The Wood Beyond the World - Transcription
Early draft, "The King's Son and the Carle's Son," transcription, SA 908, ff. 1-68
Long ago there dwelt an carle and his wife in a thorp nigh the skirts of a mighty great forest. The son grew up strong & fair, yellow-haired & blue eyed: deft of hand as a woodman though he went not far of wont into the forest save about its outskirts: What he might do with weapons is another matter in so much as he had grown up to early manhood ere he had smitten a man in anger save with his bare fist; not that he was little-hearted, but because no war had drawn nigh their thorp, and there in people dwelt poorly and peacefully with one man little over topping his neighbors. He and his house were but of carle’s kin, and forsooth up to the time now told of neither he nor his father or his grandfather had ever travelled from their thorp save once or twice in a year to buy & sell in the cheaping town which was some fifteen miles further into the upland that is west from the thorp afore said. But the town hight Garrington and the thorp Brakwood End. And the young man’s name was Michael. Now it was a word hand[ed] down from father to son that the thick of the wood was to be skimmed above all places, for that it was thick of all perils that therein were dwarfs & elves and woodhouses and giants, and evil haunts of the the gods of the ancient heathen, and creatures most ugly to meet withal; forsooth of strong thieves no word went belike because this poor folk had so little to steal, or else because the tellers of such tales deemed that even such fierce men would thrive but little among such waste-dwellers as are afore told of. Withal this there went certain tales of what had befallen such as had been rash enough to enter this waste, whereof were overlong to tell here: but this much may be said that the more part of these tales had to do with young men who beguiled by some fancy of love, or stirred up by hope of adventure, had turned their backs on their fathers’ house and sought to the innermost of the wild-wood, and come back wrecked and nought.
Whiles indeed in such tales [of] the adventure came to seek[sic] a young man as of his falling in with some elf maiden at night time on the skirts of the wood or even it might be in his father’s fields and of his beguiling & enticement into the wood in such wise[.] All such tales Michael knew full well, and oft had pondered them; but for a long while it no more seemed possible to him to seek to the wild wood than it had been to climb up to heaven by the way of his father’s longest ladder. So wore the days; but when Michael was barely of twenty winters his mother died, and two years after his father who was much older than she went the same gate. And though the whole thorp was in a way kindred yet he felt the lonelier for the missing of such near kin; and the empty chimney corner of his house grieved him, and the lack of the loom rattle that erst dulled the sound of his mother[’]s rating, and of the old man[’]s shout in the early morning, just without the house door as they made ready to go afield. Moreover there was a maiden who some three years agone had come with her mother to dwell at Brock Hartwood End, a thing most seldom seen amongst them; and whereas she was daintier & trimmer by far than the born maids of the thorp, & readier of speech & fairer of understanding Michael made one of those trim lads who longed to bed her. But a few days after the death of his father this poor maid sickened, and after lying sick through the winter tide died in the early spring. And after the young man’s first grief was over, longings manifold came to mingle with what was left of it in his heart, and as spring grew warm & flowery they waxed within him so that he was drawn to pondering yet more and more those tales aforesaid, and would often wend the forestskirts late or early to see if any such luck should betide him: but nought happed to tell of.
So the days wore on till it was May and the carles and young men and maidens dight them for faring to Garrington as their wont was in mid-May. But when the day of their departure came, Michael gave out that he was ill at ease and had no lust to go. Thereat they were sorry for he was well-looked to amongst them; but they might not amend it, so they went their ways without him. But when they were gone and it was yet early in the morning, Michael rose up, and took his bow and quiver from the wall, thrust a little axe into his girdle, and got a short spear into his hand. Then he cast a wallet over his shoulder, and put in as much bread as it would hold and some old cheese, and went out adoors. Forsooth he had not told himself whither he was going nor why he had let those others depart without him, but his feet knew well enough, even as the good man who arises on the Holy day morn, and turns toward mass without thinking of the road to the Church. So strode Michael toward the wood. There were but few folk about the thorp, and those were busied about their own matters & heeded him not. So he came to the wood and instead of skirting the places where the trees came scattering up to the pasture of the township he went straightforward with his bent bow in his hands, and his lips set close together as though he looked to meet some foeman, and presently he was further into the close wood than he had ever been yet. Yet he went on still, striking strongly, by such ways as the wild things had made amidst the thickets. Forsooth such haste was on him that he scarce stayed him to eat a morsel when about noon be he felt hunger gnawing him and was beside a little woodland pool. So far as he might see the sun (for the day was bright) he steered by the sun, and went heedfully; for amongst those old tales there were some that told how the wanderer in that waste would whiles go on and on thinking that he was making
way & yet come back at night to the place where he had started in the morning.
THUS it befel not to him; he went on straight and the wood changed about him: nought befel him save the sight of hart and hind with whiles a wild swine, and without the smaller deer of the waste. At last the day began to wane, and then he looked about him as he went till he if he might perchance find some place anigh to sweet water which he might make his hostel for that night and at last after the sun was set came to a woodlawn through which ran a brook, and there he made his bed of brake and and dry leaves, and ate what meat he would, & so lay down and slept soundly.
on any house were it of the elves or of mankind, he had now been so long in the wood that he looked not for it, or hoped to see a habitation let down from heaven by golden chains. Thus he came to the ending of the pine wood and on to a bank of green grass, whereon in good sooth the coneys were playing: So he nocked an arrow, yet cast his eyes about before he drew; and saw that a pleasant green plain besprinkled with trees was before him, and but some hundred paces from where he stood was a river not great running between green banks. The sun was at his back by now so that he could have seen all clearly save that his eyes were somewhat dimmed by hunger: but least [sic, for "at last"] he saw the shape of a child of Adam on the further bank, and he saw that it was a woman. Then his heart beat and he thought no more of the Coneys but hastened down to the river bank, and stood there. The woman who had been sitting down rose up when she saw him coming, and he saw that she was clad all in green of the colour of the grass. Now she spake to him across the water: Whither away forrester? What wouldst thou? He said I would get across this water that I might speak with thee and have help of thee. This is no ford, young man, she said, go further down and thou wilt find a place where the river widens and ye may cross it waist deep. And perchance when thou hast crossed it, thou mayst still find me on this side. Nay, said Michael, I need no ford: if thou wilt bide me I will swim the water, for it is scant fifty yards over, and I hunger sorely, and may go no further afoot. Well, she said, and how if I bide thee not, What wilt thou then? He stretched out his hands toward her without any word, and then straightway leapt into the water, and though he was weak from lack of meat, he swam well and swiftly, but she sat down on the grass again laughing; and he
raised his head above the water & gave a great cry. Anon he had gained the bank close to where she sat, for the stream was nought strong for all its depth. He drew himself up and stood on the grass before her a little, but what with his hunger-weakness and the striving with the water, and the eagerness of his heart withal, his wits failed him, and he sank downd upon the grass and lay there without stirring. But the woman rose up again and stood over him looking at his face and smiling but not mockingly. She was a young woman and very fair of face brown-haired but as if the sun were in it, white skinned and red lipped round-chinned, but with cheeks rather carved in than full: her green gown was flowered like the meadows; she had gold on her hands and about her neck, and a garland of whitethorn on her head. Her feet came bare from out of the hem of her gown, but her shoon of deerskin gold-embroidered lay on the bank where she had been sitting, as if she had doffed them to bathe in the river. She smiled again as she looked on him and then turned aside a little and took up a wallet from the ground, and drew from it a manchet and a cup and flask, came back to Michael and knelt down by him, and raised his head, and spake. Now good youth is the help come to thee which thou cravedst of me, open thine eyes that thy mouth also may open. ¶ So in a while Michael came to himself, and looked up, and turned to her; then she put the cup of wine to his lips and he drank and smiled withal, and sat up: and she gave him of the bread, and he ate and spake no word till he was amended of his hunger; but she had risen up and stood by him now. Then he made as if he would get upon his feet, but she held up a finger to him and said: Nay thou shalt rest awhile, and when thou art somewhat stronger thou shalt hearken a word of me; but now hold thy peace till I ask thee a question. ¶ In sooth he felt weak and weary still,
So he spake nought and she stood looking at him, till at last he leaned back and whether he would or not fell fast asleep; but yet she stood gazing at him and moving little. Then she turned from him and paced the green sward up and down, but every little while turned back and came and stood over him. ¶ At last just when [as] she had turned away from him he woke up stark, and leapt to his feet with a great cry; she heeded not but rather quickened her pace in going away from him; so he ran up to her and laid his hand on her shoulder. She turned about sharply and said: What ails thee, Youth, now I have given thee the help thou wouldest? May I not walk where I will for thee? ¶ He said; Nay but thou wert going away. ¶ Thinkest thou? She said, Look by the river bank and thou shalt see my gear lying there at least: Moreover I have further to walk, and by rougher ways than this greensward than should be to the pleasure of my shoeless feet. ¶ He turned a little and saw in good sooth not only her wallet and shoon lying by the waterside but also close by them a bow and a quiver of arrows fairly dight. Yet his eyes went back again at once to where she was standing, for as she spake that last word she drew up her gown-skirt and let one foot play with the daisies. ¶ Then she said: Well Forrester let us sit down by the water-side again, and now that thou art strong again, thou shalt answer to my questioning & then to the rede which lieth under my tongue for thee. So they sat them down, but she held her somewhat aloof from him: and she said: Fair Youth whence art thou? From Hartwood End, said he, and a great sweetness filled his soul as himseemed that she spoke to him softly & kindly; few as the words were. So he spake again: Dost thou know it? Yea; she said; but I have never been there, as thou mayst well wot, else surely hadst thou seen me, man or boy. He reddened before her eyes; and she said; It were of small avail to ask thee whither thou art going; for that I know better than thou dost. But I will ask thee why thou didst leave thy kinsmen?
