
were bidden, came that same knight who had the wife of Bisclavaret for
dame. He came to the castle, richly gowned, with a fair company, but
little he deemed whom he would find so near. Bisclavaret marked his
foe the moment he stood within the hall. He ran towards him, and
seized him with his fangs, in the King's very presence, and to the
view of all. Doubtless he would have done him much mischief, had not
the King called and chidden him, and threatened him with a rod. Once,
and twice, again, the Wolf set upon the knight in the very light of
day. All men marvelled at his malice, for sweet and serviceable was
the beast, and to that hour had shown hatred of none. With one consent
the household deemed that this deed was done with full reason, and
that the Wolf had suffered at the knight's hand some bitter wrong.
Right wary of his foe was the knight until the feast had ended, and
all the barons had taken farewell of their lord, and departed, each to
his own house. With these, amongst the very first, went that lord whom
Bisclavaret so fiercely had assailed. Small was the wonder that he was
glad to go.
No long while after this adventure it came to pass that the courteous
King would hunt in that forest where Bisclavaret was found. With the
prince came his wolf, and a fair company. Now at nightfall the King
abode within a certain lodge of that country, and this was known of
that dame who before was the wife of Bisclavaret. In the morning the
lady clothed her in her most dainty apparel, and hastened to the
lodge, since she desired to speak with the King, and to offer him a
rich present. When the lady entered in the chamber, neither man nor
leash might restrain the fury of the Wolf. He became as a mad dog in
his hatred and malice. Breaking from his bonds he sprang at the lady's
face, and bit the nose from her visage. From every side men ran to the
succour of the dame. They beat off the wolf from his prey, and for a
little would have cut him in pieces with their swords. But a certain
wise counsellor said to the King,
"Sire, hearken now to me. This beast is always with you, and there is
not one of us all who has not known him for long. He goes in and out
amongst us, nor has molested any man, neither done wrong or felony to
any, save only to this dame, one only time as we have seen. He has
done evil to this lady, and to that knight, who is now the husband of
the dame. Sire, she was once the wife of that lord who was so close
and private to your heart, but who went, and none might find where he
had gone. Now, therefore, put the dame in a sure place, and
question her straitly, so that she may tell--if perchance she knows
thereof--for what reason this Beast holds her in such mortal hate. For
many a strange deed has chanced, as well we know, in this marvellous
land of Brittany."
The King listened to these words, and deemed the counsel good. He laid
hands upon the knight, and put the dame in surety in another place. He
caused them to be questioned right straitly, so that their torment was
very grievous. At the end, partly because of her distress, and partly
by reason of her exceeding fear, the lady's lips were loosed, and she
told her tale. She showed them of the betrayal of her lord, and how
his raiment was stolen from the hollow stone. Since then she knew not
where he went, nor what had befallen him, for he had never come
again to his own land. Only, in her heart, well she deemed and was
persuaded, that Bisclavaret was he.
Straightway the King demanded the vesture of his baron, whether this
were to the wish of the lady, or whether it were against her wish.
When the raiment was brought him, he caused it to be spread before
Bisclavaret, but the Wolf made as though he had not seen. Then that
cunning and crafty counsellor took the King apart, that he might give
him a fresh rede.
"Sire," said he, "you do not wisely, nor well, to set this raiment
before Bisclavaret, in the sight of all. In shame and much tribulation
must he lay aside the beast, and again become man. Carry your wolf
within your most secret chamber, and put his vestment therein. Then
close the door upon him, and leave him alone for a space. So we shall
see presently whether the ravening beast may indeed return to human
The King carried the Wolf to his chamber, and shut the doors upon
him fast. He delayed for a brief while, and taking two lords of his
fellowship with him, came again to the room. Entering therein, all
three, softly together, they found the knight sleeping in the King's
bed, like a little child. The King ran swiftly to the bed and taking
his friend in his arms, embraced and kissed him fondly, above a
hundred times. When man's speech returned once more, he told him of
his adventure. Then the King restored to his friend the fief that was
stolen from him, and gave such rich gifts, moreover, as I cannot tell.
As for the wife who had betrayed Bisclavaret, he bade her avoid his
country, and chased her from the realm. So she went forth, she and her
second lord together, to seek a more abiding city, and were no more
The adventure that you have heard is no vain fable. Verily and indeed
it chanced as I have said. The Lay of the Were-Wolf, truly, was
written that it should ever be borne in mind.
THE LAY OF THE ASH TREE
Now will I tell you the Lay of the Ash Tree, according to the story
that I know.
In ancient days there dwelt two knights in Brittany, who were
neighbours and close friends. These two lords were brave and worthy
gentlemen, rich in goods and lands, and near both in heart and home.
Moreover each was wedded to a dame. One of these ladies was with
child, and when her time was come, she was delivered of two boys. Her
husband was right happy and content. For the joy that was his, he sent
messages to his neighbour, telling that his wife had brought forth two
sons, and praying that one of them might be christened with his name.
The rich man was at meat when the messenger came before him. The
servitor kneeled before the dais, and told his message in his ear. The
lord thanked God for the happiness that had befallen his friend,
and bestowed a fair horse on the bringer of good tidings. His wife,
sitting at board with her husband, heard the story of the messenger,
and smiled at his news. Proud she was, and sly, with an envious heart,
and a rancorous tongue. She made no effort to bridle her lips, but
spoke lightly before the servants of the house, and said,
"I marvel greatly that so reputable a man as our neighbour, should
publish his dishonour to my lord. It is a shameful thing for any wife
to have two children at a birth. We all know that no woman brings
forth two at one bearing, except two husbands have aided her therein."
