Marie de France

The Twelve Lais

Part IV

The Lays of Chaitivel, Chevrefoil (or Woodbine), and Eliduc

Woodbine

‘Woodbine’
Willem Wenckebach, c. 1893 , 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 Chaitivel (or The Unfortunate One): The lady of Nantes

NOW I’ve a longing to unfold,

For you, a lay I once heard told.

All the adventure and the name

Of the fair city where that same

Was born and its title I will tell.

The lay is known as Chaitivel.

Many the folk though who claim

‘The Four Sorrows’ as its name.

At Nantes there once dwelt a lady,

Famed throughout all Brittany

For her beauty and learning too,

And every other kind of virtue.

In all the region, never a knight

Of any worth but, at first sight,

He lost his heart to her entire,

And her affection did desire.

She saw no way to satisfy them,

Yet was reluctant to deny them.

More joy’s in seeking love from any

Lady in a given country,

Than taking money from a fool,

For he’ll resent you, as a rule;

A lady welcomes close attention

More readily than I dare mention;

Though she may long for them to cease,

She ought not to scorn your pleas,

But honour them and hold them dear,

And give you thanks and good cheer.

Now she of whom I wish to speak

Received so many there to seek

Out her worth and beauty bright,

She was pestered day and night.

There were four barons in Brittany,

Whose names are all unknown to me,

But they were of a pleasing age,

All still at the handsome stage,

And all four brave and valorous

Free and open, and courteous;

Men of great worth you understand,

Among the nobles of that land.

All four barons came to woo,

Gave of their best efforts too;

Each for her sake, and her love,

Sought heaven and earth to move;

Each one asked for her affection,

Each gave her his full attention,

And not one of them but thought

That he was the best who sought.

The Lay of Chaitivel (or The Unfortunate One): Her suitors compete

THE lady, full of common sense,

Sought to know, in her defence,

Who might prove the better lover,

Yet between one and another,

Found each as worthy as the rest;

How then was she to choose the best?

She liked not to lose all for one;

She welcomed fairly every one,

Granted each of them her favours,

Sent them love-notes for their labours;

And no man thought of any other,

For none could forsake her ever;

By deeds, and pleading on his knees,

Each man tried his best to please.

At every gathering of the knights

Each one sought, in the fights,

To win the tourney if he could.

To please her, be it understood,

Each knight claimed her as his love,

Each bore her token so to prove;

With ring, sleeve, or banner came

Each man, calling out her name.

The Lay of Chaitivel (or The Unfortunate One): The tourney at Nantes

SHE loved all four, and held them dear,

Till after Easter-time that year,

Came the news of a grand tourney,

At Nantes twas held, before the city.

Keen to joust with her four lovers,

Many came there from some other

Region, Frenchmen, and Normans,

And the Flemish and the Brabants,

The Boulognais, the Angevins,

And closer neighbours; for their sins,

Brave knights gladly made the journey.

Long they’d waited for the tourney,

When, on the eve of that event,

They took to fighting with intent.

The four lovers armed, in state,

Issued forth from the city gate;

Their allies the fight contested,

But on these four their hopes rested;

Each man known to all the field,

By his fair banner and his shield.

Against them came to the assault,

Two from Flanders, two, Hainault;

Each well-clad, as became a knight,

None but was eager for the fight.

Now lances, lowered, at full tilt,

Each man picked out a foe at will.

All came together with such force

Each of the foes fell from his horse;

These they cared not to address,

But let the steeds run rider-less,

And over the fallen made a stand

Till their friends were close at hand.

All this prompted a grand melee

Many a sword-blow came their way.

The lady, from a tower, could see

The dispositions of every party,

Saw the aid they granted the four,

But as to the best was still unsure.

Now the true tournament began,

The ranks swelled, man by man,

And oft the tourney turned straight

To a loud brawl before the gate.

The four lovers, they did excel,

And had the upper hand as well,

Till evening came and then the night,

When twas time to end the fight.

Foolishly they were separated

From their allies and so fated

To be slain, at least the three,

And the fourth hurt grievously,

His thigh pierced, so the lance

Through his body did advance.

All were pierced, thus did yield,

And all four fell upon that field.

Those who’d conquered gathered round,

Threw their shields to the ground,

Great their grief, and nary a one

But regretted what he’d done.

They did cry aloud and moan,

Never was such sorrow known.

Those from the city hastened there,

Caring not how they might fare;

There were two thousand knights

Who stood and mourned the sight,

Each did his helmet-mail unlace

Ripping the beard from his face,

Tore his hair, in communal grief.

Upon his shield then, in disbelief,

They laid each knight, thus they bore

Them to the lady they’d longed for.

The Lay of Chaitivel (or The Unfortunate One): The lady mourns

AS soon as the lady was acquaint

With their fate, she fell in a faint;

And when she rose from the same

Then she mourned each by name.

‘What shall I do?’ she cried in pain,

‘For I shall ne’er know joy again!

I loved these four knights ere now,

And loved each for himself, I vow,

In each great good I did discover;

Each loved me above all others.

Given their beauty and prowess,

Given their valour and largesse,

I turned all their thoughts on me;

If I’d sought one, to forgo three,

Who was he I’d most grieve for?

But I can feign and hide no more,

One is wounded, slain are three,

Naught in the world can comfort me.

The dead knights now I shall inter,

And if the wounded knight with care

May yet be healed, his nurse I’ll be,

And the best doctors he shall see.’

The Lay of Chaitivel (or The Unfortunate One): The last of the four

SHE had him borne to her chambers,

And then had them lay out the others;

She lovingly, nobly, to rich effect,

Adorning them in every respect.

Then to a wealthy abbey she gave

A handsome gift, for each grave

Prompted an act of giving there.

May God have them in his care!

Wise doctors she summoned outright,

Sending them to treat the knight,

Who lay wounded in her chamber,

Till his hurt was somewhat better.

She went to see him frequently,

And then much comforted was he.

But she mourned the other three,

And grieved for them continually.

After dinner, one summer evening,

The lady to the knight was speaking,

When, remembering her great sorrow,

Her head veiled, her face in shadow,

She fell into deep contemplation,

And while musing in this fashion,

He, seeing her so deep in thought,

Sought to address her, as he ought:

‘Lady, you seem troubled,’ said he,

‘What is’t you think of? Tell it me!