He said: Lady we are a small folk dwelling much by ourselves, and doing nought but earning our bread; and I was wishful to see what lay beyond this great wood – or in it. Yea, she said, Or in it. Maybe thou shalt never more see aught save what lieth in it; and then after a little while nought at all. ¶ The words would out of his lips whether he would or not: I have seen thee; O I have seen thee! She said nought, but looked him in the face and abode thus a while as one in deep thought: then she said: Art thou come of gentle-blood; art thou a lord’s son? He laughed and said: O Lady can’st thou not see that I am the son of a hinde, a laboring carle? She said gravely: I see of thee that thou art a comely youth: nay I will say it a young man exceeding lovely; and I hear the speech of thy mouth that it is clear and sweet. He sprang up at once, his face as red as blood, she leaned on one hand as she looked up to him with face unchanged; and she said: Now I will ask thee art thou deft with weapons? How is thine heart when thou standest before the foemen? ¶ Lady, he said, I have never seen a foeman, or stood in deadly strife: have I not told thee that I am a churl the son of a churl? Yea, she said, yet I see no fear in thine eyes, and deem there is none in thine heart: I would trust me to thy warding, as if thou wert a kings son. ¶ He stooped down and took her by the shoulders to draw her up to him; but she writhed herself away from him and rose up and stood aloof and cried out all breathless: Nay, nay, nay! Forbear, or we are undone! He was abashed, and said to her: Shall I not kiss thy face. No, she said: Thine hands then? he said. Nay nay, she said. O, said he, suffer me to kiss thy feet! She shook her head and drew her gown-skirts over her naked feet; and he looked at her wistfully and fell a weeping. She looked on him pityingly and said: Let us sit down again; and thou shalt forbear all this and hearken to the words of a friend. ¶
[f. 10] Shall it not be in the end that we shall lie in each others arms forgetting all things else? ¶ Forbear forbear! she said; for he put out his hand to her there with. What is thy name? Michael said he, and thine? Isolde; she said: Michael, thou shalt in any case see me again; but whether we shall ever talk together again privily, and dearly as now we do, that is another matter. She stayed her speech a while and flushed red, and then said again; As to the end, I can see it no better than thou, if so be that thou dost after my bidding; but if thou dost against it, meseems that I see the end clear enough, and that is speedy death for thee and for one worse than present death. ¶ Michael turned his head away and looked down and muttered: Thy words are dark, and I know not what they mean: but this I know, that thou art lovely and dear, and thou hast said that thou lovest me. Why should I not do after the meaning of these words? ¶ She laughed: Michael said she, where art thou? Said he looking fiercely at her I am sitting in the heart of Maytide beside an exceeding fair woman that lovest me. ¶ Nay, said she, there is more than that in the minstrelsy: Thou art not in the world without the wood in thy quiet thorp or in some good town where the porte hath rule over merchant & carle & thrall, and where the neighbors desire peace above all things: thou art in this wood which hath no name save the Wood beyond the world, and there be strange things done therein by creatures of strange mould. True it is that I am come of the sons of Adam, yet, have I learned wisdom from such as are not of Adam’s kin. And if thou enterest into the Palace of the Wood beyond the world, there will be housemates of thine Both men and elves and the sworn servants of the elves, and yet all by seeming of mankind. ¶ But thou wilt be there, said he. Yea said she I shall be there with all will and little might to help thee; and I shall strive to help thee and if I fail as most like I shall thou shalt see
[f. 11] a sorry sight before thou diest. What sight? said he I shall not tell thee she said: But know this that my Lady whom I serve, (and I fear though none be nigh by seeming to whisper this word to thee), though she be a fair woman to look on is hard of heart, and she is come of the elf race and hath no heed of the children of men and no pity of them whatsoever pains they may bear. Now she hath in her house a man who strayed hither & had none to warn him as I have warned thee: a young man, a kings son and very fair: and she hath cast her love upon him, and because he hath no great heart he durst not wholly nay say her, though to tell the very sooth he loveth better my little finger than all her fair body – nay forbear I bid thee. But I wot full surely that when thou enterest the House she will look on thee and not on him since thou art the new comer and he is a long stayed guest, and since thou art fair as the lily and the rose, and he is dark though shapely. And then what deemest thou? is thine heart little to yield to her love when thou lovest me? I trow not. Thou wilt gainsay her and then even were she no elf but of mankind, what wouldst thou do then, near to thy foes and far from thy friends, and she with many a man and fiend to do her will: but indeed since she is of the elf kind she will do her will both on me and on thee without pity or searching of the heart. Now Michael what wilt thou do? Said he I will go with thee & dwell where thou dwellest. Then she sprang up and said: This then is the sundering; for when thou comest into the Palace thou mayst see me, but speak with me thou shalt not, any more than if I were born dumb. But the pity of it that thou art so besotted in thy folly. Then she sprang away from him though he tried to take hold of the skirt of her gown; he followed after her swiftly, but she trussed up her raiment and fled like the wind and outran him so far that he stopped at last and turned back sadly to the river, and gathered up her gear that she had left
[f. 12] behind her and wallowed on the ground and wept over it, and lamented the lack of her, and felt him helpless and alone in the world.
[f. 13] and did them on: Then she arose and took her girdle from the ground, and girt herself, and trussed up her skirts for swift going, and stood so dight looking on Michael; then she cast on her pouch and her quiver and took the bow in her hand, and again stood silent a moment: Then she said, Thou wert best to see the old man at the Palace Gate before noon tomorrow: but follow me not now. Farewell my dear. She turned lightly and away straightway at that word and went lightly & speedily over the greensward, and Michael stood watching her a little with joy waxing in his heart again, and then turned away and found a lair for himself amongst the bushes and rested there for the nigh after he had eaten again of Isolde’s bread and drank of her wine which same she had left behind for his needs.
Chapter VI HE was afoot very early in the morning, and after he had swam the river twice and back naked and had eaten the remnant of his bread, set out over the plain where he had beheld the last of Isolde in the evening before. When he had gone some two miles he stopped at a little well to slake his thirst, and as he turned to the water he saw something gleaming on the grass beside it; and when he stooped to see what it was he found a gold finger ring with an emerald set therein, and knew it at once for one of those he had seen on Isolde’s fingers. So he took it up with great joy and laid it in his bosom and went on his way rejoicing. He went thence for something better than two miles, where the grass ended in a stony drift that seemed somewhat wide for a stranger to the land to pass without straying; so he skirted it up and down, looking about him heedfully; and presently he noted a scrubby oak tree amidst the first stones of the drift, and saw a bright red thing fluttering from one of its lower boughs, and he went up to it and found a silken scarlet lace which he had noted last night lacing Isolde’s gown at the bosom: he kissed it joyfully and strode onto the drift and away.
[f. 16] But anon he saw before him a little leafy twig stuck in between the stones some twenty yards ahead, and when he came up to it lo! about the like number of yards ahead, another, and then another, and so on, but a little further apart now: then he praised Isolde, and loved her so sorely that his wits nigh left him, but yet he went forth on speedily, and ever the way was marked out for him, as if she were leading him by the hand. After about a mile he came on a little stream a mere thin thread of water, so that he deemed that drift was the place where some great ancient river had run. He stayed and bathed his feet and his hands and face in a pool thereof, and as he looked up away from his right hand, that is to say the south, and over the stony treeless waste, he saw great blue mountains rising high up into the heavens¶. The drift lasted on from that water, well nigh another three miles, and then he came on to fair greensward with big oak-trees scattered about it, and again a stone’s throw from the lip of the sward he saw scarlet shining on the bole of a tree, and again he culled from the rough bark another end of Isolde’s silken breast-lace. Then he sat down on the grass to rest him, and took forth that harvest of her tokens & hugged them as if they had been living messengers from his beloved. Thus he let the minutes fleet, but it still lacked two hours of noon when he arose and looked around him ¶ He saw that the ground sloped upward from the place where he stood into a swelling or ridge, which hid the sight of what was beyond to him and lay a furlong further eastward: So he went thither and was presently on the top of the ridge: he looked down thence and saw before him a great swelling land of greensward scattered about with trees, which
[f. 15] seemed to run together in the offing into thick wood; but on his right rose the thick blue mountains afore said. A little way, about a mile, below him was a great house; so fair and great that it seemed to him that it must have been let down from Heaven. White it was with gleaming roofs & glittering pinnacles, and bedight with gold & over sea blue, and Cinnabar. High rose its towers into the air, but it was to be called a palace and not a castle, for it was nought built for defence, whereas its doors were wide and its windows fashioned with fair and delicate fretwork, which a foeman would speedily have broken down ¶ Long Michael looked on it, and despite its beauty his heart failed him at the sight for he said to himself that surely this was a dwelling of the Faery and that he was come into Elfland; so that he forethought of Isolde that she also would be an Elf woman; only finer and more guileful than the others. Therewith there poured on his soul the full memory of her marvellous beauty and the daintiness of her body and how her hands and feet were wrought like fine goldsmiths-work, and carven jewels so that he said to himself that she was too fair and delicate for a mortal woman. And he waxed sick at heart therewith that he a rough carle should have dared look to her as a woman. But even there with he called to mind how she had praised his shap[e]liness, and how she had come back to him when she had fled, and of the tokens on the way; and of her looks of love, and her enticing gestures whether they were for him or merely as the playing of a young fawn. And then he verily thought that he beheld her with her white feet upon the green grass and the her gown unlaced before him because of the scarlet token: and he said to himself that whatsoever she might be at least she led him onward, whether he would or no. Therewith he turned his face toward that goodly
[f. 16] house, and strode manfully down the slope.
and the grass of the garden kinder to their feet: but an old hoary man was pacing up and down, his arms behind him and his eyes fixed on the ground: and he was clad in a rich gown, wherein was the silk and gold were so blended, that you might scarce say whether it were gold or green. So Michael went up to him, and he said to him; Hail master! Show me to the Forresters Cot. ¶ The old man turned on his heel sharply, and scowled at him, but then his face cleared and he said smiling and in a sweet voice: Hail son! Thou bringst us a fair face and stalworth limbs: but belike thou hast come a long way to dwell in a Forresters Cot! Look there my son: and therewith he pointed to the Great House gleaming with its whiteness, and its gold, and over-sea blue in the bright sunlight and he said: Tis not yonder a better house than a Forresters Cot? Nay not for me, said Michael. Said the old man: Belike thou sayest this because thou art poorly clad and travel-stained, and it may be withal a carle’s son; wherefore thou fearest so fair and noble a house lest it look strange on thee? Hold up thine heart! Though my Lady be the fairest thing on earth so that all the world seems remote from her and far away, yet is she kind to such as thou; come now with me, and by then we have bathed thee, and clad thee in scented linen, and cloth of gold, and crowned thee with roses and fed thee daintily & given thee goodly wine to drink, thou shalt forget all that thou hast been; and I foretell this of thee, that the very fairest of our damsels shall deem it good to put her white hand on thy knee and lay her fair cheek on thy shoulder: for I see of thee that when thou art duly dight thou shalt be one of the goodlest of men ¶ Michael laughed merrily and said: Old wise one, all thy gifts will scarce avail to make me what I am not, though fine feathers make fine birds: Thou sayest sooth that I am but a carle, a carle’s son. Yet am I a free man
[f. 18] and will have what I will, and no gift else. So I pray show me the Forrester’s Cot, for I would fain rest me. Spake not the old man as if to himself, but full loud enough to be heard withal: How his bold words become his exceeding shapeliness! That is to the way to scale the Castle of Love. Who knows what dame might fall in love with him, were she once to set eyes on his face? ¶ Then he spake aloud: Bethink thee youngling, that we be the hosts, and thou the guest; shall not the host marshal the guest to what so place seemeth good to him? ¶ Said Michael: It is all one, old wise man; I say not that thou ye art bound to take me in or give me one mouthful of victual. Seest thou I have woodland tools, and if thou wilt not show me the Forresters Cot, I will go back into the wild with a merry heart and seek some good adventure there. He spoke boldly; but his heart nigh failed him, because he deemed that Isolde meant that he should abide her in the Cot. The old man looked on him keenly, and somewhat evilly, and said: Thy woodland tools? Dan Cupid’s weapons, it might be! Well since wilful will to water wilful must. Come thou, thou wilt evil lodging. All I may say it is, When she wearieth of thee there shall yet be a place for thee in the Great House if so be thou turn to us. Come then! ¶ So Michael went as he led, which was along the face of the Great House, & beyond it to the North. and going that way it was but half a furlong before there was an end of the marvelous garden and the fair folk thereof, and there was the waste again, though nought rough, but green sward and thorn and hazel bushes for another half furlong where a long line of pine wood cut it off as by a hedge. The old man muttering & grumbling led on through this; it might be a furlong more, when it opened out into a little wood lawn they came on a little stream which led them into a wood lawn at one corner of which shouldering up against the further wood stood a little house framed of good oak timbers thatched with
[f. 19] shingles. There fool, cried out the old man, there is thy manor-house! Make the best of it! However it matters not; For in 5 days time or 4 thou wilt be coming to me, and praying for place in the Great House. And then dear lad, quoth he, changing his voice suddenly, thou shalt be welcome indeed. With those words they came up to the house, and the elder opened the door, which was on the latch, and they entered. It was a simple house of but one hall, with a bed be-curtained fairly in one corner, and a goodly oak settle beside the hearth. There were three windows in it whereof two were on the thicket-side, and came somewhat low down: a great ark stood in the corner over against the door, and there was a hutch in the 3rd corner. Four stools there were on the floor, which was well paved of stone. The old man gloomed on it, but to Michael, who was wont to worser lodging all seemed fair and handy enough, and he thanked the old man eagerly, but said to him withal: Fair sir and how shall I earn my livelihood? Said the elder: In the ark is store of meal, and lo yonder a cask of good wine; when thou needest more thou hast but to tell me. Sooth to say I deem that thou wilt not need more and he smiled withal. For the rest thou canst use Dan Cupid’s bow for something else than wounding maidens’ hearts, and there is the thicket for thy firing. Farewell then! Thou art now at home. Therewith he turned on his heel and went his ways; and Michael sat him down on the settle and pondered a while. But hunger constrained him, and he went to the ark and found therein three loaves besides the meal-bags; So he took one and drew wine from the cask, and dined of the bread and wine. Then he abode a while lest perchance Isolde should come to see him, and a little before sunset he took his bow and went abroad into the wild-wood on the further side of the house, to see if he might take anything for his meat, and in a little while, coming
[f. 20] to a certain lawn shot a hare, and so went back home with it. So came the night and he lay down on the bed and slept soundly.
