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FRENCH MEDIAEVAL ROMANCES
_From the Lays of Marie de France_
_Translated by Eugene Mason_.
The tales included in this little book of translations are derived mainly from the “Lays” of Marie de France. I do not profess them to be a complete collection of her stories in verse. The ascription varies. Poems which were included in her work but yesterday are withdrawn to-day, and new matter suggested by scholars to take the place of the old. I believe it to be, however, a far fuller version of Marie’s “Lays” than has yet appeared, to my knowledge, in English. Marie’s poems are concerned chiefly with love. To complete my book I have added two famous mediaeval stories on the same excellent theme. This, then, may be regarded as a volume of French romances, dealing, generally, with one aspect of mediaeval life.
An age so feminist in its sympathies as ours should be attracted the more easily to Marie de France, because she was both an artist and a woman. To deliver oneself through any medium is always difficult. For a woman of the Middle Ages to express herself publicly by any means whatever was almost impossible. A great lady, a great Saint or church-woman, might do so very occasionally. But the individuality of the ordinary wife was merged in that of her husband, and for one Abbess of Shrewsbury or Whitby, for one St. Clare or St. Hilda, there were how many thousand obscure sisters, who were buried in the daily routine of a life hidden with Christ in God! Doubtless the artistic temperament burst out now and again in woman, and would take no denial. It blew where it listed, appearing in the most unexpected places. A young nun in a Saxon convent, for instance, would write little dramas in Latin for the amusement and edification of the noble maidens under her charge. These comedies, written in the days of the Emperor Otho, can be read with pleasure in the reign of King George, by those who find fragrant the perfumes of the past. They deal with the pious legends of the Saints, and are regarded with wistful admiration by the most modern of Parisian playwrights. In their combination of audacity and simplicity they could only be performed by Saxon religious in the times of Otho, or by marionettes in the more self-conscious life of to-day. Or, again, an Abbess, the protagonist of one of the great love stories of the world, by sheer force of personality, would compose letters to one–how immeasurably her moral inferior, in spite of his genius–expressing with an unexampled poignancy the most passionate emotions of the heart. Or, to take my third illustration, here are a woman’s poems written in an age when literature was almost entirely in the hands of men. Consider the strength of character which alone induced these three ladies to stray from the beaten paths of their sex. To the average woman it was enough to be an object of art herself, or to be the inspiration of masterpieces by man. But these three women of the Middle Ages–and such as they–shunned the easier way, and, in their several spheres, were by deliberate effort, self-conscious artists.
The place and date of birth of Marie de France are unknown–indeed the very century in which she lived has been a matter of dispute. Her poems are written in the French of northern France; but that does not prove her necessarily to be a Frenchwoman. French was the tongue of the English Court, and many Englishmen have written in the same language. Indeed, it is a very excellent vehicle for expression. Occasionally, Marie would insert English words in her French text, the better to convey her meaning; but it does not follow therefrom that the romances were composed in England. It seems strange that so few positive indications of her race and home are given in her poems–nothing is contained beyond her Christian name and the bare statement that she was of France. She took great pride in her work, which she wrought to the best of her ability, and was extremely jealous of that bubble-reputation. Yet whilst this work was an excellent piece of self-portraiture, it reveals not one single fact or date on which to go. A consensus of critical opinion presumes that Marie was a subject of the English Crown, born in an ancient town called Pitre, some three miles above Rouen, in the Duchy of Normandy. This speculation is based largely on the unwonted topographical accuracy of her description of Pitre, given in “The Lay of the Two Lovers.” Such evidence, perhaps, is insufficient to obtain a judgment in a Court of Law. The date when Marie lived was long a matter of dispute. The Prologue to her “Lays” contains a dedication to some unnamed King; whilst her “Fables” is dedicated to a certain Count William. These facts prove her to have been a person of position and repute. The King was long supposed to be Henry the Third of England, and this would suggest that she lived in the thirteenth century. An early scholar, the Abbe de La Rue, in fact, said that this was “undoubtedly” the case, giving cogent reasons in support of his contention. But modern scholarship, in the person of Gaston Paris, has decided that the King was Henry the Second, of pious memory; the Count, William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, his natural son by Fair Rosamund; and that Marie must be placed in the second half of the twelfth century. This shows that scholarship is not an exact science, and that such words as “doubtless” should not be employed more than necessary. A certain Eastern philosopher, when engaged in instructing the youth of his country, used always to conclude his lectures with the unvarying formula, “But, gentlemen, all that I have told you is probably wrong.” This sage was a wise man (not always the same thing), and his example should be had in remembrance. It seems possible (and one hesitates to use a stronger word) that the “Lays” of Marie were actually written at the Court of Henry of England. From political ambition the King was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine, a lady of literary tastes, who came from a family in which the patronage of singers was a tradition. Her husband, too, had a pronounced liking for literature. He was fond of books, and once paid a visit to Glastonbury to visit King Arthur’s tomb. These, perhaps, are limited virtues, but Henry the Second had need of every rag. It is somewhat difficult to recognise in that King of the Prologue, “in whose heart all gracious things are rooted,” the actual King who murdered Becket; who turned over picture-books at Mass, and never confessed or communicated. It is yet more difficult to perceive “joy as his handmaid” who, because of the loss of a favourite city, threatened to revenge himself on God, by robbing Him of that thing–_i.e._, the soul–He desired most in him; and whose very last words were an echo of Job’s curse upon the day that he was born. Marie’s phrases may be regarded, perhaps, as a courtly flourish, rather than as conveying truth with mathematical precision. If not, we should be driven to suggest an alternative to the favourite simile of lying like an epitaph. But I think it unlikely that Marie suffered with a morbidly sensitive conscience. There is little enough real devotion to be met with in her “Lays”; and if her last book–a translation from the Latin of the Purgatory of St. Patrick–is on a subject she avoids in her earlier work, it was written under the influence of some high prelate, and may be regarded as a sign that she watched the shadows cast by the western sun lengthening on the grass.
Gaston Paris suggests 1175 as an approximate date for the composition of the “Lays” of Marie de France. Their success was immediate and unequivocal, as indeed was to be expected in the case of a lady situated so fortunately at Court. We have proof of this in the testimony of Denis Pyramus, the author who wrote a Life of St. Edmund the King, early in the following century. He says, in that poem, “And also Dame Marie, who turned into rhyme and made verses of ‘Lays’ which are not in the least true. For these she is much praised, and her rhyme is loved everywhere; for counts, barons, and knights greatly admire it, and hold it dear. And they love her writing so much, and take such pleasure in it, that they have it read, and often copied. These Lays are wont to please ladies, who listen to them with delight, for they are after their own hearts.” It is no wonder that the lords and ladies of her century were so enthralled by Marie’s romances, for her success was thoroughly well deserved. Even after seven hundred years her colours remain surprisingly vivid, and if the tapestry is now a little worn and faded in places, we still follow with interest the movements of the figures wrought so graciously upon the arras. Of course her stories are not original; but was any plot original at any period of the earth’s history? This is not only an old, but an iterative world. The source of Marie’s inspiration is perfectly clear, for she states it emphatically in quite a number of her Lays. This adventure chanced in Brittany, and in remembrance thereof the Bretons made a Lay, which I heard sung by the minstrel to the music of his rote. Marie’s part consisted in reshaping this ancient material in her own rhythmic and coloured words. Scholars tell us that the essence of her stories is of Celtic rather than of Breton origin. It may be so; though to the lay mind this is not a matter of great importance one way or the other; but it seems better to accept a person’s definite statement until it is proved to be false. The Breton or Celtic imagination had peculiar qualities of dreaminess, and magic and mystery. Marie’s mind was not cast in a precisely similar mould. Occasionally she is successful enough; but generally she gives the effect of building with a substance the significance of which she does not completely realise. She may be likened to a child playing with symbols which, in the hand of the enchanter, would be of tremendous import. Her treatment of Isoude, for example, in “The Lay of the Honeysuckle,” is quite perfect in tone, and, indeed, is a little masterpiece in its own fashion. But her sketch of Guenevere in “The Lay of Sir Launfal” is of a character that one does not recall with pleasure. To see how Arthur’s Queen might be treated, we have but to turn to the pages of a contemporary, and learn from Chrestien de Troyes’ “Knight of the Cart,” how an even more considerable poet than Marie could deal with a Celtic legend. The fact is that Marie’s romances derive farther back than any Breton or Celtic dream. They were so old that they had blown like thistledown about the four quarters of the world. Her princesses came really neither from Wales nor Brittany. They were of that stuff from which romance is shaped. “Her face was bright as the day of union; her hair dark as the night of separation; and her mouth was magical as Solomon’s seal.” You can parallel her “Lays” from folklore, from classical story and antiquity. Father and son fight together unwittingly in “The Lay of Milon”; but Rustum had striven with Sohrab long before in far Persia, and Cuchulain with his child in Ireland. Such stories are common property. The writer takes his own where he finds it. Marie is none the less admirable because her stories were narrated by the first man in Eden; neither are Boccaccio and the Countess D’Aulnoy blameworthy since they told again what she already had related so well. Marie, indeed, was an admirable narrator. That was one of her shining virtues. As a piece of artful tale telling, a specimen of the craft of keeping a situation in suspense, the arrival of the lady before Arthur’s Court, in “The Lay of Sir Launfal,” requires a deal of beating. The justness and fineness of her sentiment in all that concerns the delicacies of the human heart are also remarkable. But her true business was that of the storyteller. In that trade she was almost unapproachable in her day. There may have been–indeed, there was–a more considerable poet living; but a more excellent writer of romances, than the author of “Eliduc,” it would have been difficult to find.
The ladies who found the “Lays” of Marie after their own hearts were not only admirers of beautiful stories; they had the delicate privilege also of admiring themselves in their habit as they lived–perhaps even lovelier than in reality–amidst their accustomed surroundings. The pleasure of a modern reader in such tales as these is enhanced by the light they throw on the household arrangements and customs of the gentlefolk of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It may be of interest to consider some of these domestic arrangements, as illustrated by stories included in the present volume.
The corporate life of a mediaeval household centered in the hall. It was office and dining and billiard room, and was common to gentle and simple alike. The hall was by far the largest room in the house. It was lighted by windows, and warmed by an open fire of logs. The smoke drifted about the roof, escaping finally by the simple means of a lantern placed immediately above the hearth. A beaten floor was covered by rushes and fresh hay, or with rugs in that part affected by the more important members of the household. The lord himself and his wife sat in chairs upon a raised dais. The retainers were seated on benches around the wall, and before them was spread the dining table–a mere board upon trestles–which was removed when once the meal was done. After supper, chess and draughts were played, or (as we may see in “The Lay of the Thorn”) minstrels sang ballads and the guest contributed to the general entertainment by the recital of such jests and adventures as commended themselves to his taste. If the hall may be considered as the dining room of the mediaeval home, the garden might almost be looked upon as the drawing room. You would probably get more real privacy in the garden than in any other part of the crowded castle, including the lady’s chamber. It is no wonder that we read of Guenevere taking Launfal aside for a little private conversation in her pleasaunce. It was not only the most private, but also the most delightful room in the house–ceiled with blue and carpeted with green. The garden was laid out elaborately with a perron and many raised seats. Trees stood about the lawn in tubs, and there was generally a fountain playing in the centre, or possibly a pond, stocked with fish. Fruit trees and flower beds grew thickly about the garden, and a pleasanter place of perfume and colour and shade it would be difficult to imagine in the summer heat. The third room of which we hear continually in these romances is the lady’s chamber. It served the purpose of a boudoir as well as that of a sleeping room, and consequently had little real privacy. It contained the marriage chest with its store of linen, and also the bed. This bed recurs eternally in mediaeval tales. It was used as a seat during the day, and as a resting-place of nights. It was a magnificent erection, carved and gilded, and inlaid with ivory. Upon it was placed a mattress of feathers, and a soft pillow. The sheets were of linen or silk, and over all was spread a coverlet of some precious material. An excellent description of such a couch is given in “The Lay of Gugemar.” This chamber served also as a bath room, and there the bath was taken, piping hot, in the strange vessel, fashioned somewhat like a churn, that we see in pictures of the Middle Ages.
