Renaud de Beaujeu

Le Bel Inconnu (The Fair Unknown)

Part I

They came to a clearing midst the trees, The perfume of whose grass did please.

Moritz Ludwig von Schwind (Austrian, 1804-1871)

When evening quenched the sun’s last ray,

They came to a clearing midst the trees,

The perfume of whose grass did please.

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2023, All Rights Reserved.

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Translator’s Introduction

Little is known for certain of Renaud de Beaujeu whose one major work is Le Bel Inconnu, ‘The Fair Unknown’, composed in the late-twelfth or early-thirteenth century in rhyming couplets. He may have been that Renaud de Bâgé (or Baugé), lord of Saint-Trivier and Cuisery, born in 1165, died 1230, who was the third son of Renaud III, lord of Bâgé (Bâgé-le-Chastel, Aisnes) from 1153 to 1180. The latter died fighting against the lords of Beaujeu and the counts of Mâconnais, who resented the powerful seigneury of Bâgé. Renaud’s poem survives in a single manuscript: Chantilly, Bibliothèque du Château, 472 (134ra-153 bis ra). An Arthurian romance, it relates the adventures of the knight Gingalain, the Fair Unknown, who is torn between the love of two women, la Pucelle a Blanches Mains (‘The Maid of the White Hands’) of the Golden Isle, and Blonde Esmerée (‘The Fair and Radiant One’), Queen of Wales.

Le Bel Inconnu

The author’s introduction

She who in her power, holds me,

A tale of love, sans treachery,

Inspires me to write, in verse,

And so, a romance I rehearse,

A fine tale of high adventure.

Loving her beyond all measure,

That history I now commence.

God’s aid e’er brings us wit and sense,

And so, I will not fret, but show

The skill and learning that I know.

The Court of King Arthur at Caerleon

At Caerleon, beside the sea,

The king was crowned, publicly,

Before the court he commanded,

In August, as he’d demanded.

Great was the court of Arthur there,

As was that city rich and fair.

When all the barons were in place,

There shone many a noble face;

Great was the court assembled so,

As he’d ordained, a mighty show,

And great the joy upon that day;

You might have heard the jongleurs play

On bagpipe, harp, and viol there,

And sweet words filling all the air,

As the singers sang their songs

Of fine adventure, righted wrongs.

There was many a valiant knight,

Brave and handsome to the sight.

Naught but the truth I tell to you,

For every word of this tale is true.

The roll-call of noble knights

King Lot, King Urien, as well

As their brother, King Augusel,

Whom Arthur greatly loved, were there.

Hoel, Florien, that kingly pair,

Briés de Gonefort, and Tristan,

Gerins de Chartres, and Erians,

Gawain, and Bedivere, that day,

King Enauder, and Count Riciers;

Erec was there, King Lac’s bold son,

Lancelot of the Lake made one,

Gales le Chauve, and Guerrehés,

And Tor, the son of King Arés,

Dinaus and Count Oduïns,

And Caradoc, and Carentins;

Mordred was there, and Segurés,

Of Baladingan, the Chevalier,

King Mark, too, and king Amangon;  

There, the Fair Coward made one,

He of the Ill-Fitting Coat, see,

Keus d’Estraus, Aquins d’Orbrie,

And Guinlain, he of Tintagel,

Free of ire, to whom life seemed well;

Kay, too, the Seneschal, was there,

He called for folk water to bear

That they might wash their hands, that host,

Of knights and ladies, the hall did boast.

Water was called for, through the court,

And promptly that water was brought.

All washed their hands, and sat to dine.

Bedivere filled a cup with wine,

And served the King, while Sir Kay

Saw to the meal, midst that array.

All of the tables he observed,

To see that all were nobly served.

Many a fine young man had he,

And of brave knights full many,

Many he had to aid him well,

So claims the tale that I retell.

An unknown knight appears at the feast and asks a boon

Behold a stranger now appeared,

Upon his steed, the king he neared,

And all of azure was his shield,

A lion ermine graced that field.

Before the king he rode outright,

Seeming a true and proper knight.

Saluting the king, thereafter

He then greeted every other.

The king saluted him, also,

Who in responding proved not slow,

And said to the young knight: ‘Descend!’

‘Rather,’ said he, ‘an ear, now, lend.

Arthur, I come to view your court,

For, right or wrong, a boon is sought;

The boon I seek, now grant to me;

Will you do so, and willingly?

Grant me a boon without a thought;

One so noble, refuses naught.’

‘I will grant it, indeed,’ said he,

The youth thanked him, courteously.

The valets ran to remove his gear,

And guard it, while the knight drew near.

Gawain welcomes the knight and seats him at his side

Gawain the courteous then brought

A rich mantle fit for the court,

Since the knight but a tunic wore;

And fine he looked, that bachelor.

