9-4 translation (gaelic)

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A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

9.4 (Fall 2009)


translation (Gaelic)


courtesy of artrenewal.org


The Adventure of Melóra and Orlando

Translated from Irish Gaelic by John R. Harris

The text of this short romance has been drawn from Dhá Sgéal Artúraíochta (Two Arthurian Tales), a slender volume edited by Máire Mhac an tSaoi (Baile Átha Cliatha/Dublin: Institiúid Ard-Léinn, 1984 [first published 1946]), 1-41.  In her forward, the editor acknowledges that the earliest known manuscript of the tale (and there are two extant copies of this ms., indicating that it enjoyed a certain popularity) dates from 1679.  A few scholars have inferred that a poet who inserted several of his verse compositions into the 1679 manuscript, Eóghan Ó Donnghaile by name, may also have recorded this version of the Eachtra Mhelóra agus Orlando (Adventure of Melora and Orlando).  The case is mere surmise, however; and besides, even if Ó Donnghaile were responsible for the transcription of our version, we must suppose that its contents had drifted about the Irish landscape in something like the present form for perhaps a century or more (cf. n. 25 below).

     In other words, this delightful romance, though it reflects several qualities of a literate outlook (e.g., the kinds of virtue promoted and the main character’s recurrent ability to repress or disguise her emotions), evinces even more qualities typical of oral traditions (e.g., alliteration, synonymy, and formularity).  As I see it, the Eachtra Mhelóra is thus a brilliant example of that missing link between the oral and the literate so seldom studied and so little understood by scholars.  Its style and environment may most fairly be called “transitional”, I think.  At the very least, we have a story-teller (called the romancier in my footnotes) who not only writes but possesses a certain knowledge of worlds beyond his or her tribal universe, possibly even a literary familiarity with the ancient classics—yet who can compose in the fashion of a non-literate scéalaí regaling simple peasants on long winter nights.

     If circumstances allow, I hope to build a case for this view of the tale in the next issue of Praesidium.  For now, I offer the tale itself in translation as a pleasant diversion—a bedtime story—for those who have had enough of our contemporary world in incessant crisis.


     There was a time when Arthur, son of Uther, son of Ambrose, son of Uther Pendragon, was king in his stronghold and fair city: the Castle of the Red Hall, it was.  And the king was thus in his grandeur: no king nor prince round about the wide world had more knights, young and noble and valiant and vigorous, among his entourage than Arthur.  For no king nor lofty lord in the four corners of the world but had sent a son or a brother to the household of King Arthur.

It happened at about this time that Arthur had a daughter, beautiful and of an age to marry, whose name was Melóra.  This daughter surpassed the children of all the world’s kings and lords in face and frame, in polish and practice and proper instruction, and in every virtue fitting to the daughter of a king or high prince.  It happened to this daughter on a certain night that she saw a dream or vision that wrought much trouble upon her mind.  And it is this that she saw: it seemed to her that the sun rose in the south,[1] and that a shaft of that sunlight came and struck her face and her eyes and high in her chest, and that she was full of joy and mirth from the shining force that she drew from that shaft.  And that afterwards came a knight upon a black horse between her and the shaft of sun, and that the brilliance of the shaft was smothered for her so that not a thing was clear to her.  And that the branch of a palm tree came into her hand, and that she struck the knight of the black horse a blow of the palm branch and that he fell dead of that blow.  And that the shaft of sunlight shone upon her again, in such a manner that she fancied that the entire sun was streaming through a lovely narrow cleft.

After she had awakened from that sleep, a great anxiety seized her.  And on the morrow, what she did was to go in search of the most wise and knowledgeable druid of the king’s court—Merlin, his name was—and to reveal to him the dream from beginning to end.  Said Merlin:

“Princess,” said he, “a king’s son will come from the south of the world seeking your hand, and you shall bear him love; and though that should be, there will be placed division between you by other men and wicked, the way that you and he will find a greatness of hurts and worries before it will fall your lot to be together.  But all the same, to you shall befall the bringing of every grief and worry to its finish and its end.  Though that be so, not without great travail shall you do it.”

That said, the story was not a long time unfolding for her.  For there happened to be at this time a king a-ruling Thessaly, noble, regal, fair-minded, even-handed, whose name was Gustavus.  To this king happened to belong a son young and proud, high-minded and keen-witted, to the utmost strong and skillful and skirmish-savvy, of face and form and fine manners best among all men young or old the wide world round: his name, Orlando.  And the tales and testimonies about this lad had reached every far-flung corner of the great earth.

But by the same token, the fame and reputation of the Castle of the Red Hall’s household had gone round about the four-cornered earth, and especially to the King of Thessaly, so that a raging desire seized Orlando, son of the King of Thessaly, to go pass a season of his life at the Castle of the Red Hall.  And this plan was pressed home by him, and he sought leave of the king, and the king gave him that leave with his blessing and made ready everything that it were fitting for a king’s son or royal prince to take in travel and adventure.

And the night before his departure, the lad saw a dream and a vision, and the dream that appeared to him was thus: it seemed to him that he was in a garden of viney herbs, and that there was a lofty lovely tree in that garden upon which were fruits and apples ripe and smooth of the greatest beauty he had ever seen, and that he stretched a hand to harvest the most beautiful apple he saw upon the tree, and that after stretching his hand there came a poisonous snake upon him and wrapped him about his two ankles and lay him low, and that he was thus in bondage to the poisonous snake until it happened that the apple toward which he had stretched his hand fell from the tree upon the snake, so that it made two halves of the poisonous snake and freed Orlando from his bondage.[2]

Orlando  awoke after that, and he was ever thinking upon the dream until the day came.  And once the day had risen to its full shining, Orlando arose and went to the druid of his father’s that was face to face with wisdom and learning, and he revealed the dream to him.  And it’s this that the druid said:

“You shall bear love,” said he, “to a woman of great state and great beauty, and she shall bear the same to you.  And no sooner shall you win her than you shall have a greatness of toil and travail, and you shall be in great danger of death,” said he.  “Though it were so, it is that same woman that will bring release to you at last and will relieve you of every care, and the two of you will be happy and ever joined one to the other from then out.”

