Cliges: A Romance by Chretien de Troyes, trans. L. J. Gardiner.
This translation was published with no copyright notice in 1966. “T. Camp”
CLIGES: A ROMANCE
NOW TRANSLATED BY L. J. GARDINER, M.A. FROM THE OLD FRENCH OF CHRETIEN DE TROYES
COOPER SQUARE PUBLISHERS, INC.
NEW YORK 1966
Published 1966 by Cooper Square Publishers, Inc. 59 Fourth Avenue, New York, N. Y. 10003
Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 66-23315 Printed in the United States of America
By Noble Offset Printers, Inc., New York, N. Y. 10003
IT is six hundred and fifty years since Chretien de Troyes wrote his Cliges. And yet he is wonderfully near us, whereas he is separated by a great gulf from the rude trouveres of the Chansons de Gestes and from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which was still dragging out its weary length in his early days. Chretien is as refined, as civilised, as composite as we are ourselves; his ladies are as full of whims, impulses, sudden reserves, self-debate as M. Paul Bourget’s heroines; while the problems of conscience and of emotion which confront them are as complex as those presented on the modern stage. Indeed, there is no break between the Breton romance and the psychological-analytical novel of our own day.
Whence comes this amazing modernity and complexity? From many sources:–Provencal love-lore, Oriental subtlety, and Celtic mysticism–all blended by that marvellous dexterity, style, malice, and measure which are so utterly French that English has no adequate words for them. We said “Celtic mysticism,” but there is something else about Chretien which is also Celtic, though very far from being “mystic”. We talk a great deal nowadays about Celtic melancholy, Celtic dreaminess, Celtic “other-worldliness”; and we forget the qualities that made Caesar’s Gauls, St. Paul’s Galatians, so different from the grave and steadfast Romans–that loud Gaulois that has made the Parisian the typical Frenchman. A different being, this modern Athenian, from the mystic Irish peasant we see in the poetic modern Irish drama!–and yet both are Celts.
Not much “other-worldliness” about Chretien. He is as positive as any man can be. His is not of the world of Saint Louis, of the Crusaders, of the Cathedral-builders. In Cliges there is no religious atmosphere at all. We hear scarcely anything of Mass, of bishops, of convents. When he mentions Tierce or Prime, it is merely to tell us the hour at which something happened–and this something is never a religious service. There is nothing behind the glamour of arms and love, except for the cas de conscience presented by the lovers. Nothing but names and framework are Celtic; the spirit, with its refinements and its hair-splitting, is Provencal. But what a brilliant whole! what art! what measure! Our thoughts turn to the gifted women of the age–as subtle, as interesting, and as unscrupulous as the women of the Renaissance–to Eleanor of Aquitaine, a reigning princess, a troubadour, a Crusader, the wife of two kings, the mother of two kings, to the last, intriguing and pulling the strings of political power–“An Ate, stirring him [King John] to blood and strife.”
The twelfth century was an age in which women had full scope–in which the Empress Maud herself took the field against her foe, in which Stephen’s queen seized a fortress, in which a wife could move her husband to war or to peace, in which a Marie of Champagne (Eleanor’s daughter) could set the tone of great poets and choose their subjects.
If, then, this woman-worship, this complexity of love, this self-debating, first comes into literature with Chretien de Troyes, and is still with us, no more interesting work exists than his earliest masterpiece, Cliges. The delicate and reticent Soredamors; the courteous and lovable, Guinevere; the proud and passionate Fenice, who will not sacrifice her fair fame and chastity; the sorceress Thessala, ancestress of Juliet’s nurse–these form a gallery of portraits unprecedented in literature.
The translator takes this opportunity of thanking Mr. B. J. Hayes, M.A., of St. John’s College, Cambridge, for occasional help, and also for kindly reading the proofs.
THE clerk who wrote the tale of Erec and Enid, and translated the Commandments of Ovid and the Art of Love, and composed the Bite of the Shoulder, and sang of King Mark and of the blonde Iseult, and of the metamorphosis of the Hoopoe and of the Swallow and of the Nightingale, is now beginning a new tale of a youth who was in Greece of the lineage of King Arthur. But before I tell you anything of him, you shall hear his father’s life–whence he was and of what lineage. So valiant was he and of such proud spirit, that to win worth and praise he went from Greece to England, which was then called Britain. We find this story that I desire to tell and to relate to you, recorded in one of the books of the library of my lord Saint Peter at Beauvais. Thence was taken the tale from which Chretien framed this romance. The book, which truthfully bears witness to the story, is very ancient; for this reason it is all the more to be believed. From the books which we possess, we know the deeds of the ancients and of the world which aforetime was. This our books have taught us: that Greece had the first renown in chivalry and in learning. Then came chivalry to Rome, and the heyday of learning, which now is come into France. God grant that she be maintained there; and that her home there please her so much that never may depart from France the honour which has there taken up its abode. God had lent that glory to others; but no man talks any longer either more or less about Greeks and Romans; talk of them has ceased, and the bright glow is extinct.
Chretien begins his tale–as the story relates to us–which tells of an emperor mighty in wealth and honour, who ruled Greece and Constantinople. There was a very noble empress by whom the emperor had two children. But the first was of such an age before the other was born, that if he had willed he might have become a knight and held all the empire. The first was named Alexander; the younger was called Alis. The father too had for name Alexander; and the mother had for name Tantalis. I will straight-away leave speaking of the empress Tantalis, of the emperor, and of Alis. I will speak to you of Alexander, who was so great-hearted and proud that he did not stoop to become a knight in his own realm. He had heard mention made of King Arthur, who was reigning at that time; and of the barons which he ever maintained in his retinue wherefore his Court was feared and famed throughout the world. Howe’er the end may fall out for him , and whate’er may come of it for the lad, there is nought that will hold him from his yearning to go to Britain; but it is meet that he take leave of his father before he goes to Britain or to Cornwall. Alexander the fair, the valiant, goes to speak to the emperor in order to ask permission and to take his leave. Now will he tell him what is his vow, and what he would fain do and take in hand. “Fair sire, that I may be schooled in honour and win worth and renown, a boon,” quoth he, “I venture to crave of you–a boon that I would have you give me; never defer it now for me if you are destined to grant it.” The emperor had no thought of being vexed for that, either much or little; he is bound to desire and to covet honour for his son above aught else. He would deem himself to be acting well–would deem? ay, and he would be so acting–if he increased his son’s honour. “Fair son,” quoth he, “I grant you your good pleasure, and tell me what you would have me give you.” Now the lad has done his work well; and right glad was he of it when is granted him the boon that he so longed to have. “Sire,” quoth he, “would you know what you have promised me? I wish to have in great store of your gold and of your silver and comrades from your retinue such as I shall will to choose; for I wish to go forth from your empire, and I shall go to offer my service to the king who reigns over Britain, that he may dub me knight. Never, indeed, on any day as long as I live shall I wear visor on my face or helm on my head, I warrant you, till King Arthur gird on my sword if he deign to do it; for I will receive arms of no other.” The emperor without more ado replies: “Fair son, in God’s name, say not so. This land and mighty are diverse and contrary. And that man is a slave. Constantinople is wholly yours. You must not hold me a niggard when I would fain give you so fair a boon. Soon will I have you crowned; and a knight shall you be to-morrow. All Greece shall be in your hand; and you shall receive from your barons–as indeed you ought to receive–their oaths and homage. He who refuses this is no wise man.”
The lad hears the promise–namely, that his father will dub him knight on the morrow after Mass–but says that he will prove himself coward or hero in another land than his own. “If you will grant my boon in that matter in which I have asked you; then give me fur both grey and of divers colour and good steeds and silken attire; for before I am knight I will fain serve King Arthur. Not yet have I so great valour that I can bear arms. None by entreaty or by fair words could persuade me not to go into the foreign land to see the king and his barons, whose renown for courtesy and for prowess is so great. Many high men through their idleness lose great praise that they might have if they wandered o’er the world. Repose and praise agree all together, as it seems to me; for a man of might who is ever resting in no wise becomes famous. Prowess is a burden to a cowardly man; and cowardice is a burden to the brave; thus the twain to his possessions who is ever heaping them up and increasing them. Fair sire, as long as I am allowed to win renown, if I can avail so much, I will give my pains and diligence to it.”
At this, without doubt, the emperor feels joy and anxiety–joy has he; for that he perceives that his son aims at valiant deeds; and anxiety on the other hand, for that he is leaving him. But because of the promise that he has made him it behoves him to grant his boon whatever anxiety he feel about it; for an emperor must not lie. “Fair son,” quoth he, “I ought not to fail to do your pleasure, since I see that you aspire to honour. You may take from my treasury two barques full of gold and silver; but take care that you be very generous and courteous and well-bred.” Now is the youth right glad; for his father promises him so much that he puts his treasure at his free disposal and exhorts and commands him to give and to spend liberally; and also he tells him the reason wherefore: “Fair son,” quoth he, “believe me in this; that open-handedness is the lady and queen who illumines all virtues; and it is not a whit difficult to prove this. In what place could one find a man, however mighty and magnificent he be, that is not blamed if he be a niggard; or any man, however ill-reputed he be, whom liberality does not render praised? Liberality of itself makes a man of honour–which neither high Rank, nor courtesy, nor knowledge, nor noble birth, nor wealth , nor strength, nor chivalry, nor courage, nor lordship, nor beauty, nor any other thing, can do. But just as the rose is fairer than any other flower when she buddeth fresh and new; so where liberality comes she holds herself above all virtues, and she multiplies five hundredfold the virtues that she finds in an honourable man who proves his worth. There is so much to say about liberality that I could not tell the half of it.” Well has the lad succeeded in whatsoever he has requested and asked; for his father has found for him all that his desire conceived. Exceeding sorrowful was the empress when she heard of the road which her son must needs follow; but whoever has grief and anxiety thereof, or whoever deems his conduct but folly, or blames and dissuades him, the youth as quickly as he could bade his ships be got ready; for he had no wish to stay longer in his own country. The ships were loaded that night by his command with wine with meat and with biscuits.
The ships are loaded in the harbour and on the morrow with great joyance came Alexander to the sandy shore; and with him his comrades who were fain of the journey. The emperor convoys him and the empress who was sad at heart. In the harbour they find the mariners in the ships beside the cliff. The sea was peaceful and smooth the wind gentle and the air serene. Alexander first of all, when he had parted from his father and on taking leave of the empress whose heart was sad within her, enters from the boat into the ship and his comrades with him. Four, three, and two , they simultaneously strive to enter without delay. Full soon was the sail spread and the anchor of the barque weighed. Those on land, who were sore at heart for the lads whom they see departing, follow them with their eyes’ ken as far as they can; and so that they may watch them the better and the further, they go off and climb together a high peak by the shore. Thence they watch their sorrow as far as they can see them. They gaze at their own sorrow in sooth; for great is their sorrow for the lads: may God lead them to port without disaster and without peril!