Chapter VII The King’s Son
WHEN morning came, he awoke, and washed him in the stream, and broke his fast on his bread; and afterwards took his axe and went into the thicket to cut him wood, and was about this business till it lacked nought of noon, when he shouldered his axe and turned back to the house; the door was ajar when he came up to it, and he seemed to see some bright thing therein, whereby he deemed that there was come Isolde to see him; so he entered hastily, and verily there sat on the settle so bright and dainty a figure that at first coming into the dusk of his hall he thought verily it was she. But presently as his eyes cleared, he saw that it was a man, and forsooth one noble of aspect. As to his array it was all of the richest of cloth of gold and silk and all fragrant it was. But for his body he was tall, wide shouldered thin-flanked fair limbed & great-limbed: The hair of his head, which was of a dark brown, curling like the spring flowers: his cheeks smooth as a woman’s, his chin without beard; his eyes great and grey, his nose somewhat hooked, his lips red; in short as goodly a man as could be seen on a summer day: yet for all his inches, and shapeliness and his fair face, there was a look about him, as he lacked somewhat of a steadfast mind and a high courage, nor was there the mirth in his eyes which a chief should have.
HE hailed Michael as he entered, and said; Forrester, I am come to look on thee, whereas thou hast not many fellows; and I would talk with thee if so be occasion serveth. Whence art thou? Quoth Michael from Hart-wood End. Yea said the new-comer and art thou verily a carles son, or is something better of lineage hidden [by] thy russet coat?
[f. 21] Quoth Michael: As to the lineage of my coat what matters it; and as to my own lineage, my mother is known, and my father is deemed to be known; the blood of both of them hath names in it but nought of kings or earls. ¶ Why hast thou come hither said the man. ¶ I have come seeking adventure, said Michael. Yea and why? said the lordly-clad man. Since thou art but a peasant? ¶ Said Michael; I will ask thee presently why thou camest hither, but now I will answer thy question; that in our abode there is little stir from day to day, yet is the air full of tales of strange things in the wood at the edge whereof we dwell, and I am come to seek them and belike shall find them. ¶ The gay clad man sat silent a while; then he said: Is Death a strange thing? Yea said Michael, whereas few tell us tales thereof, what like it is. But now wilt thou tell me wherefore thou camest hither: Yet first it were well if it please thee, to tell me thy name. ¶ Said the other; My name is Michael; but here they call me the King’s Son. As to why I came hither; in my father’s Kingdom is much u[n]peace, and in his very house ill blood no little. Tis for peace that I came here. Hast thou found it? said Michael; For he saw that the King’s Son hung his head after he had spoken: and now he said: Nay: it is worse here than there: for there I dwelt amidst the unpeace of others, but here amidst my own u[n]peace. He was silent awhile; and then he said but softly: There seemeth to be pith in thee, though thou be but a churl’s son. Therefore I tell thee this, that thou shalt find days here hard to bear; and if thou mightest return by the way thou camest, it were well for thee; but belike thou mayest not.
[f. 22] the window, which as aforesaid was somewhat low down, and he started up presently, and cried out as one astonished. What is it then? said the King’s Son. Meseemed I saw a strange & ugly head at the window, said Michael. The King’s Son arose, and he seemed to have changed colour somewhat; but he spake in a loud & cheery voice: Now forrester I bid thee good day; but I will come see thee again before a long while is worn: but tell me thy name. Michael, he said. Well, quoth the King’s Son, it is strange that thou hast my name. Then more softly he said: It looks like ill luck. Mayhap thou wilt have somewhat else of mine. I like it not. And therewith he turned on his heel, and got him gone from out the house. ¶ As for Michael he sat a while pondering on the ways of this man; but chiefly how he changed when he heard of the ugly head at the window; Whereas it seemed of him that he was wishful to talk somewhat long: but it all broke off suddenly after that.
SO Michael betook him to some needful work within doors, but went not abroad again that day for he cherished a hope in his heart that Isolde would come to see him there: albeit she came not, so that Michael must needs wear away the time as best he might, till dusk came and night-tide, and he went to bed & rested till the morning.
Chapter VII. The Hunt is up in the Wood beyond the World.
[f. 23] horn blow not far off, so he went to the door and stood therein and looked about, and heard the noise of folk that were merry by seeming, talking & laughing together, & horns blowing ever & anon. And presently as he looked came forth from the wood closed trees that joyous company and went athwart the woodlawn into the thicket on the other side. Yet had he a good sight of them & beheld one and all as they went by. Men and women both they were, all afoot; neither had he seen any house in the wood; some bare spears, and some bows in their hands, and some held hands in leash, so that it was clear that they were going to a hunting in the wood. Both men & women were young & fair, or at the least seemed so as they glided over the lawn: they were all clad gaily in green garments embroidered goodly, and bare roses garlands and fair things on their heads. Amid most of the rout went the goodly young man who had named him Michael the King’s Son, and he held by the hand a lady marvellous fair, white & red like the fairest of blossoms, with yellow hair all floating about her; and her face was as the goodliest of painted images. Soon were they gone to the very last, and sickness fell on Michael’s heart: for he had looked heedfully to see if Isolde were amongst the mistresses, and he saw her not: Therefore when the sound of the horns had died out in the distance and the wood was still in the forenoon of the day, he began to fall a pondering whether his sight of her had been but a dream; and his heart was weary, and he felt lost and lonely.
BUT as he stood thus at the door of his house, and it was but a minute or two, though his rush of desire made them longto him, [when] lo [he saw] a bright shape coming out the dusk of the trees into the wood-lawn, & his heart sprang up with joy, for it was none other than
[A on f. 24]. O yea, said he, And when shall I see thee next: ¶ Her face grew grave again and she was silent a little as if pondering it; then she said: Count ten days from today, and on the tenth take thy bow and arrow as if thou wert seeking venison; but tarry not in these woods: go thy ways straight to the northward, and go on till the wood of trees fail thee and thou comest to a heap of confused hills on the other side of a little river, which thou shalt not heed to swim; somewhere at the foot of these hills, thou shalt find me or some token of me; or at least I think so. ¶ O thou art kind, said Michael. Nay, she said but not here. Have I not said that the time is short? Tell me now what else hath befallen thee here. ¶ He struggled with the sweetness of his desire & presently he spake.
[f. 26] Isolde; and she looked towards him, but stood still when she caught sight of him, and seemed as if she were going to turn about again and depart; So he went indoors again hastily, [and shut the door to] and stood with his heart beating lest perhance she might enter to him: and presently the door opened verily and she came in & shut the door behind her, and stood there panting as if she had been running fast. She was clad like those other huntresses in a green gown gathered up into her girdle for running through woods; and he had a quiver of arrows at her back and a bow gaily bedight in her hand. All his heart went out to her, but he durst go no nigher to her but stood there trembling till she should speak: so that he knew that now love lay yet harder on him than that first time whereon he had seen her; and she put a hand to him a little, but drew it back again & clasped hand on hand on her bow & gripped it tight and her face was flushed and her lips quivered.
AT last she said: It is but a minute or two that I may see thee Michael for this is a stolen time and I must hasten up after the others: but I have come to see thee & comfort thee, and ask thee how thou hast sped; and if aught hath befallen thee. Speak to me and tell me; but I bid thee come no nigher to me, and make no countenance of loving me if thou canst help it. ¶ He said; The old man of whom thou toldest led me here, and I deemed his mood mocking, but I heeded him little, for I was thinking of what thou badest me, and therefore of thee. ¶ She smiled and said: The time is short Michael.
[f. 25] ask me of somewhat wherein my help should avail him, but then he broke off suddenly & made an end, and so departed at once. ¶ What was the occasion for this? said she; deemest thou that there was any? Said Michael; As he was speaking I saw a strange sight of an ugly and misshapen head at the window, and started thereat; it was then he broke off. ¶ Michael noted that she grew pale, and sighed; and he was on the point of throwing himself upon her, but she said eagerly though in a whisper; For thy life come no nigher: Farewell! And therewithal lightly she opened the door and was gone; and left Michael with his heart in a tumult of longing & pleasure and hope, and wonder and fear withal.
[f. 26] saw something scuttling away over the clearer ground without the thicket, which seemed to him to have some form of man, though it was so swiftly gone that he could see nought of it save that it was dark of colour and uncouth of shape. He wondered hereat, and deemed it had some what to do with the ugly head that had looked into the window that other day; and a pang of fear shot into his heart, he knew not why. Howsoever he saw nought for it but to go back to his work and abide what might befal. So he went on, till he had done all that he needed, and then he shouldered his axe and went his ways homeward: howbeit he looked over his shoulder into the thicket ere he went.
SO he had gone about a mile toward his home and was anigh it, and it was getting toward sunset, and was somewhat dim under the pine trees, when suddenly as he came out from four great pines stood close together he found himself face to face, with a little dusky-skinned man, big headed and long armed, and very hideous of aspect to his face: he seemed old for there was no hair on his head save a fringe of longish hoary locks from which his scalp came bare and dull brown. he had nought on him save a breeches and a little tabered sleeve of black cloth. He bore in his hand an ugly-looking guisarme bright-polished & with a short heft some six foot long but a heavy short sword in a sheath cutting on the inside curve hung over his shoulder in a sheath. ¶ Michael started back when he saw him, and handled his axe, for he had no sword: but the creature gave forth a harsh laugh, and cried out in a snarling voice: Let thine axe be[,] young man! Or thou may strain against my weapon. Fear not it is not business to hurt thee – as yet. The he stood and laughed again so evilly as might be. ¶ What art thou? said Michael. Do I look somewhat like a man? said the other. Michael deemed that he looked liker to the pictured devils in the Doom over the church arch of the
[f. 27] master church of Garrington: but he held his peace, and the dwarf said, still croaking with laughter: Ha! thou deemest me liker to a devil than a man, is it not so? Well, who knows how it may be in the long run? But now lad whither away? ¶ Said Michael I am going home to the Forrester’s Cot where I dwell. But now I shall tell thee that if thou hast an errand to beguile and undo me, I warn thee that my axe may yet have something to say to it. ¶ So he stood holding the axe aloft: but there with it seemed to him as if the dwarf stretched out one of his long arms, and got hold of the heft of the axe and plucked it from him as one might pluck an apple from a tree: so that Michael stood before him unarmed. Then said the dwarf: Seest thou youngling, that it shall avail thee nought to strive with me: but, as I told thee before, I have no errand to hurt thee as now, and where were the harm if we two neighbours walk together to the Forrester’s Cot? Now then, there is thine axe again; and I tell thee, that if thou wishest another time to do a mischief to us of the older folks, who were the first lords of the wood-beyond-the-world, thou must be a little brisker about handling thy weapons.
