The Lai of Tyolet
AFORETIME when King Arthur reigned over the country of Britain, which is now called England, there were, I think me, far fewer folk in the land than there are to-day. But Arthur, whose valour I highly praise, had in his company many brave and noble knights. Of a sooth there are even now knights of high fame and renown, yet are they not such manner of men as they were of old time.
For then the best and bravest knights were wont to wander through the land seeking adventures by day and by night, with never a squire for company, and it might well be that in the day's journey they found neither house nor tower, or again perchance they would find two or three such. Or by dusky night they might find fair adventures, the which they would tell again at court, even as they had befallen. And the clerks of the court would write them fairly on parchment in the Latin tongue, so that in days to come, men, an they would, might hearken to them.
And these tales were turned from Latin into Romance, and from them, as our ancestors tell us, did the Britons make many a lay.
And one lay they made will tell ye, even as I myself heard the tale. 'Twas of a lad, fair and skilful, proud and brave and valiant. Tyolet was he called, and he knew strange wiles, for by whistling could he call the beasts of the woodland-to him and trap them, even as many as he would. A fairy had taught him this skill, and never a beast that God had made but would come to him at his whistle. A lady had he for mother, who dwelt in the wide woodland where her lord had made his abode by day and by night, and the spot was passing lonely, for ten leagues round was there no other dwelling.
Now the knight, his father, had been dead fifteen years, and Tyolet had grown fair and tall, but never an armed knight had he seen in all his days, and but rarely other folk in that wide woodland where his mother dwelt. Never had he goneforth into the world beyond, for his mother held him passing dear, but in the forest might he wander as it pleased him, and no other pastime had he ever known. When he whistled as the fay had taught him, and the beasts heard him, then they came to him swiftly and he slew what he would and bore them home to his mother, and on this they lived, they twain alone, for neither brother nor sister had he, and his mother was a noble and courteous lady of good and loyal life.
One day she called her son unto her and prayed him gently (for she loved him much) to go into the wood and slay her a stag; and the lad at her command went straightway into ' the forest and wandered the groves till noontide, but neither stag nor beast of any kind might he see. Then he was sorely vexed at heart and bethought him to turn again homewards, since nothing might he find in the woodland, when under a tree he saw a stag which was both great and fair, and at once he whistled to it.
The stag heard his whistle and looked towards him, but it came not at his call nor awaited his coming, but at a gentle pace issued forth from the wood, and Tyolet followed it till it came to a water and passed over. The stream was deep and swift-flowing, wide-reaching and perilous to pass, and the stag stood safe upon the further shore. Tyolet looked up and down, and saw a roebuck fat and wellgrown coming towards him, then he stayed his steps and whistled, and as the deer came closer he put forth his hand and drew his knife and plunged it into its body, and so slew it straightway.
But even as he did so he looked across the river, and lo! the stag which had passed the water changed its shape and became a knight, fully armed as a knight should be, and mounted on a gallant warhorse. Thus he stood on the river bank, and the lad, who never in his life had seen the like, deemed it a great marvel and stood silent, gazing long upon him, and wondering what might be the meaning of this strange gear.
Then the knight spake to him across the water with gentle words, courteously asking his name, and who he was and what he sought. And Tyolet answered him: "Son am I to the widow lady who dweueth in the great forest, and Tyolet do they call me who would name my name. Now tell me who thou art, and what may be thy name?"
Then he who stood on the bank of the river spake: " Knight do men call me."
"What manner of beast may Knight be," quoth Tyolet; "where doth it dwell and whence doth it come?"
"Of a faith that will I tell thee, truly and with no lie. 'Tis a beast that is greatly feared for it taketh and eateth other beasts. Oft-times doth it abide in the wood and oft-times in the open lands."
"Of a faith," said Tyolet, "'tis a marvel--for never since I might wander in the wilderness have I seen such a beast ;.yet know I bears and lions, and every sort of venison. Nor is there a beast in all the forest that I know not, but I take them all without pain or trouble; thou alone I may not know. Yet thou seemest a brave beast. Tell me, thou Knight-Beast, what dost thou bear on thy head? And what is it that hangeth at thy neck, and is red and shining?"
"Of a truth I will tell thee, and lie not. That which I bear on my head is a coif, which men call helmet, with steel all around; and this is a mantle in which I am wrapped, and this at my neck a shield, banded with gold."
"And with what hast thou clad thyself, it seemeth me pierced through with little holes?"
"'Tis a coat of wrought mail, men call it a hauberk."
"And with what art thou shod? Tell me of thy friendship."
"Shoes and greaves of iron have 1, right well wrought."
"And what hast thou girt at thy side Tell me an thou wilt."
"Men call it a sword, 'tis fair to look upon, and the blade is hard and keen."
"And that long wood thou holdest? Tell me, and hide it not from me."
