Marie de France

The Twelve Lais

Part II

The Lays of Bisclavret (The Werewolf), Lanval, and Les Deus Amanz (The Two Lovers)

Werewolf with Child

‘Werewolf with Child’
Lucas Cranach (I), (1510 - 1515), The Rijksmuseum

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved.

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.


Contents


The Lay of Bisclavret (The Werewolf): His wife questions his absences

AMONGST them all, there is one lay

I’d not forget; that of Bisclavret.

Bisclavret is the name in Breton,

Garwaf (Werewolf) in Norman.

Many a year such tales men told,

For it had often chanced, of old,

That humans werewolves became;

From the woods, to kill and maim,

They would roam; savage creatures,

When lodged in wolf-like features,

For men they eat, and ill they wreak,

And then again the wild woods seek.

But word of that I must delay,

To tell you first of Bisclavret.

There lived a lord in Brittany,

I’ve heard him praised handsomely,

A virtuous, a noble knight,

Who sought to act as was right,

His liege-lord, he held him dear,

As did his neighbours far and near.

A worthy woman he had wed,

Fair of seeming, and well-bred,

She loved him and he loved her;

Yet one thing ever troubled her,

That he was lost to her each week

For three whole days, nor would he speak

Of where he went; she knew not then

What befell him, nor did his men.

One day he returned, this knight,

To his house, filled with delight,

Thus she was minded to enquire:

‘My sweet friend, my fair sire,

There is something, I declare

I’ve longed to ask, if I but dare;

I fear you may be angry though,

And there is naught that I fear so.’

On hearing this, he embraced her,

Drew her to him, and kissed her.

‘Now, madam, ask away,’ said he,

‘I’ll hide naught from my lady;

If I can, I’ll ever answer you.’

‘I’faith,’ she said, ‘I breathe anew!

I live in fear every day,

Whenever you are far away,

My heart is filled with pain too,

I’m so afraid of losing you;

If I fail to garner swift relief,

Then I must surely die of grief.

So tell me, for I long to know,

Where you dwell, where you go?

I think you must love elsewhere,

And if you do, I’m in despair.’

The Lay of Bisclavret (The Werewolf): He reveals that he is a werewolf

‘MERCY, in God’s name, my lady!

If I said aught, ill would befall me,

And I would drive your love away,

And lose myself that very day.’

Now the lady felt, on hearing

This, twas less than convincing.

And oft she would raise the matter,

She would wheedle him and flatter,

Asking whither he did venture,

Till, at last, for fear of censure:
‘A werewolf I become,’ he said,

‘In the forest I make my bed,

Through its depths there I stray,

And there it is I find my prey.’

When he’d told her all his tale,

Then she requested this detail,

Whether he his clothes eschewed.

‘Lady,’ he said, ‘I wander nude.’

‘Where then do your clothes abide?’

‘I must not tell you,’ he replied,

‘For if of them I were relieved,

And my altered state perceived,

A werewolf I should be forever.

And naught could help me ever,

My former being to regain;

And so you question me in vain.’

‘Sire,’ she said, ‘I love you more

Than all the world; you, therefore,

Should not hide a thing from me,

Nor ever doubt my loyalty,

For that is not the way of love.

What is my sin, by heaven above,

That you doubt me in anything?

Do right, and tell me everything.’

She so tormented him withal,

He could do naught but tell her all.

‘Lady, quite near the wood,’ said he,

‘Beside the road, where I journey,

An ancient chapel doth it grace,

That serves me as a hiding-place.

There lies a stone, long and wide,

Beneath a bush, hollow inside;

Under there, my clothes I hide,

Till I return, and there they bide.’

The Lay of Bisclavret (The Werewolf): He is betrayed by his wife

THE lady wondered at his tale,

While her face grew wan and pale.

Filled with fear at his strange news,

This one thought her mind pursues,

How to make her escape that day,

For with him she would not stay.

A knight who dwelt in that country,

One who had long loved this lady,

Begged and prayed her to be his,

And done much in her service,

Though she had never loved him,

Nor of such had e’er assured him,

She summoned, her news conveyed,

And her heart to him displayed.

‘Be glad, she said, ‘fair neighbour,

For that for which you’ve laboured,

I grant you now, without reserve;

You shall receive all you deserve,

I grant my love, my body too,

Make me your love, as I do you!’

He gave her thanks, gratefully,

Accepting her pledge, entirely;

She swore it on the sacrament;

Then all the tale of where he went,

Her lord, what he became, did yield,

His journey to the woods revealed,

And all the paths he took outlined,

Despatching him the clothes to find.

And thus was Bisclavret ill-paid,

And by his own wife now betrayed.

Since he had vanished frequently

All her neighbours now agreed,

Her lord must have left for good.

Though they searched as best they could,

With nary a sign of him, in the end,

Their search they chose to suspend.

The lady’s marriage was approved

To one who had, so loyally, loved.

