Renaud de Beaujeu

Le Bel Inconnu (The Fair Unknown)

Part III

Where at each window in the wall, Upon its sill, sat a minstrel

Moritz Ludwig von Schwind (Austrian, 1804-1871)

He halted not till he had found

The entrance to the mighty hall,

Where at each window in the wall,

Upon its sill, sat a minstrel

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

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The Fair Unknown fights Malgiers le Gris

The warlike pair prepared to fight;

The one and then the other knight

Spurring on his steed with vigour,

Both were men of mighty valour.

Swiftly on their steeds they sped,

To meet each other, head-to-head.

Swiftly they met together there,

As lightning courses through the air;

No savage wind as fast doth blow,

As each galloped to meet the foe.

Lowering their lances as they came,

Upon their foe’s shield struck that same.

Breaking the steel, splitting the wood,

Each man with his spear made good.

Through both shield and hauberk went

The tip, driven with fierce intent.

Solid their lances were and strong,

Such that both men fell headlong,

Horse and rider thrown to the ground,

The latter neath the former found.

Both were toppled in their course,

So fierce were the blows, dealt with force.

They lay there, stunned, upon the earth,

By that to which their lance gave birth;

Nor could each charger rise betide,

Though its master lay beneath its side.

All those who that fierce joust beheld,

Were stunned by how the pair excelled;

None had ever a better seen,

A finer, or more praised, I mean.

As soon as they revived once more,

They set to fighting, as before,

From his sheath each man drew his blade,

And many a blow they conveyed.

Their shields were now broken and scarred,

Their helmets both dented and marred,

Their hauberks pierced, their iron mail;

Each man did the other assail.

On their helms they struck such blows,

That bright sparks from the metal rose;

Often, they fell upon their knees.

Up to Our Lord now went the pleas;

The folk pledged alms, and many a vow,

If but their knight was made to bow.

Their master, in turn, thought that they

For his swift victory did pray,

And that for him their prayers were said,

When they all simply wished him dead!

Love of force is of scant avail,

For in dire need all aid may fail;

Better to love those whom one rules,

For Fortune oft renders us fools.

And defeats him, to the joy of the populace

The Fair Unknown brandished his blade;

Upon the other a stroke he laid.

He well knew how to wield a sword;

A blow to the neck it did afford.

Sliding somewhat, it cut right through

The helm’s laces, which fell in two,

And, with the helm no more in place,

All revealed were the head and face.

Thus, he struck next upon the crown,

His foe, staggering, tumbled down,

For the sword had shattered his skull,

While the blade, being driven full

Through the bone, had passed on beneath

And cleft as far as the man’s teeth.

For joy the people cried aloud,

Never was so happy a crowd,

Not since Adam was created;

Not one there but was elated.

The people conduct him to the palace

The knight he’d slain so violently

By name was Malgiers le Gris.

The people bore his corpse away,

And then did their allegiance pay.

‘Sir,’ said they, ‘a whole realm you’ve won,

The land, the people; everyone,

Will obey you; no realm is worth

More than our realm upon this earth.

To you our loyalty is due.

Great love our Lord has shown for you.

For you have slain the finest knight

That ever sat a horse aright,

And so have brought us joy this day.

Now, my lord, but ride this way,

View your people here arrayed,

And you may see the fairest maid

That ever was, and love her too,

Please God, and wed her; tis your due.’

They presented him with a steed,

And once he’d mounted, they did lead

The knight to the castle he could see,

Where he was received, handsomely,

A cross before him in procession,

Met with joy by every baron,

Led to the palace, with honour,

And relieved there of his armour.

The Lady of the Golden Isle

Came the entrance of the lady;

None had e’er seen such a beauty,

So fair she was without equal,

So lovely that it seemed a marvel.

Her beauty shed as great a light

As the bright moon, amidst the night,

Issuing from the clouds around;

So, she entered, there to confound

The Fair Unknown; that valiant knight,

Drew back a little at the sight.

