Renaud de Beaujeu

Le Bel Inconnu (The Fair Unknown)

Part II

Took herself to a tower on high, All her ladies hovering nigh

Moritz Ludwig von Schwind (Austrian, 1804-1871)

Took herself to a tower on high,

All her ladies hovering nigh,

To watch, from the windows there,

The passage of this whole affair

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

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The Fair Unknown prepares to fight the company of three

Bright was the light from the fire,

And the moon, still rising higher;

As yet far distant was the day.

The Fair Unknown donned straight away

His hauberk, and his helm; Hélie

Bore him his sword: ‘Take care,’ said she,

‘Not to forget my mistress now;

Throughout the fight, recall your vow;

God grant you both strength and vigour,

To aid her, and her realm thereafter.’

He mounted then to ride to battle,

Leaping swiftly to the saddle;

The other maid held up his shield,

He slung it, ready for the field,

About his neck; he took his lance,

Praying to God, ere his advance,

To bring him much honour that night,

And protect him amidst the fight.

Upon their knees, the maidens prayed,

And to the Lord above conveyed

Their hopes that He would graciously

Guard their knight, and grant victory,

While the latter, spurred on his steed,

And fearing naught, galloped at speed,

Towards the company of three.

William was first, well-armed was he,

To ride to meet him; he came alone,

For the custom then, as is known,

Was that when a fight was begun,

Gainst many, they fought one by one

Against their common adversary,

And he encountered each singly;

Whereas, in this decadent age,

Whence chivalry departs the stage,

Twenty-five will attack one man,

And seek to slay him if they can;

So customary is such a maul,

The practice is observed by all;

Thus, the scythe passes o’er the field,

And, ever, fresh grass it doth yield;

Every manner of thing doth change

Into some other, new and strange;

Nobility and loyalty,

Pity, valour, and courtesy,

Honesty, and largesse, depart,

And every man takes his own part,

Doing whate’er lies in his power

To betray folk, at this ill hour.  

Yet I’ll say no more; let that be;

Here is one knight, against but three.

William of Salebrant advances to meet him

I return to the Fair Unknown,

Who rode onto that field alone,

And to meet him, in war well-versed,

William of Salebrant entered first.

Alone he came, entirely so,

Without companion, gainst the foe,

For no assistance there had he,

He rode a steed from Gascony,

Equipped to fight, as he knew how.

They met together fiercely now.

Against the foe’s shield struck each lance;

Steel and wood broke, in that advance.

Violently they met together,

One must die there, or the other.

William’s lance slid o’er the boss,

The tip that tough metal did cross,

Good and strong where it did land,

The lance shattering in his hand.

Two fine warriors were they.

The Fair Unknown finer that day,

For his lance-blow pierced the shield,

The plate beneath likewise did yield,

William, stone dead, fell from his steed,

Beyond all pain, as fate decreed.


The next to joust is Helin the White

The next to joust was the lord of Graies,

Parting thus from the knight of Saies.

On seeing his companion fall dead,

To strike a blow at the foe he sped,

A mighty blow that cracked his shield,

And sent part tumbling to the field,

The hauberk it nigh shattered too,

Yet, by good fortune, passed not through,

But slid away; no wound it made,

And left the Unknown undismayed.

He in his turn had struck, with force,

Helin the White, in his swift course,

The lance striking him on the chest,

Splitting the hauberk o’er his breast,

Such that Helin, willing or no,

Over his horse’s rump did go,

And on the ground below did sprawl,

Breaking his right arm in the fall.

Two he’d tumbled from the saddle,

But one remained to wage battle.

At the fall of the lord of Graies,

Fierce anger gripped the knight of Saies,

That fine knight and combatant,

One in battle most competent.

Armed, on Gramadone his steed,

Incensed at the doer of that deed,

His furious face with crimson marred,

Over the ground he sped full hard.

Once the Fair Unknown was aware

Of his coming he faced him there,

And since both were galloping fast,

Fierce was their meeting at the last.

They came together with such force

That each man tumbled from his horse.

Yet from the earth they rose again,

His deadly gaze each did maintain,

Setting his hand upon his sword,

Of polished steel; with one accord,

Upon each helm a fierce blow fell,

Making the steel ring like a bell.

Blow upon blow the two knights dealt,

Swift and often, painfully felt;

Violently they fought, without cease,

Full often driven to their knees.

Their helms were dented everywhere,

Their shields shattered beyond repair.

Yet each kept his weapon in play,

Without rest, till the break of day.

The Fair Unknown then defeats the knight of Saies

Dawn arrived, and the sky grew bright,

Impatience seized the Unknown knight.