"Dost wish to know?
"Yea, of a truth."
"'Tis a lance, this that I bear with me. Now have I told thee the truth of all thou hast required of me."
"Sir," quoth Tyolet, "I thank thee, and I would to God that I had also such vesture as thou hast, so fair and so comely; a coat and a coif and mantle even as thou wearest. Tell me, Knight-Beast, for the love of God and His fair Feast, if there be other beasts such as thou and as fair to look upon? "
"Of a truth," spake the knight, "I will shew thee more than a hundred such."
For as the tale telleth in a little space there came through the meadow two hundred armed knights, all of the king's court; they had even taken a stronghold at his command, and set it in fire and flames, and now they went their way homeward riding in three ranged squadrons.
The Knight-Beast spake to Tyolet and bade him come forward a little step and look beyond the river; and the lad did as he bade him, and saw the knights ride armed on their chargers; and cried aloud, " Now see the beasts who all bear coifs on their heads! Ne'er have I seen such a sight! If it please God and His fair Feast I too will be a Knight-Beast! "
Then the knight who stood on the bank of the river spake again and said Wilt thou be brave and valiant? "
"Yea, of a truth, I swear it to thee."
"Then go thy way, and when thy mother seeth thee, she will say, I Fair son, tell me, what aileth thee, and of what art thou thinking?' and thou shalt answer that thou hast much to think on, for thou would'st fain be like a Knight-Beast which thou hast seen in the forest, and for that art thou thoughtful; and she will tell thee that it grieveth her much that thou hast seen such a beast which deceiveth and devoureth others. Then shalt thou say, Of a faith little joy shall she have of thee if thou may'st not be even such a beast, and wear such a coif on thy head; and when she heareth that, swiftly will she bring thee other raiment, coat and mantle, helm and sword, greaves, and a long lance, even as thou hast seen here."
Then Tyolet departed, for it seemed to him long ere he might be at home, and he gave his mother the roebuck he had brought, and told her all his adventures even as they had chanced. And his mother answered that it grieved her much that he had seen such a beast, "For it taketh and devoureth many another."
"Of a truth," said Tyolet, "now is it thus: if I may not be even such a beast as I saw, little joy shalt thou have of me henceforward." ' When his mother heard that she answered straightway that all the arms she had would she bring him, and she brought those which had belonged to her lord, and armed her son therewith, and when he was mounted on his horse he seemed indeed to be a Knight-Beast.
"Now," said she, "fair son, dost know what thou must do? Thou shalt go straight to King Arthur, and take good heed to my words, company not with man or woman save with those of gentle birth and breeding." Then she embraced and kissed him, and the lad went on his way, and journeyed for many days over hills and over plains and valley, till he came to the court of King Arthur, that valiant and courteous monarch.
The King was seated at meat, for he was wont to be richly served, but Tyolet waited not at the hall entrance; clad even as he was in his armour and mounted on his steed, he rode up to the days, whereon sat Arthur the King, and spake no word, nor gave greeting to any man.
"Friend," quoth the King, 11 dismount, and come, eat with us. Then shalt thou tell me what thou seekest, and who thou art, and what men call thee."
"Of a truth," said the lad, "I will tell thee that ere ever I eat. King, my name is Knight-Beast; many a beast have I slain, and men call me Tyolet. Well do I know how to catch venison, for, an it please thee, sire, I am son to the widow of the forest, and of a surety she hath sent me to thee to learn skill and wisdom and courtesy. I would learn of knighthood, of tourney, and jousting, bow I may spend, and how I may give, for never aforetime came I in a king's court, and I think me well that never again shall I come where I may learn such fair nurture and courtesy. Now have I told thee what I seek. What is thy mind thereon, Sir King?"
And Arthur said, "Sir Knight, thou shalt be my man, come now and eat."
"Sire," he said, "I thank thee well."
Then Tyolet dismounted, and they disarmed him and clothed him in a surcoat and light mantle, and brought water for his hands and he sat down to meat. With that there entered a maiden, a proud and noble lady; of her beauty I may not speak, but I deem well that neither Dido nor Helen herself was so fair. She was daughter unto the King of Logres, and came riding upon a snow-white palfrey, bearing with her a white brachet of smooth and shining hair, at whose neck hung a little golden bell. Thus she rode up before the King, and gave him greeting: "King Arthur, God the all powerful who reigneth on high have thee in His keeping."
"Fair friend, may He who counteth the faithful for His own guard,thee."
"Sire, I am a maiden, daughter unto king and queen, and my father ruleth over Logres. I ask of thee for love, as of a right valiant monarch, if there be one among thy knights who is of such prowess that for me he will smite off the white foot of a certain stag. If there be give him to me, I pray thee, sire, and I will take him for my lord; for indeed, none other will I have. For no man may win my favour if he bring me not the white foot of that great and fair stag, the hair of which shineth like gold, and which is guarded by seven lions."