Said King Arthur: ‘Behold, a knight!

One it seems that knows how to fight.’

All those who looked on, cried also,

That none so handsome did they know.

His hands he washed and, after that,

Gawain seated him; down he sat.

Forever the soul of courtesy,

Gawain dined in his company.

Arthur sends Bedivere to ask the stranger’s name

The king addressed Sir Bedivere:

‘To the unknown knight draw near,

He who of me a boon did claim,

And ask him what might be his name.’

‘I shall do so,’ said Bedivere,

And, in a moment, he drew near.

‘Sir,’ said he, ‘the king demands,

Prays you, yet, in a word, commands,

That you should tell me your true name;

And you shall prosper by that same.’

The knight replied: ‘Why, truth be known,

A name I lack, but that alone

My mother gave to me, Dear Son,

As for my father, I’ve known none.’

Bedivere returned to the king,

Who sought the news he did bring,

‘And his name?’ ‘Sire, he has none,

Nor has heard such from anyone,

Except that his mother called him

Dear Son when she addressed him.’

‘I’ll grant him a name;’ Arthur said.

‘Since he nor I know whence he’s bred;

Yet a beauty but seldom seen

Nature has granted him; I mean

That glowing beauty, that is his,

And since he knows not who he is,

I shall call him the Fair Unknown,

And he shall go by that alone!’

An unknown maiden and a dwarf now appear

When these events had come and gone,

Ere the tables were cleared, anon

A maiden arrived at the court,

Fair in form and face, lacking naught

Of beauty, and in samite dressed;

Her beauty eclipsed all the rest.

A face white as the lily blows,

Her cheeks as crimson as the rose,

A smiling mouth, and eyes blue-grey,

White shapely hands she did display,

A lovely head of pure blonde hair,

No man’s, no woman’s, showed as fair,

Whereon a coronet of gold,

Many a precious gem did hold.

Upon a dappled grey she rode,

No queen a finer steed bestrode;

With fine silk the saddle was clad,

With hyacinthine gems it had

Been adorned in every part,

And rich enamels, with rare art:

What of its harness shall be told?

The bit was wrought of purest gold,

Precious stones studded the bridle,

Gold stirrups hung from the saddle.

A dwarf accompanied the maid,

No fool or villain there displayed,

But noble and courtly was he,

Well-formed, and nigh as fair as she,

And he no other fault possessed

But being shorter than the rest.

His robe dyed scarlet, trimmed with vair,

The dwarf had elegance to spare,

His robe indeed made to measure,

He was a most splendid creature.

In his hand a whip he bore,

And drove the palfrey on before,

Upon which the maid was riding.

She halted, and greeted the king,

Then all the company together,

Saluting one, and next another.

The king saluted her in turn;

Many a fair glance she did earn.

The maiden addresses King Arthur

To the king, the maid said, clearly:

‘Arthur, hearken now and hear me.

The Daughter of King Gringras bade

Me greet you, for she seeks your aid,

Finding herself now in great need.

A single knight would serve, indeed,

One knight alone would rescue her:

For God’s sake, let her not suffer,

Noble king; sore her grief and pain,

Deep is her sorrow, great her bane.  

Send her such a knight as will

The need she has for aid fulfil,

The best you have here at your court;

For God’s sake, help her as you ought.

Alas! What grief my lady knows!

Great honour he shall earn that goes

To her aid, and saves her from this,

And dares the trial of the Cruel Kiss.

Yet the courage that he will need

Is greater than was e’er decreed.

A lesser man that seeks this trial

Will grace his bier in no long while.’

She who sought aid for her lady,

Went by the fair name of Hélie.

The Fair Unknown claims the right to attempt the trial

The king looked all about his court

To know which knight this trial sought:

But none claimed the priority,

For all were filled with fear lest he

Commanded that they undertake

The quest, and set their life at stake;

All, that is, but the Fair Unknown,

Who rose to the challenge alone.

Instantly leaping to his feet,

The king’s eye his gaze did meet.

‘Sire,’ cried he, ‘grant my boon to me:

I would bear help to the lady;

The boon you promised I demand,

Thus, to aid her, at your command.’

Arthur reluctantly agrees

Then said the king: ‘I may not send

So young a knight as you, my friend,

Too great a trial it would prove.

Stay here with us, I shall approve

Some other.’ Came the swift reply:

‘Yet your word you may not deny,

I seek the boon you promised me,

And claim the quest, for, certainly,

Being a king, you should not fail

To honour it, lest the lie prevail.’

The king answered the youth: ‘Then go,

Since you desire adventure so.

Another gift you’ll have of me,

For a companion you shall be

Of the Round Table, this I say,

And serve your king in every way.’