Of the dress of the ladies who moved about the castle, seeing themselves reflected from Marie’s pages as in a polished mirror, I am not competent to speak. The type of beauty preferred by the old romancers was that of a child’s princess of fairy tale–blue-eyed, golden-haired, and ruddy of cheek. The lady would wear a shift of linen, “white as meadow flower.” Over this was worn a garment of fur or silk, according to the season; and, above all, a vividly coloured gown, all in one line from neck to feet, shapen closely to the figure, or else the more loosely fitting bliaut. Her girdle clipped her closely about the waist, falling to the hem of her skirt, and her feet were shod in soundless shoes, without heels. The hair was arranged in two long braids, brought forward over her shoulders; as worn by those smiling Queens wrought upon the western porch of Chartres Cathedral. Out of doors, and, indeed, frequently within, as may be proved by a reference to “The Lay of the Ash Tree,” the lady was clad in a mantle and a hood. It must have taken a great deal of time and travail to appear so dainty a production. But to become poetry for others, it is necessary for a woman first to be prose to herself.
I am afraid the raw material of this radiant divinity had much to endure before she suffered her sea change. In mediaeval illustrations we see the maiden sitting demurely in company, with downcast eyes, and hands folded modestly in her lap. This unnatural restraint was induced by the lavish compulsion of the rod. If there was one text, above all others, approved and acted upon by fathers and mothers of the Middle Ages, it was that exhorting parents not to cocker their child, neither to wink at his follies, but to beat him on the sides with a stick. Turn to “The Lay of the Thorn,” and mark the gusto with which a mother disciplines her maid. Parents trained their children with blows. Husbands (ah, the audacity of the mediaeval husband) scattered the like seeds of kindness on their wives. In a book written for the edification of his unmarried daughters, Chaucer’s contemporary, the Knight of La Tour Landry, tells the following interesting anecdote. A man had a scolding wife, who railed ungovernably upon him before strangers, “and he that was angry of her governance smote her with his first down to the earth; and then with his foot he struck her on the visage, and broke her nose; and all her life after that she had her nose crooked, the which shent and disfigured her visage after, that she might not for shame show her visage, it was so foul blemished. And this she had for her evil and great language that she was wont to say to her husband. And therefore the wife ought to suffer, and let the husband have the words, and to be master.” May I give yet another illustration before we pass from the subject. This time it is taken not from a French knight, but from a sermon of the great Italian preacher, St. Bernardino of Siena. “There are men who can bear more patiently with a hen that lays a fresh egg every day than with their own wives; and sometimes when the hen breaks a pipkin or a cup he will spare it a beating, simply for love of the fresh egg which he is unwilling to lose. Oh, raving madmen! who cannot bear a word from their own wives, though they bear them such fair fruit; but when the woman speaks a word more than they like, then they catch up a stick, and begin to cudgel her; while the hen that cackles all day, and gives you no rest, you take patience with her for the sake of her miserable egg–and sometimes she will break more in your house than she herself is worth, yet you bear it in patience for the egg’s sake. Many fidgetty fellows, who sometimes see their wives turn out less neat and dainty than they would like, smite them forthwith; and meanwhile the hen may make a mess on the table, and you suffer her. Have patience; it is not right to beat your wife for every cause, no!”
At the commencement of this Introduction I stated that Marie’s romances are concerned mainly with love. Her talent was not very wide nor rich, and I have no doubt that there were facets of her personality which she was unable to get upon paper. The prettiest girl in the world can only give what she has to give. By the time any reader reaches the end of this volume he will be assured that the stories are stories of love. Probably he will have noticed also that, in many cases, the lady who inspires the most delicate of sentiments is, incidentally, a married woman. He may ask why this was so; and in answer I propose to conclude my paper with a few observations upon the subject of mediaeval love.
I doubt in my own mind whether romance writers do not exaggerate what was certainly a characteristic of the Middle Ages. To be ordinary is to be uninteresting; and it is obvious that the stranger the experience, the more likely is it to attract the interest and attention of the hearer. Blessed is the person–as well as the country–who has no history. But it was really very difficult for the twelfth century poet to write a love story, with a maiden as the central figure. The noble maiden seldom had a love story. It is true enough that she was sometimes referred to in the choice of her husband: two young ladies in “A Story of Beyond the Sea” are both consulted in the matter. As a rule, however, her inclination was not permitted to stand in the way of the interests of her parents or guardians. She was betrothed in childhood, and married very young, for mercenary or political reasons, to a husband much older than herself. We read of a girl of twelve being married to a man of fifty. There was no great opportunity for a love story here; and the strange entreaty, on the part of the nameless French poet, to love the maidens for the sake of Christ’s love, passed over the heads of the romance writers. Not that the mediaeval maidens showed any shrinking from matrimony. “Fair daughter, I have given you a husband.” “Blessed be God,” said the damsel. There spoke a contented spirit. Things have changed, and we can but sigh after the good old times.
But the maiden inevitably became the wife, and the whirligig of Time brought in his revenges. The lady now found herself the most important member of her sex, in a dwelling filled with men. She had few women about her person, and the confidant of a great dame in old romance is, frequently enough, her chamberlain. These young men had no chance of marriage, and naturally strove to gain the attention of a lady, whose favour was to them so important a matter. A mediaeval knight was the sworn champion of God and the ladies–but more especially the latter. The chatelaine, herself, found time hang heavily on her hands. Amusements were few; books limited in number; a husband not of absorbing interest; so she turned to such distractions as presented themselves. The prettier a lady, the sweeter the incense and flattery swung beneath her nose; for this was one of the disadvantages of marrying an attractive woman. “It is hard to keep a wife whom everyone admires; and if no one admires her it is hard to have to live with her yourself.” One of these distractions took the shape of Courts of Love, where the bored but literary chatelaine discussed delicate problems of conduct pertaining to the heart. The minstrel about the lady’s castle, for his part, sought her favourable notice not only by his songs but also by giving an object lesson of his melancholy condition. One would imagine that his proceedings were not always calculated to further their purpose. A famous singer, for instance, in honour of a lady who was named Lupa, caused himself to be sewn in a wolf’s skin, and ran before the hounds till he was pulled down, half dead. Another great minstrel and lover bought a leper’s gown and bowl and clapper from some afflicted wretch. He mutilated his forefinger, and sat before his lady’s door, in the company of a piteous crowd of sick and maimed, to await her alms. No doubt he trusted that his devotion would procure him a different kind of charity. From such discussions as these, and from conduct such as this, a type of love came into being which was peculiar to the period. Since the lovers were not bound in the sweet and common union of children and home, since on the side of the lady all was of grace and nought of debt, they searched out other bands to unite them together. These they found in a system of devotion, silence and faithfulness, which added a dignity to their relations. These virtues they took so seriously that we find the Chatelaine of Vergi dying because she believed her lover to have betrayed her trust. The mediaeval romancer contemplated such unions with joy and pity; but for all their virtues we must not deceive ourselves with words. Such honour was rooted in dishonour, and the measure of their guilt was that they debased the moral currency. Presently the greatest of all the poets of the Middle Ages would arise, to teach a different fashion of devotion. His was a love that sought no communion with its object, neither speech nor embrace. It was sufficient for Dante to contemplate Beatrice from afar, as one might kneel before the picture of a saint. I do not say that a love like this–so spiritual and so aloof–will ever be possible to men. It did not suffice even to Dante, for all his tremendous moral muscle. Human love must always and inevitably be founded on a physical basis. But the burning drop of idealism that Dante contributed to the passion of the Middle Ages has made possible the love of which we now and again catch a glimpse in the union of select natures. And that the seed of such flowering may be carried about the world is one of the fairest hopes and possibilities of the human race.
The originals of these narratives are to be found in Roquefort’s edition of the Poesies de Marie de France; in a volume of the Nouvelles Francoises en Prose, edited by Moland and D’Hericault; and in M. Gaston Raynaud’s text of La Chatelaine de Vergi.
I. PROLOGUE BY WAY OF DEDICATION
II. THE LAY OF GUGEMAR
III. THE LAY OF THE DOLOROUS KNIGHT
IV. THE LAY OF ELIDUC
V. THE LAY OF THE NIGHTINGALE
VI. THE LAY OF SIR LAUNFAL
VII. THE LAY OF THE TWO LOVERS
VIII. THE LAY OF THE WERE-WOLF
IX. THE LAY OF THE ASH TREE
X. THE LAY OF THE HONEYSUCKLE
XI. THE LAY OF EQUITAN
XII. THE LAY OF MILON
XIII. THE LAY OF YONEC
XIV. THE LAY OF THE THORN
XV. THE LAY OF GRAELENT
XVI. A STORY OF BEYOND THE SEA
XVII. THE CHATELAINE OF VERGI
BY WAY OF DEDICATION
Those to whom God has given the gift of comely speech, should not hide their light beneath a bushel, but should willingly show it abroad. If a great truth is proclaimed in the ears of men, it brings forth fruit a hundred-fold; but when the sweetness of the telling is praised of many, flowers mingle with the fruit upon the branch.
According to the witness of Priscian, it was the custom of ancient writers to express obscurely some portions of their books, so that those who came after might study with greater diligence to find the thought within their words. The philosophers knew this well, and were the more unwearied in labour, the more subtle in distinctions, so that the truth might make them free. They were persuaded that he who would keep himself unspotted from the world should search for knowledge, that he might understand. To set evil from me, and to put away my grief, I purposed to commence a book. I considered within myself what fair story in the Latin or Romance I could turn into the common tongue. But I found that all the stories had been written, and scarcely it seemed the worth my doing, what so many had already done. Then I called to mind those Lays I had so often heard. I doubted nothing–for well I know–that our fathers fashioned them, that men should bear in remembrance the deeds of those who have gone before. Many a one, on many a day, the minstrel has chanted to my ear. I would not that they should perish, forgotten, by the roadside. In my turn, therefore, I have made of them a song, rhymed as well as I am able, and often has their shaping kept me sleepless in my bed.
In your honour, most noble and courteous King, to whom joy is a handmaid, and in whose heart all gracious things are rooted, I have brought together these Lays, and told my tales in seemly rhyme. Ere they speak for me, let me speak with my own mouth, and say, “Sire, I offer you these verses. If you are pleased to receive them, the fairer happiness will be mine, and the more lightly I shall go all the days of my life. Do not deem that I think more highly of myself than I ought to think, since I presume to proffer this, my gift.” Hearken now to the commencement of the matter.
THE LAY OF GUGEMAR
Hearken, oh gentles, to the words of Marie. When the minstrel tells his tale, let the folk about the fire heed him willingly. For his part the singer must be wary not to spoil good music with unseemly words. Listen, oh lordlings, to the words of Marie, for she pains herself grievously not to forget this thing. The craft is hard–then approve the more sweetly him who carols the tune. But this is the way of the world, that when a man or woman sings more tunably than his fellows, those about the fire fall upon him, pell-mell, for reason of their envy. They rehearse diligently the faults of his song, and steal away his praise with evil words. I will brand these folk as they deserve. They, and such as they, are like mad dogs–cowardly and felon–who traitorously bring to death men better than themselves. Now let the japer, and the smiler with his knife, do me what harm they may. Verily they are in their right to speak ill of me.
