The Age of Chivalry, by Thomas Bulfinch

Chapter XXIII.

Geraint, the Son of Erbin.

ARTHUR was accustomed to hold his court at Caerleon upon Usk. And there he held it seven Easters and five Christmases. And once upon a time he held his court there at Whitsuntide. For Caerleon was the place most easy of access in his dominions, both by sea and by land. And there were assembled nine crowned kings, who were his tributaries, and likewise earls and barons. For they were his invited guests at all the high festivals, unless they were prevented by any great hinderance. And when he was at Caerleon holding his court, thirteen churches were set apart for mass. And thus they were appointed: one church for Arthur and his kings, and his guests; and the second for Guenever and her ladies; and the third for the steward of the household and the suitors; and the fourth for the Franks and the other officers; and the other nine churches were for the nine masters of the household, and chiefly for Gawain, for he, from the eminence of his warlike fame, and from the nobleness of his birth, was the most exalted of the nine. And there was no other arrangement respecting the churches than that which we have here mentioned.

And on Whit–Tuesday, as the king sat at the banquet, lo, there entered a tall, fair-headed youth, clad in a coat and surcoat of satin, and a golden-hilted sword about his neck, and low shoes of leather upon his feet. And he came and stood before Arthur. “Hail to thee, lord,” said he. “Heaven prosper thee,” he answered, “and be thou welcome.” “Dost thou bring any new tidings?” “I do, lord,” he said. “I am one of thy foresters, lord, in the forest of Dean, and my name is Madoc, son of Turgadarn. In the forest I saw a stag, the like of which beheld I never yet.” “What is there about him,” asked Arthur, “that thou never yet didst see his like?” “He is of pure white, lord, and he does not herd with any other animal, through stateliness and pride, so royal is his bearing. And I come to seek thy counsel, lord, and to know thy will concerning him. “It seems best to me,” said Arthur, “to go and hunt him to-morrow at break of day, and to cause general notice thereof to be given to-night, in all quarters of the court.” And Arryfuerys was Arthur’s chief huntsman, and Arelivri his chief page. And all received notice; and thus it was arranged.

Then Guenever said to Arthur, “Wilt thou permit me, lord, to go to-morrow to see and hear the hunt of the stag of which the young man spoke?” “I will gladly,” said Arthur. And Gawain said to Arthur, “Lord, if it seem well to thee, permit that into whose hunt soever the stag shall come, that one, be he a knight or one on foot, may cut off his head, and give it to whom he pleases, whether to his own lady-love, or to the lady of his friend.” “I grant it gladly,” said Arthur, “and let the steward of the household be chastised, if all things are not ready to-morrow for the chase.”

And they passed the night with songs and diversions and discourse, and ample entertainment. And when it was time for them all to go to sleep, they went. And when the next day came, they arose. And Arthur called the attendants who guarded his couch. And there were four pages whose names were Cadyrnerth, the son of Gandwy, and Ambreu, the son of Bedwor, and Amhar, the son of Arthur, and Goreu, the son of Custennin. And these men came to Arthur and saluted him, and arrayed him in his garments. And Arthur wondered that Guenever did not awake, and the attendants wished to awaken her. “Disturb her not,” said Arthur, “for she had rather sleep than go to see the hunting.”

Then Arthur went forth, and he heard two horns sounding, one from near the lodging of the chief huntsman, and the other from near that of the chief page. And the whole assembly of the multitudes came to Arthur, and they took the road to the forest.

And after Arthur had gone forth from the palace, Guenever awoke, and called to her maidens, and apparelled herself. “Maidens,” said she, “I had leave last night to go and see the hunt. Go one of you to the stable, and order hither a horse such as a woman may ride.” And one of them went, and she found but two horses in the stable; and Guenever and one of her maidens mounted them, and went through the Usk, and followed the track of the men and the horses. And as they rode thus, they heard a loud and rushing sound; and they looked behind them, and beheld a knight upon a hunter foal of mighty size. And the rider was a fair-haired youth, bare-legged, and of princely mien; and a golden-hilted sword was at his side, and a robe and a surcoat of satin were upon him, and two low shoes of leather were upon his feet; and around him was a scarf of blue purple, at each corner of which was a golden apple. And his horse stepped stately and swift and proud; and he overtook Guenever, and saluted her. “Heaven prosper thee, Geraint,” said she; “and why didst thou not go with thy lord to hunt?” “Because I knew not when he went,” said he. “I marvel too,” said she, “how he could go, unknown to me. But thou, O young man, art the most agreeable companion I could have in the whole kingdom; and it may be I shall be more amused with the hunting than they; for we shall hear the horns when they sound, and we shall hear the dogs when they are let loose and begin to cry.”

So they went to the edge of the forest, and there they stood. “From this place,” said she, “we shall hear when the dogs are let loose.” And thereupon they heard a loud noise; and they looked towards the spot whence it came, and they beheld a dwarf riding upon a horse, stately and foaming and prancing and strong and spirited. And in the hand of the dwarf was a whip. And near the dwarf they saw a lady upon a beautiful white horse, of steady and stately pace; and she was clothed in a garment of gold brocade. And near her was a knight upon a war-horse of large size, with heavy and bright armor both upon himself and upon his horse. And truly they never before saw a knight, or a horse, or armor, of such remarkable size.

“Geraint,” said Guenever, “knowest thou the name of that tall knight yonder?” “I know him not,” said he, “and the strange armor that he wears prevents my either seeing his face or his features.” “Go, maiden,” said Guenever, “and ask the dwarf who that knight is.” Then the maiden went up to the dwarf; and she inquired of the dwarf who the knight was. “I will not tell thee,” he answered. “Since thou art so churlish,” said she, “I will ask him, myself.” “Thou shalt not ask him, by my faith,” said he. “Wherefore not?” said she. “Because thou art not of honor sufficient to befit thee to speak to my lord.” Then the maiden turned her horse’s head towards the knight, upon which the dwarf struck her with the whip that was in his hand across the face and the eyes, so that the blood flowed forth. And the maiden returned to Guenever, complaining of the hurt she had received. “Very rudely has the dwarf treated thee,” said Geraint, and he put his hand upon the hilt of his sword. But he took counsel with himself, and considered that it would be no vengeance for him to slay the dwarf, and to be attacked unarmed by the armed knight; so he refrained.

“Lady,” said he, “I will follow him, with thy permission, and at last he will come to some inhabited place, where I may have arms, either as a loan or for a pledge, so that I may encounter the knight.” “Go,” said she, “and do not attack him until thou hast good arms; and I shall be very anxious concerning thee, until I hear tidings of thee.” “If I am alive,” said he, “thou shalt hear tidings of me by to-morrow afternoon;” and with that he departed.

And the road they took was below the palace of Caerleon, and across the ford of the Usk; and they went along a fair and even and lofty ridge of ground, until they came to a town, and at the extremity of the town they saw a fortress and a castle. And as the knight passed through the town, all the people arose and saluted him, and bade him welcome. And when Geraint came into the town, he looked at every house to see if he knew any of those whom he saw. But he knew none, and none knew him, to do him the kindness to let him have arms, either as a loan or for a pledge. And every house he saw was full of men and arms and horses. And they were polishing shields, and burnishing swords, and washing armor, and shoeing horses. And the knight and the lady and the dwarf rode up to the castle, that was in the town, and every one was glad in the castle. And from the battlements and the gates they risked their necks, through their eagerness to greet them, and to show their joy.

Geraint stood there to see whether the knight would remain in the castle; and when he was certain that he would do so, he looked around him. And at a little distance from the town he saw an old palace in ruins, wherein was a hall that was falling to decay. And as he knew not any one in the town, he went towards the old palace. And when he came near to the palace, he saw a hoary-headed man, standing by it, in tattered garments. And Geraint gazed steadfastly upon him. Then the hoary-headed man said to him, “Young man, wherefore art thou thoughtful?” “I am thoughtful,” said he, “because I know not where to pass the night.” “Wilt thou come forward this way, chieftain,” said he, “and thou shalt have of the best that can be procured for thee.” So Geraint went forward. And the hoary-headed man led the way into the hall. And in the hall he dismounted, and he left there his horse. Then he went on to the upper chamber with the hoary-headed man. And in the chamber he beheld an old woman, sitting on a cushion, with old, worn-out garments upon her; yet it seemed to him that she must have been comely when in the bloom of youth. And beside her was a maiden, upon whom were a vest and a veil, that were old, and beginning to be worn out. And truly he never saw a maiden more full of comeliness and grace and beauty than she. And the hoary-headed man sail to the maiden, “There is no attendant for the horse of this youth but thyself.” “I will render the best service I am able,” said she, “both to him and to his horse.” And the maiden disarrayed the youth, and then she furnished his horse with straw and with corn; and then she returned to the chamber. And the hoary-headed man said to the maiden, “Go to the town, and bring hither the best that thou canst find, both of food and of liquor.” “I will gladly, lord,” said she. And to the town went the maiden. And they conversed together while the maiden was at the town. And behold, the maiden came back, and a youth with her, bearing on his back a costrel full of good purchased mead, ind a quarter of a young bullock. And in the hands of the maiden was a quantity of white bread, and she had some manchet bread in her veil, and she came into the chamber. “I could not obtain better than this,” said she, “nor with better should I have been trusted.” “It is good enough,” said Geraint. And they caused the meat to be boiled; and when their food was ready, they sat down. And it was in this wise. Geraint sat between the hoary-headed man and his wife, and the maiden served them. And they ate and drank.

And when they had finished eating, Geraint talked with the hoary-headed man, and he asked him in the first place to whom belonged the palace that he was in. “Truly,” said he, “it was I that built it, and to me also belonged the city and the castle which thou sawest.” “Alas!” said Geraint, “how is it that thou hast lost them now?” “I lost a great earldom as well as these,” said he, “and this is how I lost them. I had a nephew, the son of my brother, and I took care of his possessions; but he was impatient to enter upon them, so he made war upon me, and wrested from me not only his own, but also my estates, except this castle.” “Good sir,” said Geraint, “wilt thou tell me wherefore came the knight and the lady and the dwarf just now into the town, and what is the preparation which I saw, and the putting of arms in order?” “I will do so,” said he. “The preparations are for the game that is to be held to-morrow by the young earl, which will be on this wise. In the midst of a meadow which is here, two forks will be set up, and upon the two forks a silver rod, and upon the silver rod a sparrow-hawk, and for the sparrow-hawk there will be a tournament. And to the tournament will go all the array thou didst see in the city, of men and of horses and of arms. And with each man will go the lady he loves best; and no man can joust for the sparrow-hawk, except the lady he loves best be with him. And the knight that thou sawest has gained the sparrow-hawk these two years; and if he gains it the third year, he will be called the Knight of the Sparrow-hawk from that time forth.” “Sir,” said Geraint, “what is thy counsel to me concerning this knight, on account of the insult which the maiden of Guenever received from the dwarf?” And Geraint told the hoary-headed man what the insult was that the maiden had received. “It is not easy to counsel thee, inasmuch as thou hast neither dame nor maiden belonging to thee, for whom thou canst joust. Yet I have arms here, which thou couldst have, and there is my horse also, if he seem to thee better than thine own.” “Ah, sir,” said he, “Heaven reward thee! But my own horse, to which I am accustomed, together with thine arms, will suffice me. And if, when the appointed time shall come to-morrow, thou wilt permit me, sir, to challenge for yonder maiden that is thy daughter, I will engage, if I escape from the tournament, to love the maiden as long as I live.” “Gladly will I permit thee,” said the hoary-headed man; “and since thou dost thus resolve, it is necessary that thy horse and arms should be ready to-morrow at break of day. For then the Knight of the Sparrow-hawk will make proclamation, and ask the lady he loves best to take the sparrow-hawk; and if any deny it to her, by force will he defend her claim. And therefore,” said the hoary-headed man, “it is needful for thee to be there at daybreak, and we three will be with thee.” And thus was it settled.

And at night they went to sleep. And before the dawn they arose and arrayed themselves; and by the time that it was day, they were all four in the meadow. And there was the Knight of the Sparrow-hawk making the proclamation and asking his lady-love to take the sparrow-hawk. “Take it not,” said Geraint, “for here is a maiden who is fairer, and more noble, and more comely, and who has a better claim to it than thou.” Then said the knight, “If thou maintainest the sparrow-hawk to be due to her, come forward and do battle with me.” And Geraint went forward to the top of the meadow, having upon himself and upon his horse armor which was heavy and rusty, and of uncouth shape. Then they encountered each other, and they broke a set of lances; and they broke a second set, and a third. And when the earl and his company saw the Knight of the Sparrow-hawk gaining the mastery, there was shouting and joy and mirth amongst them; and the hoary-headed man and his wife and his daughter were sorrowful. And the hoary-headed man served Geraint with lances as often as he broke them, and the dwarf served the Knight of the Sparrow-hawk. Then the hoary-headed man said to Geraint, “O chieftain, since no other will hold with thee, behold, here is the lance which was in my hand on the day when I received the honor of knighthood, and from that time to this I never broke it, and it has an excellent point.” Then Geraint took the lance, thanking the hoary-headed man. And thereupon the dwarf also brought a lance to his lord. “Behold, here is a lance for thee, not less good than his,” said the dwarf. “And bethink thee that no knight ever withstood thee so long as this one has done.” “I declare to Heaven,” said Geraint, “that unless death takes me quickly hence, he shall fare never the better for thy service.” And Geraint pricked his horse towards him from afar, and, warning him, he rushed upon him, and gave him a blow so severe, and furious, and fierce, upon the face of his shield, that he cleft it in two, and broke his armor, and burst his girths, so that both he and his saddle were borne to the ground over the horse’s crupper. And Geraint dismounted quickly. And be was wroth, and he drew his sword, and rushed fiercely upon him. Then the knight also arose, and drew his sword against Geraint. And they fought on foot with their swords until their arms struck sparks of fire like stars from one another; and thus they continued fighting until the blood and sweat obscured the light from their eyes. At length Geraint called to him all his strength, and struck the knight upon the crown of his head, so that he broke all his head-armour, and cut through all the flesh and the skin, even to the skull, until he wounded the bone.