So skilfully had Nature wrought,

And granted her such charms, unsought,

That fairer brow and fairer face

Ne’er, on Earth, did fairer grace.

Whiter was she than a lily,

And yet her face shone full brightly,

Lit by the colour of her cheeks:

Bold he that such a lover seeks.

A smiling mouth, clear eyes of grey,

Of small white teeth, a sweet array,

A shapely form, her lips bright red,

Or rather crimson, I’d have said,

Those lips demanding to be kissed;

Arms made to embrace, a neat wrist,

All these had she, with hands as white,

And neck, as is the lily bright.

Her body graceful, blonde her hair,

She was the fairest of the fair.

All in samite was she dressed,

More tastefully than all the rest,

Her robe trimmed with ermine, sewn

In chequered squares for her alone,

And skilfully that work was done,

And envied there by many a one.

Her hair was drawn back on her head,

And all adorned with golden thread;

With a chaplet of roses crowned,

Most becoming, it spread around.

A jewel clasped her mantle to.

As the lady sailed into view,

A noble vision she did seem;

None fairer ever seen in dream.

Smilingly, she entered the hall,

And to the Unknown, first of all,

She progressed, so as to extend

Her arms about his neck: ‘My friend,

You have conquered, yours I shall be,

And ne’er will part from you,’ said she.

A gift now I would grant to you,

For much ill has been wrought, tis true;

And the gift I shall give this day

I’ll grant indeed without delay.

The custom, whereby the road below

Is guarded, I would have you know

Is at an end; through you, sir knight,

The need for such is ended quite

And I shall make a lord of you,

My realm I give, and my love too.

For husband I’ll take you, fair sir,

I know none that seems worthier.’

He thanked the lady profusely.

She took him by the hand, sweetly,

Seating him on a couch, by her;

All of brown silk was its cover,

Brought, it appears, from Thessaly.

Many a lord there they could see,

On every side, each there by right.

The lady thought now how she might

By ruse or art retain him there;

An anguish twas, beyond compare.

Her heart she’d given to this man.

None spoke a word nor speech began,

Except those two, who, in full measure,

Shared sweet words that gave them pleasure.

She said she would present him to,

And, ere nightfall, he’d converse too

With the princes of her domain,

Since he proposed her hand to claim,

And when a week had passed by, she

Would wed; thus, scant delay there’d be,

And all the country round must know,

That, to their wedding, all might go.

Hélie warns the Fair Unknown

Evening fell, and water was brought;

They washed their hands, and all the court

Sat down to eat, and the lady,

(Knowing and learned was she),

Seated the Unknown by her side,

With Hélie on her other side.  

All showed the Unknown great honour;

The lady took it upon her

To serve him with both love and care,

Wishing to give him pleasure there.

Great was their joy, in all the town,

Both young and old, coat and gown.

When they’d eaten, at their leisure,

Hélie rose to walk a measure,

And signalled to the Fair Unknown.

To him her thoughts she would make known.

Summoning him to her side,

This warning to him she supplied:

‘Sir knight, a word I’d say to you,

And, what I say, that same is true;

This lady fair has gathered here

All her barons, it would appear,

To tell them she with you would wed,

And. if you dare refuse, instead

Of taking leave of her, you’ll be

Held here, in close captivity.

Sir knight, be true to honour yet,

And so, my mistress, ne’er forget.’

The knight replied: ‘Upon my life,

I shall not take the maid to wife!

Counsel me, then; what shall we do?’

‘Flee,’ said the maid, ‘yet quietly too;

We’ll slip away tomorrow morn,

Quitting this place soon after dawn.

All that we need I now discern;

To my lodgings I shall return,

Which are in the town nearby.

You’ll need the cover of a lie.

With Robert all this I will share,

He can cope with such an affair.

He will have your steed in hand

And at the break of day, as planned,

We will have the steeds before

The palace at the guarded door

That leads to the chapel nearby.

