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From Early English Romances: Done Into Modern English by Edith Rickert: Romances of Friendship, Chatto and Windus: London, Duffield & Co.: London, 1908; pp. 137-172, 182-184.
IT fell sometime in the land of Beame1 that there dwelled a certain Earl Bragas who had the greatest renown of any save the king. He had to wife a fair lady, and his young daughter Winglayne2 was the sweetest thing in all the world.
But neither for gold nor for goods, nor for noble birth, would she take for husband any man unless with his sword he had won every battle wheresoever he went. However 138 many were in that realm, of this sort were but few, and she was maiden wonder long.
Now at that time there was a courteous knight called Sir Grime, Lord of Garwicke,3 and he was wise and full of wit. There was also a young knight men called Egace4 — but his name was Eger, for he was but a poor bachelor, having an elder brother alive who governed all his father’s estate. Though he had no broad lands, he was large5 of blood and bone, and always won him honour in his bright mail; and for love of his own skill, ever he jousted and fought; and because he was so well proved, the earl’s daughter loved him at last and granted him her favour. And her father assented to this, being glad that she would take to her heart as husband a baron or even a bachelor.6
These knights, Sir Eger and Sir Grime, were fellows, and though nothing akin in blood, sworn brethren, and loved each other with the best love that might be ever; and they kept a chamber together at home.
Upon a time Eger fared forth as he had done often before to win him honour, whereby he might be praised above all knights of high degree. But presently, upon a knight, he came home again, sore wounded and in evil case. His knife was gone and its sheath, his scabbard was spoiled; he bore still the truncheon of a spear, but of other weapons none. On his bed-side he sat down, sighing heavily, and swooned away.139
Sir Grime of Garwicke arose and ran to him, saying: “Alas, my heart aches for you, Eger, that ever I was so far away! For when we parted at yonder gate you were a strong man, and well seeming — God speed me! — like to prove your manhood; and now you are all pale and wan, and have been in strong combat. It was no small thing made you blench!”
“Now as it hath behappened me — God! — may you never fare, nor any other courteous knight that goes forth to battle, to win worship in the field as I have done! Dear have I bought it, and now is it all vanished! Other lords have dwelled at home and yet have saved their bodies from shame, and have kept their manhood fair and unspotted, and they will take away my lady-love before my very eyes, while I am hurt and sore wounded, and my manhood is lost for ever!”
Then said Sir Grime to Sir Eger: “You grieve more than is meet, for no man was ever so well armed, or so doughty through dread of his weapons, but that in the field he might be put to naught. Why should his manhood be reproved, or his lady grieve?”
Then said Sir Eger: “Let be, Grime! Never was Christian knight clad in fairer armour than I! I had a body hale and sound, and weapons that beseemed it. I trusted in my horse, my good sword, my strong armour, and most of all, I trusted in my own heart and my hand. . . . I had heard tell of a venturous knight who keeps 140 ward over a Forbidden Country7 and a fresh island by the sea, where are high-towered castles. Soon I chose one of the two riding-friths8 over the stream; but only a short while had I journeyed in that Forbidden Land, when I heard a moving on the grit9 as it were of a horse’s feet. My steed was glad of that tidings, tossed up his head, and was astir, and gripped himself together as if to run. As more din came, I hearkened and looked along the way, nigh before; and I saw a knight come riding on a sorrel. Red was his shield and red his lance, and his gear glittered all of fresh gold! And by the death that I must endure, my horse to his was but a foal! His long heavy spear he could hold easily against his breast;10 but I feutred11 mine, and gave my horse his head. Our steeds soon brought us together — alas, that meeting must I bemoan! Through coat-armour12 and acton,13 through breast-plate and habergeon,14 through all my armour less and more, he pierced me, clean through the body; and I sat still in my saddle and broke my good spear against his breast.
“The second time he came, he failed of me, but slew my horse. Then I got up deliverly15 but not half so soon as I had need to do; and I thought to have wroken16 the 141 death of my steed, or otherwise, to be brought to the last pass. I drew a sword of keen metal and rushed keenly at that knight, and struck at him with all my main. I failed of him, but slew his beast. And when he saw that it was so, he was ready enough to encounter me on foot. He drew a terrible sword, and at the first dint shore through all my mail seven inches into the shoulder. I in turn hit him with all my might above the girdle, so that he groaned, and with that stroke I might have left him; but presently I thrust again, and I wot well it would have been his ending, save only that my sword broke with the blow. Then I drew a knife — I had nought else — the which my own brother gave me; and he also drew such a thing out of its sheath, and we came hand to hand.
“First, he wounded me in the face; but missed my eyes — that alone saved me. Then I struck him on the head, so that I left my blade sticking in his helm. God! let no knight be so woebegone as was I when all my false weapons had failed me. Yet with the heft that was still in my hand, I dang fast upon his face, so that the blood spirted out from under the steel — he lost some teeth, I wot!
“My Milanese habergeon, my father’s before me, which had been in many a thrust and never a nail of it had broken, and my acton that was Paris-work, saved me no more than did my sark, for his sword was of noble steel, and bore easily his stroke that passed through all my 142 armour, and never stinted till it pierced the flesh. At last, sorely befought, I waxed weary, and for lack of blood as dry as a tree;17 yet I struggled until I swooned away between his hands.
“When I came to myself my foe was gone. I looked at the place where he had been, and a little apart saw my slain horse, and his with its back stricken a-two. Then I was aware of a running stream, and crept thither on hand and foot, and washed the blood from my eyes, for I had nothing to my help. I glanced at my right hand and perceived that the little finger was gone. I passed farther along the green, where had been more strong battles. A knight lay there, slain and despoiled, and his little finger was gone; whereby I saw that one man had dealt with him and with me. At last, I found a saddled horse standing by a slain knight, and his steed I took, for he was well enough, though not half so good as mine.
