Yvain, the Knight of the Lion/Part 7

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Yvain, the Knight of the Lion by Chrétien de Troyes, translated by W. W. Comfort
Part VII


(Vv. 4821-4928.) Thus she entered upon her quest, and traversed many a country without hearing any news of him, which caused her such grief that she fell sick. But it was well for her that it happened so; for she came to the dwelling of a friend of hers, by whom she was dearly loved. By this time her face showed clearly that she was not in good health. They insisted upon detaining her until she told them of her plight; whereupon, another damsel took up the quest wherein she had been engaged, and continued the search on her behalf. So while the one remained in this retreat, the other rode rapidly all day long, until the darkness of night came on, and caused her great anxiety. [1] And her trouble was doubled when the rain came on with terrible violence, as if God Himself were doing His worst, while she was in the depths of the forest. The night and the woods cause her great distress, but she is more tormented by the rain than by either the woods or the night. And the road was so bad that her horse was often up to the girth in mud; any damsel might well be terrified to be in the woods, without escort, in such bad weather and in such darkness that she could not see the horse she was riding. So she called on God first, and His mother next, and then on all the saints in turn, and offered up many a prayer that God would lead her out from this forest and conduct her to some lodging-place. She continued in prayer until she heard a horn, at which she greatly rejoiced; for she thought now she would find shelter, if she could only reach the place. So she turned in the direction of the sound, and came upon a paved road which led straight toward the horn whose sound she heard; for the horn had given three long, loud blasts. And she made her way straight toward the sound, until she came to a cross which stood on the right side of the road, and there she thought that she might find the horn and the person who had sounded it. So she spurred her horse in that direction, until she drew near a bridge, and descried the white walls and the barbican of a circular castle. Thus, by chance she came upon the castle, setting her course by the sound which had led her thither. She had been attracted by the sound of the horn blown by a watchman upon the walls. As soon as the watchman caught sight of her, he called to her, then came down, and taking the key of the gate, opened it for her and said: "Welcome, damsel, whoe'er you be. You shall be well lodged this night." "I have no other desire than that," the damsel replied, as he let her in. After the toil and anxiety she had endured that day, she was fortunate to find such a lodging-place; for she was very comfortable there. After the meal the host addressed her, and inquired where she was going and what was her quest. Whereupon, she thus replied: "I am seeking one whom I never saw, so far as I am aware, and never knew; but he has a lion with him, and I am told that, if I find him, I can place great confidence in him." "I can testify to that," the other said: "for the day before yesterday God sent him here to me in my dire need. Blessed be the paths which led him to my dwelling. For he made me glad by avenging me of a mortal enemy and killing him before my eyes. Outside yonder gate you may see to-morrow the body of a mighty giant, whom he slew with such ease that he hardly had to sweat." "For God's sake, sire," the damsel said, "tell me now the truth, if you know whither he went, and where he is." "I don't know," he said, "as God sees me here; but to-morrow I will start you on the road by which he went away from here." "And may God," said she, "lead me where I may hear true news of him. For if I find him, I shall be very glad."


(Vv. 4929-4964.) Thus they continued in long converse until at last they went to bed. When the day dawned, the maid arose, being in great concern to find the object of her quest. And the master of the house arose with all his companions, and set her upon the road which led straight to the spring beneath the pine. And she, hastening on her way toward the town, came and asked the first men whom she met, if they could tell her where she would find the lion and the knight who travelled in company. And they told her that they had seen him defeat three knights in that very place. Whereupon, she said at once: "For God's sake, since you have said so much, do not keep back from me anything that you can add." "No," they replied; "we know nothing more than we have said, nor do we know what became of him. If she for whose sake he came here, cannot give you further news, there will be no one here to enlighten you. You will not have far to go, if you wish to speak with her; for she has gone to make prayer to God and to hear Mass in yonder church, and judging by the time she has been inside, her orisons have been prolonged."