Rise, ere the sun is in the sky;

Your arms and armour, for our part,

We shall bring; thus, we’ll depart.

Yet when first your face you show,

You must say to the church you go;

Give the guard that sound excuse,

And your passage he’ll not refuse.’

Her wise counsel he praised, and then

They sought out the others, again;

He sat down at the lady’s side,

And there his thoughts took care to hide.

The maiden soon sought leave to go

And rest in her lodgings, below.

The lady told her that she might

Sleep there, in the palace, that night;

But though every effort she spent,

Naught could change Hélie’s intent.

Robert bore away the armour,

And the maiden followed after.

The lady visits him at night

A bed for the Fair Unknown was made,

With soft and precious quilts o’erlaid,

Fairer than any seen before;

Of this, would you hear me say more?

In his room they’d prepared the bed,

Fairer than any, as I have said.

The gold and silk there, cost, I’m sure,

A hundred silver marks or more;

The coverlet they did employ,

Neath which he’d lie, a source of joy.

When he took leave of the lady,

She said: ‘My dear friend, I, truly

Long for the moment you are mine.’

Her tender speech he thought divine.

It seemed she would not let him go,

She clasped her arms about him so,

Embracing the youth so sweetly,

Ere parting from him, discreetly,

And retiring to her chamber;

No fair maiden born was fairer.

Then all withdrew, both great and small,

The cooks, and serving-men, and all.

The knight to his chamber, was led,

The fire was lit that faced his bed,

To grant the guest both warmth and light,

And all then retired for the night.

The Fair Unknown lay pensively

Watching the door, when suddenly

The lady entered; thus, he thought,

To find the pleasure that he sought.

Her hair uncovered, flowing free,

Clad in a silk mantle was she,

Of pure green, with ermine trimmed;

The maiden’s beauty was undimmed.

Of purest gold was each tassel

That served to tie that fair mantle;

Its sable collar rose to embrace

The lower portion of her face,

Its black enhancing the pure white

Of her face, in the flickering light.

Hid by but a slip, she drew nigh;

Whiter than the snow that doth lie

Upon the branch was its whiteness,

Dazzling the sight with its brightness;

And yet the flesh was whiter still

That this silken garment did fill;

Beneath it, pale limbs did appear,

Though partly hid, as she drew near,

While, against the legs’ pure white,

The silk seemed darker in the light.

Entering the room where he did lie,

Upon the bed she turned her eye,

And asked herself if he yet slept.

The whole palace its silence kept.

‘Is he asleep?’ to herself, she said,

‘Has he taken himself to bed?’

He heard her whisper, and replied.

Head raised, her question he denied,

Answering: ‘Lady, I sleep not.’

Swiftly she drew towards the spot,

She whose form was noble and fair.

Her arms revealed now to the air,

She leant above him where he lay;

Willingly, at each other, gazed they.

Her breasts and neck, they seemed as white

As hawthorn flowers, to the knight.

Over the youth she thus did bend,

Whispering to him: ‘My dear friend,

I so desire your company;

May God soon show his grace to me.’

She pressed her breast against his own,

Bare flesh to flesh, while the slip alone

Was all there was between the pair.

Joy seemed at hand, in that affair.

She bent her face towards his face,

And gently did the knight embrace,

Then: ‘My dear friend,’ said the lady,

Love-sickness, tis, that has seized me;

To see you, now’s my sole pleasure,

Know, I love you beyond measure.

Hence, I could no longer refrain

From seeing, holding you again.’

He viewed her tenderly, at this,

And sought to steal but one sweet kiss,

Yet the lady drew back, and said:

‘You please me not; for love has led

To this display of lechery;

At such time as you marry me,

And not before the rite is due,

I’ll abandon myself to you.’

Then she parted from him, saying:

‘To God, I commend you,’ in leaving

By the door through which she came;

To her room, retreated that same.