The Lay of Bisclavret (The Werewolf): The werewolf is hunted

SO things remained a whole year,

Till the king, while hunting deer,

Came to the forest depths, one day,

Where lay the werewolf, Bisclavret.

When the hounds were hallooed,

He was the quarry they pursued.

All that day they chased him hard,

Huntsmen and hounds, yard by yard,

Until they nigh-on cornered him,

And would have torn him limb from limb,

If he’d not seen the king, whom he

Ran towards, in hope of mercy,

Then pawing at the stirrup there,

Licked his foot, while all did stare.

The king who was gripped by fear,

Summoned his companions near.

‘My lords, about me now,’ he cried,

‘Behold this creature, at my side,

And how with strange humility,

In human wise, it begs for mercy.

Drive the hounds away, and go

See that no man strikes a blow!

This beast possesses mind and sense;

Rein in the dogs then let us hence,

And leave the beast in peace, I say,

For I shall hunt no more today.’

And while the king turns to go,

Bisclavret doth seek to follow,

Staying close, cannot depart;

From the king he will not part.

The king leads on to his castle,

Delighted with him, truth to tell,

Never has he seen such before,

Holds him a wonder evermore,

And regards him as a treasure,

Tells his people tis his pleasure

That they show him every care,

None must trouble him or dare

To strike the beast for any reason.

Food and water it shall be given;

And they, most willingly, agree.

Now, every day it lies silently,

Among the knights, near the king,

None there but think it a fine thing;

The beast’s well-behaved, so good

It does naught but what it should.

Wherever the king might stray,

It will follow come what may,

Attending on him, constantly;

That it loves him is plain to see.

The Lay of Bisclavret (The Werewolf): Bisclavret attacks his rival

LISTEN to what next occurred:

All his barons received word

They must attend the king, at court,

So all those who owed him aught,

Might join a feast there, on a day,

And he be thus well-served alway.

There appeared among the rest

Richly adorned, finely dressed,

He who’d wed Bisclavret’s wife,

And who could never in his life

Have dreamed he might reappear.

When, at the feast, he drew near.

He was soon known to Bisclavret,

Who leapt and snapped at his prey,

Snatched him, and dragged him out,

And would have slain him, no doubt,

Had the king not called him back,

And seized a stick, foiled his attack.

He tried to bite him twice more,

Amazing all, since ne’er before

Had he acted in that same way

To any man, as he did that day.

And all men said, and held it true,

He must have reason so to do;

He’d been ill-treated, somehow,

To seek revenge as he did now.

But for now, his enmity ceased,

For the king curtailed the feast,

And the barons took their leave,

And off to their homes did weave.

Away rode each and every knight,

The victim first to take his flight,

Whom Bisclavret attacked; no wonder,

He’d sought to tear the man asunder.

The Lay of Bisclavret (The Werewolf): His wife reveals all

NOT long after this, as I have heard,

For thus I recall it, every word,

To that forest, there rode the king,

Wise and courteous in everything,

Where Bisclavret had been found,

Who now beside his steed did bound.

That night when he sought his rest,

A country house suited him best,

One known to Bisclavret’s lady,

Who, dressed in all her finery,

Hastened away, to see the king,

With her many a rich gift bearing.

When Bisclavret saw her coming,

His rage there was no restraining,

Towards her he leapt in anger.

Listen to his vengeance on her!

He bit the nose clean from her face.

What could be a worse disgrace?

He was threatened, men deployed,

Ready to see the beast destroyed.

Wise advice was offered the king:
‘Sire,’ one cried, ‘this poor thing

Has e’er appeared tame near you,

Nor has he, in our humble view,

Who have long observed his ways,

And been about him all these days,

Touched a single human being,

Nor has attempted one ill thing,

Except against this lady now.

By the loyalty we owe, we vow,

He must hold a grudge against her,

And her new lord, along with her.

She is the wife of that knight

Who was dear to your sight,

And was lost to us long ago,

What became of him none know.

Put this lady to the question,

See if she will yield the reason

Why the creature hates her so.

Make her tell if she doth know;

For many a marvel there has been

That we in Brittany have seen.’

The king agreed with this counsel,

The knight was held, she, as well,

Was taken at the lord’s suggestion,

Then they put her to the question.

From distress and fear, she told

Them all, the story did unfold

Of how she had her lord betrayed,

Of his clothes, of how he strayed

Through the woods, of all he’d said

Of where he went, and how he fed,

Of how, since his clothes had gone,

He’d not been seen by anyone.

But she believed, that here today

This creature must be Bisclavret.

The king demanded that she show

The clothes, whether she would or no,

She had them brought forth, and they

Were set down before Bisclavret.

Yet the creature took no notice,

Though they were offered as his.

He who’d given advice before,

Spoke now to the king once more:

‘Sire, this thing will never do,

He’ll not dress in front of you,

Nor, in changing from a creature,

Display, to all, his true nature.

No, not for aught will he do so,

It is a shame to him, you know.

Have him led to your chamber,

And his clothes to him proffer,

Then leave him be, such is my plan;

We’ll see if he becomes a man.’