"Of a faith," said the King, "such covenant will I make with thee that he who bringeth hither the stag's foot shall have thee for wife."
"And I, Sir King, swear to thee that such shall be the covenant." So they made the pact fast between them, and never a knight in the hall who was of any praise or renown but said he would go and seek the stag, did he but know where it might be found.
The maiden spake: "This brachet shall guide ye where the stag is wont to have his dwelling-place."
Then Lodoer, who desired greatly to be the first to seek the stag, prayed the boon from Arthur, and the King would not say him nay. So he took the brachet, and mounted and set forth to seek the stag's foot. But the dog which went with him led him straight to a water which was great and wide, black, swollen, and hideous to look upon, four hundred fathoms was it wide, and well on a hundred deep, and the brachet sprang straightway into the flood, deeming perchance, as a dog may, that the knight was following it closely.
But follow it would Lodoer in no wise: he had no mind to enter the stream, for he had little desire of death, and he said within himself: "He who hath not himself hath naught; he keepeth a castle well, I think me, who taketh heed that it be not mishandled."
Then the dog came forth out of the water, and returned to Lodoer, and Lodoer turned himself again and took the brachet, and went swiftly on his way to the court, where was a great company assembled, and gave back her brachet to the maiden, the King's daughter of Logres.
Then King Arthur asked him if he had brought the foot; and Lodoer answered that an another would risk his life, the venture yet awaited him. Then they mocked at him throughout the hall, but he wagged his head at them and bade them go seek the foot, if by hap they might bring it back.
Then many set forth to seek the stag, and to win the damsel, but never a one might sing another song than that which Lodoer of need must sing (for he was indeed a valiant knight) save one only, who was brave and swift-footed, and whom men called Knight-Beast, though his name, as ye know well, was Tyolet. For this knight went his way to King Arthur, and prayed him straitly that the maiden be held at the court for fiim, since he would go forth to conquer the adventure of the stag's foot; never, he said, would he return till he had smitten off the white right foot of the stag.
The King gave him leave, and Tyolet armed himself right well, and went to the maiden and prayed of her the loan of her white brachet, which she granted him freely, and he took leave of her. When he had ridden and roved long enough he came to the ford of that great and rushing water which was deep and deadly to look upon; the brachet sprang into the stream, and swam straightway, and Tyolet plunged in after it and thus mounted on his steed he followed the do ' g till he came forth on dry land. And the brachet ran ever before him and guided him till he came to where he might see the stag ; seven lions they were that guarded it, and loved it with a great love.
Then Tyolet looked, and saw the stag where it fed alone in a meadow, and none of the lions were near at hand ; and he set spurs to his horse, and passed before it whistling as he went. The stag came swiftl towards him, and when Tyolet had whistred seven times it stood still. Then Tyolet drew his sword, and taking the white right foot in his hand smote it off at the joint, and hid it within his robe. The stag at this gave a loud cry, and the lions, who were none too far off, came swiftly to it and and beheld the knight.
One of the lions sprang upon the steed Tyolet bestrode, and wounded it so sorely that it tore away all the skin and flesh from the right shoulder, and when Tyolet saw it he smote the lion a mighty blow in the chest, cleaving asunder nerve and sinew -and with that lion had he no more ado. The steed fell to the ground, and even as the knight sprang clear the lions were upon him on all sides. They tore the good hauberk from his back, and the flesh from his arms and ribs, and wounded him so sorely that they went nigh to devour him altogether. Sorely was he torn, but at last he slew them, though scarce might he be delivered from their claws. Then he fell senseless beside the lions, for so torn and mauled was he that he might not stand upright.
Now as he lay senseless there came thither a knight mounted upon an iron grey steed, and drew his bridle, and looked upon the young knight, and lamented over him. Then Tyolet opened his eyes, and told him all that had chanced, and bade him take the foot from out his breast.
This the knight did, rejoicing greatly within himself, for much had he longed to win that foot. But as he turned his bridle to ride away, he bethought him that by chance the young knight might even yet live, and if he did, then ill would it be for him; so he turned himself back thinking to slay the knight there and then lest he challenge him later. So he drew his sword, and thrust Tyolet through the body, and went his way, thinking that he had slain him.
Then came that traitor knight to the court of King Arthur, and shewed the white foot, and demanded the band of the maiden. But the white brachet, which had led Tyolet to the stag bad he not brought-of that knew he naught.
Then he claimed by covenant that fair maiden, since, be said, he had smitten off the white foot of the stag and brought it to court. But the King, who was wise enow, demanded eight days' grace to await Tyolet's return, ere he would assemble his court, for he had with him but those of his household-good knights all, frank and courteous. So the knight must needs grant that respite-and abide at court till the eight days were ended.
