Cliges: A Romance
by Chretien de Troyes
Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse

When all had had their meat and drink, then has the king no longer kept silence. "Friend," quoth he, "I would know if it is from pride that you forbore and disdained to come to my court as soon as you entered this land, and why you thus withdraw yourself from folk and change your arms. Now impart to me your name, and say of what race you are born." Cliges replies: "Never shall it be concealed." He has told and related to the king whatsoever he demands from him; and when the king has learned his name then he embraces him; then he rejoices over him; there is none who does not greet him in clue form. And my Lord Gawain knew him, who, above all, embraces and greets him. All greet him and fall on his neck; and all those who speak of him say that he is right fair and valiant. The king loves him and honours him more than any of all his nephews.

Cliges stays with the king until the beginning of summer; by that time he has been over all Britain and over France and over Normandy, and has wrought many a knightly deed, so that he has well proved himself. But the love with which he is wounded grows neither lighter nor easier. The wish of his heart keeps him ever constant to one thought: he remembers Fenice who far from him is torturing her heart. A longing seizes him to return home; for too long has he abstained from seeing the lady more yearned for than any lady, that ever heard of man has yearned for. And he will not abstain longer from her. He prepares for the journey to Greece; he has taken leave and returns. Much, I ween, did it grieve my lord Gawain and the king when they can no longer keep him. But he longs to reach her whom he loves and desires; and he hastens o'er sea and land; and the way seems very long to him, so eagerly does he yearn to see her who takes away and purloins his heart from him. But she yields him a fair return; and well does she pay and compensate him for the toll she has extorted from him; for she in her turn gives her own heart in payment to him, whom she loves no less. But he is not a whit certain about it; never had he pledge or promise in the matter; and he grieves cruelly. And she also laments; for her love of him is tormenting and killing her; and nothing can give pleasure or joy in her eyes since that hour when she ceased to see him. She does not even know if he is alive, whereof great sorrow strikes her to the heart. But Cliges gets nearer each day, and in his journey he has had good luck; for he has had a fair wind and calm weather, and has anchored with joy and delight before Constantinople. The news reached the city; it was welcome to the emperor and a hundred times more welcome to the empress. If anyone doubt this it will be to his own sorrow. Cliges and his company have repaired to Greece, straight to the port of Constantinople. All the most powerful and noble come to the port to meet him. And when the emperor who had advanced in front of all meets him, and the empress who walks by his side, the emperor, before all, runs to fall on his neck and to greet him. And when Fenice greets him, the one changes colour because of the other; and the marvel is how when they come close to each other they keep from embracing and kissing each other with such kisses as please Love. But folly would it have been and madness. The folk run up in all directions and delight to see him. They all lead him through the midst of the town, some on foot and some on horseback, as far as the imperial palace. Of the joy that there was made will never word here be told, nor of the honour, nor of the homage; but each has striven to do whatever he thinks and believes will please Cliges and be welcome to him. And his uncle yields to him all that he has save the crown. He is right willing that Cliges take at his pleasure whatsoever he shall wish to obtain from him, be it land or treasure; but Cliges makes no account of silver or of gold, since he dare not disclose his thought to her for whom he loses his rest; and yet he has leisure and opportunity for telling her if only he were not afraid of being refused; for every day he can see her and sit alone by her side without anyone gainsaying or forbidding; for nobody imagines or thinks evil of it.

A space of time after he had returned, one day he came unattended into the room of her who was not forsooth his enemy, and be well assured that the door was not shut against the meeting. He was close by her side and all the rest had gone away, so that no one was sitting near them who could hear their words. Fenice first of all questioned him about Britain. She asks him concerning the disposition and courtesy of my lord Gawain, and at last she ventures to speak of what she dreaded. She asked him if he loved dame or maiden in that land. To this Cliges was not unwilling or slow to reply. Quickly was he able to explain all to her, as soon as she challenged him on the point. "Lady," quoth he, "I was in love while yonder; but I loved none who was of yonder land. In Britain my body was without a heart like bark without timber. When I left Germany, I knew not what became of my heart, save that it went away hither after you. Here was my heart and there my body. I was not absent from Greece, for my heart had gone thither, and to reclaim it have I come back here; but it neither comes nor returns to me, and I cannot bring it back to me, and yet I seek it not and cannot do so. And how have you fared since you have come into this land? What joy have you had here? Do the people, does the land please you? I ought to ask you nothing further save this—whether the land please you." "Formerly it pleased me not; but now there dawns for me a joy and a pleasure that I would not lose, be assured, for Pavia or for Placentia; for I cannot dissever my heart from it, nor shall I ever use force to do so. In me is there nought save the bark, for without my heart I live and have my being. Never was I in Britain, and yet my heart has made I know not what contract in Britain without me." "Lady, when was your heart there? Tell me when it went, at what time and at what season, if it is a matter that you can reasonably tell me or another. Was it there when I was there?" "Yes, but you knew it not. It was there as long as you were there and departed with you." "God! and I neither knew nor saw it there. God! why did I know it not? If I had known it, certainly, lady, I would have borne it good company." "Much would you have comforted me and well would it have become you to do so, for I would have been very gracious to your heart, if it had pleased it to come there where it might have known me to be." "Of a surety, lady, it came to you." "To me? Then it came not into exile, for mine also went to you." "Lady, then are both our hearts here with us as you say; for mine is wholly yours." "Friend, and you on your side have mine, and so we are well matched. And know well that, so may God guard me, never had your uncle share in me, for neither did it please me nor was it permitted to him. Never yet did he know me as Adam knew his wife. Wrongly am I called dame; but I know well that he who calls me dame knows not that I am a maid. Even your uncle knows it not, for he has drunk of the sleeping draught and thinks he is awake when he sleeps, and he deems that he has his joy of me, just as he fain would have it, and just as though I were lying between his arms; but well have I shut him out. Yours is my heart, yours is my body, nor indeed will any one by my example learn to act vilely; for when my heart set itself on you, it gave and promised you my body, so that nobody else shall have a share in it. Love for you so wounded me that never did I think to recover any more than the sea can dry up. If I love you and you love me, never shall you be called Tristram, and never shall I be Iseult, for then the love would not be honourable. But I make you a vow that never shall you have other solace of me than you now have, if you cannot bethink yourself how I may be stolen from your uncle and from his bed, so that he may never find me again, or be able to blame either you or me or have anything he may lay hold of herein. To-night must you bend your attention to the matter and to-morrow you will be able to tell me the best device that you will have thought of, and I also will ponder on the matter. To-morrow, when I shall have risen, come early to speak to me, and each will say his thought, and we will carry out that which we shall consider best."