Stunned, he surely now perceived

He was but mocked, and sore deceived!

He sleeps badly, and at dawn pursues Hélie’s plan

Once the lady had departed,

He cursed at fate, broken-hearted,

That had failed him so grievously.

Love tormented him savagely,

But wearying, at last, he slept.

In dream he saw the maid, and wept;

She that had made his heart beat so,

Within his arms did sweetly show.

He dreamt he saw her all that night,

And, in warm embrace, held her tight,

And did so till the break of day.

But then he rose, and went his way.

Swiftly he sought the guarded door,

His plea the guard could not ignore,

And to the chapel now sped he,

Where he found the maiden, Hélie,

The dwarf beside her, and his squire,

Who held the steed’s reins for his sire.  

He sought his arms, and his armour,

Robert laced his helm; his charger

He now mounted, the Fair Unknown,

And ere any knew they had flown;

All four took to the highroad there,

As the bright sun rose through the air.

Hélie sang as she rode along;

Great the joy she expressed in song.

The dwarf led on; she rode behind.

Through wood and plain, the four did wind;

Towards the Ruined City, they rode,

Till Vespers, when the horses slowed.

The Castle of Galigans

Above a bridge o’er the water,

A fortress stood, beyond a river.

Well-founded towers, of ancient date,

Surrounded that whole estate,

Its keep protected by high walls.

There were many mansions and halls,

In that castle, close by a wood.

Its lord ruled all that neighbourhood,

And many of its folk were wealthy,

Of broad estates they held many.

Vineyards, woods and plains they saw;

Rich was that country to be sure,

Fine produce and stores a plenty

Filled the larders of that city.

Galigans was the castle’s name,

And fair and pleasant was that same.

Of the maiden: ‘What shall we do?’

Asked the knight, ‘Fair maid, think you

That we may lodge there for the night?’

Her answer was swiftly in flight:

‘No, we may not, sir knight!’ said she,

I’ve no wish to ride there, and see.

Of good deeds therein, I’ve heard nil;

Who seeks lodging may meet with ill.

The custom of the castle is this,

As I well know, and vile it is,

That none may offer lodging there,

Nor hospitality may share,

Except the castle’s lord alone

Who treats that honour as his own.

Lanpars is his lordship’s name,

Tis the custom of that same,

That he will never lodge a knight

Upon a steed, armed for a fight,

Unless they first joust together,

And seek to overcome the other;

For only if God takes good care

Of him who seeks a lodging there,

And he unseats the lord, will he

Offer him hospitality.

But if Lanpars defeats the knight,

Humiliation’s his, outright,

And the latter, without his steed,

Must suffer pain and shame indeed,

For all the castle’s populace,

Hound that stranger from the place.

Great lumps of filth and mud they bear,

On slimy sticks, to that affair,

Pots full of cinders and ordure,

And all that’s of vilest nature,

They hurl at the defenceless knight,

Till he is almost lost from sight.

Great is his grief who enters there.

Rather to the woods we’ll repair,

Better to lodge beyond its walls;

Not a knight but that fate befalls.

Many have come, yet all have failed

Against them all, he has prevailed.

For that reason, we should not go,

Sir knight,’ said she. ‘Though it be so,’

The Fair Unknown replied, ‘we must,

While God will ever aid the just.

Your words of warning are in vain.

Fret not, nor seek you to complain,

If I should ask a lodging there,

And a joust with this fellow share,

Who thinks his practice will deter

The bold and well-armed traveller;

Thus, he may avoid lodging him.

I’d measure myself against him.

So let us enter, and have no fear.’

Said the maiden: ‘God see us clear!

If tis your wish, then let us go;

May the Lord’s name protect us, though!’

The Fair Unknown enters the castle and encounters its lord, Lanpars

To the castle came that company,

And entered in, quite fearlessly,

And through the main street they did ride,

Folk gathering from every side,

Who, when they saw them, stood to jeer,

While all most hostile did appear.