They were at sea all April and part of May. Without great peril and without alarm they made land above Southampton. One day ‘twixt Nones and Vespers they cast anchor and have made the port. The youths, who had never previously learned to suffer discomfort or pain, had stayed on the sea which was not wholesome for them so long that all are pale and all the strongest and most healthy are weakened and nerveless. And, nevertheless, they show great joy; for that they have escaped from the sea and come hither where they would be. And because they were suffering greatly, they lie that night above Southampton and show great joy and let ask and inquire whether the king is in England. They are told that he is at Winchester; and that they can be there full soon if they will depart with morning provided that they keep to the right way. This news pleases them well; and on the morrow, when the day is born, the lads wake up with morning and equip and prepare themselves. And when they were equipped they have turned from above Southampton and have kept to the right way till they have reached Winchester where the king was tarrying. Before Prime the Greeks had come to Court. They dismount at the foot of the steps, the squires and the horses stayed in the court below; and the youths ascend to the presence of the best king that ever was or ever may be in the world. And when the king sees them come, they please and delight him much; but ere they had come before him, they throw off the cloaks from their necks that they might not be taken for clowns. Thus all having thrown off their cloaks have come before the king. And the barons one and all keep silence; for the youths please them mightily for that they see them fair and comely. Never do they dream that they are all sons of counts or of a king; yet truly so they were, and they were in the flower of their youth, comely and well set up in body; and the robes that they wore were of one cloth and one cut, of one appearance and one colour. Twelve were they without their lord of whom I will tell you this much without more ado; that none was better than he; but without arrogance and yet unabashed he stood with his mantle off before the king, and was very fair and well shaped. He has kneeled down before him, and all the others from courtesy, kneel beside their lord.
Alexander, whose tongue was sharpened to speak well and wisely, greets the king. “King,” quoth he, “if renown lie not concerning you since God made the first man, no king with faith in God was born so powerful as you. King, the report that is in men’s mouths has brought me to your Court to serve and honour you, and if my service is pleasing I will stay till I be a new-made knight at your hand, not at that of another. For never shall I be dubbed knight if I be not so by you. If my service so please you that you will to make me a knight, keep me, gracious king, and my comrades who are here.” Straightway the king replies: “Friend,” quoth he, “I reject not a whit either you or your company; but ye are all right welcome; for ye have the air, I well think it, of being sons of men of high rank. Whence are ye?” “We are from Greece.” “From Greece?” “Truly are we.” “Who is thy father?” “Faith, sire, the emperor.” “And what is thy name, fair friend?” “Alexander was the name given me when I received salt and chrism and Christianity and baptism.” “Alexander, fair dear friend, I keep you right willingly; and much does it please and joy me, for you have done me exceeding great honour in that you are come to my Court. It is my good pleasure that you be honoured here as a noble warrior, wise and gentle. Too long have you been on your knees: rise, I bid you, and henceforth be free of my Court and of me; for you have arrived at a good haven.”
Forthwith the Greeks rise. Blithe are they for that the king has thus courteously kept them. Alexander is welcome; for there is no lack of aught that he wishes nor is there any baron in the Court so high that he does not speak him fair and welcome him. For he is not foolish nor boastful nor doth he vaunt his noble birth. He makes himself known to Sir Gawain and to the others one by one. He makes himself much loved by each; even Sir Gawain loves him so much that he hails him as friend and comrade. The Greeks had taken in the town at the house of a citizen the best lodging that they could find. Alexander had brought great possessions from Constantinople: he will desire above aught else to follow diligently the emperor’s advice and counsel–namely, that he should have his heart wide-awake to give and to spend liberally. He gives great diligence and pains thereto. He lives well at his lodging and gives and spends liberally as it beseems his wealth, and as his heart counsels him. The whole Court marvels whence his store is taken; for he gives to all horses of great price which he had brought from his land. So much trouble has Alexander given himself, and so much has he prevailed by his fair service, that the king loves and esteems him dearly as well the barons and the queen.
At that point of time King Arthur desired to pass over into Brittany. He bids all his barons assemble in order to seek Counsel, and ask them to whom till he return he can entrust England, who may keep and maintain it in peace. By the Council it was with one consent entrusted, as I think, to Count Engres of Windsor; for till then they deemed no baron more loyal in all the king’s land. When this man had the land in his power, King Arthur and the queen and her ladies set out on the morrow. In Brittany folk hear tell that the king and his barons are coming: the Bretons rejoice greatly thereat.
Into the ship in which the king crossed entered neither youth nor maiden save Alexander alone; and the queen of a truth brought thither Soredamors, a lady who scorned Love. Never had she heard tell of a man whom she could deign to love however much beauty prowess dominion or high rank he had. And yet the damsel was so winsome and fair that she might well have known Love if it had pleased her to turn her mind to it; but never had she willed to bend her mind thereto. Now will Love make her sorrowful; and Love thinks to avenge himself right well for the great pride and resistance which she has always shown to him. Right well has Love aimed; for he has stricken her in the heart with his arrow. Oft she grows pale; oft the beads of sweat break out, and in spite of herself she must love. Scarce can she refrain from looking towards Alexander; but she must needs guard herself against my Lord Gawain her brother. Dearly does she buy and pay for her great pride and her disdain. Love has heated for her a bath which mightily inflames and enkindles her. Now is he kind to her, now cruel; now she wants him, and now she rejects him. She accuses her eyes of treachery and says: “Eyes, you have betrayed me. Through you has my heart which was wont to be faithful conceived hatred for me. Now does what I see bring grief. Grief? Nay, in truth, but rather pleasure. And if I see aught that grieves me, still have I not my eyes under my own sway? My strength must indeed have failed me; and I must esteem myself but lightly if I cannot control my eyes and make them look elsewhere. By so doing I shall be able to guard myself right well from Love, who wishes to be my master. What the eye sees not the heart does not lament. If I do not see him there will be no pain. He does not entreat or seek me: if he had loved me he would have sought me. And since he neither loves nor esteems me, shall I love him if he loves me not? If his beauty draws my eyes, and my eyes obey the spell, shall I for that say I love him? Nay, for that would be a lie. By drawing my eyes he has done me no wrong of which I can complain; and I can bring no charge at all against him. One cannot love with the eyes. And what wrong, then, have my eyes done to me if they gaze on what I will to look at? What fault and wrong do they commit? Ought I to blame them? Nay. Whom, then? Myself, who have them in my keeping? My eye looks on nought unless it pleases and delights my heart. My heart could not wish for aught that would make me sorrowful. It is my heart’s will that makes me sorrow. Sorrow? Faith, then, am I mad? since through my heart I desire that which makes me mad. I ought , indeed, if I can to rid myself of a will whence grief may come to me. If I can? Fool, what have I said? Then were I weak indeed if I had no power over myself. Does Love think to put me in the way which is wont to mislead other folk? Thus may he lead others; but I am not his at all. Never shall I be so; never was I so; never shall I desire his further acquaintance.” Thus she disputes with herself, one hour loves and another hates. She is in such doubt that she does not know which side to take. She thinks she is defending herself against Love; but she is in no need of defence. God! Why does she not know that the thoughts of Alexander, on his side, are directed towards her? Love deals out to them impartially such a portion as is meet for each. He gives to them many a reason and ground that the one should love and desire the other. This love would have been loyal and right if the one had known what was the will of the other; but he does not know what she desires, nor she, for what he is lamenting. The queen watches them and sees the one and the other often lose colour and grow pale and sigh and shudder; but she knows not why they do it unless it be on account of the sea on which they are sailing. Perhaps, indeed, she would have perceived it if the sea had not misled her; but it is the sea which baffles and deceives her so that amid the sea-sickness she sees not the heart-sickness. For they are at sea, and heart-sickness is the cause of their plight, and heart-bitterness is the cause of the malady that grips them; but of these three the queen can only blame the sea; for heart-sickness and heart-bitterness lay the blame on the sea-sickness; and because of the third the two who are guilty get off scot-free. He who is guiltless of fault or wrong often pays dear for the sin of another. Thus the queen violently accuses the sea and blames it; but wrongly is the blame laid on the sea, for the sea has done therein no wrong. Much sorrow has Soredamors borne ere the ship has come to port. The king’s coming is noised abroad; for the Bretons had great joy thereof and served him right willingly as their lawful lord. I seek not to speak more at length of King Arthur at this time: rather shall ye hear me tell how Love torments the two lovers against whom he has taken the field.
Alexander loves and desires her who is sighing for his love; but he knows not, and will not know aught of this until he shall have suffered many an ill and many a grief. For love of her he serves the queen and the ladies of her chamber; but he does not dare to speak to or address her who is most in his mind. If she had dared to maintain against him the right which she thinks is hers in the matter, willingly would he have told him of it; but she neither dares nor ought to do so. And the fact that the one sees the other, and that they dare not speak or act, turns to great adversity for them; and love grows thereby and burns. But it is the custom of all lovers that they willingly feed their eyes on looks if they can do no better, and think that because the source whence their love buds and grows delights them therefore it must help their case, whereas it injures them: just as the man who approaches and comes close to the fire burns himself more than the man who draws back from it. Their love grows and increases continually; but the one feels shame before the other; and each conceals and hides this love so that neither flame nor smoke is seen from the gleed beneath the ashes. But the heat is none the less for that; rather the heat lasts longer below the gleed than above it. Both the lovers are in very great anguish; for in order that their complaint may not be known or perceived, each must deceive all men by false pretence; but in the night great is the plaint which each makes in solitude.
First will I tell you of Alexander: how he complains and laments. Love brings before his mind the lady for whose sake he feels such Sorrow; for she has robbed him of his heart, and will not let him rest in his bed; so much it delights him to recall the beauty and the mien of her as to whom he dare not hope that ever joy of her may fall to his lot. “I may hold myself a fool,” quoth he. “A fool? Truly am I a fool, since I do not dare to say what I think; for quickly would it turn to my bane. I have set my thought on folly. Then is it not better for me to meditate in silence than to get myself dubbed a fool? Never shall my desire be known. And shall I hide the cause of my grief, and not dare to seek help or succour for my sorrows? He who is conscious of weakness is a fool if he does not seek that by which he may have health if he can find it anywhere; but many a one thinks to gain his own advantage and to win what he desires, who pursues that whereof he sorrows later. And why should he go to seek advice when he does not expect to find health? That were a vain toil! I feel my own ill so heavy a burden that never shall I find healing for it by medicine or by potion or by herb or by root. There is not a remedy for every ill: mine is so rooted that it cannot be cured. Cannot? Methinks I have lied. As soon as I first felt this evil, if I had dared to reveal and to tell it, I could have spoken to a leech, who could have helped me in the whole matter; but it is very grievous for me to speak out. Perhaps they would not deign to listen and would refuse to accept a fee. No wonder is it then if I am dismayed, for I have a great ill; and yet I do not know what ill it is which sways me nor do I know whence comes this pain. I do not know? Yes, indeed, I think I know; Love makes me feel this evil. How? Does Love, then, know how to do evil? Is he not kind and debonair? I thought that there would have been nought in Love which was not good; but I have found him very malicious. He who has not put him to the test knows not with what games Love meddles. He is a fool who goes to meet him; for always he wishes to burden his subjects. Faith! his game is not at all a good one. It is ill playing with him; for his sport will cause me sorrow. What shall I do, then? Shall I draw back I think that this would be the act of a wise man; but I cannot tell how to set about it. If Love chastises and threatens in order to teach me his lesson, ought I to disdain my master? He who despises his master is a fool. Needs must I store up in my mind Love’s lesson for soon can great good come of it. But he buffets me greatly: that sets me in alarm! True, neither blow nor wound is visible and yet dost thou complain? Then art thou not wrong? Nay, indeed, for he has wounded me so sore that he has winged his arrow even to my heart; and not yet has he drawn it out again. How then has he struck his dart into thy body when no wound appears without? This shalt thou tell me; I would fain know it. In what member has he struck thee? Through the eye. Through the eye? And yet he has not put out thine eye? He has done me no hurt in the eye; but he wounds me sorely at the heart. Now speak reason to me: how has the dart passed through thine eye in such wise that the eye is not wounded or bruised by it? If the dart enter through the midst of the eye, why does my heart suffer pain in my body? Why does not my eye also feel the pain, since it receives the first blow? That can I well explain. The eye has no care to understand aught nor can it do anything in the matter in any way; but the eye is the mirror to the heart, and through this mirror passes the fire by which the heart is kindled; yet so that it neither wounds nor braises it. Then is not the heart placed in the body like the lighted candle which is put inside the lantern? If you take the candle out, never will any light issue thence; but as long as the candle lasts the lantern is not dark; and the flame which shines through neither harms nor injures it. Likewise is it with regard to a window: never will it be so strong and so whole but that the ray of the sun may pass through it without hurting it in any way; and the glass will never be so clear that one will see any better for its brightness if another brightness does not strike upon it. Know that it is the same with the eyes as with the glass and the lantern; for the light penetrates into the eyes, the heart’s mirror; and the heart sees the object outside whatever it be, and sees many various objects, some green, others dark of hue, one crimson, the other blue; and it blames the one and praises the other, holds the one cheap and the other precious; but many an object shows him a fair face in the mirror when he looks at it, which will betray him if he be not on his guard. My mirror has much deceived me; for in it MY heart has seen a ray by which I am struck, which has taken shelter in me; and because of this my heart has failed me. I am ill-treated by my friend who deserts me for my enemy. Well can I accuse my mirror of treachery; for it has sinned exceedingly against me. I thought I had three friends: my heart and my two eyes together; but methinks they hate me. Where shall I find any more a friend , since these three are enemies who belong to me yet kill me? My servants presume overmuch who do all their own will and have no care of mine. Now, know I well of a truth from the action of those who have injured me: that a good master’s love decays through keeping bad servants. He who associates with a bad servant cannot fail to lament it sooner or later, whatever come of it.
