The Knight of the Cart
Part II: Vv. 1841 - Vv. 3684
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #24
(Vv. 1841-1966.) Thereupon the knight turns away, without longer remaining in the field, and the damsel accompanies him. They leave in haste, while the father and his son ride after them through the mown fields until toward three o'clock, when in a very pleasant spot they come upon a church; beside the chancel there was a cemetery enclosed by a wall. The knight was both courteous and wise to enter the church on foot and make his prayer to God, while the damsel held his horse for him until he returned. When he had made his prayer, and while he was coming back, a very old monk suddenly presented himself; whereupon the knight politely requests him to tell him what this place is; for he does not know. And he tells him it is a cemetery. And the other says: "Take me in, so help you God!" "Gladly, sire," and he takes him in. Following the monk's lead, the knight beholds the most beautiful tombs that one could find as far as Dombes (13) or Pampelune; and on each tomb there were letters cut, telling the names of those who were destined to be buried there. And he began in order to read the names, and came upon some which said: "Here Gawain is to lie, here Louis, and here Yvain." After these three, he read the names of many others among the most famed and cherished knights of this or any other land. Among the others, he finds one of marble, which appears to be new, and is more rich and handsome than all the rest. Calling the monk, the knight inquired: "Of what use are these tombs here?" And the monk replied: "You have already read the inscriptions; if you have understood, you must know what they say, and what is the meaning of the tombs." "Now tell me, what is this large one for?" And the hermit answered: "I will tell you. That is a very large sarcophagus, larger than any that ever was made; one so rich and well-carved was never seen. It is magnificent without, and still more so within. But you need not be concerned with that, for it can never do you any good; you will never see inside of it; for it would require seven strong men to raise the lid of stone, if any one wished to open it. And you may be sure that to raise it would require seven men stronger than you and I. There is an inscription on it which says that any one who can lift this stone of his own unaided strength will set free all the men and women who are captives in the land, whence no slave or noble can issue forth, unless he is a native of that land. No one has ever come back from there, but they are detained in foreign prisons; whereas they of the country go and come in and out as they please." At once the knight goes to grasp the stone, and raises it without the slightest trouble, more easily than ten men would do who exerted all their strength. And the monk was amazed, and nearly fell down at the sight of this marvellous thing; for he thought he would never see the like again, and said: "Sire, I am very anxious to know your name. Will you tell me what it is?" "Not I," says the knight, "upon my word." "I am certainly sorry, for that," he says; "but if you would tell me, you would do me a great favour, and might benefit yourself. Who are you, and where do you come from?" "I am a knight, as you may see, and I was born in the kingdom of Logre. After so much information, I should prefer to be excused. Now please tell me, for your part, who is to lie within this tomb." "Sire, he who shall deliver all those who are held captive in the kingdom whence none escapes." And when he had told him all this, the knight commended him to God and all His saints. And then, for the first time, he felt free to return to the damsel. The old white-haired monk escorts him out of the church, and they resume their way. While the damsel is mounting, however, the hermit relates to her all that the knight had done inside, and then he begged her to tell him. if she knew, what his name was; but she assured him that she did not know, but that there was one sure thing she could say, namely, that there was not such a knight alive where the four winds of heaven blow.
(Vv. 1967-2022.) Then the damsel takes leave of him, and rides swiftly after the knight. Then those who were following them come up and see the hermit standing alone before the church. The old knight in his shirt sleeves said: "Sire, tell us, have you seen a knight with a damsel in his company?" And he replies: "I shall not be loath to tell you all I know, for they have just passed on from here. The knight was inside yonder, and did a very marvellous thing in raising the stone from the huge marble tomb, quite unaided and without the least effort. He is bent upon the rescue of the Queen, and doubtless he will rescue her, as well as all the other people. You know well that this must be so, for you have often read the inscription upon the stone. No knight was ever born of man and woman, and no knight ever sat in a saddle, who was the equal of this man." Then the father turns to his son, and says: "Son, what dost thou think about him now? Is he not a man to be respected who has performed such a feat? Now thou knowest who was wrong, and whether it was thou or I. I would not have thee fight with him for all the town of Amiens; and yet thou didst struggle hard, before any one could dissuade thee from thy purpose. Now we may as well go back, for we should be very foolish to follow him any farther." And he replies: "I agree to that. It would be useless to follow him. Since it is your pleasure, let us return." They were very wise to retrace their steps. And all the time the damsel rides close beside the knight, wishing to compel him to give heed to her. She is anxious to learn his name, and she begs and beseeches him again and again to tell her, until in his annoyance he answers her: "Have I not already told you that I belong in King Arthur's realm? I swear by God and His goodness that you shall not learn my name." Then she bids him give her leave to go, and she will turn back, which request he gladly grants.