After that judgment that the druid passed upon his dream, Orlando put his hand to the task and went aboard a ship.  And there was no delaying made by him until he reached the Castle of the Red Hall where were King Arthur and his family.  And after his coming to that settlement, word reached King Arthur of the son of the King of Thessaly’s coming to pay his respects.  The King of the World sent a company of his knights more noble and highly honored than the rest to spread greetings before him and to bring him to the castle.  And after coming into King Arthur’s presence, the prince dropped upon his knees and made other marks of humility and honor to him, and he said that he had come at his father’s request to wait upon him and do him service, and he acknowledged the high authority belonging to King Arthur over the kings and lofty lords of the world.  The king seized him by the hand after that and spread welcome before him, and ordered a place and setting made for him at the Round Table, as would befall the sons of kings and lofty lords most esteemed and honored by the King of the World.  Whatever’s to be said of that, there was not king nor high prince nor man nor woman of all that household who was not seized by wonder and marvel at the son of the King of Thessaly’s youth and beauty and grace of way, and by the polish in his words and his converse and in every skill befitting the son of a king or high prince.  For steep and plenty in its number was that healthy household, yet not a one but Orlando surpassed him in every gallantry.

As for Melóra, daughter of the King of the World, after seeing the son of the King of Thessaly, she found neither sleep nor rest nor respite, but only her fill of confused, madly dashing thoughts, nor could she take her eye from him in any place where she might see him.  And no less was it so for him on his part, for the face and lovely ways of Melóra were ever wounding his heart and stealing away his sleep and peace and desire of food and drink.  Though it were so, fear would not let him declare himself to her nor any other, for he did not know friend from enemy in this castle yet.

Whatever’s to be said of that, the practice at about this time in the settlements of kings and lofty lords was the game of jousting jeopardy and all-out assault, and the game was thus: horse-handling, and handy moves, and a breaking of lances upon bodies and bones one man of the other, and a commemorating of stamina and heart-strength and of warcraft and battle-passion; and it was the practice of those feats that was commemorated in the Castle of the Red Hall, a place where the children of the wide world’s kings were in a single space.  But by now it was all the same, for to Orlando fell the victory of each game and each attack and each defense, so that the King of the World was drawn to favor and delight in him and bestowed love and lasting fondness upon him over any other, and to him he allowed privileges and private converse.  And thus he was admitted for food and drink to the royal table and for pastime into Melóra’s room, so that it came about therefrom that he revealed his heart to her and that they made an equal pledge of love between them, and that they took a vow either one not to stray from the other on pain of death and damnation.

There happened to be in the Castle of the Red Hall at that time a knight brave and battle-tested whose name was Sir Mador, son of the King of Spain—a plotting, prideful man, was he, who bore Melóra a hidden love.  And Melóra would often perceive that in him though fear would not let him declare himself openly to her.  Whatever’s to be said of that, it was seen by this Sir Mador that Orlando had drawn so close to the king and Melóra that there was no reason for himself to be a-hoping Melóra would ever be his, and no hope for himself as long as she would bestow favor and pleasure upon Orlando for the wondrous greatness of his feats and fine manners.  And what he did from then out was to give hatred and loathing to Orlando, and to put lying misreport between him and the other knights to find if from that might come to be drawn upon him the hatred of the king and his household, and if by strength of that the prince might possibly leave court and return to his own land.  Though it were so, not thus did it happen.  For there was that greatness of good will borne by the king and his household to Orlando, and of excellence in his deeds and decorous ways, that Orlando’s station and status increased daily.  After Sir Mador saw that his plot did not take hold, he bethought him of another plot, and it was this: to approach the wise, insightful druid belonging to the King of the World whose name was Merlin and to tempt him with half his land.  And it’s this that he said:

“Merlin,” said he, “there is a secret business for me to reveal to you if you would give your pledge to me to make a quiet little bundle of it.  And if you should manage to advance the matter that I should say to you, I would give the recompense pronounced by your own mouth to you, though it were the rule of my territory and native land and all that should fall within its borders from this out till the end of time.”

“Reveal to me everything that moves in your mind,” said Merlin, “and if I be not able to advance it, I will do all that we may manage to your profit, and though that fail, the very least thing we shall accomplish is to keep it bundled up forever.”

“If it’s so,” said Sir Mador, “long has there been love and eternal affection in me for Melóra daughter of the King of the World, and not yet have I revealed my affection to her.  And now I see that Orlando son of the King of Thessaly is a private and personal favorite, and forever in the king’s company, so much that I am decided that he has foiled every plot of mine through which I would have been able to wrest Melóra’s favor in my direction.  And if you should succeed,” said he, “in destroying Orlando, or at least in drawing the hatred of the king and Melóra upon him, there is nothing that might ever be under my authority that would not befall you to dispose of and rule for all time,” said he.

“Patience be upon you,” said Merlin, “and I will give you my hand on it that neither much nor heavy shall the son of the King of Thessaly encumber you nor anyone else from this out forever, but that I shall find chance and occasion to ply my druidical learning upon him.”  For it was thus that was Merlin: not in the four-cornered earth was there a man of his day more deadly-straight and on-target in druidical spells and devilry than he.

Mirthful was Sir Mador at that response, and they were so until a certain day when it was needful for the son of the King of Thessaly to go for a time into the Forest of Wonders, that he might bring a wondrous, well-wrought tale from there to the King of the World.  For thus was King Arthur: a mystic stricture lay upon him lest he take meal or refreshment till a wondrous, well-wrought tale be told in his presence.[3]  And thus was the Forest of Wonders: not one day would ever pass but that a person would find such a wonder that he would never see or hear its like again.  So it happened to Orlando this day to have a need of going a while to the Forest of Wonders to see something wonderful for telling the king upon the fall of night.

Thereupon Orlando set his gear of battle and brave contest upon him and journeyed on his own and lonesome to the Forest of Wonders.  And after his going to the forest, it wasn’t long he was traveling till he saw two royal, most handsome hands without body or breast or appendages, and a sword sharp and sheer-edged in either hand of them, and they a-thumping and a-thrusting mightily, unfriendly, inimically, the way that the thunder and the rumble-thudding that was between them was heard to the forest’s four corners.  Orlando was watching them a spell of a while, and he said:

“I reckon,” said he, “that the King of the World may take his meal and his refreshment upon that wonder there.  Though it were so, I will not leave the forest until I see another wonder, for fear that the king may not be satisfied with this one.”