The Lay of Bisclavret (The Werewolf): He is restored to human form

SO the king led the beast away,

And closed the doors on Bisclavret.

A long while did the king abide;

Then, with two lords at his side,

Entered the chamber; and all three

There, on the royal bed, did see,

The knight restored in every limb.

The king, hastening to embrace him,

Kissed him a hundred times and more,

And then his lands he did restore,

Both granting him his old estate,

And more than I can here relate.

The woman they exiled, swiftly,

Driving her from all that country,

And she went forth beside the man

With whom she’d made her evil plan.

She’d many children, I’m advised,

And they could all be recognised

In their seeming, and their feature;

Many a girl thus marred by nature,

Lacked a nose, in that family,

And lived nose-less; in verity;

For this whole tale you’ve heard,

Is truth itself; accept my word,

And in memory of Bisclavret,

The Bretons, they made this lay.

The End of the Lay of Bisclavret

The Lay of Lanval: He is neglected by King Arthur

AN adventure I’ll now relay,

As it fell out; in another lay.

It tells of a lord, of high degree,

In Breton named Lanval, was he.

Now, at Carduel, the king sojourned,

Arthur the Brave, thither returned,

As the Scots from war ne’er would cease,

Nor the Picts, but marred the peace,

The land of Logres entering there,

And wreaking havoc everywhere.

At Pentecost, in summer season,

He feasted, then, for that reason,

And rich gifts gave to everyone,

Many a count, and many a baron,

All the knights of the Round Table –

None anywhere did show so able –

Estates and marriages he decreed,

For all, except one knight indeed:

That was Lanval, whom he forgot,

For to be ignored such was his lot.

Due to his valour, his largesse,

His rare beauty, and his prowess,

He was envied by many, I fear;

Those who seemed to hold him dear,

If with misfortune he had met

Would scarce their eyes with tears have wet.

A king’s son, of high parentage,

Now divorced from that heritage,

He was of the king’s household,

Yet all he’d owned he had sold.

And the king granted him naught,

Or a fraction of what he sought.

Many a doleful thought he had,

Was often pensive and ever sad.

My lords at this you need not marvel,

A man estranged, without counsel,

Must prove sad in a foreign land,

When there’s no succour to hand.

The Lay of Lanval: He meets with the two maids

THIS knight then, of whom I speak,

Who’d served the king well, did seek,

One day, after mounting his horse,

To let the steed take its own course,

Which exit from the town did yield,

And he came alone to a grassy field.

He dismounted by a flowing brook,

There his horse trembled and shook;

He unharnessed him, and let him go,

To roll on the grass in the meadow.

He doffed his cloak, under his head

He placed it, as both pillow and bed,

And lay thinking of his ill plight,

Seeing naught there to bring delight.

Lying there then, in this manner,

He saw two maidens by the water,

Coming towards him, side by side;

Never such beauty had he espied.

Both of them were richly dressed,

In purple tunics of the very best,

Tightly fastened, with fine lace,

And both of them lovely of face.

One bore a basin, the older maid,

Of pure gold, and finely made,

The truth I tell you, without fail;

While the younger a towel did trail;

Advancing, they made their way,

To that place where Lanval lay,

While he, e’er courteous, to greet

Them, leapt politely to his feet.

They saluted him, first of all,

And then these words they let fall:

‘Lord Lanval, behold, our lady,

Who is noble, wise and lovely,

Has sent us here to speak to you,

And we must bring you to her too.

You will be safe and in our care,

You can see her pavilion’s there.’

The knight granted what they sought,

Left his mount, with scarce a thought,

Grazing, behind him, in the meadow;

They led him where a tent did show;

Twas a beautiful pavilion;

Not Semiramis of Babylon,

At her richest, in her greatest hour,

When, with wisdom, she held power,

Nor the emperor Octavian,

Possessed such a pavilion;

And at its crest an eagle of gold,

Whose value could not be told;

Nor that of each cord and pole,

That there supported the whole.

No king is there, beneath the sky,

Wealthy enough its like to buy.

The Lay of Lanval: The lady of the pavilion

BEFORE the tent he saw a maid.

No lily-flower, or rose new-made,

When they adorn a summer’s day,

Surpassed her with their display.

She lay upon a bed so handsome

Twould be worth a king’s ransom;

She lay there in her shift only;

Her body noble was and shapely;

Of white ermine was her mantle,

Lined with Alexandrine purple,

But she’d doffed it, from the heat,

And thus bared her side complete,

Her face, neck, breast to the day,

All whiter than a hawthorn spray.

The knight advanced towards her,

While she summoned him to her,

Then he sat down upon on the bed.

‘Lanval, my dear friend,’ she said,

‘I came forth from my land for you,

For, from afar, I come, to seek you.

No emperor, no count, or king

Shall have greater joy or blessing,

If you prove noble and courteous,

In everything, for I love you thus.’