When Cliges heard her wish, he has granted her all, and says that it shall be right well done. He leaves her blithe, and blithe he goes away, and each lies awake in bed all night and they think with great delight over what seems best to them. The morrow they come again together, as soon as they were risen, and they took counsel in private, as there was need for them to do. First Cliges says and recounts what he had thought of in the night. "Lady," quoth he, "I think and believe that we could not do better than go away to Britain: thither have I devised to take you away. Now take heed that the matter fall not through on your side. For never was Helen received at Troy with such great joy, when Paris had brought her thither, that there will not be yet greater joy felt throughout the whole land of the king, my uncle, anent you and me. And if this please you not well, tell me your thought; for I am ready, whatever come of it, to cleave to your thought." She replies: "And I shall speak it. Never will I go with you thus, for then, when we had gone away, we should be spoken of throughout the world as the blonde Iseult and Tristram are spoken of; but here and there all women and men would blame our happiness. No one would believe or could be expected to believe the actual truth of the matter. Who would believe then as regards your uncle that I have gone off and escaped from him still a maid, but a maid to no purpose? Folk would hold me a light-of-love and a wanton, and you a madman. But it is meet to keep and observe the command of St. Paul, for St. Paul teaches him who does not wish to remain continent to act so wisely that he may never incur outcry nor blame nor reproach. It is well to stop an evil mouth, and this I think I can fully accomplish, if it be not too grievous for you; for if I act as my thought suggests to me, I will pretend to be dead. I will shortly feign sickness, and do you on your side lavish your pains to provide for my tomb. Set your attention and care on this, that both tomb and bier be made in such fashion that I die not there nor suffocate, and let no one perceive you that night when you will be ready to take me away. And you will find me a refuge, such that never any save you may see me; and let no one provide me with anything of which I have need or requirement, save you to whom I grant and give myself. Never in all my life do I seek to be served by any other man. You will be my lord and my servant, good will be to me whatsoever you will do to me, nor shall I ever be lady of the empire, if you be not lord of it. A poor, dark, and sordid place will be to me more splendid than all these halls, when you shall be together with me. If I have you and see you, I shall be lady of all the wealth in the world, and the whole world will be mine. And if the thing is done wisely, never will it be interpreted ill, and none will ever be able to point the finger of scorn at me, for through the whole empire folk will believe that I have rotted in the grave. And Thessala, my nurse, who has brought me up and in whom I have great trust, will aid me in good faith, for she is very wise and I have great confidence in her." And Cliges, when he heard his love, replies: "Lady, if so it can be, and if you think that your nurse is likely to counsel you rightly in the matter, all you have to do is to make preparations and to carry them out speedily; but if we act not wisely, we are lost beyond recovery. In this town there is a craftsman who carves and works in wood wondrous well; there is no land where he is not famed for the works of art that he has made and carved and shaped. John is his name, and he is my serf. No handicraft is there, however peculiar it be, in which anyone could rival him, if John set his mind to it with a will. For compared with him they are all novices like a child at nurse. It is by imitating his works that the inhabitants of Antioch and of Rome have learned to do whatever they can accomplish, and no more loyal man is known. But now will I put him to the test, and if I can find loyalty in him, I will free him and all his heirs, and I will not fail to tell him our plan, if he swears and vows to me that he will aid me loyally therein and will never betray me in this matter." She replies: "Now be it so."

By her leave Cliges came forth from the chamber and departed. And she sends for Thessala, her nurse, whom she had brought from the land where she was born. And Thessila came forthwith, for she neither lingers nor delays: but she knows not why her mistress sends for her. Fenice asks her in private conference what she counsels and what seems good to her. She neither hides nor conceals from Thessala even the smallest part of her thought. "Nurse," says she, "I know well that never a thing that I tell you will afterwards become known through you, for I have proved you right well and have found you very wise. You have done so much for me that I love you. Of all my evils I complain to you, nor do I take counsel elsewhere. You know well why I lie awake and what I think and what I wish. My eyes can see nothing to please me, save one thing, but I shall have from it neither enjoyment nor comfort, if I do not pay very dearly for it beforehand. And yet I have found my mate; for if I desire him, he, on his side, desires me too; if I grieve, he, on his side, grieves with my sorrow and my anguish. Now I must confess to you a thought and a parley, in which we two in solitude have resolved and agreed." Then she has told and related to her that she intends to feign herself ill, and says that she will complain so much that finally she will appear dead, and Cliges will steal her away in the night, and they will be always henceforth together. In no other way, it seems to her, could she continue firm in her resolve. But if she were assured that Thessala would help her in it, the thing could be done according to her wish; "But too long do joy and good fortune for me delay and tarry." Forthwith her nurse assures her that she will lend all her aid to the enterprise, let her now have neither fear nor dread in regard to aught; and she says she will take so much pains about the matter, as soon as she shall undertake it, that never will there be any man who sees her who will not believe quite surely that her soul is severed from the body, when Thessala shall have given her a drink that will make her cold and wan and pale and stiff, without speech and without breath; and yet she will be quite alive and sound, and will feel neither good nor ill, nor will she suffer any harm during a day and a whole night in the tomb and in the bier.