The lord of Saies he struck once more,

Who looked to defend, as before,

But his horse, stumbling o’er the ground,

In an instant, the earth had found.

The Fair Unknown was upon his foe,

Who tugged at his leg trapped below,

Seeking to free himself again;

He thought to rise, but all in vain,

For he was seized till he’d render

Himself defeated, and surrender,

While the other so grasped the knight

He could not now prolong the fight.

His foe’s helm the youth did unlace,

And once the knight could see his face,

The Fair Unknown said he must die

If he failed to yield; with a sigh,

The lord of Saies saw all was lost,

And now was forced to count the cost,

And since he wished to live, clearly,

He, most humbly, begged for mercy.

To this, the Fair Unknown replied:

‘If you would live, then you must ride

To Arthur’s court, and to that same,

Swear yourself captive, in my name.

And rest a prisoner there; if not,

To lose your head shall be your lot.’

At once, the knight of Saies, he swore

That he would go, his word was sure,

Without delay, to Arthur’s court.

He having sworn as had been sought,

The two maidens were filled with joy,

For each could now their steed employ,

And so, the battle reached its end.

The sun its light o’er all did spend

Its force; the lord of Saies arose,

Mounted his horse; the Unknown chose

That time to ask why they were there,

And had provoked the whole affair;

He and his two companions, who

Had fought, what end had they in view?

The parties go their separate ways

 ‘Sir,’ said the lord of Saies, ‘I’ll tell

The whole matter, as it befell.

I am,’ said he, ‘the lord of Saies,

He who lies there the lord de Graies,

Helin by name, wounded sorely,

And set to lose an arm, surely;

William of Salebrant is he

Whose death’s a mighty grief to me.

We were sent here by our master,

And thus, have met with disaster;

Blioblïeris is our lord,

Whom you met at the Perilous Ford,

He whom you conquered readily.

And he had sent us forth, you see,

To take your person or to slay.

Ill the news I must now relay!

When I return, and he doth know,

Greatly it will increase his woe.

Those who would avenge their honour

Oft are cursed with deeper dolour,

As he that seeks to mount the sky,

Meets but a greater fall thereby.’

The lord of Saies his steed did find,

And bore Helin the White behind.

The Fair Unknown asked him to lead

Clarie to her home; he agreed.

This news the maid received with joy,

Her happiness without alloy.

For their part, the dwarf and Hélie,

The squire Robert, loyal was he,

And the Fair Unknown, his master,

Set forth on the road, together.

Towards the Ruined City rode they:

What they encountered, I shall say.

The author, Renaud, speaks of treachery in love

Now list to me, the truth I tell,

No ill seek I; let all be well

In love. Though others soon forget,

I cannot, and must love her yet.

I would not quit her now say I,

God save me ever from the lie.

Those that repent of love e’er say

Among themselves, upon a day:

‘To betray a woman is no sin.’

Yet such but holds a lie within:

Rather, my soul, the sin is great!

Would you thus wish to mar her fate?

Would you seek to move a lover,

Yet lack all intent to love her?

Speak to her in a loving way,

That she her honour might betray?

Beg her sweetly both day and night,

That you may steal her heart outright?

God save us! For you, she will lose

Her friends, her husband; you abuse

Her trust, yet having wrought your will,

Deceive her, though she loves you still.

Evil to those who practise so,

And forever work women woe!

Those who call themselves wise in love,

Ever do false and traitorous prove.

I’d rather show but foolishly,

Than be disloyal to such as she.

What to call her that my heart moved?

Is her name not the ‘well-beloved’?

To call her so, the truth would be,

Not ‘my love’ of a surety;

For she cares not for me, say I.

Alas! Of my love for her I’ll die;

For her my song, my endeavour,

At her mercy, thus, forever.

Hélie acquires a little hunting-dog

Yet to the Fair Unknown, I turn;

For, from fair Hélie, he did learn

Of an adventure, as she did ride

Through all that wasteland at his side.

And, as the knight gazed all around,

A stag he saw, on open ground;

Six noble points each antler bore,

Its tongue hung down; it ran before

Their company along the road,

For all to see; its panic showed.

Before the hounds and brachs it went;

Those hunting dogs, upon its scent,

Pursuing swiftly, as on they led;

A little brach behind them sped,

Whiter than is the driven snow,

Yet black as pitch its ear did show

Upon the left; while its right side,

Showed a black marking beside

Of like deep hue; little was she,

An ermine in size, truthfully,

Or a little smaller, maybe,

So fair a brach, you ne’er did see.

It passed before Hélie the maid,

And halted in the road, dismayed,

Having a thorn caught in its paw.

Down upon it the maiden bore,

And, to catch it, set foot to ground.