He gazed at her, he saw her beauty;

As lightning, love struck instantly,

Such that, his heart ablaze with fire,

He stammered: ‘If tis your desire,

And such great joy doth befall me,

That you seek to love me, lady,

Naught is there that you demand

I would not do at your command,

So long as in my power it be,

Whether in wisdom or in folly.

What you ask of me I will do,

And forsake all others for you.

I will seek to leave you never;

No more shall I desire, forever.’

When she heard all his speech,

He whom such love did preach,

She granted her body, lovingly;

Now is Lanval on his journey!

Gift after gift to him she gave,

Till nothing more he did crave,

For all that he might need is his,

He might grant largesse, for this

She will yield, all he may need.

Thus Lanval is well-lodged indeed,

For the more widely he doth spend,

The more on her he may depend

For silver and gold. ‘Yet,’ said she,

‘A warning; this I ask of thee,

Say naught of this to any man!

For this I tell you, break my ban,

And you will lose me forever.

Should our love be learned of ever,

Never again will you have sight

Of me, or win my body, sir knight.’

He replied he would remember,

Every demand he’d duly render;

Lay down beside her on the bed,

And now Lanval was well-requited.

He did not rise up from her side,

Until with day the evening vied.

And he’d have stayed longer still,

Had that been his lover’s will.

‘Friend, you must arise, I fear,

You can no longer linger here;

Now go,’ she said, ‘while I remain,

Yet this one thing I would explain,

Whene’er you would speak with me,

There’s no place that you might see,

Where a man might have his lover,

Free of blame or shame however,

Where I may not appear like this,

And there fulfil your every wish.

No man except you shall see me,

Nor shall any man there hear me.’

On learning this he rose delighted,

Kissed her, and then left the bed.

The two maids who’d led him there,

Offered him rich clothes to wear,

And when he was dressed, anew,

None handsomer the skies e’er knew.

Nor was he some base fool; they gave,

Him the bowl of water, to lave

His hands, dried them, and then,

Led him to the lady again,

So he might eat with his lover;

Nor might he refuse the offer.

He was served most courteously,

And dined with her full joyously.

He tasted most of one fair dish,

Which satisfied his every wish;

For oft his love kissed him, and she,

In her embrace, clasped him tightly.

The Lay of Lanval: His new-found wealth and happiness

WHEN he rose from the table,

His mount, as from some noble stable

Richly-saddled, did now appear;

Fair service he’d obtained here.

He mounted and took his leave,

To the city his way did weave,

Yet looking behind him ever,

Joy and fear mingled together;

For on his adventure he mused,

His mind now by doubt confused;

That it was real could scarce conceive,

Mazed, knew not what to believe;

At last he to his lodgings came,

And found his men, in his name,

Preparing for a feast that night,

In fresh attire, nor knew the knight

Whence it came. There was, indeed,

No knight dwelt in that town, in need,

Whom he did not bring before him,

And treat nobly when he saw him.

Lanval the richest gifts did give,

Lanval ransomed every captive.

Lanval clothed the poor minstrel,

Lanval, he did the honours well;

To the stranger, and the citizen,

Did Lanval prove the best of men.

And he knew great joy and delight,

For whether by day or by night,

He could have his lover to hand;

Everything was at his command.

The Lay of Lanval: The gathering in the orchard

THEY say, in that same year, after

St John’s Day, all at midsummer,

Thirty knights, from thence did go

Forth to amuse themselves below

The castle-keep, in an orchard, where

Queen Guinevere might be; there,

Among the knights was Gawain

With his cousin, the fair Yvain.

And Gawain, the brave and noble,

He that was so beloved by all,

Cried: ‘My lords, now we shall

Do ill by our good friend Lanval,

So generous and so courteous,

If we have him not here with us;

His father is a king, and wealthy.’

Thus they turned about, instantly,

And to his lodgings they all went,

And there they sought Lanval’s assent.

The Lay of Lanval: His conversation with the queen

AT a window, carved of stone,

There sat the queen, and she alone

Was leaning forth, and saw below

The king’s knights as they did go,

And, as she viewed the company,

Lanval among them, then did she

Call one of her three maids there,

Telling her to gather with care

All the loveliest maidens present,

All the most elegant and pleasant;

And with the queen herself, to show

Themselves, in the orchard, below.

Then, down the stairs, at the head

Of thirty maidens or more, she led

The way; there came every knight,

And felt great pleasure at the sight.

All walked together, hand in hand,

And fair speech did they command.

Lanval walked in a place farther

From the others, waiting rather,

To clasp and embrace his lover,

Touch her and kiss, and hold her;

For others’ joys seemed but slight

When he had not his true delight.

When the queen saw him there

She went closer, and took care

To sit nearby, and, for her part,

Reveal the workings of her heart:

‘Lanval, I honour you, tis clear;

I love you, and I hold you dear;

You might have my love entire;

Tell me then, what you desire!

To you my affection I’d accord,

You should be joyful now, my lord.’

‘Lady, he cried, ‘now let me be!

I care not for your love of me,

For I have long served the king,

Nor would fail him in anything.

Not for you, nor for your love,

Would I a traitor to him prove.’