When Fenice had heard it, thus has she spoken and replied: "Nurse, I put myself in your care, I give you free leave to do what you will with me. I am at your disposal; think for me, and bid the folk here that there be none who does not go away. I am ill and they disturb me." The nurse tells them courteously: "My lords, my lady is unwell and wishes you all to go away, for you speak too much and make too much noise, and noise is bad for her. She will have neither rest nor case as long as you are in this room. Never heretofore that I remember had she illness of which I heard her complain so much, so very great and grievous is her sickness. Depart, and it vex you not." They speedily go, one and all, as soon as Thessala had commanded it. And Cliges has quickly sent for John to his lodging, and has said to him privily: "John, knowest thou what I will say? Thou art my serf, I am thy lord, and I Can give thee or sell thee and take thy body and thy goods as a thing that is my own. But if I could trust thee concerning an affair of mine that I am thinking of, thou wouldst for evermore be free, and likewise the heirs which shall be born of thee." John, who much desires freedom, forthwith replies: "Sir," says he, "there is no thing that I would not do wholly at your will, provided that thereby I might see myself free and my wife and children free. Tell me your will; never will there be anything so grievous that it will be toil or punishment to me, nor will it be any burden to me. And were it not so, yet it will behove me to do it even against my will, and set aside all my own business." "True, John, but it is such a thing that my mouth dare not speak it, unless thou warrant me and swear to me, and unless thou altogether assure me that thou wilt faithfully aid me and will never betray me." "Willingly, Sir," quoth John, "never be doubtful of that. For this I swear you and warrant you that as long as I shall be a living man I will never say aught that I think will grieve or vex you." "Ah, John! not even on pain of death is there a man to whom I should dare to say that concerning which I wish to seek counsel of thee; rather would I let my eyes be plucked out. Rather would I that thou shouldst kill me than that thou shouldst say it to any other man. But I find thee so loyal and prudent, that I will tell thee what is in my heart. Thou wilt accomplish my pleasure well, as I think, as regards both thy aid and thy silence." "Truly, Sir! so aid me God!" Forthwith Cliges relates to him and tells him the enterprise quite openly. And when he has disclosed to him the truth, as ye know it who have heard me tell it, then John says that he promises him to make the tomb well and put therein his best endeavour, and says that he will take him to see a house of his own building, and he will show him this that he has made, which never any man, woman, or child yet saw, if it pleases him to go with him there where he is working and painting and carving all by himself without any other folk. He will show him the fairest and most beautiful place that he ever saw. Cliges replies: "Let us then go."

Below the town in a sequestered spot had John built a tower, and he had toiled with great wisdom. Thither has he led Cliges with him, and leads him over the rooms, which were adorned with images fair and finely painted. He shows him the rooms and the fireplaces, and leads him up and down. Cliges sees the house to be lonely, for no one stays or dwells there. He passes from one room to another till he thinks to have seen all, and the tower has pleased him well, and he said that it was very beautiful. The lady will be safe there all the days that she will live; for no man will ever know her to be there. "No, truly, lord, she will never be known to be here. But think you to have seen all my tower and all my pleasaunce? Still are there lurking-places such as no man would be able to find. And if it is allowed you to try your skill in searching as well as you can, never will you be able to ransack so thoroughly as to find more rooms here, however subtle and wise you are, if I do not show and point them out to you. Know that here baths are not lacking, nor anything that I remember and think of as suitable for a lady. She will be well at her ease here. This tower has a wider base underground, as you shall see, and never will you be able to find anywhere door or entrance. With such craft and such art is the door made of hard stone that never will you find the join thereof." "Now hear I marvel," quoth Cliges; "go forward; I shall follow, for I long to see all this." Then has John started off, and leads Cliges by the hand to a smooth and polished door, which is all painted and coloured. At the wall has John stopped, and he held Cliges by the right hand. "Lord," quoth he, "no man is there who could have seen door or window in this wall, and think you that one could pass it in any wise without doing it injury and harm?" Cliges answers that he does not think he could, nor ever will think it, unless he sees it with his own eyes. Then says John that his lord shall see it, for he will open for him the door of the wall. John, who himself had wrought the work, unlocks and opens to him the door of the wall, so that he neither hurts it nor injures it, and the one passes before the other, and they descend by a spiral staircase to a vaulted room where John wrought at his craft, when it was his pleasure to construct aught. "Lord," quoth he, "here where we are was never one of all the men whom God created save us two; and the place has all that makes for comfort, as you will see in a trice. I advise that your retreat be here, and that your lady-love be hidden in it. Such a lodging is meet for such a guest, for there are rooms and baths and in the baths hot water, which comes through a pipe below the earth. That man who would seek a convenient spot to place and hide his lady would have to go far before he found one so delightful. You will deem it a very fitting refuge when you have been all over it." Then has John shown him all, fair chambers and painted vaults, and he has shown him much of his workmanship, which pleased him mightily. When they had seen the whole tower, then said Cliges: "John, my friend, I free you and your heirs one and all, and I am wholly yours. I desire that my lady be here all alone, and that no one ever know it save me and you and her, and not another soul." John replies: "I thank you. Now we have been here long enough, now we have no more to do, so let us start on the return journey." "You have said well," Cliges replies, "let us depart." Then they turn and have issued forth from the tower. On their return they hear in the town how one tells another in confidence: "You know not the grave news about my lady the empress. May the Holy Spirit give health to the wise and noble lady, for she lies in very great sickness."