(Vv. 2023-2198.) Thereupon the damsel departs, and he rides on alone until it grew very late. After vespers, about compline, as he pursued his way, he saw a knight returning from the wood where he had been hunting. With helmet unlaced, he rode along upon his big grey hunter, to which he had tied the game which God had permitted him to take. This gentleman came quickly to meet the knight, offering him hospitality. "Sire," he says, "night will soon be here. It is time for you to be reasonable and seek a place to spend the night. I have a house of mine near at hand, whither I shall take you. No one ever lodged you better than I shall do, to the extent of my resources: I shall be very glad, if you consent." "For my part, I gladly accept," he says. The gentleman at once sends his son ahead, to prepare the house and start the preparations for supper. The lad willingly executes his command forthwith, and goes off at a rapid pace, while the others, who are in no haste, follow the road leisurely until they arrive at the house. The gentleman's wife was a very accomplished lady; and he had five sons, whom he dearly loved, three of them mere lads, and two already knights; and he had two fair and charming daughters, who were still unmarried. They were not natives of the land, but were there in durance, having been long kept there as prisoners away from their native land of Logres. When the gentleman led the knight into his yard, the lady with her sons and daughters jumped up and ran to meet them, vying in their efforts to do him honour, as they greeted him and helped him to dismount. Neither the sisters nor the five brothers paid much attention to their father, for they knew well enough that he would have it so. They honoured the knight and welcomed him; and when they had relieved him of his armour, one of his host's two daughters threw her own mantle about him, taking it from her own shoulders and throwing it about his neck. I do not need to tell how well he was served at supper; but when the meal was finished, they felt no further hesitation in speaking of various matters. First, the host began to ask him who he was, and from what land, but he did not inquire about his name. The knight promptly answered him: "I am from the kingdom of Logres, and have never been in this land before." And when the gentleman heard that, he was greatly amazed, as were his wife and children too, and each one of them was sore distressed. Then they began to say to him: "Woe that you have come here, fair sire, for only trouble will come of it! For, like us, you will be reduced to servitude and exile." "Where do you come from, then?" he asked. "Sire, we belong in your country. Many men from your country are held in servitude in this land. Cursed be the custom, together with those who keep it up! No stranger comes here who is not compelled to stay here in the land where he is detained. For whoever wishes may come in, but once in, he has to stay. About your own fate, you may be at rest, you will doubtless never escape from here." He replies: "Indeed, I shall do so, if possible." To this the gentleman replies: "How? Do you think you can escape?" "Yes, indeed, if it be God's will; and I shall do all within my power." "In that case, doubtless all the rest would be set free; for, as soon as one succeeds in fairly escaping from this durance, then all the rest may go forth unchallenged." Then the gentleman recalled that he had been told and informed that a knight of great excellence was making his way into the country to seek for the Queen, who was held by the king's son, Meleagant; and he said to himself: "Upon my word, I believe it is he, and I'll tell him so." So he said to him: "Sire, do not conceal from me your business, if I promise to give you the best advice I know. I too shall profit by any success you may attain. Reveal to me the truth about your errand, that it may be to your advantage as well as mine. I am persuaded that you have come in search of the Queen into this land and among these heathen people, who are worse than the Saracens." And the knight replies: "For no other purpose have I come. I know not where my lady is confined, but I am striving hard to rescue her, and am in dire need of advice. Give me any counsel you can." And he says: "Sire, you have undertaken a very grievous task. The road you are travelling will lead you straight to the sword- bridge. (14) You surely need advice. If you would heed my counsel, you would proceed to the sword-bridge by a surer way, and I would have you escorted thither." Then he, whose mind is fixed upon the most direct way, asks him: "Is the road of which you speak as direct as the other way?" "No, it is not," he says; "it is longer, but more sure." Then he says: "I have no use for it; tell me about this road I am following!" "I am ready to do so," he replies; "but I am sure you will not fare well if you take any other than the road I recommend. To-morrow you will reach a place where you will have trouble: it is called `the stony passage'. Shall I tell you how bad a place it is to pass? Only one horse can go through at a time; even two men could not pass abreast, and the passage is well guarded and defended. You will meet with resistance as soon as you arrive. You will sustain many a blow of sword and lance, and will have to return full measure before you succeed in passing through." And when he had completed the account, one of the gentleman's sons, who was a knight, stepped forward, saying: "Sire, if you do not object, I will go with this gentleman." Then one of the lads jumps up, and says: "I too will go." And the father gladly gives them both consent. Now the knight will not have to go alone, and he expresses his gratitude, being much pleased with the company.
(Vv. 2199-2266.) Then the conversation ceases, and they take the knight to bed, where he was glad to fall asleep. As soon as daylight was visible he got up, and those who were to accompany him got up too. The two knights donned their armour and took their leave, while the young fellow started on ahead. Together they pursued their way until they came at the hour of prime to "the stony passage." In the middle of it they found a wooden tower, where there was always a man on guard. Before they drew near, he who was on the tower saw them and cried twice aloud: "Woe to this man who comes!" And then behold! A knight issued from the tower, mounted and armed with fresh armour, and escorted on either side by servants carrying sharp axes. Then, when the other draws near the passage, he who defends it begins to heap him with abuse about the cart, saying: "Vassal, thou art bold and foolish, indeed, to have entered this country. No man ought ever to come here who had ridden upon a cart, and may God withhold from him His blessing!" Then they spur toward each other at the top of their horses' speed. And he who was to guard the passage- way at once breaks his lance and lets the two pieces fall; the other strikes him in the neck, reaching him beneath the shield, and throws him over prostrate upon the stones. Then the servants come forward with the axes, but they intentionally fail to strike him, having no desire to harm or damage him; so he does not deign to draw his sword, and quickly passes on with his companions. One of them remarks to the other: "No one has ever seen so good a knight, nor has he any equal. Is not this a marvellous thing, that he has forced a passage here?" And the knight says to his brother: "Fair brother, for God's sake, make haste to go and tell our father of this adventure." But the lad asserts and swears that he will not go with the message, and will never leave the knight until he has dubbed and knighted him; let his brother go with the message, if he is so much concerned.