The queen with anger did nigh choke,

And furiously, she misspoke:

‘Lanval, what’s said of you is right,

You care but little for such delight.

For oft to me it has been said,

You like not women, but instead

With young men you spend your leisure,

And among them take your pleasure.

Base coward, ill you do toward

The king, who is indeed my lord,

And lets you linger near him yet,

I deem that God he doth forget!’

Now, all he’d heard he would deny,

And proved not slow in his reply;

He uttered words of discontent,

Of which he’d, later, oft repent:

‘Lady, as doth regard that trade

I know naught of it, I’m afraid,

But I’ve a lover who, to my eyes,

Among all should have the prize,

Above all those that I e’er knew.

And I shall say but this to you,

A thing tis good for you to know,

That maid, the lowest of the low

That serves her, meanest of the mean,

Is worth more than you, my queen,

In beauty, both of form and face,

In goodness, courtesy and grace.’

The queen departed to her chamber,

And there she wept tears of anger,

All the more grieved, made furious,

By behaviour so discourteous.

She lay down straight upon her bed,

And she’d not rise again, she said,

Until the king had made all right,

Supporting her against the knight.

The Lay of Lanval: The King is angered

THE king returned now from the wood,

For the day’s hunting had proved good,

He made his way to the queen’s chamber;

She called out, on seeing him enter,

Fell at his feet, and sought his pity,

Saying Lanval had shamed her; he

Had asked her to become his lover,

And since she’d replied that never

Would she be his, he’d reviled her,

And boasted then of so fair a lover

So noble, well-bred, in her pride,

The maid who served at her side,

She that was least of all, was worth

More than the queen in looks and birth.

The king was then so grieved, that he

Swore an oath, and cried, angrily:

If the knight proved it not in court,

His death by rope or fire he sought.

From her chamber issued the king,

And called three of his lords to him,

He sent them to bring Lanval there.

To him more ill came of this affair,

For, on returning to his lodgings,

He finds that thither ill he brings,

For he has lost his love, the knight,

By praising her, his lover, outright.

He kept to his lodgings; all alone,

And sad of thought, there made moan;

Called to his lover, time and again,

But every summons proved in vain.

He groaned to himself, and sighed,

And felt so faint he almost died;

Cried a hundred times for mercy,

Seeking a word, from her, of pity.

He cursed his heart, his every breath,

Tis wonder he sought not his death.

Many a cry to her, many a prayer,

Deep remorse, and torment there,

He offered up, if only she might

Relent, appear there, to his sight.

Alas, how can he restore content?

The men whom the king had sent

Now arrived, and to him did say

He must come to court that day,

For the king had so commanded;

His trial the queen had demanded.

Lanval went with them, grieving,

He’d have preferred they slay him.

And thus he came before the king,

And stood there silent, sorrowing,

Displaying his grief, full openly.

The king addressed him, angrily:

‘Vassal, much ill you’ve brought me!

You’ve played the villain, for tis me

You’ve shamed, me you demean,

By thus slandering the queen.

Vain you are, and full of folly,

To claim that your love’s beauty

Is such her meanest serving maid

With the queen might be weighed.

Lanval denied he’d brought dishonour

Upon his lord, or shame upon her,

And, word for word, in open court,

Denied he’d her affection sought.

But, of all that had been heard,

He said that true was every word

In which he’d boasted of his lover;

He grieved, for thus he’d lost her.

And for that sin, indeed, he must

Suffer what the court thought just.

Now the king’s anger was profound

So he gathered his knights around,

To counsel him on what to do,

Lest he inflict more than was due.

They all came, at his command,

For good or ill, all those on hand;

And mutually they judged it right

That he should command the knight,

Who, for the moment, might go free,

To pledge himself, and guarantee,

That he would return for his trial

In his lord’s presence, in a while,

Before the full court thus to appear,

Since only the household were here.

All this they presented to the king

To him explained their reasoning.

Thus the king a pledge required

Lanval was alone, there enmired,

Without close relative, or friend;

But then Gawain his aid did lend,

Pledged himself, and his company.

The king said: ‘Then let him go free,

But all your fiefdoms and lands,

Shall be his bail, and in my hands.’

They pledged all thus to the king,

And Lanval to his rooms did bring.

The knights now entered in the same,

And were ready to chide and blame

Lanval for grieving, for in their eyes

He was possessed of a love unwise.

And every day they came to see him,

To ensure, when they were with him,

That he drank all his fill, and dined,

Fearing lest he might lose his mind.

The Lay of Lanval: The trial, and verdict

ON the day that they had named,

The barons their court proclaimed.

Both the king and queen were there,

With Lanval, to settle this affair.

The company their pledge redeemed,

Grieving for him and now it seemed

A hundred knights would at that hour,

Have done all that lay in their power,

To free one who’d lacked ill intent.

The king now sought a true judgement,

According to the charge, and reply,

Now the barons must say no or aye.

They to seek a verdict are gone,

But they are pensive and, as one,

Troubled about this foreign knight,

A nobleman, and in such a plight.