Her husband looked upon her in silence for awhile, and when he spoke
it was to blame her very sternly.
"Wife," he said, "be silent. It is better to be dumb, than to utter
such words as these. As you know well, there is not a breath to
tarnish this lady's good name."
The folk of the house, who listened to these words, stored them in
their hearts, and told abroad the tale, spoken by their lady. Very
soon it was known throughout Brittany. Greatly was the lady blamed for
her evil tongue, and not a woman who heard thereof--whether she were
rich or poor--but who scorned her for her malice. The servant who
carried the message, on his return repeated to his lord of what he had
seen and heard. Passing heavy was the knight, and knew not what to
do. He doubted his own true wife, and suspected her the more sorely,
because she had done naught that was in any way amiss.
The lady, who so foully slandered her fellow, fell with child in the
same year. Her neighbour was avenged upon her, for when her term was
come, she became the mother of two daughters. Sick at heart was she.
She was right sorrowful, and lamented her evil case.
"Alas," she said, "what shall I do, for I am dishonoured for all
my days. Shamed I am, it is the simple truth. When my lord and his
kinsfolk shall hear of what has chanced, they will never believe me
a stainless wife. They will remember how I judged all women in my
plight. They will recall how I said before my house, that my neighbour
could not have been doubly a mother, unless she had first been doubly
a wife. I have the best reason now to know that I was wrong, and I am
caught in my own snare. She who digs a pit for another, cannot tell
that she may not fall into the hole herself. If you wish to speak
loudly concerning your neighbour, it is best to say nothing of him
but in praise. The only way to keep me from shame, is that one of my
children should die. It is a great sin; but I would rather trust to
the mercy of God, than suffer scorn and reproach for the rest of my
The women about her comforted her as best they might in this trouble.
They told her frankly that they would not suffer such wrong to be
done, since the slaying of a child was not reckoned a jest. The lady
had a maiden near her person, whom she had long held and nourished.
The damsel was a freeman's daughter, and was greatly loved and
cherished of her mistress. When she saw the lady's tears, and heard
the bitterness of her complaint, anguish went to her heart, like a
knife. She stooped over her lady, striving to bring her comfort.
"Lady," she said, "take it not so to heart. Give over this grief, for
all will yet be well. You shall deliver me one of these children, and
I will put her so far from you, that you shall never see her again,
nor know shame because of her. I will carry her safe and sound to the
door of a church. There I will lay her down. Some honest man shall
find her, and--please God--will be at the cost of her nourishing."
Great joy had the lady to hear these words. She promised the maiden
that in recompense of her service, she would grant her such guerdon
as she should wish. The maiden took the babe--yet smiling in her
sleep--and wrapped her in a linen cloth. Above this she set a piece of
sanguine silk, brought by the husband of this dame from a bazaar in
Constantinople--fairer was never seen. With a silken lace they bound
a great ring to the child's arm. This ring was of fine gold, weighing
fully an ounce, and was set with garnets most precious.
Letters were graven thereon, so that those who found the maid might
understand that she came of a good house. The damsel took the child,
and went out from the chamber. When night was come, and all was still,
she left the town, and sought the high road leading through the
forest. She held on her way, clasping the baby to her breast, till
from afar, to her right hand, she heard the howling of dogs and the
crowing of cocks. She deemed that she was near a town, and went the
lighter for the hope, directing her steps, there, whence the noises
came. Presently the damsel entered in a fair city, where was an Abbey,
both great and rich. This Abbey was worshipfully ordered, with many
nuns in their office and degree, and an Abbess in charge of all. The
maiden gazed upon the mighty house, and considered its towers and
walls, and the church with its belfry. She went swiftly to the door,
and setting the child upon the ground, kneeled humbly to make her
"Lord," said she, "for the sake of Thy Holy Name, if such be Thy will,
preserve this child from death."
Her petition ended, the maiden looked about her, and saw an ash tree,
planted to give shadow in a sunny place. It was a fair tree, thick and
leafy, and was divided into four strong branches. The maiden took the
child again in her arms, and running to the ash, set her within the
tree. There she left her, commending her to the care of God. So she
returned to her mistress, and told her all that she had done.
Now in this Abbey was a porter, whose duty it was to open the doors of
the church, before folk came to hear the service of God. This night
he rose at his accustomed hour, lighted candles and lamps, rang the
bells, and set wide the doors. His eyes fell upon the silken stuff
within the ash. He thought at first that some bold thief had hidden
his spoil within the tree. He felt with his hand to discover what it
might be, and found that it was a little child. The porter praised
God for His goodness; he took the babe, and going again to his house,
called to his daughter, who was a widow, with an infant yet in the
"Daughter," he cried, "get from bed at once; light your candle, and
kindle the fire. I bring you a little child, whom I have found within
our ash. Take her to your breast; cherish her against the cold, and
bathe her in warm water."
The widow did according to her father's will. She kindled a fire, and
taking the babe, washed and cherished her in her need. Very certain
she was, when she saw that rich stuff of crimson samite, and the
golden ring about the arm, that the girl was come of an honourable
race. The next day, when the office was ended, the porter prayed the
Abbess that he might have speech with her as she left the church. He
related his story, and told of the finding of the child. The Abbess
bade him to fetch the child, dressed in such fashion as she was
discovered in the ash. The porter returned to his house, and showed
the babe right gladly to his dame. The Abbess observed the infant
closely, and said that she would be at the cost of her nourishing,
and would cherish her as a sister's child. She commanded the porter
strictly to forget that he took her from the ash. In this manner it
chanced that the maiden was tended of the Abbess. The lady considered
the maid as her niece, and since she was taken from the ash, gave her
the name of Frene. By this name she was known of all, within the Abbey
precincts, where she was nourished.