(Vv. 4965-5106.) While they were talking thus, Lunete came out from the church, and they said: "There she is." Then she went to meet her, and they greeted each other. She asked Lunete at once for the information she desired; and Lunete said that she would have a palfrey saddled; for she wished to accompany her, and would take her to an enclosure where she had left him. The other maiden thanked her heartily. Lunete mounts the palfrey which is brought without delay, and, as they ride, she tells her how she had been accused and charged with treason, and how the pyre was already kindled upon which she was to be laid, and how he had come to help her in just the moment of her need. While speaking thus, she escorted her to the road which led directly to the spot where my lord Yvain had parted from her. When she had accompanied her thus far, she said: "Follow this road until you come to a place where, if it please God and the Holy Spirit, you will hear more reliable news of him than I can tell. I very well remember that I left him either near here, or exactly here, where we are now; we have not seen each other since then, and I do not know what he has done. When he left me, he was in sore need of a plaster for his wounds. So I will send you along after him, and if it be God's will, may He grant that you find him to-night or to-morrow in good health. Now go: I commend you to God. I must not follow you any farther, lest my mistress be displeased with me." Then Lunete leaves her and turns back; while the other pushed on until she found a house, where my lord Yvain had tarried until he was restored to health. She saw people gathered before the gate, knights, ladies and men-at-arms, and the master of the house; she saluted them, and asked them to tell her, if possible, news of a knight for whom she sought. "Who is he?" they ask. "I have heard it said that he is never without a lion." "Upon my word, damsel," the master says, "he has just now left us. You can come up with him to-night, if you are able to keep his tracks in sight, and are careful not to lose any time." "Sire," she answers, "God forbid. But tell me now in what direction I must follow him." And they tell her: "This way, straight ahead," and they beg her to greet him on their behalf. But their courtesy was not of much avail; for, without giving any heed, she galloped off at once. The pace seemed much too slow to her, though her palfrey made good time. So she galloped through the mud just the same as where the road was good and smooth, until she caught sight of him with the lion as his companion. Then in her gladness she exclaims: "God, help me now. At last I see him whom I have so long pursued, and whose trace I have long followed. But if I pursue and nothing gain, what will it profit me to come up with him? Little or nothing, upon my word. If he does not join in my enterprise, I have wasted all my pains." Thus saying, she pressed on so fast that her palfrey was all in a sweat; but she caught up with him and saluted him. He thus at once replied to her: "God save you, fair one, and deliver you from grief and woe." "The same to you, sire, who, I hope, will soon be able to deliver me." Then she draws nearer to him, and says: "Sire, I have long searched for you. The great fame of your merit has made me traverse many a county in my weary search for you. But I continued my quest so long, thank God, that at last I have found you here. And if I brought any anxiety with me, I am no longer concerned about it, nor do I complain or remember it now. I am entirely relieved; my worry has taken flight the moment I met with you. Moreover, the affair is none of mine: I come to you from one that is better than I, a woman who is more noble and excellent. But if she be disappointed in her hopes of you, then she has been betrayed by your fair renown, for she has no expectation of other aid. My damsel, who is deprived of her inheritance by a sister, expects with your help to win her suit; she will have none but you defend her cause. No one can make her believe that any one else could bear her aid. By securing her share of the heritage, you will have won and acquired the love of her who is now disinherited, and you will also increase your own renown. She herself was going in search for you to secure the boon for which she hoped; no one else would have taken her place, had she not been detained by an illness which compels her to keep her bed. Now tell me, please, whether you will dare to come, or whether you will decline." "No," he says; "no man can win praise in a life of ease; and I will not hold back, but will follow you gladly, my sweet friend, whithersoever it may please you. And if she for whose sake you have sought me out stands in some great need of me, have no fear that I shall not do all I can for her. Now may God grant me the happiness and grace to settle in her favour her rightful claim."


(Vv. 5107-5184.) [2] Thus conversing, they two rode away until they approached the town of Pesme Avanture. They had no desire to pass it by, for the day was already drawing to a close. They came riding to the castle, when all the people, seeing them approach, called out to the knight: "Ill come, sire, ill come. This lodging-place was pointed out to you in order that you might suffer harm and shame. An abbot might take his oath to that." "Ah," he replied, "foolish and vulgar folk, full of all mischief, and devoid of honour, why have you thus assailed me?" "Why? you will find out soon enough, if you will go a little farther. But you shall learn nothing more until you have ascended to the fortress." At once my lord Yvain turns toward the tower, and the crowd cries out, all shouting aloud at him: "Eh, eh, wretch, whither goest thou? If ever in thy life thou hast encountered one who worked thee shame and woe, such will be done thee there, whither thou art going, as will never be told again by thee." My lord Yvain, who is listening, says: "Base and pitiless people, miserable and impudent, why do you assail me thus, why do you attack me so? What do you wish of me, what do you want, that you growl this way after me?" A lady, who was somewhat advanced in years, who was courteous and sensible, said: "Thou hast no cause to be enraged: they mean no harm in what they say; but, if thou understoodest them aright, they are warning thee not to spend the night up there; they dare not tell thee the reason for this, but they are warning and blaming thee because they wish to arouse thy fears. This they are accustomed to do in the case of all who come, so that they may not go inside. And the custom is such that we dare not receive in our own houses, for any reason whatsoever, any gentleman who comes here from a distance. The responsibility now is thine alone; no one will stand in thy way. If thou wishest, thou mayst go up now; but my advice is to turn back again." "Lady," he says, "doubtless it would be to my honour and advantage to follow your advice; but I do not know where I should find a lodging-place to-night." "Upon my word," says she, "I'll say no more, for the concern is none of mine. Go wherever you please. Nevertheless, I should be very glad to see you return from inside without too great shame; but that could hardly be." "Lady," he says, "may God reward you for the wish. However, my wayward heart leads me on inside, and I shall do what my heart desires." Thereupon, he approaches the gate, accompanied by his lion and his damsel. Then the porter calls to him, and says: "Come quickly, come. You are on your way to a place where you will be securely detained, and may your visit be accursed."


