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Marjorie Strachey.

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served them who did not love and
honour Ash for her gentleness and
courtesy. At last, however, the knights
who held fiefs of her lord began to com-
plain that he had no heir to hold the
land after him, and they begged him to
find some lady of good birth whom he
might marry, and to put away his
mistress. They even threatened that if
he did not agree to their demands they
would cease to do him fealty, and would
leave his service ; and at that Gurun
gave way, and asked them whom they
would have him marry.

" Not far from here," answered the
knights, " there is a rich gentleman who
has for his heiress an only daughter called
Hazel. She will bring you a rich dowry,
and, besides, she is the most beautiful
girl in the countryside."

So the marriage was arranged, and all
the pages and servants of the household
were much grieved because they must



26 SAVITRI

lose their dear mistress, Ash. And she,
though sick with misery, gave no sign of
what she felt, but continued to serve
her lord with her accustomed diligence
and kindness.

On the day agreed upon for the wedding
the knight invited all his friends, and
among them the Archbishop of Dol, who
was to perform the ceremony. With
Hazel came her mother ; she was much
afraid that Gurun's mistress would turn
him against his bride, and she resolved
to try to persuade him to get rid of her
by marrying her to one of his servants.

The wedding feast was celebrated with
great magnificence and rejoicing. Ash
received the bride with much honour,
and served her and the other guests so
deftly and attentively that everyone ad-
mired her. She showed no grief nor
vexation, and even the bride's mother,
who watched her closely, could not help
loving her, and thought in her heart :

" If I had known what this woman was
like I would not have parted her from
her lord even for the sake of my own
daughter."



THE LAY OF THE ASH TREE 27

At night Ash went to the bed-chamber
to prepare the bridal bed.

" For," said she to herself, " I know
best how my dear lord likes to have it."
She made the bed, and when it was
ready she looked for some rich stuff to
throw over it, but all she could find was
an old piece of satin, worn and faded.
Grieving at this, and longing to serve
her lord well — perhaps for the last time
— she remembered her only possession —
the rich silk embroidered with wheels.
Directly she thought of it she ran to
fetch it, and, returning, spread it carefully
on the bridal bed.

Presently the bride's mother came into
the room to see if all was in order. She
instantly noticed the rich silk coverlet,
and, admiring its beauty, went up to look
at it more closely. Then she saw that
it was curiously embroidered with wheels,
and in a moment recognised it as the
silk in which, many years ago, she had
wrapped up the baby daughter whom
she had abandoned.

The thoughts|that came upon her made
her tremble, and she called Ash, who
came forward humbly, her hands clasped



28 SAVITRI

together and her eyes bent on the
ground.

" Fair child," said the lady, '^ hide
nothing from me. Where was this silk
found ? How did you get it ? Who
gave it to you ? Tell me — tell me who
gave it you ! "

" Lady," answered Ash, " it was given
me by the abbess who brought me up.
She told me to keep it carefully, for this
silk and a ring were left with me by those
who sent me to the convent."

" Oh, may I see the ring ? "

" Certainly, lady ; I will bring it."

When the lady saw the ring she knew
it, as she had known the silk ; and when
she had heard the whole story she could
not doubt that Ash was her own daughter.
Nor did she conceal it for a moment, but
cried out :

" You are my child ! " and then, from
the pity she felt, fell back in a faint.

When she recovered she sent immedi-
ately for her husband, and no sooner
did he enter the room than she fell at
his feet, kissing them, and begging for
forgiveness. He was much astonished
at her behaviour.



THE LAY OF THE ASH TREE 29

" What are you saying ? " he said.
" How can there be such a word between
us ? But if you wish, I pardon you.
What is it you want ? "

" My lord, now that you have par-
doned me, I will tell you. Long ago in
my unkindness I spoke foolishly of my
neighbour, and I slandered her because
of her twins. But I spoke to my own
hurt, for afterwards I myself had twins.
One of them I hid in a convent, sending
with her the silk and the ring you gave
me when you first spoke to me of love.
Now I can hide it no longer ; the silk
and the ring are found, and our daughter
is shown to be the lady who was so kind
and wise and beautiful that she was
loved by Gurun, who is married to her
sister."

" Indeed," said the baron, " it is
a great happiness to have our child
restored to us and to find her before we
had doubled the injury we have done her.
Come to me, dear daughter," and he took
in his arms and embraced the happy
Ash.

Without delay the father told the
whole story to Gurun and his guests.