Hearken, oh gentles, to the tale I set before you, for thereof the Bretons already have made a Lay. I will not do it harm by many words, and here is the commencement of the matter. According to text and scripture, now I relate a certain adventure, which bechanced in the realm of Brittany, in days long gone before.
In that time when Arthur maintained his realm, the now in peace, the now in war, the King counted amongst his vassals a certain baron, named Oridial. This knight was lord of Leon, and was very near to his prince’s heart, both in council chamber and in field. From his wife he had gotten two children, the one a son and the other a fair daughter. Nogent, he had called the damsel at the font, and the dansellon was named Gugemar–no goodlier might be found in any realm. His mother had set all her love upon the lad, and his father shewed him every good that he was able. When the varlet was no more a child, Oridial sent him to the King, to be trained as a page in the courtesies of the Court. Right serviceable was he in his station, and meetly praised of all. The term of his service having come, and he being found of fitting years and knowledge, the King made him knight with his own hand, and armed him in rich harness, according to his wish. So Gugemar gave gifts to all those about his person, and bidding farewell, took leave, and departed from the Court. Gugemar went his way to Flanders, being desirous of advancement, for in that kingdom ever they have strife and war. Neither in Loraine nor Burgundy, Anjou nor Gascony, might be found in that day a better knight than he, no, nor one his peer. He had but one fault, since of love he took no care. There was neither dame nor maiden beneath the sky, however dainty and kind, to whom he gave thought or heed, though had he required her love of any damsel, very willingly would she have granted his desire. Many there were who prayed him for his love, but might have no kiss in return. So seeing that he refrained his heart in this fashion, men deemed him a strange man, and one fallen into a perilous case.
In the flower of his deeds the good knight returned to his own land, that he might see again his father and lord, his mother and his sister, even as he very tenderly desired. He lodged with them for the space of a long month, and at the end of that time had envy to hunt within the wood. The night being come, Gugemar summoned his prickers and his squires, and early in the morning rode within the forest. Great pleasure had Gugemar in the woodland, and much he delighted in the chase. A tall stag was presently started, and the hounds being uncoupled, all hastened in pursuit–the huntsmen before, and the good knight following after, winding upon his horn. Gugemar rode at a great pace after the quarry, a varlet riding beside, bearing his bow, his arrows and his spear. He followed so hotly that he over-passed the chase. Gazing about him he marked, within a thicket, a doe hiding with her fawn. Very white and wonderful was this beast, for she was without spot, and bore antlers upon her head. The hounds bayed about her, but might not pull her down. Gugemar bent his bow, and loosed a shaft at the quarry. He wounded the deer a little above the hoof, so that presently she fell upon her side. But the arrow glanced away, and returning upon itself, struck Gugemar in the thigh, so grievously, that straightway he fell from his horse upon the ground. Gugemar lay upon the grass, beside the deer which he had wounded to his hurt. He heard her sighs and groans, and perceived the bitterness of her pity. Then with mortal speech the doe spake to the wounded man in such fashion as this, “Alas, my sorrow, for now am I slain. But thou, Vassal, who hast done me this great wrong, do not think to hide from the vengeance of thy destiny. Never may surgeon and his medicine heal your hurt. Neither herb nor root nor potion can ever cure the wound within your flesh: For that there is no healing. The only balm to close that sore must be brought by a woman, who for her love will suffer such pain and sorrow as no woman in the world has endured before. And to the dolorous lady, dolorous knight. For your part you shall do and suffer so great things for her, that not a lover beneath the sun, or lovers who are dead, or lovers who yet shall have their day, but shall marvel at the tale. Now, go from hence, and let me die in peace.”
Gugemar was wounded twice over–by the arrow, and by the words he was dismayed to hear. He considered within himself to what land he must go to find this healing for his hurt, for he was yet too young to die. He saw clearly, and told it to his heart, that there was no lady in his life to whom he could run for pity, and be made whole of his wound. He called his varlet before him,
“Friend,” said he, “go forthwith, and bring my comrades to this place, for I have to speak with them.”
The varlet went upon his errand, leaving his master sick with the heat and fever of his hurt. When he was gone, Gugemar tore the hem from his shirt, and bound it straitly about his wound. He climbed painfully upon the saddle, and departed without more ado, for he was with child to be gone before any could come to stay him from his purpose. A green path led through the deep forest to the plain, and his way across the plain brought him to a cliff, exceeding high, and to the sea. Gugemar looked upon the water, which was very still, for this fair harbourage was land-locked from the main. Upon this harbour lay one only vessel, bearing a rich pavilion of silk, daintily furnished both without and within, and well it seemed to Gugemar that he had seen this ship before. Beneath the sky was no ship so rich or precious, for there was not a sail but was spun of silk, and not a plank, from keel to mast, but showed of ebony. Too fair was the nave for mortal man, and Gugemar held it in sore displeasure. He marvelled greatly from what country it had come, and wondered long concerning this harbour, and the ship that lay therein. Gugemar got him down from his horse upon the shore, and with mighty pain and labour climbed within the ship. He trusted to find merchantmen and sailors therein, but there was none to guard, and none he saw. Now within the pavilion was a very rich bed, carved by cunning workmen in the days of King Solomon. This fair bed was wrought of cypress wood and white ivory, adorned with gold and gems most precious. Right sweet were the linen cloths upon the bed, and so soft the pillow, that he who lay thereon would sleep, were he sadder than any other in the world. The counterpane was of purple from the vats of Alexandria, and over all was set a right fair coverlet of cloth of gold. The pavilion was litten by two great waxen torches, placed in candlesticks of fine gold, decked with jewels worth a lord’s ransom. So the wounded knight looked on ship and pavilion, bed and candle, and marvelled greatly. Gugemar sat him down upon the bed for a little, because of the anguish of his wound. After he had rested a space he got upon his feet, that he might quit the vessel, but he found that for him there was no return. A gentle wind had filled the sails, and already he was in the open sea. When Gugemar saw that he was far from land, he was very heavy and sorrowful. He knew not what to do, by reason of the mightiness of his hurt. But he must endure the adventure as best he was able; so he prayed to God to take him in His keeping, and in His good pleasure to bring him safe to port, and deliver him from the peril of death. Then climbing upon the couch, he laid his head upon the pillow, and slept as one dead, until, with vespers, the ship drew to that haven where he might find the healing for his hurt.
Gugemar had come to an ancient city, where the King of that realm held his court and state. This King was full of years, and was wedded to a dame of high degree. The lady was of tender age, passing fresh and fair, and sweet of speech to all. Therefore was the King jealous of his wife beyond all measure. Such is the wont of age, for much it fears that old and young cannot mate together, and that youth will turn to youth. This is the death in life of the old.
The castle of this ancient lord had a mighty keep. Beneath this tower was a right fair orchard, together with a close, shut in by a wall of green marble, very strong and high. This wall had one only gate, and the door was watched of warders, both night and day. On the other side of this garden was the sea, so that none might do his errand in the castle therefrom, save in a boat. To hold his dame in the greater surety, the King had built a bower within the wall; there was no fairer chamber beneath the sun. The first room was the Queen’s chapel. Beyond this was the lady’s bedchamber, painted all over with shapes and colours most wonderful to behold. On one wall might be seen Dame Venus, the goddess of Love, sweetly flushed as when she walked the water, lovely as life, teaching men how they should bear them in loyal service to their lady. On another wall, the goddess threw Ovid’s book within a fire of coals. A scroll issuing from her lips proclaimed that those who read therein, and strove to ease them of their pains, would find from her neither service nor favour. In this chamber the lady was put in ward, and with her a certain maiden to hold her company. This damsel was her niece, since she was her sister’s child, and there was great love betwixt the twain. When the Queen walked within the garden, or went abroad, this maiden was ever by her side, and came again with her to the house. Save this damsel, neither man nor woman entered in the bower, nor issued forth from out the wall. One only man possessed the key of the postern, an aged priest, very white and frail. This priest recited the service of God within the chapel, and served the Queen’s plate and cup when she ate meat at table.
Now, on a day, the Queen had fallen asleep after meat, and on her awaking would walk a little in the garden. She called her companion to her, and the two went forth to be glad amongst the flowers. As they looked across the sea they marked a ship drawing near the land, rising and falling upon the waves. Very fearful was the Queen thereat, for the vessel came to anchorage, though there was no helmsman to direct her course. The dame’s face became sanguine for dread, and she turned her about to flee, because of her exceeding fear. Her maiden, who was of more courage than she, stayed her mistress with many comforting words. For her part she was very desirous to know what this thing meant. She hastened to the shore, and laying aside her mantle, climbed within this wondrous vessel. Thereon she found no living soul, save only the knight sleeping fast within the pavilion. The damsel looked long upon the knight, for pale he was as wax, and well she deemed him dead. She returned forthwith to the Queen, and told her of this marvel, and of the good knight who was slain.
“Let us go together on the ship,” replied the lady. “If he be dead we may give him fitting burial, and the priest shall pray meetly for his soul. Should he be yet alive perchance he will speak, and tell us of his case.”
Without more tarrying the two damsels mounted on the ship, the lady before, and her maiden following after. When the Queen entered in the pavilion she stayed her feet before the bed, for joy and grief of what she saw. She might not refrain her eyes from gazing on the knight, for her heart was ravished with his beauty, and she sorrowed beyond measure, because of his grievous hurt. To herself she said, “In a bad hour cometh the goodly youth.” She drew near the bed, and placing her hand upon his breast, found that the flesh was warm, and that the heart beat strongly in his side. Gugemar awoke at the touch, and saluted the dame as sweetly as he was able, for well he knew that he had come to a Christian land. The lady, full of thought, returned him his salutation right courteously, though the tears were yet in her eyes. Straightway she asked of him from what realm he came, and of what people, and in what war he had taken his hurt.
“Lady,” answered Gugemar, “in no battle I received this wound. If it pleases you to hear my tale I will tell you the truth, and in nothing will I lie. I am a knight of Little Brittany. Yesterday I chased a wonderful white deer within the forest. The shaft with which I struck her to my hurt, returned again on me, and caused this wound upon my thigh, which may never be searched, nor made whole. For this wondrous Beast raised her plaint in a mortal tongue. She cursed me loudly, with many evil words, swearing that never might this sore be healed, save by one only damsel in the world, and her I know not where to find. When I heard my luckless fate I left the wood with what speed I might, and coming to a harbour, not far from thence, I lighted on this ship. For my sins I climbed therein. Then without oars or helm this boat ravished me from shore; so that I know not where I have come, nor what is the name of this city. Fair lady, for God’s love, counsel me of your good grace, for I know not where to turn, nor how to govern the ship.”
The lady made answer, “Fair sir, willingly shall I give you such good counsel as I may. This realm and city are the appanage of my husband. He is a right rich lord, of high lineage, but old and very full of years. Also he is jealous beyond all measure; therefore it is that I see you now. By reason of his jealousy he has shut me fast between high walls, entered by one narrow door, with an ancient priest to keep the key. May God requite him for his deed. Night and day I am guarded in this prison, from whence I may never go forth, without the knowledge of my lord. Here are my chamber and my chapel, and here I live, with this, my maiden, to bear me company. If it pleases you to dwell here for a little, till you may pass upon your way, right gladly we shall receive you, and with a good heart we will tend your wound, till you are healed.”