(Vv. 5185-5346.) The porter, after addressing him with this very ungracious welcome, hurried upstairs. But my lord Yvain, without making reply, passed straight on, and found a new and lofty hall; in front of it there was a yard enclosed with large, round, pointed stakes, and seated inside the stakes he saw as many as three hundred maidens, working at different kinds of embroidery. Each one was sewing with golden thread and silk, as best she could. But such was their poverty, that many of them wore no girdle, and looked slovenly, because so poor; and their garments were torn about their breasts and at the elbows, and their shifts were soiled about their necks. Their necks were thin, and their faces pale with hunger and privation. They see him, as he looks at them, and they weep, and are unable for some time to do anything or to raise their eyes from the ground, so bowed down they are with woe. When he had contemplated them for a while, my lord Yvain turned about and moved toward the door; but the porter barred the way, and cried: "It is no use, fair master; you shall not get out now. You would like to be outside: but, by my head, it is of no use. Before you escape you will have suffered such great shame that you could not easily suffer more; so you were not wise to enter here, for there is no question of escaping now." "Nor do I wish to do so, fair brother," said he; "but tell me, by thy father's soul, whence came the damsels whom I saw in the yard, weaving cloths of silk and gold. I enjoy seeing the work they do, but I am much distressed to see their bodies so thin, and their faces so pale and sad. I imagine they would be fair and charming, if they had what they desire." "I will tell you nothing," was the reply; "seek some one else to tell you." "That will I do, since there is no better way." Then he searches until he finds the entrance of the yard where the damsels were at work: and coming before them, he greets them all, and sees tears flowing from their eyes, as they weep. Then he says to them: "May it please God to remove from your hearts, and turn to joy, this grief, the cause of which I do not know." One of them answers: "May you be heard by God, to whom you have addressed your prayer. It shall not be concealed from you who we are, and from what land: I suppose that is what you wish to know." "For no other purpose came I here," says he. [3] "Sire, it happened a long while ago that the king of the Isle of Damsels went seeking news through divers courts and countries, and he kept on his travels like a dunce until he encountered this perilous place. It was an unlucky hour when he first came here, for we wretched captives who are here receive all the shame and misery which we have in no wise deserved. And rest assured that you yourself may expect great shame, unless a ransom for you be accepted. But, at any rate, so it came about that my lord came to this town, where there are two sons of the devil (do not take it as a jest) who were born of a woman and an imp. These two were about to fight with the king, whose terror was great, for he was not yet eighteen years old, and they would have been able to cleave him through like a tender lamb. So the king, in his terror, escaped his fate as best he could, by swearing that he would send hither each year, as required, thirty of his damsels, and with this rent he freed himself. And when he swore, it was agreed that this arrangement should remain in force as long as the two devils lived. But upon the day when they should be conquered and defeated in battle, he would be relieved from this tribute, and we should be delivered who are now shamefully given over to distress and misery. Never again shall we know what pleasure is. But I spoke folly just now in referring to our deliverance, for we shall never more leave this place. We shall spend our days weaving cloths of silk, without ever being better clad. We shall always be poor and naked, and shall always suffer from hunger and thirst, for we shall never be able to earn enough to procure for ourselves any better food. Our bread supply is very scarce — a little in the morning and less at night, for none of us can gain by her handiwork more than fourpence a day for her daily bread. And with this we cannot provide ourselves with sufficient food and clothes. For though there is not one of us who does not earn as much as twenty sous [4] a week, yet we cannot live without hardship. Now you must know that there is not a single one of us who does not do twenty sous worth of work or more, and with such a sum even a duke would be considered rich. So while we are reduced to such poverty, he, for whom we work, is rich with the product of our toil. We sit up many nights, as well as every day, to earn the more, for they threaten to do us injury, when we seek some rest, so we do not dare to rest ourselves. But why should I tell you more? We are so shamefully treated and insulted that I cannot tell you the fifth part of it all. But what makes us almost wild with rage is that we very often see rich and excellent knights, who fight with the two devils, lose their lives on our account. They pay dearly for the lodging they receive, as you will do to-morrow. For, whether you wish to do so or not, you will have to fight singlehanded and lose your fair renown with these two devils." "May God, the true and spiritual, protect me," said my lord Yvain, "and give you back your honour and happiness, if it be His will. I must go now and see the people inside there, and find out what sort of entertainment they will offer me." "Go now, sire, and may He protect you who gives and distributes all good things."


(Vv. 5347-5456.) Then he went until he came to the hall where he found no one, good or bad, to address him. Then he and his companion passed through the house until they came to a garden. They never spoke of, or mentioned, stabling their horses. But what matters it? For those who considered them already as their own had stabled them carefully. I do not know whether their expectation was wise, for the horses' owners are still perfectly hale. The horses, however, have oats and hay, and stand in litter up to their belly. My lord Yvain and his company enter the garden. There he sees, reclining upon his elbow upon a silken rug, a gentleman, to whom a maiden was reading from a romance about I know not whom. There had come to recline there with them and listen to the romance a lady, who was the mother of the damsel, as the gentleman was her father; they had good reason to enjoy seeing and hearing her, for they had no other children. She was not yet sixteen years old, and was so fair and full of grace that the god of Love would have devoted himself entirely to her service, if he had seen her, and would never have made her fall in love with anybody except himself. For her sake he would have become a man, and would lay aside his deity, and would smite his own body with that dart whose wound never heals unless some base physician attends to it. It is not fitting that any one should recover until he meets with faithlessness. Any one who is cured by other means is not honestly in love. I could tell you so much about this wound, if you were pleased to listen to it, that I would not get through my tale to-day. But there would be some one who would promptly say that I was telling you but an idle tale; for people don't fall in love nowadays, nor do they love as they used to do, so they do not care to hear of it. [5] But hear now in what fashion and with what manner of hospitality my lord Yvain was received. All those who were in the garden leaped to their feet when they saw him come, and cried out: "This way, fair sire. May you and all you love be blessed with all that God can do or say." I know not if they were deceiving him, but they receive him joyfully and act as if they are pleased that he should be comfortably lodged. Even the lord's daughter serves him very honourably, as one should treat a worthy guest. She relieves him of all his arms, nor was it the least attention she bestowed on him when she herself washed his neck and face. The lord wishes that all honour should be shown him, as indeed they do. She gets out from her wardrobe a folded shirt, white drawers, needle and thread for his sleeves, which she sews on, thus clothing him. [6] May God want now that this attention and service may not prove too costly to him! She gave him a handsome jacket to put on over his shirt, and about his neck she placed a brand new spotted mantle of scarlet stuff. She takes such pains to serve him well that he feels ashamed and embarrassed. But the damsel is so courteous and open-hearted and polite that she feels she is doing very little. And she knows well that it is her mother's will that she shall leave nothing undone for him which she thinks may win his gratitude. That night at table he was so well served with so many dishes that there were too many. The servants who brought in the dishes might well have been wearied by serving them. That night they did him all manner of honour, putting him comfortably to bed, and not once going near him again after he had retired. His lion lay at his feet, as his custom was. In the morning, when God lighted His great light for the world, as early as was consistent in one who was always considerate, my lord Yvain quickly arose, as did his damsel too. They heard Mass in a chapel, where it was promptly said for them in honour of the Holy Spirit.


Endnotes[edit]

NOTE: Endnotes supplied by Prof. Foerster are indicated by "(F.)"; all other endnotes are supplied by W.W. Comfort.

  1. A similar description of a distressed damsel wandering at night in a forest is found in "Berte aus grans pies", by Adenet le Roi (13th century).
  2. The lion is forgotten for the moment, but will appear again v. 5446. (F.)
  3. This entire passage belongs in the catagory of widespread myths which tell of a tribute of youths or maidens paid to some cruel monster, from which some hero finally obtains deliverance. Instances are presented in the adventures of Theseus and Tristan.
  4. The old French monetary table was as follows: 10 as = 1 denier; 12 deniers = 1 sol; 20 sous = 1 livre
  5. It appears to be the poet's prerogative in all epochs of social history to bemoan the degeneracy of true love in his own generation.
  6. The sleeves of shirts were detachable, and were sewed on afresh when a clean garment was put on. (F.)