After that he took to traveling the forest for another while, and not long did he go till he saw an imposing, enormous ship with four extraordinary sails upon her, and neither posts nor masts nor other work of wood in her but all of thin, clear-shimmering crystal, and she a-sailing over the tops of trees and copses more swiftly than any ship upon the sea, and without any crew in her but it were the flocks of snow-white swans a-singing songs and harmonies upon the very top of that ship.  Orlando was a while watching that ship thus, and he said:

“I reckon that the King of the World may take his meal upon a story as unheard-of wondrous as that.  Though it were so, I will watch the forest another while.”

And he took to moving along another while till he saw a young man a-going before him and his head after being lopped off his trunk, and streams of blood upon his sides and shoulders from its bright-red abundance, and the head cradled at his breast and he a-combing it with a comb of elephant bone.  Orlando was a wait and a while looking on.

“Now,” said he, “it’s high time for me to leave the forest, for I believe King Arthur may take his food at any time upon a wonder less than what I’ve seen.”

And with that he turned his hand to leaving the forest, and after being a way along his return, he saw a lone youth, lofty and lively, and he but one-legged and one-armed and one-eyed, and a harp lovely-strung and lilting-sweet at his breast; and a crew of the sick and ailing, wounded men and the women who escorted them about the world, were singing to the heavenly ever-sweet song that he played upon that harp; and a bird, beautiful and luminous, was a-sitting upon the harp’s top, and the likeness of an angel from the gate of Paradise would be the lightly lifted, equally lovely accompaniment that the bird made with the harper.[4]  After Orlando had seen that, such a measure of pleasure in that music seized him that he forgot the men and women of the world, and what he did was to follow the harp into every place it took him till the evening came and the end of its melody.

And after the coming of evening to the day, Orlando saw a royal, regal castle, a wonderful, winsome palace as beautiful as eye had ever seen.  And the youth of the harp goes in, and Orlando followed him; and after Orlando’s going in, the man of the harp disappeared to him, and no more did he see him.  Though it were so, he saw everything most pleasant to the human eye within, only he did not see man or woman of the seed of Adam.  Whatever’s to be said of that, he saw a well-designed, highly refined game of chess laid upon a fetching, festive table, and one hand alone, from the shoulder down, a-playing each move from side to side of the board.[5]  And after being a spell and a while at the game, the hand lifted the pieces from the table and covered it with lustrous, full-lovely sheets and low-hanging clothes, and it placed costly, tasty foods and honeyed, heady drinks upon the table, and it arranged a lovely gilded chair on the side of the table closest to Orlando.  And Orlando understood that it was bidding him to eat his fill.  And with that, Orlando sat at the table and ate his full fill of food and drink; and there was song and melody a-playing as he ate.[6]

But thereupon, after taking that meal, he saw before him a twisted, withered, grim-hued, bedeviled old crone, and every joint and juncture of her body more sooty than the coal of a smiting blacksmith.  And it’s this that she said:

“Son of the King of Thessaly,” said she, “though pleasing to you was this place in which you came tonight, better for you that you had not come into it.”

“Why is that?” said Orlando.

“It’s that way,” said she, “because you will be in slavery and wasting and distress, without company nor conversation nor the light of sun nor moon, here in this place till the end of time,” said she.

“The stuff of horror and loathsome gloom is the tale you tell,” said Orlando, “and why should that come to pass?”

“You,” said she, “have been a-courting the daughter of the King if the World,” said she, “and there was concealed love for her in another man: Sir Mador, son of the King of Spain.  And it was seen by Sir Mador that you had entered the secret circle of the king and his daughter, and that you foiled every plot by which it was possible for him to wrest the daughter’s love his way.  And on the strength of that, he drew the great powers and spells of Merlin, King Arthur’s druid, upon you for your destruction,” said she, “and it’s Merlin that was the man of the harp who drew you here.  And you shall be without the light of sun or moon, without spoken converse or word, without anyone of men or women to see, in this place forever forward,” said she, “but for me alone that shall be a-watching you in that state; for it’s me shall be traveling and taking messages between Merlin and the world of Hell,” said she, “and Terribilis is my name,” said she.  “And I shall strike the speech from you now,” said she, “thus as Merlin ordered me, for fear that you may lift a prayer or petition to God or to the spirits.”[7]

“Before you strike my speech from me,” said Orlando, “say to me whether there be any relief from this misery ever in my destiny.”

“There is none henceforth,” said she, “but what is in three treasures to be found in the east of the world, and they are these: the lance belonging to Saladin the Great, King of Babylon, which had belonged to Longinus, one of the guards by whom the side of Jesus Christ was pierced—and nothing in the world would shatter the enchanted rock around about this cave saving that lance; and a precious gem belonging to the daughter of the King of Narsinga in western India, named a carbuncle, and ’tis with that carbuncle the darkness that is in this place might be scattered,” said she; “ and the oil of the boar of Tús belonging to the King of Asia Major—and ’tis with the tasting of that oil that speech might come back to you again.  And there is nor knight nor hero upon the rotund globe to whom it might happen to gather those three treasures,” said she.[8]

And with that, she passed her sooty, jet-black hand over the face and features of Orlando, and she struck the power of speech and utterance from him.  And she went from him after that, and light and song were throttled so that there was naught around Orlando but a cave, narrow, tight, null-and-void, a place in which we will leave him a while as a man who should be one among the inhabitants of Hell, saving only that he would think often upon the dream he had once dreamt and upon the judgment that the druid had given of it.

As for King Arthur, it was thus: he was that night without the fulfillment of his mystic stricture, and on the morrow he went together with his household to the Forest of Wonders to seek news of Orlando.  And after searching the forest, and after seeing many a wonder, of news about Orlando they found not one word, and they returned to the Castle of the Red Hall grieving and much worried.  And after that account of things had reached Melóra, daughter of the King of the World, not possible would be telling or testifying to everything of grief and dolor that she took into her mind.  And she reflected often upon the dream that she had dreamt and on the knight of the black horse that blocked the sun’s shafts from her, and she decided in her own thoughts that it was bound to be Sir Mador that had set some ruinous plot for Orlando, for it was known to her that a hidden love for her was in him, but that fear had not allowed him to declare himself.  And what she did from then out was to be most warm and welcoming to Sir Mador every place she would come upon him, to see would she wrest an admission from him about any news of Orlando in his possession.

It was thus for a spell and a while until Sir Mador came into Melóra’s room on a certain day—and she apart and alone in it—more bold than he had come any time before then, on the strength, as he thought, of his noticing that she took more pleasure in his company now than ever she had before.  And after his coming within, Melóra arose and gave greeting and set him a-sitting near beside her, and she made converse kind and caring with him, till she said:

“Sir Mador,” said she, “it’s rarely I am around you, and there is neither king nor lofty lord in this household so dear to me as you.”