When Gugemar heard this speech he rejoiced greatly. He thanked the lady with many sweet words, and consented to sojourn in her hall awhile. He raised himself upon his couch, and by the courtesy of the damsels left the ship. Leaning heavily upon the lady, at the end he won to her maiden’s chamber, where there was a fair bed covered with a rich dossal of broidered silk, edged with fur. When he was entered in this bed, the damsels came bearing clear water in basins of gold, for the cleansing of his hurt. They stanched the blood with a towel of fine linen, and bound the wound strictly, to his exceeding comfort. So after the vesper meal was eaten, the lady departed to her own chamber, leaving the knight in much ease and content.
Now Gugemar set his love so fondly upon the lady that he forgot his father’s house. He thought no more of the anguish of his hurt, because of another wound that was beneath his breast. He tossed and sighed in his unrest, and prayed the maiden of his service to depart, so that he might sleep a little. When the maid was gone, Gugemar considered within himself whether he might seek the dame, to know whether her heart was warmed by any ember of the flame that burned in his. He turned it this way and that, and knew not what to do. This only was clear, that if the lady refused to search his wound, death, for him, was sure and speedy.
“Alas,” said he, “what shall I do! Shall I go to my lady, and pray her pity on the wretch who has none to give him counsel? If she refuse my prayer, because of her hardness and pride, I shall know there is nought for me but to die in my sorrow, or, at least, to go heavily all the days of my life.”
Then he sighed, and in his sighing lighted on a better purpose; for he said within himself that doubtless he was born to suffer, and that the best of him was tears. All the long night he spent in vigil and groanings and watchfulness. To himself he told over her words and her semblance. He remembered the eyes and the fair mouth of his lady, and all the grace and the sweetness, which had struck like a knife at his heart. Between his teeth he cried on her for pity, and for a little more would have called her to his side. Ah, had he but known the fever of the lady, and how terrible a lord to her was Love, how great had been his joy and solace. His visage would have been the more sanguine, which was now so pale of colour, because of the dolour that was his. But if the knight was sick by reason of his love, the dame had small cause to boast herself of health. The lady rose early from her bed, since she might not sleep. She complained of her unrest, and of Love who rode her so hardly. The maiden, who was of her company, saw clearly enough that all her lady’s thoughts were set upon the knight, who, for his healing, sojourned in the chamber. She did not know whether his thoughts were given again to the dame. When, therefore, the lady had entered in the chapel, the damsel went straightway to the knight. He welcomed her gladly, and bade her be seated near the bed. Then he inquired, “Friend, where now is my lady, and why did she rise so early from her bed?”
Having spoken so far, he became silent, and sighed.
“Sir,” replied the maiden softly, “you love, and are discreet, but be not too discreet therein. In such a love as yours there is nothing to be ashamed. He who may win my lady’s favour has every reason to be proud of his fortune. Altogether seemly would be your friendship, for you are young, and she is fair.”
The knight made answer to the maiden, “I am so fast in the snare, that I pray the fowler to slay me, if she may not free me from the net. Counsel me, fair sweet friend, if I may hope of kindness at her hand.”
Then the maiden of her sweetness comforted the knight, and assured him of all the good that she was able. So courteous and debonair was the maid.
When the lady had heard Mass, she hastened back to the chamber. She had not forgotten her friend, and greatly she desired to know whether he was awake or asleep, of whom her heart was fain. She bade her maiden to summon him to her chamber, for she had a certain thing in her heart to show him at leisure, were it for the joy or the sorrow of their days.
Gugemar saluted the lady, and the dame returned the knight his courtesy, but their hearts were too fearful for speech. The knight dared ask nothing of his lady, for reason that he was a stranger in a strange land, and was adread to show her his love. But–as says the proverb–he who will not tell of his sore, may not hope for balm to his hurt. Love is a privy wound within the heart, and none knoweth of that bitterness but the heart alone. Love is an evil which may last for a whole life long, because of man and his constant heart. Many there be who make of Love a gibe and a jest, and with specious words defame him by boastful tales. But theirs is not love. Rather it is folly and lightness, and the tune of a merry song. But let him who has found a constant lover prize her above rubies, and serve her with loyal service, being altogether at her will. Gugemar loved in this fashion, and therefore Love came swiftly to his aid. Love put words in his mouth, and courage in his heart, so that his hope might be made plain.
“Lady,” said he, “I die for your love. I am in fever because of my wound, and if you care not to heal my hurt I would rather die. Fair friend, I pray you for grace. Do not gainsay me with evil words.”
The lady hearkened with a smile to Gugemar’s speech. Right daintily and sweetly she replied, “Friend, yea is not a word of two letters. I do not grant such a prayer every day of the week, and must you have your gift so quickly?”
“Lady,” cried he, “for God’s sake pity me, and take it not amiss. She, who loves lightly, may make her lover pray for long, so that she may hide how often her feet have trodden the pathway with another friend. But the honest dame, when she has once given her heart to a friend, will not deny his wish because of pride. The rather she will find her pride in humbleness, and love him again with the same love he has set on her. So they will be glad together, and since none will have knowledge or hearing of the matter, they will rejoice in their youth. Fair, sweet lady, be this thy pleasure?”
When the lady heard these words well she found them honest and true. Therefore without further prayings and ado she granted Gugemar her love and her kiss. Henceforward Gugemar lived greatly at his ease, for he had sight and speech of his friend, and many a time she granted him her embrace and tenderness, as is the wont of lovers when alone.
For a year and a half Gugemar dwelt with his lady, in solace and great delight. Then Fortune turned her wheel, and in a trice cast those down, whose seat had been so high. Thus it chanced to them, for they were spied upon and seen.
On a morning in summer time the Queen and the damoiseau sat fondly together. The knight embraced her, eyes and face, but the lady stayed him, saying, “Fair sweet friend, my heart tells me that I shall lose you soon, for this hidden thing will quickly be made clear. If you are slain, may the same sword kill me. But if you win forth, well I know that you will find another love, and that I shall be left alone with my thoughts. Were I parted from you, may God give me neither joy, nor rest, nor peace, if I would seek another friend. Of that you need have no fear. Friend, for surety and comfort of my heart deliver me now some sark of thine. Therein I will set a knot, and make this covenant with you, that never will you put your love on dame or maiden, save only on her who shall first unfasten this knot. Then you will ever keep faith with me, for so cunning shall be my craft, that no woman may hope to unravel that coil, either by force or guile, or even with her knife.”
So the knight rendered the sark to his lady, and made such bargain as she wished, for the peace and assurance of her mind.
For his part the knight took a fair girdle, and girt it closely about the lady’s middle. Right secret was the clasp and buckle of this girdle. Therefore he required of the dame that she would never grant her love, save to him only, who might free her from the strictness of this bond, without injury to band or clasp. Then they kissed together, and entered into such covenant as you have heard.
That very day their hidden love was made plain to men. A certain chamberlain was sent by that ancient lord with a message to the Queen. This unlucky wretch, finding that in no wise could he enter within the chamber, looked through the window, and saw. Forthwith he hastened to the King, and told him that which he had seen. When the aged lord understood these words, never was there a sadder man than he. He called together the most trusty sergeants of his guard, and coming with them to the Queen’s chamber, bade them to thrust in the door. When Gugemar was found therein, the King commanded that he should be slain with the sword, by reason of the anguish that was his. Gugemar was in no whit dismayed by the threat. He started to his feet, and gazing round, marked a stout rod of fir, on which it is the use for linen to be hung. This he took in hand, and faced his foes, bidding them have a care, for he would do a mischief to them all. The King looked earnestly upon the fearless knight, inquiring of him who he was, and where he was born, and in what manner he came to dwell within his house. So Gugemar told over to him this story of his fate. He showed him of the Beast that he had wounded to his hurt; of the nave, and of his bitter wound; of how he came within the realm, and of the lady’s surgery. He told all to the ancient lord, to the last moment when he stood within his power. The King replied that he gave no credence to his word, nor believed that the story ran as he had said. If, however, the vessel might be found, he would commit the knight again to the waves. He would go the more heavily for the knight’s saining, and a glad day would it be if he made shipwreck at sea. When they had entered into this covenant together, they went forth to the harbour, and there discovered the barge, even as Gugemar had said. So they set him thereon, and prayed him to return unto his own realm.
Without sail or oar the ship parted from that coast, with no further tarrying. The knight wept and wrung his hands, complaining of his lady’s loss, and of her cherishing. He prayed the mighty God to grant him speedy death, and never to bring him home, save to meet again with her who was more desirable than life. Whilst he was yet at his orisons, the ship drew again to that port, from whence she had first come. Gugemar made haste to get him from the vessel, so that he might the more swiftly return to his own land. He had gone but a little way when he was aware of a squire of his household, riding in the company of a certain knight. This squire held the bridle of a destrier in his hand, though no man rode thereon. Gugemar called to him by name, so that the varlet looking upon him, knew again his lord. He got him to his feet, and bringing the destrier to his master, set the knight thereon. Great was the joy, and merry was the feast, when Gugemar returned to his own realm. But though his friends did all that they were able, neither song nor game could cheer the knight, nor turn him from dwelling in his unhappy thoughts. For peace of mind they urged that he took to himself a wife, but Gugemar would have none of their counsel. Never would he wed a wife, on any day, either for love or for wealth, save only that she might first unloose the knot within his shirt. When this news was noised about the country, there was neither dame nor damsel in the realm of Brittany, but essayed to unfasten the knot. But there was no lady who could gain to her wish, whether by force or guile.
Now will I show of that lady, whom Gugemar so fondly loved. By the counsel of a certain baron the ancient King set his wife in prison. She was shut fast in a tower of grey marble, where her days were bad, and her nights worse. No man could make clear to you the great pain, the anguish and the dolour, that she suffered in this tower, wherein, I protest, she died daily. Two years and more she lay bound in prison, where warders came, but never joy or delight. Often she thought upon her friend.
“Gugemar, dear lord, in an evil hour I saw you with my eyes. Better for me that I die quickly, than endure longer my evil lot. Fair friend, if I could but win to that coast whence you sailed, very swiftly would I fling myself in the sea, and end my wretched life.” When she had said these words she rose to her feet, and coming to the door was amazed to find therein neither bolt nor key. She issued forth, without challenge from sergeant or warder, and hastening to the harbour, found there her lover’s ship, made fast to that very rock, from which she would cast her down. When she saw the barge she climbed thereon, but presently bethought her that on this nave her friend had gone to perish in the sea. At this thought she would have fled again to the shore, but her bones were as water, and she fell upon the deck. So in sore travail and sorrow, the vessel carried her across the waves, to a port of Brittany, guarded by a castle, strong and very fair. Now the lord of this castle was named Meriadus. He was a right warlike prince, and had made him ready to fight with the prince of a country near by. He had risen very early in the morning, to send forth a great company of spears, the more easily to ravage this neighbour’s realm. Meriadus looked forth from his window, and marked the ship which came to port. He hastened down the steps of the perron, and calling to his chamberlain, came with what speed he might to the nave. Then mounting the ladder he stood upon the deck. When Meriadus found within the ship a dame, who for beauty seemed rather a fay than a mere earthly woman, he seized her by her mantle, and brought her swiftly to his keep. Right joyous was he because of his good fortune, for lovely was the lady beyond mortal measure. He made no question as to who had set her on the barge. He knew only that she was fair, and of high lineage, and that his heart turned towards her with so hot a love as never before had he put on dame or damsel. Now there dwelt within the castle a sister of this lord, who was yet unwed. Meriadus bestowed the lady in his sister’s chamber, because it was the fairest in the tower. Moreover he commanded that she should be meetly served, and held in all reverence. But though the dame was so richly clothed and cherished, ever was she sad and deep in thought. Meriadus came often to cheer her with mirth and speech, by reason that he wished to gain her love as a free gift, and not by force. It was in vain that he prayed her for grace, since she had no balm for his wound. For answer she showed him the girdle about her body, saying that never would she give her love to man, save only to him who might unloose the buckle of that girdle, without harm to belt or clasp. When Meriadus heard these words, he spoke in haste and said,
“Lady, there dwells in this country a very worthy knight, who will take no woman as wife, except she first untie a certain crafty knot in the hem of a shirt, and that without force or knife. For a little I would wager that it was you who tied this knot.”