But the maiden, Hélie, demurs

The maid could not but answer no,

And cried aloud: ‘He shall not go!

Upon my life, it shall not be.

I asked the best, not such as he,

And yet the worst you grant, although

The knight’s true worth you cannot know.

I care not for him, for, in truth,

The one you grant is but a youth;

I wish the bravest and the best,

Whose chivalry all do attest.’

‘Fair friend, I gave my word,’ said he,

‘And must not break it, wilfully.

I am a king, and must not fail

To keep it, else but lies prevail.’

She curses the company of the Round Table and departs

She cried aloud: ‘Behold I go,

My mission fails, and all is woe!

Ill to the Round Table I say,

And all around it that display

Reluctance their aid to offer!

Ah, my lady here’s no succour,

None will help you; such is plain.

No wonder if I show my pain,

For Arthur will not aid us now,

Rather he doth us disavow.

Come dwarf, let’s hence,’ the maiden cried,

And from the court the pair did ride.

Away she went, behind her came

The dwarf, Tidogolains by name.

The Fair Unknown follows Hélie and the dwarf

When the youth saw her depart,

He kept not silent for his part,

But his armour he did demand,

And Gawain, at the knight’s command,

Soon had his suit of armour brought;

Swiftly he donned it, as he’d sought.

His greaves he laced, and all the rest,

And on his head his helmet pressed,

Then mounted on his steed anew;

Gawain lent him a bold squire too,

To bear for him his shield and lance.

The Lord, on high, his quest advance!

Once he’d taken leave of the king,

And the rest, of whom jongleurs sing,

He issued swiftly from the court,

Upon the joyful quest he’d sought.

As for the squire, Robert by name,

Prudent, yet lively, was that same.

He pursues and overtakes the pair

Through the vale he galloped at speed,

To overtake the pair, indeed

So swift the Fair Unknown did ride,

He soon was at the maiden’s side.

On hearing him, she turned her head:

‘Where are you off to, now?’ she said.

‘I go with you,’ the youth replied,

‘Show me no scorn, upon your side,

Since there is no good reason why.

Show me mercy, fair maid, say I.’

She answered: ‘By the Lord on high,

Who made the world, I would deny

You the right to accompany me,

Yet lack the power, as I now see.

You are too young a knight I know,

And that is why I scorned you so;

The journey you could not endure,

Nor the battles and wounds and more

Survive, that you’d experience,

Nor win the day, should you go hence.

Better if you, at once, return;

Do so, I pray, scant shame you’ll earn.’

The youth, at once, gave his reply,

‘Fair maid, as long as life have I,

I will not turn about,’ said he,

‘You must suffer my company.’

Then cried the dwarf: ‘Humour him still,

Let him ride with us, if you will.

One should not scorn a man or blame

His ardour, knowing not that same:

The more foolish you think a man,

The more God honours he that can.

Here’s a fine knight, it seems to me;

If God should aid him, mightily,

He may show as great a valour

As e’er man had of the Creator.’

Yet the fair maiden still did pray

The youth to be upon his way;

He listened not, but on did go,

Not wishing as a coward to show.

The Perilous Ford

On they went, at a goodly pace,

Till they came to a dolorous place;

The Perilous Ford was its name,

For most dangerous was that same.

On the opposite bank, they saw

That there the open meadow bore

A shelter in the Gallic style,

Of fresh-cut branches, yet not vile,

While before it a shield did show,

All gold above, all silver below.

In this lodge was a noble knight,

Vying at chess, with much delight,

With two young men, both seated there

Who a like pleasure seemed to share.

Thus, he awaited some adventure;

Many a knight had met his measure

Whom he had slain before the ford;

Scant mercy his foes he did afford.

Blioblïeris was his name,

Fierce and villainous was that same.

A hardier knight none did view.

He said to the youths: ‘Be off with you;

Bring me my charger, speedily,

For a knight approaches, as you see;

Bring my armour and weapons too,

For I would seek to take issue

With this fellow, who leads a maid;

Upon the ground, I’ll see him laid.’

The two young men hastened away,

Mutely, his order to obey;

His greaves they soon brought to the knight,

And bound those greaves upon him tight.

He crossed himself, and rose, and then

The brought the rest, full swiftly again,

Buckled his hauberk, laced his helm,

That others he might overwhelm;

Over his hauberk, ere they ceased,

Went a silk surcoat from the East.

Next, his charger was brought, apace,

Upon which he mounted with grace;

His coat of arms its carapace,

Displayed, he set his shield in place,

And lowering his lance to its rest,

Took position as he thought best,

So that, ere any crossed the ford,

Each of a joust would be assured.