30 SAVITRI

The Archbishop advised that nothing
further should be done that night, and
the next day he would annul the first
marriage and unite Gurun and Ash.
The father divided his possessions in two
equal parts between his two daughters,
and the new wedding was celebrated with
all possible joy and happiness. Hazel
returned home with her parents, and
in a short time was married to a rich and
noble gentleman.

When this adventure and the end of it
was known, the Bretons made a song of it,
called " The Lay of the Ash Tree."



YANKA AND HER BROTHERS

A MOTHER had nine dearly loved
sons, and the tenth child, the
dearest of all, was a daughter as beauti-
ful as the stars. The nine brothers
loved their sister with a great love, and
refused for her many great nobles who
asked her in marriage. At last, however.
Fate came, and Yanka loved a lord who
lived nine days' journey from her dwell-
ing-place. And thought the brothers
were grieved to part with^|her, they all
promised that if she married him they
would come and visit her every month
of every year.

So the marriage was decided, and when
the hour came there arrived thirty-six
guests riding black horses and bringing
for Yanka a beautiful white horse.

In the middle of the festivities,
Hussein, the youngest of the brothers,
turned pale with terror, for on the white



32 SAVITRI

horse, where the others saw only a harness
of silver and velvet, he saw a woman
sitting. She was dressed in white and
wore a long black veil. Her eyes were
icy and her face haggard. Hussein did
not know why he had turned pale at the
sight of her, for he thought she might
be a sister of the bridegroom. She dis-
mounted from the horse and mingled
with the crowd.

When the wedding festivities were
over, the brothers led their sister forward,
kissed her on the forehead, and lifted her
on to the velvet saddle of the beautiful
white horse. The thirty-six guests all
embraced the brothers, and the black-
veiled woman embraced them too. The
wedding party set off and soon dis-
appeared in the mountains.

For long the nine brothers gazed after
Yanka's shining crown, and when they
could see it no longer they returned to
their lonely house. They returned, and
suddenly each one of them felt an
agonising pain on his forehead in the
place where the pale woman had pressed
her cold lips. For the woman was
Mourtia, the Plague, and in nine days



YANKA AND HER BROTHERS 33

the nine brothers died of her kiss. The
mother buried them byherself — she buried
them all — and over the head of each son
she put a stone. Then she sat down
among the nine tombs and wept so
long and so bitterly that she became
blind.

When Yanka arrived at her lord's
white house she was happy. Then she
thought of her brothers and was less
happy ; but one thought consoled her :
they had promised that every month of
every year they would visit her, and she
waited, and every evening went out into
the white road to see if one of her brothers
was coming. She waited thus for nine
years, and her husband's sisters laughed
at her and said, " Surely thou art an out-
cast to thy brothers ; they despise thee
too much to visit thee." And Yanka
sighed and wondered what sin she had
committed that her brothers should
slight her so, and her grief deepened, and
there was nothing to console her.

One night Yanka was outside her house
watching the road as she had watched it
3



34 SAVITRI

in vain for nine years. Suddenly a
blackbird near her began to sing — a
blackbird announcing the arrival of a
guest.

" Oh, blackbird," cried Yanka, " dear
blackbird, have you come to bring me
good news ? "

She lifted her eyes, and riding down
the road she saw her youngest brother,
Hussein. She rushed towards him and
threw herself into his arms. She covered
his cheeks with kisses, and sobbing, half
with bitterness and half with joy, she
exclaimed, " Oh, Hussein, when I was
married, you and my brothers promised
you would visit me every month of every
year. Nine long years have passed, and
till this day not one of you has come."
For a moment she was silent, and then
she went on, " My brother, you are
deadly pale ; why are you so pale, as if
you had been long dead ? "

And Hussein answered, " Hush, my
sister. My eight brothers have all married,
and each one of them needed a dwelling-
place. Much toil was needed to build
those white dwelling-places, and it is
that which has made me look so pale."



YANKA AND HER BROTHERS 35

For three dap Hussein remained with
her, and Yanka prepared herself for a
journey : she got ready many beautiful
presents for her brothers and their wives
— silk shirts for her brothers, rings and
bracelets for their wives.-

And Hussein tried to dissuade her
from her intentions. " Stay here, dear
sister," he said ; " do not come with me,
but wait until our brothers come to
you." But she would not listen to her
brother, and when he started on his
journey she mounted his horse behind
him and went too.

They rode so swiftly that the nine
days' journey passed like a thought.