When Frene came to that age in which a girl turns to woman, there was
no fairer maiden in Brittany, nor so sweet a damsel. Frank, she was,
and open, but discreet in semblance and in speech. To see her was to
love her, and to prize her smile above the beauty of the world. Now at
Dol there lived a lord of whom much good was spoken. I will tell you
his name. The folk of his country called him Buron. This lord heard
speak of the maiden, and began to love her, for the sweetness men
told of her. As he rode home from some tournament, he passed near the
convent, and prayed the Abbess that he might look upon her niece. The
Abbess gave him his desire. Greatly was the maiden to his mind.
Very fair he found her, sweetly schooled and fashioned, modest and
courteous to all. If he might not win her to his love, he counted
himself the more forlorn. This lord was at his wits end, for he knew
not what to do. If he repaired often to the convent, the Abbess would
consider of the cause of his comings, and he would never again see the
maiden with his eyes. One thing only gave him a little hope. Should he
endow the Abbey of his wealth, he would make it his debtor for ever.
In return he might ask a little room, where he might abide to have
their fellowship, and, at times, withdraw him from the world. This he
did. He gave richly of his goods to the Abbey. Often, in return, he
went to the convent, but for other reasons than for penitence and
peace. He besought the maiden, and with prayers and promises,
persuaded her to set upon him her love. When this lord was assured
that she loved him, on a certain day he reasoned with her in this
"Fair friend," said he, "since you have given me your love, come with
me, where I can cherish you before all the world. You know, as well
as I, that if your aunt should perceive our friendship, she would be
passing wrath, and grieve beyond measure. If my counsel seems good,
let us flee together, you with me, and I with you. Certes, you shall
never have cause to regret your trust, and of my riches you shall have
When she who loved so fondly heard these words, she granted of her
tenderness what it pleased him to have, and followed after where he
would. Frene fled to her lover's castle, carrying with her that silken
cloth and ring, which might do her service on a day. These the Abbess
had given her again, telling her how one morning at prime she was
found upon an ash, this ring and samite her only wealth, since she was
not her niece. Right carefully had Frene guarded her treasure from
that hour. She shut them closely in a little chest, and this coffret
she bore with her in her flight, for she would neither lose them nor
The lord, with whom the maiden fled, loved and cherished her very
dearly. Of all the men and servants of his house, there was not
one--either great or small--but who loved and honoured her for her
simplicity. They lived long together in love and content, till the
fair days passed, and trouble came upon this lord. The knights of his
realm drew together, and many a time urged that he should put away his
friend, and wed with some rich gentlewoman. They would be joyous if a
son were born, to come after to his fief and heritage. The peril was
too great to suffer that he remained a bachelor, and without an heir.
Never more would they hold him as lord, or serve him with a good
heart, if he would not do according to their will.
There being naught else to do, the lord deferred to this counsel of
his knights, and begged them to name the lady whom he needs must wed.
"Sir," answered they, "there is a lord of these parts, privy to our
counsel, who has but one child, a maid, his only heir. Broad lands
will he give as her dowry. This damsel's name is Coudre, and in all
this country there is none so fair. Be advised: throw away the ash rod
you carry, and take the hazel as your staff. The ash is a barren
stock; but the hazel is thick with nuts and delight. We shall be
content if you take this maiden as your wife, so it be to the will of
God, and she be given you of her kinsfolk."
Buron demanded the hand of the lady in marriage, and her father and
kin betrothed her to the lord. Alas! it was hid from all, that these
two were twin sisters. It was Frene's lot to be doubly abandoned, and
to see her lover become her sister's husband. When she learned that
her friend purposed taking to himself a wife, she made no outcry
against his falseness. She continued to serve her lord faithfully, and
was diligent in the business of his house. The sergeant and the varlet
were marvellously wrathful, when they knew that she must go from
amongst them. On the day appointed for the marriage, Buron bade his
friends and acquaintance to the feast. Together with these came
the Archbishop, and those of Dol who held of him their lands. His
betrothed was brought to his home by her mother. Great dread had the
mother because of Frene, for she knew of the love that the lord bore
the maiden, and feared lest her daughter should be a stranger in her
own hall. She spoke to her son-in-law, counselling him to send Frene
from his house, and to find her an honest man for her husband. Thus
there would be quittance between them. Very splendid was the feast.
Whilst all was mirth and jollity, the damsel visited the chambers, to
see that each was ordered to her lord's pleasure. She hid the torment
in her heart, and seemed neither troubled nor downcast. She compassed
the bride with every fair observance, and waited upon her right
[Footnote 1: This is a play on words; Frene in the French, meaning
ash, and Coudre meaning hazel.]
Her courage was marvellous to that company of lords and ladies, who
observed her curiously. The mother of the bride regarded her also, and
praised her privily. She said aloud that had she known the sweetness
of this lady, she would not have taken her lover from her, nor spoiled
her life for the sake of the bride. The night being come the damsel
entered in the bridal chamber to deck the bed against her lord. She
put off her mantle, and calling the chamberlains, showed them how
their master loved to lie. His bed being softly arrayed, a coverlet
was spread upon the linen sheets. Frene looked upon the coverlet:
in her eyes it showed too mean a garnishing for so fair a lord.
She turned it over in her mind, and going to her coffret she took
therefrom that rich stuff of sanguine silk, and set it on the couch.
This she did not only in honour of her friend, but that the Archbishop
might not despise the house, when he blessed the marriage bed,
according to the rite. When all was ready the mother carried the bride
to that chamber where she should lie, to disarray her for the night.