Their vile sticks they loaded, and then

Filled up their pots of filth again,

And dipped cloths in noisome ordure,

Set to show the knight dishonour.

They all laughed and joked together,

Twas scarce worth debating whether

This fellow could escape their lord,

Who swept all comers from the board.

Seeing the crowd swirl all about,

Robert, as he rode, pointed out

That the tall keep towered ahead,

And to its door the street now led.

There its lord was playing chess,

With one whose king was in distress.

Lanpars rose on seeing the knight.

His greying hair was streaked with white;

His robe a rich but simple affair,

Bordered by black sable and vair;

Light shoes he wore on his feet,

And, to render his garb complete,

His belt bore transverse silver bands,

The artful work of skilful hands.

Here was a knight of noble mien,

Of a distinction rarely seen.

The Fair Unknown gave him greeting,

Without from his steed descending,

Lanpars responded courteously:

‘Welcome to you, sir knight! said he,

‘I doubt not you seek lodging here;

That you’re in need of it, tis clear.

You may do so, most willingly,

According to the custom; with me

You must joust, and if you should win,

Why then, you all may lodge herein.

But if I strike you from your horse,

Then you must steer another course,

For without lodging you must go,

And be humbled, to your great woe.’

The combatants prepare to do battle

The Unknown willingly agreed,

Fearing naught. Lanpars in the lead,

They entered a vast vault below,

Wherein they might exchange a blow.

Beneath the castle, there, the knight

Intended them to hold their fight;

By custom, thus it was he fought.

A carpet to that place men brought,

Which they unrolled upon the floor.

Then Lanpars’ armour there they bore.

He seated himself on one side,

Where a leopard might be descried,

In brownish hues, depicted there,

And thus, he armed for that affair.

Greaves of steel the lord did don,

Of worth, and fair to look upon,

Whiter than the hawthorn flower.

Once clad, according to his power,

To him his warlike steed was brought.

The saddle then that warrior sought,

Who fully armed, in all his pride,

Had many a combatant defied.

His shield he took, and to the hall

Two youths bore lances, at his call,

Long and solid, trim and square.

Once the lads had brought them there,

Each man chose, from those they bore,

That which seemed to suit him more.

The duel commences, and Lanpars is unhorsed

They parted, and then turned around.

Spurring their steeds on, o’er the ground

They sped, their steeds flying swiftly,

And each with his lance struck fiercely

Such a blow, with lance at the tilt,

Both spears were shattered to the hilt.

The two warriors met together,

Neither unseating the other,

For both were strong, and skilled as well,

And managed such that neither fell.

When they’d completed this first turn,

They sought not a reprieve to earn,

But seized another lance, then sped

To renew the fierce joust, instead,

And in fresh encounter, swiftly,

With levelled lances, met fiercely,

With such true vigour, and such force,

Their lances shattered in mid-course,

The splinters flying through the air

Like darts, and falling everywhere.

They both knew how to joust, that pair!

Robert chose a new spear with care,

As each man called out for a third,

Then, to his master, said a word,

Having chosen the better lance,

As faithfully he did advance:

‘Sir, for the love of God,’ said he,

‘Son of the virgin maid, Marie,

Their pots and sticks, forget you not;

Fail now, and ill shall prove your lot.

Many are there that think to revile

And shame you, in a little while.

The streets are packed now with them all,

The rich and poor, the great and small.’

‘My friend,’ said the youth, ‘have no fear,

The Lord above will aid us here!’

And then he turned without delay

And, once more, galloped to the fray,

Encountering the other, who

Struck at him, their joust to renew.

Lanpars dealt the leading blow,

Which through the other’s shield did go,

The tip piercing and lodging there,

While a host of shards filled the air,

The shaft splintering, but the youth,

Seemingly untroubled, in truth,

Struck Lanpars on his gilded shield

Of which the gleaming wood did yield.