When the lady heard thereof her breath went from her, and near she came to falling on the ground. Meriadus caught her in his arms, and cut the laces of her bodice, that she might have the more air. He strove to unfasten her girdle, but might not dissever the clasp. Yea, though every knight in the realm essayed to unfasten that cincture, it would not yield, except to one alone.
Now Meriadus made the lists ready for a great jousting, and called to that tournament all the knights who would aid him in his war. Many a lord came at his bidding, and with them Gugemar, amongst the first. Meriadus had sent letters to the knight, beseeching him, as friend and companion, not to fail him in this business. So Gugemar hastened to the need of his lord, and at his back more than one hundred spears. All these Meriadus welcomed very gladly, and gave them lodging within his tower. In honour of his guest, the prince sent two gentlemen to his sister, praying her to attire herself richly, and come to hall, together with the dame whom he loved so dearly well. These did as they were bidden, and arrayed in their sweetest vesture, presently entered in the hall, holding each other by the hand. Very pale and pensive was the lady, but when she heard her lover’s name her feet failed beneath her, and had not the maiden held her fast, she would have fallen on the floor. Gugemar rose from his seat at the sight of the dame, her fashion and her semblance, and stood staring upon her. He went a little apart, and said within himself, “Can this be my sweet friend, my hope, my heart, my life, the fair lady who gave me the grace of her love? From whence comes she; who might have brought her to this far land? But I speak in my folly, for well I know that this is not my dear. A little red, a little white, and all women are thus shapen. My thoughts are troubled, by reason that the sweetness of this lady resembles the sweetness of that other, for whom my heart sighs and trembles. Yet needs must that I have speech of the lady.”
Gugemar drew near to the dame. He kissed her courteously, and found no word to utter, save to pray that he might be seated at her side. Meriadus spied upon them closely, and was the more heavy because of their trouble. Therefore he feigned mirth.
“Gugemar, dear lord, if it pleases you, let this damsel essay to untie the knot of your sark, if so be she may loosen the coil.”
Gugemar made answer that very willingly he would do this thing. He called to him a squire who had the shirt in keeping, and bade him seek his charge, and deliver it to the dame. The lady took the sark in hand. Well she knew the knot that she had tied so cunningly, and was so willing to unloose; but for reason of the trouble at her heart, she did not dare essay. Meriadus marked the distress of the damsel, and was more sorrowful than ever was lover before.
“Lady,” said he, “do all that you are able to unfasten this coil.”
So at his commandment she took again to her the hem of the shirt, and lightly and easily unravelled the tie.
Gugemar marvelled greatly when he saw this thing. His heart told him that of a truth this was his lady, but he could not give faith to his eyes.
“Friend, are you indeed the sweet comrade I have known? Tell me truly now, is there about your body the girdle with which I girt you in your own realm?”
He set his hands to her waist, and found that the secret belt was yet about her sides.
“Fair sweet friend, tell me now by what adventure I find you here, and who has brought you to this tower?”
So the lady told over to her friend the pain and the anguish and the dolour of the prison in which she was held; of how it chanced that she fled from her dungeon, and lighting upon a ship, entered therein, and came to this fair haven; of how Meriadus took her from the barge, but kept her in all honour, save only that ever he sought for her love; “but now, fair friend, all is well, for you hold your lady in your arms.”
Gugemar stood upon his feet, and beckoned with his hand.
“Lords,” he cried, “hearken now to me. I have found my friend, whom I have lost for a great while. Before you all I pray and require of Meriadus to yield me my own. For this grace I give him open thanks. Moreover I will kneel down, and become his liege man. For two years, or three, if he will, I will bargain to serve in his quarrels, and with me, of riders, a hundred or more at my back.”
Then answered Meriadus, “Gugemar, fair friend, I am not yet so shaken or overborne in war, that I must do as you wish, right humbly. This woman is my captive. I found her: I hold her: and I will defend my right against you and all your power.”
When Gugemar heard these proud words he got to horse speedily, him and all his company. He threw down his glove, and parted in anger from the tower. But he went right heavily, since he must leave behind his friend. In his train rode all those knights who had drawn together to that town for the great tournament. Not a knight of them all but plighted faith to follow where he led, and to hold himself recreant and shamed if he failed his oath.
That same night the band came to the castle of the prince with whom Meriadus was at war. He welcomed them very gladly, and gave them lodging in his tower. By their aid he had good hope to bring this quarrel to an end. Very early in the morning the host came together to set the battle in array. With clash of mail and noise of horns they issued from the city gate, Gugemar riding at their head. They drew before the castle where Meriadus lay in strength, and sought to take it by storm. But the keep was very strong, and Meriadus bore himself as a stout and valiant knight. So Gugemar, like a wary captain, sat himself down before the town, till all the folk of that place were deemed by friend and sergeant to be weak with hunger. Then they took that high keep with the sword, and burnt it with fire. The lord thereof they slew in his own hall; but Gugemar came forth, after such labours as you have heard, bearing his lady with him, to return in peace to his own land.
From this adventure that I have told you, has come the Lay that minstrels chant to harp and viol–fair is that song and sweet the tune.
THE LAY OF THE DOLOROUS KNIGHT
Hearken now to the Lay that once I heard a minstrel chanting to his harp. In surety of its truth I will name the city where this story passed. The Lay of the Dolorous Knight, my harper called his song, but of those who hearkened, some named it rather, The Lay of the Four Sorrows.
In Nantes, of Brittany, there dwelt a dame who was dearly held of all, for reason of the much good that was found in her. This lady was passing fair of body, apt in book as any clerk, and meetly schooled in every grace that it becometh dame to have. So gracious of person was this damsel, that throughout the realm there was no knight could refrain from setting his heart upon her, though he saw her but one only time. Although the demoiselle might not return the love of so many, certainly she had no wish to slay them all. Better by far that a man pray and require in love all the dames of his country, than run mad in woods for the bright eyes of one. Therefore this dame gave courtesy and good will to each alike. Even when she might not hear a lover’s words, so sweetly she denied his wish that the more he held her dear and was the more her servant for that fond denial. So because of her great riches of body and of heart, this lady of whom I tell, was prayed and required in love by the lords of her country, both by night and by day.
Now in Brittany lived four young barons, but their names I cannot tell. It is enough that they were desirable in the eyes of maidens for reason of their beauty, and that men esteemed them because they were courteous of manner and open of hand. Moreover they were stout and hardy knights amongst the spears, and rich and worthy gentlemen of those very parts. Each of these four knights had set his heart upon the lady, and for love of her pained himself mightily, and did all that he was able, so that by any means he might gain her favour. Each prayed her privily for her love, and strove all that he could to make him worthy of the gift, above his fellows. For her part the lady was sore perplexed, and considered in her mind very earnestly, which of these four knights she should take as friend. But since they all were loyal and worthy gentlemen, she durst not choose amongst them; for she would not slay three lovers with her hand so that one might have content. Therefore to each and all, the dame made herself fair and sweet of semblance. Gifts she gave to all alike. Tender messages she sent to each. Every knight deemed himself esteemed and favoured above his fellows, and by soft words and fair service diligently strove to please. When the knights gathered together for the games, each of these lords contended earnestly for the prize, so that he might be first, and draw on him the favour of his dame. Each held her for his friend. Each bore upon him her gift–pennon, or sleeve, or ring. Each cried her name within the lists.
Now when Eastertide was come, a great tournament was proclaimed to be held beyond the walls of Nantes, that rich city. The four lovers were the appellants in this tourney, and from every realm knights rode to break a lance in honour of their dame. Frenchman and Norman and Fleming; the hardiest knights of Brabant, Boulogne and Anjou; each came to do his devoir in the field. Nor was the chivalry of Nantes backward in this quarrel, but till the vespers of the tournament was come, they stayed themselves within the lists, and struck stoutly for their lord. After the four lovers had laced their harness upon them, they issued forth from the city, followed by the knights who were of their company in this adventure. But upon the four fell the burden of the day, for they were known of all by the embroidered arms upon their surcoat, and the device fashioned on the shield. Now against the four lovers arrayed themselves four other knights, armed altogether in coats of mail, and helmets and gauntlets of steel. Of these stranger knights two were of Hainault, and the two others were Flemings. When the four lovers saw their adversaries prepare themselves for the combat, they had little desire to flee, but hastened to join them in battle. Each lowered his spear, and choosing his enemy, met him so eagerly that all men wondered, for horse and man fell to the earth. The four lovers recked little of their destriers, but freeing their feet from the stirrups bent over the fallen foe, and called on him to yield. When the friends of the vanquished knights saw their case, they hastened to their succour; so for their rescue there was a great press, and many a mighty stroke with the sword.
The damsel stood upon a tower to watch these feats of arms. By their blazoned coats and shields she knew her knights; she saw their marvellous deeds, yet might not say who did best, nor give to one the praise. But the tournament was no longer a seemly and ordered battle. The ranks of the two companies were confused together, so that every man fought against his fellow, and none might tell whether he struck his comrade or his foe. The four lovers did well and worshipfully, so that all men deemed them worthy of the prize. But when evening was come, and the sport drew to its close, their courage led them to folly. Having ventured too far from their companions, they were set upon by their adversaries, and assailed so fiercely that three were slain outright. As to the fourth he yet lived, but altogether mauled and shaken, for his thigh was broken, and a spear head remained in his side. The four bodies were fallen on the field, and lay with those who had perished in that day. But because of the great mischief these four lovers had done their adversaries, their shields were cast despitefully without the lists; but in this their foemen did wrongfully, and all men held them in sore displeasure.
Great were the lamentation and the cry when the news of this mischance was noised about the city. Such a tumult of mourning was never before heard, for the whole city was moved. All men hastened forth to the place where the lists were set. Meetly to mourn the dead there rode nigh upon two thousand knights, with hauberks unlaced, and uncovered heads, plucking upon their beards. So the four lovers were placed each upon his shield, and being brought back in honour to Nantes, were carried to the house of that dame, whom so greatly they had loved. When the lady knew this distressful adventure, straightway she fell to the ground. Being returned from her swoon, she made her complaint, calling upon her lovers each by his name.
“Alas,” said she, “what shall I do, for never shall I know happiness again. These four knights had set their hearts upon me, and despite their great treasure, esteemed my love as richer than all their wealth. Alas, for the fair and valiant knight! Alas, for the loyal and generous man! By gifts such as these they sought to gain my favour, but how might lady bereave three of life, so as to cherish one. Even now I cannot tell for whom I have most pity, or who was closest to my mind. But three are dead, and one is sore stricken; neither is there anything in the world which can bring me comfort. Only this is there to do–to give the slain men seemly burial, and, if it may be, to heal their comrade of his wounds.”
So, because of her great love and nobleness, the lady caused these three distressful knights to be buried well and worshipfully in a rich abbey. In that place she offered their Mass penny, and gave rich offerings of silver and of lights besides. May God have mercy on them in that day. As for the wounded knight she commanded him to be carried to her own chamber. She sent for surgeons, and gave him into their hands. These searched his wounds so skilfully, and tended him with so great care, that presently his hurt commenced to heal. Very often was the lady in the chamber, and very tenderly she cherished the stricken man. Yet ever she felt pity for the three Knights of the Sorrows, and ever she went heavily by reason of their deaths.