“All that day I rode until eventide. The moon shone fair and the stars were shedding their light when I perceived a castle and a town, and dismounted by an arbour side. There I beheld fast by me the fairest bower that ever I saw; and when I had tarried there a little while, a lady came forth from that green garden and made as if to enter the bower.
“She was clad in scarlet-red, and her hair shone like new gold, and her face was as sweet as a rose in the rain; she was 143 the fairest creature in the world, and methought her very coming so amended me that I was able to stand upright.
“ ‘Good sir,’ quoth she, ‘what makes you linger here? It were meeter that you seek remedy, and here by is a strong castle where there be leeches of great skill, cunning men to deal with hurts, who have wondrous good hap in healing. And there is the gentlest lady that ever man came to in trouble. Therefore, I counsel you, wend thither, for ye have great need of easement.’
“ ‘Lady,’ said I, ‘as it hath behappened me, I irk to go into any company; so I beseech you, fair sweet lady, that ye yourself help me to be made whole with sleep, and to get some ease for myself and for my hackney!’
“ ‘Sir,’ said she, ‘I will do the best I can. Sith I am the first that met with you, I would your need were bettered.’
“Then a fair maid took my steed and led him to a stable, and I myself was brought by two other sweet ladies into a gaily lighted chamber. All my bloody armour was done off, and the lady herself quickly searched my wounds, and gave me drink to restore me, for I was nearhand bled to death. Never came ale or wine to me in such good season! Then she bade them pour warm water into a silver basin, this Lady-lovesome-in-linen; and with her own white hands she washed mine. When she saw my right hand bare, the glove whole and the finger gone, then indeed she knew that I had been overcome; and perceiving my bitter shame of this, she would not ask me who 144 I was, nor say a single word of such things, but only saw to it that I had all good easing.
“Presently I was brought to a bed wherein I slept more softly than ever before in my life. And this fair lady sat down by my side, with a psaltery on her knee, and played most lovesomely. Yet ever between her music, she sat with a look of heavy sorrow. And her two maidens sang full sweetly, yet often wept and wrung their hands. Never before had I heard such melody, with ever among such bitter sighing.
“In the night she came often to my bedside, and asked, wanted I aught; but always I said her nay until daybreak drew near. Then she took away all my blood-stained bands, and tended my wounds again. Know well, the binding of my hurts was not with thread, nor with linen coarse or fine, but all with good silk. Twice wrapping of my wounds cost that lady twenty pounds, besides the spices and salves that eased me, and the potions that restored my strength.
“Then she gave me a drink in a horn, and never before, in all the days of my life, had I such a draught. She supported me with her hand while she was giving me that grass-green potion; but speedily it showed in my wounds, from which all blood and soreness departed; and methought I was able to stand and run, and to have undertaken battle anew.
“The birds sang in the green arbour, as I got me on foot 145 and astir; and then the lady came to me, saying: ‘I counsel you, tarry a day or two, till ye be in better plight.’ But I longed so sorely to be at home that I must needs take my leave.
“She gave me two shirts of Rennes, and put them next my body — here they are; and then she did on mine own, and over it the blood-stained armour, all save the heavy habergeon. She was afraid lest that should make my wounds to bleed; so with her milk-white hand she bound it to the arson of my saddle, and hung there also two bottles of rich wine, whereon I have lived until now.
“I said: “Ah dear, good madam, how may this be? You are the cunningest leech in the land, for I feel no manner of soreness from all my wounds, as if I had never been hurt with sword or spear, nor ever weapon had done me harm.’
“ ‘Would God,’ said she, ‘that it were so! But, after a day or two, when love again troubles you, your ointments may no longer avail. Sith you will not abide with me, let your lady in your own land do to your wounds as I would have done, then will they soften and heal quickly.’
“On thing grieved my heart mightily, that I had nothing to give the lady. I drew forth my fine golden beads, fresh and new; but she would not have them at my hand, so I left them lying on her bedside.
“Then I took leave of that sweet lady, and rode homewards, day and night. All that while I fared well until I came within two miles, when all at once my wounds were 146 as if knives had been beaten through my bones. I fell from my saddle, and when I came to myself my steed was gone.
“Thus have I been in that far country; and have assayed this venturous knight whom men call Gray-Steel, but he fended him well!”
“Then Grime spake, with soft words and fair, to Sir Eger: That man was never so worthy or so wise, nor yet so cunning proved in book-learning, nor so doughty of heart or hand, nor so strong to endure in battle, but he may be set in such company that he is as like to lose as to win. And ever I bade you keep well away from Gray-Steel, for he is commonly said to be the strongest knight in any land. Sith the matter is so fallen out, we will do the next best thing, and hides this from your lady, so that she shall know nothing of our secret.”
“But little wist Eger of Grime where at that very moment she was. Her chamber was near by, and so much she thought about Sir Eger that she lay awake and could not sleep; and so she had ta’en up a scarlet mantle and was come to Grime’s chamber. There she heard them in privy speech, and she stayed outside. When she learned that Eger was in distress, she loved him much the worse. Not a word would she speak, but turned her back and went away, yet not so quietly but that Grime perceived that some one had been there. He pushed open an unfolded window, and saw the way-gate18 of that lady.147
“What is it,” asked Eger, “makes that noise?”
And Grimes said: “My spaniel-hound would come in.” To his fellow he said no more than this, but he was sorry that she had been there.
That same night, Grime fetched leeches of great skill, cunning men to deal with hurts, that had good hap in healing wounds. Yet long ere day, word is gone about that Sir Eger is come home, and hath more wounds from sword and knife than had ever living man. Seventeen wounds hath he ta’en, seven of them through the body. The leeches could render him no help, but all said that he must die.