“Princess,” said Sir Mador, “were I certain of that, I would be more often in your company than I am.”

“Surely,” said she, “were not a fear upon me that Orlando, son of the King of Thessaly, would set my father a-watching over me and would be coming with food and drink to me,” said she, “worse luck upon us, I would often make you know how we might keep company and converse one with the other.”

“It is well so, Princess,” said Sir Mador.  “Orlando will bring no fear upon you yourself nor upon any other person to the end of life and time.”

“If I had certainty of that,” said Melóra, “I would make plans that myself and you be able to be at the other’s pleasure any time it suited us without fear or fright,” said she.

“Princess,” said Sir Mador, “if you would give me assurance of your love, and of keeping a mystery everything I might reveal you, I would give you an account of the end that has come upon the son of the King of Thessaly,” said he.

“You do not serve your advantage,” said Melóra, “in hiding your mystery from me, for, upon my word, ’tis enough of surety for me to have revealed my love and my secret to you,” said she, “a thing I have revealed to no one before you ever.”

“That is true, Princess,” said Sir Mador, “and on the strength of my being certain of your fidelity now, I will say to you the thing that I had not thought to say to anyone till the last day of my life,” said he.  “It’s thus that it happened, Princess,” said he, “that a lasting love for you was mine, and that the fear of yourself and of your father would not permit me to declare myself.  And moreover I saw that the king had taken the son of the King of Thessaly into his inner circle, and that likewise there was full leave for him to come into your presence, and with that I reckoned that he would come between me and you and that he would thwart every single plan with which I might possibly have wrested your love my way.  And what I did was to swear lofty rewards and recompense to Merlin the druid for ruining Orlando, and Merlin did just that,” said he.

And he revealed to her from beginning to end how Orlando was in the cave of solid stone, and the stone closed upon him, and without hope of succor but through finding the three treasures we mentioned above; and that Merlin had set a mystical stricture upon any man’s winning those three treasures, by hook or by crook, who had ever put arms upon him, and that thus not a one of the children of Adam would ever get a word of news about Orlando to the end of life and time.[9]

After Melóra had heard this speech, a feeling of death and lasting doom came into her heart, and the senses of her body were blunted utterly and entirely, and what she did was to rise up to her standing for fear that Sir Mador might notice some trace of blunting upon her.  And it was a spell and a while that she could not say a word.  And once the fainting of her senses had passed from her, she spoke, and this is what she said:

“If it’s so, Sir Mador,” said she, “what I shall do is to leave this settlement without the knowledge of anyone, and to be a spell and a while away from it.  And when not a word of news will be heard about me, the king will offer great rewards and recompense to the person that may bear news about me.  And I will come then,” said she, “in unknown guise and vestments, and I will seek the judgment of my own mouth from the king in the matter of bearing news of his daughter, and the king will grant that to me, and the judgment I shall seek will be my choice of man among those of his household.  The choice I shall make is you,” said she, “and forsake not this castle though I should be right long away from it, and release not your secret to anyone in the world till I should return again,” said she.

Sir Mador departed from the room full of quickening joy and of overflowing fantasies.

Now for Melóra henceforth.  After Sir Mador’s departure, she put her royal garments from her and took upon her the garb of a knight.  And she goes from there to the storeroom of arms, and she picked out from among them choice arms and accoutrements, and she bound her fine figure in battle garb harsh, rock-hard, and cruel, and she wore a tunic of smooth blue satin upon that gear, for ’twas over the armor that the tunic would be worn in that time—a suit of armor, as it was called and known to knights of that time, on the strength that they were covered from head to foot, saving only their two eyes and their mouth and their nose.  After taking arms and garb about her in that way, she went where were the horses of the king, and she chose from among them the horse best in strength and speed and sound sense, and she went a-riding off after that.  And she traveled from the borders of Britain without a single one of the world’s people perceiving or detecting her, and she made not stay or delay for two nights in one settlement till she came to the land of Babylon.

And after her coming to that land, what she saw was settlements and strongholds a-burning and a-smoking and the land all wind-blown, grass-grown plain.  And she was going a spell and a while through the country like that until a youth came upon her in that wilderness, and after greeting the youth she sought news of him, what land was this or what had made of it a wilderness.

“It’s likely,” said the youth, “that you are ignorant of these territories, since you have no news of this land,” said the youth.

“’Tis ignorant I am, surely,” said she.

“What is the land of them all that is yours?” said the youth.

“The borders of Britain in the north of the world,” said she.  “And the Knight of the Blue Arms my name, and young, inexperienced am I, a-traveling the world for learning and for increasing the craft of weapon-wielding and war-waging.”

“It’s not of that that there is any want in this land,” said the youth.  “And the name of this land is the Land of Babylon,” said he, “and there is conflict and combat with the King of Africa upon the king of this land for a length of time now,” said he, “and he has burned and has torched his cities, and he has slain his men and his knights, and the heir his son is in prison and captivity at that king’s hands.  And moreover, there is neither castle nor stronghold left to the king of this land now, saving one place only into which he himself and the few of his men who live have retired; and the King of Africa—his numerous host—is before the place and will not arise from it until the King of Babylon will surrender his right and his crown to him, and until he himself and the few of his men who live will submit to his graces, whatever be his whim to do with them,” said he.

“Teach me the way to this city,” said the Knight of the Blue Arms—for it is under that name that Melóra will go a while.[10]

The youth taught him the way to the city, and after his coming into the city, the people of the king come about him on every side and take him into the king’s presence.  And the king sought news of him, who was he or what land was his.  He said from the borders of Britain was he, and that a young, noble knight was he who had just taken the knightly order, and that he was a-traveling the world for the increasing of every martial art, and that as he had heard conflict and combat to be upon the king’s hands, he had come to strike alliance with him.

“’Tis a wonder to me,” said the king, “your coming straight to me through my enemies, for they are most powerful and most numerous, and best recompensed and rewarded, and I would sooner believe,” said he, “that to my enemy you would go, and that to the city’s certain doom you have come.”

“Not thus is it fit or fair for a knight of skill,” said the Knight of the Blue Arms, “but rather striking alliance with the weaker side, and strengthening the overmatched, putting injustice to its heels; and whatever it be that you do, O King,” said he, “I will set myself against your enemies on my own or with company, and then you will know which one am I, friend or foe.”[11]

“So will I do,” said the king.