She swept the brach up, at a bound,

And then, remounting hastily,

Returned to join the other three.

The brach she’d carry now, she said,

To her mistress, and rode ahead.

A huntsman appears who lays claim to the brach

Behold, a huntsman now appeared,

Upon his steed; the maid he neared,

His hunting-horn at his command,

A spear gripped in his other hand.

His hounds he followed; I should note,

Dressed in a short brown hunting-coat,

His form was handsome; boots he wore,

He galloped o’er the forest floor.

When he saw the maid seize the hound,

And then, returning o’er the ground,

Concealing it beneath her cloak,

He thought it sinful, and no joke,

And swift towards the maid he sped,

‘Fair friend, release my dog,’ he said,

‘Set her down, and leave her to go,

She is not yours to handle so;

After the others let her run.’

The maiden turned; the thing now done,

She cried he should not have the hound,

The brach was fair, and fairly found,

And she would bear the bitch away,

For her mistress; twas but a stray.

But he replied: ‘My maiden fair,

No good will come of this affair;

Give me the dog, tis mine by right.’

‘No, no,’ cried she, ‘tis mine by right;

Tis a brach you shall see no more;

Whate’er you say, tis mine for sure.’

He seeks redress from the Fair Unknown

The huntsman’s anger having grown,

He called out to the Fair Unknown:

‘Sir, halt, and tell this maiden nay,

She shall not bear my hound away.’

The knight asked of her, yet in vain:

‘Sweet friend let him have her again.’

She answered: ‘Speak of it no more,

He shall not have her, that’s for sure.

Let him follow that stag of his

For soon he’ll know not where it is;

I shall not render him the hound.’

‘Sir,’ said the huntsman, ‘you are bound

To see the brach released to me,

Ask that the maiden set her free;

Let me but have the dog, anew,

Naught else shall I request of you.

She hides behind your valour, so,

Tis you I ask: let the brach go;

She will not bear the hound away

If you refuse your aid, I say.’

The Fair Unknown at once replied:

‘I cannot help but take her side,

For naught in the wide world, in this,

Would I do other, ‘twere cowardice.

But tis fine by me, should she choose

To free the brach, and not refuse.

Come, render him the dog, fair maid.’

But Hélie answered, unafraid:

‘Tis mere folly that you both speak,

He shall not have what he doth seek.’

The huntsman retires to his lodge to arm himself

The huntsman turned his steed about,

Ground his teeth, and then gave a shout:

‘You may be assured of this, sir knight,

You shall not have her without a fight.’

He was himself of no low birth,

And so was the last man on earth,

To let them bear his hound away.

His arms and armour were that day

In his hunting lodge, built nearby.

That lodge the knight had made, say I,

Not too far from the forest chase.

Whene’er he would the forest grace,

There he would take his rest at night.

Being now determined to fight,

To that place he did swift repair,

And his men-at-arms met him there.

‘Go swiftly, my squires, bring my steed,

And of arms and armour, I have need.’

In a trice, his men now ran to do

All he asked, and right quickly too.

Then one of them laced his greaves tight,

Made sure his helmet sat aright,

And strapped his good sword to his side.

Swift, he mounted, all set to ride

Ready to sell his life dearly,

Or regain the hound swiftly.

About his neck he hung his shield,

Levelled his lance, and took the field.

Forth he rode now in full armour.

Twould bring him shame and dishonour

If he let them carry away

His hound, and failed to make them pay.

He returns, armed, to issue his challenge

At the gallop, he crossed the wood,

Riding where the going was good,

For he had ridden that path before,

And, when the Fair Unknown he saw:

Sir knight, sir knight,’ full loud he cried,

‘Foolish you are, if you let slide

This theft, and steal my brach away!

Believe you me, dearly you’ll pay.

Retract, or with you twill go hard;

I defy you; be on your guard!’

On hearing the huntsman’s loud cry,

The Fair Unknown raised his shield high,

And gripped the lance hard in his hand,

Spurring his steed on o’er the land.

Commending himself to the Lord,

He met the charge with lance and sword.

Well-armed were they on either side,

Raising their shields, as they did ride,

Spurring their horses on again,

Lowering their lances, not in vain.

Denting their shields and hauberks too,

Fiercely they collided those two,

Straining their stirrups with the force,

Shattering their lances in mid-course.

Scant friendliness was there on show,

Their lance-shafts broken at a blow.

The Fair Unknown defeats the knight, Orguillous de la Lande

Sword in hand they met together,

Their helms rang; one then the other,

Attacked his man, and retreated,

Neither wished to be defeated.

The horses sweated, the knights toiled,

Fine swordsmen both, they ne’er recoiled.