THEREWITH he turned and walked on through the wood towards the Forrester’s Cot looking to see if Michael was coming on with him; and Michael saw nought for it but to walk with him, and he was abashed withal and down-hearted at the foil the dwarf had given to him, so he went beside the creature saying nought. ¶ But the dwarf said: Thou art of few words, youngling; but since it will rejoice thine heart to hear so sweet a voice as is mine, and such wisdom as must needs come of my many years, I will talk, & thou shalt hearken; and first I will answer thy question of what I am. I know myself for the king of my folk, that once, as I told thee, ruled in this wood. That was when there was nought here save us
[f. 28] and the wild deer; but now there be fays therein and some few of mankind like unto thee; and both these think themselves better than us, for all the ills which they have to abide; and now we be servants to the Lady of this House, the Pleasure House of the wood beyond the world; and how that hath befallen I have no mind to tell thee; but there is pleasure to be reaped of the field that hath so been ploughed. Now, youth, if thou wouldst ask what it is that we do for the Lady I will tell thee so much as this that we do her will, and go her errands; and whiles by her command we make men and women of thy race wiser than we be ourselves or can ever be. And now that I have told thee about myself, I will ask thee if thou doest well in thy cot? Yea well said Michael. Said the Dwarf; And hast thou seen any one else than me since thou hast dwelt there? Yea said Michael, I saw the Lady’s hunt go by, and her amidst of it. And before that? said the Dwarf. Said Michael, Before that came to see me a most goodly young man who called himself the King’s Son. Well, said the dwarf, and after that now are we at thy door, but before I enter I will ask thee if thou hast seen any body after the hunt went by? Michael answered steadily & without changing countenance; Well after it, and it was this morning I deem that I saw one of thy folk, as I was cutting small wood more to the north than where we met ere now. ¶ Hm Hm! Grumbled the Dwarf; open to me Youngling. ¶ Even so did Michael, but before he could enter, the dwarf forewent him & went down on his hands and knees and snuffled about with his nose on the threshold and a little within the house, & grumbled out, Hm! Hm! Yet surely I would have said that I can scent the footsteps of a woman about here. Strange is that, strange is that. Then he arose and stood before Michael & said: Youngling, I have an errand
[f. 29] for thee, which I will tell thee here in thine house. Canst thou find those four trees hard by which we met een now? Yea said Michael. Said the dwarf; This is my word to thee, that thou be there before high noon tomorrow, and abide there an hour of time, and thou shalt see what shall befall; and nought shall be to thine hurt there but rather to thy gain & pleasure. But if thou go nought, then also shalt thou see what shall befal, and belike that same shall please me more than thee. Therefore I bid thee look to it that thou fail not herein. Therewith he looked with a snarling grin on Michael and went his ways, but Michael deemed he need not think twice about going; since whatever risk might be in his keeping tryste, there was more belike in his breaking it; and if he went, he deemed that he might learn somewhat more of Isolde, and what her life and hope might be: for now to say the sooth, he had forgotten all else save how he might see her again, and at last take her in his arms, she willing it.
ON the morrow when the due time was Michael girt him with his sword and went to the trysting-place, and coming there, leaned against a tree and abided what should befal; and it is not to be said but that his heart beat fast and that he was troubled by hope & fear. Scarce was the sun noon-tide high when he saw bright raiment coming through the dusk of the trees, and presently he saw that which in his heart he looked to see, to wit the Lady of the House of Pleasure: but she was followed by two of her damsels, and at the sight of them Michael’s heart gave a leap in his bosom, for one of them was none other than Isolde, so that he fell a wondering how he might speak with the Lady or give
SO as he knelt trembling before her and gasping like a fish she spoke kindly to him, and yet like a queen: Hail to thee, Forrester! We have come to see thee whereas thou art a new-come guest, though thou hast had thy wilful way in dwelling in yonder cot in stead of a dear-dight chamber in our house. But now I bid thee arise from thy knees and sit beside me here, since we are weary with walking the wild-wood. ¶ Therewith she arose sat her down by one of the trees and leaned her back against it, moving ever with such marvellous grace, that it was
[f. 31] as if she were dancing to a measure taught by the Gods of old time; and Michael arose from his knees, and sat down anigh to her all bashful and ashamed because of her loveliness; [insert B] And she looked on him and laughed sweetly, and said: Nay youth, be not afraid, for we are of the form of man and woman, and the imaginary wrought not ill in making thee. And though I am told by one who hath seen and spoken with thee, that thou art lowly-born, of the blood of them that fare scantily and labour hard that they may live, that is little to us in the Wood Beyond the World since thou hast come out of it to us. And though it might be a shame to a Queen of the Baronage of the World to sit anigh thee, though she were poorly shapen and blemished of her body, and thou so fair and well-shapen, yet to me who have nought all to be ashamed of my body, thy carl churle’s blood is no shame: nay what know I but that it be ancienter and nigher to mine own that the blood of the kings of the world. But I see thee that thou art still abashed as thou sittest silent there fair guest; wherefore I will not cumber thee with my presence longer, but will abide [not] longer converse till I have become more familiar to thee. But I came but to see what like the new guest was as I was bound to do. Yet I will ask thee if thou wilt not come and dwell in my house and be my squire, and be merry with the merry folk that dwell there; and I will make thee as glad as may be. ¶ Then spake Michael in a low voice and husky, or he was still all bewildered and his hopes of Isolde were blended with the Lady’s beauty, and he had as it were a dream of Isolde going to and fro in the Great House, and he lonely and far away from her in his forest cot: So he said: Dost thou command me to come Lady? She laughed on him and said: Nay nay, Youth, yet thou hast heard that somewhat I pray thee. ¶ His
[B on f. 31]
[f. 32] grew troubled, and he said after a little space, while she looked at him curiously and played with the folds of her gown that crossed her bosom; Lady I pray thee, but I cannot, I cannot: I have a vow against it. Against what? she said. Against dwelling in a palace said Michael. She laughed mockingly and said: Youth, needest thou have made such a vow amongst the churles of Hart-wood-End? It was against me then that thou madest that vow. ¶ He answered not but reddened sore. She spake again lightly & with laughter in her voice: Well, well; the vow will wear itself and meantime, though thou wilt not enter our house, yet thou wilt not forego walking in our woods, and thou wilt perchance come across us at whiles, and let me walk by thy side, and learn some little wisdom of thee, since thou art a man. ¶ The mocking died out of her voice herewith, and she said kindly, as she leaned towards him, so that he could see every whit of the beauty of her face; Thou wilt not do less than this[,] dear guest? Said Michael, Nay I will do no less than this. Yet his face was troubled still. But she said: It is done then for this time, and she rose up, and he also, and she put forth her hand to him with the palm uppermost, but he moved not toward it but reddened only. She said: Thou art bidden to kiss it. But there was anger in his soul because he might not kiss Isolde; so he said: I may not; for I have sworn to our Lady and St Michael not to kiss a woman while I am in this wood of danger. ¶ Danger! she said, Well may happen thou art right there. And she knit her brow & was silent a little and let her arm fall [to] her side. Then she spake lightly, & said: Young man thou aboundest in oaths meseemeth: but at least here is our Lady and here is Saint Michael (for indeed thou seemest holy) shall we not betwixt us dispense thee of thine oath? Then she said soberly: Kneel down again for this is a Queen’s hand.
[f. 33] And withal she reached it out to him again; and he scarce knowing where he was, took it and kissed it palm and wrist and arm many times, while the Lady smiled on him. Then she said, Come thou, that hast a sword by thy side and bring me back to the wood lawn where I left my damsels. And she reached out her kissed hand to him and he took it and they went along together.
BUT as they wended the half dusk of the woods, lo one of those brown naked creatures (but not the little old man Michael had seen yesterday) scuttled across their path. Michael started back thereat, and the Lady said What aileth thee, guest? ¶ Didst thou not see, said he, the thing that went yonder? Said she I saw one of my dwarfs running in the wood. What then? He shall do neither thee nor me any hurt. Yea said Michael, and is he verily of thy servants? Yea, she said, these be my servants even as dogs be. Whiles are there matters to be done which neither we nor our damsels may not do, and which our squires will not do then these little men do them, and are rewarded with such wages as be due to such creatures.
AS she spoke she was become lofty and Queenlike again, and scarce touched Michael’s hand with the tips of her fingers as they went along. ¶ Thus they came to a little lawn amidst the trees where on a fallen trunk were sitting Isolde and the other damsel; they rose up when they saw the Lady coming, and as they drew near Michael deemed that there was a dark cloud on Isolde’s face but whether of anger or fear or doubt he wotted not. But the Queen let his hand fall as they came close anigh, and spake to the damsels smiling, and said: Ladies, this is the new-come guest, who must needs dwell by himself in the Forrester’s Cot rather than my house. Ye may deem that churlish in him; yet I bid you pardon him as I do: for if he will not go to you, ye may at least go to him
[f. 34] and help him to win through the days till his mind changes to a better mood than now he hath. And now fair Sir, thou mayest go back to thine hermitage; but look to it that thou shall not be so much alone as thou hast been these last days. ¶ Michael hung his head and durst not look toward Isolde, who for her part had mastered her countenance & made as if she took no heed of him: he might chose but linger a little anigh her, but at last he turned away and went slowly toward his house, feeling a sore bitterness at his heart because belike he might never see Isolde friendly again: for in sooth he feared that she might deem of him that he had given himself up to the Queen and forgotten her. Yet it pleased him to think that Isolde had looked not cheerfully on them but sad and angry rather. So came he aback to his his house troubled in spirit and somewhat heavy hearted.