You should let your sorrow go

And be comforted, this I know.’

‘My friend,’ she said, ‘all my thought

Is with those other three who fought;

None of such lineage as mine,

However noble, wise or fine,

Has loved four such men I say,

And lost more in a single day;

All but you, so wounded that I

Feared indeed that you would die.

Since I’ve loved you all, as I say,

I wish to recall my grief alway.

I’ll weave a lay of all that same;

‘The Four Sorrows’ shall be its name.’

The Lay of Chaitivel (or The Unfortunate One): The naming of the lay

AS soon as he heard, the knight

Replied, as swiftly as he might:

‘Ah, Lady, let it, when tis done,

Be called ‘The Unfortunate One,’

(‘Chaitivel’ in Breton), that same,

Here’s why it should bear that name:

The others died some time ago,

Their day is gone, as we all know,

With all the pain each did suffer

In seeking to become your lover.

Yet I, escaping with my life,

All wretched there amid the strife,

Who at this time can still love so,

Now must see you come and go,

And hear you speak morn and eve,

Yet may no pleasure here receive,

Never a kiss, nor an embrace,

But only words to take their place.

Worse is all that I now suffer,

Death indeed would serve me better:

And so ‘The Unfortunate One’

I’d call the lay when it is done.

They who’d call it ‘The Four Sorrows’

May learn a truer name tomorrow.’

‘I’faith’ she said, ‘I deem that well,

And we shall call it ‘Chaitivel’.

And thus the lay was first begun

And ended, and when it was done,

Some folk who carried it abroad

‘The Four Sorrows’ did afford

It as a name, though both names fit,

And since the story so requires it,

‘Chaitivel,’ is the one you’ll hear.

Now it ends, there’s naught else, I fear;

No more heard I of what befell,

Thus I no more to you may tell.

The End of the Lay of Chaitivel

The Lay of Chevrefoil (or Woodbine): Tristan and the Queen

Of ‘Chevrefoil’ the lay I’d tell,

For indeed it pleases me well,

And all the truth relay to you

Of why twas made; twas sung too.

Many a one has told it me,

And in books too one may see

The tale of Tristan and the queen,

Of their love so true, I mean,

Which many a sorrow did provide,

And how that, on a day, they died.

Now King Mark was angered by

His nephew Tristan and by and by

Sent him from his realm, for he

Loved the queen; to his own country

He made his way and, one fine morn

Reached South Wales where he was born.

There he lived for one whole year,

Could no longer venture near;

Then upon his own instruction

Chose to face death and destruction.

By that none should be surprised,

Those who true love have realised,

Must suffer great grief and anguish,

When they cannot have their wish.

Tristan, aggrieved, in his agony,

Tore himself from his own country,

Deep into Cornwall he did stray,

There where the queen lived alway.

Concealed there in the forest, alone,

Not wishing to be seen or known,

He would but issue forth at evening,

When men return to their dwelling;

With peasants, or some poor knight,

He’d find his lodging for the night;

While from them forever seeking

All they might tell him of the king.

The Lay of Chevrefoil (or Woodbine): The road to Tintagel

THUS did he learn what they had heard;

That summoned by the king’s own word,

Tintagel now the barons sought,

Where King Mark must hold his court;

At Pentecost, all would there alight,

And take their pleasure and delight;

Queen Iseult too would play her part.

Tristan heard, joy filled his heart;

For whichever way she chose to go,

The road she journeyed he would know.

The day on which the king did ride,

Tristan sought out a grove beside

The road where they all, en masse,

In all their glory, must surely pass.

Once there, a hazel he cut in two,

And then he trimmed it squarely too,

And when he’d prepared this same,

There with his knife he cut his name.

If the queen but saw his hazel stick,

She’d take great notice of this trick,

Which she had seen him use before,

And know he was there, what’s more.

For her lover waits among the trees,

Whene’er the hazel stick she sees.

The Lay of Chevrefoil (or Woodbine): The meaning

HERE’S the sum of what it meant,

For he had told her of its intent:

That he has long lingered there,

Long waited and sojourned there,

Watching, seeking for some way

To gaze upon her, as on this day,

Since he cannot live without her;

For the pair of them tis no other

Wise than tis with the woodbine,

That honeysuckle that doth twine

About the hazel, that when set fast,

Laced all about the hazel, will last,

Such that both survive together.

Yet should any the pair dissever,

The hazel tree will fade away

With the woodbine, all in a day.

‘And so it is, love, with us two,

No you sans me, no me sans you!’

The Lay of Chevrefoil (or Woodbine): The lovers meet

THE Queen she came riding by,

Toward the trees she cast an eye,

Saw the hazel staff, all he wrote,

Knew the writing, and took note.

All the knights that did escort her,

She called out to, gave the order

That all might halt, twould be best,

And dismount, for she would rest.

They carried out her whole command,

While she strayed as she’d planned;

Then to her she summons her maid,

Brangwyn, who is her faithful aide.

She leaves the path a little, and sees

Her Tristan there, among the trees,

Who loves her more than any alive;

True joy it is they there contrive.

He can speak to her, at leisure,

She can tell him all her pleasure.

Then she tells him in what manner

He might his own place recover

With the king, for it weighs on him

That he has banished him at whim,

Based on mere claims about the pair.

And now she goes, leaves him there.

But when it comes time to depart

They weep sorely, grieved at heart.

Tristan returns to Wales once more,

Till his uncle doth his place restore.

The Lay of Chevrefoil (or Woodbine): The making of the lay

BECAUSE of all the joy he found,

In seeing her, on hallowed ground,

Because of what he once did write,

And because she’d asked outright,

So the words she might remember,

Since of the harp he was master,

Tristan now made for her a lay,

Brief enough is its name to say,

‘Goat-leaf’ in English, or ‘Woodbine’,

Or ‘Chevrefoil’, in French, is fine.

Now I’ve said all, and all is true,

Of this whole lay I retold for you.

The End of the Lay of Chevrefoil

The Lay of Eliduc: His wife and his mistress

TIS of an ancient Breton lay,

As I once heard it on a day,

I’d tell you, on truth intent

In matter, and in argument.

In Britain lived a brave knight,

Courteous, skilful in a fight,

Eliduc the name told to me,

Without peer in his country.