Hard was the fight, and fierce each blow,

Their helmets, in pieces, fell below,

And both their shields were cut in two.

Wearied were they, yet fought anew,

Though the strongest tire, in the end.

These, when they could no longer depend

On their skill, nor could this conceal,

Dropped their blades of Viennese steel,

And in their arms gripped each other.

Their steeds shied from one another,

Slipped their saddles, the straps breaking,

While, both knights, their seats forsaking,

Fell to the ground, like sacks of coal,

Praying to God to leave them whole.

The huntsman sought to rise once more,

The Unknown dragged him to the floor,

And laid him flat upon his face,

Then sought to hold his foe in place,

Who was solid and agile too,

Seeking to raise himself anew.

The other would not let him rise,

But gripped him in similar guise,

And brought his man to earth again,

Removed his helm, thus to unlace

His ventail, and revealed his face.

He saw his own blade, on the ground,

That had lodged there, whole and sound,

And retrieved it, while gripping still

The huntsman quite against his will,

And would have beheaded that knight

Had he not, yielding, quit the fight.

The huntsman, indeed, saw no way

To escape his fate, and thus did pray

Humbly for mercy, crying that he

Would serve his pleasure, willingly.

The other said: ‘You cannot flee,

But must now my prisoner be,

And go, as such, to Arthur’s court,

And tell the king that I, in short,

Send you to him, his captive now,

As thanks, in that he did allow

The boon that is my present quest,

To aid a lady, at her behest,

Who is in need.’ The knight replied:

‘I shall; in whose name do I ride?’

‘That, my friend,’ said he, ‘you shall know:

The Fair Unknown charges you so.’

Once his sworn promise he had heard,

The Fair Unknown added a word:

‘Sir,’ said he: ‘You have learnt my name,

Thus, yours, in return, I now claim.’

The knight replied to his demand:

‘I am l’Orgillous de la Lande,

And, ere the month is out, I will

Acquit myself, and my oath fulfil.’

They took leave of one another,

And mounted their steeds together.

The huntsman returned whence he came,

But without the hound he did claim,

While the Fair Unknown went his way,

With Robert, who joy did betray,

And the dwarf too, and the lady,

Down the high road, riding swiftly.

The company reach a stronghold named Becleu

Their journey was full long that day;

And as the sunlight ebbed away

They issued from a leafy wood,

In a great castle’s neighbourhood.

The castle was both strong and fair,

Becleu its name; a river there,

Made its passage about the wall,

Yielding of fish a goodly haul.

Flowing strongly from its source,

It ran a navigable course,

For those who headed there to trade.

Mills, in plenty, the banks displayed,

Water meadows on either side,

And cultivated fields beside,

While, on the far bank, they could see

Vineyards, for two good leagues or three.

A moat this stronghold did surround,

Its width was great, its depths profound,

And the walls above rose on high,

Their towers reaching to the sky.

The Fair Unknown reined in his steed,

And called to Hélie, who slackened speed;

He pointed to the castle ahead,

Towards which she now turned her head;

They gazed, agreeing it showed fair,

For no count’s, no king’s, could compare.

Towards the stronghold now they veered,

As evening fell, and Vespers neared.

They meet the fairest of maidens on the way

They met a maiden on the way,

Young and fair, dressed in fine array,

For dress and robes of silk she wore,

No finer the world ever saw.

Her pelisse, lined with swansdown,

Was bordered with ermine around,

And squirrel fur, in wedge-shapes cut;

The body of it sable, it put

All other ladies’ furs to shame;

No other land had seen the same.

Noble she was, and those who saw her,

Swore none had ever seen fairer;

Her brow broad, clear her complexion,

Lily-white, upon inspection;

Her arched eyebrows a little dark,

Delicate, fine, each well-formed arc;

Her cheeks red as the summer rose,

Sweet mouth, trim teeth, a faultless nose,

None of greater beauty had heard,

Incomparable, in a word.

Her hair was blonde, and shone brightly,

Like purest gold, restrained lightly

By a ribbon of silver, there,

For bare-headed she took the air.

Her eyes were blue-grey, her brow high,

White her hands, in form naught awry,

For none lovelier had any maid,

Yet she seemed sad, and much dismayed,

Wringing her hands, plucking her hair,

Sorrowful, as if in despair.

The Fair Unknown greets the maiden who seems full of woe

From the castle came the maid,

And the Fair Unknown conveyed

His greeting to her as they met,

Which she returned; her eyes were wet,

As she responded to him though,

Like one who bears a weight of woe.

‘Why are you weeping, my fair maid?’

He asked her, as his course he stayed,

‘Tell me the reason; I would know.’