His own lance, both solid and strong,

Sent the other tumbling headlong,

Quitting the stirrups in a trice,

And somersaulting once or twice.

Yet Lanpars arose from the dirt,

Being neither stunned nor hurt,

And thus addressed the Fair Unknown:

‘Sir, descend; I was fairly thrown.

You have won lodgings for the night,

And shall have them; it is your right.’

Hélie explains the reason for their quest

To this the Fair Unknown agreed;

A young nobleman took his steed

And other squires then drew near

To relieve him of all his gear,

And then bold Lanpars to disarm,

Who took fair Hélie by the arm,

And clasped her in his embrace,

And conversed so, and kissed her face.

Each of them displayed their joy,

That both knights had escaped annoy.

Being seneschal, you should know,

To her mistress, he honoured her so.

Then he asked her of her mission.

Thus, she replied to his question:

‘I went to seek King Arthur’s court,

At Caerleon; his aid I sought

For my mistress, and yet was pained

That no more than this youth I gained,

Who chose, but now, to joust with you.

And yet he suits me well, tis true,

And serves me faithfully, I say,

For so I’ve proven, on the way;

Fine the deeds he has sought to do;

And there’s none better, in my view.

Come show him now every honour,

For he’s a knight full of valour.’

Lanpars was pleased by all she said

Of the youth, and to him he sped,

And offered him his praise in turn,

And the welcome courage doth earn.

‘Sir,’ said he, ‘much have you endured,

And laboured hard here, in accord

With my wishes, and laboured well;

Now rest, and bid all pain farewell.’

Lanpars accompanies them on their way to the Ruined City

He led them where they sat to dine.

The squires came bearing bowls of wine,

And many a dish of varying sort,

Such as would grace the finest court.

After they’d dined at their leisure,

And drunk of wine a fair measure,

The youth sought rest; then, in the morn,

Went to Mass at the break of dawn.

Then back to the hall they all fared,

Where their breakfast had been prepared,

For which Lanpars’ cook had supplied,

Fat capons, and other birds beside.

The Fair Unknown sat at table

Just as long as he felt able,

Renewed his strength, then rose with speed

And left them, to saddle his steed.

Lanpars at his side did appear,

And spoke privately in his ear,

Telling him that, he too would go,

For he’d encounter many a foe,

And have need of arms and armour.

The youth armed, and clad his charger,

And declared that he was ready

To depart, with his company.

Then the squires led to each their horse,

And all were mounted, in due course.

Lanpars went with them, and beside

The maiden, Hélie, he did ride,

Deep in friendly conversation,

While the dwarf performed his station,

Leading the fine palfrey she rode,

For whom she made a lightsome load.

While all three conversed together,

The Fair Unknown led them ever,

With Robert, his squire, at his side,

Listening to them; though occupied,

Marvel not if he rode in fear,

Lest some sudden danger appear.

And counsels the Fair Unknown as to the place

Travelling till evening, they came,

Through a forest, and past that same,

In sight of the Ruined City.

None had they seen of such beauty,

Though in ruins that city stood.

Between two torrents in full flood,

It was sited, and they could see

Much of its former majesty:

The broken towers, spires, mansions,

The great keep, above its dungeons,

The palace shining yet, in splendour,

The steeples clustering together.

On viewing the vast city there,

All, halting, were obliged to stare,

Then dismounted; of a sudden,

Lanpars wept, as did the maiden.

Then armour was borne forth outright,

With which to arm the Unknown knight.

His greaves of steel they swift did lace,

(Strong deer-hide straps held them in place)

Secured his hauberk front and back,

And then, to guard him from attack,

Settled his helmet on his head.

Bold Lanpars turned to him, and said:

‘Sir knight, tis time for you to leave,

None may your burden now relieve,

For any that kept you company,

There, would meet with little mercy.