Now on a summer’s day, the lady and the knight sat together after meat. She called to mind the sorrow that was hers; so that, in a space, her head fell upon her breast, and she gave herself altogether to her grief. The knight looked earnestly upon his dame. Well he might see that she was far away, and clearly he perceived the cause.
“Lady,” said he, “you are in sorrow. Open now your grief to me. If you tell me what is in your heart perchance I may find you comfort.”
“Fair friend,” replied she, “I think of what is gone, and remember your companions, who are dead. Never was lady of my peerage, however fair and good and gracious, ever loved by four such valiant gentlemen, nor ever lost them in one single day. Save you–who were so maimed and in such peril–all are gone. Therefore I call to mind those who loved me so dearly, and am the saddest lady beneath the sun. To remember these things, of you four I shall make a Lay, and will call it the Lay of the Four Sorrows.”
When the knight heard these words he made answer very swiftly, “Lady, name it not the Lay of the Four Sorrows, but, rather, the Lay of the Dolorous Knight. Would you hear the reason why it should bear this name? My three comrades have finished their course; they have nothing more to hope of their life. They are gone, and with them the pang of their great sorrow, and the knowledge of their enduring love for you. I alone have come, all amazed and fearful, from the net wherein they were taken, but I find my life more bitter than my comrades found the grave. I see you on your goings and comings about the house. I may speak with you both matins and vespers. But no other joy do I get– neither clasp nor kiss, nothing but a few empty, courteous words. Since all these evils are come upon me because of you, I choose death rather than life. For this reason your Lay should bear my name, and be called the Lay of the Dolorous Knight. He who would name it the Lay of the Four Sorrows would name it wrongly, and not according to the truth.”
“By my faith,” replied the lady, “this is a fair saying. So shall the song be known as the Lay of the Dolorous Knight.”
Thus was the Lay conceived, made perfect, and brought to a fair birth. For this reason it came by its name; though to this day some call it the Lay of the Four Sorrows. Either name befits it well, for the story tells of both these matters, but it is the use and wont in this land to call it the Lay of the Dolorous Knight. Here it ends; no more is there to say. I heard no more, and nothing more I know. Perforce I bring my story to a close.
THE LAY OF ELIDUC
Now will I rehearse before you a very ancient Breton Lay. As the tale was told to me, so, in turn, will I tell it over again, to the best of my art and knowledge. Hearken now to my story, its why and its reason.
In Brittany there lived a knight, so courteous and so brave, that in all the realm there was no worthier lord than he. This knight was named Eliduc. He had wedded in his youth a noble lady of proud race and name. They had long dwelt together in peace and content, for their hearts were fixed on one another in faith and loyalty. Now it chanced that Eliduc sought his fortune in a far land, where there was a great war. There he loved a Princess, the daughter of the King and Queen of those parts. Guillardun was the maiden’s name, and in all the realm was none more fair. The wife of Eliduc had to name, Guildeluec, in her own country. By reason of these two ladies their story is known as the Lay of Guildeluec and Guillardun, but at first it was rightly called the Lay of Eliduc. The name is a little matter; but if you hearken to me you shall learn the story of these three lovers, in its pity and its truth.
Eliduc had as lord and suzerain, the King of Brittany over Sea. The knight was greatly loved and cherished of his prince, by reason of his long and loyal service. When the King’s business took him from his realm, Eliduc was his master’s Justice and Seneschal. He governed the country well and wisely, and held it from the foe with a strong hand. Nevertheless, in spite of all, much evil was appointed unto him. Eliduc was a mighty hunter, and by the King’s grace, he would chase the stag within the woods. He was cunning and fair as Tristan, and so wise in venery, that the oldest forester might not gainsay him in aught concerning the shaw. But by reason of malice and envy, certain men accused him to the King that he had meddled with the royal pleasaunce. The King bade Eliduc to avoid his Court. He gave no reason for his commandment, and the knight might learn nothing of the cause. Often he prayed the King that he might know whereof he was accused. Often he begged his lord not to heed the specious and crafty words of his foes. He called to mind the wounds he had gained in his master’s wars, but was answered never a word. When Eliduc found that he might get no speech with his lord, it became his honour to depart. He returned to his house, and calling his friends around him, opened out to them this business of the King’s wrath, in recompense for his faithful service.
“I did not reckon on a King’s gratitude; but as the proverb says, it is useless for a farmer to dispute with the horse in his plough. The wise and virtuous man keeps faith to his lord, and bears goodwill to his neighbour, not for what he may receive in return.”
Then the knight told his friends that since he might no longer stay in his own country, he should cross the sea to the realm of Logres, and sojourn there awhile, for his solace. His fief he placed in the hands of his wife, and he required of his men, and of all who held him dear, that they would serve her loyally. Having given good counsel to the utmost of his power, the knight prepared him for the road. Right heavy were his friends and kin, that he must go forth from amongst them.
Eliduc took with him ten knights of his household, and set out on his journey. His dame came with him so far as she was able, wringing her hands, and making much sorrow, at the departure of her husband. At the end he pledged good faith to her, as she to him, and so she returned to her own home. Eliduc went his way, till he came to a haven on the sea. He took ship, and sailed to the realm of Totenois, for many kings dwell in that country, and ever there were strife and war. Now, near to Exeter, in this land, there dwelt a King, right rich and strong, but old and very full of years. He had no son of his body, but one maid only, young, and of an age to wed. Since he would not bestow this damsel on a certain prince of his neighbours, this lord made mortal war upon his fellow, spoiling and wasting all his land. The ancient King, for surety, had set his daughter within a castle, fair and very strong. He had charged the sergeants not to issue forth from the gates, and for the rest there was none so bold as to seek to storm the keep, or even to joust about the barriers. When Eliduc was told of this quarrel, he needed to go no farther, and sojourned for awhile in the land. He turned over in his mind which of these princes dealt unjustly with his neighbour. Since he deemed that the aged king was the more vexed and sorely pressed in the matter, he resolved to aid him to the best of his might, and to take arms in his service. Eliduc, therefore, wrote letters to the King, telling him that he had quitted his own country, and sought refuge in the King’s realm. For his part he was willing to fight as a mercenary in the King’s quarrel, and if a safe conduct were given him, he and the knights of his company would ride, forthwith, to their master’s aid. This letter, Eliduc sent by the hands of his squires to the King. When the ancient lord had read the letter, he rejoiced greatly, and made much of the messengers. He summoned his constable, and commanded him swiftly to write out the safe conduct, that would bring the baron to his side. For the rest he bade that the messengers meetly should be lodged and apparelled, and that such money should be given them as would be sufficient to their needs. Then he sealed the safe conduct with his royal seal, and sent it to Eliduc, straightway, by a sure hand.
When Eliduc came in answer to the summons, he was received with great honour by the King. His lodging was appointed in the house of a grave and courteous burgess of the city, who bestowed the fairest chamber on his guest. Eliduc fared softly, both at bed and board. He called to his table such good knights as were in misease, by reason of prison or of war. He charged his men that none should be so bold as to take pelf or penny from the citizens of the town, during the first forty days of their sojourn. But on the third day, it was bruited about the streets, that the enemy were near at hand. The country folk deemed that they approached to invest the city, and to take the gates by storm. When the noise and clamour of the fearful burgesses came to the ears of Eliduc, he and his company donned their harness, and got to horse, as quickly as they might. Forty horsemen mounted with him; as to the rest, many lay sick or hurt within the city, and others were captives in the hands of the foe. These forty stout sergeants waited for no sounding of trumpets; they hastened to seek their captain at his lodging, and rode at his back through the city gate.
“Sir,” said they, “where you go, there we will follow, and what you bid us, that shall we do.”
“Friends,” made answer the knight, “I thank you for your fellowship. There is no man amongst us but who wishes to molest the foe, and do them all the mischief that he is able. If we await them in the town, we defend ourselves with the shield, and not with the sword. To my mind it is better to fall in the field than to hide behind walls; but if any of you have a wiser counsel to offer, now let him speak.”
“Sir,” replied a soldier of the company, “through the wood, in good faith, there runs a path, right strict and narrow. It is the wont of the enemy to approach our city by this track. After their deeds of arms before the walls, it is their custom to return by the way they came, helmet on saddle bow, and hauberk unbraced. If we might catch them, unready in the path, we could trouble them very grievously, even though it be at the peril of our lives.”
“Friends,” answered Eliduc, “you are all the King’s men, and are bound to serve him faithfully, even to the death. Come, now, with me where I will go, and do that thing which you shall see me do. I give you my word as a loyal gentleman, that no harm shall hap to any. If we gain spoil and riches from the foe, each shall have his lot in the ransom. At the least we may do them much hurt and mischief in this quarrel.”
Eliduc set his men in ambush, near by that path, within the wood. He told over to them, like a cunning captain, the crafty plan he had devised, and taught them how to play their parts, and to call upon his name. When the foe had entered on that perilous path, and were altogether taken in the snare, Eliduc cried his name, and summoned his companions to bear themselves like men. This they did stoutly, and assailed their enemy so fiercely that he was dismayed beyond measure, and his line being broken, fled to the forest. In this fight was the constable taken, together with fifty and five other lords, who owned themselves prisoners, and were given to the keeping of the squires. Great was the spoil in horse and harness, and marvellous was the wealth they gained in gold and ransom. So having done such great deeds in so short a space, they returned to the city, joyous and content.
The King looked forth from a tower. He feared grievously for his men, and made his complaint of Eliduc, who–he deemed–had betrayed him in his need. Upon the road he saw a great company, charged and laden with spoil. Since the number of those who returned was more than those who went forth, the king knew not again his own. He came down from the tower, in doubt and sore trouble, bidding that the gates should be made fast, and that men should mount upon the walls. For such coil as this, there was slender warrant. A squire who was sent out, came back with all speed, and showed him of this adventure. He told over the story of the ambush, and the tale of the prisoners. He rehearsed how the constable was taken, and that many a knight was wounded, and many a brave man slain. When the King might give credence thereto, he had more joy than ever king before. He got him from his tower, and going before Eliduc, he praised him to his face, and rendered him the captives as a gift. Eliduc gave the King’s bounty to his men. He bestowed on them besides, all the harness and the spoil; keeping, for his part, but three knights, who had won much honour in the battle. From this day the King loved and cherished Eliduc very dearly. He held the knight, and his company, for a full year in his service, and at the end of the year, such faith had he in the knight’s loyalty, that he appointed him Seneschal and Constable of his realm.
Eliduc was not only a brave and wary captain; he was also a courteous gentleman, right goodly to behold.
That fair maiden, the daughter of the King, heard tell of his deeds, and desired to see his face, because of the good men spake of him. She sent her privy chamberlain to the knight, praying him to come to her house, that she might solace herself with the story of his deeds, for greatly she wondered that he had no care for her friendship. Eliduc gave answer to the chamberlain that he would ride forthwith, since much he desired to meet so high a dame. He bade his squire to saddle his destrier, and rode to the palace, to have speech with the lady. Eliduc stood without the lady’s chamber, and prayed the chamberlain to tell the dame that he had come, according to her wish. The chamberlain came forth with a smiling face, and straightway led him in the chamber. When the princess saw the knight, she cherished him very sweetly, and welcomed him in the most honourable fashion. The knight gazed upon the lady, who was passing fair to see. He thanked her courteously, that she was pleased to permit him to have speech with so high a princess. Guillardun took Eliduc by the hand, and seated him upon the bed, near her side. They spake together of many things, for each found much to say. The maiden looked closely upon the knight, his face and semblance; to her heart she said that never before had she beheld so comely a man. Her eyes might find no blemish in his person, and Love knocked upon her heart, requiring her to love, since her time had come. She sighed, and her face lost its fair colour; but she cared only to hide her trouble from the knight, lest he should think her the less maidenly therefore. When they had talked together for a great space, Eliduc took his leave, and went his way. The lady would have kept him longer gladly, but since she did not dare, she allowed him to depart. Eliduc returned to his lodging, very pensive and deep in thought. He called to mind that fair maiden, the daughter of his King, who so sweetly had bidden him to her side, and had kissed him farewell, with sighs that were sweeter still. He repented him right earnestly that he had lived so long a while in the land without seeking her face, but promised that often he would enter her palace now. Then he remembered the wife whom he had left in his own house. He recalled the parting between them, and the covenant he made, that good faith and stainless honour should be ever betwixt the twain. But the maiden, from whom he came, was willing to take him as her knight! If such was her will, might any pluck him from her hand?