She said: ‘I cannot but do so.

Deprived of joy, I weep and pray,

For I have lost, this very day,

All that I love most on this earth;

From that source my tears have birth.

I weep for my love, whom I have lost;

He is slain, and I count the cost.

My heart is breaking now with grief,

Alas, how shall I find relief?’

On hearing this, he pitied her,

And so went on to ask of her,

How this lover of hers had died,

If some other he had defied

In combat, or in other wise

Was slain: the maiden, midst her sighs,

Raised her eyes, and made reply:

‘Sir, the lord of this town nearby,

One who is most cruel and proud,

To him my lover’s head has bowed.

In that castle a bird has he,

A sparrowhawk well-mewed, you see,

That, on the green, beside the church,

On a platform of gold doth perch.

She who doth obtain the bird,

Upon her as a prize conferred,

Will be deemed the fairest of all;

Yet, before that same might befall,

She must be accompanied by

A knight who thinks her, to his eye,

More lovely than any other

And claims her so, as her lover;

For he who of that place is sire,

Challenges all who do aspire

To the hawk, in his own love’s name,

Lauding the beauty of that same,

Saying that none else can compare,

And offering to do battle there.

Sir, the friend whom I preferred,

Went with me there, to win the bird.

But when the hawk I sought to take,

The castle’s lord, for his love’s sake,

Challenged him his life to spend.

My knight then cried to me: “Depend,

On me; be of good cheer, my love,

For I shall, in a brief while, prove,

That you are fairer than this maid

Whom he praises; be not afraid.”

He angered the other thereby,

Who said that claim he would deny.

And so, the combat then began.

He slew my love, the better man

Who had sought to do me honour,

And so, I pine in grief and dolour.

Those that in the fortress do dwell,

Swear, on the bones of Saint Marcel,

Whose relics lie within the town,

That they themselves ne’er will frown

On any who fights their master,

Nor will attack him thereafter,

If their lord should be slain; no fear

Or doubt need that knight, tis clear,

Harbour, for they’ll do him no ill;

He may depart, whene’er he will.’

He offers to avenge the death of her lover

The knight then questioned her again:

‘Great thanks, no doubt, the man would gain

Who won the sparrowhawk, your due,

And avenged your lover for you.’

The maid replied: ‘Sir knight, tis so;

Great were the gratitude I’d show;

True thanks the knight would have of me,

That avenged his death, certainly:

He who took vengeance for his death

Might ask what he would, in a breath,

Whate’er it might be.’ Thus, spoke she,

And he replied, most earnestly:

‘Come with me, then, I pray, fair maid,

I swear you shall not lack for aid,

Till I’ve avenged your lover lost,

And won the hawk, whate’er the cost.’

‘May God who made the world,’ she said

‘Defend your life, in what lies ahead!

If you can win the hawk, indeed,

Much honour you’ll win by that deed.

For great the prowess you must show;

Great is the task, I’d have you know.

Gladly I’ll accompany you there;

God guard you from ill, in this affair!’

The maiden, Margery, goes with him to view the sparrowhawk

The maid, who was named Margery,

Then turned her steed’s head, instantly.

Towards the castle they did ride,

Crossed the drawbridge, and passed inside,

Then rode to the green, where Margery

Led him to the hawk, for all to see,

And so, a crowd followed after,

Citizens, knights, and guards, as ever;

Women and maidens, from every side,

Gathered, and to each other cried

One question; who this knight might be

That sought the hawk, and who was she!

Many replied: ‘We know him not,

But war would seem to be his lot;

His helm is dented; many a fight

He has waged, that valiant knight.

Many a time he has met the foe,

His targe has suffered many a blow,

Many a blade has struck that shield,

His armour has seen many a field.’

And all, with great assurance, cried:

‘That he is brave, can’t be denied;

But, by the Lord, who is that fair

Young maid who accompanies him there,

And the other who follows?’ ‘Why she,

That rides ahead, that maid must be

The one for whom the bold knight died

Slain by our master, in his pride,

This morning, after Mass, that sought

The sparrowhawk; though hard he fought,

Our lord it was that did prevail.’

All then cried: ‘Tis she without fail.’

They followed where that trio led,

The pair of maids, the knight ahead,

Till they reached the sparrowhawk,

Perched there, beside a garden-walk.

There, was a fair and pleasant green,

A fruit-tree in the midst was seen,

That blossomed throughout all the year.

The golden platform, did appear,

On which was perched the bird of prey.

The green was round, in every way

Perfect, and a good bow’s shot wide,

True and level, on every side.