He had a wife, noble and sage,

Well-born, of high parentage.

When a girl, she did him marry,

And they loved most faithfully;

But it so befell he went to war

To seek wealth on a foreign shore.

There he loved a girl he’d seen,

Daughter of the king and queen;

Guilliadun she was named,

For her beauty she was famed;

While Guildelüec was, you see,

His wife’s name in his country,

After the lay was made and sung

Guildelüec and Guilliadun

It was called, though Eliduc

Was the first name that it took;

Before it was then named anew,

As I have said, after these two.

The story, that formed the lay,

Truthfully, I shall now relay.

The Lay of Eliduc: He is denounced

NOW Eliduc had a lord had he,

Who was the King of Brittany,

Who loved and cherished him, for he

Had served this king most loyally.

When the king was on a journey,

Eliduc governed the land wisely.

For these skills he was retained,

But scant was the reward he gained.

He would often hunt the forest,

Ne’er a forester would contest

That he did hunt there as of right,

Or murmur against the knight,

Yet, because of his power, he

Oft in others stirred deep envy,

So was denounced to the king,

Who accused him of ill-doing,

And then did banish him from court,

Without a case being brought,

And nor did Eliduc know why.

He often begged the king to try

Him, and grant him his defence,

Give no credence to the offence,

And he’d serve him till he die,

And yet the king made no reply.

On failing thus to win a hearing

He was then intent on leaving;

To his own place he returned,

And then to his friends he turned,

Of the king his lord and master

He spoke, and of the king’s anger;

Yet he’d served with all his might,

To scorn him so was hardly right.

The common folk say, for their part,

As well go quarrel with your cart,

No prince’s love is guaranteed.

He’s wise and prudent indeed,

Who’s ever loyal to his master

And doth love his good neighbour.

The Lay of Eliduc: He sails to Logres

HE would not stay in that country

But he would journey o’er the sea,

To the realm of Logres he would go,

And, while he was absent, know

His wife would rule all his estate,

And he’d command his men to wait

On her, and guard her faithfully

As all his friends would, equally.

And this counsel he now shared,

And therefore was well-prepared.

His friends were grieved withal,

To see him parting from them all;

Ten knights went with him that day,

And his wife saw him on his way.

And his whole household did grieve

As they watched his company leave.

But he assured his wife that he

Would keep faith most loyally.

He parted from her, there and then,

And took to the road with his men,

Reached the sea, crossed the same,

And thence to Totnes they came.

Several kings ruled all that shore,

And among themselves waged war.

The Lay of Eliduc: He aids a king who rules near Exeter

NEAR Exeter in that country

Dwelt a powerful king and he

Was aged, without male heir,

And none would inherit there

But a marriageable daughter.

Because he would not wed her

To his peer, they were at war,

And his whole realm now insecure.

At first indeed he was besieged,

Nor was the castle soon relieved

For no man dared to venture out,

Lest some melee become a rout.

Now Eliduc heard of this war,

And so he halted near the shore,

Thinking indeed that he ought

To remain where princes fought.

He would aid with all his might

The king most threatened in the fight,

The one least sure of victory,

Who’d pay him as a mercenary.

He sent messages to the king

In those letters boldly stating

That he’d left his own country

And might aid him presently;

Thus he waited on his pleasure,

And, if he endorsed the measure,

Then he asked safe-conduct there,

And sought the means to prepare.

Now when the messages appeared

The king indeed was greatly cheered,

He called his constable to him

And swiftly he commanded him,

At once, safe-conduct to afford

To this most fine and worthy lord

And to make fair lodgings ready

And to produce, as necessary,

All the monies that he might need

And send them to him, with speed.

The safe-conduct he did prepare

And despatched to Eliduc there,

Who welcomed it, glad was he,

And to the king he came swiftly,

Who lodged them with a dignitary,

Wise and courteous, of that city,

And stayed in the best chamber

That his host could there deliver.

Eliduc lived most honourably,

Invited to dine a goodly many

Of all those knights in sad case,

Who were lodged in that place.

He impressed on all his company

That none should be so foolhardy

As to behave in predatory ways,

At least for the first forty days.

The Lay of Eliduc: The castle is attacked

NOW, on the third day he was there,

Cries and shouts made all aware

That the enemy had advanced

And about them were ensconced,

To besiege the citadel as before;

Beating at the gates once more.

Eliduc, hearing the cry raised,

And of the foe’s attack appraised,

Armed himself, without delay.

He had in company that day

But fourteen mounted knights.

The rest were in various plights,

Either wounded, or a prisoner;

Eliduc armed some few, and after,

For he was not inclined to wait,

They issued forth from the gate.

‘Sire’, they cried, ‘we go with you,

And all that you do, we will do.’

‘My thanks then,’ was his reply,

‘Yet are there any here, say I,

Who know of some stratagem,

Whereby we might come at them?

If we await the enemy here

We may fight them, yet I fear

The honour it will bring is small,

Is better counsel here at all?’

‘Sire, i’faith,’ the men replied,

‘Not far along the near hillside,

Within the wood, in that ravine,

There is a narrow path, unseen,

Through which the enemy retreat,

And there they gather, in defeat

Or, having mounted an attack,

Tis there they quietly pull back.

On their palfreys, oft unarmed,

They can vanish free from harm;

If we were to adventure then,

We might slay a host of men.’

And thus his force might run amok,

Wounding, killing, wreaking havoc.

The Lay of Eliduc: The ambush

ELIDUC said: ‘Take care, my friends,

On thoroughness a plan depends;

Who often in such places fights,

Where he might lose his knights

He will scarcely win the game,

Nor will the greatest prize attain.

You who are now the king’s men,

Ought to serve him loyally; then

Come with me where I do go,

And what I do, there do also!

I assure you most faithfully

That you’ll incur no penalty,

For I will aid you in every way,

And if we cannot win the day

Then twill be granted us at least

That on our enemies we feast.’

They were near the trail indeed

That through the wood did lead,

To which the foe would repair,

And so did an ambush prepare.

Eliduc devised his plan, and then

Showed and instructed his men

The manner in which to attack,

Raise the cry, obstruct the track,

And called on all the company

Upon his summons to do as he.

They were to lay on furiously

And must not spare the enemy.