“Now will I speak to you again of the arrow which is given in trust to me and tell you how it is made and cut; but I fear much that I may fail in the matter; for the carved work of it is so magnificent that twill be no marvel if I fail. And yet I will apply all my diligence to say what I think of it. The notch and the feathers together are so close that if a man looks well at them there is but one dividing line like a narrow parting in the hair; but this line is so polished and straight, that without question there is nought in the notch which can be improved. The feathers are of such a hue as if they were gold or gilded; but gilding can add nothing; for the feathers, this know I well, were brighter still than gold. The feathers are the blonde tresses that I saw the other day at sea. This is the arrow that makes me love. God! What a priceless boon! If a man could have such a treasure, why should he desire any other wealth all his life? For my part, I could swear that I should desire nothing more; for merely the feathers and the notch would I not give away in exchange for Antioch. And since I prize these two things so much, who could duly appraise the value of the rest which is so fair and lovable, and so dear and so precious, that I am desirous and eager to behold myself mirrored again in the brow that God has made so bright that nor mirror nor emerald nor topaz would make any show beside it. But of all this, he who gazes at the brightness of the eyes has not a word to say; for to all those who behold them they seem two glowing candles. And who has so glib a tongue that he could describe the fashion of the well-shaped nose, and of the bright countenance where the rose overlays the lily so that it eclipses something of the lily in order the better to illuminate the face, and of the smiling little mouth which God made such on purpose that no one should see it and not think that it is laughing? And what of the teeth in her mouth? One is so close to the other that it seems that they all touch, and so that they might the better achieve this, Nature bestowed special pains, so that whoever should see them when the mouth opens would never dream that they were not of ivory or silver. So much there is to say and to recount in the describing of each thing–both of the chin and of the ears–that it would be no great marvel if I were to leave out something. Of the throat, I tell you, that in comparison with it, crystal is but dim. And the neck beneath her tresses is four times whiter than ivory. As much as is disclosed from the hem of the vest behind, to the clasp of the opening in front, saw I of the bare bosom uncovered, whiter, than is the new-fallen snow. My pain would indeed have been alleviated if I could have seen the whole of the arrow. Right willingly if I had known would I have said what the tip of the arrow is like: I did not see it; and it is not my own fault if I cannot tell the fashion of a thing that I have not seen. Love showed me then nought of it except the notch and the feathers; for the arrow was put in the quiver; the quiver is the tunic and the vest wherewith the maid was clad. Faith! This is the wound that kills me; this is the dart; this is the ray with which I am so cruelly inflamed. It is ignoble of me to be angry. Never for provocation or for war shall any pledge that I must seek of love be broken. Now let Love dispose of me as he ought to do with what is his; for I wish it, and this is my pleasure. Never do I seek that this malady should leave me; rather do I wish it to hold me thus for ever; and that from none may health come to me if health come not from that source whence the disease has come.”
Great is the plaint of Alexander; but that which the damsel utters is not a whit less. All night she is in so great pain that she neither sleeps nor rests. Love has set in array within her a battle that rages and mightily agitates her heart; and which causes such anguish and torture that she weeps all night and complains and tosses and starts up, so that her heart all but stops beating. And when she has so grieved and sobbed and moaned and started and sighed, then she has looked in her heart to see who and of what worth was he for whose sake Love was torturing her. And when she has recalled each wandering thought, then she stretches herself and turns over; and turning, she turns to folly all the thinking she has done. Then she starts on another argument and says: “Fool! What does it matter to me if this youth is debonair and wise and courteous and valiant! All this is honour and advantage to him. And what care I for his beauty? Let his beauty depart with him–and so it will, for all I can do; never would I wish to take away aught of it. Take away? Nay, truly, that do I not assuredly. If he had the wisdom of Solomon, and if Nature had put so much beauty in him that she could not have put more in a human body, and if God had put in my hand the power to destroy all, I would not seek to anger him; but willingly if I could would I make him more wise and more beautiful. Faith! then, I do not hate him at all. And am I then on that account his lady? No, indeed, no more than I am another’s. And wherefore do I think more of him if he does not please me more than another? I know not: I am all bewildered, for never did I think so much about any man living in the world. And if I had my wish I should see him always; never would I seek to take my eyes off him so much the sight of him delights me. Is this love? Methinks it is. Never should I have called on him so often if I had not loved him more than another. Yes, I love him: let that be granted. And shall I not have my desire? Yes, provided that I find favour in his eyes. This desire is wrong; but Love has taken such hold of me that I am foolish and dazed and to defend myself avails me nought herein; thus I must suffer Love’s attack. I have indeed guarded myself thus wisely and for long against Love; never once before did I wish to do aught for him, but now I am too gracious to him. And what thanks does he owe me, since he cannot have service or kindness of me by fair means? It is by force that Love has tamed my pride; and I must needs be subject to his will. Now I wish to love; now I am under his tuition; now will Love teach me. And what? How I ought to serve him. Of that am I right well apprised. I am full wise in his service, for no one could find fault with me in this matter. No need is there henceforth for me to learn more. Love would have me, and I would fain be wise without pride, gracious and courteous towards all, but the true love of one only. Shall I love them all for the sake of one? A fair mien should I show to each; but Love does not bid me to be a true love to every man. Love teaches nought but good. It is not for nothing that I have this name, and that I am called Soredamors. I ought to love, and I ought to be loved, and I wish to prove it by my name, if I can find fitting arguments. It is not without meaning that the first part of my name is the colour of gold; for the most beautiful are the blondest. Therefore I hold my name the fairer because it begins with the colour with which accords the finest gold. And the end recalls Love; for he who calls me by my right name ever calls Love to my mind. And the one half gilds the other with bright and yellow gilding; for Soredamors means the same thing as ‘gilded with love’. Much, then, has Love honoured me, since he has gilded me with himself. Gilding of gold is not so fine as that which illumines me. And I shall set my care on this, that I may be of his gilding; nevermore will I complain of him. Now I love and shall always love. Whom? Truly, a fine question! Him whom Love bids me love; for no other shall ever have my love. What does it matter as he will never know it unless I tell him myself? What shall I do if I do not pray him for his love? For he who desires a thing ought indeed to request and pray for it. How? Shall I then pray him? Nay, indeed. Why not? It never happened that a woman did aught so witless as to beg a man for love unless she were more than common mad. I should be convicted of folly if I said with my mouth aught that might turn to my reproach. If he should know it from my mouth, I deem that he would hold me the cheaper for it, and would often reproach me with having been the first to pray for love. Never be Love so abased that I should go and entreat this man, since he would be bound to hold me the cheaper for it. Ah God! how will he ever know it, since I shall not tell him? As yet I have scarce suffered aught for which I need so distress myself. I shall wait till he perceives it, if he is ever destined to perceive it. He will know it well of a truth, I think, if ever he had aught to do with Love or heard tell of it by word of mouth. Heard tell! Now have I said foolish words. Love’s lore is not so easy that a man becomes wise by speaking of it unless good experience be there too. Of myself I know this well; for never could I learn aught of it by fair speaking or by word of mouth; and yet I have been much at Love’s school, and have often been flattered; but always have I kept aloof from him, and now he makes me pay dear for it; for now I know more of it than an ox does of ploughing. But of this I despair–that he never loved , perhaps, and if he does not love, and has not loved; then have I been sowing in the sea where no seed can take root; and there is nothing for it but to wait for him and to suffer till I see whether I can bring him into the right way by hints and covert words. I will so act that he will be certain of having my love if he dares to seek it. Thus the end of the whole matter is that I love him and am his. If he does not love me, I shall love him all the same.”
Thus both he and she complain, and the one hides the case from the other; they have sorrow in the night and worse by day. In such pain they have, it seems to me, been a long while in Brittany until it came to the end of summer. Right at the beginning of October came messengers from the parts about Dover from London and from Canterbury to bring the king tidings that have troubled his heart. The messengers have told him this–that he may well tarry too long in Brittany; for he to whom he had entrusted his land, and had consigned so great a host of his subjects and of his friends, will now set himself in battle array against the king; and he has marched into London in order to hold the city against the hour that Arthur should have returned.
When the king heard the news he calls all his barons; for he was indignant and full of displeasure. That he may the better stir them up to confound the traitor, he says that all the blame for his toil and for his war is theirs; for through their persuasion he gave his land and put it into the hand of the traitor who is worse than Ganelon. There is not one who does not quite allow that the king has right and reason; for they all counselled him to do so; but the traitor will be ruined for it. And let him know well of a truth that in no castle or city will he be able so to protect his body that they do not drag him out of it by force. Thus they all assure the king and solemnly affirm and swear that they will give up the traitor or no longer hold their lands. And the king has it proclaimed through all Brittany that none who can bear arms in the host remain in the country without coming after him quickly.
All Brittany is moved: never was such a host seen as King Arthur assembled. When the ships moved out it seemed that everybody in the world was on the sea; for not even the waves were seen, so covered were they with ships. This fact is certain, that it seems from the stir that all Brittany is taking ship. Now have the ships made the passage; and the folk who have thronged together go into quarters along the shore. It came into Alexander’s heart to go and beg the king to make him a knight; for if ever he is to win renown he will win it in this war. He takes his comrades with him, as his will urges him on to do what he has purposed. They have gone to the king’s tent: the king was sitting before his tent. When he sees the Greeks coming he has called them before him. “Sirs,” quoth he, “hide not from me what need brought you here.” Alexander spoke for all and has told him his desire: “I am come,” quoth he, “to pray you as I am bound to pray, my lord, for my companions and for myself, that you make us knights.” The king replies: “Right gladly; and not a moment’s delay shall there be, since you have made me this request.” Then the king bids there be borne harness for twelve knights: done is what the king commands. Each asks for his own harness; and each has his own in his possession, fair arms and a good steed: each one has taken his harness. All the twelve were of like value, arms and apparel and horse; but the harness for Alexander’s body was worth as much–if any one had cared to value or to sell it–as the arms of all the other twelve together. Straightway by the sea they disrobed and washed and bathed; for they neither wished nor deigned that any other bath should be heated for them. They made the sea their bath and tub.