In the morning, came the earl and countess into Grime’s chamber, and the earl said: “How doth the knight, Sir Eger?”
Then Grime answered prudently: “He doth, my lord, as you may see.”
“Alas,” said the earl, “how comes this?”
Then Grime said at once: “My lord, I will tell you frankly. He chanced upon an uncouth19 land where towns are both few and thin; and however fast he rode, he was still seven days in the wilderness. He had heard tell of a venturous knight, who keeps constant ward over a Forbidden Country that extends a mile by the salt sea, with fair high-towered castles. On the other side was a strand with a forest, and by this a stream whereby no man might draw near. For whoso rode across that river must abide 148 strange adventures: he must either fight, or flee, or leave as a pledge the little finger of his right hand; and unless he proved himself too slow, he needed not to forego that little finger. Boldly Eger gave battle there to that knight and took from him his helm and his hauberk, his sword and his lance, and much of his golden gear. As he rode apace homewards through the wild forest and the wilderness, he thought to have escaped without harm, but fifteen thieves met him and meant to have slain him, and to have ta’en his gold and his goods. Thrice he ran among them with a spear and slew seven and the master, and he had still escaped, for all that dread, save that they shot at him and slew his steed. When they were gone he found another horse, and so is come home. But if he die to-day, farewell to the flower of knighthood!”
Then the earl offered forty pounds for a leech to take Eger in hand; but nine days were come and gone ere any would have to do with him.
It was nine days and some deal more ere his lady would come to see him, and when she did, her words were strange and dry. Says she: “How doth that wounded knight?”
Then Grime answered prudently: “He doth, madam, as you see.”
“In faith,” said the lady, “I have scant pity for him! He might as well have stayed at home for all the worship he won him in that place. He lost a finger to get away; and the next time he will offer the whole hand.”149
Now Grime went often to hold counsel with the lady, and ever he told Eger a fair tale of her until he should be whole again; for if her wantoness had been revealed to him, it would have stayed him in his mending.
At last the surgeons so dealt with him that he was strong enough to move about; and then Grime bethought him to try whether the lady still loved his brother as well as before. Quoth he: “Madam, by God’s mercy, Eger will take upon him a fresh combat with yonder knight; but he is still too weak from his hurt to go yet awhile. I prithee, make him to bide at home; for he will do more for you than for me.”
“Indeed,” answered that fair lady, “while Eger won the prize in every fight, for his sake I put by many a better man than he. Now I will not bid him stay or go, nor will I have aught to do with marrying him — I care not, Grime, what you say!”
Thereupon Grime turned his back upon her, and went to sit again at Eger’s bedside, and spake these words: “Eger, thou and I are sworn brethren; nor have I loved my own brother better than thee! Let us cast about between ourselves how to overcome our foe.”
Said Eger: “Why do you mistrust me? If I lie here this seven months, no man shall take my affair in hand till I am able to avenge myself.”
Grime answered with all gentlehood: “Methinks you are displeased with me; but that is not your part. Ever 150 since you have been home, messengers have come and gone between your lady and Earl Olyes, a doughty knight of better blood than ourselves, and with half again as many livings as any three others.”
Then Eger tossed up his arms and struck his hands together, sighing heavily, “Alas, my love and fair lady, what have I done to make you wroth?”
Grime had pity of him and said: “Brother, be counselled by me. If you will, peradventure we shall win through. And more — I dare lay my life ye shall wed that lady within the month.”
“How now? How may that be?”
“Peace, I will tell you. We shall take my brother Palyas into our counsel. I will give out that I am sick at home, and that my disease is such that no man may hear or see me. My brother, Palyas, shall take care of you at home, and I myself will go and fetch Gray-Steel’s right hand, or leave another finger in that place!”
To this counsel Palyas agreed, for he loved Sir Eger as well as he did Grime, his own brother. “And if you will go to the combat and fight with Sir Gray-Steel, you have need of arms that endure, for they may be fresh-new and yet false and fickle. When a weapon fails a man in time of stress, he fares ill, as did Sir Eger. But now, Eger, your uncle, Sir Egramé,20 while he lived, had the wielding of a noble brand called Edgeking.21 Well for that man who 151 hath it in his keeping! It was brought to King Ffundus22 from beyond the Greek Sea, for a treasure of great price; and when the king departed this world, he left it with the young princess. But some say that Egramé loved that lady in secret, and borrowed it when the king died, and that as long as he lived he had the guiding of that noble brand. And while he had it, there was never man of woman born that durst abide even the wind of it before his face! Now Egramé’s lady dwells here nigh, but she says that no man shall so much as look upon it, until her own son be of age to wield his father’s weapon.”
Said Grime: “To-morrow at daybreak, I will go thither and borrow that sword if I may.”
On the morrow, accordingly, when the sun shone bright, he went to that fair dame; and says she: “How doth my cousin, Sir Eger?”
“Madam, he will forth again with all his main to undertake combat anew with yonder knight, and he rays you lend him his uncle’s brand. As surety that it shall come safe home again, here are the title-deeds of his estates and of mine.”
She was loth to refuse him, and brought forth that splendid sword, saying that there was no fault in Edgeking itself; but for want of valour and good governance, often hath been lost alike king and kingdom. “There is never limb or body that Edgeking meets but that the biting 152 sword23 shall go through to the bone! And not for both your estates would I that Edgeking should come into the hands of a coward!”
When Grime, blithe of heart, had gone home to Eger, Palyas counselled him: “I rede thee, bear gifts to the fair lady who lodged Eger so well that night; in token whereof, behold these Rennes shirts.”