The foe were taken by surprise,

Routed ere they could realise,

And, their force much depleted,

In less than an hour were defeated.

Their constable was seized, on sight,

As was many another knight,

And given into their squires’ care;

Twenty-five captured thirty there.

Arms and armour thus they gained,

Wondrous spoils they obtained;

And back they rode, full of delight,

Having gained greatly by the fight.

The king gazed from a high tower,

All fearful for his men that hour,

Complaining there of Eliduc,

Who he credited, in his book,

With abandoning them, the knight

Turned traitor, once out of sight.

Yet there came this throng of men,

All weighed down, returned again.

And there were more coming back

Than issued forth to the attack.

Thus the king he knew them not,

And doubted then what was what.

He ordered the gates closed to all,

And had the soldiers man the wall,

To shoot upon them if required.

Yet not one bolt need be fired;

Eliduc had sent a squire ahead

To give the news in his stead.

He told now the whole adventure

And the result of all their labour,

How Eliduc had attacked the foe,

And had contrived their overthrow,

That never was there such a knight;

The constable taken in the fight,

And a further twenty-nine, he said,

Not counting the wounded and dead.

The Lay of Eliduc: The king promotes Eliduc

THE king, on hearing this did joy,

His pleasure was without alloy,

From the tower he did descend

So to welcome his new friend.

He thanked him for what he’d done,

Granting him each man’s ransom.

Eliduc shared what had been gained,

Three fine steeds alone retained

Which he’d heard praised mightily.

After sharing the spoils out, he

Distributed coins to the prisoners

In lordly fashion, and aided others.

After these deeds, I’m told, the king

Loved him much and cherished him.

He retained him for one whole year,

Along with all those who were near

To him, had them all swear loyalty,

And made him guardian of the country.

The Lay of Eliduc: The king’s daughter, Guilliadun

ELIDUC was sage and courteous,

Noble, handsome, and generous;

The king’s daughter heard his name,

And of the deeds that brought him fame.

Through her own private chamberlain

She requested that he would fain

Come visit her, so that she might

Become acquainted with the knight.

And expressed surprise, what’s more,

That he’d not visited her before.

Eliduc replied he’d like to know

Her far better, and would do so.

He mounted then on his charger,

And off he went to speak with her,

Accompanied there by her knight.

When of her chamber he had sight,

He sent this chamberlain ahead,

Who returned without delay and said

That he should follow him at once.

With fair and noble countenance,

Eliduc came before the lady,

And, speaking to her most politely,

For she was lovely, he thanked her,

Guilliadun, the king’s daughter,

In that she’d sent her man to seek

For him, that the two might speak.

She then took him by the hand,

And, begging him not to stand,

Set him to talking, by her side.

And, as they talked, him she eyed,

His face, his body, all was fair,

And seeing naught unseemly there,

His whole being seized her heart;

Amor, summoning her by his art,

Launched his sharp arrow, let it fly;

Love made her pale, and she did sigh.

Yet she would not enamoured seem,

Lest she was lowered in his esteem.

For a long while he chose to stay,

Then took his leave, and went his way.

There was much in her to desire,

Yet nonetheless he did retire,

And so to his lodgings went he

As yet still musing thoughtfully,

Afraid of her beauty, shy of her,

Since she was the king’s daughter;

Yet at the sweetness of her voice,

And that she’d sighed, he rejoiced.

He’d been so frequently in action;

He might have seen her more often,

While he had been in that country;

Yet repented of the thought, for he

His wife did only now remember,

And then of how he’d assured her

That he’d e’er act with loyalty,

And comport himself decently.

But this girl, this fair daughter,

Now desired him as her lover.

None had she so prized, she knew;

And if she could, she’d hold him too.

The Lay of Eliduc: She sends Eliduc gifts

All that night she lay awake,

Not a moment’s rest did take,

On the morrow when it was day

To a window she made her way

Called then, to her chamberlain,

And to him she made all plain.

‘I’faith,’ she cried, ‘ill went the night!

For I am now in grievous plight,

I love that soldier, newly here,

Eliduc, the ‘bon chevalier’.

All last night I could not keep

My bed, nor close my eyes in sleep.

If for love he wished to have me,

And of his heart could assure me,

I would do then all his pleasure;

Good twould bring him in full measure,

For he’d become king over us;

He is so wise and courteous,

If out of love he’ll not have me,

Then I shall die of misery.’

When she’d told her longing all,

The chamberlain she had called

Gave her counsel good and true:

‘Let no man bring ill on you!

Lady, if you love him,’ said he,

‘Then go send to him, presently,

A belt, a ribbon, or a ring;

If he should receive the thing

Full gladly, and doth it approve,

Then you’ll be certain of his love;

And handsome let him be, say I,

For no emperor neath the sky

Could but be filled with delight

If you chose him as your knight.’

When he’d uttered these words,

She replied to what she’d heard,

‘Yet, how can I know from this

That he doth my love truly wish?

No knight have I seen, I believe,

Who such an approach did receive

Whether he loved, or he did hate,

Would not accept, sooner or late,

Any fair thing that he might gain.

And I fear to be met with disdain.

For how may we through the outer

Know of any man the inner?

Prepare all that you need, then go.’

‘Madame,’ he said, ‘I shall do so.’

‘Bear this gold ring to him gladly,

Give him my belt that here you see,

Greet him a thousand times from me.’

So the Chamberlain turned swiftly,

Leaving her there in such a bind

She’d readily have changed her mind.

Nevertheless she let him depart,

And then to lament she did start:

The Lay of Eliduc: Her chamberlain returns

‘ALAS, my heart is stolen from me,

Lost to a man from a far country!

I know not if he be a nobleman,

Or whether he’ll soon leave this land;

For then I’d be left in misery;

I’ve set my heart on him foolishly.

I spoke to him but this very day,

Yet already for his love I pray.

He may scorn me for doing so,

If he is kind he will not, though,

For I in this have ventured all,

And if he loves me not at all

Then sorrow shall be my employ,

Ne’er in my life shall I know joy.’

While she thus lamented there

The chamberlain did onward fare.

To Eliduc at last he came,

Greeted him, in his lady’s name,

And forth the gifts he did bring,

Gave Eliduc the fine gold ring

Gave him her belt, soft and light,

And was thanked by the knight,

Who placed the ring on his finger,

And round his waist the cincture.