She takes the hawk, and the lord of the castle, Giflet, appears

The hawk was perched there, silently,

And as soon as the knight did see

The bird, to Margery he cried:

‘Come, fair friend, be at my side,

I wish to claim the bird for you,

For such is no less than your due.

Beauty, you own, sagacity,

True courage, and nobility,

A graceful form, and a lovely face;

Take the bird then from its place.’

Riding swiftly towards it, she

Took the sparrowhawk, willingly.

Then, at the gallop, from his abode,

On the iron-grey steed he rode,

Came its master, silver his shield,

Scarlet roses on that plain field,

Raw cinnabar, their shade of red.  

He gave his Gascon steed its head,

A fine horse, and great was its worth,

Gripping his shield; of noble birth

Was this lord, well-armoured he came,

A wreath of roses crowned that same,

About his helmet, which was fine.

His steed’s coat too was, by design,

Wrought with red roses o’er the silk,

That matched the others of that ilk,

And well they looked: with him there came

His love, the ‘Rose in Bloom’, by name,

Mounted on a handsome palfrey,

Yet it bore a maid most ugly,

For she was fat and wrinkled too!

None but deplored, upon review,

His opinion that she was fair;

All were astonished gazing there

That Love had stolen his wits so;

No man’s so safe from loving though,

That he may not lose his judgement.

Such are Love’s powers of enchantment,

He even makes the foul seem fair,

As could be seen in this affair.

At the gallop his lordship came,

Towards the maid, who thought to claim

The sparrowhawk, and loud he cried.

Her right to seize it he denied.

The Fair Unknown, angered outright,

Advanced and called out: ‘Why, sir knight,

Say you she should not gain the prize?

Is she not beautiful and wise?

Fairer than her I have not seen;

And, as her champion, I mean

To claim for her the sparrowhawk,

If you’ll but cease your idle talk.’

The other answered: ‘Hers tis not;

My lady’s beauty you have forgot,

Which is far greater, as you see;

No maid born could more lovely be,

Without a shadow of a lie;

And I shall prove in battle, say I,

That none but her shall own the bird,

For I defy you, in a word.’

The Fair Unknown defeats him in combat

They spurred on their steeds in fury

Their sharp lances at the ready,

And fiercely they met together;

Each split the shield of the other,

Broke the strap that held his saddle,

And was unhorsed in the battle.

But neither warrior came to harm;

Each rose and, flexing his right arm,

With his sword of Viennese steel,

Full mighty blows commenced to deal.

Against their helmets they did ply,

Their blades, till sparks began to fly.

With trenchant strokes from his good sword

Each the other did pain afford,

For so forceful was each firm blow

Upon the helm, it brought but woe,

And so often these fierce strokes fell,

They severed the laces there as well.

Ferocious was the battle there.

The Fair Unknown a blow did dare,

So swiftly dealt, with all his force,

It knocked the other from his horse;

To such a blow did he give birth,

The warrior, stunned, fell to earth,

In a most rough and stony place,

And sprawling flat upon his face,

Bruised all his visage with that fall.

Our knight upon his helm did haul,

So violently the laces broke,

And loosed the helm ere he did choke;

His foe had not the strength to rise,

Which he was forced to realise,

And, to his grief, was forced to say:

‘I’ll not deny you’ve won the day.’

Then said the Fair Unknown, who still

Stood over him: ‘Know now my will,

You’re not quit of obligation;

Tell me your name and your station,

And swear my prisoner to be,

Then ride to Arthur’s court, that he

May acknowledge your surrender.’

The fallen knight his oath did render,

And then, at once, declared his name:

‘Giflet, am I, one known to fame

In these parts; Giflet, son of Do;

The people here address me so.

Yours am I now, myself I render

Captive, and respect your valour.’

Thus, that lord spoke, with good grace,

Rose, and the pair did then embrace.

Giflet, the son of Do, then led

Them to his hall, riding ahead,

Praying them, most courteously,

To accept his hospitality,

Offering them, to their delight,

A pleasant dwelling for the night.

And, in that castle, they did stay,

Well-lodged, until the break of day.

Margery departs for Scotland; Hélie gifts her the little brach

At dawn of the following day,

As the sun rose upon its way,

The Fair Unknown was swift to rise,

And armed himself in warlike guise,

Then they took to the road once more.

Giflet, the son of Do, before

Them, led the company.

At our knight’s side rode Margery.

He asked of her, that he might know,

Where the maiden wished to go.

To Scotland said she, to her father;

King Agolans was her brother.

On her fist perched the sparrowhawk,

That now was hers, as they did talk;

Twas most dear to her; the Unknown,

Once to her lineage she did own,

Learning she was a king’s daughter,

Called to Giflet, and asked the other

To send for a knight to escort

The lady to her father’s court;

And Giflet said his man would see

Her safely to her own country;

What was requested, he would do;

And then he wished them all adieu.