Many were embarrassed to fulfil

What seemed to be the royal will.

Thus spoke the Count of Cornwall,

‘Let us ever prove strong in all,

Mind not who doth weep or sing,

True justice before everything.

The king speaks against his vassal,

He whom I hear named as Lanval.

He charges him with felony,

And accuses him of villainy,

That he boasted of his lover,

And thus the queen did anger.

None accuses him but the king.

By any known legal reasoning

I say, who ever speak the truth,

He ought not be put to the proof,

Except in that, as in everything,

A man owes honour to his king.

Let Lanval but a true oath swear,

The king will forgive this affair.

For if he can offer a guarantee,

That his lover we all might see,

And can view her thus, and say

No lie he told the queen that day,

Then he should be shown mercy,

Since he spoke all in verity.

But if he can give no guarantee

That she will be revealed, then he

Loses his right to serve the king,

And no more to this court may cling.’

The Lay of Lanval: His faerie lover must appear before the court

TO Lanval they did now convey

The decision of the court that day,

That he must bring his lover there,

In his defence, and so must swear.

Lanval replied that he could not,

Knowing her aid must be forgot.

So back to the judges they went,

But there no other aid was lent.

Judgement, demanded the king,

On such the queen was waiting.

As leave to depart they sought,

Two maidens entered the court,

And on fine palfreys they rode,

Pleasing the forms they showed,

Dressed in purple silk were they,

Else were their bodies on display.

All gazed upon them willingly.

Gawain, with three others, he

Went to Lanval to inform him

Of the maidens, and show him.

Gawain gladly asked moreover,

Which of the two was his lover,

Who they were he did not know,

Whence they came, or where did go.

The pair on horseback passed on

In the same manner, there, as one,

Before the throne dismounting,

Where sat Arthur, the high king.

They were both of greatest beauty,

And they spoke most courteously:

‘O king, fine rooms now prepare,

With silk hangings rendered fair,

The which our lady thus may view;

She wishes now to lodge with you.’

He granted this most willingly,

Summoning two knights swiftly,

To show the pair to rooms above,

And silent now, they so approve.

The king of his lords demanded

That judgement now be handed

Down, much anger he did display,

So great the length of their delay.

‘Sire, we disbanded,’ they replied,

‘To follow these maidens inside,

We have not our judgement made,

The case must be further weighed.’

The Lay of Lanval: The arrival of his lover

SO, pensively, they met together,

But a noisy crowd did gather,

And when they went out to see,

Two fair maids of noble beauty,

In fresh silks of netted tulle,

Each mounted on a Spanish mule,

Came riding there along the road;

A deep delight the knights showed.

For now they said all must go well

With Lanval, the brave and noble.

Yvain, with all his company,

Went to Lanval, and then said he:

‘Now, sir, you may well rejoice!

For love of God, to us give voice!

Two young maidens are arriving,

Both are beautiful and charming,

Surely one must be your friend!’

Yet Lanval hastened to defend

His silence, saying he knew not

Either, and loved them not a jot.

They dismounted at their coming

And stood there before the king;

Many did those beauties favour,

For their form, and face, and colour,

As fine as any seen on earth,

For neither maid was of less worth

Than the queen; wise and courteous

Was the elder, and she spoke thus:

‘Grant us now the rooms, O king,

Prepared for our lady’s lodging,

She comes here to speak with you.’

He ordered then that they too

Be led to where the others were,

Leaving the mules to nature’s care.

When all was as he’d commanded,

He of his lords again demanded

That judgement now be rendered,

This trial was too long extended,

The queen’s anger now was great,

In that she’d been forced to wait.

They were about to quit the king,

When through the town came wandering

A lone maid mounted on a horse,

None fair as she in nature’s course.

On a white palfrey she did ride,

It bore her gently, with sure stride;

Its head and neck did nobly feature,

Nowhere lived a finer creature;

Richly adorned was this palfrey,

No count or king of any country

Could have acquired its equipage,

Except by land-sale or mortgage.

In this guise the maid is dressed:

Her slip white linen, of the best,

That yet revealing both her sides,

All laced together, her body hides,

That body noble is, and slender,

Her neck white as snow in winter,

Grey her eyes, and pale her face

That well-set nose, sweet lips do grace,

Dun eyebrows, fine forehead there,

Crisp, curling, bright-blonde hair;

Gold thread shows not so bright

As doth her hair against the light.

Of scarlet silk her mantle fine,

In folds, about her, it doth twine,

And on her fist a hawk she bears,

And after her a greyhound fares.

There are none, or great or small,

Nor child, nor oldest of them all,

That does not hasten to view her.

When they see her draw nearer,

They know her beauty is no jest.

Riding slowly comes their guest.

The Lay of Lanval: He is set free and she departs with him

THE judges there, who view her,

All do take her for a wonder;

Nary a one who sets eyes on her

But their heart fills with pleasure.