But he knew not that that good and courteous knight, Sir Gawain, had set forth secretly to seek Tyolet, for the brachet had come back to court alone, and Gawain deemed surely it would guide him to the knight. And indeed it led him truly to the meadow where he found Tyolet lying lifeless among the lions.
When Gawain saw the knight and the slaughter he had wrought, he mourned the ill-chance greatly, and dismounting spake softly to his friend, and Tyolet answered him feebly, telling him what had brought him to this pass; and as he spake there rode up a maiden, fair to look upon, mounted upon a mule, and greeted Gawain courteously. Then Gawain returned her greeting, and called her to him, and embraced her, praying her very gently and very courteously that she would bear this knight, who was indeed a right valiant knight, to the leech of the Black Mountain; and the maiden did even as he besought her, and bare Tyolet to the leech, praying him to care for him for the sake of Sir Gawain.
The leech willingly received the knight, and did off his armour, laying him on a table. Then he washed his wounds, and freed them from the clotted blood which was all around them, and saw that he would do well, and would be whole again within the month. But Sir Gawain went his way back to court and dismounted within the hall. And he found there the knight who had brought the white foot; he had dwelt at court till the eight days were passed, and now he came to the King, saluting him, and praying him to keep the covenant which the maiden of Logres had herself devised, and to which King Arthur had given consent-to wit, that whosoever should bring her the white foot, him would she take for lord; and King Arthur said, "'Tis the truth."
But when Gawain heard this he sprang forward swiftly, and said to the King: "Sire, 'tis not so; were it not that here before thee who art the king I may not give the lie to any man, be he knight or squire, I would say that he doth lie, and never won the white foot of the stag in the manner of which he vaunteth himself. Great shame doth he do to knights who would boast himself of another's deeds and clothe himself with another's mantle; who would steal the goods from another's store, and deck himself with that which belongeth to another; who by the hand of another would joust, and draw forth from the thicket the fearsome serpent. Nor shall it thus be seen in this court; what thou savest is worth naught, make thine assault elsewhere, seek elsewhere for what thou desirest, this maiden is not for thee!"
"Of a faith," quoth the knight, "Sir Gawain, now dost thou hold me for a coward and a villain, since thou sayest that I dare not lay lance in rest for jousting, and know how to steal goods from another's store, and draw the serpent from the thicket by another's hand. But thou speakest falsely as thou wilt find, if thou thinkest to prove thy words by force of arms, and deemest that thou wilt not find me in the field! "
While they thus strove together behold Tyolet, who had come thither in haste and had dismounted without the hall. The King rose from his seat to meet him, and threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him for the great love which he bare to him; and Tyolet bowed before him as fitting before his lord.
Then Gawain embraced him, and Urian, and Kay, and Yvain the son of Morgain, and the good knight Lodoer, and all the other knights.
But the knight who would fain win the maiden through the foot which Tyolet had given to him, and which he had brought thither, spake again to Arthur, and again made request.
But Tyolet, when he knew that he demanded the maiden, spake courteously to him, and asked him gently: "Sir Knight, tell me here in the presence of the King, by what right dost thou claim this maiden? "
"Of a faith," he said, "I will tell thee. It is because I brought her the white foot of the stag; the King and she herself had so pledged it."
"Didst thou then smite off the foot? If it be true, it may not be denied."
"Yea, I smote it off, and brought it hither with me."
"And who then slew the seven lions?"
The knight looked upon him and said never a word, but reddened, and waxed wrathful.
Then Tyolet spake again. "Sir Knight, who was he who was smitten with the sword, and who was he who smote him ? Tell me, I pray thee, for of a truth I think me that last wast thou ! " And the knight frowned, as one ashamed. But that was, methinks, to return evil for good when thou didst that deed. In all good faith I gave thee the foot which I had smitten from off the stag, and for that didst thou give me such guerdon as went nigh to slay me; dead ought I to be in ver truth. I gave thee a gift : of that do now repent me. With the sword thou didst carry didst thou smite me through the body, thinking to have slain me. If thou would'st deny it, here will I tend to King Arthur my gage that I will prove it before this noble company."
But when the knight heard that, since he feared death more than shame, he cried him mercy, knowing that he spake truth. Nothing dared he gainsay, but yielded himself to King Arthur to do his commandment.
Then Tyolet, taking counsel with the King and his barons, pardoned him, and the knight fell on his knees and kissed his feet.
Then Tyolet raised him up and kissed him, and from that day forward they spake no more of that matter. The knight gave back the stag's foot, and Tyolet gave it to the damsel.
The lily and the new-blown rose, when it bloometh first in the fair summer-time, are less fair than was that maiden. Then Tyolet prayed her hand in marriage, and with her consent did King Arthur give her to him. She led him back with her to her land, there was he king, and she queen --and here the lay of Tyolet findeth ending.