(Vv. 2267-2450.) Then they go on together until about three o'clock, when they come upon a man, who asks them who they are. And they answer: "We are knights, busy about our own affairs." Then the man says to the knight: "Sire, I should be glad to offer hospitality to you and your companions here." This invitation he delivers to him whom he takes to be the lord and master of the others. And this one replies to him: "I could not seek shelter for the night at such an hour as this; for it is not well to tarry and seek one's ease when one has undertaken some great task. And I have such business on hand that I shall not stop for the night for some time yet." Then the man continues: "My house is not near here, but is some distance ahead. It will be late when you reach there, so you may proceed, assured that you will find a place to lodge just when it suits you." "In that case," he says, "I will go thither." Thereupon the man starts ahead as guide, and the knight follows along the path. And when they had proceeded some distance, they met a squire who was coming along at a gallop, mounted upon a nag that was as fat and round as an apple. And the squire calls our to the man: "Sire, sire, make haste! For the people of Logres have attacked in force the inhabitants of this land, and war and strife have already broken out; and they say that this country has been invaded by a knight who has been in many battles, and that wherever he wishes to go, no one, however reluctantly, is able to deny him passage. And they further say that he will deliver those who are in this country, and will subdue our people. Now take my advice and make haste!" Then the man starts at a gallop, and the others are greatly delighted at the words they have heard, for they are eager to help their side. And the vavasor's son says: "Hear what this squire says! Come and let us aid our people who are fighting their enemies!" Meanwhile the man rides off, without waiting for them, and makes his way rapidly toward a fortress which stood upon a fortified hill; thither he hastens, till he comes to the gate, while the others spur after him. The castle was surrounded by a high wall and moat. As soon as they had got inside, a gate was lowered upon their heels, so that they could not get out again. Then they say: "Come on, come on! Let us not stop here!" and they rapidly pursue the man until they reach another gate which was not closed against them. But as soon as the man had passed through, a portcullis dropped behind him. Then the others were much dismayed to see themselves shut in, and they think they must be bewitched. But he, of whom I have more to tell, wore upon his finger a ring, whose stone was of such virtue that any one who gazed at it was freed from the power of enchantment. (15) Holding the ring before his eyes, he gazed at it, and said: "Lady, lady, so help me God, now I have great need of your succour!" (16) This lady was a fairy, who had given it to him, and who had cared for him in his infancy. And he had great confidence that, wherever he might be, she would aid and succour him. But after appealing to her and gazing upon the ring, he realises that there is no enchantment here, but that they are actually shut in and confined. Then they come to the barred door of a low and narrow postern gate. Drawing their swords, they all strike it with such violence that they cut the bar. As soon as they were outside the tower, they see that a fierce strife was already begun down in the meadows, and that there are at least a thousand knights engaged, beside the low-bred infantry. While they were descending to the plain, the wise and moderate son of the vavasor remarked: "Sire, before we arrive upon the field, it would be wise for us, it seems to me, to find out and learn on which side our people are. I do not know where they are placed, but I will go and find out, if you wish it so." "I wish you would do so," he replies, "go quickly, and do not fail to come back again at once." He goes and returns at once, saying: "It has turned out well for us, for I have plainly seen that these are our troops on this side of the field." Then the knight at once rode into the fight and jousted with a knight who was approaching him, striking him in the eye with such violence that he knocked him lifeless to the ground. Then the lad dismounts, and taking the dead knight's horse and arms, he arms himself with skill and cleverness. When he was armed, he straightway mounts, taking the shield and the lance, which was heavy, stiff, and decorated, and about his waist he girt a sharp, bright, and flashing sword. Then he followed his brother and lord into the fight. The latter demeaned himself bravely in the melee for some time, breaking, splitting, and crushing shields, helmets and hauberks. No wood or steel protected the man whom he struck; he either wounded him or knocked him lifeless from the horse. Unassisted, he did so well that he discomfited all whom he met, while his companions did their part as well. The people of Logres, not knowing him, are amazed at what they see, and ask the vavasor's sons about the stranger knight. This reply is made to them: "Gentlemen, this is he who is to deliver us all from durance and misery, in which we have so long been confined, and we ought to do him great honour when, to set us free, he has passed through so many perils and is ready to face many more. He has done much, and will do yet more." Every one is overjoyed at hearing this welcome news. The news travelled fast, and was noised about, until it was known by all. Their strength and courage rise, so that they slay many of those still alive, and apparently because of the example of a single knight they work greater havoc than because of all the rest combined. And if it had not been so near evening, all would have gone away defeated; but night came on so dark that they had to separate.
(Vv. 2451-2614.) When the battle was over, all the captives pressed about the knight, grasping his rein on either side, and thus addressing him: "Welcome, fair sire," and each one adds: "Sire, for the name of God, do not fail to lodge with me!" What one says they all repeat, for young and old alike insist that he must lodge with them, saying: "You will be more comfortably lodged with me than with any one else." Thus each one addresses him to his face, and in the desire to capture him, each one drags him from the rest, until they almost come to blows. Then he tells them that they are very foolish and silly to struggle so. "Cease this wrangling among yourselves, for it does no good to me or you. Instead of quarrelling among ourselves, we ought rather to lend one another aid. You must not dispute about the privilege of lodging me, but rather consider how to lodge me in such a place that it may be to your general advantage, and that I may be advanced upon my way." Then each one exclaims at once: "That is my house, or, No, it is mine," until the knight replies: "Follow my advice and say nothing more; the wisest of you is foolish to contend this way. You ought to be concerned to further my affairs, and instead you are seeking to turn me aside. If you had each individually done me all the honour and service it is possible to do, and I had accepted your kindness, by all the saints of Rome I swear that I could not be more obliged to you than I am now for your good-will. So may God give me joy and health, your good intentions please me as much as if each one of you had already shown me great honour and kindness: so let the will stand for the deed!" Thus he persuades and appeases them all. Then they take him quickly along the road to a knight's residence, where they seek to serve him: all rejoice to honour and serve him throughout the evening until bedtime, for they hold him very dear. Next morning, when the time came to separate, each one offers and presents himself, with the desire to accompany him; but it is not his will or pleasure that any one shall go with him except the two whom he had brought with him. Accompanied by them alone, he resumed his journey. That day they rode from morn till evening without encountering any adventure. When it was now very late, and while they were riding rapidly out of a forest, they saw a house belonging to a knight, and seated at the door they saw his wife, who had the bearing of a gentle lady. As soon as she espied them coming, she rose to her feet to meet them, and greeted them joyfully with a smile: "Welcome! I wish you to accept my house; this is your lodging; pray dismount" "Lady, since it is your will, we thank you, and will dismount; we accept your hospitality for the night." When they had dismounted, the lady had the horses taken by members of her well- ordered household. She calls her sons and daughters who come at once: the youths were courteous, handsome, and well-behaved, and the daughters were fair. She bids the lads remove the saddles and curry the horses well; no one refused to do this, but each carried out her instructions willingly. When she ordered the knights to be disarmed, her daughters step forward to perform this service. They remove their armour, and hand them three short mantles to put on. Then at once they take them into the house which was very handsome. The master was not at home, being out in the woods with two of his sons. But he presently returned, and his household, which was well-ordered, ran to meet him outside the door. Quickly they untie and unpack the game he brings, and tell him the news: "Sire, sire, you do not know that you have three knights for guests." "God be praised for that," he says. Then the knight and his two sons extend a glad welcome to their guests. The rest of the household were not backward, for even the least among them prepared to perform his special task. While some run to prepare the meal, others light the candles in profusion; still others get a towel and basins, and offer water for the hands: they are not niggardly in all this. When all had washed, they take their seats. Nothing that was done there seemed to be any trouble or burdensome. But at the first course there came a surprise in the form of a knight outside the door. As he sat on his charger, all armed from head to feet, he looked prouder than a bull, and a bull is a yew proud beast. One leg was fixed in the stirrup, but the other he had thrown over the mane of his horse's neck, to give himself a careless and jaunty air. Behold him advancing thus, though no one noticed him until he came forward with the words: "I wish to know which is the man who is so foolish and proud a numskull that he has come to this country and intends to cross the sword- bridge. All his pains will come to naught, and his expedition is in vain." Then he, who felt no fear at all, thus replies with confidence: "I am he who intends to cross the bridge." "Thou? Thou? How didst thou dare to think of such a thing? Before undertaking such a course, thou oughtest to have thought of the end that is in store for thee, and thou oughtest to have in mind the memory of the cart on which thou didst ride. I know not whether thou feelest shame for the ride thou hadst on it, but no sensible man would have embarked on such an enterprise as this if he had felt the reproach of his action."