And after that the king bore him to his palace, and he ordered a room for him and attendants in it, and the knight was thus until the morning on the morrow.  And in the early light of the morning, the Knight of the Blue Arms arose and put on his arms of slaughter and slaying, and he came to where the king was.  And thus was the King of Babylon: not he himself nor anyone of his men for a spell of time had gone out beyond the gates of the city for fear of the enemy, on the strength that there was not a full complement of them for conflict and combat and that a great many had been killed by enemy forces.  And the knight of the Blue Arms said to him:

“O King,” said he, “not best is timidity in the face of overwhelming force; and as long as your counsel will be thus, your enemy will be a-growing in strength, and you will be a-growing in weakness and powerlessness, and your supply of food and drink will be a-lessening.  And what’s to be done by you,” said he, “is daily harassment to give to your enemy, so that they may not perceive your weakness and may not adjudge your power to be after the lessening.”

“The words of a true stalwart, those,” said the king, “and we shall this day attend to your advice.”

And with that, the king summoned two companies, but though they were small, he was obeyed, and they made themselves thus ready and well-armed, and they came out from the city.  And after their being seen by the hosts of Africa, these men came in opposition and in adversion and in savage, mad-slashing squadrons and in brash, brassy bands and in armed, accoutered, ordered wedges.  Whatever’s to be said, not fair was that squaring off, for the host of Africa was ten times the men of the King of Babylon.  Though it were so, the two hosts set their faces either against the other, and not the encounter of friends was that encounter, for there was many a knight young and noble and many a stalwart sturdy and battle-steadfast who gave up the ghost in it, and there was many a hand chopped off and eye gouged out, and mouths a-swearing, and sharp screeching of banshees and dire birds, and running streams of bright red blood, in the place.  Yet all the while, in every spot or position where there was risk of breach or breaking upon the men of the King of Babylon, the Knight of the Blue Arms would be before them and behind them like a protecting wing, the way that, till the sands of the sea and the leaves of the forests be reckoned, not the half nor the third of those of the hosts of Africa who fell by him that day shall be reckoned.

Though it were so, it happened to the King of Babylon upon that place, through the size of the greater side and the full-manyness of the enemy and the fewness of his friends, that he was lain from his horse upon the field of battle, and that his enemies closed around him on every side, the way that there was no getting out for him without his being killed or making a captive of himself.  Upon the Knight of the Blue Arms’ seeing that great superiority about the king, he came to his aid and assistance like a long-leaping lion a-coming under a mad fit of wrath upon herds of brutish beasts—thunder it was that struck through him and in him, the way it seemed not killed was anyone all about the battlefield before that but those killed by the Knight of the Blue Arms around the King of Babylon in that place; and he set the king a-riding again.  And the son of the King of Africa’s brother happened to be there, moreover, in the place where he was a commander of hosts, and the knight gave a blow of the sword to him so that it split his fine form till it came to the beginning of his chest and his breast and so that he fell dead without breath.  After the host of Africa’s seeing the drubbing and the torrential drowning that the Knight of the Blue Arms gave to them, and as the commander who was over them had already fallen by him, fear and fright took the lead of them, and they had broken their ranks before him if night had not come upon them then, and that ’twere needful for either side of them to part: the King of Babylon to his city and the host of Africa to its vast encampment.

It was not the same for the two hosts at this time, for the host of Africa was weary and many-worried from the rain of drubs and from the death of their leader, the son of the king’s brother, and the host of Babylon was high-minded haughty from their one warrior’s bearing a victory over their enemies and their ill-wishers.  But there is one thing of note above all: not possible would it be to say or witness to the greatness of treasures and honors that were given to the Knight of the Blue Arms in all the city of Babylon at that time, and the king placed the headship and high command of his knights and all his people under his power and authority.

As for the King of Africa, rage and fury seized him for what he had lost of his men and for the battle’s spoiled victory of that day, and what he did was to send a messenger to the King of Babylon to tell him, let him come in person for combat and contest against himself, or the chosen knight of his people, as he pleased—on the condition, if it was the King of Africa that would be overthrown in that contest, that the host would be withdrawn from the city and the king’s son released from his captivity and redress made in every single matter where he had done damage since coming into the realm of Babylon; and if it was the King of Babylon that would be overthrown in it, his right and his crown and his royal dignity all to be given over to the other.

After that news’s reaching the King of Babylon, he put a call throughout all his people, would there be one of them who would set a hand to fight the King of Africa in his stead, on the strength of himself not being an equal adversary for that man; if ’twere the substitute that were stronger, that he would give the fourth part of his land and treasure and many gems and every blessing of the earth that was his.  Though it were so, he did not find knight or warrior to set a hand to the fight in his stead, on the strength of any bout or battle’s being hard with the King of Africa for the force of his body and for his qualities of  valor and warcraft, and for the greatness of his energy and activity.  As for the Knight of the Blue Arms herein, he thought to himself, if he should come from battle with the King of Africa, there would be no hindrance upon him lest he get the lance from the King of Babylon, and were another knight to make the combat, ’twould be that one would be closest to the king forever more, and his esteem for himself would be not but as for any other knight after the combat; and on the strength of that, he set before himself to die on that spot or to earn the favor of the King of Babylon.  And with that, he came where the king was, and he said:

“O King and Lord,” said he, “since I do not see another knight or warrior setting his hand to the combat of the King of Africa in your stead, if I were certain that you would well do for me as you swore, I would go to fight with the King of Africa in your stead.”

“O gracious lad,” said he, “not an equal combat were a knight so young, so untried as you against that one, and not well with me were it for you to fall because of that combat and myself to lose my crown and all my royal privileges,” said he.

“It’s thus that things are,” said the Knight of the Blue Arms: “I would not take any blessing of the land not agreed upon, let you only but fulfill every condition to which you swore,” said he.

“I pledge before God the Giver of Life,” said the king, “that if it be you who is stronger in the contest, I will fulfill all to which I swore, and you will be as a son and as an heir to me.”[12]

“If it’s so,” said the Knight of the Blue Arms, “proclaim the contest to the King of Africa as settled for tomorrow morning.”