And all those who love the knight

Must run to tell him of the sight,

Of the maiden who, if God please,

Had come to set his mind at ease:

‘Dear companion, come and see,

Nor nut-brown nor tawny is she;

No, she’s the fairest maid on earth,

Of all to whom it e’er gave birth.’

Lanval heard, and raised his head,

Knew her well and, sighing, said,

The blood mounting to his face,

As he spoke at a headlong pace:

‘I’faith, cried he, ‘it is my friend,

I care not who my life must end,

Would she but show mercy to me;

For I am well, when her face I see.’

The lady entered the palace door,

None so lovely came there before.

She dismounted then, in the hall,

So that she might be seen by all,

Shed her mantle before the king,

The better to show her fair being.

The king, in manners ever polite,

Rose now to meet her, as was right,

And all the rest showed her honour,

And their service to her did offer.

When they’d gazed sufficiently,

And praised her beauty eagerly,

Then she spoke in such a measure

As showed she was not at leisure

To linger there: ‘O King, I shall

Declare my love, tis he, Lanval!

He is arraigned before your court,

I’d not wish him suffer for aught

He said, for you indeed have seen

That she is in the wrong, your queen.

For ne’er did he her love request;

And for that matter, as to the rest,

If his claim is made good, in me,

Then let your barons set him free.’

Those whose judgment twas by right,

He so directed; they freed the knight.

And not a judge but did embrace

The verdict; for he’d proved his case.

He was set free, and for her part,

The maiden was ready to depart.

Nor could the king now detain her,

For to her adhered many a retainer.

Outside the hall where they were met,

A marble mounting-block was set;

So Lanval climbed up there, to wait,

And when she issued from the gate,

He swiftly leapt, himself consigned

To the palfrey, and clung behind.

And he was gone to Avalon,

Or so runs this tale, in Breton,

For the maiden bore him there,

To that isle which is most fair.

No more of this has any heard,

Nor may I add another word.

Note: The name Lanval may be a concatenation of the names Lancelot and Perceval, suggesting, along with the characterisation of the queen, that Marie may have been strongly influenced, in this lay, by the work of Chrétien de Troyes her near contemporary.

The End of the Lay of Lanval

The Lay of Les Deus Amanz: The king’s daughter

IN times gone by, in Normandy,

There was told an oft-heard story,

Of two who loved one another,

And in that love died together.

A Breton lay told of that same,

The Two Lovers was its name.

For the truth is that in Neustrie,

Which we call now Normandy,

There is a mount, wondrous high,

And there it is the lovers lie.

In a place, near that mountain,

In his wisdom, there a certain

King had founded a fine city,

For the lord of Pîtres was he.

When asked he gave it a name,

Thus Pîtres he called the same.

The name indeed has endured,

Of town and castle, he was lord.

We know that country withal,

The Vale of Pîtres it is called.

The king had a lovely daughter,

Courteous, of gentle character,

And she now cheered his life

After the loss of his dear wife.

Now, many turned to murmuring;

His people unhappy with the king;

And when he heard what men said

He was troubled: she must be wed.

So he mused, and he considered

How she might yet be delivered

From every suitor for her hand.

Far and wide went his command,

That he who’d win his daughter,

Must in his arms transport her,

To the top of that mountain tall,

That lay beyond the city wall,

Must carry her there, to its crest,

Without seeking a moment’s rest.

The Lay of Les Deus Amanz: The young nobleman

AS soon as the news was known,

And throughout the country sown,

Many a youth sought, as agreed,

To do so, yet could not succeed;

Though they all gave of their best,

Not one could achieve that test.

All failed to win her; finally,

They were obliged to let her be.

Long time she remained unwed,

No man sought her for his bed.

There was a youth in that country,

He a count, handsome and free,

And he resolved to try his hand,

To outdo all others in that land.

He frequented the king’s court,

Often lingered there, in short,

Fell in love with the king’s daughter,

Thus oftentimes he sought her,

To ask that she grant him her love,

And thus her own affection prove.

Since he was noble, and courteous,

And the king prized him, she was

Inclined to give of herself, freely,

And he thanked her most humbly.

They would often speak together,

Faithfully they loved each other,

And did all in their power to hide

Their love, all trace of it denied.

To endure so was full troubling,

But giving thought to the thing

He thought it better to so suffer,

Than to be hasty, and so lose her.

He waited long thus for her love.

The Lay of Les Deus Amanz: A stratagem

ONE day his thoughts did so move

In that direction, he approached her,

Being prudent, and a noble lover,

And revealed to her his distress,

Then, in anguish, made this request,

That she away with him should flee,

That he might not so troubled be.

For if he asked her of her father,

He well-knew that he so loved her,

He would never grant her to him,

Except he please her father’s whim,

And bear her up the mountain-side.

Then the maid quietly replied:

‘Friend, I know that all must drop

Me, well before they reach the top;

Such deeds lie not in your power.

But if I went with you this hour,

He would rage, and my belief

Is that he’d surely die of grief;

I hold him dear, I love him so,
I would not bring him sorrow.