Hélie tries to persuade the Fair Unknown to retreat

When the maiden perceived him there,

She called to her knight to beware:

‘Look that way, sir, see what I see,

And cease to follow after me;

Beyond the ford, there is a knight,

Upon his steed, armed for a fight.

If you advance, then, to my mind,

A fierce battle you’ll surely find.

If like a fool, you do, my friend,

Your life will soon be at an end.

Should you ride on, I say to you,

Death is the only end in view,

I merely give you sound advice.’

But the Fair Unknown thought not twice:

‘Fair maid,’ he said, ‘I’d not retreat

If all the world lay at my feet;

While there is life yet in my breast,

I’ll not turn back, nor seek to rest;

Were I to be deterred by this,

Naught would it show but cowardice.

Over the ford then we shall go,

If he then seeks to land a blow,

If he would joust, then joust we will,

And, of jousting, he’ll have his fill.’

The two combatants address one another

Then his squire, before the battle,

He called, to tighten his saddle.

The straps once tight, he grasped his shield,

And lowered his lance for the field.

He passed the ford, and issued out:

But soon was halted, by a shout

Raised by this Blioblïeris.

‘Good sir,’ he cried, ‘what folly is this?

Ill was your deed, to pass the ford,

And, that maiden, passage afford!

To cross the stream was mere folly,

And for that I’ll charge you dearly.

I defy you! Be on your guard!

I shall attack, and press you hard,

For none may pass the ford, I say,

Without a battle, come what may.’

The Fair Unknown had heard the shout,

And answered, turn and turn, about,

Yet gently: ‘Good sir, let us pass,

We cannot stop to speak, alas,

But must continue on our way;

King Arthur sends us here today,

To succour a lady, full of woe;

And if a lass conducts me so,

Tis she that is that lady’s maid;

Tis she that sought King Arthur’s aid,

He for whom I pursue this quest;

May God grant that I pass the test!’

‘Though,’ came answer, ‘a man of mettle,

You’ll not pass without a battle;

Such the custom, observed by all

Of my lineage, whate’er befall,

And so, for seven years, have I

Made full many a knight to sigh,

And many a worthy noble, here,

I have beaten, and slain, I fear!’

The youth replied: ‘Tis villainy:

I’ll guard my life, as best may be.

And since I’ll find no mercy here,

I’ll not wait for it to appear.’

Then each retired from the other;

Both were ready to charge together.

When they had turned their steeds about,

The gazed a moment, gave a shout,

And spurred their chargers o’er the field;

Now, who would be the first to yield?

The Fair Unknown defeats Blioblïeris

Blioblïeris in the fight

Struck fiercely at the younger knight,

Whose shield he broke, yet his sharp lance

Was shattered in that bold advance.

The Fair Unknown, he faltered not,

But struck the other, fear forgot,

Pierced the hauberk, o’er the shield,

The lance-tip in his flesh concealed,

And bowed him to the saddle low;

From the stirrups his feet did go,

Such that he could not keep his seat,

But pressed the earth, his fall complete.

Yet, right swiftly, he rose again,

Undaunted still, despite the pain.

He set his hand upon his sword,

Regained his breath, his fall ignored,

And struck once more with his sharp blade,

And with such force the blow he laid

Upon the youth’s steed, slew it straight;

Now they stood equal, before Fate.

Sword against sword they battled so,

Dealing each other blow on blow,

Upon the helmet and the shield,

With naked blades their skill revealed.

Up from their helms the bright sparks flew,

To fill the air; more than a few.

Great was the battle that they fought,

And yet before they end, he sought,

Blioblïeris felt his strength

Ebbing away, the blood, at length,

That flowed from his wound, weakened him,

He could do naught; his sight grew dim.

The Fair Unknown, relentlessly,

Struck at the knight, and suddenly

Upon his helm unleashed a blow

That sent him to his knees; the flow

Of blood was such he could not rise,

Nor guard himself in any wise.

His wound went deep; in God’s name,

His life from the youth he did claim,

Praying, with all his might that he

Might live, to serve him, utterly.

‘I’ll be your prisoner if you wish,

For you cannot but gain by this.’

‘Go,’ said the youth, ‘to Arthur’s court,

And tell instead of how we fought.’

The other promised, without delay,

To seek the court that very day,

As his prisoner, before the king;

Swearing he’d do that very thing.

Robert, the dwarf, praises the Fair Unknown

Once the battle was fought and won,

The dwarf rejoiced at what was done:

‘You were wrong,’ he said to the maid,

‘In scorning the youth and his blade.

One that deserves our true esteem,

Should not be put to scorn, I deem.

He has helped us to pass the ford,

Too slight the credit you afford.

He is brave, so show him honour,

And pray that God preserves his valour,

So, he may serve you, for your part.’

The dwarf possessed a generous heart.