So he took brooches and beads and other jewels worth forty pounds to thank her for her courtesy. “But how,” he asked, “among a row of ladies, shall I know her?”
“Between her eyes,” answered Eger, “she hath a spot of red24 as large as a pin against the white. And there is no other lady like her, so gracious and full of gentlehood!”
Early on that morrow, these two knights arrayed them, and Eger went to read books of romance in a window where all might hear him. Presently he came down, ready-armed, into the hall and took his leave. The earl seized his hand, but the comely countess kissed him rather coldly, while his own lady stood by and would have naught to do with him.
Said he: “Farewell, my sweet lady!”
She answered: “God keep you better than He did before!” And all that stood near were amazed that her answer should be so dry.
Then he returned to his chamber, and as he went it, Grime came out, set his foot in his stirrup, stiff in war, 153 took a spear from his brother Palyas, and so rode forth against Gray-Steel.
Winglayne went to the walls to see the way-gate of her lover; and Grime spared not the spur — nay, he made the horse bolt forward as he had been a deer, until they had passed out of her sight.
Then that fair lady went to Grime’s chamber, for it was long since she had been there; but not before Palyas had forewarned Sir Eger, and had drawn double curtains so that no man might see who it was in the bed.
With all courtesy Palyas set a chair for the lady, while she said: “I have been on the walls to see Sir Eger ride away. He spurs out of the town as fiercely as a lion! Alack, he can make great boast when no foe is before him; but when it is man to man and steed to steed, then is the time to prove his prowess!”
Often for her sake had Eger been in battles fierce and fell, and now to hear her flout him like a knave! He wist not how to defend himself, but flung up his arms and thought to speak, until Palyas, perceiving this, got him by the shoulders and pressed him down heavily, so that he mist needs lie still and stir no more.
Then Palyas answered her full courteously: “Madam, by God’s mercy, Eger is known to be the noblest knight ever born in the land of Beame, and hath won the most honour for this kingdom. That was well proved in the heathen land when the king and his barons, among them 154 the earl, your noble father, once passed that way. There came a sultan called Gornordine,25 that had wronged many Christians and put them to torment; and he called upon any one of our knights, or any five, to fight with him; and five hundred that were there said nay. But Eger remembered you at home, and stole away alone, and they fought together, as the tale goes, on a mountain-tip, until Gornordine fell. Then rushed sixty heathen out of a bushment26 near by, and assailed Eger; and ere any rescue came to him he had killed Gornordine and ten more. Up rode a Northern knight, Kay of Kaynes,27 with ten others, to help Eger; and they twelve fought and slew the sixty. Then it was that the King of Beame offered Eger his daughter to wife; but the gentle knight would not, because he loved you best that be now his foe!”
At this the lady was so wroth with Palyas, that she took her leave and departed.
For three days he rode through the wilderness, and at last met a squire by the way, of whom he asked, with fair words: “Sir, who is the lord of this country?”
The squire answered courteously: “Earl Gares, a most worthy man.”
Said Grime: “And who is heir to that lord?”155
“He hath none but a fair daughter.”
And again Grime asked: “And to whom is that lady wedded?”
The squire said: “She was wife to a bold knight called Sir Attelston; but on their wedding-day, he gave battle, as I know, to Sir Gray-Steel, and for all that there was never a harder fight than betwixt those two, he was slain. Thereupon was the son and heir of Earl Gares so grieved at Attelston’s death that he thought to quit Gray-Steel his meed, and in turn boldly offered battle. And for him too many a man cries ‘Wellaway!’ So he ended, as hath done many another before him, full an hundred, I know, and more; and shamefully hath Gray-Steel put them to death without chance of succour or any remedy!”
For all these words, Sir Grime had no fear, and asked only: “How far is it to the city where that lady dwells?”
“But two miles, and I will go with you one of them.” And so they talked together in friendly wise until the squire had brought Grime thither.
He took lodging with a burgess, and went anon into a green garden to seek that lady, where, among many women, he knew her presently by Eger’s token.
Now Eger had been hurt on the ear, so there Grime had put ointment, and on his hand he wore the glove that Eger had when he lost his finger; thus he kneeled down and thanked her humbly: “Since the last time, madam, that I was here.”156
“Sir,” says she, “you must hold me excused; I did never see you until now.”
But he gave her the shirts of Rennes and the jewels that he had, forty pounds’ worth; and so he rewarded and thanked that gentle lady for her courtesy.
“Now, sir,” quoth she, “as I hope for bliss, how fares the knight that sent me these things?”
“I do, madam, as you see now, whereof I thank Almighty God and yourself!”
“Nay, sir,” she cried, “but was it you that were here before in such great peril? I am glad to see you sound again.” So speaking, she came quickly forward and kissed him.
Never in his life before had Grime seen any creature so fair as that lady in her scarlet-red, with hair like new gold, and herself as fresh of hue as a rose in the rain!
Like many men in a matter so nice — for men will never be wise in loving! — he so set his mind upon her that he forgot all things else; and as they stood talking together, she stole the glove from his right hand, and when she saw this bare, she said to him softly: “Sir, it was no marvel ye hid your hand, for in this country are no leeches who can restore a lost finger so that it be as well as had it never been hurt! But this is no matter for jesting! If that knight sent you to mock at me, I can be first at the scorning!”
With that, she who before had been so gentle of cheer, became full wroth, and would have none of his jewels, but 157 cast them upon the ground. And he, more troubled than ever before in his life, wist never what to say; but as she passed him by to enter her chamber, he caught her by the hand: “I entreat you, madam, hear but a word or two; and so God help me and Our Blessed Lady, I will tell you how the whole thing came about. The knight that was here before was my brother, and thought me more able than any one else to take this matter in hand. In his own country he loves a lady; and unless he overcome in every fight, he will be forsaken of her!”