Some other path we must take,

Since that I cannot, for his sake.

In Salerno an aunt have I,

On whose wealth we may rely.

For more than thirty years therein,

My aunt has practised medicine,

And from long dealing in such lore,

Is wise in herbs and roots, and more.

If you would now but hasten there,

Bear her my letter, in your care,

And tell her of our plight, I’m sure

She’ll offer you counsel, and cure.

Electuaries she’ll give to you,

And potions that strengthen too,

And they will much increase your power,

And give you courage gainst this hour.

When you return to this country,

Then demand if you may wed me.

And he will take you for a fool,

And so repeat his previous rule,

That he will grant me to no man

Unless he shows him that he can

Bear me to the mountain crest,

In his two arms, and seek no rest.’

The Lay of Les Deus Amanz: The strengthening potion

SHE had delighted the young man

With her wise counsel, and her plan,

And he thanked her, in his delight,

And, taking leave of her that night,

He returned to his own country,

And there prepared for the journey.

Gathering rich fabrics, monies,

Beasts of burden and palfreys.

With him went the most worthy

Of the young men of his company.

To Salerno he made his way,

And a visit to the aunt did pay,

With the missive from his lover;

When she’d read all the letter,

She remained with him, till he

Was strengthened remarkably,

By the medicines she proffered,

And then a potion last she offered,

Such that whoever drank of it,

However great a task was set,

It would all his power renew,

Reaching each vein and sinew,

His body strong in every way,

As all fatigue it held at bay.

So he returned to his own land,

The potion, in a flask, to hand.

When the young man alighted

In his country, all delighted,

He lingered not in that place,

But hastened to the king apace,

Seeking to wed his daughter

If to the summit he brought her.

The king did not refuse, yet he

Thought the count full of folly,

Being too young to e’er succeed;

For many a valiant man indeed,

Had now attempted that affair,
And none had carried her there.

On a day the king had named,

To all his friends he proclaimed

His intent, his household too,

All who would his actions view;

So they came from every part,

For the youth and his sweetheart,

Since he would adventure there,

Her to the summit he must bear.

His lover had prepared wisely,

Ate not, fasting most strictly;

For, so as to lighten his load,

She on her love her aid bestowed.

The Lay of Les Deus Amanz: He attempts the feat

ON the day, thus it did befall,

The youth was there before them all,

With him the potion brought, and lo,

Beside the Seine, in the meadow,

Before the crowd gathered there,

The king led forth his daughter fair;

She wore naught except her shift.

Now, in his arms, the youth did lift

His love; she held the potion for him,

For he knew that she’d not fail him,

And so she clasped it in her hand,

And yet in vain, you understand,

Since the youth drank not a drop,

But set out for the mountain-top.

And so he climbed the lower slope,

His mind so filled with joy and hope

Of the potion he took no thought.

She felt with tiredness he fought,

‘Friend,’ she cried, ‘you must drink!

You must be weary now, I think.

Drink and renew your strength.’

But he replied to her, at length:
‘Fair one, I’m strong enough I find,

Not for aught would I fall behind,

For in the time that I might drink

I could walk three paces I think.

The people shouting out, likewise,

Might deafen me with all their cries;

And all of that would trouble me,

I may not rest here, truthfully.’

When he climbed the final stage

A war with faintness he did wage,

The maid oft crying, with emotion:

‘Friend, drink now of the potion.’

He would not hear a single word,

Rather, in pain, his loins did gird.

The Lay of Les Deus Amanz: They reach the summit, the youth dies

TO the top he comes now, and sighs,

Falls to the ground, and cannot rise.

The heart is throbbing in his chest,

His lover sees her friend must rest,

He’s overcome, in a deep swoon,

She falls to her knees, that soon

She might rouse him with the potion,

But his lips could make no motion,

For there he died, I now relate

While she wept aloud his fate,

Hurling the bottle from her hand,

Careless of where it might land.

Thereafter all the herbs that grew

On that mount, proved healthful to

All of that country far and wide;

Many a fine plant could be spied

Yielding virtue of its root there.

The Lay of Les Deus Amanz: The death of the king’s daughter

NOW I’ll tell of the maiden fair,

She who had lost her dear lover;

None had grieved so deeply ever.

She lay beside him, touched his face,

Clasped his body in her embrace,

Kissed him on his mouth and eyes;

From her heart’s depths rose her sighs.

Alas, the maid too, she died there,

Who was so noble, wise and fair.

The king, and his whole company,

Seeing that they came not, he

Went after them; and there, too late,

He found them; swooning at their fate.

When he could speak, he lamented;

Sorrow his whole court tormented.

Three days later they were interred,

A marble tomb on them conferred;

Within the two young folk were laid,

And, as agreed, their grave was made

Upon the mount; thus it was done,

Then they all departed, one by one.

Thereafter, folk named the mount

The Two Lovers, on their account.

For all of this happened as I say,

And of it the Bretons made a lay.

The End of the Lay of Les Deus Amanz, and of Part II of the Lais