As they were going through a little
wood Yanka heard the nightingale singing
a strange song. " See," it sang — " see, a
dead brother riding with a living sister ! "

And she said to her brother, " Why
does the nightingale sing so sad a song ? "

And he answered, " It is a bird that
sings one day with tears and the next
with laughter."

As they approached their mother's
house Yanka wondered to see the fields
deserted and the gardens uncultivated.



36 SAVITRI

" Why are my brothers not working
on the land ? " she said to Hussein.

And he answered, " Because the summer
is over and the winter is coming."

" Why does nobody come to greet
me ? "

" When you are at home my mother
will tell you."

And as they approached nearer to their
mother's house, they came to a tall white
church which stood beside it.

Then Hussein said to his sister, " Let
us stop a moment ; when my last brother
was married I lost a golden ring here in
the churchyard. Let me go and see if
I can find it." He left her and returned
to his grave, and glided back into the
black earth.

For a long time Yanka waited for him,
but as he did not return she went on to
her mother's house and knocked at the
door. " Open the door," she cried ;
" make haste and open the door for me."

And her mother answered from within,
" Accursed Mourtia, Plague of God, is
it you at last ? Why did you take my
nine sons first and make their old mother
wait nine long years ? "



YANKA AND HER BROTHERS 37

And Yanka answered, " Dearest mother,
open the door ; it is not the Plague of
God who stands outside, but your
daughter Yanka."

At these words the mother opened
the door : she gave a loud cry, flung both
her arms round Yanka, and, clinging
close together, mother and daughter sank
to the ground, dead.



SAINT IRIA

THE noble Iria was sitting at her
window embroidering a cushion,
with a golden needle and a silver thimble,
when a knight passed by on his horse.
He knocked at the door and asked for
shelter for the night, but to Iria's great
grief her father refused.

" My lord father," she said, " the night
is coming ; there is no other shelter on
the road. Do not let it be said of us that
at the fall of night we closed our door
against someone who asked for our
hospitality." She begged him, she im-
plored him ; for a long time he resisted
her entreaties, but in the end he gave in.
When at last Iria had won his consent she
ran down the stairs, opened the door,
and let in the knight, who seemed well
satisfied. She led him to the hearth and
he sat down ; she brought him water

and he washed his hands ; she brought
38



SAINT IRIA 39

him a napkin and he dried them. Al-
though he did not speak to her she felt
that he was looking at her ; she raised
her eyes towards his, but he had fixed
his beautiful eyes on the ground. She
brought him supper and he ate heartily.
She prepared the bed and he laid himself
down. Then she said to him, " Good-
night," but he made no reply, and she
wondered in her heart if ever such dis-
courtesy had been seen before.

She went to bed herself and slept
heavily, but the knight did not sleep.
Half the night passed, and Iria was
awakened by the sound of someone in
her room. Suddenly she felt a hand on
her mouth : half-fainting she was picked
up, carried down the stairs, and placed
on a horse's back. The horse bounded
off ; it galloped and galloped as fast
as the wind. Iria did not struggle or
speak ; she did not open her eyes ; she
wept.

When they had galloped for seven
leagues the knight stopped and lifted her
off the horse. He set her on the grass
and implored her in passionate tones for
her love, but Iria only answered with tears.



40 SAVITRI

Then the knight said to her gently,
" What is your name, lady ? What is
your name, my soul ? "

" When I was in my own country I
was the noble Iria, but now in these
mountains I am Iria the Unhappy."

When he heard these words he was
seized with fury. " If that is how you
answer my love and my prayers you shall
be killed. My sword shall pierce your
hard heart ; you shall be buried at the
foot of a pine tree, and your body
covered over with green boughs."

At the end of seven long years the
knight was passing that same place, and
he saw a beautiful chapel built of white
marble, in front of which was sitting a
shepherd. " Tell me, shepherd of the
mountain, oh, little shepherd of my soul,
what is this beautiful chapel so finely
built of white marble ? "

" It is the Chapel of Saint Iria, the
noble Iria, who was cruelly killed here
by a wicked knight ; the Chapel rose of
itself on the very spot without the aid
of any man."

When the knight heard that, he flung



SAINT IRIA 41

himself on his knees. " Oh, Saint Iria
of my soul, my first love, forgive me the
dreadful death which this sword gave
you. I will become your pilgrim and
go on a long pilgrimage."