All night long, that fair maiden, the daughter of the King, had neither rest nor sleep. She rose up, very early in the morning, and commanding her chamberlain, opened out to him all that was in her heart. She leaned her brow against the casement.
“By my faith,” she said, “I am fallen into a deep ditch, and sorrow has come upon me. I love Eliduc, the good knight, whom my father made his Seneschal. I love him so dearly that I turn the whole night upon my bed, and cannot close my eyes, nor sleep. If he assured me of his heart, and loved me again, all my pleasure should be found in his happiness. Great might be his profit, for he would become King of this realm, and little enough is it for his deserts, so courteous is he and wise. If he have nothing better than friendship to give me, I choose death before life, so deep is my distress.”
When the princess had spoken what it pleased her to say, the chamberlain, whom she had bidden, gave her loyal counsel.
“Lady,” said he, “since you have set your love upon this knight, send him now–if so it please you–some goodly gift-girdle or scarf or ring. If he receive the gift with delight, rejoicing in your favour, you may be assured that he loves you. There is no Emperor, under Heaven, if he were tendered your tenderness, but would go the more lightly for your grace.”
The damsel hearkened to the counsel of her chamberlain, and made reply, “If only I knew that he desired my love! Did ever maiden woo her knight before, by asking whether he loved or hated her? What if he make of me a mock and a jest in the ears of his friends! Ah, if the secrets of the heart were but written on the face! But get you ready, for go you must, at once.”
“Lady,” answered the chamberlain, “I am ready to do your bidding.”
“You must greet the knight a hundred times in my name, and will place my girdle in his hand, and this my golden ring.”
When the chamberlain had gone upon his errand, the maiden was so sick at heart, that for a little she would have bidden him return. Nevertheless, she let him go his way, and eased her shame with words.
“Alas, what has come upon me, that I should put my heart upon a stranger. I know nothing of his folk, whether they be mean or high; nor do I know whether he will part as swiftly as he came. I have done foolishly, and am worthy of blame, since I have bestowed my love very lightly. I spoke to him yesterday for the first time, and now I pray him for his love. Doubtless he will make me a song! Yet if he be the courteous gentleman I believe him, he will understand, and not deal hardly with me. At least the dice are cast, and if he may not love me, I shall know myself the most woeful of ladies, and never taste of joy all the days of my life.”
Whilst the maiden lamented in this fashion, the chamberlain hastened to the lodging of Eliduc. He came before the knight, and having saluted him in his lady’s name, he gave to his hand the ring and the girdle. The knight thanked him earnestly for the gifts. He placed the ring upon his finger, and the girdle he girt about his body. He said no more to the chamberlain, nor asked him any questions; save only that he proffered him a gift. This the messenger might not have, and returned the way he came. The chamberlain entered in the palace and found the princess within her chamber. He greeted her on the part of the knight, and thanked her for her bounty.
“Diva, diva,” cried the lady hastily, “hide nothing from me; does he love me, or does he not?”
“Lady,” answered the chamberlain, “as I deem, he loves you, and truly. Eliduc is no cozener with words. I hold him for a discreet and prudent gentleman, who knows well how to hide what is in his heart. I gave him greeting in your name, and granted him your gifts. He set the ring upon his finger, and as to your girdle, he girt it upon him, and belted it tightly about his middle. I said no more to him, nor he to me; but if he received not your gifts in tenderness, I am the more deceived. Lady, I have told you his words: I cannot tell you his thoughts. Only, mark carefully what I am about to say. If Eliduc had not a richer gift to offer, he would not have taken your presents at my hand.”
“It pleases you to jest,” said the lady. “I know well that Eliduc does not altogether hate me. Since my only fault is to cherish him too fondly, should he hate me, he would indeed be blameworthy. Never again by you, or by any other, will I require him of aught, or look to him for comfort. He shall see that a maiden’s love is no slight thing, lightly given, and lightly taken again–but, perchance, he will not dwell in the realm so long as to know of the matter.”
“Lady, the knight has covenanted to serve the King, in all loyalty, for the space of a year. You have full leisure to tell, whatever you desire him to learn.”
When the maiden heard that Eliduc remained in the country, she rejoiced very greatly. She was glad that the knight would sojourn awhile in her city, for she knew naught of the torment he endured, since first he looked upon her. He had neither peace nor delight, for he could not get her from his mind. He reproached himself bitterly. He called to remembrance the covenant he made with his wife, when he departed from his own land, that he would never be false to his oath. But his heart was a captive now, in a very strong prison. He desired greatly to be loyal and honest, but he could not deny his love for the maiden–Guillardun, so frank and so fair.
Eliduc strove to act as his honour required. He had speech and sight of the lady, and did not refuse her kiss and embrace. He never spoke of love, and was diligent to offend in nothing. He was careful in this, because he would keep faith with his wife, and would attempt no matter against his King. Very grievously he pained himself, but at the end he might do no more. Eliduc caused his horse to be saddled, and calling his companions about him, rode to the castle to get audience of the King. He considered, too, that he might see his lady, and learn what was in her heart. It was the hour of meat, and the King having risen from table, had entered in his daughter’s chamber. The King was at chess, with a lord who had but come from over-sea. The lady sat near the board, to watch the movements of the game. When Eliduc came before the prince, he welcomed him gladly, bidding him to seat himself close at hand. Afterwards he turned to his daughter, and said, “Princess, it becomes you to have a closer friendship with this lord, and to treat him well and worshipfully. Amongst five hundred, there is no better knight than he.”
When the maiden had listened demurely to her father’s commandment, there was no gayer lady than she. She rose lightly to her feet, and taking the knight a little from the others, seated him at her side. They remained silent, because of the greatness of their love. She did not dare to speak the first, and to him the maid was more dreadful than a knight in mail. At the end Eliduc thanked her courteously for the gifts she had sent him; never was grace so precious and so kind. The maiden made answer to the knight, that very dear to her was the use he had found for her ring, and the girdle with which he had belted his body. She loved him so fondly that she wished him for her husband. If she might not have her wish, one thing she knew well, that she would take no living man, but would die unwed. She trusted he would not deny her hope.
“Lady,” answered the knight, “I have great joy in your love, and thank you humbly for the goodwill you bear me. I ought indeed to be a happy man, since you deign to show me at what price you value our friendship. Have you remembered that I may not remain always in your realm? I covenanted with the King to serve him as his man for the space of one year. Perchance I may stay longer in his service, for I would not leave him till his quarrel be ended. Then I shall return to my own land; so, fair lady, you permit me to say farewell.”
The maiden made answer to her knight, “Fair friend, right sweetly I thank you for your courteous speech. So apt a clerk will know, without more words, that he may have of me just what he would. It becomes my love to give faith to all you say.”
The two lovers spoke together no further; each was well assured of what was in the other’s heart. Eliduc rode back to his lodging, right joyous and content. Often he had speech with his friend, and passing great was the love which grew between the twain.
Eliduc pressed on the war so fiercely that in the end he took captive the King who troubled his lord, and had delivered the land from its foes. He was greatly praised of all as a crafty captain in the field, and a hardy comrade with the spear. The poor and the minstrel counted him a generous knight. About this time that King, who had bidden Eliduc avoid his realm, sought diligently to find him. He had sent three messengers beyond the seas to seek his ancient Seneschal. A strong enemy had wrought him much grief and loss. All his castles were taken from him, and all his country was a spoil to the foe. Often and sorely he repented him of the evil counsel to which he had given ear. He mourned the absence of his mightiest knight, and drove from his councils those false lords who, for malice and envy, had defamed him. These he outlawed for ever from his realm. The King wrote letters to Eliduc, conjuring him by the loving friendship that was once between them, and summoning him as a vassal is required of his lord, to hasten to his aid, in that his bitter need. When Eliduc heard these tidings they pressed heavily upon him, by reason of the grievous love he bore the dame. She, too, loved him with a woman’s whole heart. Between the two there was nothing but the purest love and tenderness. Never by word or deed had they spoiled their friendship. To speak a little closely together; to give some fond and foolish gift; this was the sum of their love. In her wish and hope the maiden trusted to hold the knight in her land, and to have him as her lord. Naught she deemed that he was wedded to a wife beyond the sea.
“Alas,” said Eliduc, “I have loitered too long in this country, and have gone astray. Here I have set my heart on a maiden, Guillardun, the daughter of the King, and she, on me. If, now, we part, there is no help that one, or both, of us, must die. Yet go I must. My lord requires me by letters, and by the oath of fealty that I have sworn. My own honour demands that I should return to my wife. I dare not stay; needs must I go. I cannot wed my lady, for not a priest in Christendom would make us man and wife. All things turn to blame. God, what a tearing asunder will our parting be! Yet there is one who will ever think me in the right, though I be held in scorn of all. I will be guided by her wishes, and what she counsels that will I do. The King, her sire, is troubled no longer by any war. First, I will go to him, praying that I may return to my own land, for a little, because of the need of my rightful lord. Then I will seek out the maiden, and show her the whole business. She will tell me her desire, and I shall act according to her wish.”
The knight hesitated no longer as to the path he should follow. He went straight to the King, and craved leave to depart. He told him the story of his lord’s distress, and read, and placed in the King’s hands, the letters calling him back to his home. When the King had read the writing, and knew that Eliduc purposed to depart, he was passing sad and heavy. He offered the knight the third part of his kingdom, with all the treasure that he pleased to ask, if he would remain at his side. He offered these things to the knight–these, and the gratitude of all his days besides.
“Do not tempt me, sire,” replied the knight. “My lord is in such deadly peril, and his letters have come so great a way to require me, that go I must to aid him in his need. When I have ended my task, I will return very gladly, if you care for my services, and with me a goodly company of knights to fight in your quarrels.”
The King thanked Eliduc for his words, and granted him graciously the leave that he demanded. He gave him, moreover, all the goods of his house; gold and silver, hound and horses, silken cloths, both rich and fair, these he might have at his will. Eliduc took of them discreetly, according to his need. Then, very softly, he asked one other gift. If it pleased the King, right willingly would he say farewell to the princess, before he went. The King replied that it was his pleasure, too. He sent a page to open the door of the maiden’s chamber, and to tell her the knight’s request. When she saw him, she took him by the hand, and saluted him very sweetly. Eliduc was the more fain of counsel than of claspings. He seated himself by the maiden’s side, and as shortly as he might, commenced to show her of the business. He had done no more than read her of his letters, than her face lost its fair colour, and near she came to swoon. When Eliduc saw her about to fall, he knew not what he did, for grief. He kissed her mouth, once and again, and wept above her, very tenderly. He took, and held her fast in his arms, till she had returned from her swoon.
“Fair dear friend,” said he softly, “bear with me while I tell you that you are my life and my death, and in you is all my comfort. I have bidden farewell to your father, and purposed to go back to my own land, for reason of this bitter business of my lord. But my will is only in your pleasure, and whatever the future brings me, your counsel I will do.”
“Since you cannot stay,” said the maiden, “take me with you, wherever you go. If not, my life is so joyless without you, that I would wish to end it with my knife.”
Very sweetly made answer Sir Eliduc, for in honesty he loved honest maid, “Fair friend, I have sworn faith to your father, and am his man. If I carried you with me, I should give the lie to my troth. Let this covenant be made between us. Should you give me leave to return to my own land I swear to you on my honour as a knight, that I will come again on any day that you shall name. My life is in your hands. Nothing on earth shall keep me from your side, so only that I have life and health.”
Then she, who loved so fondly, granted her knight permission to depart, and fixed the term, and named the day for his return. Great was their sorrow that the hour had come to bid farewell. They gave rings of gold for remembrance, and sweetly kissed adieu. So they severed from each other’s arms.
Eliduc sought the sea, and with a fair wind, crossed swiftly to the other side. His lord was greatly content to learn the tidings of his knight’s return. His friends and his kinsfolk came to greet him, and the common folk welcomed him very gladly. But, amongst them all, none was so blithe at his home-coming as the fair and prudent lady who was his wife. Despite this show of friendship, Eliduc was ever sad, and deep in thought. He went heavily, till he might look upon his friend. He felt no happiness, nor made pretence of any, till he should meet with her again. His wife was sick at heart, because of the coldness of her husband. She took counsel with her soul, as to what she had done amiss. Often she asked him privily, if she had come short or offended in any measure, whilst he was without the realm. If she was accused by any, let him tell her the accusation, that she might purge herself of the offence.
“Wife,” answered Eliduc, “neither I, nor any other, charge you with aught that is against your honour to do. The cause of my sorrow is in myself. I have pledged my faith to the King of that country, from whence I come, that I will return to help him in his need. When my lord the King has peace in his realm, within eight days I shall be once more upon the sea. Great travail I must endure, and many pains I shall suffer, in readiness for that hour. Return I must, and till then I have no mind for anything but toil; for I will not give the lie to my plighted word.”
Eliduc put his fief once more in the hands of his dame. He sought his lord, and aided him to the best of his might. By the counsel and prowess of the knight, the King came again into his own. When the term appointed by his lady, and the day she named for his return drew near, Eliduc wrought in such fashion that peace was accorded between the foes. Then the knight made him ready for his journey, and took thought to the folk he should carry with him. His choice fell on two of his nephews, whom he loved very dearly, and on a certain chamberlain of his household. These were trusted servitors, who were of his inmost mind, and knew much of his counsel. Together with these went his squires, these only, for Eliduc had no care to take many. All these, nephew and squire and chamberlain, Eliduc made to promise, and confirm by an oath, that they would reveal nothing of his business.
The company put to sea without further tarrying, and, crossing quickly, came to that land where Eliduc so greatly desired to be. The knight sought a hostel some distance from the haven, for he would not be seen of any, nor have it bruited that Eliduc was returned. He called his chamberlain, and sent him to his friend, bearing letters that her knight had come, according to the covenant that had been made. At nightfall, before the gates were made fast, Eliduc issued forth from the city, and followed after his messenger. He had clothed himself in mean apparel, and rode at a footpace straight to the city, where dwelt the daughter of the King. The chamberlain arrived before the palace, and by dint of asking and prying, found himself within the lady’s chamber. He saluted the maiden, and told her that her lover was near. When Guillardun heard these tidings she was astonied beyond measure, and for joy and pity wept right tenderly. She kissed the letters of her friend, and the messenger who brought such welcome tidings. The chamberlain prayed the lady to attire and make her ready to join her friend. The day was spent in preparing for the adventure, according to such plan as had been devised. When dark was come, and all was still, the damsel stole forth from the palace, and the chamberlain with her. For fear that any man should know her again, the maiden had hidden, beneath a riding cloak, her silken gown, embroidered with gold. About the space of a bow shot from the city gate, there was a coppice standing within a fair meadow. Near by this wood, Eliduc and his comrades awaited the coming of Guillardun. When Eliduc saw the lady, wrapped in her mantle, and his chamberlain leading her by the hand, he got from his horse, and kissed her right tenderly. Great joy had his companions at so fair a sight. He set her on the horse, and climbing before her, took bridle in glove, and returned to the haven, with all the speed he might. He entered forthwith in the ship, which put to sea, having on board none, save Eliduc, his men, and his lady, Guillardun. With a fair wind, and a quiet hour, the sailors thought that they would swiftly come to shore. But when their journey was near its end, a sudden tempest arose on the sea. A mighty wind drove them far from their harbourage, so that their rudder was broken, and their sail torn from the mast. Devoutly they cried on St. Nicholas, St. Clement, and Madame St. Mary, to aid them in this peril. They implored the Mother that she would approach her Son, not to permit them to perish, but to bring them to the harbour where they would come. Without sail or oar, the ship drifted here and there, at the mercy of the storm. They were very close to death, when one of the company, with a loud voice began to cry, “What need is there of prayers! Sir, you have with you, her, who brings us to our death. We shall never win to land, because you, who already have a faithful wife, seek to wed this foreign woman, against God and His law, against honour and your plighted troth. Grant us to cast her in the sea, and straightway the winds and the waves will be still.”
When Eliduc heard these words he was like to come to harm for rage.
“Bad servant and felon traitor,” he cried, “you should pay dearly for your speech, if I might leave my lady.”
Eliduc held his friend fast in his arms, and cherished her as well as he was able. When the lady heard that her knight was already wedded in his own realm, she swooned where she lay. Her face became pale and discoloured; she neither breathed nor sighed, nor could any bring her any comfort. Those who carried her to a sheltered place, were persuaded that she was but dead, because of the fury of the storm. Eliduc was passing heavy. He rose to his feet, and hastening to his squire, smote him so grievously with an oar, that he fell senseless on the deck. He haled him by his legs to the side of the ship and flung the body in the sea, where it was swiftly swallowed by the waves. He went to the broken rudder, and governed the nave so skilfully, that it presently drew to land. So, having come to their fair haven, they cast anchor, and made fast their bridge to the shore. Dame Guillardun lay yet in her swoon, and seemed no other than if she were really dead. Eliduc’s sorrow was all the more, since he deemed that he had slain her with his hand. He inquired of his companions in what near place they might lay the lady to her rest, “for I will not bid her farewell, till she is put in holy ground with such pomp and rite as befit the obsequies of the daughter of a King.” His comrades answered him never a word, for they were all bemused by reason of what had befallen. Eliduc, therefore, considered within himself to what place he should carry the lady. His own home was so near the haven where he had come, that very easily they could ride there before evening. He called to mind that in his realm there was a certain great forest, both long and deep. Within this wood there was a little chapel, served by a holy hermit for forty years, with whom Eliduc had oftimes spoken.
“To this holy man,” he said, “I will bear my lady. In his chapel he shall bury her sweet body. I will endow him so richly of my lands, that upon her chantry shall be founded a mighty abbey. There some convent of monks or nuns or canons shall ever hold her in remembrance, praying God to grant her mercy in His day.”
Eliduc got to horse, but first took oath of his comrades that never, by them, should be discovered, that which they should see. He set his friend before him on the palfrey, and thus the living and the dead rode together, till they had entered the wood, and come before the chapel. The squires called and beat upon the door, but it remained fast, and none was found to give them any answer. Eliduc bade that one should climb through a window, and open the door from within. When they had come within the chapel they found a new made tomb, and writ thereon, that the holy hermit having finished his course, was made perfect, eight days before Passing sad was Eliduc, and esmayed. His companions would have digged a second grave, and set therein, his friend; but the knight would in no wise consent, for–he said–he purposed to take counsel of the priests of his country, as to building some church or abbey above her tomb. “At this hour we will but lay her body before the altar, and commend her to God His holy keeping.” He commanded them to bring their mantles and make a bed upon the altar-pace. Thereon they laid the maiden, and having wrapped her close in her lover’s cloak, left her alone. When the moment came for Eliduc to take farewell of his lady, he deemed that his own last hour had come. He kissed her eyes and her face.
“Fair friend,” said he, “if it be pleasing to God, never will I bear sword or lance again, or seek the pleasures of this mortal world. Fair friend, in an ill hour you saw me! Sweet lady, in a bitter hour you followed me to death! Fairest, now were you a queen, were it not for the pure and loyal love you set upon me? Passing sad of heart am I for you, my friend. The hour that I have seen you in your shroud, I will take the habit of some holy order, and every day, upon your tomb, I will tell over the chaplet of my sorrow.”
Having taken farewell of the maiden, Eliduc came forth from the chapel, and closed the doors. He sent messages to his wife, that he was returning to his house, but weary and overborne. When the dame heard these tidings, she was happy in her heart, and made ready to greet him. She received her lord tenderly; but little joy came of her welcome, for she got neither smiles in answer, nor tender words in return. She dared not inquire the reason, during the two days Eliduc remained in the house. The knight heard Mass very early in the morning, and then set forth on the road leading to the chapel where the maiden lay. He found her as he had parted, for she had not come back from her swoon, and there was neither stir in her, nor breath. He marvelled greatly, for he saw her, vermeil and white, as he had known her in life. She had lost none of her sweet colour, save that she was a little blanched. He wept bitterly above her, and entreated for her soul. Having made his prayer, he went again to his house.
On a day when Eliduc went forth, his wife called to her a varlet of her household, commanding him to follow his lord afar off, and mark where he went, and on what business. She promised to give him harness and horses, if he did according to her will. The varlet hid himself in the wood, and followed so cunningly after his lord, that he was not perceived. He watched the knight enter the chapel, and heard the cry and lamentation that he made. When Eliduc came out, the varlet hastened to his mistress, and told her what he had seen, the tears and dolour, and all that befell his lord within the hermitage. The lady summoned all her courage.
“We will go together, as soon as we may, to this hermitage. My lord tells me that he rides presently to the Court to speak with the King. I knew that my husband loved this dead hermit very tenderly, but I little thought that his loss would make him mad with grief.”
The next day the dame let her lord go forth in peace. When, about noon, Eliduc rode to the Court to greet his King, the lady rose quickly, and carrying the varlet with her, went swiftly to the hermitage. She entered the chapel, and saw the bed upon the altar-pace, and the maiden thereon, like a new sprung rose. Stooping down the lady removed the mantle. She marked the rigid body, the long arms, and the frail white hands, with their slender fingers, folded on the breast. Thus she learned the secret of the sorrow of her lord. She called the varlet within the chapel, and showed him this wonder.
“Seest thou,” she said, “this woman, who for beauty shineth as a gem! This lady, in her life, was the lover of my lord. It was for her that all his days were spoiled by grief. By my faith I marvel little at his sorrow, since I, who am a woman too, will–for pity’s sake or love–never know joy again, having seen so fair a lady in the dust.”
So the wife wept above the body of the maiden. Whilst the lady sat weeping, a weasel came from under the altar, and ran across Guillardun’s body. The varlet smote it with his staff, and killed it as it passed. He took the vermin and flung it away. The companion of this weasel presently came forth to seek him. She ran to the place where he lay, and finding that he would not get him on his feet, seemed as one distraught. She went forth from the chapel, and hastened to the wood, from whence she returned quickly, bearing a vermeil flower beneath her teeth. This red flower she placed within the mouth of that weasel the varlet had slain, and immediately he stood upon his feet. When the lady saw this, she cried to the varlet,
“Throw, man, throw, and gain the flower.”