As you enter in that city,

Its walls wrought in antiquity,

You’ll see the towers and entrance doors;

The mansions, with their many floors,

And craftsmen’s workshops set below;

The palace windows, shattered though,

For all’s now ruined that you’ll view;

But none you’ll find to welcome you.

Follow the main street, as you ride,

Turn not your steed to either side,

Until you reach, midst the city,

Its palace, of like antiquity,

Wrought of marble; once that you win,

Follow the way; it leads therein.

The hall you’ll find is long and wide,

Vast the portal that leads inside.

You may readily view the place,

A thousand windows pierce its face;

And at each a minstrel doth stand,

With an instrument in their hand,

All dressed in rich attire, and lo,

Before each a candle doth glow.

Combined in truest harmony,

They play the sweetest melody.

As soon as they behold you there,

A welcome to you they’ll declare.

You must reply: “God curse you all!”

Ere you enter that mighty hall.

Forget not to pronounce the curse,

Ere your adventure you rehearse;

And, as you love your life, beware

Of entering a chamber there,

That you will see beyond the hall,

Its door set in the farthest wall,

But, in the centre, take your stand

And await what fate may demand.

Come, mount your steed without delay,

And hasten to be on your way.’

The Fair Unknown enters the city

The Fair Unknown his steed attended,

And to God his friends commended,

While they commended him likewise,

Although the tears filled their eyes,

As they now watched the knight depart,

His leaving had so moved each heart.

They feared they’d not see him again.

Now protect him, Lord, who doth reign

O’er this world! The maid wept freely,

Lanpars weeping as profusely.

Robert slumped down, the dwarf also,

Grieving, letting the reins hang low,

Causing the horses to roam free.

The Fair Unknown rode anxiously,

Until the city he drew near.

He crossed the river that ran clear  

Beneath the bridge upon that side;

Its stream, there, swift attack denied.

Five moated leagues of walls arose

That yet those ruins did enclose,

And still they towered, strong and high,

Their cut stones stretching to the sky,

Their marble bright o’er the water.

Bonded close with solid mortar,

In diverse colours shone the stone,

Beasts and flowers upon it shown;

Yellow and brown, blue and green,

Stone well-set, with a subtle sheen.

And every thirty yards along,

A turret stood, both tall and strong,

Such that he that on one did stand,

Might call to those on either hand.

None were present in the city,

For the whole fortress was empty.

He crossed himself at the sight,

And then he entered in, the knight,

For open was the castle gate.

The street ahead was long and straight,

He rode on, glancing to each side,

Great windowed mansions he espied,

Their columns tumbled to the ground.

He halted not till he had found

The entrance to the mighty hall,

Where at each window in the wall,

Upon its sill, sat a minstrel,

Before each a lighted candle;

And each one held an instrument,

The whole in one harmony blent.

At one window played a harper,

A lyre sounded from another,

Next the pipes, then a vielle,

A fiddle, and a chalumel;

One sang like a siren, as clear,

A citole accompanying; near

To these a minstrel blew a horn;

By another a flute was borne.

One sang a lay of love; he saw,

A tambourine and a tabor,

Bagpipes, flageolet, psaltery,  

Trumpets long and short, saw he,

While every minstrel did their best

To play in concert with the rest.

And encounters an armed knight

When the Fair Unknown they espied,

In a loud voice, as one, they cried:

‘God save, God save the chevalier,

King Arthur’s man, who doth appear

In this hall, in the lady’s cause!’

His fear might have given him pause,

Yet nonetheless the knight replied,

And in doing so all dread denied:

‘May the Creator curse you all,

And upon you great trouble fall!’

Then he galloped, without delay,

Down the great hall, upon his way.

A minstrel stood behind the door,

Who in his hand held a tabor,

And after him the door he did close.

In the hall, a great light arose,

From the candles burning bright

Before the minstrels; and the knight

Saw that the hall was rich and fine,  

And at its centre, as by design,

Stood a great table, all complete,

Supported upon seven feet.