When Cliges hears the report, he went to the court at full speed; but neither joy nor pleasure was there; for all were sad and dejected on account of the empress, who feigns herself ill; feigns—for the evil whereof she complains gives her no pain or hurt; she has said to all that as long as the malady whereby her heart and head feel pain holds her so strongly, she will have no man save the emperor or his nephew enter her chamber; for she will not deny herself to them; though if the emperor, her lord, come not, little will it irk her. She must needs risk great suffering and great peril for Cliges' sake, but it weighs on her heart that he comes not; she desires to see naught save him. Cliges will soon be in her presence and stay there till he shall have related to her what he has seen and found. He comes before her and has told her; but he remained there a short time only, for Fenice, in order that people may think that what pleases her annoys her, has said aloud: "Away! Away! You tire me greatly, you weary me much; for I am so oppressed with sickness that never shall I be raised from it and restored to health." Cliges, whom this greatly pleases, goes away, making a doleful countenance—for never before did you see it so doleful. Outwardly he appears full sad; but his heart is blithe within, for it looks to have its joy.

The empress, without having any illness, complains and feigns herself ill; and the emperor, who believes her, ceases not to make lamentation, and sends to seek leeches for her; but she will not let that one see her, nor does she let herself be touched. This grieves the emperor, for she says that never will she have leech except one, who will know how to give her health quickly, when it shall be his will. He will make her die or live; into his keeping she puts herself for health and for life. They think that she is speaking of God, but a very different meaning has she, for she means none other than Cliges. He is her God, who can give her health and who can make her die.

Thus the empress provides that no leech attend her, and she will not eat or drink, in order the better to deceive the emperor, until she is both pale and wan all over. And her nurse stays near her, who with very wondrous craft sought secretly through all the town, so that no one knew it, until she found a woman sick of a mortal sickness without cure. In order the better to carry out the deception, she went often to visit her and promised her that she would cure her of her ill, and each day she would bring a glass to see her water, till she saw that medicine would no longer be able to aid her and that she would die that very day. She has brought this water and has kept it straitly until the emperor rose. Now she goes before him and says to him: "If you will, sire, send for all your leeches, for my lady, who is suffering from a sore sickness, has passed water and wishes that the leeches see it, but that they come not in her presence." The leeches came into the hall; they see the water very bad and pale, and each says what seems to him the truth, till they all agree together that never will she recover, and will not even see the hour of None, and if she lives so long, then at the latest God will take her soul to himself. This have they murmured secretly. Then the emperor has bidden and conjured them that they tell the truth of the matter. They reply that they have no hope at all of her recovery, and that she cannot pass the hour of None, for before that hour she will have given up the ghost. When the emperor has heard the word, scarcely can he refrain from swooning to the ground, and likewise many a one of the others who heard it. Never did any folk make such mourning as then prevailed through all the palace. I spare you the account of the mourning, and you shall hear what Thessala is about, who mixes and brews the draught. She has mixed and stirred it, for long beforehand she had provided herself with all that she knew was needed for the draught. A little before the hour of None she gives her the draught to drink. As soon as she had drunk it, her sight grew dim, and her face was as pale and white as if she had lost her blood, nor would she have moved hand or foot even if one had flayed her alive; she neither stirs nor says a word, and yet she hearkens to and hears the mourning which the emperor makes, and the wailing with which the hall is full. And o'er all the city the folk wail who weep and say: "God! what a sorrow and a calamity has accursed death dealt us! Greedy death! Covetous death! Death is worse than any she-wolf, for death cannot be sated. Never couldst thou give a worse wound to the world. Death, what hast thou done? May God confound thee who hast extinguished all beauty. Thou hast slain the choicest creature and the fairest picture—if she had but remained alive!—that God ever laboured to fashion. Too patient is God, since He suffers thee to have the power to ruin His handiwork. Now should God be wroth with thee and cast thee forth from thy dominion, for thou hast committed too wanton and great arrogance and great insult." Thus all the people storm, they wring their hands and beat their palms, and the clerks read there their psalms, who pray for the good lady that God may show mercy to her soul.