As for Hélie, she recognised

The maiden, once she realised,

That she’d been raised in Scotland, for

She had seen her there long before;

Indeed, a near cousin was she,

And more than delighted to see

The maid now bore the sparrowhawk.

‘Cousin,’ said she, as they did talk,

‘If only you’d said who you were,

And where you were born, earlier!

You go that way, and I go this,

Yet, that we be friends, is my wish.

Though we may always be apart,

Yet I shall love you, in my heart.

You bear the sparrowhawk with you,

And shall have my little brach too.

None fairer have they in Cornwall;

This creature’s the fairest of all,

And was gained in fierce battle too,

Just as the hawk was won for you.’

Next, she gave her every detail,

And then the brach, to end the tale.

They shed a tear or two together,

And so took leave of each other.

The Fair Unknown rode on once more;

The dwarf near to Hélie did draw,

Then led her palfrey to the trail;

And I’ll continue, without fail,

To tell you all that’s known to me

Of the Fair Unknown’s history.

The Fair Unknown and his companions reach a noble castle

So, they travelled on their way,

Till evening fell; at close of day,

A mighty castle came in sight,

None finer could the eye delight.

Rich it was, and strong, and fair,

Well-sited on a headland; there,

Against its foot, the bold waves beat,

And, making its defence complete,

An inlet on the other side

Protected it, filled by the tide.

That brave castle was fine indeed;

High walls, its builders had decreed

Both tall and strong, circled it round;

No lily flower might be found,

Nor stretch of snow, quite as white

As those walls seemed to the knight,

For wrought of the whitest marble,

They enclosed all that fair castle;

More than a bowshot-length in height,

No engine could contest their might,

Nor harm a tower or battlement;

No grappling iron, nor missile sent.

So high were those great walls and strong,

That all assault must fail ere long.

A hundred towers of red marble

Rose within that splendid castle,

Of such great beauty, every one,

They shone as brightly as the sun.

A hundred Counts dwelt in that place,

And each a crimson tower did grace;

Thus, they defended every side.

A lordly palace, lofty and wide,

Wrought by enchantment, therein lay,

But wrought of what, no man could say.

For that palace within the castle

Had walls that resembled crystal,  

And all was harmonious there,

Well-proportioned the whole affair;

The roof was covered with silver,

And with fine mosaics, all over.

Brighter than is the sun, upon

Its summit, a red garnet shone,

And threw forth such a glow at night

A summer’s day revealed less light.

Twenty towers did the site encase,

You’ve never seen so fine a place.

And those towers were deepest blue,

No finer turrets could one view.

Thither, many a merchant came,

With fine goods and wares to his name;

Thither his merchandise he’d bring,

O’er the sea, and its praises sing,

And those products, of all the earth,

But added to that town’s rare worth.

To the trade that through it flowed

The castle’s prominence was owed,

And that stronghold the folk did style

The Castle of the Golden Isle;

And in that palace dwelt a maid,

Her looks the finest e’er displayed.

The seven liberal arts she’d learned,

And all enchantments, and had earned

Deep knowledge of the stars on high,

By gazing on the midnight sky.

Both white magic and black she knew,

Wondrous her understanding too.

Mistress was she of all that place;

Noble of heart, and fair of face.

The Maiden of the White Hands she

Was named, I say, with certainty,

And great the beauty of that maid.

The Fair Unknown his steed now stayed.

They see a tent pitched outside the walls

He called to the maiden, Hélie,

She whom he led in company,

And pointed to the castle there,

And the light that shone so fair,

From the palace, and then a tent,

Its grand dimensions evident,

Pitched there, between them and the town,

And next the causeway that led down

To a bridge that crossed the water,

That they must, it seemed, ride over,

With this pavilion at the head.

To its palisade their road led,

One wrought of pointed stakes, they found,

Sharp above and beneath the ground.

On each stake a head was planted,

O’er its brow a helm was canted;

Every stake held a helmet laced,

For a pierced head each stake thus graced.

Within the tent is an armed knight

In the tent was an armoured knight,

Donning his greaves, and set to fight.

There, in both summer and winter,

He waited on the one adventure,

For his role was painful and sad,

Cruel and weighty the task he had.

Once he perceived the Fair Unknown,

Clad in steel plate, he gave a groan,

And laced the helmet on his head,

Then to the field his horse he led;

By his side hung a good sharp blade.

This knight was suitor to the maid

Who ruled the castle; head to toe

He was armoured against the foe,

And his charger was clad the same.