Looking upon the bed she marked the silken coverlet, for she had never
seen so rich a cloth, save only that in which she wrapped her child.
When she remembered of this thing, her heart turned to water. She
summoned a chamberlain.
"Tell me," she said, "tell me in good faith where this garniture was
"Lady," he made reply, "that you shall know. Our damsel spread it on
the bed, because this dossal is richer than the coverlet that was
The lady called for the damsel. Frene came before her in haste, being
yet without her mantle. All the mother moved within her, as she plied
her with questions.
"Fair friend, hide it not a whit from me. Tell me truly where this
fair samite was found; whence came it; who gave it to you? Answer
swiftly, and tell me who bestowed on you this cloth?"
The damsel made answer to her:
"Lady, my aunt, the Abbess, gave me this silken stuff, and charged me
to keep it carefully. At the same time she gave me a ring, which those
who put me forth, had bound upon me."
"Fair friend, may I see this ring?"
"Certes, lady, I shall be pleased to show it."
The lady looked closely on the ring, when it was brought. She knew
again her own, and the crimson samite flung upon the bed. No doubt was
in her mind. She knew and was persuaded that Frene was her very child.
All words were spoken, and there was nothing more to hide.
"Thou art my daughter, fair friend."
Then for reason of the pity that was hers, she fell to the ground, and
lay in a swoon. When the lady came again to herself, she sent for her
husband, who, all adread, hastened to the chamber. He marvelled the
more sorely when his wife fell at his feet, and embracing him closely,
entreated pardon for the evil that she had done.
Knowing nothing of her trespass, he made reply, "Wife, what is this?
Between you and me there is nothing to call for forgiveness. Pardon
you may have for whatever fault you please. Tell me plainly what is
"Husband, my offence is so black, that you had better give me
absolution before I tell you the sin. A long time ago, by reason of
lightness and malice, I spoke evil of my neighbour, whenas she bore
two sons at a birth. I fell afterwards into the very pit that I had
digged. Though I told you that I was delivered of a daughter, the
truth is that I had borne two maids. One of these I wrapped in our
stuff of samite, together with the ring you gave me the first time we
met, and caused her to be laid beside a church. Such a sin will out.
The cloth and the ring I have found, and I have recognised our maid,
whom I had lost by my own folly. She is this very damsel--so fair and
amiable to all--whom the knight so greatly loved. Now we have married
the lord to her sister."
The husband made answer, "Wife, if your sin be double, our joy is
manifold. Very tenderly hath God dealt with us, in giving us back our
child. I am altogether joyous and content to have two daughters for
one. Daughter, come to your father's side."
The damsel rejoiced greatly to hear this story. Her father tarried no
longer, but seeking his son-in-law, brought him to the Archbishop, and
related the adventure. The knight knew such joy as was never yet. The
Archbishop gave counsel that on the morrow he would part him and her
whom he had joined together. This was done, for in the morning he
severed them, bed and board. Afterwards he married Frene to her
friend, and her father accorded the damsel with a right good heart.
Her mother and sister were with her at the wedding, and for dowry her
father gave her the half of his heritage. When they returned to their
own realm they took Coudre, their daughter, with them. There she was
granted to a lord of those parts, and rich was the feast.
When this adventure was bruited abroad, and all the story, the Lay of
the Ash Tree was written, so called of the lady, named Frene.
THE LAY OF THE HONEYSUCKLE
With a glad heart and right good mind will I tell the Lay that men
call Honeysuckle; and that the truth may be known of all it shall be
told as many a minstrel has sung it to my ear, and as the scribe hath
written it for our delight. It is of Tristan and Isoude, the Queen.
It is of a love which passed all other love, of love from whence came
wondrous sorrow, and whereof they died together in the self-same day.
King Mark was sorely wrath with Tristan, his sister's son, and bade
him avoid his realm, by reason of the love he bore the Queen. So
Tristan repaired to his own land, and dwelt for a full year in South
Wales, where he was born. Then since he might not come where he would
be, Tristan took no heed to his ways, but let his life run waste to
Death. Marvel not overmuch thereat, for he who loves beyond measure
must ever be sick in heart and hope, when he may not win according
to his wish. So sick in heart and mind was Tristan that he left his
kingdom, and returned straight to the realm of his banishment, because
that in Cornwall dwelt the Queen. There he hid privily in the deep
forest, withdrawn from the eyes of men; only when the evening was
come, and all things sought their rest, he prayed the peasant and
other mean folk of that country, of their charity to grant him shelter
for the night. From the serf he gathered tidings of the King. These
gave again to him what they, in turn, had taken from some outlawed
knight. Thus Tristan learned that when Pentecost was come King Mark
purposed to hold high Court at Tintagel, and keep the feast with pomp
and revelry; moreover that thither would ride Isoude, the Queen.
When Tristan heard this thing he rejoiced greatly, since the Queen
might not adventure through the forest, except he saw her with his
eyes. After the King had gone his way, Tristan entered within the
wood, and sought the path by which the Queen must come. There he cut a
wand from out a certain hazel-tree, and having trimmed and peeled it
of its bark, with his dagger he carved his name upon the wood. This he
placed upon her road, for well he knew that should the Queen but mark
his name she would bethink her of her friend. Thus had it chanced
before. For this was the sum of the writing set upon the wand, for
Queen Isoude's heart alone: how that in this wild place Tristan had
lurked and waited long, so that he might look upon her face, since
without her he was already dead. Was it not with them as with the
Honeysuckle and the Hazel tree she was passing by! So sweetly laced
and taken were they in one close embrace, that thus they might remain
whilst life endured. But should rough hands part so fond a clasping,
the hazel would wither at the root, and the honeysuckle must fail.