The queen, who does not hate Alexander–rather does she love and praise and prize him much–hears of the matter. She wills to do him a great service; it is far greater than she thinks. She searches and empties all her chests till she has drawn forth a shirt of white silk very well wrought very delicate and very fine. There was no thread in the seams that was not of gold, or at the least of silver. Soredamors from time to time had set her hands to the sewing, and had in places sewn in beside the gold a hair from her head, both on the two sleeves and on the collar to see and to put to the test whether she could ever find a man who could distinguish the one from the other, however carefully he looked at it; for the hair was as shining and as golden as the gold or even more so. The queen takes the shirt and has given it to Alexander. Ah God! how great joy would Alexander have had if he had known what the queen is sending him. Very great joy would she too have had, who had sewn her hair there if she had known that her love was to have and wear it. Much comfort would she have had thereof; for she would not have loved all the rest of her hair so much as that which Alexander had. But neither he nor she knew it: great pity is it that they do not know. To the harbour where the youths are washing came the messenger of the queen; he finds the youths on the beach and has given the shirt to him, who is much delighted with it and who held it all the dearer for that it came from the queen. But if he had known the whole case he would have loved it still more; for he would not have taken all the world in exchange, but rather he would have treated it as a relic, I think, and would have worshipped it day and night.
Alexander delays no longer to apparel himself straightway. When he was clad and equipped he has returned to the tent of the king; and all his comrades together with him. The queen, as I think, had come to sit in the tent because she wished to see the new knights arrive. Well might one esteem them fair; but fairest of all was Alexander with the agile body. They are now knights; for the present I say no more about them. Henceforth shall I speak of the king and of the host which came to London. The greater part of the folk held to his side; but there is a great multitude of them against him. Count Engres musters his troops, all that he can win over to him by promise or by gift. When he had got his men together he has secretly fled by night; for he was hated by several and feared to be betrayed; but before he fled he took from London as much as he could of victuals of gold and of silver, and distributed it all to his folk. The tidings is told to the king–that the traitor is fled, and all his army with him, and that he had taken so much of victuals and goods from the city that the burgesses are impoverished and destitute and at a loss. And the king has replied just this: that never will he take ransom of the traitor, but will hang him if he can find or take him. Now all the host bestirs itself so much that they reached Windsor. At that day, however it be now, if any one wished to defend the castle, it would not have been easy to take; for the traitor enclosed it as soon as he planned the treason with treble walls and moats, and had strengthened the walls behind with sharpened stakes, so that they should not be thrown down by any siege-engine. He had spent great sums in strengthening it all June and July and August, in making walls, and bastions, and moats, and drawbridges, trenches, and
breast-works, and barriers, and many a portcullis of iron, and a great tower of stones, hewn foursquare. Never had he shut the gate there for fear of attack. The castle stands on a high hill and below it runs Thames. The host is encamped on the river bank; on that day they had time for nought save encamping and pitching their tents.
The host has encamped on Thames: all the meadow is covered with tents, green and vermilion. The sun strikes on the colours and the river reflects their sheen for more than a full league. The defenders of the castle had come to take their pleasure along the strand with their lances only in their hands, their shields locked close in front of them, for they bore no arms but these. To their foes without they made it appear that they feared them not at all inasmuch as they had come unarmed. Alexander, on the other side, perceived the knights who go before them, playing a knightly game on horseback. Hot is his desire to meet with them; and he calls his comrades one after the other by their names: first Cornix, whom he greatly loved, then the stout Licorides, then Nabunal of Mycenae, and Acoriondes of Athens, and Ferolin of Salonica, and Calcedor from towards Africa, Parmenides and Francagel, Torin the Strong, and Pinabel, Nerius, and Neriolis. “Lords,” quoth he, “a longing has seized me to go and make with lance and with shield acquaintance with those who come to tourney before us. I see full well that they take us for laggards and esteem us lightly–so it seems to me–since they have come here all unarmed to tourney before our faces. We have been newly dubbed knights; we have not yet shown our mettle to knights or at quintain. Too long have we kept our new lances virgin. Why were our shields made? Not yet have they been pierced or broken. Such a gift avails us nought save for tour or for assault. Let us pass the ford, and let us attack them.” All say: “We will not fail you.” Each one says: “So may God save me, as I am not the man to fail you here.” Now they gird on their swords, saddle and girth their steeds, mount and take their shields. When they had hung the shields from their necks, and taken the lances blazoned in quarterings; they all at once rush on to the ford; and the enemy lower their lances and ride quickly to strike them. But Alexander and his comrades knew well how to pay them back; and they neither spare them nor shirk nor yield a foot before them; rather each strikes his own foe so doughtily that there is no knight so good but he must void his saddle-bow. The Greeks did not take them for boys for cowards or for men bewildered. They have not wasted their first blows; for they have unhorsed thirteen. The noise of their blows and strokes has reached as far as to the army. In a short time the melee would have been desperate, if the enemy had dared to stand before them. The king’s men run through the host to take their weapons, and dash into the water noisily, and the enemy turn to flight; for they see that it is not good to stay there. And the Greeks follow them, striking with lances and swords. Many heads there were cut open; but of the Greeks there was not a single one wounded. They have proved themselves well that day. But Alexander won the greatest distinction; for he leads away four knights bound to his person and taken prisoners. And the dead lie on the strand; for many there lay headless, and many wounded and maimed.
Alexander from courtesy gives and presents the first fruits of his knighthood to the queen. He does not wish that the king should have possession of the captives; for he would have had them all hanged. The queen has had them taken and has had them guarded in prison as accused of treason. Men speak of the Greeks throughout the army; all say that Alexander is right courteous and debonair as regards the knights whom he had taken inasmuch as he had not given them up to the king, who would have had them burned or hanged. But the king is in earnest in the matter. Forthwith he bids the queen that she come and speak to him and keep not her traitors; for it will behove her to give them up or he will take them against her will. Then the queen has come to the king; they have had converse together about the traitors as it behoved them; and all the Greeks had been left in the queen’s tent with the ladies. Much do the twelve say to them, but Alexander does not say a word. Soredamors observed it; she had sat down near him. He has rested his cheek on his hand, and it seems that he is deep in thought. Thus have they sat full long till Soredamors saw on his arm and at his neck the hair with which she had made the seam. She has drawn a little nearer him, for now she has opportunity of speaking with him; but she considers beforehand how she can be the one to speak, and what the first word shall be; whether she will call him by his name; and she takes counsel of it with herself. “What shall I say first?” thinks she. Shall I address him by his name, or as ‘friend’. Friend? Not I. How then? Call him by his name? God! The word friend is so fair and so sweet to say. What if I dared to call him friend? Dared? What forbids it me? The fact that I think I should be telling a lie. A lie? I know not what it will be; but if I lie it will be a weight on my mind. For that reason it must be allowed that I should not desire to lie in the matter. God! He would not lie now a whit if he called me his sweet friend. And should I lie in so calling him? Both of us ought indeed to speak truth; but if I lie the wrong will be his. And why is his name so hard to me that I wish to add a name of courtesy? It seems to me there are too many letters in it, and I should become tongue-tied in the middle. But if I called him friend, I should very quickly say this name. But just because I fear to stumble in the other name, I would have given of my heart’s-blood if only his name might have been ‘my sweet friend’.”
She delays so long in thus thinking that the queen returns from the king, who had sent for her. Alexander sees her coming, and goes to meet her, and asks her what the king commands to be done with his prisoners, and what will be their fate. “Friend,” says she, “he requires me to yield them up to his discretion and to let him do his justice on them. He is very wroth that I have not yet given them up to him and I must send them; for I see no other way out.” Thus they have passed this day; and on the morrow the good and loyal knights have assembled together before the royal tent to pronounce justice and judgment as to with what penalty and with what torture the four traitors should die. Some doom that they be flayed, others that they be hanged or burnt, and the king himself deems that traitors should be drawn. Then he bids them be brought: they are brought; he has them bound, and tells them that they shall not be quartered till they are in view of the castle, so that those within shall see them. When the parley is done, the king addresses Alexander and calls him his dear friend. “Friend,” quoth he, “I saw you yesterday make a fair attack and a fair defence. I will give you the due guerdon: I increase your following by 500 Welsh knights and by 1000 footmen of this land. When I shall have finished my war, in addition to what I have given you, I will have you crowned king of the best realm in Wales. Market-towns and strong castles, cities and halls, will I give you, meanwhile, till the land shall be given to you which your father holds and of which you must become emperor.” Alexander heartily thanks the king for this grant; and his comrades thank him likewise. All the barons of the Court say that the honour which the king designs for him is well vested in Alexander.
When Alexander sees his men his comrades and his footmen, such as the king willed to give him, then they begin to sound horns and trumpets throughout the host. Good and bad all, I would have you know, without exception take their arms, those of Wales and of Brittany of Scotland and of Cornwall; for from all sides without fail strong reinforcements had come in for the host. Thames had shrunk; for there had been no rain all the summer; rather there had been such a drought that the fish in it were dead and the ships leaky in the harbour; and one could pass by the ford there where the water was widest of a hair and has delight and joyaunce thereof; but the host has crossed Thames; some beset the valley and others mount the height. The defenders of the castle perceive it, and see coming the wondrous host which is preparing outside to overthrow and take the castle; and they prepare to defend it. But before any attack is made the king has the traitors dragged by four horses round the castle, through the valleys, and over mounds and hillocks. Count Engres is sore grieved when he sees those whom he held dear dragged round his castle; and the others were much dismayed; but for all the dismay that they feel thereat they have no desire to surrender. Needs must they defend themselves; for the king displays openly to all his displeasure and his wrath; and full well they see that if he held them he would make them die shamefully.