When he had so spoken, she said; “Ye seem a courteous knight that answer a lady so justly.”
Thereupon she took up the jewels again, and sent a fair maiden to the burgess to say that whatever was the charge for the knight’s steed, she would double it twice over. She herself led Grime to her chamber, where a splendid supper was arrayed and set before them; but he could not eat or drink, being so enamoured of her fairness.
Presently, being weary, he was led to his own chamber, where his armour was taken off, and he was laid in bed. Then that lovesome lady sat down by his side, with a psaltery on her knee, and played delicious notes; and her two maidens sang sweetly, yet ever between they wept and wrung their hands.
And Grime said: “Madam, I have great marvel of one thing. Never before have I heard such sweet music troubled with such bitter grief!”158
Then she bade take away the psaltery, and wringing her two hands, cried: “Sir, I shall never rest content until I be avenged on Gray-Steel! He slew my brother, and my new-wed husband, Sir Attelston, who on our marriage-day gave him the hardest battle that ever was between two knights, and so was slain! Thereupon he was bewailed of many, and my brother so grieved at his death that he thought to quit Gray-Steel his meed, and boldly offered him combat; and after it was for him that many a man said ‘Wellaway!’ There they both ended at that murderer’s hands, as hath done many another knight, for I have wist him with his two hands to kill an hundred and more, and do them shamefully to death without hope of succour or remedy! Now if ye be come to contend with him, Jesus defend you in the right! No woman alive knows so well as I his conditions:28 every hour from midnight until noon he increaseth his might by the strength of a man; and from noon until midnight it abates by so much every hour. Make your first encounter riding, and pierce his mail; and when you have broken your spear against him manfully, dismount at once for your own advantage, for the tyrant is better on horseback than on foot. Press stiffly against him in that stour, as one that thinks on his sweetheart; though I do not bid you think on me, yet remember your lady, whoever she is, and let not the tyrant, if he would, keep you from holding your covenant with her!”159
Thus she took leave of that gentle knight, and with her two fair maidens passed on into her own chamber.
And Sir Grime lay and longed sorely for daybreak. But at length came the hostler, who arrayed and armed him, and brought him his steed, and was paid in red gold. A rich breakfast was set before the knight, but he would have naught of meat or drink, save a cup of wine and three sops. And thus he took leave of that clear-faced lady, and rode away towards the fresh river.
Early that May morning the birds were singling clear a heavenly tune for a knight in love — throstle-cock and nightingale, laverock and wild witwall, with rooks arising from every stream. Little birds twittered among the upspringing flowers, and the dun deer came forth from the dales into the clear, fresh sunshine when Phœbus with his golden beams arose. Then it was that Grime looked across to the other side, and first saw parks and palaces of muckle pomp, and seven towns by the salt sea, with fair castles and high towers; and over the river were riding-friths two, whereof he chose one and rode straight into Gray-Steel’s land. He was afraid that he might have to await him until night,29 but, God wot, he had no cause to doubt, for Gray-Steel had two watchmen, who went anon and told their master: “A knight hath come into your realm, and thrice he hath ridden about the plain and now is boun to turn homeward.”160
“Nay,” quoth Gray-Steel, “by St. John, he shall not go home this year; he shall or fight or flee or leave a pledge in this land!”
Thereupon they brought Gray-Steel his red shield30 and all his shining gear of new gold. His breastplate was decked with purple, on his head was a golden helmet, and his shanks shone seemly enough with gold and precious stones. His arms were covered with overlapping plates set with gold and silver; and the shield on his breast had on the one side a dragon and a unicorn, and on the other a bear and a wild boar, and between them a ramping lion ready to bite. About his neck was a gorget of rich mail, and he wore a high helmet. His spear was red, but all his armour was of new gold and precious stones; and he bore a golden mace set with a carbuncle shining like the moon. His saddle was covered with ciclaton,31 richly fret with gold bars, his pectoral was of Indian silk, and his steed of a ferly kind with silken reins and golden bells. He stepped into his stirrup so geared for war, took his spear from a knight, and rode straight at Grime, who said: “Ye wounded my brother, Sir Eger, and for that deed, traitor, ye shall pay full dear!”
Gray-Steel answered never a word, but rode at Grime like a madman. They smote their steeds with spurs, and rushed together with all their might, each like a raging lion. Grime aimed at Gray-Steel a blow that bit through 161 all his armour, and bare him clean through the body, so that his saddle-girths burst asunder, and knight, saddle, and all came down in a heap. Thus through the strength of Grime and his steed, he perceived well that he was matched with a doughty man.
Straightway young Grime dismounted from his stirrups, remembering how the lady had taught him to do. He shook out his sword, Edgeking; but, to speak truth, the other met him manfully. Grime pierced him in one side, and through all his bright armour made a gaping wound, and shore asunder an hundred mails32 and the stuff beneath them, and so thrust five inches deep into the shoulder. Never before had Gray-Steel met any man to give him two such dints.
But then he thought to quit Sir Grime, and struck him on the helmet ere he could handle Edgeking again, so that fire flew as out of flint, three doughty blows whereof the least had been a man’s bane — and Grime was nearhand dead.
Thus these noble bairns in battle hacked and hewed each other with mettlesome swords, until Sir Grime, who in his childhood had learned full skilfully to handle a weapon with a sly, awkward stroke, hit Gray-Steel on the knee, so that however strong of hand he might be, he had thenceforth but the one foot to go on.