Fair friend, thus is the case with us, nor you without me, nor I
Now the Queen fared at adventure down the forest path. She spied the
hazel wand set upon her road, and well she remembered the letters
and the name. She bade the knights of her company to draw rein, and
dismount from their palfreys, so that they might refresh themselves a
little. When her commandment was done she withdrew from them a space,
and called to her Brangwaine, her maiden, and own familiar friend.
Then she hastened within the wood, to come on him whom more she loved
than any living soul. How great the joy between these twain, that once
more they might speak together softly, face to face. Isoude showed him
her delight. She showed in what fashion she strove to bring peace
and concord betwixt Tristan and the King, and how grievously his
banishment had weighed upon her heart. Thus sped the hour, till it
was time for them to part; but when these lovers freed them from
the other's arms, the tears were wet upon their cheeks. So Tristan
returned to Wales, his own realm, even as his uncle bade. But for the
joy that he had had of her, his friend, for her sweet face, and for
the tender words that she had spoken, yea, and for that writing upon
the wand, to remember all these things, Tristan, that cunning harper,
wrought a new Lay, as shortly I have told you. Goatleaf, men call this
song in English. Chevrefeuille it is named in French; but Goatleaf
or Honeysuckle, here you have the very truth in the Lay that I have
THE LAY OF EQUITAN
In ancient days many a noble lord lived in Brittany beyond the Seas.
By reason of their courtesy and nobleness they would gladly keep
in remembrance the deeds that were done in the land. That these
marvellous things should not be forgotten they fashioned them into
Lays. Amongst these Lays I have heard tell of one which is not made to
die as though it had never been.
Equitan, lord of Nantes, was a loyal and courteous gentleman, of great
worth, beloved by all in his own country. He was set on pleasure, and
was Love's lover, as became a gentle knight. Like many others who dote
on woman, he observed neither sense nor measure in love. But it is in
the very nature of Love that proportion cannot enter into the matter.
Equitan had for seneschal a right brave and loyal knight, who was
captain of his army, and did justice in his realm. He was often abroad
upon his master's business, for the King would not forego his delight
for any reason whatever. To dance, to hunt, to fish within the
river--this was all his joy. This seneschal was married to a wife,
by whom great evil came upon the land. Very desirable was the lady;
passing tender of body, and sweet of vesture, coiffed and fretted with
gold. Her eyes were blue; her face warmly coloured, with a fragrant
mouth, and a dainty nose. Certainly she had no peer in all the realm.
The King had heard much in praise of this lady and many a time
saluted her upon the way. He had also sent her divers gifts. Often he
considered in his mind how best he might get speech with the dame. For
his privy pleasure this amorous King went to chase in that country
where the seneschal had his castle. The lady being in her own house,
Equitan craved a lodging for the night. By this means when the hunt
was done, he could speak with her, and show what was in his heart.
Equitan found the lady as discreet as courteous. He looked closely
upon her, for she was fair of face and person, and sweet of semblance
and address. Love bound him captive to his car. The god loosed a shaft
which entered deeply in his breast. The arrow pierced to his heart,
and from thenceforth he cared nothing for measure, or kingship, or
delight. Equitan was so surprised of the lady, that he remained silent
and pensive. He heard nothing, and nothing he could do. All night he
lay in unrest upon the bed, reproaching himself for what had come to
"Alas," said he, "what evil fate has led me into this land! The sight
only of this lady has put such anguish into my heart that my members
fail beneath me. It is Love, I deem, who rides me thus cruelly. But
if I love this lady I shall do a great wrong. She is the wife of my
seneschal, and it is my duty to keep the same love and faith to him as
I would wish him to observe with me. If by any means I could know what
is in her mind, I should be the easier, for torment is doubled that
you bear alone. There is not a dame, however curst, but would rather
love than not; for if she were a contemner of love where would be her
courtesy? But if she loves, there is not a woman under the sky who
would not suck thereout all the advantage that she may. If the matter
came to the ears of the seneschal, he ought not to think too hardly
of me. He cannot hope to keep such treasure for himself alone; and,
certes, I shall claim my portion."
Equitan tossed on his bed, and sighed. His thoughts were still on the
lady, so that in a little he said, "I think of the ford, before I come
to the river. I go too quickly, for I know not yet whether the lady
will take me as her friend. But know I will as swiftly as I can, since
I cannot get rest or sleep. I will come before her as soon as it is
day, and if she feels as I feel, the sooner I shall be rid of my
The King kept vigil till the daylight came at last. He arose and went
forth, as if to the chase. He returned presently, telling that he
was sick, and going straight to his chamber, lay upon his bed. The
seneschal was very troubled, for he could not imagine the sickness of
which his master felt the pangs. He counselled his wife to seek their
guest, that she might cheer and comfort him in his trouble. When they
were alone the King opened to her his heart. He told her that he was
dying for her love, and that if she had no more than friendship to
offer, he preferred death before life.
"Sire," replied the dame, "I require a little time to think of what
you say, for I cannot answer yes or no, without thought, in a business
of this moment. I am not of your wealth, and you are too high a lord,
for your love to do more than rest lightly on me. When you have had
your desire, it will as lightly fly away. My sorrow would be overlong,
if I should love you, and grant you what you wish. It is much the
best that between you and me love should not be spoken of. You are
a puissant prince; my husband is one of your vassals, and faith and
trust should bind us--not the dangerous bond of love. Love is only
lasting between like and like. Better is the love of an honest man--so
he be of sense and worth--than that of a prince or king, with no
loyalty in him. She who sets her love more highly than she can reach,
may pluck no fruit from the tree. The rich man deems that love is his
of right. He prays little of his friend, for he thinks none dare
take her from his hand, and that her tenderness is his by prize of
When she had ceased, Equitan made answer, "Lady, I can offer you but
short thanks for your words, since they savour of scant courtesy. You
speak of love as a burgess makes a bargain. Those who desire to get,
rather than to give, often find that they have the worser half of the
business. There is no lady under heaven--so she be courteous and kind
and of a good heart--but would grant her grace to a true lover, even
though she have beneath her cloak only a rich prince in his castle.