When the four had been drawn and their limbs lay o’er the field, then the attack begins; but all their toil is vain; for howsoever they may hurl and throw their missiles, they can avail nought. And yet they try hard; they throw and hurl a thick cloud of bolts and javelins and darts. The catapults and slings make a great din on all sides; arrows and round stone fly likewise in confusion as thick as rain mingled with hail. Thus they toil all day: these defend, and those attack until night separates them, one from the other, nor need they trouble to flee, nor do they see. And the king on his part has it cried through the host and made known what gift that man will have of him by whom the castle shall have been taken: a goblet of very great price, worth fifteen golden marks, the richest in his treasure, will he give him. The goblet will be very fair and rich; and he whose judgement goes not astray ought to hold it dearer for the workmanship than for the material. The goblet is very precious in workmanship, and if I were to disclose the whole truth, the jewels on the outside were worth more than the workmanship or the gold. If he by whom the castle will be taken is but a foot soldier, he shall have the cup. And if it is taken by a knight, never shall he seek any reward besides the cup; but he will have it if it can be found in the world. When this matter was proclaimed Alexander, who went each evening to see the queen, had not forgotten his custom. On this evening he had again gone thither; they were seated side by side, both Alexander and the queen. Before them Soredamors was sitting alone nearest to them; and she looked at him as gladly as though she would not have preferred to be in Paradise. The queen held Alexander by his right hand, and looked at the golden thread which had become greatly tarnished; and the hair was becoming yet fairer whereas the gold thread was growing pale; and she remembered by chance that Soredamors had done the stitching and she laughed thereat. Alexander observed it and asks her, if it may be told, to tell him what makes her laugh. The queen delays to tell him, and looks towards Soredamors, and has called her before her. She has come very gladly and kneels before her. Alexander was much joyed when he saw her approach so near that he could have touched her; but he has not so much courage as to dare even to look at her; but all his senses have so left him that he has almost become dumb. And she, on the other hand, is so bewildered that she has no use of her eyes, but fixes her gaze on the ground, and dares not direct it elsewhere. The queen greatly marvels; she sees her now pale, now flushed, and notes well in her heart the bearing and appearance of each and of the two together. She sees clearly and truly, it seems to her, judging by the changes of colour, that these are signs of love; but she does not wish to cause them anguish: she feigns to know nothing of what she sees. She did just what it behoved her to do; for she gave no look or hint save that she said to the maiden: “Damsel, look yonder and tell–hide it not from us–where the shirt that this knight has donned was sewn, and whether you had a hand in it, and put in it somewhat of yours?” The maiden is ashamed to say it; nevertheless, she tells it to him gladly; for she wishes that he should hear the truth; and he has such joy of hearing it when she tells and describes to him the making of the shirt, that with great difficulty he restrains himself when he sees the hair from worshipping and doing reverence to it. His comrades and the queen, who were there with him, cause him great distress and annoyance; for on account of them he refrains from raising it to his eyes and to his lips where he would fain have pressed it if he had not thought that they would see him. He is blithe that he has so much of his lady-love; but he does not think or expect to have ever any other boon of her. His desire makes him fear; nevertheless, when he is alone he kisses it more than a hundred thousand times when he has left the queen. Now it seems to him that he was born in a lucky hour. Very great joy does he have of it all night, but he takes good care that no one sees him. When he has lain down in his bed, he delights and consoles him self fruitlessly with that in which there is no delight; all night he embraces the shirt, and when he beholds the hair he thinks he is lord of all the world. Truly Love makes a wise man a fool: since he has joy, he will change his pastime before the bright dawn and the sunlight. The traitors are holding counsel as to what they will be able to do and what will become of them. Long time they will be able to defend the castle; that is a certainty if they apply themselves to the defence; but they know that the king is of so fierce a courage that in all his life he will never turn away until he has taken it; then they must needs die. And if they surrender the castle they expect no grace for that. Thus the one lot or the other; it has fallen out ill for them; for they have no reinforcement, and they see death on all sides. But the end of their deliberation is that to-morrow, before day appears, they resolve to issue forth secretly from the castle, and to fall on the host unarmed, and the knights asleep, since they will still be lying in their beds. Before these have awakened, apparelled and equipped, themselves, they will have made such slaughter that ever hereafter shall be related the battle of that night. To this plan all the traitors cling from desperation, for they have no confidence as to their lives. Lack of hope as to the outcome emboldens them to the battle, for they see no issue for themselves except through death or prison. Such an issue is no wholesome one, nor need they trouble to flee, nor do they see where they could find refuge if they should have fled; for the sea and their enemies are around them, and they in the midst. No longer do they tarry at their council: now they apparel and arm themselves, and issue forth towards the north-west by an ancient postern towards that side whence they thought that those of the host would least expect to see them come. In serried ranks they sallied forth: of their men they made five battalions; and there were no less than two thousand foot-soldiers well equipped for battle and a thousand knights in each. This night neither star nor moon had shown its rays in the sky; but before they had reached the tents the moon began to rise, and, I believe that just to vex them, it rose earlier than it was wont; and God who wished to injure them lit up the dark night, for He had no care of their army; rather He hated them for their sin with which they were tainted for traitors and treason which God hates more than any other crime; so the moon began to shine because it was doomed to injure them.
The moon was veritably hostile to them; for it shone on their glittering shields; and the helmets likewise greatly embarrass them, for they reflect the light of the moon for the sentries who were set to guard the host see them; and they cry throughout all the host: “Up, knights! Up, rise quickly! Take your arms, arm yourselves! Behold the traitors upon us!” Through all the host they spring to arms; they rouse themselves and don with haste their harness, as men must do in case of stress. Never did a single one of them stir forth till they were fully equipped; and all mounted on their steeds. While they are arming, the enemy, on the other hand, who greatly desire the battle, are bestirring themselves, so that they may take them unawares and likewise find them unarmed; and they send forth their men whom they had divided into five bands. Some kept beside the wood; others came along the river; the third placed themselves in the plain; and the fourth were in a valley; and the fifth battalion spurs along the moat that surrounded a rock, for they thought to swoop down impetuously among the tents. But they have not found a road that they could follow, or a way that was not barred; for the king’s men block their way as they very proudly defy them and reproach them with treason. They engage with the iron heads of their lances, so that they splinter and break them; they come to close quarters with swords; and champion strikes champion to the ground and makes him bite the dust; each side strikes down its foes, and as fiercely as lions devouring whatsoever they can seize rush on their prey; so fiercely do they rush on their foe–aye, and more fiercely. On both sides, of a truth, there was very great loss of life at that first attack; but reinforcements come for the traitors, who defend themselves very fiercely, and sell their lives dear when they can keep them no longer. On four sides they see their battalions coming to succour them; and the king’s men gallop upon them as fast as they can spur. They rush to deal them such blows on the shields, that together with the wounded they have overthrown more than five hundred of them. The Greeks spare them not at all. Alexander is not idle, for he exerts himself to act bravely. In the thickest of the fray he rushes so impetuously to smite a traitor, that neither shield nor hauberk availed one whit to save that traitor from being thrown to the ground. When Alexander has made a truce with him forsooth, he pays his attentions to another–attentions in which he does not waste or lose his pains. He serves him in such valiant sort that he rends his soul from his body; and the house remains without a tenant. After these two Alexander picks a quarrel with a third: he strikes a right noble court knight through both flanks in such wise that the blood gushes out of the wound on the opposite side; and the soul takes leave of the body, for the foe man has breathed it forth. Many a one he kills; many a one he maims; for like the forked lightning he attacks all those that he seeks out. Him whom he strikes with lance or sword, neither corselet nor shield protects. His comrades also are very lavish in spilling blood and brains; well do they know how to deal their blows. And the king’s men cut down so many that they break and scatter them like common folk distraught. So many dead lie o’er the fields and so long has the scour lasted, that the battle-array was broken up a long while before it was day; and the line of dead down along the river extended five leagues. Count Engres leaves his standard in the battle and steals away; and he has taken seven of his companions together with him. He has returned towards his castle by so hidden a way that he thinks that no one sees; but Alexander marks him; for he sees them flee from the host, and thinks to steal away and meet them, so that no one will know where he has gone. But before he was in the valley he saw as many as thirty knights coming after him along a path, six of whom were Greeks, and the other four-and-twenty Welsh; for they thought that they would follow him at a distance until it should come to the pinch. When Alexander perceived them he stopped to wait, and marks which way those who are returning to the castle take until he sees them enter. Then he begins to meditate on a very hazardous venture and on a very wondrous stratagem. And when he had finished all his thinking, he turns towards his comrades, and thus has related and said to them: “Lords,” quoth he, “without gainsaying me, if ye wish to have my love, whether it be prompted by folly or wisdom, grant me my wish.” And they have granted it; for never will they refuse him anything that he may choose to do. “Let us change our insignia,” quoth he; “let us take shields and lances from the traitors that we have slain. Thus we shall go towards the castle, and the traitors within will think that we are of their party, and whatever the requital may be the doors will be opened to us. Know ye in what wise we shall requite them? We shall take them all or dead or living if God grant it us; and if any of you repent you know that as long as I live, I shall never love him with a good heart.”
All grant him his will: they go and seize the shields from the Dead; and they arrive with this equipment. And the folk of the castle had mounted to the battlements of the tower, for they recognised the shields full well and think that they belong to their own men; for they were unsuspicious of the ambush which lurks beneath the shields. The porter opens the door to them and has received them within. He is so beguiled and deceived that he does not address them at all; and not one of them breathes a word, but they pass on mute and silent, feigning such grief that they drag their lances behind them and bend beneath their shields, so that it seems that they are sorrowing greatly; and they go in whatever direction they wish until they have passed the three walls. Up yonder they find so many foot-soldiers and knights with the count, I cannot tell you the number of them; but they were all unarmed except the eight alone, who had returned from the army; and these even were preparing to take off their armour. But they might well prove over-hasty; for those who have come upon them up yonder no longer hid themselves, but put their steeds to the gallop. All press on their stirrups and fall upon them and attack them, so that they strike dead thirty-and-one before they have given the challenge. The traitors are much dismayed thereat and cry, “Betrayed! Betrayed!” But Alexander and his friends are not confused; for as soon as they find them all unarmed they test their swords well there. Even three of those whom they found armed have they so served that they have only left five. Count Engres has rushed forward, and before the eyes of all goes to strike Calcedor on his golden shield, so that he throws him to the ground dead. Alexander is much grieved when he sees his comrade slain; he well-nigh goes mad with the fury that comes upon him. His reason is dimmed with anger, but his strength and courage are doubled, and he goes to strike the count with such a mighty force that his lance breaks; for willingly, if he could, would he avenge the death of his friend. But the count was of great strength, a good and bold knight to boot, such that there would not have been a better in the world if he had not been disloyal and a traitor. The count, on his side, prepares to give him such a blow that he bends his lance, so that it altogether splinters and breaks; but the shield does not break and the one knight does not shake the other from his seat any more than he would have shaken a rock, for both were very strong. But the fact that the count was in the wrong mightily vexes and weakens him. The one grows furious against the other, and both have drawn their swords, since they had broken their lances. And there would have been no escape if these two champions had wished further to prolong the fight; one or the other would have had to die forthwith at the end. But the count does not dare to stand his ground, for he sees his men slain around him, who, being unarmed, were taken unawares. And the king’s men pursue them fiercely, and hack and hew, and cleave, and brain them, and call the count a traitor. When he hears himself accused of treason, he flees for refuge towards his keep; and his men flee with him. And their enemies who fiercely rush after take them captive; they let not a single one escape of all those that they catch. They kill and slay so many that I do not think that more than seven reached a place of safety. When the traitors entered the keep, they are stayed at the entrance; for their pursuers had followed them so close that their men would have got in if the entrance had been open. The traitors defend themselves well; for they expect succour from them who were arming in the town below. But by the advice of Nabunal, a Greek who was very wise, the way was held against the reinforcements, so that they could not come in time, for they had tarried over-long from lukewarmness and indolence. Up there into that fortress there was only one single entry; if the Greeks stop up that entrance, they will have no need to fear the coming of any force from which ill may befall them. Nabunal bids and exhorts that twenty of them go to defend the outer gateway; for easily there might they press in that way to attack and overwhelm them–foemen who would do them harm if they had strength and power to do so. “Let a score of men go to defend the gateway, and let the other ten assail the keep from without, so that the count may not shut himself up inside.” This is what Nabunal advises: the ten remain in the melee before the entrance of the keep; the score go to the gate. They have delayed almost too long; for they see coming a company, flushed and heated with desire of fighting, in which there were many crossbow-men and foot-soldiers of divers equipment, bearing diverse arms. Some carried light missiles, and others, Danish axes, Turkish lances and swords, arrows and darts and javelins. Very heavy would have been the reckoning that the Greeks would have had to pay, peradventure, if this company had come upon them, but they did not come in time. By the wisdom and by the prudence of Nabunal, they forestalled them and kept them without. When the reinforcements see that they are shut out, then they remain idle, for they see well that by attacking they will be able to accomplish nought in the matter. Then there rises a mourning and a cry of women and of little children, of old men and of youths, so great that if it had thundered from the sky those within the castle would not have heard aught of it. The Greeks greatly rejoice thereat; for now they all know of a surety that never by any chance will the count escape being taken. They bid four of them mount in haste to the battlements of the wall to see that those without do not from any quarter, by any stratagem or trick, press into the castle to attack them. The sixteen have returned to the ten who are fighting. Now was it bright daylight, and now the ten had forced their way into the keep, and the count, armed with an axe, had taken his stand beside a pillar where he defends himself right fiercely. He cleaves asunder all who come within his reach. And his followers range themselves near him; in their last day’s work they take such good vengeance that they spare not their strength at all. Alexander’s knights lament that there were no more than thirteen of them left though even now there were twenty-and-six. Alexander well-neigh raves with fury when he sees such havoc among his men who are thus killed and wounded, but he is not slow to revenge. He has found at hand, by his side, a long and heavy beam, and goes to strike therewith a traitor; and neither the foeman’s shield nor hauberk availed him a whit against being borne to the ground. After him , he attacks the count; in order to strike well he raises the beam ; and he deals him such a blow with his square-hewn beam that the axe falls from his hands; and he was so stunned and so weak, that if he had not leaned against the wall his feet would not have supported him.