(Vv. 2615-2690.) Not a word does he deign to reply to what he hears the other say; but the master of the house and all the others express their surprise openly: "Ah, God, what a misfortune this is," each one of them says to himself; "cursed be the hour when first a cart was conceived or made! For it is a very vile and hateful thing. Ah, God, of what was he accused? Why was he carried in a cart? For what sin, or for what crime? He will always suffer the reproach. If he were only clear of this disgrace, no knight could be found in all the world, however his valour might be proved, who would equal the merit of this knight. If all good knights could be compared, and if the truth were to be known, you could find none so handsome or so expert." Thus they expressed their sentiments. Then he began his speech of impudence: "Listen, thou knight, who art bound for the sword- bridge! If thou wishest, thou shalt cross the water very easily and comfortably. I will quickly have thee ferried over in a skiff. But once on the other side, I will make thee pay me toll, and I will take thy head, if I please to do so, or if not, thou shalt be held at my discretion." And he replies that he is not seeking trouble, and that he will never risk his head in such an adventure for any consideration. To which the other answers at once: "Since thou wilt not do this, whosesoever the shame and loss may be, thou must come outside with me and there engage me hand to hand." Then, to beguile him. the other says: "If I could refuse, I would very gladly excuse myself; but in truth I would rather fight than be compelled to do what is wrong." Before he arose from the table where they were sitting, he told the youths who were serving him, to saddle his horse at once, and fetch his arms and give them to him. This order they promptly execute: some devote themselves to arming him, while others go to fetch his horse. As he slowly rode along completely armed, holding his shield tight by the straps, you must know that he was evidently to be included in the list of the brave and fair. His horse became him so well that it is evident he must be his own, and as for the shield he held by the straps and the helmet laced upon his head, which fitted him so well, you would never for a moment have thought that he had borrowed it or received it as a loan; rather, you would be so pleased with him that you would maintain that he had been thus born and raised: for all this I should like you to take my word.
(Vv. 2691-2792.) Outside the gate, where the battle was to be fought, there was a stretch of level ground well adapted for the encounter. When they catch sight of each other, they spur hotly to the attack and come together with such a shock, dealing such blows with their lances, that they first bend, then buckle up, and finally fly into splinters. With their swords they then hew away at their shields, helmets, and hauberks. The wood is cut and the steel gives way, so that they wound each other in several places. They pay each other such angry blows that it seems as if they had made a bargain. The swords often descend upon the horses' croups, where they drink and feast upon their blood; their riders strike them upon the flanks until at last they kill them both. And when both have fallen to earth, they attack each other afoot; and if they had cherished a mortal hatred, they could not have assailed each other more fiercely with their swords. They deal their blows with greater frequency than the man who stakes his money at dice and never fails to double the stakes every time he loses; yet, this game of theirs was very different; for there were no losses here, but only fierce blows and cruel strife. All the people came out from the house: the master, his lady, his sons and daughters; no man or woman, friend or stranger, stayed behind, but all stood in line to see the fight in progress in the broad, level field. The Knight of the Cart blames and reproaches himself for faintheartedness when he sees his host watching him and notices all the others looking on. His heart is stirred with anger, for it seems to him that he ought long since to have beaten his adversary. Then he strikes him, rushing in like a storm and bringing his sword down close by his head; he pushes and presses him so hard that he drives him from his ground and reduces him to such a state of exhaustion that he has little strength to defend himself. Then the knight recalls how the other had basely reproached him about the cart; so he assails him and drubs him so soundly that not a string or strap remains unbroken about the neck-band of his hauberk, and he knocks the helmet and ventail from his head. His wounds and distress are so great that he has to cry for mercy. Just as the lark cannot withstand or protect itself against the hawk which outflies it and attacks it from above, so he in his helplessness and shame, must invoke him and sue for mercy. And when he hears him beg for mercy, he ceases his attack and says: "Dost thou wish for mercy?" He replies: "You have asked a very clever question; any fool could ask that. I never wished for anything so much as I now wish for mercy." Then he says to him: "Thou must mount, then, upon a cart. Nothing thou couldst say would have any influence with me, unless thou mountest the cart, to atone for the vile reproaches thou didst address to me with thy silly mouth." And the knight thus answers him: "May it never please God that I mount a cart!" "No?" he asks; "then you shall die." "Sire, you can easily put me to death; but I beg and beseech you for God's sake to show me mercy and not compel me to mount a cart. I will agree to anything, however grievous, excepting that. I would rather die a hundred times than undergo such a disgrace. In your goodness and mercy you can tell me nothing so distasteful that I will not do it."