Thus was it done, and early in the morning of the morrow the Knight of the Blue Arms arose and bound his body in his battle suit.  And the hosts on either side arose, and they settled and arranged the place and location of the combat, and they firmed up and bound down the terms and conditions upon either side.  And after that, the King of Africa came to the place of the combat and a horse high-headed, heavy-winded, wide-sided, ebony-hued beneath him, and a shield tough-handled, tufted, after its fastening upon the red gold of his breastplate, and a broad-bladed sword bound upon his left side, and a lance keen-pointed, broad-socketed, fat-shafted in his hand, and his two eyes like waxen candles after catching fire in his head through the greatness of rage and expectation of revenge that was in him.  Came the Knight of the Blue Arms from the other side, and a horse braided, blue-maned, mad-rageous, unrestrained beneath him, and ’twas the likeness of a squirrel leaping between trees was that mare, such vigor and boiling over and swift senses were in her; and a shield bearing the images of lion and leopard and wingèd griffin, and other such fierce fictions, upon his left shoulder, and a sword inlaid, gold-hilted with him and a lance sleek, blue-sheened, slender-lean in his hand, and he a-standing in his appointed place and arranged station.[13]

Then were sounded the trumpets of attack and the bugles of battle and the horns of assembly in every quarter, and orators urged the knights to do their ultimate utmost.  Whatever’s to be said of that, unequal was this combat match, for here it is: a man prideful, wild-powerful, ever-spiteful on one side, and a maiden modest, meek, mild, perfect-mannered on the other.  But all the same, there was that size of strength in her will and mind to be a-bringing aid and assistance to her cherished and forever-loved of all men in the world—the son of the King of Thessaly—that she reckoned herself an equal match for warrior or mighty soldier anywhere on earth, and yet not seeking to lengthen a thing to her own advantage was she beyond bringing help to that man.

And then these two knights came head-on to meet and oppose one the other like a lion and a unicorn a-going into combat with each other—the two beasts most fearsome and fatal and furious in the world; and they gave thrusts fearsome and furious with their sharp-pointed spears to the figure and flesh each of the other till their shields and their breastplates were worn down and whittled to bits, and till they shattered their spears and went to trusting big-bladed, bristle-sharp broadswords, and till they took to slashing and slicing one the other without pause or pity.  Whatever be said, the Knight of the Blue Arms was in great stress beneath the blows death-like and fierce-driven of the King of Africa; and after his seeing that—the greatness of the danger in which he was and the greatness of the things at stake from that—he strengthened his spirits and magnified his mind, and he hastened his hand and redoubled his bludgeoning, and he gave a blow of the sword to the King of Africa atop his head on the height of his skull, so that he split the helmet and the blade glanced to the back of the man’s right shoulder, so that he made a wound deep, not soon to heal in him, and so that the sword fell from the hand of the King of Africa from the bitter bite of the wound; and the Knight of the Blue Arms did strike another blow upon him, so that he lopped off the nose-guard of the head-piece and the nose itself but for a bit of it, so that the man fell full from the saddle upon the soil and the sodden earth.  And with that the Knight of the Blue Arms dismounted and did put the point of his sword just upon the neck’s apple, and ’twere pleasing to him to have put it through to the earth.  It’s then the King of Africa said:

“Soft, O Knight young and noble!  ’Tis enough for you to bear away victory and triumph over me without my slaying,” said he.  “And let thou make a prisoner of me, and I will redress each thing in which I have damaged the King of Babylon.”

The other had him swear great oaths, and he called sun and water and the divisions of sky and earth to witness his fulfillment of those terms.[14]  After that the knight allowed the King of Africa to rise, and he took him in bonds and fetters to the King of Babylon, and after that they went to the city full of jubilance and sudden joy; and on the other side, the host of Africa was much-distressed and many-cared.

Whatever’s to be said of that, after their being a spell thus in the city of the King of Babylon, there was made peace and settlement between those kings, and the King of Africa sent word and message about the son of the King of Babylon, who had been in captivity under him until then.  And the King of Africa together with his entourage departed from the land of Babylon, after making peace and friendship and after making redress for everything that he had damaged since he had come into it.

After the King of Africa’s going and after the son of the King of Babylon’s coming from his captivity into the city—Levander was his name—the King of Babylon was happy, high-spirited; though it were so, the Knight of the Blue Arms was full of gloom and heavy care for the span of his stay there, and through grief for his dear friend: Orlando son of the King of Thessaly.  And after being thus a certain spell in Babylon, he came one day into the presence of the king, and he said to him:

“O King and Lord,” said he, “’tis high time for myself to find fulfillment in each thing whereof you swore to me before my combat with the King of Africa.”

“O gracious lad,” said the King, “you shall have that, on the strength of my very soul’s being bonded to you, and you have lifted the power of my enemy and my adversary from my realm and my rule.”

“If it’s so,” said the Knight of the Blue Arms, “to me you swore a broad share of your realm and your rule, and of your riches and of your gems.”

“I did swear, for certain,” said the king, “and I will make good upon it.”

“If it’s so,” said the Knight of the Blue Arms, “I will not ask a share of your territories or your farmlands, but only will I ask the loan of one single gem of the gems you have; and moreover, there is a mystery of mine to be revealed to you.”

And with that, he called the king to a place aside, and he revealed to him from beginning to end his search and journey, and that it was a-seeking the lance he was for to aid and assist his dear friend—the son of the King of Thessaly.  And he said to him right at the first that the daughter of the King of the World was she, and she showed her chest and part of her breasts as proof upon that.[15]  And after the king’s seeing that, an overwhelming wonder seized him, and he said:

“O gracious girl,” said he, “it’s a sad, distressful the tale you have told, and still ’tis an overwhelming wonder the deeds done by you up until now; and as for the spear and every other thing that is in my power or my possession, they are yours.  Though it were so, the other treasures which you treat of—as to say, the oil of the boar of Tús and the carbuncle—no deed is more difficult than to obtain them; but at least I will put my own son with you, who is a seasoned, spirited knight, for, if it should happen that one of you should fall in this, no worse to me for him to fall than for you.  And I will put my ship itself in your hands, and the ship best and swiftest in the world is she.”

Whatever else was said, the Knight of the Blue Arms obliged him not to reveal the secret mystery to his son nor to any other in the world till they should fall dead or finish well, and the king swore that to him.  And after that, the king’s ship was readied for them and every instrument was put in it that would be most useful to them; and Levander son of the King of Babylon took a tunic flowing, gold-bordered, soft-satin, green upon his armor and his warrior’s garb, the way it was by that habit he was known: that is, the Knight of the Green Arms.  And the king did present the spear unto the Knight of the Blue Arms, and he at once rejoiced for that.