With this blow the battle ceases. Alexander leaps towards the count and seizes him in such wise that he cannot move. No need is there to tell more of the others, for easily were they vanquished when they saw their lord taken. They capture them all with the count and lead them away in dire shame even as they had deserved. Of all this, King Arthur’s host who were without, knew not a word; but in the morning when the battle was ended they had found their shields among the bodies; and the Greeks were raising a very loud lamentation for their lord but wrongly. On account of his shield which they recognise they one and all make great mourning, and swoon over his shield, and say that they have lived too long. Cornix and Nerius swoon; and when they come to themselves they blame their lives for being yet whole in them. And so do Torins and Acoriondes; the tears ran in streams from their eyes right on to their breasts. Life and joy are but vexation to them. And above all Parmenides has dishevelled and torn his hair. These five make so great a mourning for their lord that greater there cannot be. But they disquiet themselves in vain; instead of him, they are bearing away another; and yet they think that they are bearing away their lord. The other shields too cause them much sorrow by reason whereof they think that the bodies are those of their comrades; and they swoon and lament over them. But the shields lie one and all; for of their men there was but one slain who was named, Neriolis. Him truly would they have borne away had they known the truth. But they are in as great distress about the others as about him; and they have borne and taken them all. About all but one they are mistaken; but even like a man who dreams, who believes a lie instead of truth, the shields made them believe that this lie was true. They are deceived by the shields. They have set out with the bodies of the slain, and have come to their tents where there were many folk lamenting; but one and all of the others joined in the lament the Greeks were making. There was a great rally to their mourning. Now Soredamors, who hears the wailing and the lament for her friend, thinks and believes that she was born in an evil hour. For anguish and grief she loses memory and colour; and this it is that grieves and wounds her much, but she dare not openly show her grief; she has hidden her mourning in her heart. And yet, if any one had marked it, he would have seen by her countenance and by her outer semblance, that she suffered great pain and sorrow of body; but each one had enough to do to utter his own grief and recked nought of another’s. Each was lamenting his own sorrow; for they find their kinsmen and their friends in evil case; for the river-bank was covered with them. Each lamented his own loss which is heavy and bitter. There the son weeps for the father, and here the father for the son; this man is swooning over his cousin, and this other, over his nephew; thus in each place they lament, fathers and brothers and kinsmen. But conspicuous above all is the lament that the Greeks were making although they might, with justice, expect great joy; for the greatest mourning of all the host will soon turn to joy.
The Greeks are raising great lamentation without; and those who are within are at great pains how to let them hear that whereof they will have much joy. They disarm and bind their prisoners who beg and pray them to take now their heads; but the king’s men do not will or deign to do this. Rather, they say that they will keep them until they deliver them to the king, who then will give them their due, so that their merits will be requited. When they had disarmed them all they have made them mount the battlements in order to show them to their folk below. Much does this kindness displease them; since they saw their lord taken and bound they were not a whit glad. Alexander, from the wall above, swears by God and the saints of the world that never will he let a single one of them live, but will kill them all; and none shall stay his hand if they do not all go to yield themselves up to the king before he can take them. “Go,” quoth he, “I bid you to my lord without fail, and place yourselves at his mercy. None of you save the count here has deserved death. Never shall ye lose limb or life if ye place yourselves at his mercy. If ye do not redeem yourselves from death merely by crying ‘Mercy’, very little confidence can ye have in your lives or in your bodies. Issue forth, all disarmed, to meet my lord, the king, and tell him from me, that Alexander sends you. Ye will not lose your pains; for the king, my lord, will remit for you all his wrath and indignation, so gentle and debonair is he. And if ye will do otherwise, ye will have to die; for never will pity for you seize him.” All of them together believe this counsel; they do not stop till they reach the king’s tent; and they have all fallen at his feet. Now is it known throughout the host what they have told and related. The king mounts, and all have mounted with him; and they come spurring to the castle, for no longer do they delay.
Alexander issues forth from the castle towards the king to whom his sight was well pleasing; and he has yielded up to him the count. And the king has no longer delayed to do justice on him immediately; but he greatly praises and extols Alexander; and all the rest greet him with ceremony and praise and extol him loudly. There is none who does not manifest joy. The mourning that they were formerly making yields to joy; but no joy can be compared with that of the Greeks. The king bids them give him the cup which was very magnificent and worth fifteen marks; and he tells and assures him that there is nought however dear, save the crown and the queen, that he will not yield to him if he will to ask it. Alexander dares not utter his desire in this matter, yet knows well that the king would not disappoint him if he asked for his lady-love; but he greatly fears that he might displease her, who would have had great joy thereat; for rather does he wish grief for himself without her than to have her without her will. Therefore he begs and requests a respite; for he does not wish to make his request till he know her pleasure in the matter; but he has sought neither respite nor delay in possessing himself of the golden cup. He takes the cup and generously entreats my Lord Gawain until he accepts this cup from him; but with exceeding great reluctance has that knight accepted it. When Soredamors has heard the true news about Alexander much did it please and delight her. When she knew that he is alive she has such joy thereof, that it seems to her never can she have grief for an hour; but too long it seems to her does he tarry to come as he is wont. Soon she will have what she desires; for the two vie with each other in their yearning for the same thing.
Alexander greatly longed to be able to feast his eyes on her if only with one sweet look. Already for a long time would he fain have come to the queen’s tent if he had not been kept elsewhere. Delay displeased him much, so soon as ever he could he came to the queen in her tent. The queen has met him; for she knew much of his thought without his ever having spoken; but well had she perceived it. As he enters the tent she salutes him and takes pains to greet him with due ceremony; well she knows what occasion brings him. Because she wishes to serve him to his liking she puts Soredamors by his side; and they three were alone conversing far from the others. The queen is the first to begin; for she had no doubt at all that they loved each other, he her, and she him. Well she thinks to know it for a certainty and is convinced that Soredamors could not have a better lover. She was seated between them and begins a discourse which came aptly and in season.
“Alexander,” quoth the queen, “Love is worse than hatred, for it grieves and bewilders its devotee. Lovers know not what they do when the one hides his feelings from the other. In Love there is much grievous toil: he who does not make a bold beginning in the laying of the foundation can scarce put on the coping-stone. The saying goes that there is nothing so difficult to cross as the threshold. I wish to instruct you about Love; for well I know that Love is using you badly. For this reason have I taken you to task; and take care that you conceal nought of it from me, for clearly have I seen from the countenances of each, that of two hearts you have made one. Never seek to hide it from me. You act very foolishly in that the twain of you tell not your thoughts; for you are killing each other by this concealment; you will be Love’s murderers. Now, I counsel you that you seek not to satisfy your love by rape or by lust. Unite yourselves in honourable marriage. Thus as it seems to me your love will last long. I venture to assure you of this, that if you have a mind for it I will bring about the marriage.”
When the queen had disburdened her heart Alexander on his side disclosed his. “Lady,” quoth he, “I deny nought whereof you charge me; rather do I quite admit all that you say. Never do I seek to be free from Love, so as not always to devote myself to it. This that you of your pity have told me greatly pleases and delights me. Since you know my will, I know not why I should any longer conceal it from you. Very long ago if I had dared I would have confessed it; for the concealment has pained me much. But perhaps this maiden would in no wise will that I should be hers, and she mine. If she grants me nought of herself, yet still I give myself to her.” At these words she trembled; and she does not refuse this gift. She betrays the wish of her heart both in words and looks; for trembling she gives herself to him, and says that never will she make any reservation of will or heart or person; but will be wholly at the queen’s command and will do all her pleasure. The queen embraces them both and gives the one to the other. Laughing, she says: “I yield to thee, Alexander, the body of thy love. Well I know that thou art not alarmed thereat. Let who will look askance thereat; I give you the one to the other. Hold, thou, what is thine, and thou, Alexander, what is thine.” She has what is hers, and he, what is his; he, all of her, and she, all of him. The betrothal took place that very day at Windsor, without a doubt with the consent and permission of my Lord Gawain and the king. None could tell, I ween, of the magnificence and feasting, of the joy and pleasure so great that at the wedding there would not have been more. But inasmuch as it would displease most people, I will not waste or spend one word thereon, for I wish to apply myself to the telling of something better.
On one day at Windsor had Alexander so much honour and joy as pleased him. Three joys and three honours he had: One was for the castle that he took; the second, for that which King Arthur promised that he would give him when the war was ended–the best realm in Wales–that day Arthur made him king in his halls. The greatest joy was the third because his lady-love was queen of the chessboard whereof he was king. Before five months were passed Soredamors was great with human seed and grain; and she bore it till her time. Such was the seed in its germ that the fruit came according to its kind. A fairer child there could not be, before or after. They called the child Cliges.
Born was Cliges, in memory of whom this story was put into French. Ye shall hear me tell fully and relate of him and of his knightly service, when he shall have come to such an age, that he will be destined to grow in fame. But meanwhile it happened in Greece that the emperor who ruled Constantinople came to his end. He was dead; he needs must die, for he could not pass the term appointed. But before his death he assembled all the high barons of his land in order to send and fetch Alexander, his son, who was in Britain where right willingly he tarried. The messengers depart from Greece; o’er the sea they take their voyage; and there a tempest overtakes them which sorely distresses their ship and their folk. They were all drowned in the sea save one treacherous fellow, a renegade, who loved Alis, the younger son, more than Alexander, the elder. When he had escaped from the sea he has returned to Greece; and related that they had all been drowned in a storm on the sea when they were returning from Britain; and were bringing away their lord; not one of them had escaped save he, only, from the storm and the peril. His lying tale was believed. Unopposed and unchallenged they take Alis and crown him: they give to him the empire of Greece. But it was not long ere Alexander knew for a certainty that Alis was emperor. Forthwith he has taken leave of King Arthur; for by no means will he resign his land to his brother without a fight. The king in no wise deters him from the plan; rather he bids him lead away with him so great a multitude of Welsh Scots and Cornishmen, that his brother will not dare to stand his ground when he shall see the host assembled. Alexander might have led away a great force had he willed. But he has no care to destroy his people if his brother will answer him in such wise as to perform his promise. He led away forty knights and Soredamors and his son. These two would he not leave behind; for they were meet to be greatly loved. They sailed from Shoreham where they took leave of the whole court; they had fair winds; the ship ran much more swiftly than a fleeing stag. Before the month had passed, I ween, they came to anchor before Athens, a city very magnificent and strong. The emperor, in sooth, was staying in the city; and there was a great gathering there of the high barons of the land. As soon as they were arrived Alexander sends a trusted servant into the city to know if he could have a fitting welcome there or if they will deny that he is their rightful lord.