Those who care but for a fresh face--tricksters in love as a cozener
with dice--are justly flouted and deceived, as oftentimes we see. None
wastes pity on him who receives the stripes he deserves. Dear lady,
let me make myself plain. Do not regard me as your King; look on me as
your servant and your friend. I give my word and plight my troth that
all my happiness shall be found in your pleasure. Let me not die for
your love. You shall be the Dame, and I the page; you shall be the
scornful beauty, and I the prayer at your knee."
The King prayed the lady so urgently, so tenderly he sued for grace,
that at the last she assured him of her love, and gave him the gift
of her heart. They granted rings one to another, and pledged affiance
between them. They kept this faith, and guarded this love, till they
died together, and there was an end to all.
Equitan and the lady loved for a great while without it coming to the
ears of any. When the King desired to have speech of his friend,
he told his household that he would be alone, since it was the day
appointed for his bleeding. The King having shut the doors of his
chamber, there was none so bold as to enter therein, save he were
bidden of his lord. Whilst he was busied in this fashion, the
seneschal sat in open court to hear the pleas and right the wrong. He
was as much to the King's mind, as his wife was to the King's heart.
The lord was so assotted upon the lady that he would neither take
to himself a wife, nor listen to a word upon the matter. His people
blamed him loudly, so loudly that it came to the ears of the lady. She
was passing heavy, for she feared greatly that the barons would have
their way. When next she had speech with Equitan, in place of the kiss
and sweetness of her customary greeting, she came before him making
great sorrow and in tears. The King inquiring the reason of her
dolour, the lady replied, "Sire, I lament our love, and the trouble I
always said would be mine. You are about to wed the daughter of some
King, and my good days are over. Everybody says so, and I know it to
be true. What will become of me when you put me away! I will die,
rather than lose you, for I may have no other comfort."
The King made answer very tenderly, "Fair friend, you need not fear.
There will never be wife of mine to put you from me. I shall never
wed, except your husband die, and then it is you who would be my queen
and lady. I will leave you for no other dame."
The lady thanked him sweetly for his words. Much was she beholden to
him in her heart. Since she was assured that he would not leave her
for any other, she turned over swiftly in her mind the profit that
would come from her husband's death. Much happiness might be bought at
a little cost, if Equitan would lend his aid.
The King made answer that he would do her will to the utmost of his
power, whether her counsel were for good or evil.
"Sire," said the lady, "let it please you to hunt the forest within
the country where I dwell. You can lodge in my lord's castle, and
there you must be bled. Three days after your surgery is done, you
must call for your bath. My lord shall be bled with you, so that he
may go to his bathing at the same time. It will be your part to keep
him at your side, and make him your constant companion. It will be
mine to heat the water, and to carry the baths to your chamber. My
husband's bath shall boil so fiercely, that no breathing man, having
entered therein, may come forth living. When he is dead you must call
for your people, and show them how the seneschal has died suddenly in
Because of his love the King granted her desire, and promised to do
according to her will. Before three months were done the King rode to
the chase within the lady's realm. He caused surgeons to bleed him for
his health, and the seneschal with him. He said that he would take his
bath on the third day, and the seneschal required his, too, to be made
ready. The lady caused the water to be heated, and carried the baths
to the chamber. According to her device she set a bath beside each
bed, filling with boiling water that bath which her lord should enter.
Her lord had gone forth for a little, so for a space the King and the
lady were alone. They sat on the husband's bed, and looked tenderly
each on the other, near by that heated bath. The door of the chamber
was kept by a young damsel to give them warning. The seneschal made
haste to return, and would have struck on the door of the chamber, but
was stayed by the maiden. He put her by, and in his impatience flung
the door wide open. Entering he found his master and his wife clasped
in each other's arms. When the King saw the seneschal he had no
thought but to hide his dishonour. He started up, and sprang with
joined feet in the bath that was filled with boiling water. There he
perished miserably, in the very snare he had spread for another, who
was safe and sound. The seneschal marked what had happened to the
King. In his rage he turned to his wife, and laying hands upon her
thrust her, head first, in the self-same bath. So they died together,
the King first, and the lady afterwards, with him.
Those who are willing to listen to fair words, may learn from this
ensample, that he who seeks another's ill often brings the evil upon
As I have told you before, of this adventure the Bretons made the Lay
of Equitan, the lady whom he loved, and of their end.
THE LAY OF MILON
He who would tell divers tales must know how to vary the tune. To
win the favour of any, he must speak to the understanding of all. I
purpose in this place to show you the story of Milon, and--since few
words are best--I will set out the adventure as briefly as I may.
Milon was born in South Wales. So great was his prowess that from the
day he was dubbed knight there was no champion who could stand before
him in the lists. He was a passing fair knight, open and brave,
courteous to his friends, and stern to his foes. Men praised his name
in whatever realm they talked of gallant deeds--Ireland, Norway, and
Wales, yea, from Jutland even to Albania. Since he was praised by the
frank, he was therefore envied of the mean. Nevertheless, by reason of
his skill with the spear, he was counted a very worshipful knight, and
was honourably entreated by many a prince in divers lands.