Now, Eliduc said nothing more,

Except for offering some reward,

But naught he said had he earned,

And to his lady he thus returned.

Finding her within her chamber,

In Eliduc’s name he did greet her,

And gave her thanks graciously.

‘Well,’ she cried, ‘hide naught from me!

Will he have me, think you, for love?’

He said: ‘I think so, by all above;

He is serious, I’d say, this knight,

Courteous, prudent, able quite

To show restraint, and on his part,

He doth know how to hide his heart.

On your behalf I gave him greeting,

And offered him your belt and ring.

Round his waist he tied the cincture,

And set the ring upon his finger.

Yet he said no further word to me.’

‘Did he receive them for love of me?

For if he did not, then it may be

I am betrayed, and woe is me.’

‘In truth, I know not,’ he replied,

‘Know only what I have surmised:

If he did not affect your cause,

He’d have accepted naught of yours.’

‘You speak lightly of it,’ said she,

‘But I believe he’ll not have me.

Nonetheless I wish him no ill,

And, I say, I will love him still.

And if he bears hatred for me,

Then I’ll die the more worthily.

Never through you or any other

Would I ere seek to discover

Aught from him, of all I say.

Myself I’d show him, from this day,

How this love of mine torments me,

If he but remained in this country.’

The chamberlain at once replied:

‘The king will keep him at his side,

Lady, a year, most certainly,

That he may serve him loyally.

And thus you will be at leisure

To show him all your pleasure.’

Knowing Eliduc would remain,

She felt a lessening of her pain,

She was delighted with his stay.

The Lay of Eliduc: An honest conversation

YET she knew naught of his dismay,

Since he’d seen her; all his fretting;

No joy, no pleasure could life bring,

Except, it seems, his thoughts of her.

Much grief they brought him rather,

For he had promised his wife, to be

Loyal, when far from their country,

That, but for her, he would love none.

Yet now his heart was held in prison.

Now he’d preserve his loyalty,

Yet could not deny indeed that he

Loved and longed for this lady,

Guilliadun, who was so lovely;

To see her, and to speak with her,

To embrace her, and to kiss her,

But so to love her that never

Would it bring on her dishonour;

As much to keep faith with his wife,

As the king he served with his life.

Eliduc was in much distress,

So he mounted and, weapon-less,

Called his companions to him;

He’d go to the castle, see the king.

And the lady, if there he might;

Such he longed for did the knight.

The king had risen from his dinner,

His daughter’s room he did enter,

In a game of chess he did engage

With a knight fresh from voyage.

By the board his daughter came

To sit, so she might learn the game.

Eliduc entering at that moment,

The king appeared most content,

And had the knight sit by his side.

Then to his fair daughter, he cried:

‘See here, you should become better

Acquainted with this knight, daughter;

Great honour you may show him then,

The bravest among five hundred men.’

Now, his daughter upon hearing

This instruction from the king,

Was much pleased, and with delight

She rose, and summoned the knight,

Seating herself far from the rest.

Both by love were now oppressed;

She dared not conversation seek,

While he doubted if he should speak,

Until, at last, he thanked her for

Both her presents he now bore;

He held no other gifts so dear.

She replied to the chevalier

That indeed his thanks were pleasing,

For in that hope she’d sent the ring,

And with the cincture did she part,

Hoping it too might win his heart;

A knight she loved, she so adored,

She would have him for her lord.

And if she could not, then she knew

That this one thing indeed was true

That she would have no living man.

Then he spoke his mind, thus began:

‘Lady, great thanks I render you

For your love; I have joy in you.

Since you so love this poor knight,

He cannot but be filled with delight;

But if you think to possess me so,

Then I must be truly bound, I know.

Yet I may not stay for anything;

One year only I serve the king,

For I swore an oath to him that I

Would not depart from his side,

Till the war was over, then anon

To my own country must be gone.

An I would not wish to linger so,

If you but give me leave to go.’

Then the princess, to all she heard,

Said: ‘Friend, I thank you for this word,

You prove both wise and courteous,

In taking thought, for both of us,

Of how you should behave to me.

Yet, above all things, I’ll love thee.’

Thus they each other did reassure,

And at that time they spoke no more.

To his lodgings Eliduc went,

Filled with joy at her consent,

For he could speak with her often;

And great was the love between them.

The Lay of Eliduc: He is summoned home

NOW, such were the fortunes of war,

That the king, who had before

Begun the conflict, he overcame,

And Eliduc thus ended the same.

He was much prized for his prowess,

His judgement too, and his largesse,

Much good indeed had come to him.

During this time his own lord sent

For him, and three messengers went

To seek for him beyond the sea,

For greatly endangered was he,

That lord, all his strongholds lost,

His lands wasted, and dire the cost.

And he, his lord, now repented sore

Of how he’d parted from him before;

For evil counsel had he received,

And evilly had he been deceived.

The traitors who’d accused him he

Had banished now from his country,

For their meddling, for their vile

Deed, had sent them into exile.

In his great need, he commanded

Summoned, conjured and demanded,

By the allegiance owed since he’d

Paid homage, that he, of loyalty,

Come now to bring his master aid;

The need was great he portrayed.

When Eliduc heard the news, he

Was much grieved for the lady;

He loved her deeply, as before,

And she could not have loved him more.

But they’d not entered into folly,

Or villainy, or falsity;

Exchanging gifts and speech,

And making vows each to each,

That was all they did, you see,

When in each other’s company.

That was his hope and his intent,

And to all this she did consent,

Hoping to win him, if she might;

But knew not he was wed, her knight.

‘Alas!’ said he, ‘I work ill, I fear!

Too long have I been lodging here!

And ill goes all in this country!

Now this lady is in love with me,

Guilliadun, the king’s daughter,

And loves me deeply, as I do her.

When she must part from me, say I,

One of the two of us must die,

Or both, if that should come to be,

Yet nonetheless I must go,’ said he,

‘My lord has so commanded me,

And by my oath has conjured me,

As does my wife for her own part.

Now indeed I should guard my heart!

For here I should no more remain;

But rather leave at once, tis plain.

I cannot wed my lover, I vow,

For that the Church doth not allow.

On every side I do meet with ill,

Yet, Lord, how hard the parting still!