To it the knight did now advance,

And halted, leaning on his lance;

There he awaited his adventure.

A knight came from a dark chamber,

All fully-armed from top to toe;

His charger was armoured also.

About his neck hung a green shield,

Lacking an emblem on its field.

Dappled the steed that did advance,

Heavy the knight’s steel-tipped lance.

When the Fair Unknown he saw,

He spurred his mount as if to war,

Our knight likewise, as he came on,

Spurred towards him, whereupon,

Each galloping towards the other,

With a crash they met together.

High on the shields their lances struck

With such blows that, through ill-luck,

Both of them tumbled to the ground;

Yet both were up again, at a bound,

Each man drawing his trenchant sword;

Many a stroke did those blades afford,

Falling briskly on helm and shield,

Though neither skilful knight would yield,

Neither would grant the other ease;

Oft they were beaten to their knees.

The stranger saw twas of no avail,

And that the Unknown must prevail;

Finding he was so brave a knight,

Twas unwise to prolong the fight.

He soon withdrew towards the door

From which he had advanced before.

That warrior the darkness swallowed,

As, swiftly, the Unknown followed,

And was about to pass the door,

When he saw, high above the floor,

Two axes raised, above his head,

Precisely poised to strike him dead.

In a trice he turned and withdrew,

Ere those axes could cut and hew.

He halted in the midst of the hall,

Waiting to see what might befall,

Though it was now devoid of light;

Even his steed was lost to sight.

He prayed then to the Lord apace,

Seeking deliverance from that place;

Escape from dishonour he sought,

And the shame that dishonour brought.

While he prayed and lamented so,

A minstrel scurried to and fro,

Lighting the wax candles once more,

Till all was as bright as before.

The minstrels to their labour bent,

Each one sounding his instrument,

As they had done prior to the fight.

Now that the hall was filled with light,

Naught remained to cause him fear,

From the chamber none did appear.

He ran to catch the reins again,

Seeing his mount its legs regain.

Retrieving his lance from the floor,

He took position, as before,

Mounted upon his steed anew,

Ready for aught that might ensue.

A second knight appears, of giant stature

From the chamber issued a knight,

Of giant stature, and armed aright,

Armoured indeed from head to toe,

As was the powerful steed below.

Of great worth was that stallion,

With eyes that bright as crystals shone;

A horn on its head bore that same,

And from its nostrils came forth flame.

None so agile was seen before,

Breathing smoke and sparks galore.

As large and strong was its master,

Vast in form, and fierce in nature.

Thundering on, the warrior came;

In black armour was clad that same,

While, pounding the paving below,

Galloped a charger far from slow.

So heavily its four hooves struck,

The very stones beneath it shook,

And sparks of fire filled all the air,

Its hoofbeats echoing everywhere.

And the pair engage in a fierce duel

Seeing him pound o’er the pavement,

The Unknown stared, in amazement,

And to the King of Glory did pray

To grant him victory that day.

Fiercely then he spurred his steed

Towards the challenger at speed,

As towards him the other rode,

Who that fierce stallion bestrode.

Each sturdy lance landed with force,

As the warriors met in mid-course.

Neither shield deflected the stroke,

The wood was shattered, the straps broke.

Both hauberks opened at the blow,

Into the flesh each lance did go.

So mighty was each blow, perforce,

The other tumbled from his horse,

Though, neither wounded mortally,

They leapt to their feet, instantly.

And ran to their lances on the ground.

Yet both lay in pieces, they found.

They left them broken on the floor,

From out the sheaths their swords did draw,

And, striking with the naked blade,

On helm and plate, their skill displayed.

Far fiercer was the battle there

Than was that old Cornish affair,

Where Tristan did fierce Morholt slay,

Roland and Oliver’s affray,

Or that twixt Mainet and Braimant.

Twixt knight and giant combatant,

No greater duel e’er met the eye,

Though fought beneath an open sky.

The End of Part III of ‘Le Bel Inconnu’