THERE passed a day with nought to tell on, but on the morrow of that day as he was sitting a morning tide in his house, he heard without the sound of a man's footsteps and a hound whining; so he went to the door and opened it, and lo! before him was the King’s Son bearing a bow and holding a hound in a leash. He greeted Michael kindly, and said Hail Forrester! I am for hunting in the wood some way off: Wilt thou come with me? & be my hunt-fellow; for down there they be all sunk in sloth. ¶ With a good will, said Michael, and he took his bow & quiver, and girt to him his sword & forth the two went out together, and Michael was well pleased to have some rest
[f. 35] from the weariness of his thoughts. They went somewhat to the west of north; till they had gotten [them] out of the pine-wood, and the forest was but bushes with low trees and scrubby copses plenteous of deer. They they fell to hunting and in no great while had shot a buck; but their hunting by that time taken them some good way from the pine wood. So they broke up their quarry, and when they had done the King’s Son said: Now will we bundle this carcase together, and will hang it to one of the low oak-boughs and fetch it after a while as we come for now if thou will do as I would, we will go somewhat afield together. ¶ Michael said that he was nothing lothe, so they went on a good way yet; and this while, the King’s Son, who had talked merrily enough when they were on the way out, was fallen quite silent. At last he said; Forrester, here we are in a little plain short grassed and without bushes that might hide aught, and yonder seest thou is a mound from whence we may see anything coming hitherward; when we are come up on the said mound I shall have a word for thee. ¶ Michael yea-said him cheerily, and when they came upon to the mound and were sitting on its topmost, the King’s Son said: Forrester, thou hast the look of a man frank & free & bold of heart swear to me that thou wilt not betray thee. ¶ To whom should I betray thee? said Michael; but I swear it by All Hallows. ¶ That is well, said the King’s Son: Now tell me wouldst thou be well content to abide in this Wood Beyond the World for ever? I deem not, said Michael. ¶ Thou wouldst be surer still of it, said the King’s Son, wert thou to be lodged in the Great House, as I am: and take my word for it that this shall soon befal thee. ¶ Yea said Michael, but if I list to depart, what shall hinder me. The King’s Son laughed: The wood is
[f. 36] wide, said he, and I look not where thou shalt find a guide to lead thee out of it, unless I get thee one. Moreover do thou but try it, and thou wilt find that there is such a network of snares about thee, that thou wilt presently be caught. ¶ Michael said nought, but sat pondering his words, and how that it had seemed to him that both this man and Isolde were sunk deep in thraldom, & went about in fear of he knew not what. ¶ But the King’s Son said. How long have I been seeking a way whereby I might compass escape, and have found it not; but now meseemeth it is at hand, and it is through thee that I shall find it may happen: therefore must I needs tell thee of matters which it shames me to tell. I will say nought of how & why I came hither because it needeth not: but this I must say, that when I came hither fresh from the world without the wood the Lady of the House of Pleasure set her eyes upon me to love me and thou knowest how fair and lovely she is, what so ever she may be; for I know that thou hast seen her: So I will not say that I refrained me from her love, or indeed that I anywise so strove: Yet in a while I must say it that somewhat I wearied of her: Whereby had I not taken good heed the House of Pleasure had become very hell. For though at whiles before the weariness came over me, it seemed to me that she would have turned willingly to some other one, had he been to hand, yet when she found out that my love was abating, then she grew fierce in her love to me and exceeding jealous of me, so that with all my heedfulness, more than one or two of her damsels fell into the hands of her dwarfs. ¶ Yea said Michael and what be her dwarfs, and why do ye fear them so, [as] I perceive you to do? ¶ Hush, said the King’s Son; even here we will be silent of them, and will say but this that they do the will of the Lady of the
[f. 37] House of Pleasure: God grant that they be not bidden to fall upon me; Yea or upon the Forrester. ¶ And Michael noted that his countenance changed, and for a while he held his peace. ¶ Then he said: But all this mattered the less, inasmuch as I had not turned my love to any of these fair women: for goodly of body as they might be, yet as to some of them I doubted if they had in them any souls of mankind and for others though they were very children of Eve, yet were they little hearted and light-minded and false, so that I heeded them little, and as well as I might I feigned love for the Lady; yea or whiles it was no feigning, but a fury of desire would come upon me, and she was to me again as a well-beloved woman.
AGAIN he was silent; and Michael’s heart sank, as he thought that he could tell what was coming next: but he made up his mind to refrain him from all rash speech, and to keep countenance whatever was said. ¶ The King’s Son went on. At last a thing befel me, and I need not tell thee all the tale of it; but this it was, that I fell in with a very fair woman, unlike to any of these, whose name is Isolde, and it was but a little ere my entrails were stirred by her coming anigh me, and the sight of her made me blind to all else, and I yearned toward her sorely all hours of the day: and yet must I be heedful beyond measure, lest she should fall under the wrath of the Lady, for then were she undone. So I feigned love [[ms. loved]] mightily for the Lady, and even made as if I were jealous of some of the other menfolk (if men indeed they be) though soothly to say there is nought in them that I should be jealous of them. Yet without that, I thought I could see that the Lady was nought beguiled by it, and she had a deeming of Isolde so that after I feared for her with exceeding fear: And now I must tell thee my shame and grief, to wit that for all my loving of Isolde, I might not fail to
[f. 38] see that she loved me nothing again – What aileth thee Forrester, dost thou see aught a coming hitherward? ¶ If that be so[,] and he spoke low here[,] we must een put a good face on it, and make as if we were verily hunters of deer resting after toil, and not poor hunted Sons of Adam. ¶ Nay nay, said Michael, it is nothing, I saw nought. ¶ Well said the King’s Son, to go on: thou seest that as things were before thou camest hither it would have been a hard matter for me to get away; but since thou camest things are changed somewhat. How so? quoth Michael. Said the Kings Son; Firstly the Lady hath heard of thee (from me first, forsooth, and then belike from one of her dwarfs) and then she was stirred up in her heart by the tale of thee (as I meant she should be) And since she saw thee yesterday, her heart is wholly set on thee, so that I am free of her. ¶ Yea said Michael and I am enthralled by her: that is firstly; what then is secondly? ¶ The King’s Son reddened & found it hard to speak by seeming, at last he said, halting in his speech somewhat: Forrester, and fellow of mine, I am happier than when I first saw thee; for I deem that the maiden Isolde looketh on me with more favour than I had deemed. Yea and last night in the hall, I feared for her that, [in] the Queen’s presen[ce] she spared not to give me signs of good-liking: but though I was all confused with my joy thereat the Lady seemed to heed it nought, but sat distraught and pensive. ¶ Yea, said Michael; that is secondly: is there any thirdly. His face was pale and his eyes troubled as he spoke: for he thought; will she then hand me over to the Queen. But the Kings Son heeded him not but said: Yea and this morning, Forester, she let me kiss her hands & caress her, and bade me take heed to myself, for that my life was precious; and said she, Thou wottest that thou hast to walk amidst many snares. ¶ Who said so? quoth cried out Michael in a loud voice. ¶ Isolde, said the King’s Son, letting the sound of her name come slowly & softly from his
[f. 39] lips as if he were caressing it. Neither said aught for a good while. Michael set his teeth hard, and clutched at his sword-hilt, while the King’s Son sat gazing happily on to the summer land before him.
[f. 40] come not the journey will not be: and I look to find thee of much avail herein in many ways. ¶ Michael’s face cleared now, and after a while he said: So be it then, if so it must be; and as to what cometh after, see ye to it ¶ It’s well, said the King’s Son; look for signs & tokens of me and her; if thou seest an arrow shot or a stone cast, or any sign on a bough or a tree trunk take close heed thereof; for belike it will be hard for us to speak with thee in words; but so far as we can, we will. But those creepers are busy everywhere, and come on man or woman when they be least looked for. ¶ As he spake he crossed himself, and fear came into his face once more. But Michael spake lightly and said: Well Kings Son, I am ready when ye bid: For I think not to be a palace – thrall to the evil things yonder all my days. Yet thy Queen hath the body at least of a very fair woman, so fair that none hath seen a fairer; nor I deem hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive of any such. ¶ Thou sayest sooth, said the Kings Son, but now will we leave speaking of her and of such like matters, and wend us back after our venison. ¶ So therewith they arose and went their ways back, and Michael went to his house wary and stout-hearted
TWO days after this, as Michael was in his house about noon he heard a clamour of voices talking merrily and laughing and a snatch or two of song & fiddling; and when he went to the door & looked around he saw a rout of gay folk, both men & women breaking out from the thicket and on to the wood lawn wherein his house stood; so he stood by his door to see what they would be doing, and lo! they came nigh
[f. 41] straight on to his house, and dancing and singing and stood at last in a ring round about him, being a half score of women and four men. They were all clad very gaily and daintily especially the women, whose raiment was silken and gold-embroidered and thin withal so that they were little hidden by it; and even they fared not as some who had not drawn their gowns up through their girdles so that their knees were bare; or as others whose thin garment was open from the waist downwards, so that their thighs came naked from the silken folds whensoever they put one foot before the other. Withal they were garlanded and scented and decked with gold rings and chains exceeding richly. Two of the men-folk bore a basket between them, which anon they set down in the grass, while the nakedest (and it must be said) the fairest of the women came forth before the others and said: Sir Forrester or hermit or whatso thou wilt be called, we have come hither to eat our dinner by thine house, and to bid thee thereto; and indeed we command thee to come, whether thou hast a will thereto or not: Wilt thou come with a good will then, or shall be compelled. ¶ Now Michael deemed that it were best to put a good face on matters, whereas he saw that it now stood by him to win his way out of this wood of strange things and to bear Isolde with him, and that he were best to make as few foes as might be, and to make himself as little akin to the dwellers of the House as he might. So he said: Fair damsel, how mightiest thou think of me that I need to be compelled to take the pleasure that ye proffer me: I am thy servant in all wise. Ah! said the damsel, but we have heard tell that thou camest hither harsh and sour as crabs; now I see that the air of the wood is ripening thee. Therewith she turned a little and said: thou, Francis, give me the gear hither. Then one of the men handled a bundle covered about sendel
and betook it to the damsel, who said: Fair Sir we rejoice in thee and thy gracious mood; but thou art clad in rude and upland fashion, and thy ugly raiment will be ashamed of our beauteous gear, and we have thought of it that thou shouldst be no worser clad than we, wherefore we have brought thee a coat to do on, in which thou shalt be right goodly and a joy both to us and thyself: go now into thine house, and come out of it as the grub changed to butterfly. ¶ So Michael took the raiment from her hand smiling from the teeth outward, though inwardly he was full of wrath, and of longing for her that was not there; and he went into his house and unwound the wrapper, and found dainty & delicate raiment sweet-scented and gold-embroidered. So he did it on, and came out, & stood in the door, and now was he right glad that his beloved was not there to see him in the livery of these lost wretches, whatsoever they were. – But he came out so glad, there was laughter and shouting and clapping of hands amongst the merry-makers; and the above said fair woman took him by the hand and led him on to the green-sward delicately; and the others joined hands and made a ring about them, and danced about them, and sang a song of welcome to the new-come guest.
SO when they were done with their song they fell to and opened their basket and drew victual & drink thence, and fell a feasting; and feasted a long while amidst merry talk and playing on the harp & flute & fiddle; so that it might well have been for a paradise to to a poor cot-dweller and a churl’s son, like as was Michael. But both it was that his love for Isolde filled all his heart, and also he somewhat feared this wild and strange glory of gold & silk and dainty wine & sweet voices and naked limbs, as if it were all but a baited snare for his undoing. Albeit, though there was clipping and kissing and caressing toying of divers kinds betwixt the men and the women (and though the women, and
especially she who had held his hand in the ring) spoke to him kindly and merrily, and not a little wantonly, they all forebore to kissing or caressing him. And he though he constrained him to be merry with them, yet he held his heart utterly aloof from, and but noted them heedfully & closely what kind of folk they were. And firstly he noted of the men that they seemed nought indeed, though well shapen of body and fair-hued, and soft-tongued withal; but their eyes wandered and were unstable; and, however they sang, and jested, or toyed with the women they seemed to have no keen delight in it all, but each thing they did, they did it as if they had as lief do something else; so that they were weary of the word ere it has half spoken, and of the wine before it was in their mouths; of the song ere the stave was half out; of the kiss before the lips had met lips. ¶ Wherefore he almost doubted if they were men indeed, or rather strange images wrought by sorcery to endure for a little while; and soothly they were loathsome to him. But as to the women, some, and these were the goodliest of them, seemed joyous and merry, and deft & wise in speech, but with nought of human kindness in their eyes; but hard rather, and as if they had no memory of any one if their eyes were turned away for a minute or so; these also seemed to him to be bodies without souls; or with but just so much as made them desire the pleasure of the passing moment. Others again though they were belike light-minded and foolish, and were not deft in speech, nor much gifted with understanding, did seem indeed as if they were to be moved somewhat by the joy and sorrow of other folk, and had some kindness in their eyes: and these indeed seemed to be in some fear when Michael drew nigh to them, and cast their eyes down, and would scarce give him a word when he spoke to them. Forsooth they seemed aweary of the revel, and shy of their gay and wanton attire
SO wore the hours amid much outward frolic, and Michael
grew both warier and wearier as time wore; till at last about sunset, all those revelers left their play and caressing, so that lip left lip, and arm unclasped the waist and hand fell away from hand, and they all stood like servants abiding the coming of the master. Michael stood up with the others, though he was ashamed thereof, and looked and saw the Lady or Queen coming across the green led by the King’s Son hand in hand. And as she drew nigh he could see that she was clad quite otherwise than when he had seen her last, and was in the attire of a great Lady of the baronage with gold embroidered cote-hardie over her green gown, and with a circle of gold and gems about her head. ¶ She walked in stately wise across the green, and despite all that the King’s Son had said to Michael, it was to look as if he were her well-beloved, or at the least, a dear friend. ¶ When she came nigh to the revelers she spake to them and said: Damsels and Squires what do ye to stand thus idly and doing nothing as if ye waited our pleasure; it is our pleasure that ye play & disport you in all wise as if I we were not bystanding. ¶ So the revelers began again to make a show of taking their pleasure, freesly; but sooth to say the more part of them played but dully, like poor actors at a stage-play, and when it was over, they rested, lying on the grass, but not happily, rather as if they feared some blame or even chastisement from their mistress. ¶ But she went from one to another (still hand in hand with the King’s Son) smiling graciously upon them, as a fair Queen might do with the lords and ladies of her baronage, and she spoke with kind stateliness to many of them. But when she came to Michael, who was standing by himself somewhat moodily, she laid a hand on his shoulder, and smiled, and said: Lo now, here is a man grown gay & dainty; this is better than the day before yesterday; now though thou wilt not come into our house, wilt thou
do so much, or so little, for us as to wear this seemly attire whiles three days wear? ¶ He was abashed, and could but falter out a yea. ¶ Nay then, she said, we are bound to thank thee for so much grace. But look to it not to break thy promise, or we shall deem thee less of courtesy than we hoped as now in thee. Michael deemed that there was something stern and hard in the her voice as she said these last words: but he answered nought save by bowing low; and she gazed at him a little, as if she were trying somewhat to search him out, but with no kindness or desire in her eyes; so that he wondered if this were indeed the self-same woman who had as it were allured him that other day. Then she turned and went her ways back again from that wood-lawn.