But whoever holds her to blame,

I shall hold her free of the same;

All that she wishes I shall do,

Be guided by her counsel too.

The king, her father, rules in peace,

All attacks upon him do cease.

Due to the needs of my own lord,

I will seek leave, and well before

The term of my employment ends,

To go, for I my way must wend.

To the lady I shall go and, there,

Reveal to her all of this affair,

And what she wishes she will say,

And for her I’ll do all I may.’

The Lay of Eliduc: He takes his leave

THE knight, right soon you may believe,

Went to the king, and sought his leave.

The matter on hand he made plain,

Showed his orders, and did explain,

That his lord who’d asked him to go,

Was in such need he must do so.

The king read that lord’s command,

That he must go, he did understand;

Thoughtful he was and sorrowing.

He made him an offer did the king,

One third of his whole inheritance,

And treasure too he would advance,

If he would depart from him never;

And he would have his favour ever.

‘I’faith, at this time, I do confess,

That since my lord is in distress,’

Said Eliduc, ‘and asks aid indeed

Of me afar, I must serve his need;

There is no way that I may remain,

Yet if you have need of me again,

I’ll return to you, most willingly,

And bring a host of knights with me.’

The king’s thanks he did receive,

Who generously gave him leave,

And offered him his choice of all

The rich possessions at his call,

Dogs and horses, gold and silver,

Silk fabrics and many another

Thing of which he took good measure;

Eliduc said if twas his pleasure

He’d go speak to the king’s daughter,

And pay his respects thus to her.

The king replied: Tis well with me,’

And he sent a maid to go swiftly

And ope the door of the chamber.

Eliduc followed to speak with her,

His love, who, upon seeing him,

Called to him, and welcomed him.

He sought her counsel ere he went,

And briefly he spoke of his intent,

But ere he had revealed all to her,

Or had sought his leave from her,

She was overcome with dolour.

And her face lost all its colour.

Eliduc, seeing her in this state,

Commenced to lament their fate,

Kissed her mouth, now and then,

And then wept tenderly again.

In his embrace he held her tight,

Till her faint was over quite.

‘I’faith,’ cried he, ‘my sweet friend,

Hark to me, and let me defend

Myself, you are my life and death,

And all my comfort, in a breath!

That is why I take counsel of you,

So all betwixt us is good and true.

I must needs visit my country;

And your father grants leave to me;

But I would yet serve your wish,

Whate’er else may come from this.’

‘Then take me with you,’ she cried,

‘Now you’d leave my father’s side;

If you will not, then I shall die,

Since if you go, no joy have I.’

Eliduc answered, most tenderly,

That he loved her, and did so truly:

‘Fair lady, I am under oath

To your father; if we were both

To go, if I took you away,

I’d be foresworn, and I may

Not break my oath or the term set.

But I may swear, and loyally yet,

That if you let me have my way,

And set a term, and name a day,

And would have me here again,

Naught on earth shall me detain,

As long as I live, you understand;

My fate is wholly in your hands.’

Her love was such, without delay

She set a term, and named a day

For him to come and be with her.

Pain, at parting from each other,

Felt they, gold rings exchanging,

Sweetly kissing, and embracing.

Soon at the shore arrived was he,

And, with a fair wind, crossed the sea,

The Lay of Eliduc: He ends the war in his own country

WHEN he returned to his country

His lord rejoiced most fulsomely,

His kith and kin and his friends,

And all who on him did depend,

And his wife, indeed, above all,

Both fair and wise, as you’ll recall.

But he was pensive all day long,

For the love in him was strong,

And naught that he now saw there

Seemed pleasant to him or fair.

No joy would he have, twas plain,

Till he could see his love again.

Much was concealed secretly,

While his wife grieved inwardly,

Not knowing what all this meant,

But sighing, where’er she went.

Often she begged of him to say

If any accused her, in any way,

Of doing aught that proved ill,

While he was yet absent still;

Willingly, she would make redress,

Yet there was naught to confess.

‘Lady,’ said he, ‘none doth accuse

You of aught, nor brought ill news.

But in the country where I was

I swore to the king that, as he was

In great need, I would soon return,

And serve him there again in turn.

Once my lord wins peace with honour,

I’ll not remain a week longer;

And great worry, must I suffer,

Before I may return, moreover.

And until I may return,’ said he,

‘No joy do I have in aught I see.

For I would serve both loyally.’

Henceforth his wife she let him be.

Eliduc went now to serve his lord,

His best counsel did him afford,

Aided him greatly in command,

Bravely defended all the land;

And when the time appointed came

The day that the lady had named,

He ensured that there was peace,

And war with his foes had ceased;

Thus was ready to sheathe his sword,

And lead his company abroad.

Two nephews he greatly loved,

And his chamberlain would remove

With him – he’d given him counsel

And been his messenger as well –

But none else, only his squires.

This number met all his desires.

And he made them swear to hide

All his affairs from those outside.

The Lay of Eliduc: He returns to the lady

HE now took ship, without delay,

And over the sea it made its way.

Soon he’d arrived in that country

Where he had most longed to be.

Eliduc was most circumspect,

Far from the port he did elect

To lodge, so he would not be seen,

And so be recognised, I mean.

He summoned his chamberlain,

And sent him to his love again,

To say that he was there, and tell

Her that he’d kept faith as well.

That night, when all were asleep,

She must secretly leave the keep;

His chamberlain would go to her

And bring her to meet him there.

The chamberlain changed his dress,

On foot he hastened, to address

His mission, heading to the keep

Where the king and all did sleep.

He found her chamber readily,

And within he sought the lady.

He gave her greetings and then

Said her love had returned again.

When she had heard his news

She was happy, and confused,

Most tenderly she shed a tear

Of joy, and kissed the messenger.

He told her the whole scheme as well,

How she must leave when evening fell;

Then he stayed with her all that day,

Planning how they might slip away;

And that night, when all were asleep,

He and the lady fled the keep,

They kept together, went silently,

And all they did, did cautiously,

For they feared lest any man see.

Under a short mantle, she

Wore a silk dress, so I am told,

Lightly embroidered in gold,

Far from the gate, all in the dark,

They reached a wood, near the park

Below the palace, where her lover

Waited for her, on his charger.