(Vv. 2793-2978.) While he is thus beseeching him, behold across the field a maiden riding on a tawny mule, her head uncovered and her dress disarranged. In her hand she held a whip with which she belaboured the mule; and in truth no horse could have galloped so fast as was the pace of the mule. The damsel called out to the Knight of the Cart: "May God bless thy heart, Sir Knight, with whatever delights thee most!" And he, who heard her gladly, says: "May God bless you, damsel, and give you joy and health!" Then she tells him of her desire. "Knight," she says, "in urgent need I have come from afar to thee to ask a favour, for which thou wilt deserve the best guerdon I can make to thee; and I believe that thou wilt yet have need of my assistance." And he replies: "Tell me what it is you wish; and if I have it, you shall have it at once, provided it be not something extravagant." Then she says: "It is the head of the knight whom thou hast just defeated; in truth, thou hast never dealt with such a wicked and faithless man. Thou wilt be committing no sin or wrong, but rather doing a deed of charity, for he is the basest creature that ever was or ever shall be." And when he who had been vanquished hears that she wishes him to be killed, he says to him: "Don't believe her, for she hates me; but by that God who was at once Father and Son, and who chose for His mother her who was His daughter and handmaiden, I beg you to have mercy upon me!" "Ah, knight!" the maid exclaims, "pay no attention to what this traitor says! May God give thee all the joy and honour to which thou dost aspire, and may He give thee good success in thy undertaking." Then the knight is in a predicament, as he thinks and ponders over the question: whether to present to her the head she asks him to cut off, or whether he shall allow himself to be touched by pity for him. (17) He wishes to respect the wishes of both her and him. Generosity and pity each command him to do their will; for he was both generous and tender- hearted. But if she carries off the head, then will pity be defeated and put to death; whereas, if she does not carry off the head, generosity will be discomfited. Thus, pity and generosity hold him so confined and so distressed that he is tormented and spurred on by each of them in turn. The damsel asks him to give her the head, and on the other hand the knight makes his request, appealing to his pity and kindness. And, since he has implored him, shall he not receive mercy? Yes, for it never happened that, when he had put down an enemy and compelled him to sue for mercy, he would refuse such an one his mercy or longer bear him any grudge. Since this is his custom, he will not refuse his mercy to him who now begs and sues for it. And shall she have the head she covets? Yes, if it be possible. "Knight," he says, "it is necessary for thee to fight me again, and if thou dost care to defend thy head again, I will show thee such mercy as to allow thee to resume the helmet; and I will give thee time to arm thy body and thy head as well as possible. But, if I conquer thee again, know that thou shalt surely die." And he replies: "I desire nothing better than that, and ask for no further favour." "And I will give thee this advantage," he adds: "I will fight thee as I stand, without changing my present position." Then the other knight makes ready, and they begin the fight again eagerly. But this time the knight triumphed more quickly than he had done at first. And the damsel at once cries out: "Do not spare him, knight, for anything he may say to thee. Surely he would not have spared thee, had he once defeated thee. If thou heedest what he says, be sure that he will again beguile thee. Fair knight, cut off the head of the most faithless man in the empire and kingdom, and give it to me! Thou shouldst present it to me, in view of the guerdon I intend for thee. For another day may well come when, if he can, he will beguile thee again with his words." He, thinking his end is near, cries aloud to him for mercy; but his cry is of no avail, nor anything that he can say. The other drags him by the helmet, tearing all the fastening, and he strikes from his head the ventail and the gleaming coif. Then he cries out more loudly still: "Mercy, for God's sake! Mercy, sir!" But the other answers: "So help me, I shall never again show thee pity, after having once let thee off." "Ah," he says, "thou wouldst do wrong to heed my enemy and kill me thus." While she, intent upon his death, admonishes him to cut off his head, and not to believe a word he says. He strikes: the head flies across the sward and the body fails. Then the damsel is pleased and satisfied. Grasping the head by the hair, the knight presents it to the damsel, who takes it joyfully with the words: "May thy heart receive such delight from whatever it most desires as my heart now receives from what I most coveted. I had only one grief in life, and that was that this man was still alive. I have a reward laid up for thee which thou shalt receive at the proper time. I promise thee that thou shalt have a worthy reward for the service thou hast rendered me. Now I will go away, with the prayer that God may guard thee from harm." Then the damsel leaves him, as each commends the other to God. But all those who had seen the battle in the plain are overjoyed, and in their joy they at once relieve the knight of his armour, and honour him in every way they can. Then they wash their hands again and take their places at the meal, which they eat with better cheer than is their wont. When they had been eating for some time, the gentleman turned to his guest at his side, and said: "Sire, a long while ago we came hither from the kingdom of Logres. We were born your countrymen, and we should like to see you win honour and fortune and joy in this country; for we should profit by it as well as you, and it would be to the advantage of many others, if you should gain honour and fortune in the enterprise you have undertaken in this land." And he makes answer: "May God hear your desire."
(Vv. 2979-3020.) When the host had dropped his voice and ceased speaking, one of his sons followed him and said: "Sire, we ought to place all our resources at your service, and give them outright rather than promise them; if you have any need of our assistance, we ought not to wait until you ask for it. Sire, be not concerned over your horse which is dead. We have good strong horses here. I want you to take anything of ours which you need, and you shall choose the best of our horses in place of yours." And he replies: "I willingly accept." Thereupon, they have the beds prepared and retire for the night. The next morning they rise early, and dress, after which they prepare to start. Upon leaving, they fail in no act of courtesy, but take leave of the lady, her lord, and all the rest. But in order to omit nothing, I must remark that the knight was unwilling to mount the borrowed steed which was standing ready at the door; rather, he caused him to be ridden by one of the two knights who had come with him, while he took the latter's horse instead, for thus it pleased him best to do. When each was seated on his horse, they all asked for leave to depart from their host who had served them so honourably. Then they ride along the road until the day draws to a close, and late in the afternoon they reach the sword-bridge.