Amid the tears and the wails, as the writings tell us, have come three aged physicians from Salerno, where they had been a long time. They have stopped on account of the great mourning, and ask and inquire the reason of the wails and tears, why folk are thus demented and distressed. And they tell them and reply: "God! Lords, know ye not? At this ought the whole world, each place in turn, to become frenzied together with us, if it knew the great mourning and grief and hurt and the great loss which this day has opened to our ken. God! whence then are you come, since you know not what has happened but now in the city? We will tell you the truth, for we wish to join you with us in the mourning wherewith we mourn. Know you nought of ravenous death, who desires all and covets all and in all places lies in wait for the best, and how great an act of folly he hath to-day committed, as he is wont? God had lit the world with a brilliance, with a light. But Death cannot choose but do what he is wont to do. Ever with his might he blots out the best that he can find. Now doth he will to prove his power, and has taken in one body more worth than he has left in the world. If he had taken the whole world, he could not have done one whit worse, provided that he left alive and sound that prey whom he now leads away. Beauty, courtesy, and knowledge, and whatsoever appertaining to goodness a lady can have, has Death, who has destroyed all good in the person of my lady the empress, snatched from us and cheated us of. Thus hath Death slain us." "Ah, God!" say the leeches, "thou hatest this city, we know it well, for that we came not here a little space ago. If we had come yesterday, Death might have esteemed himself highly, if he had taken aught from us by force." "Lords, my lady would not for aught have allowed that you should have seen her or troubled yourself about her. There were enough and to spare of good leeches, but never did my lady please that one or other of them should see her who could meddle with her illness." "No?" "By my faith, that did she truly not." Then they remembered Solomon, and that his wife hated him so much that she betrayed him under a pretence of death. Perhaps this lady has done the same thing; but if they could by any means succeed in touching her, there is no man born for whose sake they would have lied or would refrain from speaking the whole truth about it, if they can see deceit there. Towards the court they go forthwith, where one would not have heard God thundering, such noise and wailing there was. The master of them, who knew the most, has approached the bier. None says to him: "You touch it at your peril." Nor does any one pull him back from it. And he puts his hand on her breast and on her side and feels beyond a doubt that she has her life whole in her body; well he knows it and well he perceives it. He sees before him the emperor, who is frenzied and ready to kill himself with grief. He cries aloud and says to him: "Emperor, comfort thyself. I know and see for a certainty that this lady is not dead. Leave thy mourning and console thyself. If I give her not back to thee alive, either slay me or hang me." Now all the wailing throughout the palace is calmed and hushed, and the emperor tells the leech that now it is permitted him to give orders and to speak his will quite freely. If he brings back the empress to life, he will be lord and commander over him; but he will be hanged as a robber, if he has lied to him in aught. And he says to him: "I accept the condition; never have mercy on me, if I do not make the lady here speak to you. Without hesitation or delay have the palace cleared for me. Let not one or another stay here. I must see privately the evil from which the lady suffers. These two leeches alone, who are of my company, shall stay here with me, and let all the others go without." This thing Cliges, John, and Thessala would have gainsaid: but all those who were there would have interpreted it to their harm, if they had attempted to prevent it. Therefore they keep silence and give the counsel that they hear the others give, and have gone forth from the palace. And the three leeches have by force ripped up the lady's winding-sheet, for there was neither knife nor scissors: then they say: "Lady, have no fear, be not dismayed, but speak in all safety. We know for a surety that you are quite sound and well. Now be wise and amenable, and despair of nought; for if you seek advice from us, we will assure you all three of us, that we will help you with all our power, where it be concerning good or concerning evil. We will be right loyal towards you, both in keeping your secret and in aiding you. Do not compel us to reason long with you. From the moment that we place our power and services at your disposal, you ought not to refuse us compliance." Thus they think to befool and to cheat her, but it avails nought; for she cares and recks nought of their service, so that when the physicians see that they will avail nothing with regard to her by cajolery or by entreaty, then they take her off the bier and strike her and beat her; but their fury is to no purpose, since for all this they draw not a word from her. Then they threaten and frighten her and say that, if she does not speak, she will that very day find out the folly of her action; for they will inflict on her such dire treatment that never before was its like inflicted on any body of caitiff woman. "Well we know that you are alive and do not deign to speak to us. Well we know that you are feigning and would have deceived the emperor. Have no fear of us at all. But if any man has angered you, disclose your folly, before we have further wounded you, for you are acting very basely; and we will aid you, alike in wisdom or in folly." It cannot be, it avails them nought. Then once more they deal her blows on the back with their straps, and the stripes that run downwards become visible, and so much do they beat her tender flesh that they make the blood gush out from it. When they have beaten her with straps till they have lacerated her flesh, and till the blood which issues through her wounds runs down from them, and when for all that they can do nothing nor extort sigh or word promise her; they are meddling to no purpose. And from her, and she never moves nor stirs, then they tell her that they must seek fire and lead, and that they will melt it and will pour it into her palms rather than fail to make her speak. They seek and search for fire and lead; they kindle the fire; they melt the lead. Thus the base villains maltreat and torture the lady, for they have poured into her palms the lead, all boiling and hot just as they have taken it from the fire. Nor yet is it enough for them that the lead has passed through and through the palms, but the reprobate villains say that, if she speak not soon, straightway they will roast her till she is all grilled. She is silent and forbids them not to beat or ill-treat her flesh. And even now they were about to put her to the fire to roast and grill, when more than a thousand of the ladies, who were in front of the palace, come to the door and see through a tiny chink the torture and the unhappy fate that they were preparing for the lady, for they were making her suffer martyrdom from the coal and from the flame. To break in the door and shatter it they bring hatchets and hammers. Great was the din and the attack to break and smash the door. If now they can lay hold on the leeches, without delay all their desert shall be rendered them. The ladies enter the palace all together with one bound, and Thessala is among the press, whose one anxiety is to get to her lady. She finds her all naked at the fire, much injured and much mishandled. She has laid her back on the bier and covered her beneath the pall. And the ladies proceed to tender and pay to the three leeches their deserts; they would not send for or await emperor or seneschal. They have hurled them down through the windows full into the court, so that they have broken the necks and ribs and arms and legs of all three; better never wrought any ladies. Now the three leeches have received from the ladies right sorry payment for their deeds; but Cliges is much dismayed and has great grief, when he hears tell of the great agony and the torture that his lady has suffered for him. Almost does he lose his reason; for he fears greatly and indeed with justice—that she may be killed or maimed by the torture caused her by the three leeches, who have died in consequence; and he is despairing and disconsolate. And Thessala comes bringing a very precious salve with which she has anointed full gently the lady's body and wounds. The ladies have enshrouded her again in a white Syrian pall, wherein they had shrouded her before, but they leave her face uncovered. Never that night do they abate their wailing or cease or make an end thereof. Through all the town they wail like folk demented-high and low, and poor and rich-and it seems that each sets his will on outdoing all the others in making lamentation, and on never abandoning it of his own will. All night is the mourning very great. On the morrow John came to court, and the emperor sends for him and bids him, requests and commands him: "John! if ever thou madest a good work, now set all thy wisdom and thy invention to making a tomb, such that one cannot find one so fair and well decorated." And John, who had already done it, says that he has prepared a very fair and well-carved one; but never, when he began to make it, had he intention that any body should be laid there save a holy one. "Now, let the empress be enclosed within in lieu of relics; for she is, I ween, a very holy thing." "Well said," quoth the emperor, "in the minster of my lord Saint Peter shall she be buried, there outside where one buries other bodies; for before she died, she begged and prayed me with all her heart that I would have her laid there. Now go and busy yourself about it, and set your tomb, as is right and meet, in the fairest place in the cemetery." John replies: "Gladly, sire." Forthwith John departs, prepares well the tomb, and did thereat what a master of his craft would do. Because the stone was hard, and even more on account of the cold, he has placed therein a feather bed; and moreover, that it may smell sweet to her, he has strewn thereon both flowers and foliage. But he did it even more for this, that none should spy the mattress that he had placed in the grave. Now had the whole office been said in chapels and in parish churches, and they were continually tolling as it is meet to toll for the dead. They bid the body be brought, and it will be placed in the tomb, whereat John has worked to such effect that he has made it very magnificent and splendid. In all Constantinople has been left neither great nor small who does not follow the corpse weeping, and they curse and revile Death; knights and squires swoon, and the dames and the maidens beat their breasts and have railed against Death. "Death!" quoth each, "why took'st thou not a ransom for my lady? Forsooth, but a small booty hast thou gained, and for us the loss is great." And Cliges, of a truth, mourns so much that he wounds and maltreats himself more than all the others do, and it is a marvel that he does not kill himself; but still he postpones suicide till the hour and the time come for him to disinter her and hold her in his arms, and know whether she is alive or not. About the grave are the lords, who lay the body there; but they do not meddle with John in the setting up of the tomb, and indeed they could see nought of it, but have all fallen swooning to the earth, and John has had good leisure to do all he listed. He so set up the tomb that there was no other creature in it; well does he seal and join and close it. Then might that man well have boasted himself who, without harm or injury, would have been able to take away or disjoin aught that John had put there.