BUT when she was gone the merry-makers rose up from the grass in a little while and slowly went their ways from that place with little joy, none carressing another or talking and giving in speech. But each as if he or she were alone and without fellows drifted away: ¶ But as they went Michael looked aside into the bushes (and twilight was just beginning) and he deemed that he saw shapes of those evil little little wights flitting to and fro, and as it were hanging about the flank of the band of revelers. So he turned away ill at ease and downcast; and his heart reproached him that he had done on that attire at all, and still more that he had not gainsaid the Queen as to wearing it another three days, and forebodings were heavy on him concerning what would befall therefrom.
Chapter A Garden amidst the forest.
NOW he durst do nought save wear that raiment;
though sore it irked him; insomuch that all the next day he would not stir abroad; none came nigh and nought befell him to tell of. But on the morrow when the day was yet young, as he sat in his house he heard light footsteps without, and the door opened, and who should be there but the Queen. She had a long dark blue cloak wrapped about her from the shoulders down, and her hair was trussed up into a knot at the back of her head, but as she stepped inwards from the threshold her foot came forth from the cloak hem naked save for sandals with glittering ties to them. As she stood silent a little while before Michael, her face seemed changed to him again; he deemed she looked kind and sweeter than before, and as if she would fain beseech some what. ¶ At last she spake to him and said kindly and softly: Forrester, if thou wouldst come with me this morning I have a thing to show thee. Be not afraid I will not hurt thee; though true it is, I might had I the will. Wilt thou not come? Thou shalt do in all ways whatso thou wilt.
NOW how it was Michael knew not, but though he would have said nay, yet so it was that he might not, so he yea said her, and went out by her side on to the green sward, and she turned her face toward the northeast, and they were presently wending the pine wood. Then she said to him: O, thou art good, would that I might reward thee as shouldst be guerdoned. He was ashamed, and knew not which way to look, and he held his peace. Then she said, hast thou been through the wood by this road before? Yea, Lady said Michael. And far? said she. Said Michael A good way, five miles maybe. Didst thou see aught that was very fair on that journey? Nay said Micahel. nought but the boles of the trees, and here and there a squirrel. She smiled and said: Wait a while and thou shalt see.
SO she went on by his side lightly and swiftly, and never the while let her dark cloak open to show what was beneath it of body or raiment. ¶ At last she stopped and said: Seest thou anything new, guest? Said Michael: Tis strange, but a minute ago it was the wood and nothing else, and now I see ahead a great brightness, as if the sun shone on some fair wood-lawn: but no wood lawn was there three days ago. ¶ It is but as thou seest; said she. But hark! What hearest thou? Said Michael: But a minute ago I heard nought but the light summer wind in the tree-tops over head; whereas now I hear the song of birds exceeding sweet and clear that seemeth to come from that bright place. She said it is even as it seemeth; come thou with me; and as thou wilt do, so thou shalt.
SO they went on and presently came out of the dark wood, and before them was the fairest of gardens walled about with a wall of red & white marble, and amidst of the wall was a golden gate of trellised bars with knots & flowers brought therein most delicately. The Lady led thereto and set a hand to the gate and opened it, and they went in. Never was fairer garden: for all kinds of flowers were blossoming there; and there were fruited apple trees, that mocked the summer with their autumn fruit, and behind the white tall lillies, and the red and white roses the black bunches of vine hung on their trellises. ¶ She led him on from one green path to another betwixt hedges of roses where the abundance of blossoms was so great that they seemed rolling over one another; and every now and then one burst and showered down its sweet crumpled leaves as before their feet. At last she brought him into a little four square close of roses, amidst of which was a conduit
telling over with a square marble basin, and round the four sides of the said close was wrought a turf bench whereon folk might sit or lie amidst the delights of the garden. ¶ There the Lady stayed him, but she still kept her dark cloak wrapped around her; and she looked on him & said: This I have to say to thee again, that what thou willest of the matters of this garden shall befal thee and nought else. ¶ He said nought, nor could he speak. She said; It might be well for thee to will that which I will thee to will; but let it be! ¶ No word more could he answer, for slumber was on him to over come him, and his legs failed him; he tottered to the turf bench, sank down thereon and fell al asleep; and dreamed confusedly amidst his sleep that he was wending the woods towards the north ward to do his errand as to the meeting of Isolde: but many things came across it, some terrible some laughable, some foolish & empty, but all hindering, so that the time seemed long and full of all unfulfilled desire.
ON a sudden he awoke with the white light all about him, and the song of birds was in his ears and the sweet scents of the odorous summer in his nostrils; he turned a little to his left hand, and lo there sat by him a woman wrapped from head to foot in a dark blue cloak: Still but half awake his heart arose to his lips with a longing yet strange to him; he rose and turned about, and knelt before her, and stretched out his hands to her laid hold of the hem of her cloak, and drew it away from her, and lo the Queen of the House of Pleasure clad in raiment as thin & bright shining as the sheat- skin of an onion. She fell forward into his arms, and as he felt her shoulders warm against his cheek he heard her murmuring; It was thou thy self willedst it. ¶ So there he abode with her, nor thought of departing till the day was gone
and the night was come; and there she led him out of the garden, and presently the darker night of the pine-wood swallowed them up; but she led him on surely till they came into the glimmer of the wood lawn by his house; there she let his hand fall and was gone in a moment.
ON the morrow arose Michael, and at first had no memory of what had betid, though he felt heavy hearted and foreboding of ill to come; but at last he called to mind the garden in the wilderness; and he said to himself that now he had done amiss and was become the thrall of the Lady; and thought that now it was of no avail striving against her and her wiles, and that he would enter the Great House that very day. But he thought again and called to mind how nigh the time was when he should keep tryst with Isolde, and he said that at least he would wait till then & tell her all that had betid, and abide what she would do with him and in all wise do her bidding. Then he gat a thought into his mind, and he did off the gay & scented raiment which he had worn yesterday, and did on his churle’s raiment again, and so girt his sword to him and went his ways into the thicket of the woods. ¶ Forsooth it was in his mind to go seek that fair garden once more, to see if it was verily there; for he had an inkling that belike all that had befallen there was a dream, or at least some glamour that had been cast over him, all save and except that holding of the Lady in his arms, whereof he was now both sorry and somewhat afeared.
NOW he deemed that he might well find that place whence they first saw the garden: for he had noted
signs in the woodland, as broken blasted trees, and rocks, and the like as he went thither with [the] Lady: Wherefore now he followed up the selfsame path where they had gone yesterday, and at last he was come to that very place, as he knew well; for close beside where they had stayed to look at the said garden was a rock of strange shape like to a man sitting on a chair with his hands laid on his knees: so that when Michael looked on it again he deemed it had verily been once so shapen by man’s hand, but had now been worn away by wind & weather. ¶ So when Michael had stood there he looked to where was the garden of yesterday & stared astonished, for there was no garden before him, nought save a wood lawn amidst of the thicket, somewhat rough with grey stones scattered about it, & here and there a thorn tree. Moreover sitting on a great stone under a thorn, as if it were a chair of state, was the Lady herself once more clad as one of the Queens of the world, and standing on either side of her as if in worship a halfscore of her woman [sic].
NOW when Michael saw this his mind misgave him that he had been dealt with guilefully, and when he had stood still a minute and looked on it all, and none of the women heeded him or looked his way he turned him about to depart by the way he had come. But forthwith came forth from that worn image or rock the evil dwarf who had given the message to him before, who cried out to him now and said; Ho fair sir! Be not so hasty! Meseems my Lady will be for seeing thee and saying a word to thee; so I will lead thee into thither if it be thy will. ¶ He grinned foully on Michael, who saw no way of naysaying him, and went his ways to the Lady. She hailed him as he stood before her, and forsooth she seemed right merry and of a kind and cheerful countenance;
the damsels who stood about her there were nought merry, but were doleful of countenance, hanging their heads, and clasping their hands together, and some weeping outright; they were all clad in strait black gowns with chains at their wrists & ankles. ¶ Now the Lady smiled on Michael and said: Forrester we have greeted thee; but now I look on thee I deem thee scarce worthy of greeting. Or why is it that thou hast gone back to thy churlish attire? Why is the butter-fly gone back to the grub again? Here have we been holding a court in the wild-wood and rebuking some of them that have done amiss. Art thou not also worthy of rebuke? beware, Forrester, beware! ¶ But though she used harsh words her voice was sweet & wheedling. He spoke to her but boldly: Lady, I knew not that thou gavest me command, but rather bade me if I would, to wear the gay dress for three days: now yesterday I wore it, whereby I dreamed at midday so that I was afraid, and today I put it from me least I should dream again and be more afraid. ¶ What! said the lady & was the dream so dreadful? ¶ Yea said Michael, for one who is but a churl’s son. And he looked steadily on her. She changed not colour a whit, but she laughed merrily and said; Well thou art in the right not to make many words about dreams, be they fearful or not. But they who dream willingly should not chide the dream-master. Now if thou wilt, thou mayest kneel down and kiss my hand and go thy ways. Or if thou wilt, thou mayst abide here till the Court is over, and the guilty doomed. But in any case thou wilt do wisely to don the fair raiment we sent thee as soon as thou mayest. ¶ So Michael knelt before her, and kissed her hand coldly enough, and then arose and made his obeisance and went his ways.