Then the knight fell upon his knees, and cast his sword from his hand, and besought mercy from Geraint. “Of a truth,” said he, “I relinquish my over-daring and my pride, and crave thy mercy; and unless I have time to commit myself to Heaven for my sins, and to talk with a priest, thy mercy will avail me little.” “I will grant thee grace upon this condition,” said Geraint; “That thou go to Guenever, the wife of Arthur, to do her satisfaction for the insult which her maiden received from thy dwarf. Dismount not from the time thou goest hence until thou comest into the presence of Guenever, to make her what atonement shall be adjudged at the court of Arthur.” “This will I do gladly; and who art thou?” “I am Geraint, the son of Erbin; and declare thou also who thou art.” “I am Edeyrn, the son of Nudd.” Then he threw himself upon his horse, and went forward to Arthur’s court; and the lady he loved best went before him, and the dwarf, with much lamentation.

Then came the young earl and his hosts to Geraint, and saluted him, and bade him to his castle. “I may not go,” said Geraint; “but where I was last night, there will I be to-night also.” “Since thou wilt none of my inviting, thou shalt have abundance of all that I can command for thee; and I will order ointment for thee, to recover thee from thy fatigues, and from the weariness that is upon thee.” “Heaven reward thee,” said Geraint, “and I will go to my lodging.” And thus went Geraint and Earl Ynywl, and his wife and his daughter. And when they reached the old mansion, the household servants and attendants of the young earl had arrived, and had arranged all the apartments, dressing them with straw and with fire; and in a short time the ointment was ready, and Geraint came there, and they washed his head. Then came the young earl, with forty honorable knights from among his attendants, and those who were bidden to the tournament. And Geraint came from the anointing. And the earl asked him to go to the hall to eat. “Where is the Earl Ynywl,” said Geraint, “and his wife and his daughter?” “They are in the chamber yonder,” said the earl’s chamberlain, “arraying themselves in garments which the earl has caused to be brought for them.” “Let not the damsel array herself,” said he, “except in her vest and her veil, until she come to the court of Arthur, to be clad by Guenever in such garments as she may choose.” So the maiden did not array herself.

Then they all entered the hall, and they washed, and sat down to meat. And thus were they seated. On one side of Geraint sat the young earl, and Earl Ynywl beyond him, and on the other side of Geraint was the maiden and her mother. And after these all sat according to their precedence in honor. And they ate. And they were served abundantly, and they received a profusion of divers kinds of gifts. Then they conversed together. And the young earl invited Geraint to visit him next day. “I will not, by Heaven,” said Geraint. “To the court of Arthur will I go with this maiden to-morrow. And it is enough for me, as long as Earl Ynywl is in poverty and trouble; and I go chiefly to seek to add to his maintenance.” “Ah, chieftain,” said the young earl, “it is not by my fault that Earl Ynywl is without his possessions.” “By my faith,” said Geraint, “he shall not remain without them, unless death quickly takes me hence.” “O chieftain,” said he, “with regard to the disagreement between me and Ynywl, I will gladly abide by thy counsel, and agree to what thou mayest judge right between us.” “I but ask thee,” said Geraint, “to restore to him what is his, and what he should have received from the time he lost his possessions even until this day.” “That will I do, gladly, for thee,” answered he. “Then,” said Geraint, “whosoever is here who owes homage to Ynywl, let him come forward, and perform it on the spot.” And all the men did so; and by that treaty they abided. And his castle and his town, and all his possessions, were restored to Ynywl. And he received back all that he had lost, even to the smallest jewel.

Then spoke Earl Ynywl to Geraint. “Chieftain,” said he, “behold the maiden for whom thou didst challenge at the tournament; I bestow her upon thee.” “She shall go with me,” said Geraint, “to the court of Arthur, and Arthur and Guenever, they shall dispose of her as they will.” And the next day they proceeded to Arthur’s court. So far concerning Geraint.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32