Fenice is in the tomb, until it came to dark night; but thirty knights guard her, and there are ten tapers burning, and they made a great light. The knights were sated and weary with mourning, and have eaten and drunk in the night till they all lay asleep together. At night Cliges steals forth from the court and from all the folk. There was not knight or servant who ever knew what had become of him. He did not rest till he came to John, who gives him all the counsel that he can. He puts on him a suit of armour, which he will never need. Both all armed go forth to the cemetery at post haste; but the cemetery was enclosed all around by a high wall; and the knights, who were sleeping, and had closed the door within that none might enter, thought they were safe. Cliges sees not how he may pass, for he cannot enter by the door, and yet by hook or by crook he must enter, for love exhorts and admonishes him. He grips the wall and mounts up, for right strong and agile was he. Within was an orchard and there were trees in plenty. Near the wall one had been planted so that it touched the wall. Now has Cliges what he wished for; he let himself down by this tree. The first thing that he did was to go and open the door to John. They see the knights sleeping and they have extinguished all the tapers, so that no light remains there. And now John uncovers the grave and opens the tomb, so that he injures it not at all. Cliges leaps into the grave and has carried forth his lady, who is very weak and lifeless, and he falls on her neck and kisses and embraces her. He knows not whether to rejoice or mourn; for she moves not nor stirs. And John has closed again the tomb with all the speed he may, so that it does not in any wise appear that it had been touched. They have approached the tower as quickly as ever they could. When they had put her within the tower in the rooms that were underground, then they took off the grave-clothes, and Cliges, who knew nothing of the draught that she had within her body, which makes her dumb and prevents her stirring, thinks in consequence that she is dead, and he loses hope and comfort thereat, and sighs deeply and weeps. But soon the hour will have come that the draught will lose its force. And Fenice, who hears him lament, tries and strains that she may be able to comfort him either by word or by look. Her heart nearly breaks because of the mourning she hears him make. "Ha! Death," quoth he, "how base thou art, in that thou sparest and passest by worthless and outcast creatures! Such thou dost allow to last and live. Death! art thou mad or drunk that thou has killed my love without killing me? This that I see is a marvel: my love is dead and I am alive. Ah, sweet love! why does your lover live and see you dead? Now might one rightly say that you are dead for my sake, and that I have killed and slain you. Loved lady! then am I the Death who has killed you; is not that unjust? For I have taken away my life in you and yet have kept yours in me. For were not your health and your life mine, sweet friend? And were not mine yours? For I loved nought but you: we twain were one being. Now have I done what I ought, for I keep your soul in my body, and mine is gone forth of yours; and yet the one was bound to bear the other company, wherever it was, and nothing ought to have parted them." At this she heaves a sigh and says in a weak, low voice: "Friend! friend! I am not wholly dead, but well-nigh so. But I hope nought about my life. I thought to have a jest and to feign: but now must I needs complain, for Death loves not my jest. A marvel 'twill be if I escape alive, for much have the leeches wounded me, broken and lacerated my flesh; and nevertheless, if it could be that my nurse were here with me, she would make me quite whole, if care could avail aught herein." "Friend! then let it not distress you," quoth Cliges, "for this very night I will bring her here for you.....Friend! rather will John go." John goes thither and has sought till he found her, and he imparts to her how greatly he desires her to come; never let any excuse detain her; for Fenice and Cliges summon her to a tower where they await her; for Fenice is sore mishandled, and she must come provided with salves and electuaries, and let her know that the lady will live no longer if she succour her not speedily. Thessala forthwith runs and takes ointment and plaster and an electuary that she had made, and has joined company with John. Then they issue from the town secretly and go till they come straight to the tower. When Fenice sees her nurse, she thinks she is quite cured, so much she loves her and believes in her and trusts her. And Cliges embraces and greets her and says: "Welcome, nurse! for I love and esteem you greatly. Nurse, in God's name what think you of this damsel's illness? What is your opinion? Will she recover?" "Ay, sir! fear not that I cannot cure her right well. A fortnight will not have passed before I make her whole, so that never at any time was she more whole and gay."