“Ye hurt my brother, Sir Eger, and bitterly shall ye pay for that deed!”162
Then answered the stout warrior, Gray-Steel: “Why upbraid you me with that knight? He never went by land or water but he was as good of heart and hand as are ye! Had he been weaponed as well as I, he had been worth the two of us here!”
With that, he struck Sir Grime on the collar-bone, and shore away a quarter of his shield and clave the rest asunder so that it fell far abroad in the plain, and sent his noble sword Edgeking out of his grasp.
But Grime was nimble of foot, and followed fast and got his brand again, though, if Gray-Steel had had still his other leg, I cannot think how Grime could ever have returned to his bright lady. But now with Edgeking in his hand he gave Gray-Steel fell dints with an awkward stroke through liver and lungs. And Gray-Steel went raging mad when his sides foamed with his own heart’s blood, so that, as Grime perceived, he was at point to die.
“Yield, Sir Gray-Steel, for ye can never match that stroke!”
Cried the other: “Ye lie! None was ever of woman born, who make me yield, man to man!”
So wroth was he at the challenge that he set both hands to his sword, and with all the strength left in him, struck Grime on the head such a blow as neither he nor any man his equal ever got before. Him seemed his head was riven asunder, his neck cracked under his helmet, and blood burst from his ears; but although he staggered under 163 that stroke, he kept still his footing. Had he fallen but once, never had that lady seen him again.
Thus they fought together, fell and sore, over the space of a mile and farther, until Gray-Steel’s visage began to wax pale and wan, through loss of blood. Then Grime got a grip of his gorget, followed hard upon, and bare him backward to the ground. Not once did he let him recover, but pushed aside his breastplate, and thrice thrust him to the heart.
So it appears that ungracious deeds can never escape an ill ending. All this I say of Gray-Steel whom Fortune had long befriended, so that I have wist him slay with his two hands an hundred knights and more, and shamefully do them to death without succour or remedy; and now at last is he himself slain by a knight that came to do battle for his sworn brother.
Presently Grime looked by him, and beheld that their two steeds were fighting, even as themselves had done. He parted them, and going to Gray-Steel’s saddle, righted the girths and set it on the horse; and next he went to Gray-Steel’s body, and with his good sword cut off the hand.
“My brother left a finger with thee here, and for that he shall have thy whole hand!”
He looked up at the stone castle, and saw ladies a many beating their palms together, tearing their hair, wailing and lamenting with shrill voices; and strong men that would not have rested until they had won back horse and armour, 164 save that it had been ever Gray-Steel’s wish that for his death no challenging be made. So Grime leaped upon his foe’s steed, leading his own by the bridle; and as he rode towards the fresh river, durst no man draw him nigh.
An hour past nightfall, he came again to his lady, and was met by the hostler at the door of the burgess’s house. “O master,” said he, “here is come again the knight that rode hence at daybreak. He hath brought back Gray-Steel’s horse, his saddle, harness, gold chain, and much of his golden gear!”
Thereupon they came to the door, all the bold man and yeomanry together; and the burgess asked Grime whether he would lodge with him that night. But he said: “Close by is a strong castle, and methinks it were folly to lie abroad in a strange land where I know not friend from foe!”
He took the hand in its gay golden glove, and went up to the lady’s chamber, where she sat at supper but ate never a morsel.
“Ah,” she cried, “I think ever of the knight that went away from me at daybreak! Yester-even I led him to his chamber; to-night Gray-Steel has made his bed. Alas, he is foully slain, and that is great pity for his kinsfolk, for he was large of blood and bone, nor lacked goodly nurture! And to fold his sweetheart in his arms — to her he were worth his weight in gold! Woe’s me for his love in his own countree, for she must think long ere she see him again!”165
Then even as she wept, remembering her own lord Attelston, came Grime knocking at her chamber door. And the maiden that went thither cried out: “O madam, here is the knight that left us at daybreak!” Thereupon the lady started up from the board, and kissed him twenty times.
“And how have you fared on your journey?”
“Full well, sweetheart,” answered Grime, “for of yonder knight have I taken such a pledge that poor men hereafter may have justice, and merchants may buy and sell in the lands wherein they live.”
He gave her the hand in its glove, and said: “Lay this by until morning.” She took the glove, not knowing that the hand was therein, until, as they stood there together, it fell to the ground. And when she saw it — the very hand that had slain her husband and her brother — what marvel if her heart quaked and the blood rose in her face until she was flushed ruddy red? It had fingers greater than any other three, and on each a gay gold ring with a precious stone or goodly gem. And this hath she ta’en up and put back again into its glove, and with locks one or two shut it away fast in her coffer.
A rich supper was set before the knight, but so was he bruised and weary that he would have nor meat nor drink, but longed sorely to be abed. So the lady took him to his chamber, and did off his mail and searched his wounds. Never was she so glad in her life as when she 166 found that he had no mortal hurt, for she thought still that she might be his wedded wife.
After she had done this, she returned to her own chamber, took out the hand in its golden glove and went into her father’s hall, where he was set at supper with many lords, to all whom she gave courteous greeting: “I bring you tidings, father — will like you well: your enemy, Sir Gray-Steel, is slain!”
Thereupon they all broke into loud laughter, and one said: “Madam, that seems to be a lie! None was ever of woman born that might slay Gray-Steel, as man to man!”
But she cast before them the hand in its golden glove; and all marvelled to see it, ruddy red, with its fingers larger than any other three, and on each finger a splendid gold ring with precious stones.
“Daughter,” cried the earl, “where dwells the knight that hath done this?”
And she answered: “Father, I know not how he is called, but he was born in the land of Beame; and he is large of blood and bone, nor lacks goodly nurture. He is gentle to fold in arms and worth his weight in gold; but he will ride hence in the morning, as soon as it is day.”