" Oh, Knight, rise up. How can I
forgive you for the cruel death that your
sword gave me ? It was a sin that only
Heaven can forgive. Dress yourself in
blue, which is the colour of Heaven, and
go forth on a long pilgrimage ; when
Heaven pardons you, I will pardon you."

The knight dressed himself in blue
and set off on a long pilgrimage. For
many years he wandered over the land,
but found no peace of mind ; for neither
Heaven nor Saint Iria would forgive him.
At last, in his wanderings, he came to
seven hills, and on the seven hills there
stood a town.

" What is the name of this town ? "
he asked ; and they told him it was
Rome, the Holy City. He went nearer,
and, behold ! the gate of the town
opened, and there came walking towards
him Saint Iria, the beautiful lady he had
assassinated far away in Portugal. Her
white dress was stained by the crimson



42 SAVITRI

blood which still flowed from the wound
he had made in her heart ; her cheeks
were pale and her eyes without sight.
But she smiled, and when she came near
to him she held out her hand and spoke
gently. " Return home in peace," she
said ; " Heaven has forgiven you, and I
forgive you too."



VASSILISSA THE WISE

COURTEOUS Prince Vladimir,
Tsar of Kieff, summoned to his
palace all his princes, nobles, and warriors,
and made a great feast for them. Amongst
them was young Stavros Godinovich.

He mounted the steps of the palace,
crossed himself, bowed low to all present,
and especially to Prince Vladimir and
his daughter Zabava, and took his place
at the royal table.

Evening came, and all the guests,
merry with wine, began to boast of
their prowess, their skill, or their great
possessions.

Stavros alone sat silent, neither eat-
ing nor drinking, hanging his head and
making no boast. Courteous Prince
Vladimir noticed him and, going up to
him, said, " Why do you sit so downcast,
Stavros Godinovich ? You do not drink



44 SAVITRI

the green wine, you do not eat the white
swan ; you sit silent and make no boast.
Have you done no great deeds, fought in
no desperate battles, have you no fine
palace, no hoards of merchandise, not
even a good old mother or pretty wife to
enable you to make a boast with the
others ? "

Then Stavros raised his head and re-
plied to the Tsar, " Yes, Prince Vladimir,
I can boast if need be. This wretched
town of Kieif is, after all, a mere hamlet.
The court of my palace would easily
contain the whole of Kieff. My palace
itself covers seven acres ; the walls of
white oak are hung with beaver skins
and the ceilings with black sables. The
floors are of silver, the fastenings and
hinges of steel. But of these things I do
not boast.

" I have thirty young shoemakers to
provide me with boots of green morocco
embroidered with silver. I wear them
one day, and then they are sold in the
market-place to great princes and noble-
men. I have thirty young tailors to
provide me with purple cloaks lined with
silk. I wear them one day, and then they



VASSILISSA THE WISE 45

are sold in the market-place to emperors
and tsars. But of these things I do not
boast.

" I have a golden-coated mare ; half her
foals are black as jet and half are white
as milk. The best of them I ride on
myself and the worst I sell to mighty
warriors for great sums of money, so that
my treasure is never exhausted. But of
these things I do not boast.

" Of one thing, however, I will boast,
and that is my wife, Vassilissa the Wise.
She is the daughter of a peasant ; she bears
a crescent moon upon her forehead ; and
were she to come to Kieff town she could
deceive all the nobles and princes and drive
you, courteous Prince Vladimir, out of
your senses ! "

At these words all the assembly was
struck dumb, and Vladimir, enraged
beyond measure, cried out, " Do you
venture to speak so to me ? Insolent
wretch, you shall have iron fetters on
your hands and feet, and for six years
you shall lie in a dungeon forty fathoms
deep with oats and water for your food
— unless, indeed, this Vassilissa can deceive
all my nobles and princes, drive me out of



46 SAVITRI

my wits, and deliver you from your
captivity."

So Stavros was flung into a dungeon
below the earth, and Vladimir sent
messengers to bring Vassilissa to Kieff,
and to seal up the doors and gates of his
palace. But before the messengers could
start, a servant of Stavros galloped off
to the palace of Godinovich and told his
wife all that had happened at Kieff.
Vassilissa made no outcry or lamentation.
She sat down on her folding-chair, fixed
her eyes on the ground, and for three
hours reflected profoundly.

" Gold and silver will not ransom
Stavros," she said to herself, " nor can
he be rescued by force of arms. The
only thing to save him is woman's
cunning."