(Vv. 3021-3194.) At the end of this very difficult bridge they dismount from their steeds and gaze at the wicked-looking stream, which is as swift and raging, as black and turgid, as fierce and terrible as if it were the devil's stream; and it is so dangerous and bottomless that anything failing into it would be as completely lost as if it fell into the salt sea. And the bridge, which spans it, is different from any other bridge; for there never was such a one as this. If any one asks of me the truth, there never was such a bad bridge, nor one whose flooring was so bad. The bridge across the cold stream consisted of a polished, gleaming sword; but the sword was stout and stiff, and was as long as two lances. At each end there was a tree-trunk in which the sword was firmly fixed. No one need fear to fall because of its breaking or bending, for its excellence was such that it could support a great weight. But the two knights who were with the third were much discouraged; for they surmised that two lions or two leopards would be found tied to a great rock at the other end of the bridge. The water and the bridge and the lions combine so to terrify them that they both tremble with fear, and say: "Fair sire, consider well what confronts you; for it is necessary and needful to do so. This bridge is badly made and built, and the construction of it is bad. If you do not change your mind in time, it will be too late to repent. You must consider which of several alternatives you will choose. Suppose that you once get across (but that cannot possibly come to pass, any more than one could hold in the winds and forbid them to blow, or keep the birds from singing, or re-enter one's mother's womb and be born again -- all of which is as impossible as to empty the sea of its water); but even supposing that you got across, can you think and suppose that those two fierce lions that are chained on the other side will not kill you, and suck the blood from your veins, and eat your flesh and then gnaw your bones? For my part, I am bold enough, when I even dare to look and gaze at them. If you do not take care, they will certainly devour you. Your body will soon be torn and rent apart, for they will show you no mercy. So take pity on us now, and stay here in our company! It would be wrong for you to expose yourself intentionally to such mortal peril." And he, laughing, replies to them: "Gentlemen, receive my thanks and gratitude for the concern you feel for me: it comes from your love and kind hearts. I know full well that you would not like to see any mishap come to me; but I have faith and confidence in God, that He will protect me to the end. I fear the bridge and stream no more than I fear this dry land; so I intend to prepare and make the dangerous attempt to cross. I would rather die than turn back now." The others have nothing more to say; but each weeps with pity and heaves a sigh. Meanwhile he prepares, as best he may, to cross the stream, and he does a very marvellous thing in removing the armour from his feet and hands. He will be in a sorry state when he reaches the other side. He is going to support himself with his bare hands and feet upon the sword, which was sharper than a scythe, for he had not kept on his feet either sole or upper or hose. But he felt no fear of wounds upon his hands or feet; he preferred to maim himself rather than to fall from the bridge and be plunged in the water from which he could never escape. In accordance with this determination, he passes over with great pain and agony, being wounded in the hands, knees, and feet. But even this suffering is sweet to him: for Love, who conducts and leads him on, assuages and relieves the pain. Creeping on his hands, feet, and knees, he proceeds until he reaches the other side. Then he recalls and recollects the two lions which he thought he had seen from the other side; but, on looking about, he does not see so much as a lizard or anything else to do him harm. He raises his hand before his face and looks at his ring, and by this test he proves that neither of the lions is there which he thought he had seen, and that he had been enchanted and deceived; for there was not a living creature there. When those who had remained behind upon the bank saw that he had safely crossed, their joy was natural; but they do not know of his injuries. He, however, considers himself fortunate not to have suffered anything worse. The blood from his wounds drips on his shirt on all sides. Then he sees before him a tower, which was so strong that never had he seen such a strong one before: indeed, it could not have been a better tower. At the window there sat King Bademagu, who was very scrupulous and precise about matters of honour and what was right, and who was careful to observe and practise loyalty above all else; and beside him stood his son, who always did precisely the opposite so far as possible, for he found his pleasure in disloyalty, and never wearied of villainy, treason, and felony. From their point of vantage they had seen the knight cross the bridge with trouble and pain. Meleagant's colour changed with the rage and displeasure he felt; for he knows now that he will be challenged for the Queen; but his character was such that he feared no man, however strong or formidable. If he were not base and disloyal, there could no better knight be found; but he had a heart of wood, without gentleness and pity. What enraged his son and roused his ire, made the king happy and glad. The king knew of a truth that he who had crossed the bridge was much better than any one else. For no one would dare to pass over it in whom there dwelt any of that evil nature which brings more shame upon those who possess it than prowess brings of honour to the virtuous. For prowess cannot accomplish so much as wickedness and sloth can do: it is true beyond a doubt that it is possible to do more evil than good.
(Vv. 3195-3318.) I could say more on these two heads, if it did not cause me to delay. But I must turn to something else and resume my subject, and you shall hear how the king speaks profitably to his son: "Son," he says, "it was fortunate that thou and I came to look out this window; our reward has been to witness the boldest deed that ever entered the mind of man. Tell me now if thou art not well disposed toward him who has performed such a marvellous feat. Make peace and be reconciled with him, and deliver the Queen into his hands. Thou shalt gain no glory in battle with him, but rather mayst thou incur great loss. Show thyself to be courteous and sensible, and send the Queen to meet him before he sees thee. Show him honour in this land of thine, and before he asks it, present to him what he has come to seek. Thou knowest well enough that he has come for the Queen Guinevere. Do not act so that people will take thee to be obstinate, foolish, or proud. If this man has entered thy land alone, thou shouldst bear him company, for one gentleman ought not to avoid another, but rather attract him and honour him with courtesy. One receives honour by himself showing it; be sure that the honour will be thine, if thou doest honour and service to him who is plainly the best knight in the world." And he replies: "May God confound me, if there is not as good a knight, or even a better one than he!" It was too bad that he did not mention himself, of whom he entertains no mean opinion. And he adds: "I suppose you wish me to clasp my hands and kneel before him as his liegeman, and to hold my lands from him? So help me God, I would rather become his man than surrender to him the Queen! God forbid that in such a fashion I should deliver her to him! She shall never be given up by me, but rather contested and defended against all who are so foolish as to dare to come in quest of her." Then again the king says to him: "Son, thou wouldst act very courteously to renounce this pretension. I advise thee and beg thee to keep the peace. Thou knowest well that the honour will belong to the knight, if he wins the Queen from thee in battle. He would doubtless rather win her in battle than as a gift, for it will thus enhance his fame. It is my opinion that he is seeking her, not to receive her peaceably, but because he wishes to win her by force of arms. So it would be wise on thy part to deprive him of the satisfaction of fighting thee. I am sorry to see thee so foolish; but if thou dost not heed my advice, evil will come of it, and the ensuing misfortune will be worse for thee. For the knight need fear no hostility from any one here save thee. On behalf of myself and all my men, I will grant him a truce and security. I have never yet done a disloyal deed or practised treason and felony, and I shall not begin to do so now on thy account any more than I would for any stranger. I do not wish to flatter thee, for I promise that the knight shall not lack any arms, or horse or anything else he needs, in view of the boldness he has displayed in coming thus far. He shall be securely guarded and well defended against all men here excepting thee. I wish him clearly to understand that, if he can maintain himself against thee, he need have no fear of any one else." "I have listened to you in silence long enough," says Meleagant, "and you may say what you please. But little do I care for all you say. I am not a hermit, nor so compassionate and charitable, and I have no desire to be so honourable as to give him what I most love. His task will not be performed so quickly or so lightly; rather will it turn out otherwise than as you and he expect. You and I need not quarrel because you aid him against me. Even if he enjoys peace and a truce with you and all your men, what matters that to me? My heart does not quail on that account; rather, so help me God, I am glad that he need not feel concern for any one here but me; I do not wish you to do on my account anything which might be construed as disloyalty or treachery. Be as compassionate as you please, but let me be cruel." "What? Wilt thou not change thy mind?" "No," he says. "Then I will say nothing more. I will leave thee alone to do thy best and will go now to speak with the knight. I wish to offer and present to him my aid and counsel in all respects; for I am altogether on his side."
(Vv. 3319-3490.) Then the king goes down and orders them to bring his horse. A large steed is brought to him, upon which he springs by the stirrup, and he rides off with some of his men: three knights and two squires he bade to go with him. They did not stop their ride downhill until they came to the bridge, where they see him stanching his wounds and wiping the blood from them. The king expects to keep him as his guest for a long time while his wounds are healing; but he might as well expect to drain the sea. The king hastens to dismount, and he who was grievously wounded, stood up at once to meet him, though he did not know him, and he gave no more evidence of the pain he felt in his feet and hands than if he had been actually sound. The king sees that he is exerting himself, and quickly runs to greet him with the words: "Sire, I am greatly amazed that you have fallen upon us in this land. But be welcome, for no one will ever repeat the attempt: it never happened in the past, and it will never happen in the future that any one should perform such a hardy feat or expose himself to such peril. And know that I admire you greatly for having executed what no one before ever dared to conceive. You will find me very kindly disposed, and loyal and courteous toward you. I am the king of this land, and offer you freely all my counsel and service; and I think I know pretty well what you have come here to seek. You come, I am sure, to seek the Queen." "Sire," he replies, "your surmise is correct; no other cause brings me here." "Friend, you must suffer hardship to obtain her," he replies; "and you are sorely wounded, as I see by the wounds and the flowing blood. You will not find him who brought her hither so generous as to give her up without a struggle; but you must tarry, and have your wounds cared for until they are completely healed. I will give you some of `the three Marys' ointment, (18) and something still better, if it can be found, for I am very solicitous about your comfort and your recovery. And the Queen is so confined that no mortal man has access to her -- not even my son, who brought her here with him and who resents such treatment, for never was a man so beside himself and so desperate as he. But I am well disposed toward you, and will gladly give you, so help me God, all of which you stand in need. My son himself will not have such good arms but that I will give you some that are just as good, and a horse, too, such as you will need, though my son will be angry with me. Despite the feelings of any one, I will protect you against all men. You will have no cause to fear any one excepting him who brought the Queen here. No man ever menaced another as I have menaced him, and I came near driving him from my land, in my displeasure because he will not surrender her to you. To be sure, he is my son; but feel no concern, for unless he defeats you in battle, he can never do you the slightest harm against my will." "Sire," he says, "I thank you. But I am losing time here which I do not wish to waste. I have no cause to complain, and have no wound which is paining me. Take me where I can find him; for with such arms as I have, I am ready to divert myself by giving and receiving blows." "Friend, you had better wait two or three weeks until your wounds are healed, for it would be well for you to tarry here at least two weeks, and not on any account could I allow it, or look on, while you fought in my presence with such arms and with such an outfit." And he replies: "With your permission, no other arms would be used than these, for I should prefer to fight with them, and I should not ask for the slightest postponement, adjournment or delay. However, in deference to you, I will consent to wait until to-morrow; but despite what any one may say, longer I will not wait." Then the king assured him that all would be done as he wished; then he has the lodging-place prepared, and insistently requests his men, who are in the company, to serve him, which they do devotedly. And the king, who would gladly have made peace, had it been possible, went at once to his son and spoke to him like one who desires peace and harmony, saying: "Fair son, be reconciled now with this knight without a fight! He has not come here to disport himself or to hunt or chase, but he comes in search of honour and to increase his fame and renown, and I have seen that he stands in great need of rest. If he had taken my advice, he would not have rashly undertaken, either this month or the next, the battle which he so greatly desires. If thou makest over the Queen to him, dost thou fear any dishonour in the deed? Have no fear of that, for no blame can attach to thee; rather is it wrong to keep that to which one has no rightful claim. He would gladly have entered the battle at once, though his hands and feet are not sound, but cut and wounded." Meleagant answers his father thus: "You are foolish to be concerned. By the faith I owe St. Peter, I will not take your advice in this matter. I should deserve to be drawn apart with horses, if I heeded your advice. If he is seeking his honour, so do I seek mine; if he is in search of glory, so am I; if he is anxious for the battle, so am I a hundred times more so than he." "I see plainly," says the king, "that thou art intent upon thy mad enterprise, and thou shalt have thy fill of it. Since such is thy pleasure, to-morrow thou shalt try thy strength with the knight." "May no greater hardship ever visit me than that!" Meleagant replies; "I would much rather it were to-day than to-morrow. Just see how much more downcast I am than is usual! My eyes are wild, and my face is pale! I shall have no joy or satisfaction or any cause for happiness until I am actually engaged with him."
(Vv. 3491-3684.) The king understands that further advice and prayers are of no avail, so reluctantly he leaves his son and, taking a good, strong horse and handsome arms, he sends them to him who well deserves them, together with a surgeon who was a loyal and Christian man. There was in the world no more trusty man, and he was more skilled in the cure of wounds than all the doctors of Montpeilier. (19) That night he treated the knight as best he could, in accordance with the king's command. Already the news was known by the knights and damsels, the ladies and barons of all the country-side, and all through the night until daybreak strangers and friends were making long journeys from all the country round. When morning came, there was such a press before the castle that there was not room to move one's foot. And the king, rising early in his distress about the battle, goes directly to his son, who had already laced upon his head the helmet which was of Poitiers make. No delay or peace is possible, for though the king did his best, his efforts are of no effect. In the middle of the castle-square, where all the people are assembled, the battle will be fought in compliance with the king's wish and command. The king sends at once for the stranger knight, and he is conducted to the grounds which were filled with people from the kingdom of Logres. For just as people are accustomed to go to church to hear the organ on the annual feast- days of Pentecost or Christmas, so they had all assembled now. All the foreign maidens from King Arthur's realm had fasted three days and gone barefoot in their shifts, in order that God might endow with strength and courage the knight who was to fight his adversary on behalf of the captives. Very early, before prime had yet been sounded, both of the knights fully armed were led to the place, mounted upon two horses equally protected. Meleagant was very graceful, alert, and shapely; the hauberk with its fine meshes, the helmet, and the shield hanging from his neck -- all these became him well. All the spectators. however, favoured the other knight, even those who wished him ill, and they say that Meleagant is worth nothing compared with him. As soon as they were both on the ground, the king comes and detains them as long as possible in an effort to make peace between them, but he is unable to persuade his son. Then he says to them: "Hold in your horses until I reach the top of the tower. It will be only a slight favour, if you will wait so long for me." Then in sorrowful mood he leaves them and goes directly to the place where he knew he would find the Queen. She had begged him the evening before to place her where she might have an unobstructed view of the battle; he had granted her the boon, and went now to seek and fetch her, for he was very anxious to show her honour and courtesy. He placed her at one window, and took his place at another window on her right. Beside them, there were gathered there many knights and prudent dames and damsels, who were natives of that land; and there were many others, who were captives, and who were intent upon their orisons and prayers. Those who were prisoners were praying for their lord, for to God and to him they entrusted their succour and deliverance. Then the combatants without delay make all the people stand aside; then they clash the shields with their elbows, and thrust their arms into the straps, and spur at each other so violently that each sends his lance two arms' length through his opponent's shield, causing the lance to split and splinter like a flying spark. And the horses meet head on, clashing breast to breast, and the shields and helmets crash with such a noise that it seems like a mighty thunder-clap; not a breast-strap, girth, rein or surcingle remains unbroken, and the saddle-bows, though strong, are broken to pieces. The combatants felt no shame in falling to earth, in view of their mishaps, but they quickly spring to their feet, and without waste of threatening words rush at each other more fiercely than two wild boars, and deal great blows with their swords of steel like men whose hate is violent. Repeatedly they trim the helmets and shining hauberks so fiercely that after the sword the blood spurts out. They furnished an excellent battle, indeed, as they stunned and wounded each other with their heavy, wicked blows. Many fierce, hard, long bouts they sustained with equal honour, so that the onlookers could discern no advantage on either side. But it was inevitable that he who had crossed the bridge should be much weakened by his wounded hands. The people who sided with him were much dismayed, for they notice that his strokes are growing weaker, and they fear he will get the worst of it; it seemed to them that he was weakening, while Meleagant was triumphing, and they began to murmur all around. But up at the window of the tower there was a wise maiden who thought within herself that the knight had not undertaken the battle either on her account or for the sake of the common herd who had gathered about the list, but that his only incentive had been the Queen; and she thought that, if he knew that she was at the window seeing and watching him, his strength and courage would increase. And if she had known his name, she would gladly have called to him to look about him. Then she came to the Queen and said: "Lady, for God's sake and your own as well as ours, I beseech you to tell me, if you know, the name of yonder knight, to the end that it may be of some help to him." "Damsel," the Queen replies, "you have asked me a question in which I see no hate or evil, but rather good intent; the name of the knight, I know, is Lancelot of the Lake." (20) "God, how happy and glad at heart I am!" the damsel says. Then she leans forward and calls to him by name so loudly that all the people hear: "Lancelot, turn about and see who is here taking note of thee!"
Go to Part III
NOTE: Endnotes supplied by Prof. Foerster are indicated by "(F.)"; all other endnotes are supplied by W.W. Comfort.
(13) "Donbes" (=Dombes) is the reading chosen by Foerster from a number of variants. None of these variants has any significance, but a place-name rhyming with "tonbes" in the preceding verse is required. Modern Dombes is the name of a former principality in Burgundy, between the Rhone and the Saone, while Pampelune is, of course, a Spanish city near the French frontier. (F.)
(14) The topography of the kingdom of Gorre, the land where dwell the captives held by King Bademagu, is much confused. One would suppose at first that the stream traversed by the two perilous bridges formed the frontier of the kingdom. But here (v.2102), before reaching such a frontier, the captives are already met. Foerster suggests that we may be here at a sort of foreground or borderland which is defended by the knight at the ford (v. 735 f.), and which, though not within the limits of the kingdom, is nevertheless beneath the sway of Bademagu. In the sequel the stream with the perilous bridges is placed immediately before the King's palace (cf. Foerster's note and G. Paris in "Romania", xxi. 471 note).
(15) For magic rings, see A. Hertel, op. cit., p. 62 f.
(16) This "dame" was the fairy Vivian, "the lady of the lake". (F.)
(17) A good example of the moral dilemmas in which Chretien delights to place his characters. Under the displeasing shell of allegory and mediaeval casuistry we have here the germ of psychological analysis of motive.
(18) The legendary origin of this ointment, named after Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James, and Mary Salome, is mentioned in the epic poem "Mort Aimeri de Narbonne" (ed. "Anciens Textes", p. 86). (F.)
(19) The universities of Montpellier and of Salerno were the chief centres of medical study in the Middle Ages. Salerno is referred to in "Cliges", v. 5818.
(20) The hero of the poem is here first mentioned by name.