“God forbid!” said the earl. “Not for a thousand round red florins would I let him go unrewarded that hath so manfully avenged me on my foe!”
Early on the morrow, Grime arrayed him, but even as he was taking leave came the earl, and when he would 167 have knelt with humble cheer to give thanks for his refreshment, seized him up by the hand, saying: “Gentle sir, now arise, and as ye are a good fighting-man, tarry with me, this day and night.”
“My lord,” he answered, “I am ready to do as you will.”
Thereupon a squire took away the two horses, and the earl led Grime into his palace. A banquet was served with food and drink in great plenty; and to speak truth, Grime was meat-fellow33 with the gay lady.
After dinner, the earl took him aside into a chamber and speered of him: “Sir, be you married in your own country?”
And Grime said quickly: “I have had never wife nor lady. By St. John, I tell you truly, I have had nor wife nor wench.”
The earl answered: “I am glad to hear that, for the better may you speed now. My fair daughter is heir to all my lands; and if ye would wed that lady, I would give her to you with all my heart!”
And Grime rendered him great thanks, saying: “I love her too well to refuse!”
Accordingly, they were handfasted, in the presence of the earl and three bishops; and a marriage-day was set when Grime should return. He was given by the earl two robes decked out with beaten gold, worth four 168 hundred pounds (whereof he gave the better to Eger when he reached home); and so he took leave of the earl and the lady, and rode away to his own land.
He came along a by-way of the forest, where he left his steed and his palfrey; and having so done, he knocked at his own door, which was opened by Palyas, more glad than ever before to see his brother hale and sound.
“How fares Eger?” asked Grime.
“The better that you have sped in your journey!”
“Rise, Eger, and arm thee in iron and steel, and go forth into yonder wood, Palyas with thee. There shalt thou find Gray-Steel’s horse, his fair saddle, harness, gold chain, and much more of his golden gear. To-morrow, as soon as the sun shines clearly, come before thy lady, and look thou be as strange to her as she in times past hath been with thee! For, an thou dost not, thou shalt lose her for evermore!”
When Eger and Palyas had gone forth to find the steeds and other stuff, Grime put on a scarlet mantle and went into the earl’s chamber, with sighs and mournful cheer: “Alas, my brother, Sir Eger, is slain! Seven days are come and gone sith he promised me that he would be at home. And he rode hence grievously wounded — alas, my sorrow is the more! Thy daughter’s great pride hath brought him into this peril — a pity that ever she was born! For now is lost the best knight that ever was in this world!”169
Then Grime went his way, and the earl and countess were sad enough as they busked them to go to the parish church to hear Mass. But on their way home to the palace, one looked between him and the sun, and cried: “Methinks I see two armed knights coming!”
Buy another: “Nay, rather, it is one knight riding and leading a horse.—
As he drew near, all perceived that it was Eger; but Grime was the first man to bid him welcome home. Then the earl took him by the hand, the countess kissed him, and his own lady, Winglayne, would have done as much, but he turned his back and made as if he would ride away to Garnwicke, saying: “Parting is a secret pain, but old friends are not soon recovered; thy great kindness shall never be forgotten!”
As he went, the lady swooned away; and the earl and countess were deeply troubled. Indeed, the earl proffered Grime much land to get the good will of Eger for his daughter.
So Grime rode after him and spoke fairly: “Stay, and speak a word with me, brother.”
Said Eger: “Brother, for charity, here am I at thy will, ready to do thy bidding!”
Thereupon a squire took the two steeds away to stable them; and Grime led Eger by the hand to their own chamber, where he did off all his armour and laid it down where first he had put it on. And then Grime fetched out 170 the two robes, whereof the worse was worth four hundred pounds; and he clad Eger in the better of the two, so that he became the comeliest man in all Christendom.
Thus hand in hand they returned to the palace; and at the great banquet served there, with food and drink in great plenty, Eger was meat-fellow with the gay lady.
When dinner was done, Grime took the earl into his counsel: “Sir, I have brought him to be of your will — this knight that overcomes in every battle — and he will take your daughter to wife. I rede that the marriage be soon.”
To this the earl and countess accorded; and the earl sent his messengers far and near, to bid all the great lords to come on the fifteenth day to his daughter’s wedding. And thus it came about that the noble knight, Sir Eger, married the lady Winglayne.
After forty days’ feasting of lords and ladies in royal array, each returned home into his own country.
But Grime and Palyas rode without stopping into Earl Gares’ land; and he came to meet them with a royal company of an hundred knights in splendid array, and welcomed them with much mirth and minstrelsy. And that it was that Grime wedded the sweet lady Loosepaine. (And why was she called Loosepaine? Because, forsooth, there was no better leech in all the world!34) And there was made a royal wedding as good as that other.
After five days, Grime desired all the earl’s meiny to
“Sir, I have brought him to be of
of your will.”
ride with him into Gray-Steel’s lands, that he might put it into the hands of his brother Palyas, newly dubbed knight. They abode no longer, but with Palyas as their captain rode into Gray-Steel’s lands, broke open his parks and killed his deer, razed his harbours, sunk his ships, and seized his towns and stone castles.
Now this tyrant left but one child, a fair daughter, Emyas, who fled to his stronghold. There Eger took here, as I understand, and brought her to Earl Gares, before whom she kneeled on her knee, saying: “Though my father was a tyrant and your foe, do not therefore rob me of my land!”
Says the earl: “By your courtesy may the matter be amended. Choose any knight here before me to rule your land and yourself.”
And among them all she took Palyas; whereupon barons and knights, and more especially Eger and Grime, were very glad. And so the noble knight Palyas married fair Emyas; and the third wedding was as royal as the other two.