HE went somewhat hastily at first lest the lady should
send some one of her dwarfs to bring him back; for sooth to say he deemed it not good to abide with the lady as then; but for as speedy as he was, he gat him not clean out of earshot of that court, as the lady called it ere the sound of shrieking and wailing came along the wind to him; whereby he fairly took to his heels and ran, that he might hear no more, for he deemed that it came from some of those damsels whom the dwarfs were tormenting. So to go the swifter he took the ways of the wood that were easiest and they led him a good way from his dwelling and northward somewhat: and so at last when he had run a long way, he stopped to breathe him, and sat down on the bank of a little stream that ran through the wood there, which was thinner than it was about his house]. ¶ There then he sat a long while pondering his case; and whiles indeed it seemed to him that he had had his fill of adventures already, since he had left Hart-wood End; yea, and might come to have even somewhat more than enough of them; and he said to himself that if he might but know out [sic] what way lay the getting from that wood that moment, and none later were the best for fleeing. And this weighed so heavy on him as he pondered it that at last he arose, and when he had knelt down and drunk of that running water, he got to the way again, still going northward.
SOME way he went, but not very far before he stopped again, for it had come into his mind that he must seek to the tryste with Isolde from his own dwelling lest he should stray from the road she had bidden him take; and sore he longed for the day of tryste; for he deemed that Isolde would show him the way how to win out of that accursed wood, and he would await her somewhere without it; yea or she would lead him out herself, and they never to come back again, but to seek some place in the world where they might dwell happily together:
and as he thought of this it seemed [s]o piteous sweet to him that the tears came into his eyes, and he wept and sobbed for love and longing. Then he turned about and began to go slowly towards his dwelling according to his deeming of where it was; but a loathing of it came over him, so that he abhorred the thought of opening its door, and finding that solitude awaiting him, spied about as it was by those half-devils who did the bidding of the Lady. Howsoever he went on steadily though his heart began to falla when his head had been turned a little toward the House of Pleasure. For withal he began to doubt in his mind whether Isolde would keep tryste with him, since he had been beguiled to lie in the arms of the Lady. And then he bethought him that belike Isolde knew nought thereof and might never know. But once more he said: Yea, but she shall know, for that shall be the first thing I shall tell her when we meet, and there shall be no lie between us. And his heart rose for a little, but drooped again, and he spake aloud and said: Yea but why then did she not suffer me to kiss and caress her? then had I been hers verily, and should not have fallen into the snare of the Lady. Evil is it! both my longing and hers that is like to be a barren tree without fruit.
THUS he communed with himself while the way was long to him; and now was the forenoon gone, for what between his running and his resting, he had gone a good way from the parts of the wood about his house; and on the way back he had strayed some what and even now was doubtful of his way, and the afternoon was wearing. ¶ As he had spoken those words aloud he deemed he heard a rustling in the bushes beside him, and was a little dismayed thereat, for the day was without wind, and even the thought of the dwarfs’ spying weighed upon him. Howbeit he saw nought for a while. But presently he was
at fault concerning the way and stood still to consider it. Then the bushes sundered, & forth came that master of the dwarfs, & hailed him grinning for malice and prying. The Michael started back aghast at the meeting, but the dwarf said: Nay master forrester, there is nought for thee to fear in me – as yet. I did but see thee doubtful of the way and thought I would make it straight for thee: it is nought so far, and it were well for thee to get thither speedily. Come now with me striding, as the wont of thee is, & in a few minutes thou shalt be on the right path, which forsooth, thou wert best not to miss. ¶ Said Michael shortly; I have no mind to miss it; and therewith he went alongside the dwarf smothering what he might his loathing of him & the shame that went with it.
IN some ten minutes’ wearing the Dwarf stayed and said to Michael; Lo there the straight path, fair sir; and if ye will do by my counsel, ye will dally not but will get thee home to thy lodge speedily, and when thou art within, will do on the fair raiment which our Lady did do send thee: else belike thou wilt yet come into court. Therewith he screwed up a horrible grin: but Michael made as if he heeded him not, and would have passed on his way; but the dwarf made as if he would yet stay him, and said: Forrester, why dost thou not ask me somewhat concerning our manner of justice in this land, and how we deal with them that be ill-liked of our Lady? ¶ Then wrath blazed up in Michael and he said: Wretch, I will ask nought of thee till thou standest before my naked sword, and then
forsooth shall my words be few. And therewith he thrust the Dwarf aside and went speedily down the path: but the Dwarf let up a howl ending ending in a grim laugh which beat round about Michael[’]s ears as he strode one [sic], and made all the woodland hateful to him; and indeed he repented somewhat that he had broken out on him, (though for that time at least nought of evil came of it) for what has one to do to drag the Devil to mass perforce.
MICHAEL went no long way before he was come into the parts of the wood that he knew, and by then the light was beginning to fail was come into the thicket which hedged his own wood-lawn. There he stayed before he turned toward his house, and looked from behind the tree-trunks expecting to see something of good or evil come there before him; and his heart bade him hope to see Isolde waiting for him there. ¶ Sure enough he saw beheld something white & shining, as it had been a piece of the moon, lying on the grass some five yards from him; and lo it was the Lady of Pleasure, so clad that it her body was no more hidden than if clear water were eddying about her. Then At that sight he flushed red, what for shame what for wrath, and for a minute wotted not what he should do, while the lady lay there moving but little, as if she were but hearkening to the song of the nightingales that sang in full choir about the woodlawn, and by seeming knowing nought that he was close beside her.
AS for Michael, he thought at first that he would turn aside swiftly and get him to his house, and make
fast the door, and then go to sleep, if he might, and let the morrow bring counsel: but again he thought, that then would his house be beset by the Lady and her spies, and that better it were to face the trouble at once – Yet and moreover it must be said howsoever heart free he were as to the Lady, nay & though he feared her & even hated her somewhat, yet his blood was stirred at the sight of that beauty of her, which, as he wotted well, so desired him. ¶ Anyhow he strode forth from the trees, and she raised herself a little on her elbow, and turned her head toward him and said: What does the man to stride over us as we lie at rest? is the churl weary of life. ¶ Nay Lady, said Michael, I am nought weary of life, I deem that I have still somewhat to do on the earth. But I am come hither because I deemed that thou sendedst for me, and in these woods all must needs obey thee. ¶ She reddened nought, nor did her face change in any way, but her voice changed and caressing came into it as she said: O Forrester, O my friend is it thou? I knew thee not in thy rough and coarse attire. Forsooth I came hither seeking thee, since thou hast been kind to me but I scarce looked to find thee here. ¶ He answered nought but stood looking across the wood lawn into the darkling thicket, & she said smiling upon him: Thou wert in a hurry to leave as of late, so familiar as we were but yesterday. He flushed red and spake: Didst thou bid me depart, Queen? Yea my voice did, quoth she, but not my face or my hand. ¶ He said: What might I do? Thou wert busy with matters of justice. She laughed: It was but a play, dear lad, and thou mightest have abided the ending thereof: but thou hast excused thyself, and that is enough. I pardon thee or pray thy pardon which thou wilt. Sit down by me a while before day is quite done. ¶ But he stood there yet, surlily and said: Here in these woods thou art wholly Queen and mayest do thy will; yet I will ask of thee
this; how was that a play when shrieks & wailing smote upon my ears till I fled far away? ¶ She laughed merrily and said: Fair lad, there be many strange sounds for those who walk these woods; and whiles strange sights withal: for it is not with us as in the dull world without the wood; but many things befal here of which we wot nothing. As for me I heard nought of the shrieking & wailing. But hast thou not heard that I have bidden thee sit beside me on the grass? And therewith she herself sat up, and fell to toying with the broidered trim of that woven wind of her gown. And Michael gazed on her loveliness and as one compelled sat down slowly beside her, and she put out a hand to him, and took his hand and caressed it, and then let her shoulder meet his, and drew her whole body to him, while he spake nought and scowled. But she said: Fair art thou even in thy churles attire: but why shouldst thou not be fairer: wilt thou not do on the goodly array which I sent thee: lo lo now the sun is set, but the moon will soon be up, and if thou wilt I will take thee by the hand and show thee fair things; Yea also may be things which thou wouldst deem wonders, though they be nought wonderful to us. ¶ He said nought and he felt grown a-cold to her, and his soul sank within him, for that attire had grown hateful to him, since he had it his mind that spell work went with it: Yea and somewhat he hated the woman herself, whereas he knew in his heart that the time would come when she [would] deal evilly and cruelly with him, and that slaying him would be the least of the evils she would lay on him: so as thought of all this stirred him he shrank from her and rose up and stood upon his feet; and she arose also and stood before him and said to him in a voice that was wheedling yet: Hast thou no heard me, fair lad? Surely it lyeth in thine house, that raiment: wilt thou not go
and do it on, & come out to me and make the early night fair. And she fawned upon him, laying her hands on his bosom. But it seemed to him that however she were called. Queen and Lady, she was but a woman; yet he desired her now in no way, wherefore he waxed stern & hard and spake to her roughly & said: There is falseness in the raiment, and I will not do it on. Yea and even now thou didst lie to me concerning thy court and the tormenting of thy damsels. ¶ She answered still wheedlingly yet withal somewhat pettishly, and said: Wilt thou be wroth with me for that? I deemed that wouldst have me say pleasant things to thee: and forsooth there was not one of them that might not carry her grief away on her own feet. What have they to do with thee. Then she spake beseechingly and said: I pray thee not to make thyself mine enemy, but go and do on that raiment, and we shall yet be happy tonight. ¶ Nay, he said, Let come what will come never will I do it on; and he drew away from her. But she sprang at him, and smote him on the face with her clenched hand, crying out Go, fool go! And therewithal turned and went her ways hastily.
AS for Michael, she had smitten him so hard that he staggered under the blow, yet he smiled, and was not ill-pleased at first; but presently called to mind that she was all might for evil, she and her dwarf servants; and therewith he turned toward his house, going slowly, and thinking as he went: and he said to himself I will go into my house and lie close there, and abide what shall befall me; which may be shall be the sending of the dwarf wretches, & then torments and death; or yet may be some help from Isolde. But then again he thought within himself: Nay but she will not send her dwarfs to deal with me; else had she not smitten me with her own hand, nor departed with anger so open: rather she would have turned from me with a smile on her face, & sweet words withal:
This was but the anger of the lover that reneweth love. ¶ By this time was he come to his house, and he stayed him at the door thereof and bethought him; Nay I will not abide her here: it lacks but of the day of my tryste with Isolde; I will the road she bade me and abide her there; and she shall find me there instead of her me. ¶ So he went into the house, and gat together some victual and put it in his satchel, and did his satchel over his shoulder; he took his bow and quiver of arrows withal and went forth from the house again. Night had fallen by now but the moon was was up and shining brightly; so he deemed that he might well steer his course through the glimmering wood; so he fell to the work and went on with little rest night long, but was still in the thicket when day broke: but he was nought discomforted thereby whereas he remembered that Isolde had given him no time wherein he should win out of the wood into the hill country whereof she had told. So he went on his ways at all adventure, comforting his heart with many hopes[.]
MICHAEL went till the sun was up and judged that he had not gone far wrong, and at any rate knew that he was going north more or less, so that he must happen on the river under the hills sooner or later. Little he rested him day-long, and at by two hours before sunset had gone so far that the great wood was thinning and he began to see clear country beyond the trees. ¶ Presently after this the wood came verily to an end, and by the last of the sunset he could see a hilly land before him, and between him and it a grassy plain, not much bushed. Nor aught darker than the [gap?]
upon him ere he came at last to a river which he deemed was that whereof Isolde had spoken. In good sooth it was no great stream, but he would not try to ford it by the failing light, although he deemed it fordable hard by the place where he fell in with it. So he laid him down on the bank under a thorn, with his naked sword and bent bow close to his hand, and fell into a deep sleep, for he was utterly weary.