Thessala sets her mind on curing the lady, and John goes to provide the tower with whatsoever store is meet. Cliges comes and goes to the tower boldly, in view of all, for he has left there a goshawk moulting, and says that he comes to see it, and none can guess that he goes there for any other reason save only on account of the hawk. Much does he tarry there both night and day. He makes John guard the tower, that no one may enter there against his will. Fenice has no hurt whereof she need grieve, for well has Thessala cured her. If now Cliges had been duke of Almeria or of Morocco or of Tudela, he would not have prized such honour a berry in comparison of the joy he has. Certes, Love abased himself no whit when he put them together; for it seems to both when one embraces and kisses the other that the whole world is made better for their joy and their pleasure. Ask me no more about it; I will but say that there is nought that one wills that the other does not welcome. So is their will at one as if they twain were but one. All this year and some space of the next, two months and more, I ween, has Fenice been in the tower, until the spring of the year. When flowers and foliage bud forth, and the little birds are making merry—for they delight in their bird-language—it happened that Fenice heard one morning the nightingale sing. Cliges was holding her gently with one arm about her waist and the other about her neck, and she him in like manner, and she has said to him: "Fair, dear friend, much joy would an orchard afford me, where I could take my pleasure. I have seen neither moon nor sun shine for more than fifteen whole months. If it might be, full gladly would I sally forth into the daylight, for I am pent up in this tower. If near by there were an orchard where I could go to disport myself, great good would this do me often." Then Cliges promises that he will seek counsel of John as soon as he shall see him. And now it has happened that lo! John has come thither, for he was often wont to come. Cliges has spoken with him of Fenice's desire. "All is prepared and already at hand," quoth John, "whatsoever she orders. This tower is well provided with all that she wishes and asks for." Then is Fenice right blithe and bids John lead her thither, and John makes no demur. Then goes John to open a door, such that I have neither skill nor power to tell or describe the fashion of it. None save John could have had the skill to make it, nor could any one ever have told that there was door or window there, as long as the door was not opened, so hidden and concealed was it.

When Fenice saw the door open and the sun which she had not seen for a long time shine in, she has all her blood awhirl with joy and says that now she seeks nothing more, inasmuch as she can come forth out of the hiding-place, and seeks no refuge elsewhere. By the door she has entered the orchard, and this greatly pleases and delights her. In the midst of the orchard there was a grafted tree loaded with flowers and very leafy, and it formed a canopy above. The branches were so trained that they hung towards the ground and bent almost to the earth, all save the top from which they sprang, for that rose straight upwards. Fenice desires no other place. And below the grafted tree the meadow is very delectable and very fair, nor ever will the sun be so high even at noon, when it is hottest, that ever a ray can pass that way, so skilled was John to arrange things and to guide and train the branches. There Fenice goes to disport herself, and all day she makes her couch there; there they are in joy and delight. And the orchard is enclosed around with a high wall which joins the tower, so that no creature could enter it, unless he had climbed to the top of the tower.

Now is Fenice in great delight: there is nought to displease her, nor lacks she aught that she could wish, when 'neath the flowers and leaves it lists her embrace her lover. At the time when folk go hunting with the sparrow-hawk and with the hound, which seeks the lark and the stonechat and tracks the quail and the partridge, it happened that a knight of Thrace, a young and sprightly noble, esteemed for his prowess, had one day gone a-hawking quite close beside this tower; Bertrand was the knight's name. His sparrow-hawk had soared high, for it had missed the lark that was its aim. Now will Bertrand consider himself ill served by fate, if he lose his sparrow-hawk. He saw it descend and settle below the tower in an orchard, and it pleased him much to see this, for now he reckons that he will not lose it. Forthwith he goes to scale the wall, and wins to get over it. Under the grafted tree he saw Fenice and Cliges sleeping together side by side. "God!" quoth he, "what has befallen me? What kind of miracle is it that I see? Is it not Cliges? Yea, faith. Is not that the empress by his side? Nay, but she resembles her, for no other being ever was so like. Such a nose, such a mouth, such a brow she has as the empress, my lady, had. Never did nature better succeed in making two beings of the same countenance. In this lady see I nought that I should not have seen in my lady. If she had been alive, truly I should have said that it was she." At that moment a pear drops and falls just beside Fenice's ear. She starts, awakes, sees Bertrand and cries aloud: "Friend, friend, we are lost! Here is Bertrand! If he escapes you, we have fallen into an evil trap. He will tell folk that he has seen us." Then has Bertrand perceived that it is the empress beyond all doubt. Need is there for him to depart, for Cliges had brought his sword with him into the orchard, and had laid it beside the couch. He springs up and has taken his sword, and Bertrand flees swiftly. With all the speed he might he grips the wall, and now he was all but over it, when Cliges has come after, raises now his sword, and strikes him, so that beneath the knee he has cut off his leg as clean as a stalk of fennel. Nevertheless, Bertrand has escaped ill-handled and crippled, and on the other side he is received by his men, who are beside themselves with grief and wrath, when they see him thus maimed; they have asked and inquired who it is that had done it to him. "Question me not about it," quoth he, "but raise me on my horse. Never will this story be recounted till it is told before the emperor. He who has done this to me ought not forsooth to be without fear—nor is he, for he is nigh to deadly peril." Then they have put him on his palfrey, and, mourning, they lead him away in great dismay through the midst of the town. After them go more than twenty thousand, who follow him to the court. And all the people flock there, the one after the other, and the devil take the hindmost.

Now has Bertrand made his plea and complaint to the emperor in the hearing of all, but they consider him an idle babbler because he says that he has seen the empress stark naked. All the town is stirred thereat; some, when they hear this news, esteem it mere folly, others advise and counsel the emperor to go to the tower. Great is the uproar and the tumult of the folk who set out after him. But they find nothing in the tower, for Fenice and Cliges are on their way, and have taken Thessala with them, who comforts and assures them, and says that, even if perchance they see folk coming after them who come to take them, they need have no fear for aught, for never to do them harm or injury would they come within the distance that one could shoot with a strong crossbow stretched by windlass.

Now the emperor is in the tower and he has John sought out and fetched: he bids that he be tied and bound, and says that he will have him hanged or burned and the ashes scattered to the wind. For the shame that the emperor has suffered, John shall pay the penalty (but it will be a bootless penalty!) because he has secreted in his tower the nephew and the wife of the emperor. "I'faith you speak the truth," quoth John; "I will not lie in the matter; I will stick to the truth throughout, and if I have done wrong in any point, right meet is it that I be taken. But on this score I could well excuse myself, that a serf ought to refuse nought that his rightful lord commands him. And it is known full surely that I am his and the tower is his." "Nay, John, rather is it thine." "Mine, sire? Truly, as his serf I am not even my own, nor have I anything that is mine, save in so far as he grants it to me. And if you would say that my lord has done you wrong, I am ready to defend him from the charge without his bidding me so to do. But the knowledge that I must die makes me bold to speak out freely my will and my mind as I have fashioned and moulded it. Now, be that as it may be, for if I die for my lord, I shall not die in dishonour. Surely without a doubt is known the oath and promise that you pledged to your brother, that after you, Cliges, who is going away into exile, should be emperor. And if it please God, he will yet be emperor. And you are to be blamed for this, for you ought not to have taken wife, but all the same you took one and wronged Cliges, and he has wronged you in nought. And if I am done to death by you and die for him unjustly, if he lives, he will avenge my death. Now do your utmost, for if I die, you will die too."