‘Said the maiden: ‘Well has he wrought,

Yet he must learn, or else be taught

That if he chooses to follow us,

He’ll not return victorious,

He will be slain, and sad twill be,

For his courage is plain to see.’

On, hearing this, the Fair Unknown

Replied to her, and to her alone,

That naught could force him to retreat,

Until his quest was deemed complete.

Said the maiden: ‘Then, lead the way,

For night descends, and we delay.’

Robert, the dwarf, had seized the horse,

When the other was downed by force,

And led that steed to this fair knight,

Who’s own had been slain in the fight.

And then he brought both shield and lance;

The youth had mounted, in advance.

There being nothing left to fear,

The three rode on, filled with good cheer,

Leaving the loser there to sigh,

As if, of his wound, he must die.

Blioblïeris awaits his loyal comrades

His two young men bore him away,

And, in the shelter, there he lay.

Freed from his armour, he yet bled,

Finding scant rest upon his bed.

Blioblïeris lay and sighed;

His sore pain he could scarce abide.

He thought of his companions, three,

Whose names I’ll give you readily:

Helin the White, the lord of Graies,

And the good chevalier of Saies,

And then William of Salebrant;

Brave was he, and most valiant.

Loyal companions were they,

That ever his orders would obey.

These three, whom I have named aright,

Had sought adventure, and that night

Having found it, were now returned.

By day they had much honour earned,

But when the evening shadows fell,

They, swiftly, so the tale doth tell,

Headed for the Perilous Ford,

That dangerous passage doth afford.

Blioblïeris awaited

Those knights for combat created,

Nor was he destined for dismay;

Should adventure cause no delay,

That night, at the ford they’d appear,

The knights I have named for you here.

He tells the three of his defeat

The daylight faded, the shadows fell,

The dark of night the sun did quell,

And, each one armed upon his steed,

Those valiant knights returned indeed.

To their lord they came, at a bound,

Whom in much distress they found

Suffering greatly; much he grieved,

Deep was the wound he had received.

Greatly they wept beside the ford,

Yet, in this manner, spoke their lord:

‘Grieve not now, but think on vengeance,

Need have I of your assistance.

A knight there was that passed the stream,

The best of warriors he did seem,

For, in the joust, he conquered me,

And now his prisoner I must be;

I found him a most chivalrous knight,

A squire he leads, and I had sight

Of a fair maiden, who rode behind

A dwarf, escorting her, you’ll find.

That knight toppled me to the ground,

Then pursued his course, onward bound;

Yet, ere he did so, revealed his name,

For the Fair Unknown is that same.

So deep a stroke he dealt, I fear,

That it pains me that name to hear;

Follow him, my companions true,

And slay the man that you pursue,

Or capture him; if he’ll surrender,

Lead him here, true thanks I’ll render,

His captive I’ll no longer be.’

His heart was treacherous, you see.

They replied: ‘He shall not pass by,

If we find him; for he shall die,

Or be captured, then you may do

As you wish with him, tis your due.’

With that, they mounted the saddle.

Eager for vengeance, and for battle,

Away the three companions sped;

Their hearts on treachery had fed.

Vengeance most willingly they sought,

Could the knight be but found, and caught.

May God guard him now from the foe!

Scant mercy will that trio show,

Should they find the unknown stranger;

His life indeed is in danger.

The Fair Unknown and his company rest in a clearing

As for him, he rode on, all day.

When evening quenched the sun’s last ray,

They came to a clearing midst the trees,

The perfume of whose grass did please.

The maiden mused awhile, then said,

Summoning him who rode ahead:

‘Sir, let us rest here, for the night,

For this meadow’s fair to the sight;

There may be harm in riding on,

Of house or village, there is none

Less than a day’s journey from here,

And this is our best lodging, I fear.’

The knight most willingly obeyed

The counsel offered by the maid.

They lodged there in the open air;

God preserve them in this affair!

Naught had they to eat for supper,  

And the night air they must suffer.

Robert, being a faithful squire,

Answered to his master’s desire

To be quit of his armour, he’d

Soon helped him, and seen to his steed.

Between themselves, the dwarf and he,

For the dwarf was full of courtesy,

Set themselves the steeds to guard,

That their journey be not marred.

Robert was loyal, valiant too,

And well apprised of what to do.

They hear cries in the night

The day waned and the darkness fell;

The company slept for a spell;

The moon was high, the Fair Unknown,

Slept in the grass, much like a stone,

While the maiden rested nearby,

Her head on her arm, without a sigh.

Close together the pair did sleep;

A nightingale the watch did keep.

The knight awoke, most suddenly,

And upon his elbows leant he;

From the forest, a cry he heard,

Four bowshot-lengths away; he stirred;

A woman’s voice it seemed to be;

In rapid need of help was she:

Cries and sobs and plaints arose,

As from one that torment knows,

Great the woe that betrayed her,

As she invoked the Creator.

That gentle voice he heard clearly,

As again she begged for mercy.

From out her sleep, the maiden woke;

To her, the Fair Unknown, now spoke:

‘Ah, fair maid, do you hear a cry?

I know not who doth weep and sigh.’

‘Tis a phantom,’ replied the maid,

‘A breeze but sighing in the glade,

Give not a thought to such a sigh,

Sleep now, and it will pass you by.’

He at once answered the maid:

‘It called on God, as if afraid,

And seemed a cry for help, to me,

Thus, it prayed to God for pity.

I would go aid this creature now,

If help it needs, then help I vow

And shall do all within my power.

Some noble spirit there doth cower.’

The maiden seeks to deter the knight from investigating

She replied: ‘Well, you shall not go!’

In such terms, her ire she did show:

‘If tis adventure you would find,

To many a harsh one, be resigned;

Upon our road, in broadest day,

Such you will meet; so, do not stray.

For, before my mistress you greet,

With far more than you wish you’ll meet,

And, I believe, you’ll seek no other;

More than you can bear you’ll suffer.

Much you’ll endure, if you survive,

If God’s grace keeps you yet alive,

More than has any knight yet born.’

He replied: ‘Put me not to scorn,

But suffer me, fair maid, this to do.’

‘As to that, I care not a sou,

She said: ‘whether you go or not,

Tis not for me, who am forgot.

Ne’er my counsel will you believe,

Till the hour that I see you grieve.

Against my will you journeyed here,

Nor will obey it now, tis clear.’

But he replied: ‘Nay, let me go,

And see who cries for mercy so.’

Then he called for Robert, the squire;

To mount his charger his desire,

And Robert, waking, now took heed

Of his command, and brought the steed.

He crossed himself, our knight, and then

Mounting swiftly now, once again,

He braced himself, and grasped his shield,

And then his lance, to take the field.

The maiden mounted, equally,

Thinking it but certain folly

To remain there undefended,

While upon him she depended.

She, and then the dwarf, did so,

He being loyal as we know,

And all rode on, Robert ahead.

Along the forest trail they sped,

The dwarf leading; in that wise

They neared the place whence came the cries.

Riding through the trees, until

Those cries the air about did fill,

They saw a vast and roaring fire,

And halted; flames were mounting higher;

Robert pointed towards the blaze,

On which they looked, with some amaze,

Before their cave two giants stood,

Huge and ugly, boding no good.

One had hold of a lovely maid,

Who had she not been so afraid

Would have seemed the loveliest

Ever, but now was much distressed.

Much she wept and did complain,

And cried out like to one in pain,

For tightly the giant embraced her,

And so, by force, sought to take her;

While she cried out with every breath,

To such a fate preferring death.

At the far side of that same fire,

The second giant, full of ire,

Turned a spit, and prepared to eat,

Scattering pepper o’er the meat.

He wished to dine, but yet delayed

While his comrade clasped the maid

And sought with her to do his will.

Our knight, who at the sight was still,

Called to the other maid, Hélie,

Who was of his own company,

And pointing to the captive there,

In the giant’s grasp, she young and fair,

Said he would rescue her, for he

Was sure to gain the victory.

Said she to him: ‘You wish to die?

For die you surely will, say I,

If with those giants you would fight,

Full fierce are they, my valiant knight.

This pair have ravaged all the land,

Till not a dwelling-place doth stand,

Still whole, a day’s ride all around;

Tis why we slept upon the ground.

All is destroyed, the folk they’ve slain,

O’er all, dominion they maintain.

That man will be killed, by and by,

That doth not, from such devils, fly.

Fight them not, then, but turn and flee.

Ride on, sir knight, and let them be.’

The Fair Unknown attacks the giants

But the knight refused to hear her

And set his life at a venture.

Bravely spurring his charger on,

Towards the giants he was gone.

As he galloped, he gave a cry:

‘Set free the maid, prepare to die!’

He drove his steed at the giant

Who yet showed himself defiant,

The one, I mean, who held the maid.

A thrust into his breast conveyed,

The lance-tip piercing to the heart,

The giant’s eyes from his head did start;

Stone dead he fell, into the fire.

The second charged now, filled with ire,

From his neck his club hung, below,

The knight sought to evade the blow,

And was untouched despite its force.

The club slid down to strike his horse,

While carrying the shield away,

And fell to the ground; there it lay.

And yet the knight was all unharmed,

As though his very life was charmed.

He’d defended himself so well,

And his steed, as if by a spell,

That neither the horse was slain

Nor the knight, who attacked again.

He whom the Lord seeks to guard,

Never shall be harmed or marred.

That day, the Lord, in His mercy,

Protected the knight, most surely.

Having slain the first giant, he battles with the other

The giant ran to retrieve his mace.

Full of anger, with crimson face.

Viewing his friend dead in the fire,

Vengeance was now his sole desire.

If he failed of that he was nought;

The savage club he swiftly sought.

But the knight spurred on his steed,

And struck the giant, hard indeed,

For his lance pierced the other’s side.

The giant turned, his arms held wide,

Seeking to grasp the knight, but he

Wheeled, and retreated instantly,

For his company he wished not,

Nor the combat which was his lot.

The giant took up his club again,

Wounded and shivering with pain.

He thought to take his vengeance yet,

And ran at the knight, in a sweat,

His club upraised to strike him hard,

But still the knight was on his guard,

And urged his steed the other way,

Such that the blow but went astray.

Better to flee, than bide a blow,

No need then to counter the foe!

In truth, the club caught in a tree,

And struck the thing so forcefully

It shattered its trunk, root to crown,

Bringing all of its branches down.

The mace shot from the giant’s hand,

And wherever that mace did land

He that caught it had met with ill!

The Fair Unknown attacked him still,

Striking the giant with his sword,

A heavy blow he could scarce afford,

For it landed on the skull, sank then

Down to the teeth, and out again,

Such that the giant breathed his last.

The knight rejoiced, the danger past.

He sheathed his sword; the giant fell,

To the grass below, and all was well.

The dwarf praises him, and Hélie seeks pardon

The knight descended from his steed.

Robert, his squire, then took the lead

In removing the youth’s armour,

From his head the helm, and after

Unbuckling his sword, and then,

His head now being free again,

Swiftly unlacing the ventail,

And drawing off his coat of mail.

The dwarf had retired midst the trees,

Where he had felt far more at ease,

Beside him was Hélie the maid,

Who had appeared most afraid,

On viewing the fierce battle there,

Terrified by the whole affair.

Now to the maiden the dwarf said:

‘You were wrong, for nobly bred

Is this youth, to scorn the knight;

It seems to me the lad can fight;

I think, indeed I now believe,

Having seen him our plight relieve,

Battling with Blioblïeris,

And now winning the day in this,

That here is a man of merit.

Give credit if the cap doth fit.

Speak ill and repent at leisure;

None can deny the man’s a treasure.’

‘Dear friend,’ said Hélie, ‘if I said

Aught that was ill, I’ll go instead

And seek for mercy of him now

For judging wrongly I’ll allow.’

Hélie apologises to the Fair Unknown for misjudging him

With that the fair maid made her way

To the young knight and, straight away,

Slid from her palfrey to the ground,

And saluted him with ne’er a sound:

But next sought forgiveness for all

The scornful words that she’d let fall,

For she repented; he’d proven true,

And reparation thus was due.

Said he in answer to the maid:

‘I pardon you; be not afraid;

Since forgiveness you ask of me,

Why then, forgiven you shall be.’

The lovely woman bowed her head,

And thanked the knight for what he’d said.

She lingered; warmth such kindness breeds;

While Robert tended to the steeds.

Beside the fire, they rested so:

At daybreak, they would up and go.

The maiden he has freed tells her tale

Now the fair maiden sought the knight,

She whom he’d freed after the fight,

Slaying the giants who’d attacked her,

And who’d sought to make her suffer.

She was a noble maid, her face

Of fresh hue, and one full of grace,

For her colour she’d recovered

Once from harm she was delivered.

‘Sir,’ said she, ‘you quench all strife,

Your aid indeed has saved my life;

You’ve rescued me from pain and woe,

From the giants who harmed me so,

From torment and captivity,

Your servant ever I shall be.’

She threw herself down at his feet,

He raised her, as was only meet,

While from her eyes the tears did pass.

He seated her, upon the grass,

Beside him, and then sought to know

How the giants had seized her so,

And brought her to that very place.

The which her loveliness did grace;

Asking her, next, to tell her name,

Both who she was, and whence she came.

Said the maid: ‘I’ll tell all to you,

And all that I shall say is true.

Truly, my name it is Clarie;

Naught do I hide from you, you see,

And Saigremors is my brother.

Twas from the house of my father,

That the giant abducted me,

Seizing my person suddenly.

There, in the garden, at first light,

I took a walk, for my delight;

The giant had hidden by the gate,

Which had been unguarded of late,

Thence he took me, and brought me here,

Where his companion did appear,

Yet o’er them both you did prevail;

The truth I tell you, without fail.’

Robert and the dwarf find provisions in the giants’ cave

Robert and the dwarf had, meanwhile,

Found in the giants’ cave, a pile

Of thirty loaves, with napkins too,

Cups, salted ham, and not a few

Roasted chickens, both fat and fine,

And many a good flask of wine.