The bearer of this message was a courteous and prudent knight whom men called Acorionde, a man of wealth and eloquence; and he was much esteemed in the land, for he was a native of Athens. >From of old his forbears had always had very high lordship in the city. When he had heard told that the emperor was in the city he goes to contend with him for the crown on behalf of Alexander, his brother; and he cannot pardon him for that he has kept it unjustly. Straight into the palace has he come; and finds many a one who greets him fair; but he gives no answer nor does he say a word to any man who greets him; rather he waits until he may hear what will and what mind they have toward their true lord. He does not stop till he reaches the emperor; he greets him not, nor bows to him, nor calls him emperor. “Alis,” quoth he, “I bear thee a message from Alexander who is out yonder in this harbour. Hear what word thy brother sends to thee: He asks of thee what is his and seeks nought that is contrary to justice. Constantinople which thou holdest ought to be his; and will be his. Neither reasonable nor right would it be that there should be discord ‘twixt you twain. Take my counsel, and come to terms with him, and give him the Crown in peace; for it is right meet that thou yield it to him.”
Alis replies: “Fair sweet friend, thou hast taken on thyself a foolish errand in that thou hast brought this message. No comfort hast thou brought to me, for I know well that my brother is dead. It would be a great consolation to me if he were alive and I knew it. Never will I believe it till I see him. He is dead a while ago; and that is a grief to me. Not a word that thou sayest do I believe. And if he is alive wherefore comes he not? Never need he fear that I will not give him land in plenty. He is mad if he keeps aloof from me; and if he serve me he will never be the worse for it. Never will there be any man that will hold the crown and the empire against me.” Acorionde hears that the emperor’s reply is not favourable; but by no fear is he withheld from speaking his mind. “Alis,” quoth he, “may God confound me if the matter is left thus. On thy brother’s behalf I defy thee, and on his behalf, as is meet, I exhort all those that I see here to leave thee and come over to his side. It is meet that they cleave to him; him ought they to make their lord. He who is loyal, let now his loyalty appear.”
With this word he leaves the court; and the emperor, on his side , summons those in whom he most trusts. From them he seeks counsel as to his brother who thus challenges him, and seeks to know if he can fully trust them not to give support or aid to him in this attack. Thus he hopes to prove each one; but he finds not even one to cleave to him with regard to the war; rather do they bid him remember the war that Eteocles waged against Polynices, who was his own brother, in which the one killed the other with his own hands. “A like thing may chance with regard to you if you are bent on pursuing war; and the land will be ruined by reason thereof.” Therefore they counsel him to seek such a peace as may be reasonable and honourable; and that the one make no unreasonable demands on the other. Now Alis hears that if he does not make a fair covenant with his brother, all the barons will desert him; and he said they will never desire an arrangement which he cannot equitably make; but he establishes in the covenant that whate’er the outcome of the matter the crown remain to him.
In order to make firm and lasting peace Alis sends one of his masters-at-arms and bids Alexander come to him and rule all the land; but that he do Alis so much honour as to allow him to keep the name of emperor and let him have the crown; thus, if he will, can this covenant be made ‘twixt the twain of them. When this thing was related and told to Alexander, his folk have mounted with him and have come to Athens. With joy were they received; but it does not please Alexander that his brother should have the lordship of the empire and of the crown if he give him not his promise that never will he wed woman; but that after him, Cliges shall be emperor of Constantinople. Thus are the brothers reconciled. Alexander makes him swear; and Alis grants and warrants him that never as long as he shall live will he take wife. They are reconciled and remain friends. The barons manifest great joy; they take Alis for emperor; but before Alexander come affairs great and small. Whatever he commands and says is done; and little is done except through him. Alis has no longer anything but the name–for he is called emperor–but Alexander is served and loved; and he who does not serve him through love, must needs do so through fear. By means of love and fear he rules all the land according to his will. But he whose name is Death spares no man, weak or strong, but slays and kills them all. Alexander was destined to die; for a sickness for which there was no remedy took him in its grip; but before death came upon him he sent for his son and said: “Fair son, Cliges, never canst thou know how much prowess and valour thou shalt have if thou go not first to prove thyself at King Arthur’s court on both the Britons and the French. If fate lead thee thither, so bear and demean thyself that thou remain unknown till thou hast proved thyself on the flower of the knighthood at the court. I counsel thee that thou believe me in this matter; and that if opportunity comes thou fear not to put thy fortune to the test with thy uncle, my Lord Gawain. Prithee forget not this.”
After this exhortation he lived not long. Soredamors had such grief thereat that she could not live after him. For sheer grief she died when he died. Alis and Cliges both mourned for them as they were bound; but in time they ceased to mourn. For all mourning must come to an end; all things needs must cease. Ill is it to prolong mourning, for no good can come of it. The mourning has ceased; and for a long time after the emperor has refrained from taking wife, for he would fain strive after loyalty. But there is no court in all the world that is pure from evil counsel. Nobles often leave the right way through the evil counsels to which they give credence, so that they do not keep loyalty. Often do his men come to the emperor, and they give him counsel, and exhort him to take a wife. So much do they exhort and urge him, and each day do they so much beset him, that through their great importunity, they have turned him from his loyalty, and he promises to do their will. But he says that she who is to be lady of Constantinople must needs be very graceful and fair and wise, rich and of high degree. Then his counsellors say to him that they will make ready and will hie them into the German land to sue for the daughter of the emperor. They counsel him to take her; for the emperor of Germany is very mighty and very powerful and his daughter is so fair that never in Christendom was there a damsel of such beauty. The emperor grants them all their suit; and they set out on the way like folk well equipped. They have ridden in their days’ journeys until they found the emperor at Ratisbon, and asked him to give his elder daughter for their lord’s behalf.
The emperor was full blithe at this embassy and gladly has he promised them his daughter; for he in no wise abases himself by so doing and abates not one jot of his dignity. But he says that he had promised to give her to the Duke of Saxony; and that the Greeks could not take her away unless the emperor came and brought a mighty force, so that the duke could not do him hurt or injury on the way back to Greece.
When the messengers had heard the emperor’s reply they take their leave and set out once more for home. They have returned to their lord and have told him the reply. And the emperor has taken chosen men, knights proven in arms, the best that he has found, and he takes with him his nephew, for whose sake he had vowed that he would never take wife as long as he lived. But in no wise will he keep this vow if he can win to reach Cologne. On a day appointed he departs from Greece and shapes his course towards Germany; for he will not fail for blame nor for reproach to take a wife. But his honour will wane thereby. He does not stop till he reaches Cologne where the emperor had established his court for a festival held for all Germany. When the company of the Greeks had come to Cologne there were so many Greeks and so many Germans from the north, that more than sixty thousand had to find quarters outside the town.
Great was the gathering of folk, and very great was the joy that the two emperors showed, for they were right glad to meet face to face. In the palace which was very long was the assembly of the barons; and now the emperor sent for his beautiful daughter. The maiden did not tarry. Straightway she came into the palace; and she was fair, and so well shaped, just as God Himself had made her; for it pleased Him greatly to show such workmanship as to make people marvel. Never did God who fashioned her give to man a word that could express so much beauty, that there was not in her still more beauty.
Fenice was the maiden named, and not without reason; for just as the bird Phoenix is fairest above all others and there cannot be more than one phoenix at a time, so Fenice, I deem, had no peer for beauty. It was a wonder and a marvel, for never again could Nature attain to framing her like. Inasmuch as I should say less than the truth, I will not in words describe arms nor body nor head nor hands; for if I had a thousand years to live and each day had doubled my wisdom I should still waste all my time, and yet never express the truth of it. I know well that if I meddled with it I should exhaust all my wisdom upon it and should squander all my pains; for it would be wasted pains. The maiden has hastened and has come into the palace with head uncovered and face bare; and the sheen of her beauty sheds greater light in the palace than four carbuncles would have done. Now Cliges had doffed his cloak in presence of his uncle, the emperor. The day was somewhat cloudy but so beauteous were the twain, both the maid and he, that there shot forth from their beauty a ray with which the palace glowed again, just as the sun shines bright and ruddy in the morning.
To describe the beauty of Cliges I will limn you a portrait, the traits of which shall be very briefly told. He was in the flower of his youth, for he was about fifteen years old. He was fairer and more comely than Narcissus’ who saw his own reflection in the fountain beneath the elm, and loved it so much when he saw it that he died–so folk say–because he could not have it. Much beauty had he, and little wit, but Cliges had greater store of both, just as fine gold surpasses copper, and yet more than I can say. His hair seemed like fine gold and his face a fresh-blown rose. His nose was well shaped, and his mouth beautiful, and he was of great stature as Nature best knew how to frame him; for in him alone she put all at once what she is wont to dole out to each in portions. In framing him Nature was so lavish that she put everything into him all at once and gave him whatsoever she could. Such was Cliges who had in him wisdom and beauty, generosity and strength. He had the timber together with the bark, and knew more of fencing and of archery, of birds and of hounds, than Tristram, King Mark’s nephew; not one grace was lacking to Cliges.
Cliges in all his beauty was standing before his uncle; and those who did not know him were in a fever to see him; and also those who do not know the maiden are eagerly straining to see her; all look at her with wonder; but Cliges, in love, directs his eyes to her secretly, and withdraws them so prudently that neither in the going or the coming of the gaze can one consider him a fool for his action. Right lovingly he regards her; but he does not pay heed to the fact that the maiden pays him back in kind. In true love not in flattery he gives his eyes into her keeping, and receives hers. Right good seems this exchange to her; and it would have seemed to her far better if she had known somewhat of his worth. But she knows no more than that she sees him fair; and if she were ever destined to love aught because of the beauty that she might see in it, it is not meet that she should set her heart elsewhere. She has set her eyes and her heart there; and he in his turn has promised her his. Promised? Nay, but given for good and all. Given? Nay, in faith, I lie; he has not, for no one can give his heart. Needs must I say it in a different fashion. I will not speak as they speak who join two hearts in one body; for it is not true, and has not even the semblance of truth to say that one body can have two hearts at once. And even if they could come together such a thing could not be believed. But, and it please you to hearken to me, I shall be able well to render you the reason why two hearts blend in one without coming together. In so far as only they blend in one, the will of each passes from one to the other, and the twain have the same desire, and because they have the same desire, there are folk who are wont to say that each of them possesses both the hearts. But one heart is not in two places. Well may their desire be the same, and yet each, always, his own heart, just as many different men can sing in harmony one song or verse; and I prove to you by this parable that one body cannot have two hearts because one knows the other’s will, or because the second knows what the first loves and what he hates. A body cannot have more than one heart any more than the voices which sing in harmony, so that they seem to be but a single voice, can be the voice of one person alone. But it profits me not to dwell on this; for another task demands my care. Henceforth I must speak of the maiden and of Cliges; and ye shall hear of the Duke of Saxony who has sent to Cologne a nephew of his, a mere stripling, who discloses to the emperor what his uncle, the duke, bids him deliver–that the emperor expect not from him truce or peace if he send not to him his daughter; and let not that man feel confident on the way who thinks to take her thence with him; for he will not find the way void of foes; rather will it be right well defended against him if she is not given up to the duke.