Beads of wrath break out on the emperor's brow when he has heard the words and the insult that John has uttered against him. "John," quoth he, "thou shalt have respite until what time thy lord be found, for base has he proved himself towards me, who held him right dear, nor thought to defraud him. But thou shalt be kept fast in prison. If thou knowest what has become of him, tell me straightway, I bid thee." "Tell you? And how should I commit so great a treason? Of a surety, I would not betray to you my lord, not though you were to rend my life out of my body, if I knew it. And besides this, so may God be my guard, I cannot say any more than you in what direction they have gone. But you are jealous without a cause. Too little do I fear your wrath not to tell you truly in the hearing of all how you are deceived, and yet I shall never be believed in this matter. By a potion that you drank, you were tricked and deceived the night that you celebrated your wedding. Never at any time, save when you slept and it happened to you in your dreams, did any joy come to you of her; but the night made you dream, and the dream pleased you as much as if it had happened in your waking hours that she held you in her arms; and no other boon came to you from her. Her heart clave so straitly to Cliges that for his sake she pretended to be dead; and he trusted me so much that he told me and placed her in my house, of which he is lord by right. You ought not to lay the blame on me for it; I should have merited to be burnt or hanged, if I had betrayed my lord and refused to do his will."

When the emperor heard tell of the potion which it delighted him to drink, and by which Thessala deceived him, then first he perceived that he had never had joy of his wife—well he knew it—unless it had happened to him in a dream, and that such joy was illusory. He says that, if he take not vengeance for the shame and the disgrace brought on him by the traitor who has carried off from him his wife, never again will he have joy in his life. "Now, quick!" quoth he, "to Pavia, and from there to Germany, let neither castle, town, nor city be left where he be not sought. He who shall bring them both prisoners will be more cherished by me than any other man. Now, set well to work and search both up and down and near and far!" Then they start with great zeal, and they have spent all the day in searching; but Cliges had such friends among them that, if they found the lovers, they rather would lead them to a place of refuge than bring them back. Throughout a whole fortnight with no small pains they have pursued them, but Thessala, who is guiding them, leads them so safely by art and by enchantment that they have no fear or alarm for all the forces of the emperor. In no town or city do they lie, and yet they have whatsoever they wish and desire, as good as or better than they are wont to have, for Thessala seeks and procures and brings for them whatsoever they wish, and no one follows or pursues them, for all have abandoned the quest. But Cliges does not delay; he goes to his uncle, King Arthur. He sought him till he found him, and has made to him a complaint and an outcry against his uncle the emperor, who, in order to disinherit him, had taken wife dishonourably, when he should not have done so, seeing that he had pledged his word to Cliges' father that never in his life would he have a wife. And the king says that with a navy will he sail to Constantinople, and fill a thousand ships with knights and three thousand with infantry, such that nor city nor borough nor town nor castle, however strong or high it be, will be able to endure their onset. And Cliges has not forgotten to thank the king then and there for the aid which he is granting him. The king sends to seek and to summon all the high barons of his land, and has ships and boats, cutters and barques sought out and equipped. With shields, with lances, with targes, and with knightly armour he has a hundred ships filled and laden. The king makes so great a preparation to wage war that never had even Cesar or Alexander the like. He has caused to be summoned and mustered all England and all Flanders, Normandy, France, and Brittany, and all tribes, even as far as the Spanish passes. Now were they about to put to sea when messengers came from Greece, who stayed the expedition and kept back the king and his men. With the messengers who came was John, who was well worthy to be believed, for he was witness and messenger of nought that was not true and that he did not know for certain. The messengers were high men of Greece, who were seeking Cliges. They sought and asked for him until they found him at the court of the king, and they have said to him: "God save you, sire. On the part of all the inhabitants of your empire, Greece is yielded and Constantinople given to you, because of the right that you have to it. Your uncle—as yet you know it not—is dead of the grief that he had because he could not find you. He had such grief that he lost his senses: never afterwards did he either eat or drink, and he died a madman. Fair sire, return now hence, for all your barons send for you. Greatly do they desire and ask for you, for they will to make you emperor." Many there were who were blithe at this message, but on the other hand there were man who would gladly have left their homes, and who would have been mightily pleased if the host had set out for Greece. But the expedition has fallen through altogether, for the king sends away his men, and the host disperses and returns home. But Cliges hastens and prepares himself, for his will is to return into Greece, no care has he to tarry longer. He has prepared himself, and has taken leave of the king and all his friends: he takes Fenice with him, and they depart and do not rest till they are in Greece, where men receive him with great joy, as they ought to do their lord, and give him his lady-love to wife; they crown them both together. He has made his lady-love his wife, but he calls her lady-love and dame, nor does she for that cease to be cherished as his lady-love, and she cherishes him every whit as much as one ought to cherish one's lover. And each day their love grew; never did he mistrust her nor chide her for aught. She was never kept in seclusion, as those who came after her later have been kept (for henceforth there was no emperor who was not afraid lest his wife might deceive him, when he heard tell how Fenice deceived Alis, first by the potion that he drank and then by the other treason). For which reason the empress, whoever she be, be she of never so splendid and high degree, is guarded in Constantinople; for the emperor trusts her not as long as he remembers Fenice.

Here ends the work of Chretien.


Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse