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French Mediaeval Romances from the Lays of Marie de France online

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saying that Launfal hoped neither for refuge nor for succour from
the lady, and Arthur urged them to a speedy ending, because of the
prompting of the Queen.

The judges were about to give sentence upon Launfal, when they saw
two maidens come riding towards the palace, upon two white ambling
palfreys. Very sweet and dainty were these maidens, and richly clothed
in garments of crimson sendal, closely girt and fashioned to their
bodies. All men, old and young, looked willingly upon them, for fair
they were to see. Gawain, and three knights of his company, went
straight to Launfal, and showed him these maidens, praying him to
say which of them was his friend. But he answered never a word. The
maidens dismounted from their palfreys, and coming before the dais
where the King was seated, spake him fairly, as they were fair.

"Sire, prepare now a chamber, hung with silken cloths, where it is
seemly for my lady to dwell; for she would lodge with you awhile."

This gift the King granted gladly. He called to him two knights of his
household, and bade them bestow the maidens in such chambers as were
fitting to their degree. The maidens being gone, the King required of
his barons to proceed with their judgment, saying that he had sore
displeasure at the slowness of the cause.

"Sire," replied the barons, "we rose from Council, because of the
damsels who entered in the hall. We will at once resume the sitting,
and give our judgment without more delay."

The barons again were gathered together, in much thought and trouble,
to consider this matter. There was great strife and dissension amongst
them, for they knew not what to do. In the midst of all this noise and
tumult, there came two other damsels riding to the hall on two Spanish
mules. Very richly arrayed were these damsels in raiment of fine
needlework, and their kirtles were covered by fresh fair mantles,
embroidered with gold. Great joy had Launfal's comrades when they
marked these ladies. They said between themselves that doubtless they
came for the succour of the good knight. Gawain, and certain of his
company, made haste to Launfal, and said, "Sir, be not cast down.
Two ladies are near at hand, right dainty of dress, and gracious of
person. Tell us truly, for the love of God, is one of these your

But Launfal answered very simply that never before had he seen these
damsels with his eyes, nor known and loved them in his heart.

The maidens dismounted from their mules, and stood before Arthur, in
the sight of all. Greatly were they praised of many, because of their
beauty, and of the colour of their face and hair. Some there were who
deemed already that the Queen was overborne.

The elder of the damsels carried herself modestly and well, and
sweetly told over the message wherewith she was charged.

"Sire, make ready for us chambers, where we may abide with our lady,
for even now she comes to speak with thee."

The King commanded that the ladies should be led to their companions,
and bestowed in the same honourable fashion as they. Then he bade the
lords of his household to consider their judgment, since he would
endure no further respite. The Court already had given too much time
to the business, and the Queen was growing wrathful, because of the
blame that was hers. Now the judges were about to proclaim their
sentence, when, amidst the tumult of the town, there came riding to
the palace the flower of all the ladies of the world. She came mounted
upon a palfrey, white as snow, which carried her softly, as though she
loved her burthen. Beneath the sky was no goodlier steed, nor one more
gentle to the hand. The harness of the palfrey was so rich, that no
king on earth might hope to buy trappings so precious, unless he sold
or set his realm in pledge. The Maiden herself showed such as I will
tell you. Passing slim was the lady, sweet of bodice and slender of
girdle. Her throat was whiter than snow on branch, and her eyes were
like flowers in the pallor of her face. She had a witching mouth, a
dainty nose, and an open brow. Her eyebrows were brown, and her golden
hair parted in two soft waves upon her head. She was clad in a shift
of spotless linen, and above her snowy kirtle was set a mantle of
royal purple, clasped upon her breast. She carried a hooded falcon
upon her glove, and a greyhound followed closely after. As the Maiden
rode at a slow pace through the streets of the city, there was none,
neither great nor small, youth nor sergeant, but ran forth from his
house, that he might content his heart with so great beauty. Every man
that saw her with his eyes, marvelled at a fairness beyond that of any
earthly woman. Little he cared for any mortal maiden, after he had
seen this sight. The friends of Sir Launfal hastened to the knight, to
tell him of his lady's succour, if so it were according to God's will.

"Sir comrade, truly is not this your friend? This lady is neither
black nor golden, mean nor tall. She is only the most lovely thing in
all the world."

When Launfal heard this, he sighed, for by their words he knew again
his friend. He raised his head, and as the blood rushed to his face,
speech flowed from his lips.

"By my faith," cried he, "yes, she is indeed my friend. It is a small
matter now whether men slay me, or set me free; for I am made whole of
my hurt just by looking on her face."

The Maiden entered in the palace - where none so fair had come
before - and stood before the King, in the presence of his household.
She loosed the clasp of her mantle, so that men might the more easily
perceive the grace of her person. The courteous King advanced to meet
her, and all the Court got them on their feet, and pained themselves
in her service. When the lords had gazed upon her for a space, and
praised the sum of her beauty, the lady spake to Arthur in this
fashion, for she was anxious to begone.

"Sire, I have loved one of thy vassals, - the knight who stands in
bonds, Sir Launfal. He was always misprized in thy Court, and his
every action turned to blame. What he said, that thou knowest; for
over hasty was his tongue before the Queen. But he never craved her in
love, however loud his boasting. I cannot choose that he should come
to hurt or harm by me. In the hope of freeing Launfal from his bonds,
I have obeyed thy summons. Let now thy barons look boldly upon my
face, and deal justly in this quarrel between the Queen and me."

The King commanded that this should be done, and looking upon her
eyes, not one of the judges but was persuaded that her favour exceeded
that of the Queen.

Since then Launfal had not spoken in malice against his lady, the
lords of the household gave him again his sword. When the trial had
come thus to an end the Maiden took her leave of the King, and made
her ready to depart. Gladly would Arthur have had her lodge with him
for a little, and many a lord would have rejoiced in her service, but
she might not tarry. Now without the hall stood a great stone of dull
marble, where it was the wont of lords, departing from the Court, to
climb into the saddle, and Launfal by the stone. The Maiden came
forth from the doors of the palace, and mounting on the stone, seated
herself on the palfrey, behind her friend. Then they rode across the
plain together, and were no more seen.

The Bretons tell that the knight was ravished by his lady to an
island, very dim and very fair, known as Avalon. But none has had
speech with Launfal and his faery love since then, and for my part I
can tell you no more of the matter.



Once upon a time there lived in Normandy two lovers, who were passing
fond, and were brought by Love to Death. The story of their love was
bruited so abroad, that the Bretons made a song in their own tongue,
and named this song the Lay of the Two Lovers.

In Neustria - that men call Normandy - there is verily a high and
marvellously great mountain, where lie the relics of the Two Children.
Near this high place the King of those parts caused to be built a
certain fair and cunning city, and since he was lord of the Pistrians,
it was known as Pistres. The town yet endures, with its towers and
houses, to bear witness to the truth; moreover the country thereabouts
is known to us all as the Valley of Pistres.

This King had one fair daughter, a damsel sweet of face and gracious
of manner, very near to her father's heart, since he had lost his
Queen. The maiden increased in years and favour, but he took no heed
to her trothing, so that men - yea, even his own people - blamed him
greatly for this thing. When the King heard thereof he was passing
heavy and dolent, and considered within himself how he might be
delivered from this grief. So then, that none should carry off his
child, he caused it to be proclaimed, both far and near, by script and
trumpet, that he alone should wed the maid, who would bear her in his
arms, to the pinnacle of the great and perilous mountain, and that
without rest or stay. When this news was noised about the country,
many came upon the quest. But strive as they would they might not
enforce themselves more than they were able. However mighty they were
of body, at the last they failed upon the mountain, and fell with
their burthen to the ground. Thus, for a while, was none so bold as to
seek the high Princess.

Now in this country lived a squire, son to a certain count of that
realm, seemly of semblance and courteous, and right desirous to win
that prize, which was so coveted of all. He was a welcome guest at the
Court, and the King talked with him very willingly. This squire had
set his heart upon the daughter of the King, and many a time spoke in
her ear, praying her to give him again the love he had bestowed upon
her. So seeing him brave and courteous, she esteemed him for the gifts
which gained him the favour of the King, and they loved together in
their youth. But they hid this matter from all about the Court. This
thing was very grievous to them, but the damoiseau thought within
himself that it were good to bear the pains he knew, rather than
to seek out others that might prove sharper still. Yet in the end,
altogether distraught by love, this prudent varlet sought his friend,
and showed her his case, saying that he urgently required of her that
she would flee with him, for no longer could he endure the weariness
of his days. Should he ask her of the King, well he knew that by
reason of his love he would refuse the gift, save he bore her in his
arms up the steep mount. Then the maiden made answer to her lover, and

"Fair friend, well I know you may not carry me to that high place.
Moreover should we take to flight, my father would suffer wrath and
sorrow beyond measure, and go heavily all his days. Certainly my love
is too fond to plague him thus, and we must seek another counsel, for
this is not to my heart. Hearken well. I have kindred in Salerno, of
rich estate. For more than thirty years my aunt has studied there the
art of medicine, and knows the secret gift of every root and herb.
If you hasten to her, bearing letters from me, and show her your
adventure, certainly she will find counsel and cure. Doubt not that
she will discover some cunning simple, that will strengthen your body,
as well as comfort your heart. Then return to this realm with your
potion, and ask me at my father's hand. He will deem you but a
stripling, and set forth the terms of his bargain, that to him alone
shall I be given who knows how to climb the perilous mountain, without
pause or rest, bearing his lady between his arms."

When the varlet heard this cunning counsel of the maiden, he rejoiced
greatly, and thanking her sweetly for her rede, craved permission to
depart. He returned to his own home, and gathering together a goodly
store of silken cloths most precious, he bestowed his gear upon the
pack horses, and made him ready for the road. So with a little company
of men, mounted on swift palfreys, and most privy to his mind, he
arrived at Salerno. Now the squire made no long stay at his lodging,
but as soon as he might, went to the damsel's kindred to open out his
mind. He delivered to the aunt the letters he carried from his friend,
and bewailed their evil case. When the dame had read these letters
with him, line by line, she charged him to lodge with her awhile, till
she might do according to his wish. So by her sorceries, and for
the love of her maid, she brewed such a potion that no man, however
wearied and outworn, but by drinking this philtre, would not be
refreshed in heart and blood and bones. Such virtue had this medicine,
directly it were drunken. This simple she poured within a little
flacket, and gave it to the varlet, who received the gift with great
joy and delight, and returned swiftly to his own land.

The varlet made no long sojourn in his home. He repaired straightway
to the Court, and, seeking out the King, required of him his fair
daughter in marriage, promising, for his part, that were she given
him, he would bear her in his arms to the summit of the mount. The
King was no wise wrath at his presumption. He smiled rather at his
folly, for how should one so young and slender succeed in a business
wherein so many mighty men had failed. Therefore he appointed a
certain day for this judgment. Moreover he caused letters to be
written to his vassals and his friends - passing none by - bidding them
to see the end of this adventure. Yea, with public cry and sound of
trumpet he bade all who would, come to behold the stripling carry his
fair daughter to the pinnacle of the mountain. And from every region
round about men came to learn the issue of this thing. But for her
part the fair maiden did all that she was able to bring her love to a
good end. Ever was it fast day and fleshless day with her, so that by
any means she might lighten the burthen that her friend must carry in
his arms.

Now on the appointed day this young dansellon came very early to the
appointed place, bringing the flacket with him. When the great company
were fully met together, the King led forth his daughter before them;
and all might see that she was arrayed in nothing but her smock. The
varlet took the maiden in his arms, but first he gave her the flask
with the precious brewage to carry, since for pride he might not
endure to drink therefrom, save at utmost peril. The squire set forth
at a great pace, and climbed briskly till he was halfway up the mount.
Because of the joy he had in clasping his burthen, he gave no thought
to the potion. But she - she knew the strength was failing in his

"Fair friend," said she, "well I know that you tire: drink now, I pray
you, of the flacket, and so shall your manhood come again at need."

But the varlet answered,

"Fair love, my heart is full of courage; nor for any reason will I
pause, so long as I can hold upon my way. It is the noise of all this
folk - the tumult and the shouting - that makes my steps uncertain.
Their cries distress me, I do not dare to stand."

But when two thirds of the course was won, the grasshopper would have
tripped him off his feet. Urgently and often the maiden prayed him,

"Fair friend, drink now of thy cordial."

But he would neither hear, nor give credence to her words. A mighty
anguish filled his bosom. He climbed upon the summit of the mountain,
and pained himself grievously to bring his journey to an end. This he
might not do. He reeled and fell, nor could he rise again, for the
heart had burst within his breast.

When the maiden saw her lover's piteous plight, she deemed that he had
swooned by reason of his pain. She kneeled hastily at his side, and
put the enchanted brewage to his lips, but he could neither drink nor
speak, for he was dead, as I have told you. She bewailed his evil lot,
with many shrill cries, and flung the useless flacket far away. The
precious potion bestrewed the ground, making a garden of that desolate
place. For many saving herbs have been found there since that day by
the simple folk of that country, which from the magic philtre derived
all their virtue.

But when the maiden knew that her lover was dead, she made such
wondrous sorrow, as no man had ever seen. She kissed his eyes and
mouth, and falling upon his body, took him in her arms, and pressed
him closely to her breast. There was no heart so hard as not to be
touched by her sorrow; for in this fashion died a dame, who was fair
and sweet and gracious, beyond the wont of the daughters of men.

Now the King and his company, since these two lovers came not again,
presently climbed the mountain to learn their end. But when the King
came upon them lifeless, and fast in that embrace, incontinent he fell
to the ground, bereft of sense. After his speech had returned to him,
he was passing heavy, and lamented their doleful case, and thus did
all his people with him.

Three days they kept the bodies of these two fair children from earth,
with uncovered face. On the third day they sealed them fast in a
goodly coffin of marble, and by the counsel of all men, laid them
softly to rest on that mountain where they died. Then they departed
from them, and left them together, alone.

Since this adventure of the Two Children this hill is known as the
Mountain of the Two Lovers, and their story being bruited abroad, the
Breton folk have made a Lay thereof, even as I have rehearsed before



Amongst the tales I tell you once again, I would not forget the Lay of
the Were-Wolf. Such beasts as he are known in every land. Bisclavaret
he is named in Brittany; whilst the Norman calls him Garwal.

It is a certain thing, and within the knowledge of all, that many a
christened man has suffered this change, and ran wild in woods, as
a Were-Wolf. The Were-Wolf is a fearsome beast. He lurks within the
thick forest, mad and horrible to see. All the evil that he may, he
does. He goeth to and fro, about the solitary place, seeking man, in
order to devour him. Hearken, now, to the adventure of the Were-Wolf,
that I have to tell.

In Brittany there dwelt a baron who was marvellously esteemed of all
his fellows. He was a stout knight, and a comely, and a man of office
and repute. Right private was he to the mind of his lord, and dear to
the counsel of his neighbours. This baron was wedded to a very worthy
dame, right fair to see, and sweet of semblance. All his love was set
on her, and all her love was given again to him. One only grief had
this lady. For three whole days in every week her lord was absent from
her side. She knew not where he went, nor on what errand. Neither did
any of his house know the business which called him forth.

On a day when this lord was come again to his house, altogether
joyous and content, the lady took him to task, right sweetly, in
this fashion, "Husband," said she, "and fair, sweet friend, I have a
certain thing to pray of you. Right willingly would I receive this
gift, but I fear to anger you in the asking. It is better for me to
have an empty hand, than to gain hard words."

When the lord heard this matter, he took the lady in his arms, very
tenderly, and kissed her.

"Wife," he answered, "ask what you will. What would you have, for it
is yours already?"

"By my faith," said the lady, "soon shall I be whole. Husband, right
long and wearisome are the days that you spend away from your home.
I rise from my bed in the morning, sick at heart, I know not why. So
fearful am I, lest you do aught to your loss, that I may not find any
comfort. Very quickly shall I die for reason of my dread. Tell me now,
where you go, and on what business! How may the knowledge of one who
loves so closely, bring you to harm?"