The Lay of Eliduc: The lovers sail for his country; the truth is exposed

TO him the chamberlain now led her,

Eliduc dismounted, and kissed her.

Great joy was there at this meeting.

Then they mounted and took wing;

Thus, grasping tightly to the reins,

They spurred on o’er hill and plain,

Came to the harbour at Totness,

And so embarked, without distress.

There sailed in that vessel none

But himself, his men, and Guilliadun.

Theirs was a good wind and tide,

And all was clear weather beside,

But when they were nigh his country,

A gale blew up from out the sea,

And in the wind they did labour,

As it drove them far from harbour;

The spars were shattered and fell,

Their sails it ripped apart as well.

They called on God most fervently,

And to the Virgin, to Our Lady,

From whose Son they sought aid,

And to Saint Nicholas they prayed,

And Saint Clement, that he favour

The ship, and bring it safe to harbour;

But the vessel, now far from cover

Was driven thus hither and thither.

Much pressed were they by the gale.

One of the squires now gave a hail,

To the bridge, crying: ‘What use?

Sire, this gale you have let loose,

It is through you that we must die,

And never come to shore, say I!

You, my lord, have a loyal wife

Yet love this other, upon my life,

Against God, and against the law,

Against right and faith, and more.

Then let us drown her in the sea,

That we might reach our own country!’

Eliduc heard what he did cry,

And was much angered thereby.

‘Foul traitor, mad son of a whore,

Wretched fool, not one word more!

If I could leave my love,’ he hissed,

‘I’d make you pay dearly for this.’

But he held her tight in his arms,

And sought to keep her from harm,

From the storm that wildly stirred,

And the words that she had heard,

That a wife her lover possessed

In that land, as his man confessed.

She fainted there in his embrace,

Full pale, the colour fled her face.

In her faint she sighed not a breath,

But only lay there as if in death.

They helped to lay her down so,

To seek if she were dead or no.

Eliduc, torn by grief, arose

Ran to the squire, with him did close,

Then seized an oar and with a blow

Struck the man and laid him low.

Then taking by the feet the knave

Slung his corpse into the wave.

After throwing him into the sea,

He took to the rudder, hurriedly,

And so governed the ship that he,

Brought them all to port in safety,

And once he was truly at anchor

Lowered a gangway to the shore.

Yet his love as one dead still lay,

And all her state did him dismay.

Eliduc was now filled with grief;

He’d caused her death, twas his belief.

Of his companions he demanded

To know where, as they’d landed,

They advised she should be borne;

For from her side he’d not be torn.

Hereabouts, she must be interred,

With much honour, and holy word,

In a cemetery, declared the knight;

As a king’s daughter, twas her right.

The Lay of Eliduc: Guilliadun appears dead

HIS friends were as yet dismayed,

Not one suggestion had they made;

So Eliduc set himself to consider

To what place they should bear her.

His stronghold was near to the sea,

Thus they might reach it easily;

There was a forest round the keep

That was a good twenty leagues deep,

And a saintly hermit lived there,

With a small chapel in his care.

He’d lived there forty years or more,

Eliduc had talked with him before.

To him, he said, they’d carry her,

And in that chapel would her inter.

And he would donate much land,

On which an abbey there should stand,

With it a convent for the nuns,

A monastery, a group of canons,

Who for her soul would pray daily,

That God might show her mercy!

He had the horses brought, and he

Mounted then with his company,

But an oath he made them swear,

That they would hide this affair.

Before him there on his palfrey

He bore his love, most tenderly;

And thus, taking the direct road,

They soon reached the forest abode.

Before the chapel thus they came,

And he called out the hermit’s name.

But there was neither answer nor

Did any come to unlock the door.

One of his men climbed the wall,

And opened the door for them all.

Eight days before, the holy man

Had died, and Eliduc now found

A new built-tomb on that ground.

His friends sought to dig a grave

For his love, but he first did crave

To know if such a place was right.

‘Not yet, my friends,’ said the knight,

‘Not before I have counsel to hand,

And that of the wisest in this land,

To know if here the grave should be,

Or in some church, or some abbey.

We’ll lay her down before the altar,

And so to God we’ll commend her.’

To him he had his cloak brought,

With it a bier for her he wrought,

He laid her down upon this bed,

And left her there, as if for dead.

The Lay of Eliduc: He frequents the chapel where her body lies

YET, on preparing to depart,

The grief did almost stop his heart.

His gaze fell, his head did bow,

‘Fair one,’ said he, ‘to God I vow

That I shall not bear arms again,

Nor in such life as mine remain!

Fair friend, ill your first sight of me;

And to ill, love, you’ve followed me!

You may not now be queen, tis true,

Nor I show that faithful love to you,

With which you loved so loyally.

My heart sorrows for you greatly.

When I have interred you, I say,

I’ll become a monk, and so do pray.

And every day by your sepulchre,

I will refresh my grief, in prayer.’

Thus he parted from his amour,

And shut again the chapel door.

From his lodgings now he sent

A message that his way he bent

Towards his wife soon, though he

Was tired and weary from the sea.

When she heard, she was joyful,

And she prepared for his arrival;

A fair welcome she would give.

But little pleasure she did receive,

For he showed her no fair seeming,

Nor did he speak her fair greeting.

She dared not ask him the reason;

Two days he was there and gone;

He’d hear mass each day at morn

And then to the road he was sworn;

To the forest chapel took his way,

Where the body of his lover lay.

In seeming death still she did lie,

Without a waking breath or sigh.

And yet it seemed to him a wonder

White and red was yet her colour;

Through them a faint pallor ranged,

Else her complexion was unchanged.

He wept with anguish so to see her,

While for her soul he said a prayer;

And when all his prayers were done,

He returned thence to his mansion.

The Lay of Eliduc: His secret is discovered

ONE day his wife sent forth a squire,

To whom she told all her desire,

That he must watch as Eliduc

Left home, and see which way he took;

She promised the squire a reward;

Far he must go, and watch his lord,

And tell her where twas he went;

Horse and arms to him did present.

He then her orders did follow,

To the wood after his lord did go,

Who indeed perceived him not.

To the chapel now they had got,

Which he saw his master enter,

And heard the grief he did suffer.

As soon as Eliduc was through,

The squire sped to his lady too,

And told her all that he had heard,

The noise, the grief, every word

That arose from the hermitage.