In Milon's own realm there lived a lord whose name has gone from
mind. With this baron dwelt his daughter, a passing fair and gracious
damsel. Much talk had this maiden heard of Milon's knightly deeds, so
that she began to set her thoughts upon him, because of the good men
spoke of him. She sent him a message by a sure hand, saying that if
her love was to his mind, sweetly would it be to her heart. Milon
rejoiced greatly when he knew this thing. He thanked the lady for her
words, giving her love again in return for her own, and swearing that
he would never depart therefrom any day of his days. Beyond this
courteous answer Milon bestowed on the messenger costly gifts, and
made him promises that were richer still.
"Friend," said he, "of your charity I pray you that I may have speech
with my friend, in such a fashion that none shall know of our meeting.
Carry her this, my golden ring. Tell her, on my part, that so she
pleases she shall come to me, or, if it be her better pleasure, I will
go to her."
The messenger bade farewell, and returned to his lady. He placed the
ring in her hand, saying that he had done her will, as he was bidden
Right joyous was the damsel to know that Milon's love was tender as
her own. She required her friend to come for speech within the private
garden of her house, where she was wont to take her delight. Milon
came at her commandment. He came so often, and so dearly she loved
him, that in the end she gave him all that maid may give. When the
damsel perceived how it was with her, she sent messages to her friend,
telling him of her case, and making great sorrow.
"I have lost my father and all his wealth," said the lady, "for when
he hears of this matter he will make of me an example. Either I shall
be tormented with the sword, or else he will sell me as a slave in a
(For such was the usage of our fathers in the days of this tale).
Milon grieved sorely, and made answer that he would do the thing the
damsel thought most seemly to be done.
"When the child is born," replied the lady, "you must carry him
forthwith to my sister. She is a rich dame, pitiful and good, and is
wedded to a lord of Northumberland. You will send messages with the
babe--both in writing and by speech--that the little innocent is her
sister's child. Whether it be a boy or girl his mother will have
suffered much because of him, and for her sister's sake you will pray
her to cherish the babe. Beyond this I shall set your signet by a lace
about his neck, and write letters wherein shall be made plain the name
of his sire, and the sad story of his mother. When he shall have grown
tall, and of an age to understand these matters, his aunt will give
him your ring, and rehearse to him the letter. If this be done,
perchance the orphan will not be fatherless all his days."
Milon approved the counsel of the lady, and when her time had come she
was brought to bed of a boy. The old nurse who tended her mistress
was privy to the damsel's inmost mind. So warily she went to work, so
cunning was she in gloss and concealment, that none within the palace
knew that there was aught to hide. The damsel looked upon her boy, and
saw that he was very fair. She laced the ring about his neck, and set
the letter that it were death to find, within a silken chatelaine. The
child was then placed in his cradle, swathed close in white linen. A
pillow of feathers was put beneath his head, and over all was laid a
warm coverlet, wadded with fur. In this fashion the ancient nurse
gave the babe to his father, who awaited him within the garden. Milon
commended the child to his men, charging them to carry him loyally, by
such towns as they knew, to that lady beyond the Humber. The servitors
set forth, bearing the infant with them. Seven times a day they
reposed them in their journey, so that the women might nourish
the babe, and bathe and tend him duly. They served their lord so
faithfully, keeping such watch upon the way, that at the last they
won to the lady to whom they were bidden. The lady received them
courteously, as became her breeding. She broke the seal of the letter,
and when she was assured of what was therein, marvellously she
cherished the infant. These having bestowed the boy in accordance with
their lord's commandment, returned to their own land.
Milon went forth from his realm to serve beyond the seas for guerdon.
His friend remained within her house and was granted by her father in
marriage to a right rich baron of that country. Though this baron was
a worthy knight, justly esteemed of all his fellows, the damsel was
grieved beyond measure when she knew her father's will. She called to
mind the past, and regretted that Milon had gone from the country,
since he would have helped her in her need.
"Alas!" said the lady, "what shall I do? I doubt that I am lost, for
my lord will find that his bride is not a maid. If this becomes known
they will make me a bondwoman for all my days. Would that my friend
were here to free me from this coil. It were good for me to die rather
than to live, but by no means can I escape from their hands. They
have set warders about me, men, old and young, whom they call my
chamberlains, contemners of love, who delight themselves in sadness.
But endure it I must, for, alas, I know not how to die."
So on the appointed day the lady was wedded to the baron, and her
husband took her to dwell with him in his fief.
When Milon returned to his own country he was right heavy and
sorrowful to learn of this marriage. He lamented his wretched case,
but in this he found comfort, that he was not far from the realm where
the lady abode whom so tenderly he loved. Milon commenced to think
within himself how best he might send letters to the damsel that he
was come again to his home, yet so that none should have knowledge
thereof. He wrote a letter, and sealed it with his seal. This message
he made fast to the neck, and hid within the plumage of a swan that
was long his, and was greatly to his heart. He bade his squire to
come, and made him his messenger.
"Change thy raiment swiftly," said he, "and hasten to the castle of my
friend. Take with thee my swan, and see that none, neither servant nor
handmaid, delivers the bird to my lady, save thyself alone."
The squire did according to his lord's commandment. He made him ready
quickly, and went forth, bearing the swan with him. He went by the
nearest road, and passing through the streets of the city, came before
the portal of the castle. In answer to his summons the porter drew
"Friend," said he, "hearken to me. I am of Caerleon, and a fowler by
craft. Within my nets I have snared the most marvellous swan in the
world. This wondrous bird I would bestow forthwith upon your lady, but
perforce I must offer her the gift with my own hand."