Thereupon she summoned her maids
and gave her orders. " Quick ! " she
cried. " Cut off my long locks, dress me
in men's clothes, and saddle me a horse."

When this was done she summoned
her bodyguard of forty handsome young
men and set off on the road to Kieff.
They had not gone half-way when they
met Vladimir's messenger, and both of



VASSILISSA THE WISE 47

them leapt from their horses, saluted,
and took each other by the hand.

" Where are you going, prince ? " asked
the messenger.

" I am an ambassador from Tsar
Kaline," answered Vassilissa, " and I am
journeying to Kieff to demand a twelve
years' tribute and the hand of his daughter
Zabava in marriage. And you, prince,
where are you going ? "

" To seal up the doors of Stavros
Godinovich's palace, and to bring back
his wife to Kieff."

" That you need not do," said Vassilissa,
" for I myself have just come from the
palace. It is shut up and no one is
there — they told me that Stavros was at
Kieff and his wife on a long journey."

On hearing this the messenger turned
back, and, riding swiftly back to Kieff,
warned courteous Prince Vladimir of the
approach of a terrible ambassador from
Tsar Kaline. Vassilissa followed more
slowly. Outside the town of Kieff she
ordered the young men of her body-
guard to set up a white pavilion, and told
them to wait for her. All alone she rode
into Kieff between the scarlet poles



48 SAVITRl

Prince Vladimir had erected to welcome
the terrible ambassador, leapt her horse
over the palace walls and ditches, and
entered the courtyard. There she dis-
mounted, thrust her spear straight down
between the paving-stones, flung her
silk bridle over its golden spike, and bowed
low to all present, especially to Prince
Vladimir and his daughter Zabava.

" Welcome, terrible ambassador," said
courteous Prince Vladimir. " What is
your name, and why have you come ? "

. " My name is Vassily," answered
Vassilissa, " and I am come to demand
from you a twelve years' tribute and the
hand of your daughter in marriage."

'' I will pay the tribute, Vassily, but
before I give you my daughter in marriage
I will ask her what she has to say concern-
ing the matter."

So Vladimir led Zabava to one side
and asked her what she thought of
Vassily for a husband.

" A husband, my father ! " exclaimed
Zabava. " This terrible ambassador would
make a strange husband ! Can you not
see that it is no man, but a • woman ?
Can you not see that he walks as a duck



VASSILISSA THE WISE 49

swims and speaks as a tit pipes ? Can
you not see that when he sits down he
presses his knees together ? Can you not
see how white and delicate his hands are,
and that the mark of rings still remains
on them ? "

At this, courteous Prince Vladimir was
perplexed, for he did not dare to refuse
his daughter to the terrible ambassador,
and yet did not wish to make a fool of
himself by marrying her to a woman.
At last he thought of a test by which
to make sure of the truth.

" Vassily," said he, " I invite you to
come with me to the bath that you may
refresh yourself after your journey."

" Gladly," replied Vassilissa ; " I wish
for nothing better."

And while courteous Prince Vladimir
was taking ofi his clothes and preparing
himself she hurried to the bath, wet her
head, and came out just as he was going
in.

" Why were you in such a hurry ? "
asked Vladimir. " Why did not you wait
for me ? "

" You are at home and at leisure,"
replied Vassilissa, " but I am a traveller

4



50 SAVITRI

and have no time for delays. I am come
to woo your daughter. Give her to
me."

Then courteous Prince Vladimir
thought of another test.

" Will you not rest awhile on this
couch ? " he said to the terrible ambas-
sador ; for he thought to himself, " If
he is a man there will be a deep hollow
left on the couch under his shoulders ;
but if it is a woman the deepest hollow
will be under her hips."

Now Vassilissa understood the wile of
courteous Prince Vladimir, so she lay on
the couch with her head at the foot,
and when the Tsar returned to examine
the hollows he was deceived.

But Zabava still begged her father
not to marry her to the terrible am-
bassador. " If you do," she protested,
" you will be mocked at by all your
nobles and by all the people of Kieff."

So courteous Prince Vladimir thought
of another test.

" Vassily," said he, " I invite you to a
shooting match with my young men."

" I accept gladly," replied Vassilissa,
and she sent for her bow and arrows,



VASSILISSA THE WISE 51

left behind in "the pavilion outside the
walls. And such was the weight of the
bow that three men held one end and
three the other, and ten dragged along
the quiver containing the arrows.

Then courteous Prince Vladimir chose
out twelve of his best archers ; and
the mark was an ancient oak, far away,


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