Curiosity through her did rage.

The lady said: ‘Soon we shall go

And search the hermitage; know

That my lord must be on his way

To speak with the king this day.

The hermit has died, such is true,

And my husband loved him too,

But he would ne’er show such grief

For him alone, tis my belief.’

Awhile, she let the squire go.

That day, after noontide, though,

Eliduc went to see the king,

And so, with the squire leading,

To the chapel she made her way,

And, before the altar, there lay

The bier and the lady, in repose,

As lovely as a fresh-blown rose;

Uncovering the drape about her,

Finding she was long and slender,

Slim the arms, white the hands,

And the fingers thin and elegant,

Here then lay the truth; in brief,

Here was the object of his grief.

The Lay of Eliduc: Guilliadun is revived

SHE called the squire to her side,

‘See you now this lady,’ she cried,

Showing him the wondrous sight,

‘Her beauty as a gemstone bright?

She must be some friend of my lord,

She for whom such tears are poured.

I’faith I cannot wonder at all his

Grief, when one so fair has perished.

I love so, and regret, this treasure,

Nevermore shall I seek pleasure.’

And her eyes shed tears of pity

As she began to mourn the lady.

As she sat weeping by the bier,

A little weasel did appear,

From behind the altar it ran;

At which the squire, stick in hand,

As it passed by the lady’s head,

Dealt a blow, and left it for dead.

Into a corner the weasel he cast.

Only a few moments had passed,

When its companion came that way,

And, seeing where the creature lay,

Round head and feet it then began

To glide, and so in circles ran

Until on finding it did not rise,

Driven by sorrow, away did hie;

Out of the chapel, it was gone,

By the wood, the herbs among,

And seized a flower in its teeth,

Scarlet coloured, from the heath.

Swiftly returning, now the creature

Set the flower in such a manner

In the mouth of its companion,

Which the squire had but stunned,

That soon its mate revived again.

The lady saw; to her squire cried:

‘Seize the flower!’ His stick he plied,

Threw it so that the creatures fled,

Leaving the flower of brightest red.

She carried the flower to the bier,

And swiftly then, bending near,

Set it between the lady’s teeth;

That fairest flower of the heath.

She waited then and, by and by,

The lady, reviving, gave a sigh,

Her eyes opened then she spoke:

‘Lord, she said, when she awoke,

‘How I have slept!’ Then the wife

Gave thanks for her return to life.

On asking the lady for her name,

This then was the reply that came:

‘Lady, Logres my birth did see,

A king’s daughter, of that country,

Am I, and there I loved a knight,

Eliduc, a man of great might;

Together with him, I came here.

He sinned, deceiving me, I fear,

For he has a wife, and did never,

Tell me of her, or reveal it ever.

When of his wife I heard tell,

Into a deathly faint I fell;

And he hath left me villainously

All alone in a strange country.

He betrayed me, you understand,

A fool, she who believes a man!’

‘Lady,’ was Guildelüec’s retort,

‘In all this world there is naught

That now grants him the least joy,

Go and ask any in his employ.

He thinks indeed you are as dead,

And wondrously is discomforted.

Every day he views you though,

Yet thinks each day to find it so.

I am his wife, betrayed tis true,

But my heart doth pity him too.

Because of the grief he did show,

I wished to see where he did go,

I followed him, yet you I find;

You live, and joy fills my mind.

Together with me shall you go,

And find again your dear love, so.

Upon him I would make no claim,

But take the veil, in God’s name.’

The Lay of Eliduc: He returns to find her alive

THUS was the lady comforted,

And to the castle she was led.

The squire now was sent abroad,

And commanded to seek his lord,

He rode swiftly till he was found;

And once before him did sound

The news, telling Eliduc all.

For his horse did Eliduc call;

Waiting for none other beside,

That night to his keep he did ride.

When he found his love in life,

Tenderly he thanked his wife.

He felt pleasure without alloy

Never had he known such joy.

Full often did he kiss the lady,

And she too kissed him sweetly;

They felt great joy in one another.

When she saw them both together,

Guildelüec addressed her husband,

And his leave did now demand,

That she might go, from him part,

So to serve God, with all her heart.

Land he should grant her where she

Might in his realm found an abbey.

And he could then marry his love,

For the Church did no way approve

That he should maintain two wives,

Nor was the law there so devised.

Eliduc agreed to her intent,

And willingly gave his consent.

He would do all that she required,

And grant the land that she desired.

In the woodland near the castle,

By the hermitage and the chapel,

There he built her a nunnery,

And he edified it, variously,

Endowing it with lands galore,

All that was needed and more.

When all was done without fail,

Guildelüec then took the veil.

And established her new order,

With thirty nuns there beside her.

The Lay of Eliduc: He weds his love; later they enter the religious life

ELIDUC now wed his lover,

With much grace and honour,

And fine was the feast, I say,

When he married her on a day.

They lived in peace, many a year,

In perfect love, she his most dear.

Alms and grants did they afford,

Wealth consecrated to the Lord.

Near the castle on the other side,

On taking counsel did he decide

There to build a monastery.

All the rest of his land gave he,

All his gold, and all his silver,

And there he set, to be together,

A group of men of true religion,

To found an order, as was done.

When all was ready, then the two,

Once there was naught left to do,

Fulfilled, jointly, their intent,

To serve the Lord Omnipotent.

Beside his first wife he now set

The wife he loved dearly as yet,

And she received her as a sister

And held her in deepest honour;

To serve God she implored her,

Teaching the rule of her order.

They prayed to God, to defend

And grant mercy to their friend.

And he prayed for them in turn.

They sent fair messages, to learn

How things went in either place,

And to their hearts to bring solace.

And all strove as best they might

To love God, both day and night;

So made an end there, passing fine,

Thanks be to God; the Truth Divine.

Of the adventure of these three,

The Bretons, of their courtesy,

In remembrance, wrought a lay;

That none forget, to our own day.

Note: It may be that the reviving flower intended here was that of the Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis Arvensis), a cure-all in herbal lore, of which the old rhyme says: ‘No heart can think, nor tongue can tell, the virtues of the pimpernel.’ A plant of cleared land, it also grows on wastes, on sandy heaths, and in lightly cultivated areas.

The End of the Lay of Eliduc and of Part IV of the Lais