After that, they were feasted by the king and came their way upon the sea, and no adventure is related of them until they made landfall at the city of the King of Asia.[16]  And ’twas then the period and season when the King of Asia and the grandees and great nobles of his domain happened to be in reunion and regal gathering upon the fortress green, and after their seeing the two knights, they adjudged them to be from domains unknown to them.  And after the two came into the presence of the king, he asked news of them.  They said to him that two knights from the borders of Britain were they, of the King of the World’s household, a-traveling every territory of the world for to learn the craft of valiant ways and war-waging.  After the king heard that, he was much annoyed and irritated about it, and he said to his people to seize them and to tie and bind them, on the strength that there was not a being in the world was less to him than King Arthur, and ’twas a wonder to him how the man found it in him to claim the title “King of the World” when not himself nor any other man a-serving him had ever given nor would ever give honor or obedience to the fool; and besides, that he was certain ’twas to scout his land and his leadership that their king had sent them forth, and that never would they come back with news, but that he himself would visit a violent death without mercy upon them.  After that, the people of the king seized upon them, and did bind them tight and taut, and they were put in a dark prison without the light of sun or moon; and they were thus till came the night and the king and his nobles went to the palace.


It happened for them that at that time the commander who was over the guard that was keeping the prison was from the borders of Britain, and the name of him was Uranus.  And it’s thus it happened for him to be in that station under the King of Asia: that the father of Uranus had come from the borders of Britain a spell of time before that to the borders of Asia, and that he had done great deeds in the war that was between the King of Asia and the Roman Empire, and that on the strength of that the King of Asia had made him commander over his own bodyguard, and when his father died, the same place and station fell directly upon Uranus, who had been a young, inexperienced boy at the coming of his father to the borders of Asia.  As for Uranus, after the people of the city’s going to their rest and slumber, he came into the prison and spoke the tongue of Britain to the prisoners.  And the Knight of the Blue Arms answered him in the same tongue, and Uranus asked news of them, whether ’twas of the noble or the humble of Britain they were.  The Knight of the Blue Arms said that they would not vaunt their blood and breeding before their oppressors, and that they were from royal blood, and that kinsmen close to the King of the World were they, and that the King of the World would well avenge their death, and that, yet, were someone to manage to effect the sparing of their lives to them, no man would ever be above him in the King of the World’s grace from then out.

“If it’s so,” said Uranus, “’tis from the borders of Britain that I am myself, and my elders before me,” said he, and he revealed to them from beginning to end how had come himself and his father to the borders of Asia.  “And I will effect the sparing of your lives to you,” said he, “if only you will say to me truly the reason of your journey to this land.”

“If we were certain of that,” said the Knight of the Blue Arms, “it were easier for us to resolve our mystery for you, but perhaps it is to spy upon our minds that you have come,” said he.

Uranus called all the divisions of heaven and earth to witness to his being truthful to them and to his intending to save their lives as much as was in his power.  On the strength of that, the Knight of the Blue Arms told him the reason of his journey: that it was a-seeking the oil of the boar of Tús they came, though much danger be theirs for it.

“If it’s so,” said Uranus, “the matter is anything but easy, for ’tis about the king himself that the oil will usually be.  And it’s thus that it may be managed,” said he.  “The king will go to hunt upon the slopes of Asia tomorrow, and there will be no more of delay to his visiting death upon you than but his return to the city.  And I myself will bring you from here tonight, and I will put clothes after the Asian manner upon you, and you will go along in the hunt as two men among many.  And be you in the king’s proximity till all scatter in the hunt’s chase, and once ye get him all alone, make your approach to him and let one of you seem to be mute and the other let seek from the king a tasting of the oil to give to him.  And he will do that as is his wont, for he will reckon that ’tis of the people of Asia you are; and if you find not an opening to it that way, ’tis unlikely for you to find it ever.  And I will be nearby to you, and if you succeed, I will teach you the way from this land.”

After that, he released the bonds that were upon them and he bore them with him out of the city and left them in a lonely place.  And he came back to the city and bore two sets of clothes in the fashion and manner of Asia to them, and they put those upon them; and after that he bore their own suits of armor to them.  And they waited there till morning, until they saw the king and his nobles, besides, with him a-riding to the hunt, and they themselves rode in their midst.  And they lingered as by chance near the king until were roused up lions and leopards and other wild beasts of the forest and until the nobles scattered evenly after them and was left the king sole and alone upon the spot.  And with that the knights made their approach to him, and the Knight of the Blue Arms let appear in his ways that he was mute, and the Knight of the Green Arms spoke up—that is, the son of the King of Babylon—and it’s this he said:[17]

“O King and Lord,” said he, “here is the son of a grandee of your people, and mute is he without speech from his birth; and we have come for that the power is yours to bestow speaking on him who will be mute, and this one has brought himself before your grace to seek help of you,” said he.

The king asked who among his noble rank of people was he, and the son of the King of Babylon answered him in every detail as though they were of the household of Uranus.  With that the king put a hand within his bosom and drew out the bottle in which was the oil, and he touched it to the mouth of the Knight of the Blue Arms.  And with that the Knight of the Green Arms bore an eager onslaught upon him and wrung the bottle roughly from his fist, and he brought it to the hand of the Knight of the Blue Arms.  And he seized upon the king and he tied him tightly, tautly, without leave for him to say sound or speak or proceed by hand or foot.  And Uranus came to join them, and they did not delay till they had reached the harbor in which was their ship, and they went aboard her without ceremony after leaving the King of Asia bundled and hard-bound upon a mountain top, and without report to any of his people about him.[18]

And they betook themselves to traveling sea and land until they reached the land of the kingdom of Narsinga in the East of India, and after their coming to this land, the Knight of the Green Arms said:

“What’s to be done by us,” said he, “is to leave our arms and armor in the ship, and our gear of music and amusement to take with us, and to say that people of music and amusement are we, for fear they may seize upon us in this territory as we were seized upon in the territory of Asia.”[19]

That counsel was confirmed by them all, and off they go to the stronghold of the King of Narsinga.  And after their coming into the presence of the king, they said that from the borders of Britain were they, and that ’twas the King of the World who had sent them hither as people of music and amusement, to tie bonds of good will and friendship between them.  The king made greeting before them, and the knights took their instruments of amusement to them and did play music melodious and pleasant the like and semblance of which the king had never heard before, for not customary in that country were people of any amusement at all ever before then.  And the king took great pleasure in the music, and he said that he was much thankful to the King of the World for sending them to him, and he said that he himself would send a ship’s load of Indian pearls to that man in return.  And he ordered the Knight of the Green Arms in attendance upon his daughter—Verona was her name—to give music and company to her, and he took aside the Knight of the Blue Arms into his own room itself.  And it’s thus was the carbuncle: it would be about the king himself for the carrying all through the day, and it would be in his room at night, and ’twould shed light throughout the stronghold from end to end all during the night; and the king would not allow it in the trust of any man in the world saving only himself.