"Friend," replied the porter, "fowlers are not always welcomed of
ladies. If you come with me I will bring you where I may know whether
it pleases my lady to have speech with you and to receive your gift."
The porter entered in the hall, where he found none but two lords
seated at a great table, playing chess for their delight. He swiftly
returned on his steps, and the fowler with him, so furtively withal
that the lords were not disturbed at their game, nor perceived aught
of the matter. They went therefore to the chamber of the lady. In
answer to their call the door was opened to them by a maiden, who
led them before her dame. When the swan was proffered to the lady
it pleased her to receive the gift. She summoned a varlet of her
household and gave the bird to his charge, commanding him to keep it
safely, and to see that it ate enough and to spare.
"Lady," said the servitor, "I will do your bidding. We shall never
receive from any fowler on earth such another bird as this. The swan
is fit to serve at a royal table, for the bird is plump as he is
The varlet put the swan in his lady's hands. She took the bird kindly,
and smoothing his head and neck, felt the letter that was hidden
beneath its feathers. The blood pricked in her veins, for well she
knew that the writing was sent her by her friend. She caused the
fowler to be given of her bounty, and bade the men to go forth from
her chamber. When they had parted the lady called a maiden to her aid.
She broke the seal, and unfastening the letter, came upon the name of
Milon at the head. She kissed the name a hundred times through her
tears. When she might read the writing she learned of the great pain
and dolour that her lover suffered by day and by night. In you--he
wrote--is all my pleasure, and in your white hands it lies to heal me
or to slay. Strive to find a plan by which we may speak as friend to
friend, if you would have me live. The knight prayed her in his letter
to send him an answer by means of the swan. If the bird were well
guarded, and kept without provand for three days, he would of a surety
fly back to the place from whence he came, with any message that the
lady might lace about his neck.
When the damsel had considered the writing, and understood what was
put therein, she commanded that her bird should be tended carefully,
and given plenteously to eat and to drink. She held him for a month
within her chamber, but this was less from choice, than for the craft
that was necessary to obtain the ink and parchment requisite for her
writing. At the end she wrote a letter according to her heart, and
sealed it with her ring. The lady caused the swan to fast for three
full days; then having concealed the message about his neck, let him
take his flight. The bird was all anhungered for food, and remembering
well the home from which he drew, he returned thither as quickly as
his wings might bear him.
He knew again his town, and his master's house, and descended to the
ground at Milon's very feet. Milon rejoiced greatly when he marked his
own. He caught the bird by his wings, and crying for his steward, bade
him give the swan to eat. The knight removed the missive from the
messenger's neck. He glanced from head to head of the letter, seeking
the means that he hoped to find, and the salutation he so tenderly
wished. Sweet to his heart was the writing, for the lady wrote that
without him there was no joy in her life, and since it was his desire
to hear by the swan, it would be her pleasure also.
For twenty years the swan was made the messenger of these two lovers,
who might never win together. There was no speech between them, save
that carried by the bird. They caused the swan to fast for three days,
and then sent him on his errand. He to whom the letter came, saw to
it that the messenger was fed to heart's desire. Many a time the swan
went upon his journey, for however strictly the lady was held of her
husband, there was none who had suspicion of a bird.
The dame beyond the Humber nourished and tended the boy committed to
her charge with the greatest care. When he was come to a fitting age
she made him to be knighted of her lord, for goodly and serviceable
was the lad. On the same day the aunt read over to him the letter, and
put in his hand the ring. She told him the name of his mother, and his
father's story. In all the world there was no worthier knight, nor a
more chivalrous and gallant gentleman. The lad hearkened diligently to
the lady's tale. He rejoiced greatly to hear of his father's prowess,
and was proud beyond measure of his renown. He considered within
himself, saying to his own heart, that much should be required of his
father's son, and that he would not be worthy of his blood if he did
not endeavour to merit his name. He determined therefore that he would
leave his country, and seek adventure as a knight errant, beyond the
sea. The varlet delayed no longer than the evening. On the morrow he
bade farewell to his aunt, who having warned and admonished him for
his good, gave him largely of her wealth, to bring him on his way. He
rode to Southampton, that he might find a ship equipped for sea, and
so came to Barfleur. Without any tarrying the lad went straight to
Brittany, where he spent his money and himself in feasts and in
tourneys. The rich men of the land were glad of his friendship, for
there was none who bore himself better in the press with spear or with
sword. What he took from the rich he bestowed on such knights as were
poor and luckless. These loved him greatly, since he gained largely
and spent freely, granting of his wealth to all. Wherever this knight
sojourned in the realm he bore away the prize. So debonair was he and
chivalrous that his fame and praise crossed the water, and were noised
abroad in his own land. Folk told how a certain knight from beyond the
Humber, who had passed the sea in quest of wealth and honour, had so
done, that by reason of his prowess, his liberality, and his modesty,
men called him the Knight Peerless, since they did not know his name.
This praise of the good knight, and of his deeds, came to be heard of
Milon. Very dolent was he and sorely troubled that so young a knight
should be esteemed above his fathers. He marvelled greatly that the
stout spears of the past had not put on their harness and broken a
lance for their ancient honour. One thing he determined, that he
would cross the sea without delay, so that he might joust with the
dansellon, and abate his pride. In wrath and anger he purposed to
fight, to beat his adversary from the saddle, and bring him at last
to shame. After this was ended he would seek his son, of whom he had
heard nothing, since he had gone from his aunt's castle. Milon caused
his friend to know of his wishes. He opened out to her all his
thought, and craved her permission to depart. This letter he sent by
the swan, commending the bird to her care.
When the lady heard of her lover's purpose, she thanked him for his
courtesy, for greatly was his counsel to her mind. She approved his