"Wife," made answer the lord, "nothing but evil can come if I tell you
this secret. For the mercy of God do not require it of me. If you but
knew, you would withdraw yourself from my love, and I should be lost

When the lady heard this, she was persuaded that her baron sought to
put her by with jesting words. Therefore she prayed and required
him the more urgently, with tender looks and speech, till he was
overborne, and told her all the story, hiding naught.

"Wife, I become Bisclavaret. I enter in the forest, and live on prey
and roots, within the thickest of the wood."

After she had learned his secret, she prayed and entreated the more as
to whether he ran in his raiment, or went spoiled of vesture.

"Wife," said he, "I go naked as a beast."

"Tell me, for hope of grace, what you do with your clothing?"

"Fair wife, that will I never. If I should lose my raiment, or even be
marked as I quit my vesture, then a Were-Wolf I must go for all the
days of my life. Never again should I become man, save in that hour my
clothing were given back to me. For this reason never will I show my

"Husband," replied the lady to him, "I love you better than all the
world. The less cause have you for doubting my faith, or hiding any
tittle from me. What savour is here of friendship? How have I made
forfeit of your love; for what sin do you mistrust my honour? Open now
your heart, and tell what is good to be known."

So at the end, outwearied and overborne by her importunity, he could
no longer refrain, but told her all.

"Wife," said he, "within this wood, a little from the path, there is a
hidden way, and at the end thereof an ancient chapel, where oftentimes
I have bewailed my lot. Near by is a great hollow stone, concealed by
a bush, and there is the secret place where I hide my raiment, till I
would return to my own home."

On hearing this marvel the lady became sanguine of visage, because of
her exceeding fear. She dared no longer to lie at his side, and turned
over in her mind, this way and that, how best she could get her from
him. Now there was a certain knight of those parts, who, for a great
while, had sought and required this lady for her love. This knight had
spent long years in her service, but little enough had he got thereby,
not even fair words, or a promise. To him the dame wrote a letter, and
meeting, made her purpose plain.

"Fair friend," said she, "be happy. That which you have coveted so
long a time, I will grant without delay. Never again will I deny your
suit. My heart, and all I have to give, are yours, so take me now as
love and dame."

Right sweetly the knight thanked her for her grace, and pledged her
faith and fealty. When she had confirmed him by an oath, then she told
him all this business of her lord - why he went, and what he became,
and of his ravening within the wood. So she showed him of the chapel,
and of the hollow stone, and of how to spoil the Were-Wolf of his
vesture. Thus, by the kiss of his wife, was Bisclavaret betrayed.
Often enough had he ravished his prey in desolate places, but from
this journey he never returned. His kinsfolk and acquaintance came
together to ask of his tidings, when this absence was noised abroad.
Many a man, on many a day, searched the woodland, but none might find
him, nor learn where Bisclavaret was gone.

The lady was wedded to the knight who had cherished her for so long a
space. More than a year had passed since Bisclavaret disappeared. Then
it chanced that the King would hunt in that self-same wood where the
Were-Wolf lurked. When the hounds were unleashed they ran this way and
that, and swiftly came upon his scent. At the view the huntsman winded
on his horn, and the whole pack were at his heels. They followed him
from morn to eve, till he was torn and bleeding, and was all adread
lest they should pull him down. Now the King was very close to the
quarry, and when Bisclavaret looked upon his master, he ran to him for
pity and for grace. He took the stirrup within his paws, and fawned
upon the prince's foot. The King was very fearful at this sight, but
presently he called his courtiers to his aid.

"Lords," cried he, "hasten hither, and see this marvellous thing. Here
is a beast who has the sense of man. He abases himself before his foe,
and cries for mercy, although he cannot speak. Beat off the hounds,
and let no man do him harm. We will hunt no more to-day, but return to
our own place, with the wonderful quarry we have taken."

The King turned him about, and rode to his hall, Bisclavaret following
at his side. Very near to his master the Were-Wolf went, like any dog,
and had no care to seek again the wood. When the King had brought him
safely to his own castle, he rejoiced greatly, for the beast was fair
and strong, no mightier had any man seen. Much pride had the King in
his marvellous beast. He held him so dear, that he bade all those who

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