Towards him that brave knight came

Who had been named the Fair Unknown;

At his side rode Hélie alone.

Thus, they neared the pavilion,

Wishing to pass it, and ride on.

But he within the palisade,

Most fiercely their passage stayed:

‘If you would ride this way’, said he,

‘You must first do battle with me,

Since I the road to you shall bar;

Or else must linger where you are.’

To the Unknown said the maiden:

‘Tis the truth, such is the custom;

Any knight that is conquered here

Is swiftly put to death, I fear.

His head is cut from his body,

With the helm; as testimony,

Head and helm, once severed, are set

On a stake still empty as yet,

Next the others, displayed before

The bridge, amidst those many more.’

Full one hundred and forty-three,

Were the Kings and the Counts, that he

Had slain, that knight, for the lady,

Whom, indeed, he sought to marry.

For five years the knight had loved her,

Yet had failed to win her over.

If he survived but two years more,

Of wedding her he could be sure.

This was the promise she had made:

If he defended the palisade

Full seven years, she would be his,

Or else he must fail of his wish.

The custom of the place explained

Such was the custom; when her knight

Perished, defeated in the fight,

The lady took as her suitor

He who had proved the conqueror,

And he was forced to serve, in turn,

For seven years, so he might earn

The lady’s hand; thus, he maintained

The custom, till it might be gained.

If for seven years he endured,

He wed that lady he adored,

And became her lord and master;

In such manner, one might win her.

She well knew, without a lie,

The husband that she gained thereby

Was worthy to have gained her hand;

Such was the trial she did command.

And yet she said she’d rather die

Than wed the one now standing by,

For whom she’d not the least desire,

And whose reputation was dire.

The man had served two years only,

Yet in that time behaved badly;

Perverse and brutal was the knight,

Lawless, faithless, a wicked wight.

For these traits she hated him so,

That, hating him, she wished him woe,

And though he achieved the term entire,

So greatly did his presence tire,

That she’d ne’er give herself, said she,

Nor this man, as her husband, see;

Naught there was, in this world entire,

Could make her bow to his desire.

He was hated by others too.

In that castle before their view,

None there was who’d suffer woe,

Should that rascal be now brought low.

That was the wish of great and small;

They loved him not, and sought his fall.

Rather they served him, out of fear;

Naught for his sake, though, was done,

Since the rascal was loved by none.

The knights approach one another

The knight, leading his steed, came on;

Red was its silk caparison.

Peerless that cape, with two hands, white

As hawthorn flowers, sewn in samite,

Skilfully cut and placed thereon;

With rare art were those emblems done.

His buckler was of purest green,

With two white hands upon it seen;

A pair of gloves adorned his helm,

His skill the brave did overwhelm.  

As he came, he leapt to the saddle

Foot in stirrup, his steed did straddle,

While a squire offered up his shield

Another his lance, and took the field.

He was powerful, adept at war,

None had his strength, to be sure,

Nor could equal his blows in force,

Nor so skilfully ride a horse.

He galloped o’er the open ground,

Then, to the tent, he turned around,

Where the Fair Unknown now waited,

Thinking to fell one lightly rated.

As the Unknown viewed him there,

One who did for a fight prepare,

He knew there was no other way

But to battle with him that day.

A savage combat he must endure,

No other passage there he saw.

About his neck he hung his shield

And ere advancing o’er the field,

He seized his lance, and gripped it tight,

Then rode towards the other knight.

‘Sir,’ called out the Fair Unknown,

‘I would ask of you, one man alone,

To let us ride upon our way;

You must not our journey delay.

Seek not our passage to arrest,

King Arthur granted me this quest.’

‘What arrogance!’ cried the other,

As they gazed at one another,

‘You may not pass; my office here

I hold from my lady, be it clear!’

‘Good sir,’ the Fair Unknown replied,

‘For all the world, would I not ride

A course intended but to slay!

I have no choice, it seems, this day,

Since I can do naught to amend

Your office here, except contend.

As I must pass, I’ll do your will,

And defend myself, with all my skill.’

Each man displayed his defiance;

They set themselves at a distance.

The castle was now left empty,

For young and old, knight and lady,

Many a clerk, and many a squire,

All possessed by the same desire,

Came forth now to view the battle.

Taking place before the castle,

Hoping to see its champion fall,

For greatly was he loathed by all,

And greatly was his death desired.

The lady, whom his presence tired,

Took herself to a tower on high,

All her ladies hovering nigh,

To watch, from the windows there,

The passage of this whole affair,

She that could not but hate the man,

Gazed on, thus, as the fight began.

The End of Part II of ‘Le Bel Inconnu’