Both were overjoyed at the sight;

They now could dine, to their delight.  

The two giants the knight had slain,

Who’d dealt the land about such pain,

Had brought those provisions there

Which the company now might share.

In that cavern they’d dwelt of late,

Until they met their sudden fate.

As folk will cry: ‘Who tends the vine,

By Saint Martin, drinks not the wine.’

Robert was swiftly sent to say

That they would dine in style that day:

‘You’ll have,’ he said, ‘all that you wish;

And a clean napkin, beside your dish.’

The knight replied: ‘Do you speak true,

Have we a decent meal in view?’

Said Robert: ‘Yes, most certainly,

For we’ve discovered, as you’ll see,

The larder that those giants filled,

The very same that you have killed.’

The Fair Unknown rose to his feet,

And led the maidens, as was meet,

By the hand, to where they might dine.

Robert would serve the meat and wine.

The dwarf brought water for them all,

To wash their hands, as in some hall;

The napkins on the grass were spread

The maidens sat; the nobly-bred

And courteous knight was opposite,

Who with a smiling face did sit.

The dwarf and Robert served the food,

The latter skilled, with grace imbued,

At once seneschal, and sutler,

Master-of-horse, and their butler,

Chamberlain, it seemed, and squire;

He served according to desire,

And, in the tasks he owned, did well,

Though to the dwarf a fair share fell.

When they had dined at their leisure,

In that meal taking much pleasure,

The dwarf removed the napkins; then

The two young maidens rose again,

While the pair who’d served the rest

Sat down and, likewise, dined with zest,

The maidens serving them, in turn.

For food not chatter they did yearn,

And when the pair had eaten well,

To the horses they sped, pell-mell,

And fed them on the grain and straw

The giants had amassed before,

By raiding all the country round.

Robert, who insufficient found,

Of the fodder liked by his steeds,

Looked about him, to meet their needs,

And saw a scythe, and well-pleased

That tool he hastened to, and seized.

When he’d entered on the meadow,

And set himself fresh grass to mow,

He saw three valiant knights appear,

Upon their swift steeds; drawing near

In right good order, on they came;

Heavily armoured were those same.

They were the three companions who

I’ve previously named to you:

Helin the White, the lord of Graies,

Then the good chevalier of Saies,

The third William of Salebrant;

Brave was he, and most valiant.

After the Fair Unknown, rode they,

To take him prisoner, or to slay.

Robert raises the alarm, as three knights appear

Now, Robert, on seeing the three,

Turned straight about, and chose to flee.

O’er the clearing he swift did pass,

To where the knight lay on the grass,

Opposite the two maidens there,

Both so charming, young and fair.

Robert roused him, and quietly

Said: ‘My lord, arm, now, instantly.

To defend yourself, be ready,

And think on fighting well this day,

My lord, let nothing you dismay,

For here upon their steeds come three

Bold knights-in-arms, that seem to me

Such as, in truth, but take or slay

Those that they meet upon the way.

Soon they’ll be here, so take thought,

Lest you are killed, or swiftly caught.’

To the maidens, returned the knight,

And told them of the coming fight,

But Robert cried: ‘Be not disgraced;

For God’s sake, arm yourself in haste!

It grieves me that you linger here,

At any moment they’ll appear.’

Hélie wins time for the Fair Unknown to arm himself

His master wished now he was armed,

Lest the five of them be harmed,

But ere he’d the chance to prepare

The three knights were upon them, there,

Hard by the cliffs at Valcolor.

Their leader now his quarry saw,

And cried to the others: ‘That, is he!’

Then to the knight: ‘Come, list to me,

You have caused us both shame and ill,

Passing the Perilous Ford at will!’

Now had the knight been caught or slain.

If Hélie had not expressed disdain;

Right bold was she, that lovely maid;

She called to their leader, unafraid.

‘In God’s name, good sir,’ cried Hélie

‘What mean you by this villainy?

Attacking an unarmed man, indeed!

Ill the reproaches you will breed

If one that is unarmed you fight.

Beware, if you be an honest knight

Of doing that which dishonours you,

Naught worse than this I ever knew.

Let the man arm himself, say I;

That request you should not deny!

Unless God aids him here, I see

No way he can counter all three:

While if he arms, honour you’ll gain,

Should you defeat him, such is plain.

Where one is sure to win the day,

Fairness should surely be in play!’

The knights had halted; William led.

‘There’s truth in what the maid has said;’

‘Let him arm, for it matters not,’

Cried he, ‘captivity’s his lot.’

‘Let him do so,’ his friends replied,

‘Fair request shall not be denied.’

Then the trio drew back some way,

Till o’er them the shadows did play.

The End of Part I of ‘Le Bel Inconnu’