I never wist of any man that proved himself so well as did Grime against Gray-Steel; and thereby he got his brother Eger an earl’s land and a fair lady, himself an earl’s land and the sweetest lady alive, and his brother Palyas a baron’s daughter and a baronage.
Winglayne bore Eger fifteen children, ten strong sons and five fair daughters; and Loosepaine gave Grime ten, 172 seven sons and three daughters, while Emyas and Palyas had three, two sons and a fair daughter, who afterwards married a brave knight.
And in all that land was no man that durst displease these three brethren, the baron and the two earls.
2 See note.
3 See note.
4 See note.
5 Generous knight.
6 Landless knight.
7 See note.
10 See note.
11 Set it in its rest.
12 A coat worn over armour.
13 Quilted or leather jerkin.
14 Sleeveless coat of mail.
17 A dead tree or log.
18 The going away.
20 See note.
21 See note.
22 See note.
23 See note.
24 See note.
25 See note.
27 Caithness? See note.
28 See note.
29 See note.
30 See note.
31 Rich silk.
32 Links of chain-mail.
33 Sat by her side.
34 See note.
This romance (1474 lines) is first mentioned in 1497, when King James IV. paid nine shillings to two fiddlers who sang it before him at Stirling. Numerous allusions show that it continued to be popular through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and even in 1826, Mr. David Laing said that its influence was traceable in the sayings of the Scottish peasantry. It is mentioned in the Complaynt of Scotland, 1549; by Sir David Lyndsay, in his Squire Meldrum and The Auld Man and his Wife; in a poem by John Davidson, 1574; by John Taylor, the Water Poet, in 1623; in The Scots Hudibras, 1681. The tune is given in a book for the lute, dated 1627, formerly belonging to Dr. Burney; and in 1686, a satire on the Marquis of Argyle was set to the air of “Old Gray-Steel.”
The name was at least three times in the sixteenth century given as a sobriquet: by James V. to Archibald Douglas of Kilspendie for “his great ability of body;” to William, first Earl of Gowrie, possibly because of a repute for dealings in magic; and to Alexander, Earl of Eglinton, perhaps for his prowess.
The early popularity of the poem is shown by a printer’s note, October 18, 1577, mentioning 300 “Gray Steillis” at sixpence apiece. Other editions followed in 1599, 1602, 1606, &c. Mr. David Laing printed from an edition of 1711; and this same volume was earlier used by Ellis for his Specimens. An older version was first edited by Hales and Furnivall, 1867-68 (Percy Folio MS., and also bound separately).
p. 137. Winglayne. Possibly the same as Guinglain, the name of the hero in Lybeaus Disconus.
p. 138. Grime . . . of Garwicke (Garnwicke). The name was perhaps originally the Norse Grimr; but in the Aberdeen 183 edition has become identified with Graham. Garwicke is usually thought to be Carrick in Ayrshire.
p. 138. Egace . . . Eger. The first form is possibly a corruption of Egare. Eger, from the context, is interpreted to mean lacking, here almost equivalent to Lackland. The name is also spelled Egar, perhaps with a reminiscence of the name Degarre. John Taylor uses Degre, and Degree is the equivalent of Degarre in the Percy Folio MS. Clearly the two names were confused, although Degarre= d’ egaré, the outcast.
p. 140. Forbidden Country. Cf. Introduction, pp. xx-xxiv., for the geography of this country.
p. 140. Against his breast. This is to show how much stronger he was than the ordinary knight who used a lance-rest.
p. 150. Egramé. Malory has the names Egglame, Eglamour, and Segramour. The last two are common, but the first is rare, and may represent the same original name as the Egramé in the text.
p. 150. Edgeking. In Old English, the word edge (ecg) meant sword, hence Edgeking would be King of swords. In this text, the name first given to it is Erkyin, which Liebrecht takes to be from O. E. eorcnan, precious stone. While it is true that the sword is immediately after called a “treasure of great price,” this derivation of the name seems to me more questionable than the other.
p. 151. King Ffundus. Perhaps King Ponthus, famous through the romance of Pontus and Sidoine? It might have been derived from a form spelled Phonthus or Phontus.
p. 152. The biting sword, &c. The conception of the sword as biting the bone if familiar in Old English, and is not, as far as I know, a French turn of thought.
p. 152. A spot of red, &c. An original touch, in that the heroines of the romances are almost invariably without blemish.
p. 154. A sultan called Gornordine. The form of this name and 184 the character of the episode suggest a French source, but the name as it stands is probably corrupt; at least, I cannot identify it with any degree of certainty. There was a French epic hero Gormond (Gormund), and a Garmund in Old English (Beowulf, l. 1962.)
p. 93. Kay of Kaynes. A Northern knight suggests the possibility of Caithness for Kaynes. This episode is noteworthy both for preserving the ancient militant character of Kay, who in the fifteenth century was pretty well the butt of the romancers, and for describing a combat more reasonable than usual, twelve against sixty, instead of one or two against hundreds or thousands.
p. 158. His conditions. This detail seems to be borrowed from the legend of Gawain (Cf. Miss Weston’s Legend of Sir Gawain, 1897, pp. 12-13, for different accounts), whose strength was trebled at noon and waned to its original degree at night. If this is based on a sun-myth, the Gray-Steel version is more logical in that it represents an hourly increase and decrease during the twelve hours which form the average day. The same idea appears in the story of Cuchullin.
p. 159. Await him until night. Then Gray-Steel would be at his weakest, and Grime win less honour.
p. 170. his red shield There is no corresponding note for this page in text. — Elf.ed.p. 170. No better leech.Women doctors distinguished themselves at times in the Middle Ages. They were known at least as early as the eleventh century, when Trotula (Dame Trot) lectured on Medicine at the famous school of Salerno.