Well did the stripling deliver his message, all without pride and without presumption; but he finds none, nor knight nor emperor, to reply to him. When he saw that they were all silent and that they did it from contempt, he is for quitting the court defiantly. But youth and audacity made him challenge Cliges to joust against him ere he departed. They mount to horse in order to tilt; on both sides they count three hundred so were equal in number. The whole palace is empty and deserted; for there remains there neither man nor woman, nor knight nor damsel, who does not go and mount on the palace roof, on to the battlements, and to the windows, to see and behold those who were to tilt. Even the princess has mounted thither, she whom Love had conquered and won to his will. She is seated at a window where she greatly delights to sit because from thence she can see him whom she has hidden in her heart, nor hath she desire to take him away from that hiding-place; for never will she love any save him. But she knows not what is his name nor who he is or of what race nor does it become her to ask; and yet she longs to hear aught whereat her heart may rejoice. Through the window she looks out on the shields where the gold shines, and on those who carry them slung round their necks, and who take delight in the jousting; but her thought and her glance she has wholly set in one direction, for she gives no thought to aught else. She is eager to gaze on Cliges and follows him with her eyes wherever he goes. And he, on his part, tilts strenuously for her before the eyes of all, only that she may hear that he is valiant and very skilful; for in any case it would be meet that she should esteem him for his prowess. He turns himself toward the nephew of the duke who rode apace, breaking many lances and discomfiting the Greeks; but Cliges, who is mightily vexed thereat, presses with all his weight on his stirrups, and rides to strike him so rapidly that the Saxon, in spite of himself, has voided his saddle-bows. There was a great stir as he rose again. The stripling rises and mounts, and thinks to avenge thoroughly his shame; but many a man thinks to avenge his shame if he is permitted, who increases it. The youth rushes towards Cliges; and Cliges lowers his lance to meet him; and attacks him with such violence that he bears him once more to the ground. Now has the youth redoubled his shame, and all his folk are dismayed thereat; for well they see that never will they leave the fray with honour; for none of them is there so valiant, that if Cliges comes attacking him he can remain in his saddle-bow to meet him. Right glad thereof are they of Germany and they of Greece when they see that their side are sending the Saxons about their business; for the Saxons depart as though discomfited, while the others pursue them with contumely until they catch them up at a stream. Many of the foe do they plunge and immerse therein. Cliges, in the deepest part of the ford, has thrown the duke’s nephew, and so many others with him , that to their shame and their vexation, they flee, mournful and sad. But Cliges returns with joy, bearing off the prize for valour on both sides; and he came straight to a door which was close to the place where Fenice was standing who exacts the toll of a sweet look as he enters the door, a toll which he pays her, for their eyes have met. Thus has one conquered the other.
But there is no German whether of the north or of the south so much as able to speak who does not say: “God! who is this in whom so great beauty blooms? God! whence has the power come to him so early that he has won so great distinction?” Thus asks this man and that, “Who is this youth, who is he?” till throughout the city they soon know the truth of it, both his name and his father’s, and the promise which the emperor had made and granted to him. It is already so much told and noised abroad that even the maiden hears tell of it, who had great joy in her heart thereat because now she can never say that Love has scorned her, nor can she complain of aught; for he makes her love the fairest, the most courteous, and the most valiant man that one could ever find anywhere; but she must needs have as her husband one who cannot please her; and she is full of anguish and distress thereat; for she does not know with whom to take counsel concerning him whom she desires save only with her own thoughts as she lies awake. And thought and wakefulness so deal with her that they blanch her and altogether change her complexion, so that one can see quite clearly by her loss of colour that she has not what she desires; for she plays less than her wont, and laughs less, and disports herself less; but she hides it well and denies it stoutly if any ask what ails her. Her nurse, who had brought her up from infancy, was named Thessala, and was versed in the black art. She was called Thessala because she was born in Thessaly where sorceries are made, taught, and practised; for the women who are of that country make charms and enchantments.
Thessala sees that she whom Love has in his power is wan and pale, and she has addressed her secretly. “God!” quoth she, “are you enchanted, my sweet lady dear, that you have so wan a countenance? Much do I wonder what ails you. Tell me, if you know, in what part this sickness possesses you most; for if any one can cure you of it you can rely on me, for well can I give you back your health. Well know I how to cure a man of dropsy, and I know how to cure of gout, of quinsy, and of asthma; I know so much about the water and so much about the pulse that evil would be the hour in which you would take another leech. And I know, if I dared say it, of enchantments and of charms, well proven and true, more than ever Medea knew. Never spake I a word of it to you; and yet I have brought you up till now; but never reproach yourself at all for it;, for never would I have said aught to you if I had not seen for a surety that such a malady has attacked you, that you have need of my aid. Lady, tell me your malady, and you will act wisely in doing so before it gets further hold of you. The emperor has set me in charge of you that I may take care of you; and I have given such diligence that I have kept you in sound health. Now shall I have lost my pains if I heal you not of this ill. Beware that you hide it not from me, be it illness or aught else.” The maiden dares not openly disclose her whole desire because she is greatly afeard that Thessala may blame and dissuade her. And yet because she hears her greatly vaunt and extol herself, and say that she is learned in enchantment, in charms and potions, she will tell her what is her case, why her face is pale and wan; but beforehand she will make her promise that she will hide it for ever and will never dissuade her.
“Nurse,” quoth she, “of a truth I thought that I felt no ill; but I shall speedily think that I am sick. The mere fact of my thinking of it causes me much ill and eke alarms me. But how does one know unless he put it to the test what may be good and what ill? My ill differs from all other ills; for–and I be willing to tell you the truth of it–much it joys me, and much it grieves me, and I delight in my discomfort; and if there can be a disease which gives pleasure, my sorrow is my desire, and my grief is my health. I know not then whereof I should complain; for I know nought whence evil may come to me if it come not from my desire. Possibly my desire is a malady; but I take so much pleasure in that desire that it causes me a pleasant grief; and I have so much joy in my sorrow that my malady is a pleasant one. Thessala, nurse! tell me now, is not this sorrow which seems sweet to me , and yet which tortures me, a deceitful one? I know not how I may recognise whether it be an infirmity or no. Nurse! tell me now the name, and the manner, and the nature, of it. But be well assured that I have no care to recover in any wise, for I cherish the anguish of it exceedingly.” Thessala, who was right wise as regards Love and all his ways, knows and understands by her speech that that which distracts her proceeds from Love–because she calls and names it sweet–it is certain that she loves; for all other ills are bitter save that alone which comes from loving; but Love transmutes its own bitterness into pleasure, and sweetness often turns to its opposite. But Thessala, who well knew the matter, replies to her: “Fear nought, I will tell you well both the nature and the name of your disease. You have told me, methinks, that the pain which you feel seems to you to be joy and health: of such a nature is love-sickness; for there is in it joy and sweetness. Therefore I prove to you that you love; for I find pleasure in no sickness save only in love-sickness. All other ills as a rule are always grievous and horrible; but Love is pleasant and tranquil. You love; I am fully certain of it. I regard it not as base in you; but I will hold it baseness if through childishness or folly you conceal your heart from me.” “Nurse, truly you are talking to no purpose; for first I mean to be certain and sure that never by any chance will you speak thereof to any living creature.” “Lady, certainly the winds will speak of it sooner than I unless you give me permission; and of this I will make you sure–that I will help you with regard to this matter, so that you may know of a surety , that by me you will have your joy.” “Nurse, in that case you would have cured me; but the emperor is giving me in marriage whereat I am grievously afflicted and sad because he who pleases me is nephew of him whom I am to wed. And if this man have his joy of me, then have I lost mine; and there is no more joy to be looked for. Rather would I be torn limb from limb than that the love of Iseult and of Tristram should be renewed in the case of us twain; for of them are such mad actions told that I am ashamed to recount them. I could not reconcile myself to the life that Iseult led. Love in her became exceeding base; for her body belonged to two masters and her heart entirely to one. Thus she spent her whole life; for she never refused the two. Reason was there none in this love; but mine is ever constant; and at no cost will a partition ever be made of my body or of my heart. Never of a truth shall my body be debased; never shall there be two partners of it. Let him who owns the heart have the body also; he excludes all others from it. But this I cannot know–how he to whom my heart yields itself can have my body since my father is giving me to another; and I dare not gainsay him. And when he shall be lord of my body if he do aught with it that I do not wish, it is not meet that it welcome another. Moreover, this man cannot wed wife without breaking faith; but if he wrong not his nephew, Cliges will have the empire after his death. But if you can contrive by your arts, that this man to whom I am given and pledged might never have part or lot in me, you would have done me good service according to my will. Nurse, prithee strive that this man break not his faith; for he gave his pledge to the father of Cliges, promising just as Alexander had made him swear, that never would he take wedded wife. His pledge is about to be broken, for straightway he intends to wed me. But I cherish Cliges so dearly that I would rather be buried than that he should lose through me a farthing of the inheritance which ought to be his. May never child be born of me by whom he may be disinherited! Nurse, now bestir yourself in the matter that I may be yours for ever.” Then her nurse tells her and assures her that she will weave such spells and potions and enchantments that she would be ill-advised to have concern or fear for this emperor; so soon as he shall have drunk of the potion that she will give him to drink, and they will both lie together; but however close she will be to him, she can be as secure as if there were a wall between the two of them. “But let not this and this only vex you if he has his pleasure of you in dreams; for, when he shall be sound asleep, he will have joy of you in dreaming; and will quite surely think that he has his joy of you waking, nor will he imagine that it is a dream, or vision, or falsehood. He will delight in you so that he will think he is awake while he is sleeping.”
The maiden loves and approves and esteems this boon and this service. Her nurse, who promises her this, and vows to keep faith with her, puts her in good hope; for by this means she will think to come to her joy however long she have to wait. For never will Cliges be so ill-disposed to her–if he knows that she loves him; and for his sake lives so as to guard her maidenhead in order to shield for him his inheritance–as not to have some pity on her if he prove himself of a noble stock, and if he is such as he ought to be. The maiden believes her nurse, and trusts and confides in her greatly. The one vows and swears to the other that this plan will be kept so secret that never will it be known in the future. Thus the parley is ended; and when it came to the morning the emperor of Germany sends for his daughter. She comes at his command–but why should I spin out my story? The two emperors together have so arranged matters that the marriage takes place and joy begins in the palace. But I will not delay to speak of each thing severally. I will turn my tale of Thessala, who does not cease to make and mix potions.
Thessala crushes her potion; she puts therein spices in plenty for sweetening and blending. Well does she pound and mix it, and strains it till the whole is clear, and there is nought acid nor bitter there; for the spices which are in it make it sweet and of pleasant odour. When the potion was prepared, then had the day run its course, and the tables were placed for supper, and the tablecloths laid; but she delays the supper. It is Thessala’s task to spy out by what device, by what messenger, she will send her potion. They were all seated at the banquet; they had had more than six courses and Cliges was serving his uncle. Thessala, who sees him serve, reflects that he is wasting his Service; for he is serving to his own disinheritance, and this is a great sorrow and anxiety to her. Then like the courteous dame that she is, she bethinks herself that she will make him to whom it will be joy and profit serve the potion. Thessala sends for Cliges, and he went straightway to her, and has inquired, and asked of her why she had sent for him. “Friend,” quoth she, “at this banquet I wish to pay the emperor the flattering meed of a potion that he will greatly esteem. I will not that he drink to-night, either at supper or at bedtime, of any other drink. I think that it will give him much pleasure; for never did he taste of aught so good nor did any beverage ever cost so much; and take good care–I warn you of this–that no other drink of it because there is too little of it for that. And, moreover, I give you this advice, that he never know whence it came; but let him think it came by accident, that you found it among the presents, and that because you tested it, and perceived by the scent of its bouquet the fragrance of good spices, and because you saw that it sparkled, you poured the wine into his cup. If by chance he inquire of it, that will doubtless be the end of the matter. But have no evil suspicion anent aught that I have said; for the beverage is pure and wholesome, and full of good spices, and it may be, as I think, that at some future time it will make you blithe.” When he hears that good will come of it he takes the potion and goes away; for he knows not that there is aught wrong. In a cup of crystal he has set it before the emperor. The emperor