WHEN he woke up he found that the sun was high so he arose and looked about him, and saw no token of the habitation of mankind: it was mere wilderness, howbeit goodly enough, the stream clear and rippling, and the bents on its further side well-grassed and flowery, and not utterly without trees, oak and ash for the most part; but hazels grew here and there, mixed with other berry trees and chiefly the of the quicken-tree on the green sward betwixt the hill-side and the river. ¶ Now he remembered Isolde’s bidding again, and without more ado set to work to find a ford, and presently found one which he deemed safe, and crossed thereby and it scarce took him up to the girdle-stead. And when he was safe on the other side, he stood a while agaze on the dark line of the trees of the wood, and his heart rose with joy to think that he had at last won out of it. But then again he thought within himself of his abode on the woodlawn, and it lying all empty; and he wondered if any had sought him there; and chiefly if the Lady[']s accursed dwarfs had visited it: and then again he asked his own heart if he believed altogether in Isolde’s tale of the crossing of that little river being a safe-guard to him: then he sat him down & let his mind go to and fro about the tangle of his thoughts, till from his weariness he fell asleep, but woke himself soon because of the doubt and fear that was in his heart. Then he ate a morsel from his satchel & drank of the river, and then turned about toward the hillside, and went up the bent till he came to a little hollow
therin a mere cup of green-sward, on the side of which grew a thick-leafed quicken-bush; and there he laid him down and would struggle no more with his weariness and the load of slumber that was heavy on him; all the more as if Isolde kept tryst according to the very words of her bidding he had yet three days to wear away before he might look to see her.
Chapter Isolde comes to the trysting place and tells Michael how matters had gone betwixt her and the Lady of the House of Pleasure.
LONG he slept, as was no wonder, so weary as he had been with his eighteen hours wending, and when he woke again the sun was low down in the heavens: he lay half awake, so to say for a little without moving, with a confused sense of some one being anigh him; but presently he raised himself on his elbow and looked to his left side, and lo! there was Isolde sitting in the hollow-side in the last of the long shadow of the quicken-tree ¶. He sprang to his feet at once for as dizzy as he was with sleep, and he thought that she smiled happily upon him, So he cried out; Is it thou thyself or a dream of thee? ¶ 'Tis nought else but me, she said, and I in the very flesh. ¶ Yea he said but have I slept three days, or is this the evening of the day whereon I crossed the river? ¶ She said: It is but that evening. And she laughed and said; wilt thou make a grievance of it that I am come before the time of tryst? O nay nay! said he; but tell me wherefore thou art come thus. Was it to find me, and hath aught gone amiss? O Michael, she said, it was seeking thee that I came hither, for I knew that thou wouldst come
hither after thy flight from the Forrester’s House. Yea my friend much hath gone amiss; but not with us meseemeth.
SHE sat there still, looking like a picture of smiling content, and he said: Thou seemest to me to be happy: What hath befallen? ¶ I will tell thee anon, she said, but true it is that I am happy. Then he drew nearer to her and knelt before her, and put his palms together as one praying, and said; Perchance thou wilt naysay me once again, yet I will beseech thee to suffer me kiss thine hand. She flushed rosy red and put forth both her hands to him [the palms downward] and he caught hold of them eagerly and kissed them many times all about; and when he had done he held them still & said: O me! now I am happy as thou art; and yet must I risk it all and pray to kiss thy cheek. ¶ She turned her cheek towards him & shut her eyes and he kissed her cheek scarce believing in his joy – and then he thought to ask her if he might kiss her mouth, but the words would not come; so he drew her to him, and cast his arms about her, and kissed her lips, and she kissed him again, and the tears ran down her face, but yet for a while she ceased not to kiss him. Then she said to him: O friend, now, and for this moment I am belike happier than thou; but when I have told thee all that hath befallen, happiness may flit from me, and it may be from thee also. Wherefore hold aloof from me for a little till my tale is done. For it will be grievous both for me and thee if thou curse me after my face hath become familiar to thee because of thy kisses. ¶ None of this shall be, said he, but every moment thou shalt become dearer to me; and that the more as thy body becometh more familiar to me. Yet will I do thy bidding and sit here hearkening thee. For meseemeth the days are changed.
¶ Then again she reddened and cast her eyes down, and thereafter fell to the tale without more tarrying.
CHANGED indeed are the days, though but a few of them have worn since we met. Now I must tell thee this, that so soon as I saw thee I knew well that our Lady would cast her love on thee (what love she hath to give) so soon as she saw thee, yea or even so soon as she heard tell of thee; and I wotted withal that this might come nought but miserable death to me & miserable life to thee; from which I would save us both if I might; and well could I see without wizardry, wherein I am not unlearned, that down yonder there was nought for it but to set lust against lust, and hatred against hatred. ¶ She stayed her words a while and looked anxiously on Michael, but could see nought in him save that his eyes were devouring her, and that he was longing for her sorely: So she went on. Now I could do little save warn thee to be wary before she went to meet thee in the wood on that day when I was following her; but when she came back leading thee I could tell by many tokens that she loved thee, and would heed no love else till she grew all weary of thee; and that whereas she would revenge herself cruelly on any who should cast eyes on thee, she would heed little aught that might befall her loves of afore time, of whom be yet three thriving in the House of Pleasure, besides the King’s Son who was her lover until she set eyes on thee. Though perchance she was somewhat awearied of him even before that: yet not so weary that but that she would have made any one of us rue our love or liking for him had she found it out[.]
¶ Now when I had noted this, my way became clear to me. Thou knowest, for the man himself will have told thee, that the Kings Son aforesaid hath become wearied of the Lady, and casteth his love upon me.
Now there was no safety either for thee or for me, (seeing how dearly we loved each other from the hour we first met) save in my beguiling the Lady into deeming that I loved the Kings Son. Sooth to say nigh every day he gave me occasion for putting this snare before her. Hitherto I had held him aloof both because I feared the wrath of the Lady, as I well might, but chiefly because I loved him not at all. For he is feeble-hearted in his life, and little hearted in his love, so that he might become both false and cruel on occasion. Yet though I would not suffer him to put out a hand to me, nay nor say a soft word to me if I might help it, yet I had compassion on him seeing he is both fair and young, and no ill companion, it nought befal to try his friendship. Wherefore if he would but chain up his love, I would speak friendly with him, and had, before thou camest, hearkened to a word of his concerning fleeing from that hell; for I thought I might compass it, if I could once bring him to yonder edge of the wood without his betraying me. Howbeit sore was the peril therein, he being so little-hearted, and so fearful of the Lady. ¶ Quoth Michael; And if he had betrayed thee and thou hast fallen into the hands of the Lady, what would have befallen thee? Would she have suffered thee to live. ¶ Isolde laughed: Yea, she said till I had borne all the bitterness of death: I should nowise have died simply, or soon.
WELL, she said let that be. Anyhow I knew now what I had to do, and I must needs go through with it though it was loathsome to me. Ere that day was out the Kings Son gat privy words with me in a lone place of the woods, and fell to talking with me concerning our flight, and he would have me see to it straight way; for all that was hard therein, and perilous, and that needed to be dealt with wisely that would he
leave to me. Howbeit I yea said him, and gave my word that we would try it within fourteen days. Yet I told him then and there that I must needs have thee with us. Whereat he became jealous and sour, saying that it would spoil all: for he also had noted that the Lady had begun to cast her love upon thee. Quoth he; now my Lady hath gotten a new toy, is it the time of all times to flee from her; but if we meddle with her loves then are we un- done. Yea and what is this man to thee? I said that it was in my heart to atone for my griefs and misdoings, by freeing a simple soul from the snare, and helping a valiant man in need. He gloomed on me and was sullen; so then I turned on him and bade him consider it whether he might escape without my helping; and when he still kept silence sullenly; I said to him; see thou to it
[f. 66] [not bound in volume]
the King’s Son & Carle’s Son Wood beyond the World Plots of two stories
Isolde knows that the Queen is in love with Michael: and thinks that the only way to blind her and prevent the ruin of both M & herself is to pretend love for the King’s Son, and she lets herself be caught with him kissing & caressing, & is brought to the Q by the dwarfs: the Q doubtful if she is not in love with Michael pretends great anger, and threatens them both. I sees her game (since she did no more than threaten) and to clench the matter lets the King’s Son lie with her; (taking care that she shall be betrayed) which happened the day before the time Mi: was with the Queen in the glamour garden. Again the Queen proclaims great anger throws the Kings Son into prison: threatens Isolde & sends for her tormentors but does nothing but throw I into prison also. It is under the excitement of seeing all this love business going on that she comes to M in the morning. The next morning after her rejection she has I out of prison again being doubtful of the affair still and threatens her: perhaps does have her tortured some what, and I confesses that M had seen her & fallen in love with her but she would not have anything to say to him nor would let him kiss her. And again says that she is utterly in love with the Kings Son. The Q kisses her to see if she tastes of M and finding she does not believes her. In the middle of all this comes in the dwarf, and says that Mich- has gone, the Q bids him go after him: he says maliciously that I will know where he has gone to. Q calls on Is to say and she tells the Queen without ado, & the Queen says bring M back to me and I will forgive you about the Kings Son, and you can come together: otherwise I will torture you to death whatever I do with him. Off goes I. & gets to M- to whom she tells all this. She being gone the Queen is happy a while but presently has jealous doubts reflects that I & M can go away together in spite of her dwarfs if they like. So she goes to K.S. prison takes him out & begins carressing him but he repulses her. Then she (in pretence) flies out at him, & says she will kill Is. He says he can’t he loves Is: she says do you though well go and bring her & you shall have her on condition that you bring back M. (He needn’t know that Qs power ceases after they have crossed the river) She will want to come back & the two of you together can easily delude M. into coming
back. My dwarf will show you the way & arm you. He says does she want to do any harm to M. She says no she loves him: that makes him rather jealous again but he goes. The dwarfs bring him through the wood and arm him at the edge of it. He crosses in his armour, and finds the two making much of each other: gets in an awful rage forgets all about the Queen rushes at M with his sword drawn; but M. much the stronger man runs in & throws him and then mashes his head with a rock. Is. is sorry but loves M no less: they go off together, and come to a city where the people are going to make the next comer king if he has killed at least one enemy: they ask him what he has done & he tells them so they make him king. Afterwards he goes to Hartwood End: and wants to bring his father & mother away with him: his father says he wont leave his lineage but his mother goes with him & so an end.
Plot of a tale.
Some up country people of good lineage. One of their chief men riding through the woods finds a beautiful woman alone and in distress and brings her home: he finds she is big, and she presently bears a daughter: the man is married and has two sons: who grow up with the woman’s daughter: said woman is wise, and teaches her daughter wizardry – but the mother dies when her daughter is still young, say 14 the two brothers begin to fall in love with her but even when she grows into womanhood she loves neither but is friendly with both: she finds they are likely to quarrel desparately so she sets to work finding what she can do by spell-work and lures a King to come to their village. (A merchant tells the King about her) King gets there (following a white hart) is feasted by the carl sees the girl and makes love to her She likes him but is not sure of herself and does not want to go from there after all: but tells him if he will do some great deed which will make him seem godlike to her she may. So the King: goes away after swearing to the carl on the relics that he will come to help him when he sends to him: (King is not known for King by any of them) Meantime the merchant has let out about the girl to a certain young knight who gets him to take him as a merchant to the yearly fair: the girl meantime has got to like one of the brothers and thinks she will marry him but when she sees this knight she falls desparately in love with him. Now war comes on the land and the Carl bethinks him of his guest, and sends one of his sons to the Abbey where he is to be heard of. the lad goes there and asks after such an one (the feigned name of the King)
|Transcribed by Matt Runkle, 2014|