THE wonderful Lais of Marie de France must ever hold a deep interest for all students of Breton lore, for though cast in the literary mould of Norman-French and breathing the spirit of Norman chivalry those of them which deal with Brittany (as do most of them) exhibit such evident marks of having been drawn from native Breton sources that we may regard them as among the most valuable documents extant for the study and consideration of Armorican story.
Of the personal history of Marie de France very little is known. The date and place of her birth are still matters for conjecture, and until comparatively recent times literary antiquaries were doubtful even as to which century she flourished in. In the epilogue to her Fables she states that she is a native of the Ile-de-France, but despite this she is believed to have been of Norman origin, and also to have lived the greater part of her life in England. Her work, which holds few suggestions of Anglo-Norman forms of thought or expression, was written in a literary dialect that in all likelihood was widely estranged from the common Norman tongue, and from this (though the manuscripts in which they are preserved are dated later) we may judge her poems to have been composed in the second. half of the twelfth century. The prologue of her Lais contains a dedication to some unnamed king, and her Fables are inscribed to a certain Count William, circumstances which are held-by some to prove that she was of noble origin and not merely a trouvère from necessity.
Until M. Gaston Paris decided that this mysterious king was Henry II of England, and that the 'Count William' was Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, Henry's natural son by the 'Fair Rosamond,' the mysterious monarch was believed to be Henry III. It is highly probable that the Lais were actually written at the Court of Henry II, though the 'King' of the flowery prologue is hardly reconcilable with the stern ruler and law-maker of history. Be that as it may, Marie's poems achieved instant success. "Her rhyme is loved everywhere," says Denis Pyramus, the author of a life of St Edmund the King; "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." This fame and its attendant adulation were very sweet to Marie, and she was justly proud of her work, which, inspired, as she herself distinctly states, by the lays she had heard Breton minstrels sing, has, because of its vivid colouring and human appeal, survived the passing of seven hundred years. The scenes of the tales are laid in Brittany, and we are probably correct in regarding them as culled from original traditional material. As we proceed with the telling of these ancient stories we shall endeavour to point out the essentially Breton elements they have retained.
In the long ago there dwelt in Brittany a worshipful baron, for whom the king of that land had a warm affection, and who was happy in the esteem of his peers. and the love of his beautiful wife.
One only grief had his wife in her married life, and that was the mysterious absence of her husband for three days in every week. Where he disappeared to neither she nor any member of her household knew. These excursions preyed upon her mind, so that at last she resolved to challenge him regarding them.
"Husband," she said to him pleadingly one day after he had just returned from one of these absences, "I have something to ask of you, but I fear that my request may vex you, and for this reason I hesitate to make it." The baron took her in his arms and, kissing her tenderly bade her state her request, which he assured her would by no means vex him.
"It is this," she said, "that you will trust me sufficiently to tell me where you spend those days when you are absent from me. So fearful have I become regarding these withdrawals and all the mystery that enshrouds them that I know neither rest nor comfort; indeed, so distraught am I at times that I feel I shall die for very anxiety. Oh, husband, tell me where you go and why you tarry so long!"
In great agitation the husband put his wife away from him, not daring to meet the glance of her imploring, anxious eyes.
"For the mercy of God, do not ask this of me," he besought her. "No good could come of your knowing, only great and terrible evil. Knowledge would mean the death of your love for me, and my everlasting desolation."
"You are jesting with me, husband," she replied; "but it is a cruel jest. I am all seriousness, I do assure you. Peace of mind can never be mine until my question is fully answered."
But the baron, still greatly perturbed, remained firm. He could not tell her, and she must rest content with that. The lady, however, continued to plead, sometimes with tenderness, more often with tears and heart-piercing reproaches, until at length the baron, trusting to her love, decided to tell her his secret.
"I have to leave you because periodically I become a bisclaveret," he said. ('Bisclaveret' is the Breton name for were-wolf.) "I hide myself in the depths of the forest, live on wild animals and roots, and go unclad as any beast of the field."
When the lady had recovered from the horror of this disclosure and had rallied her senses to her aid, she turned to him again, determined at any cost to learn all the circumstances connected with this terrible transformation.
"You know that I love you better than all the world, my husband," she began; "that never in our life together have I done aught to forfeit your love or your trust. So do, I beseech you, tell me all--tell me where you hide your clothing before you become a werewolf?"
"That I dare not do, dear wife," he replied, "for if I should lose my raiment or even be seen quitting it I must remain a were-wolf so long as I live. Never again could I become a man unless my garments were restored to me.
"Then you no longer trust me, no longer love me?" she cried. "Alas, alas that I have forfeited your confidence! Oh that I should live to see such a day!"
Her weeping broke out afresh, this time more piteously than before. The baron, deeply touched, and willing
by any means to alleviate her distress, at last divulged the vital secret which he had held from her so long.
But from that hour his wife cast about for ways and means to rid herself of her strange husband, Of whom she now went in exceeding fear. In course of time she remembered a knight of that country who had long sought her love, but whom she had repulsed. To him she appealed, and right gladly and willingly he pledged himself to aid her. She showed him where her lord concealed his clothing, and begged him to spoil the were-wolf of his vesture on the next occasion on which he set out to assume his transformation. The fatal period soon returned. The baron disappeared as usual, but this time he did not return to his home. For days friends, neighbours, and menials sought him diligently, but no trace of him was to be found, and when a year had elapsed the search was at length abandoned, and the lady was wedded to her knight.
Some months later the King was hunting in the great forest near the missing baron's castle. The hounds, unleashed, came upon the scent of a wolf, and pressed the animal hard. For many hours they pursued him, and when about to seize him, Bisclaveret--for it was he--turned with such a human gesture of despair to the King, who had ridden hard upon his track, that the royal huntsman was moved to pity. To the King's surprise the were-wolf placed its paws together as if in supplication, and its great jaws moved as if in speech.
"Call off the hounds," cried the monarch to his attendants. "This quarry we will take alive to our palace. It is too marvellous a thing to be killed."
Accordingly they returned to the Court, where the
were-wolf became an object of the greatest curiosity to all. So frolicsome yet so gentle was he that he became a universal favourite. At night he slept in the King's room, and by day he followed him with all the dumb faithfulness of a dog. The King was extremely attached to him, and never permitted his shaggy favourite to be absent from his side for a moment.
One day the monarch held a high Court, to which his great vassals and barons and all the lords of his broad demesnes were bidden. Among them came the knight who had wed the wife of Bisclaveret. Immediately upon sight of him the were-wolf flew at him with a savage joy that astonished those accustomed to his usual gentleness and docility. So fierce was the attack that the knight would have been killed had not the King intervened to save him. Later, in the royal hunting-lodge she who had been the wife of Bisclaveret came to offer the King a rich present. When he saw her the animal's rage knew no bounds, and despite all restraint he succeeded in mutilating her fair face in the most frightful manner. But for a certain wise counsellor this act would have cost Bisclaveret his life. This sagacious person, who knew of the animal's customary docility, insisted that some evil must have been done him.
"There must be some reason why this beast holds these twain in such mortal hate," he said. "Let this woman and her husband be brought hither so that they may be straitly questioned. She was once the wife of one who was near to your heart, and many marvellous happenings have ere this come out of Brittany."
The King hearkened to this sage counsel, for he loved the were-wolf, and was loath to have him slain. Under
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pressure of examination Bisclaveret's treacherous wife confessed all that she had done, adding that in her heart she believed the King's favourite animal to be no other than her former husband.
Instantly on learning this the King demanded the were-wolf's vesture from the treacherous knight her lover, and when this was brought to him he caused it to be spread before the wolf. But the animal behaved as though he did not see the garments.
Then the wise counsellor again came to his aid.
"You must take the beast to your own secret chamber, sire," he told the King; "for not without great shame and tribulation can he become a man once more, and this he dare not suffer in the sight of all."
This advice the King promptly followed, and when after some little time he, with two lords of his fellowship in attendance, re-entered the secret chamber, he found the wolf gone, and the baron so well beloved asleep in his bed.
With great joy and affection the King aroused his friend, and when the baron's feelings permitted him he related his adventures. As soon as his master had heard him out he not only restored to him all that had been taken from him, but added gifts the number and richness of which rendered him more wealthy and important than ever, while in just anger he banished from his realm the wife who had betrayed her lord, together with her lover.
The were-wolf superstition is, or was, as prevalent in Brittany as in other parts of France and Europe. The term 'were-wolf' literally means 'man-wolf,' and was
applied to a man supposed to be temporarily or permanently transformed into a wolf. In its origins the belief may have been a phase of lycanthropy, a disease in which the sufferer imagines himself to have been transformed into an animal, and in ancient and medieval times of very frequent occurrence. It may, on the other hand, be a relic of early cannibalism. Communities of semi-civilized people would begin to shun those who devoured human flesh, and they would in time be ostracized and classed with wild beasts, the idea that they had something in common with these would grow, and the belief that they were able to transform themselves into veritable animals would be likely to arise therefrom.
There were two kinds of were-wolf, voluntary and involuntary. The voluntary included those persons who because of their taste for human flesh had withdrawn from intercourse with their fellows, and who appeared to possess a certain amount of magical power, or at least sufficient to permit them to transform themselves into animal shape at will. This they effected by merely disrobing, by taking off a girdle made of human skin, or putting on a similar belt of wolf-skin (obviously a later substitute for an entire wolf-skin; in some cases we hear of their donning the skin entire). In other instances the body was rubbed with magic ointment, or rain-water was drunk out of a wolf's footprint. The brains of the animal were also eaten. Olaus Magnus says that the were-wolves of Livonia drained a cup of beer on initiation, and repeated certain magical words. In order to throw off the wolf-shape the animal girdle was removed, or else the magician merely muttered certain formulae. In some instances the transformation was supposed to be the work of Satan.
The superstition regarding were-wolves seems to have been exceedingly prevalent in France during the sixteenth century, and there is evidence of numerous trials of persons accused of were-wolfism, in some of which it was clearly shown that murder and cannibalism had taken place. Self-hallucination was accountable for many of the cases, the supposed were-wolves declaring that they had transformed themselves and had slain many people. But about the beginning of the seventeenth century native common sense came to the rescue, and such confessions were not credited. In Teutonic and Slavonic countries it was complained by men of learning that the were-wolves did more damage than real wild animals, and the existence of a regular 'college' or institution for the practice of the art of animal transformation among were-wolves was affirmed.
Involuntary were-wolves, of which class Bisclaveret was evidently a member, were often persons transformed into animal shape because of the commission of sin, and condemned to pass a certain number of years in that form, Thus certain saints metamorphosed sinners into wolves. In Armenia it was thought that a sinful woman was condemned to pass seven years in the form of a wolf. To such a woman a demon appeared, bringing a wolf-skin. He commanded her to don it, and from that moment she became a wolf, with all the nature of the wild beast, devouring her own children and those of strangers, and wandering forth at night, undeterred by locks, bolts, or bars, returning only with the morning to resume her human form.
In was, of course, in Europe, where the wolf was one of the largest carnivorous animals, that the werewolf superstition chiefly gained currency. In Eastern
countries, where similar beliefs prevailed, bears, tigers, and other beasts of prey were substituted for the lupine form of colder climes.
Oridial was one of the chief barons of King Arthur, and dwelt in Brittany, where he held lands in fief of that monarch. So deeply was he attached to his liege lord that when his son Gugemar was yet a child he sent him to Arthur's Court to be trained as a page. In due time Arthur dubbed Gugemar knight and armed him in rich harness, and the youth, hearing of war in Flanders, set out for that realm in the hope of gaining distinction and knightly honour.
After achieving many valorous deeds in Flanders Gugemar felt a strong desire to behold his parents once more, so, setting his face homeward, he journeyed back to Brittany and dwelt with them for some time, resting after his battles and telling his father, mother, and sister Nogent of the many enterprises in which he had been engaged. But he shortly grew weary of this inactive existence, and in order to break the monotony of it he planned a great hunt in the neighbouring forest.
Early one morning he set out, and soon a tall stag was roused from its bed among the ferns by the noise of the hunters' horns. The hounds were unleashed and the entire hunt followed in pursuit, Gugemar the foremost of all. But, closely as he pursued, the quarry eluded the knight, and to his chagrin he was left alone in the forest spaces with nothing to show for his long chase. He was about to ride back in search of his companions when on a sudden he noticed a doe hiding in a thicket
with her fawn. She was white from ear to hoof, without a spot. Gugemar's hounds, rushing at her, held her at bay, and their master, fitting an arrow to his bow, loosed the shaft at her so that she was wounded above the hoof and brought to earth. But the treacherous arrow, glancing, returned to Gugemar and wounded him grievously in the thigh.
As he lay on the earth faint and with his senses almost deserting him, Gugemar heard the doe speak to him in human accents:
"Wretch who hast slain me," said she, "think not to escape my vengeance. Never shall leech nor herb nor balm cure the wound which fate hath so justly inflicted upon thee. Only canst thou be healed by a woman who loves thee, and who for that love shall have to suffer such woe and sorrow as never woman had to endure before. Thou too shalt suffer equally with her, and the sorrows of ye twain shall be the wonder of lovers for all time. Leave me now to die in peace."
Gugemar was in sore dismay at hearing these words, for never had he sought lady's love nor had he cared for the converse of women. Winding his horn, he succeeded in attracting one of his followers to the spot, and sent him in search of his companions. When he had gone Gugemar tore his linen shirt in pieces and bound up his wound as well as he might. Then, dragging himself most painfully into the saddle, he rode from the scene of his misadventure at as great a pace as his injury would permit of, for he had conceived a plan which he did not desire should be interfered with.
Riding at a hand-gallop, he soon came in sight of tall cliffs which overlooked the sea, and which formed a
natural harbour, wherein lay a vessel richly beseen. Its sails were of spun silk, and each plank and mast was fashioned of ebony. Dismounting, Gugemar made his way to the shore, and with much labour climbed upon the ship. Neither mariner nor merchant was therein. A large pavilion of silk covered part of the deck, and within this was a rich bed, the work of the cunning artificers of the days of King Solomon. It was fashioned of cypress wood and ivory, and much gold and many gems went to the making of it. The clothes with which it was provided were fair and white as snow, and so soft the pillow that he who laid his head upon it, sad as he might be, could not resist sleep. The pavilion was lit by two large waxen candles, set in candlesticks of gold.
As the knight sat gazing at this splendid couch fit for a king he suddenly became aware that the ship was moving seaward. Already, indeed, he was far from land, and at the sight he grew more sorrowful than before, for his hurt made him helpless and he could not hope either to guide the vessel or manage her so that he might return to shore. Resigning himself to circumstances, he lay down upon the ornate bed and sank into a deep and dreamless slumber.
When he awoke he found to his intense surprise that the ship had come to the port of an ancient city. Now the king of this realm was an aged man who was wedded to a young, fair lady, of whom he was, after the manner of old men, intensely jealous. The castle of this monarch frowned upon a fair garden enclosed from the sea by a high wall of green marble, so that if one desired to come to the castle he must do so from the water. The place was straitly watched by vigilant
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GUGEMAR COMES UPON THE MAGIC SHIP
warders, and within the wall so carefully defended lay the Queen's bower, a fairer chamber than any beneath the sun, and decorated with the most marvellous paintings. Here dwelt the young Queen with one of her ladies, her own sister's child, who was devoted to her service and who never quitted her side. The key of this bower was in the hands of an aged priest, who was also the Queen's servitor.
One day on awaking from sleep the Queen walked in the garden and espied a ship drawing near the land. Suddenly, she knew not why, she grew very fearful, and would have fled at the sight, but her maiden encouraged her to remain. The vessel came to shore, and the Queen's maiden entered it. No one could she see on board except a knight sleeping soundly within the pavilion, and he was so pale that she thought he was dead. Returning to her mistress, she told her what she had seen, and together they entered the vessel.
No sooner did the Queen behold Gugemar than she was deeply smitten with love for him. In a transport of fear lest he were dead she placed her hand upon his bosom, and was overjoyed to feel the warmth of life within him and that his heart beat strongly. At her touch he awoke and courteously saluted her. She asked him whence he came and to what nation he belonged.
"Lady," he replied, "I am a knight of Brittany. But yesterday, or so it seems to me, for I may have slumbered more than a day, I wounded a deer in the forest, but the arrow with which I slew her rebounded and struck me sorely. Then the beast, being, I trow, a fairy deer, spake, saying that never would this wound be healed save by one damsel in the whole world, and her I know not where to find. Riding seaward, I came
to where this ship lay moored, and, entering it, the vessel drifted oceanward. I know not to what land I have come, nor what name this city bears. I pray you, fair lady, give me your best counsel."
The Queen listened to his tale with the deepest interest, and when Gugemar made his appeal for aid and counsel she replied: "Truly, fair sir, I shall counsel you as best I may. This city to which you have come belongs to my husband, who is its King. Of much worship is he, but stricken in years, and because of the jealousy he bears me he has shut me up between these high walls. If it please you you may tarry here awhile and we will tend your wound until it be healed."
Gugemar, wearied and bewildered at the strange things which had happened to him in the space of a day, thanked the Queen, and accepted her kind offer of entertainment with alacrity. Between them the Queen and her lady assisted him to leave the ship and bore him to a chamber, where he was laid in a fair bed and had his wound carefully dressed. When the ladies had withdrawn and the knight was left to himself he knew that he loved the Queen. All memory of his home and even of his tormenting wound disappeared, and he could brood only upon the fair face of the royal lady who had so charmingly ministered to him.
Meanwhile the Queen was in little better case. All night she could not sleep for pondering upon the handsome youth who had come so mysteriously into her life, and her maiden, seeing this, and marking how she suffered, went to Gugemar's chamber and told him in a frank and almost childlike manner how deeply her mistress had been smitten with love for him.
"You are young," she said, "so is my lady. Her lord
is old and their union is unseemly. Heaven intended you for one another and has brought you together in its own good time."
Shortly, after she had heard Mass, the Queen summoned Gugemar into her presence. At first both were dumb with confusion. At last his passion, urged Gugemar to speak, and his love-words came thick and fast. The Queen hearkened to them, and, feeling that they rang true, admitted that she loved him in return.
For a year and a half Gugemar dwelt in the Queen's bower. Then the lovers met with misfortune.
For some days before the blow fell the Queen had experienced a feeling of coming evil. So powerfully did this affect her that she begged Gugemar for a garment of his. The knight marvelled at the request, and asked her playfully for what reason she desired such a keepsake as a linen shift.
"Friend," she replied, "if it chance that you leave me or that we are separated I shall fear that some other damsel may win your love. In this shift which you give me I shall make a knot, and shall ask you to vow that never will you give your love to dame or damsel who cannot untie this knot."
The knight complied with her request, and she made such a cunning knot in the garment as only she could unravel. For his part Gugemar gave the Queen a wonderfully fashioned girdle which only he could unclasp, and he begged her that she would never grant her love to any man who could not free her from it. Each promised the other solemnly to respect the vows they had made.
That same day their hidden love was discovered. A chamberlain of the King's observed them through a
window of the Queen's bower, and, hastening to his master, told him what he had seen. In terrible wrath the King called for his guards, and, coming upon the lovers unaware, commanded them to slay Gugemar at once. But the knight seized upon a stout rod of fir-wood on which linen was wont to be dried, and faced those who would slay him so boldly that they fell back in dismay.
The King questioned him as to his name and lineage, and Gugemar fearlessly related his story. The King was incredulous at first, but said that could the ship be found in which Gugemar had arrived he would place him upon it and send him once more out to sea. After search had been made the vessel was found, and Gugemar was placed on it, the ship began to move, and soon the knight was well at sea.
Ere long the ship came to that harbour whence she had first sailed, and as Gugemar landed he saw to his surprise one of his own vassals holding a charger and accompanied by a knight. Mounting the steed, Gugemar swiftly rode home, where he was received with every demonstration of joy. But though his parents and friends did everything possible to make him happy the memory of the fair Queen who had loved him was ever with him night and day, so that he might not be solaced by game or tilting, the chase or the dance. In vain those who wished him well urged him to take a wife. At first he roundly refused to consider such a step, but when eagerly pressed by his friends he announced that no wife should he wed who could not first unloose the knot within his shift. So sought after was Gugemar that all the damsels in Brittany essayed the feat, but none of them succeeded and each retired sorrowfully from the ordeal.
Meanwhile the aged King had set his wife in a tower of grey marble, where she suffered agonies because of the absence of her lover. Ever she wondered what had happened to him, if he had regained his native shore or whether he had been swallowed up by the angry sea. Frequently she made loud moan, but there were none to hear her cries save stony-hearted gaolers, who were as dumb as the grey walls that enclosed her.
One day she chanced in her dolour to lean heavily upon the door of her prison. To her amazement it opened, and she found herself in the corridor without. Hastening on impulse, and as if by instinct, to the harbour, she found there her lover's ship. Quickly she climbed upon its deck, and scarcely had she done so than the vessel began to move seaward. In great fear she sat still, and in time was wafted to a part of Brittany governed by one named Meriadus, who was on the point of going to war with a neighbouring chieftain. From his window Meriadus had seen the approach of the strange vessel, and, making his way to the seashore, entered the ship. Struck with the beauty of the Queen, he brought her to his castle, where he placed her in his sister's chamber. He strove in every way to dispel the sadness which seemed to envelop her like a mantle, but despite his efforts to please her she remained in sorrowful and doleful mood and would not be comforted. Sorely did Meriadus press her to wed him, but she would have none of him, and for answer showed him the girdle round her waist, saying that never would she give her love to any man who could not unloose its buckle. As she said this Meriadus seemed struck by her words.
"Strange," he said, "a right worthy knight dwells in
this land who will take no woman to his wife save she who can first untie a certain crafty knot in his shift. Well would I wager that it was you who tied this knot." When the Queen heard these words she well'-nigh fainted. Meriadus rushed to succour her, and gradually she revived. Some days later Meriadus held a high tournament, at which all the knights who were to aid, him in the war were to be present, among them Gugemar. A festival was held on the night preceding the tournament, at which Meriadus requested his sister and the stranger dame to be present. As the Queen entered the hall Gugemar rose from his place and stared at her as at a vision of the dead. In great doubt was he whether this lady was in truth his beloved.
"Come, Gugemar," rallied Meriadus, "let this damsel try to unravel the knot in your shift which has puzzled so many fair dames."
Gugemar called to his squire and bade him fetch the shift, and when it was brought the lady, without seeming effort, unravelled the knot. But even yet Gugemar remained uncertain.
"Lady," he said, "tell me, I pray you, whether or not you wear a girdle with which I girt you in a realm across the sea," and placing his hands around her slender waist, he found there the secret belt.
All his doubts dispelled, Gugemar asked his loved one how she had come to the tower of Meriadus. When he had heard, he then and there requested his ally to yield him the lady, but the chieftain roundly refused. Then the knight in great anger cast down his glove and took his departure, and, to the discomfiture of Meriadus, all those knights who had gathered for the tournament and had offered to assist Meriadus accompanied Gugemar.
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GUGEMAR'S ASSAULT ON THE CASTLE OF MERIADUS
In a body they rode to the castle of the prince who was at war with Meriadus, and next day they marched against the discourteous chieftain. Long did they besiege his castle, but at last when the defenders were weak with hunger Gugemar and his men assailed the place and took it, slaying Meriadus within the ruins of his own hall. Gugemar, rushing to that place where he knew his lady to be, called her forth, and in peace brought her back with him to his own demesne, where they were wed and dwelt long and happily.
There are several circumstances connected with this beautiful old tale which deeply impress us with a belief in its antiquity. The incident of the killing of the deer and the incurable nature of Gugemar's wound are undoubtedly legacies from very ancient times, when it was believed to be unlucky under certain circumstances to kill a beast of the chase. Some savage races, such as the North American Indians, consider it to be most unlucky to slay a deer without first propitiating the great Deer God, the chief of the Deer Folk, and in fact they attribute most of the ills to which flesh is heir to the likelihood that they have omitted some of the very involved ritual of the chase. It will be remembered that Tristrem of Lyonesse also had an incurable wound, and there are other like instances in romance and myth.
The vessel which carries Gugemar over the sea is undoubtedly of the same class as those magic self-propelled craft which we meet with very frequently in Celtic lore, and the introduction of this feature in itself is sufficient to convince us of the Celtic or Breton origin of Marie's tale. We have such a craft in the Grail legend in the Morte dArthur, in which Galahad finds precisely such a bed. The vessel in the Grail legend
is described as "King Solomon's Ship," and it is obvious that Marie or her Breton original must have borrowed the idea from a Grail source.
Lastly, the means adopted by the lovers to ensure one another's constancy seem very like the methods of taboo. The knot that may not or cannot be untied has many counterparts in ancient lore, and the girdle that no man but the accepted lover may loose is reminiscent of the days when a man placed such a girdle around his wife or sweetheart to signify his sole possession of her. If a man could succeed in purloining a mermaid's girdle she was completely in his power. So is it with fairies in an Algonquin Indian tale. Even so late as Crusading times many knights departing to fight in the Holy Land bound a girdle round their ladies' waists in the hope that the gift would ensure their faithfulness.
The Lay of Laustic, or the Nightingale, is purely of Breton origin, and indeed is proved to be so by its title. "Laustic, I deem, men name it in that country" (Brittany), says Marie in her preface to the lay, "which being interpreted means rossignol in French and 'nightingale' in good plain English." She adds that the Breton harper has already made a lay concerning it-added evidence that the tale is of Celtic and not of French origin.
In the ancient town of Saint-Malo, in Brittany, dwelt two knights whose valour and prowess brought much fame to the community. Their houses were close to one another, and one of them was married to a lady of surpassing loveliness, while the other was a bachelor. By insensible degrees the bachelor knight came to love
his neighbour's wife, and so handsome and gallant was he that in time she returned his passion. He made every possible excuse for seeking her society, and on one pretext or another was constantly by her side. But he was exceedingly careful of her fair fame, and acted in such a way that not the slightest breath of scandal could touch her.
Their houses were separated by an ancient stone wall of considerable height, but the lovers could speak together by leaning from their casements, and if this was impossible they could communicate by sending written messages. When the lady's husband was at home she was guarded carefully, as was the custom of the time, but nevertheless she contrived to greet her lover from the window as frequently as she desired.
In due course the wondrous time of spring came round, with white drift of blossom and stir of life newly awakened. The short night hours grew warm, and often did the lady arise from bed to have speech with her lover at the casement. Her husband grew displeased by her frequent absences, which disturbed his rest, and wrathfully inquired the reason why she quitted his side so often.
"Oh, husband," she replied, "I cannot rest because of the sweet song of the nightingale, whose music has cast a spell upon my heart. No tune of harp or viol can compare with it, and I may not close my eyes so long as his song continues in the night."
Now the lady's husband, although a bold and hardy knight, was malicious and ungenerous, and, disliking to have his rest disturbed, resolved to deal summarily with the nightingale. So he gave orders to his servants to set traps in the garden and to smear every bough
and branch with birdlime in order that the bird might speedily be taken. His orders were at once carried out, and the garden was filled with nets, while the cruel. lime glittered upon every tree. So complete were the preparations of the serving-men that an unfortunate nightingale which had made the garden its haunt and had filled it with music for many a night while the lovers talked was taken and brought to the knight.
Swiftly he bore the hapless bird to his wife's chamber, his eyes sparkling with malicious glee.
"Here is your precious songster," he said, with bitter irony. "You will be happy to learn that you and I may now spend our sleeping hours in peace since he is taken."
"Ah, slay him not, my lord!" she cried in anguish, for she had grown to associate the bird's sweet song with the sweeter converse of her lover--to regard it as in a measure an accompaniment to his love-words. For answer her husband seized the unhappy bird by the neck and wrung its head off. Then he cast the little body into the lap of the dame, soiling her with its blood, and departed in high anger.
The lady pitifully raised what was left of the dead songster and bitterly lamented over it.
"Woe is me!" she cried. "Never again can I meet with my lover at the casement, and he will believe that I am faithless to him. But I shall devise some means to let him know that this is not so."
Having considered as to what she should do, the lady took a fine piece of white samite, broidered with gold, and worked upon it as on a tapestry the whole story of the nightingale, so that her knight might not be ignorant of the nature of the barrier that had arisen between them.
In this silken shroud she wrapped the small, sad body of the slain bird and gave it in charge of a trusty servant to bear to her lover. The messenger told the knight what had occurred. The news was heavy to him, but now, having insight to the vengeful nature of her husband, be feared to jeopardize the lady's safety, so he remained silent., But he caused a rich coffer to be made in fine gold, set. with precious stones, in which he laid the body of the nightingale, and this small funeral urn he carried about with him on all occasions, nor could any circumstance hinder him from keeping it constantly beside him.
Place me love's ashes in a golden cup,
To mingle with my wine. Ah, do not fear
The old flame in my soul shall flicker up
At the harsh taste of what was once so dear.
I quaff no fire: there is no fire to meet
This bitterness of death and turn it into sweet.
In the tale of Eliduc we have in all probability a genuine product of native Breton romance. So at least avers Marie, who assures us that it is "a very ancient Breton lay," and we have no reason to doubt her word, seeing that, had she been prone to literary dishonesty, it would have been much easier for her to have passed off the tale as her own original conception. There is, of course, the probability that it was so widely
known in its Breton version that to have done so would have been to have openly courted the charge of plagiarism--an impeachment which it is not possible to bring against this most charming and delightful poetess.
Eliduc, a knight of Brittany, was happy in the confidence of his King, who, when affairs of State caused his absence from the realm, left his trusted adherent behind him as viceroy and regent. Such a man, staunch and loyal, could scarcely be without enemies, and the harmless pleasure he took in the chase during the King's absence was construed by evil counsellors on the monarch's return as an unwarranted licence with the royal rights of venery. The enemies of Eliduc so harped upon the knight's supposed lack of reverence for the royal authority that at length the King's patience gave way and in an outburst of wrath he gave orders for Eliduc's banishment, without vouchsafing his former friend and confidant the least explanation of this petulant action.
Dismayed by the sudden change in his fortunes, Eliduc returned to his house, and there acquainted his friends and vassals with the King's unjust decree. He told them that it was his intention to cross the sea to the kingdom of Logres, to sojourn there for a space. He placed his estates in the hands of his wife and begged of his vassals that they would serve her loyally. Then, having settled his affairs, he took ten knights of his household and started upon his journey. His wife, Guildeluec, accompanied him for several miles, and on parting they pledged good faith to one another.
In due time the cavalcade came to the seashore and took ship for the realm of Logres. Near Exeter, in
this land, dwelt an aged king who had for his heir a daughter called Guillardun. This damsel had been asked in marriage by a neighbouring prince, and as her father had refused to listen to his proposals the disappointed suitor made war upon him, spoiling and wasting his land. The old King, fearful for his child's safety, had shut her up in a strong castle for her better security and his own peace of mind.
Now Eliduc, coming to that land, heard the tale of the quarrel between the King and his neighbour, and considered as to which side he should take. After due deliberation he arranged to fight on the side of the King, with whom he offered to take service. His offer was gratefully accepted, and he had not been long in the royal host when he had an opportunity of distinguishing himself. The town wherein he was lodged with his knights was attacked by the enemy. He set his men in ambush in a forest track by which it was known the enemy would approach the town, and succeeded in routing them and in taking large numbers of prisoners and much booty. This feat of arms raised him high in the estimation of the King, who showed him much favour, and the Princess, hearing of his fame, became very desirous of beholding him. She sent her chamberlain to Eliduc saying that she wished to hear the story of his deeds, and he, quite as anxious to see the imprisoned Princess of whom he had heard so much, set out at once. On beholding each other they experienced deep agitation. Eliduc thought that never had he seen so beautiful and graceful a maiden, and Guillardun that this was the most handsome and comely knight she had ever met.
For a long time they spoke together, and then Eliduc
took his leave and departed. He counted all the time lost that he had remained in the kingdom without knowing this lady, but he promised himself that now he would frequently seek her society. Then, with a pang of remorse, he thought of his good and faithful wife and the sacred promise he had made her.
Guillardun, on her part, was none the less ill at ease. She passed a restless night, and in the morning confided her case to her aged chamberlain, who was almost a second father to her, and he, all unwitting that Eliduc was already bound in wedlock to another, suggested that the Princess should send the knight a love-token to discover by the manner in which he received it whether or not her love was returned. Guillardun took this advice, and sent her lover a girdle and a ring by the hands of the chamberlain. On receiving the token Eliduc showed the greatest joy, girded the belt about his middle, and placed the ring on his finger. The chamberlain returned to the Princess and told her with what evident satisfaction Eliduc had received the gifts. But the Princess in her eagerness showered questions upon him, until at last the old man grew impatient.
"Lady," he said, somewhat testily, "I have told you the knight's words; I cannot tell you his thoughts, for he is a prudent gentleman who knows well what to hide in his heart."
Although he rejoiced at the gifts Eliduc had but little peace of mind. He could think of nothing save the vow he had made to his wife before he left her. But thoughts of the Princess would intrude themselves upon him. Often he saw Guillardun, and although he saluted her with a kiss, as was the custom of the time, he never spoke a single word of love to her, being fearful on the
one hand of breaking his conjugal vow and on the other of offending the King.
One evening when Eliduc was announced the King was in his daughter's chamber, playing at chess with a stranger lord. He welcomed the knight heartily, and much to the embarrassment of the lovers begged his daughter to cherish a closer friendship for Eliduc, whom he brought to her notice as a right worthy knight. The pair withdrew somewhat from the others, as if for the purpose of furthering the friendship which the old King so ardently seemed to desire, and Eliduc thanked the Princess for the gifts she had sent him by the chamberlain. Then the Princess, taking advantage of her rank, told Eliduc that she desired him for her husband, and that, did he refuse her, she would die unwed.
"Lady," replied the knight, "I have great joy in your love, but have you thought that I may not always tarry in this land? I am your father's man until this war hath an end. Then shall I return unto mine own country." But Guillardun, in a transport of love, told him she would trust him entirely with her heart, and passing great was the affection that grew between them. Eliduc, in spite of his love for the Princess, had by no means permitted his conduct of the war to flag. Indeed, if anything, he redoubled his efforts, and pressed the foe so fiercely that at length he was forced to submit. And now news came to him that his old master, the King who had banished him from Brittany, was sore bestead by an enemy and was searching for his former vice-regent on every hand, who was so mighty a knight in the field and so sage at the council-board. Turning upon the false lords who had spoken evil of his favourite, he outlawed them from the land for ever. He sent
messengers east and west and across the seas in search of Eliduc, who when he heard the news was much dismayed, so greatly did he love Guillardun. These twain had loved with a pure and tender passion, and never by word or deed had they sullied the affection they bore one another. Dearly did the Princess hope that Eliduc might remain in her land and become her lord, and little did she dream that he was wedded to a wife across the seas. For his part Eliduc took close counsel with himself. He knew by reason of the fealty he owed to his King that he must return to Brittany, but he was equally aware that if he parted from Guillardun one or other of them must die.
Deep was the chagrin of the King of Logres when he learned that Eliduc must depart from his realm, but deeper far was his daughter's grief when the knight came to bid her farewell. In moving words she urged him to remain, and when she found that his loyalty was proof even against his love, she begged of him to take her with him to Brittany. But this request he turned aside, on the plea that as he had served her father he could not so offend him as by the theft of his daughter He promised, however, by all he held most dear that he would return one day, and with much sorrow the two parted, exchanging rings for remembrance.
Eliduc took ship and swiftly crossed the sea. He met with a joyous reception from his King, and none was so glad at his return as his wife. But gradually his lady began to see that he had turned cold to her. She charged him with it, and he replied that he had pledged his faith to the foreign lord whom he had served abroad.
Very soon through his conduct the war was brought
to a victorious close, and almost immediately thereafter Eliduc repaired across the sea to Logres, taking with him two of his nephews as his squires. On reaching Logres he at once went to visit Guillardun, who received him with great gladness. She returned with him to his ship, which commenced the return voyage at once, but when they neared the dangerous coast of Brittany a sudden tempest arose, and waxed so fierce that the mariners lost all hope of safety. One of them cried out that the presence of Guillardun on board the ship endangered all their lives and that the conduct of Eliduc, who had already a faithful wife, in seeking to wed this foreign woman had brought about their present dangerous position. Eliduc grew very wroth, and when Guillardun heard that her knight was already wedded she swooned and all regarded her as dead. In despair Eliduc fell upon his betrayer, slew him, and cast his body into the sea. Then, guiding the ship with a seaman's skill, he brought her into harbour.
When they were safely anchored, Eliduc conceived the idea of taking Guillardun, whom he regarded as dead, to a certain chapel in a great forest quite near his own home. Setting her body before him on his palfrey, he soon came to the little shrine, and making a bier of the altar laid Guillardun upon it. He then betook him to his own house, but the next morning returned to the cha el in the forest. Mourning over the body of his lady-love, he was surprised to observe that the colour still remained in her cheeks and lips. Again and again he visited the chapel, and his wife, marvelling whither he went, bribed a varlet to discover the object of his repeated absences. The man watched Eliduc
and saw him enter the chapel and mourn over the body of Guillardun, and, returning, acquainted his lady with what he had seen.
Guildeluec--for such, we will remember, was the name of Eliduc's wife--set out for the shrine, and with astonishment beheld the lifelike form of Guillardun laid on the altar. So pitiful was the sight that she herself could not refrain from the deepest sorrow. As she sat weeping a weasel came from under the altar and ran across Guillardun's body, and the varlet who attended Guildeluec struck at it with his staff and killed it. Another weasel issued, and, beholding its dead comrade, went forth from the chapel and hastened to the wood, whence it returned, bearing in its mouth a red flower, which it placed on the mouth of its dead companion. The weasel which Guildeluec had believed to be dead at once stood up. Beholding this, the varlet cast his staff at the animals and they sped away, leaving the red flower behind them.
Guildeluec immediately picked the flower up, and returning with it to the altar where Guillardun lay, placed it on the maiden's mouth. In a few moments she heard a sigh, and Guillardun sat up, and inquired if she had slept long. Guildeluec asked her name and degree, and Guillardun in reply acquainted her with her history and lineage, speaking very bitterly of Eliduc, who, she said, had betrayed her in a strange land. Guildeluec declared herself the wife of Eliduc, told Guillardun how deeply the knight had grieved for her, and declared her intention of taking the veil and releasing Eliduc from his marriage vow. She conducted Guillardun to her home, where they met Eliduc, who rejoiced greatly at the restoration of his lady-love. His wife founded
Click to enlarge
ELIDUC CARRIES GUILLARDUN TO THE FOREST CHAPEL
a convent with the rich portion he bestowed upon her, and Eliduc, in thankfulness for Guillardun's recovery, built a fair church close by his castle and endowed it bountifully, and close beside it erected a great monastery. Later Guillardun entered the convent of which Guildeluec was the abbess, and Eliduc, himself feeling the call of the holy life, devoted himself to the service of God in the monastery. Messages passed between convent and monastery in which Eliduc and the holy women encouraged each other in the pious life which they had chosen, and by degrees the three who had suffered so greatly came to regard their seclusion as far preferable to the world and all its vanities.
The Lay of Equitan is one of Marie's most famous tales. Equitan was King of Nantes, in Brittany, and led the life of a pleasure-seeker. To win approval from the eyes of fair ladies was more to him than knightly fame or honour.
Equitan had as seneschal a trusty and faithful knight, who was to the pleasure-loving seigneur as his right hand. This faithful servant was also captain of Equitan's army, and sat as a judge in his courts. To his undoing he had a wife, as fair a dame as any in the duchy of Brittany. "Her eyes," says the old lay, "were blue, her face was warm in colour, her mouth fragrant and her nose dainty." She was ever tastefully dressed and courtly in demeanour, and soon attracted the attention of such an admirer of the fair sex as Equitan, who desired to speak with her more intimately. He therefore, as a subterfuge, announced
that a great hunt would take place in that part of his domains in which his seneschal's castle was situated, and this gave him the opportunity of sojourning at the castle and holding converse with the lady, with whom he became so charmed that in a few days he fell deeply in love with her. On the night of the day when he first became aware that he loved her Equitan lay tossing on his bed, in a torment of fiery emotion. He debated with himself in what manner he should convey to his seneschal's wife the fact that he loved her, and at length prepared a plot which he thought would be likely to succeed.
Next day he rose as usual and made all arrangements to proceed with the chase. But shortly after setting out he returned, pleading that he had fallen sick, and took to his bed. The faithful seneschal could not divine what had occurred to render his lord so seriously indisposed as he appeared to be, and requested his wife to go to him to see if she could minister to him and cheer his drooping spirits.
The lady went to Equitan, who received her dolefully enough. He told her without reserve that the malady from which he suffered was none other than love for herself, and that did she not consent to love him in return he would surely die. The dame at first dissented, but, carried away by the fiery eloquence of his words, she at last assured him of her love, and they exchanged rings as a token of troth and trust.
The love of Equitan and the seneschal's wife was discovered by none, and when they desired to meet he arranged to go hunting in the neighbourhood of the seneschal's castle. Shortly after they had plighted their troth the great barons of the realm approached
the King with a proposal that he should marry, but Equitan would have none of this, nor would he listen to even his most trusted advisers with regard to such a subject. The nobles, were angered at his curt and even savage refusal to hearken to them, and the commons were also greatly disturbed because of the lack of a successor. The echoes of the disagreement reached the ears of the seneschal's wife, who was much perturbed thereby, being aware that the King had come to this decision for love of her.
At their next meeting she broached the subject to her royal lover, lamenting that they had ever met.
"Now are my good days gone," she said, weeping, "for you will wed some king's daughter as all men say, and I shall certainly die if I lose you thus."
"Nay, that will not be," replied Equitan. Never shall I wed except your husband die."
The lady felt that he spoke truly, but in an evil moment she came to attach a sinister meaning to the words Equitan had employed regarding her husband. Day and night she brooded on them, for well she knew that did her husband die Equitan would surely wed her. By insensible degrees she came to regard her husband's death as a good rather than an evil thing, and little by little Equitan, who at first looked upon the idea ' with horror, became converted to her opinion. Between them they hatched a plot for the undoing of the seneschal. It was arranged that the King should go hunting as usual in the neighbourhood of his faithful servant's castle. While lodging in the castle, the King and the seneschal would be bled in the old surgical manner for their health's sake, and three days after would bathe before leaving the chamber they occupied,
and the heartless wife suggested that she should make her husband's bath so fiercely hot that he would not survive after entering it. One would think that the seneschal would easily have been able to escape such a simple trap, but we must remember that the baths of Norman times were not shaped like our own, but were exceedingly deep, and indeed some of them were in form almost like those immense upright jars such as the forty thieves were concealed in in the story of Ali Baba, so that in many cases it was not easy for the bather to tell whether the water into which he was stepping was hot or otherwise.
The plot was carried out as the lady had directed, but not without much misgiving on the part of Equitan. The King duly arrived at the castle, and announced his intention to be bled, requesting that the seneschal should undergo the same operation at the same time, and occupy the same chamber by way of companionship. Then after the leech had bled them the King asked that he might have a bath before leaving his apartment, and the seneschal requested that his too should be made ready. Accordingly on the third day the baths were brought to the chamber, and the lady occupied herself with filling them. While she was doing so her lord left the chamber for a space, and during his absence the King and the lady were clasped in each other's arms. So rapt were the pair in their amorous dalliance that they failed to notice the return of the seneschal, who, when he saw them thus engaged, uttered an exclamation of surprise and wrath. Equitan, turning quickly, saw him, and with a cry of despair leapt into the bath that the lady had prepared for the seneschal, and there perished miserably, while the enraged husband, seizing his faithless
wife, thrust her headlong into the boiling water beside her lover, where she too was scalded to death.
In olden times there dwelt in Brittany two knights who were neighbours and close friends. Both were married, and one was the father of twin sons, one of whom he christened by the name of his friend. Now this friend had a wife who was envious of heart and rancorous of tongue, and on hearing that two sons had been born to her neighbour she spoke slightingly and cruelly about her, saying that to bear twins was ever a disgrace. Her evil words were spread abroad, and at last as a result of her malicious speech the good lady's husband himself began to doubt and suspect the wife who had never for a moment given him the least occasion to do so.
Strangely enough, within the year two daughters were born to the lady of the slanderous tongue, who now deeply lamented the wrong she had done, but all to no purpose. Fearful of the gossip which she thought the event would occasion, she gave one of the children to a faithful handmaiden, with directions that it should be laid on the steps of a church, where it might be picked up as a foundling and nourished by some stranger. The babe was wrapped in a linen cloth, which again was covered with a beautiful piece of red silk that the lady's husband had purchased in the East, and a handsome ring engraved with the family insignia and set with garnets was bound to the infant's arm with silken lace. When the child had thus been attired the damsel took it and carried it for many miles into the country, until at last she came to a city where there was a large and fair abbey. Breathing a prayer that the child might
have proper guardianship, the girl placed it on the abbey steps as her mistress had ordered her to do, but, afraid that it might catch cold on such a chilly bed, she looked around and saw an ash-tree, thick and leafy, with four strong branches, among the foliage of which she deposited the little one, commending it to the care of God, after which she returned to her mistress and acquainted her with what had passed.
In the morning the abbey porter opened the great doors of the house of God so that the people might enter for early Mass. As he was thus engaged his eye caught the gleam of red silk among the leaves of the ash-tree, and going to it he discovered the deserted infant. Taking the babe from its resting-place, he returned with it to his house, and, awaking his daughter, who was a widow with a baby yet in the cradle, he asked her to cherish it and care for it. Both father and daughter could see from the crimson silk and the great signet ring that the child was of noble birth. The porter told the abbess of his discovery, and she requested him to bring the child to her, dressed precisely as it had been found. On beholding the infant a great compassion was aroused in the breast of the holy woman, who resolved to bring up the child herself, calling her her niece, and since she was taken from the ash giving her the name of Frêne.
Frêne grew up one of the fairest damsels in Brittany. She was frank in manner, yet modest and discreet in bearing and speech. At Dol, where, as we have read, there is a great menhir and other prehistoric monuments, there lived a lord called Buron, who, hearing reports of Frêne's beauty and sweetness, greatly desired to behold her. Riding home from a tournament, he passed near
the convent, and, alighting there, paid his respects to the abbess, and begged that he might see her niece. Buron at once fell in love with the maiden, and in order to gain favour with the abbess bestowed great riches upon the establishment over which she presided, requesting in return that he might be permitted to occupy a small apartment in the abbey should he chance to be in the neighbourhood.
In this way he frequently saw and spoke with Frêne, who in turn fell in love with him. He persuaded her to fly with him to his castle, taking with her the silken cloth and ring with which she had been found.
But the lord's tenants were desirous that he should marry, and had set their hearts upon his union with a rich lady named Coudre, daughter of a neighbouring baron. The marriage was arranged, greatly to the grief of Frêne, and duly took place. Going to Buron's bridal chamber, she considered it too mean, blinded with love as she was, for such as he, and placed the wondrous piece of crimson silk in which she had been wrapped as an infant over the coverlet. Presently the bride's mother entered the bridal chamber in order to see that all was fitting for her daughter's reception there. Gazing at the crimson coverlet, she recognized it as that in which she had wrapped her infant daughter. She anxiously inquired to whom it belonged, and was told that it was Frêne's. Going to the damsel, she questioned her as to where she had obtained the silk, and was told by Frêne that the abbess had given it to her along with a ring which had been found upon her when, as an infant, she had been discovered within the branches of the ash-tree.
The mother asked anxiously to see the ring, and on
beholding it told Frêne of their relationship, which at the same time she confessed to her husband, the baron. The father was overjoyed to meet with a daughter he had never known, and hastened to the bridegroom to acquaint him was Frêne's' story. Great joy had Buron, and the archbishop who had joined him to Coudre gave counsel that they should be parted according to the rites of the Church and that Buron should marry Frêne. This was accordingly done, and when Frêne's parents returned to their own domain they found another husband for Coudre.
Graelent was a Breton knight dwelling at the Court of the King of Brittany, a very pillar to him in war, bearing himself valiantly in tourney and joust. So handsome and brave was he that the Queen fell madly in love with him, and asked her chamberlain to bring the knight into her presence. When he came she praised him greatly to his face, not only for his gallantry in battle, but also for his comeliness; but at her honeyed words the youth, quite abashed, sat silent, saying nothing. The Queen at last questioned him if his heart was set on any maid or dame, to which he replied that it was not, that love was a serious business and not to be taken in jest.
"Many speak glibly of love," he said, "of whom not one can spell the first letter of its name. Love should be quiet and discreet or it is nothing worth, and without accord between the lovers love is but a bond and a constraint. Love is too high a matter for me to meddle with,"
The Queen listened greedily to Graelent's words, and
when he had finished speaking she discovered her love for him; but he turned from her courteously but firmly.
"Lady," he said, "I beg your forgiveness, but this may not be. I am the King's man, and to him I have pledged my faith and loyalty. Never shall he know shame through any conduct of mine."
With these words he took his leave of the Queen. But his protestations had altered her mind not at all. She sent him messages daily, and costly gifts, but these he refused and returned, till at last the royal dame, stung to anger by his repulses, conceived a violent hatred for him, and resolved to be revenged upon him for the manner in which he had scorned her love.
The King of Brittany went to war with a neighbouring monarch, and Graelent bore himself manfully in the conflict, leading his troops again and again to victory. Hearing of his repeated successes, the Queen was exceedingly mortified, and made up her mind to destroy his popularity with the troops. With this end in view she prevailed upon the King to withhold the soldiers' pay, which Graelent had to advance them out of his own means. In the end the unfortunate knight was reduced almost to beggary by this mean stratagem. One morning he was riding through the town where he was lodged, clad in garments so shabby that the wealthy burgesses in their fur-lined cloaks and rich apparel gibed and jeered at him, but Graelent, sure of his own worth, deigned not to take notice of such ill-breeding. and for his solace quitted the crowded streets of the place and took his way toward the great forest which skirted it. He rode into its gloom deep in thought, listening to the murmur of the river which flowed through the leafy ways.
He had not gone far when he espied a white hart within a thicket. She fled before him into the thickest part of the forest, but the silvern glimmer of her body showed the track she had taken. On a sudden deer and horseman dashed into a clearing among the trees where there was a grassy lawn, in the midst of which sprang a fountain of clear water. In this fountain a lady was bathing, and two attendant maidens stood near. Now Graelent believed that the lady must be a fairy, and knowing well that the only way to capture such a being was to seize her garments, he looked around for these, and seeing them lying upon a bush he laid hands upon them.
The attendant women at this set up a loud outcry, and the lady herself turned to where he sat his horse and called him by name.
"Graelent, what do you hope to gain by the theft of my raiment?" she asked. "Have you, a knight, sunk so low as to behave like a common pilferer? Take my mantle if you must, but pray spare me my gown."
Graelent laughed at the lady's angry words, and told her that he was no huckster. He then begged her to don her garments, as he desired to have speech With her. After her women had attired her, Graelent took her by the hand and, leading her a little space away from her attendants, told her that he had fallen deeply in love with her. But the lady frowned and seemed at first offended.
"You do not know to whom you proffer your love," she said. "Are you aware that my birth and lineage render it an impertinence for a mere knight to seek to ally himself with me?"
But Graelent had a most persuasive tongue, and the deep love he had conceived for the lady rendered him
doubly eloquent on this occasion. At last the fairy-woman, for such she was, was quite carried away by his words, and granted him the boon he craved.
"There is, however, one promise I must exact from you," she said, "and that is that never shall you mention me to mortal man. I on my part shall assist you in every possible manner. You shall never be without gold in your purse nor costly apparel to wear. Day and night shall I remain with you, and in war and in the chase will ride by your side, visible to you alone, unseen by your companions. For a year must you remain in this country. Now noon has passed and you must go. A messenger shall shortly come to you to tell you of my wishes."
Graelent took leave of the lady and kissed her farewell. Returning to his lodgings in the town, he was leaning from the casement considering his strange adventure when he saw a varlet issuing from the forest riding upon a palfrey. The man rode up the cobbled street straight to Graelent's lodgings, where he dismounted and, entering, told the knight that his lady had sent him with the palfrey as a present, and begged that he would accept the services of her messenger to take charge of his lodgings and manage his affairs.
The serving-man quickly altered the rather poor appearance of Graelent's apartment. He spread a rich coverlet upon his couch and produced a well-filled purse and rich apparel. Graelent at once sought out all the poor knights of the town and feasted them to their hearts' content. From this moment he fared sumptuously every day. His lady appeared whenever he desired her to, and great was the love between them. Nothing more had he to wish for in this life.
A year passed in perfect happiness for the knight, and at its termination the King held a great feast on the occasion of Pentecost. To this feast Sir Graelent was bidden. All day the knights and barons and their ladies feasted, and the King, having drunk much wine, grew boastful. Requesting the Queen to stand forth on the dais, he asked the assembled nobles if they had ever beheld so fair a dame as she. The lords were loud in their praise of the Queen, save Graelent only. He sat with bent head, smiling strangely, for he knew of a lad y fairer by far than any lady in that Court. The Queen was quick to notice this seeming discourtesy, and pointed it out to the King, who summoned Graelent to the steps of the throne.
"How now, Sir Knight," said the King; "wherefore did you sneer when all other men praised the Queen's beauty?"
"Sire," replied Graelent, "you do yourself much dishonour by such a deed. You make your wife a show upon a stage and force your nobles to praise her with lies when in truth a fairer dame than she could very easily be found."
Now when she heard this the Queen was greatly angered and prayed her husband to compel Graelent to bring to the Court her of whom he boasted so proudly.
"Set us side by side," cried the infuriated Queen, "and if she be fairer than I before men's eyes, Graelent may go in peace, but if not let justice be done upon him."
The King, stirred to anger at these words, ordered his guards to seize Graelent, swearing that he should never issue from prison till the lady of whom he had boasted should come to Court and pit herself against the Queen. Graelent was then cast into a dungeon, but he thought
little of this indignity, fearing much more that his rashness had broken the bond betwixt him and his fairy bride. After awhile he was set at liberty, on pledging his word that he would return bringing with him the lady whom he claimed as fairer than the Queen. Leaving the Court, he betook himself to his lodging, and called upon his lady, but received no answer. Again he called, but without result, and believing that his fairy bride had utterly abandoned him he gave way to despair. In a year's time Graelent returned to the Court and admitted his failure.
"Sir Graelent," said the King, "wherefore should you not be punished? You have slandered the Queen in the most unknightly manner, and given the lie to those nobles who must now give judgment against you."
The nobles retired to consider their judgment upon Graelent. For a long time they debated, for most of them were friendly to him and he had been extremely popular at Court. In the midst of their deliberations a page entered and prayed them to postpone judgment, as two damsels had arrived at the palace and were having speech with the King concerning Graelent. The damsels told the King that their mistress was at hand, and begged him to wait for her arrival, as she had come to uphold Graelent's challenge. Hearing this, the Queen quitted the hall, and shortly after she had gone a second pair of damsels appeared bearing a similar message for the King. Lastly Graelent's young bride herself entered the hall.
At sight of her a cry of admiration arose from the assembled nobles, and all admitted that their eyes had never beheld a fairer lady. When she reached the King's side she dismounted from her palfrey.
"Sire," she said, addressing the King, "hasty and foolish was Graelent's tongue when he spoke as he did, but at least he told the truth when he said that there is no lady so fair but a fairer may be found. Look upon me and judge in this quarrel between the Queen and me."
When she had spoken every lord and noble with one voice agreed that she was fairer than her royal rival. Even the King himself admitted that it was so, and Sir Graelent was declared a free man.
Turning round to seek his lady, the knight observed that she was already some distance away, so, mounting upon his white steed, he followed hotly after her. All day he followed, and all night, calling after her and pleading for pity and pardon, but neither she nor her attendant damsels paid the slightest attention to his cries. Day after, day he followed her, but to no purpose. At last the lady and her maidens entered the forest and rode to the bank of a broad stream. They set their horses to the river, but when the lady saw that Graelent was about to follow them she turned and begged him to desist, telling him that it was death for him to cross that stream. Graelent did not heed her, but plunged into the torrent. The stream was deep and rapid, and presently he was torn from his saddle. Seeing this, the lady's attendants begged her to save him. Turning back, the lady clutched her lover by the belt and dragged him to the shore. He was well-nigh drowned, but under her care he speedily recovered, and, say the Breton folk, entered with her that realm of Fairyland into which penetrated Thomas the Rhymer, Ogier the Dane, and other heroes. His white steed when it escaped from the river grieved greatly for its master, rushing up and down the bank, neighing loudly, and pawing with its
hoofs upon the ground. Many men coveted so noble a charger, and tried to capture him, but all in vain, so each year, "in its season," as the old romance says, the forest is filled with the sorrowful neighing of the good steed which may not find its master.
The story of Graelent is one of those which deal with what is known to folk-lorists as the fairy-wife' subject. A taboo is always placed upon the mortal bridegroom. Sometimes he must not utter the name of his wife; in other tales, as in that of Melusine, he must not seek her on a certain day of the week. The essence of the story is, of course, that the taboo is broken, and in most cases the mortal husband loses his supernatural mate. Another incident in the general motif is the stealing of the fairy-woman's clothes. The idea is the same as that found in stories where the fisherman steals the sea-woman's skin canoe as a prelude to making her his wife, or the feather cloak of the swan-maiden is seized by the hunter when he finds her asleep, thus placing the supernatural maiden in his power. Among savages it is quite a common and usual circumstance for the spouses not to mention each other's names for months after marriage, nor even to see one another's faces. In the story under consideration the taboo consists in the mortal bridegroom being forbidden to allude in any circumstances to his supernatural wife, who is undoubtedly the same type of being encountered by Thomas the Rhymer and Bonny Kilmeny in the ballads related of them. They are denizens of a country, a fairy realm, which figures partly as an abode of the dead, and which we are certainly justified in identifying with the Celtic Otherworld. The river which the fairy-woman crosses bears a certain. resemblance to the Styx,
or she tells Graelent plainly that should he reach its opposite bank he is as good as dead. Fairyland in early Celtic lore may be a place of delight, but it is none the less one of death and remoteness.
Once more the scene is laid in Nantes, and "some harpers," says Marie, "call it the Lay of the Four Sorrows." In this city of Brittany dwelt a lady on whom four barons of great worship had set their love. They were not singular in this respect, as the damsel's bright eyes had set fire to the hearts of all the youths of the ancient town. She smiled upon them all, but favoured no one more than another. Out of this great company, however, the four noblemen in question had constituted themselves her particular squires. They vied with one another in the most earnest manner to gain her esteem; but she was equally gracious to all and it was impossible to say that she favoured any.
It was not surprising, then, that each one of the four nobles believed that the lady preferred him to the others. Each of them had received gifts from her, and each cried her name at tournaments. On the occasion of a great jousting, held without the walls of Nantes, the four lovers held the lists, and from all the surrounding realms and duchies came hardy knights to break a spear for the sake of chivalry.
From matins to vespers the friendly strife raged fiercely, and against the four champions of Nantes four foreign knights especially pitted themselves. Two of these were of Hainault, and the other two were Flemings. The two companies charged each other so desperately that the horses of all eight men were overthrown. The
four knights of Nantes rose lightly from the ground, but the four stranger knights lay still. Their friends, however, rushed to their rescue, and soon the challengers were lost in a sea of steel.
Now the lady in whose honour the lists were defended by these four brave brethren in arms sat beholding their prowess in the keenest anxiety. Soon the knights of Nantes were reinforced by their friends, and the strife waxed furiously, sword to sword and lance to lance. First one company and then the other gained the advantage, but, urged on by rashness, the four challenging champions charged boldly in front of their comrades and became separated from them, with the dire result that three of them were killed and the fourth was so grievously wounded that he was borne from the press in a condition hovering between life and death. So furious were the, stranger knights because of the resistance that had been made by the four champions that they cast their opponents' shields outside the lists. But the knights of Nantes won the day, and, raising their three slain comrades and him who was wounded, carried all four to the house of their lady-love.
When the sad procession reached her doors the lady was greatly grieved and cast down. To her three dead lovers she gave sumptuous burial in a fair abbey. As for the fourth, she tended him with such skill that ere long his wounds were healed and he was quite recovered. One summer day the knight and the lady sat together after meat, and a great sadness fell upon her because of the knights who had been slain in her cause. Her head sank upon her breast and she seemed lost in a reverie of sorrow. The knight, perceiving her distress, could not well understand what had wounded her so deeply.
"Lady," said he, "a great sorrow seems to be yours. Reveal your grief to me, and perchance I can find you comfort."
"Friend," replied the lady, "I grieve for your companions who are gone. Never was lady or damsel served by four such valiant knights, three of whom were slain in one single day. Pardon me if I call them to mind at this time, but it is my intention to make a lay in order that these champions and yourself may not be forgotten, and I will call it 'The Lay of the Four Sorrows.'"
"Nay, lady," said the knight, "call it not 'The Lay of the Four Sorrows,' but rather 'The Lay of the Dolorous Knight.' My three comrades are dead. They have gone to their place; no more hope have they of life; all their sorrows are ended and their love for you is as dead as they. I alone am here in life, but what have I to hope for? I find my life more bitter than they could find the grave. I see you in your comings and goings, I may speak with you, but I may not have your love. For this reason I am full of sorrow and cast down, and thus I beg that you give your lay my name and call it 'The Lay of the Dolorous Knight.'"
The lady looked earnestly upon him. "By my faith," she said, "you speak truly. The lay shall be known by the title you wish it to be."
So the lay was written and entitled as the knight desired it should be. "I heard no more," says Marie, "and nothing more I know. Perforce I must bring my story to a close."
The end of this lay is quite in the medieval manner, and fitly concludes this chapter. We are left absolutely in the dark as to whether the knight and the lady came
together at last. I for one do not blame Marie for this, as with the subtle sense of the fitness of things that belongs to all great artists she saw how much more effective it would be to leave matters as they were between the lovers. There are those who will blame her for her inconclusiveness; but let them bear in mind that just because of what they consider her failing in this respect they will not be likely to forget her tale, whereas had it ended with wedding-bells they would probably have stored it away in some mental attic with a thousand other dusty memories.