The knights were a certain spell like that, to the joy and gaiety of the King of Narsinga, till he happened a certain day to be asking of the knights the habits and customs of the King of the World’s household.  The knights said to him that there was not upon the surface of the earth king or prince in whose household were more knights brave and battle-mighty, fine-skilled and feat-performing, than the King of the World’s, and that the castle in the world prettiest of feminine folk and female company and most numerous of song and merriment was the Castle of the Red Hall.

The king asked of them if ’twere the custom with the King of the World for song and merriment to be about him in time of battle or strife or in time of anger’s being upon him.  Those men said that an abundance of song and merriment would be about him on sea and on land, and that, if ’twere the desire of his grace to go whither was the ship that had brought themselves to his territory, they would display to him part of the merriment that was their king’s custom to be with him at sea.  The king said that he would go, on the strength that taking a look at it was much to his taste.

The king and the knights and the king’s daughter—that is, Verona—departed, and they go whither is the ship.  And they go out upon the ship all together, and the Knight of the Blue Arms and the king and the king’s daughter go beneath the hatch, and the Knight of the Blue Arms took a glowing, glory-voiced, bowl-mouthed horn of shimmering, much-hammered silver in his hand, which is called a Gallic trumpet today, and he plays reels and merry airs of such sort as was customary in the Castle of the Red Hall in the time of battle or clash, or in time of any co-assembly or coming together whatever a-happening among them.  And the king took great wonder and delight in that bowl-mouthed horn, and he was ever a-gathering further news from the Knight of the Blue Arms.  Whatever be said, the while that the king and the Knight of the Blue Arms were conversing either with the other beneath the hatch, ’twas a-drawing the anchor and hoisting the sails and coiling the cable that the Knight of the Green Arms and Uranus were, and a-giving bow to sea and stern to land, and a-sailing into the fearful blue-green deep without the seeing or perceiving of the King of Narsinga.

But for all that, not long was the king in it when he heard the groaning and sad gurgling of the grieving, keening, guttering waves upon the hollow flanks of the wide vessel, and the struggle and straining rustle of the speeding, ever-shrieking winds in the sleek, snug-spun canvas, and the knife-sided light-nosed advancing prow of the ship a-splitting and a-sundering the hasty hill-faced waves.  The king came up from the hatch after that, and ’twas the ship after leaving the line of land and coastal strand he saw on every single side of him.  The king spoke fiercely, furiously to the knights and he asked of them what was it that was their pleasure to do.  Said the Knight of the Blue Arms, seizing upon the king and putting him to sit upon the deck of the ship:

“O King and Lord,” said he, “it were our pleasure to get the carbuncle that is yours for to aid and assist a friend who is under the gloom of enchantment,” said he.  “And there is no formula for freeing him but to get three treasures belonging to three kings which are these: the lance of the King of Babylon, and the oil of the boar of Tús, and the carbuncle of yourself.  And we have gotten the lance and the oil,” said he, “and ’tis our desire to have the carbuncle as the rest, and we will summon the divisions of heaven and earth and sun and moon to witness our pledge to restore it to you.  And more, ’tis our desire yourself to take with us to the Castle of the Red Hall,” said he, “and peace and friendship to make between yourself and the King of the World, and to set you safely back in your own land again.”

“If the certainty were mine,” said the king, “to come safely my way back unto my own land, ’twere well with me to see the King of the World and his household,” said he.

The Knight of the Blue Arms brought sun and moon, and the divisions of heaven and earth, to witness his pledge to set him safely back in his own land again if he should come with them willingly to the Castle of the Red Hall.  With that, the king put his hand within his bosom and bore the carbuncle into the hand of the Knight of the Blue Arms, and that one was keen-joyful of it.

After that they made spirited ever-swift sailing without complication or complaint, without threat by land or sea, till they reached the lands and borders of Britain.  And after their coming to the lands there, the Knight of the Blue Arms spoke, and this is what he said:  “O Lords,” said he, “here is my land and my soil itself, and the desire I have is for you all to be of my own counsel and persuasion the whole while you shall be in it, and the beginning of speech and utterance to be left to me in the presence of the King of the World, on the strength of myself being best accustomed and adjusted to himself and to his household.”

The King of Narsinga and Levander the son of the King of Babylon said that such was their own wish, and that they would take every counsel that would be borne to them the while they would be within the borders of Britain.

“If it’s so,” said he, “what’s to be done by us is the arms and armor of valorous knights to take upon ourselves for our going to the Castle of the Red Hall, so that the king may not know who we are till we reach the pith of purpose in our journey and adventure.”

That counsel found assent with them, and the Knight of the Blue Arms brought suits of armor and arms and broad chargers to every one of them, and he put clothes colorful, quite beautiful upon Verona the daughter of the King of Narsinga.  And they set off according to that plan to the Castle of the Red Hall, and there was no tarrying by them till they reached the stronghold’s green.  And let us leave off speaking of them for a while, and instead we will speak a paltry bit about the King of the World and his household here.

As for the King of the World, this much: after his daughter’s departure from the Castle of the Red Hall without the knowledge or notice of anyone, and after Orlando the son of the King of Thessaly’s disappearing without one word of his news to be had, he surmised to himself that ’twas departing one with the other that the couple had done and he put some of his household in every single corner of the kingdom to find news of them.  Though it were so, not a word of news did he find about either of them, and for that he did not, he sailed a journey to the territory of Thessaly to find news of them there, and he did not come by one scrap of news.  And gloomy, much-worried was the King of Thessaly upon getting ill tidings about his son, and not less so was the King of the World about his daughter, and not possible would it be to bear witness to the greatness of wasting sickness suffered by the queen—that is, the wife of King Arthur, Guinevere by name—for her daughter.  Whatever’s to be said of that, what the king did was to put abroad a call and decree that whoever at all of men or women should bear news to him of his daughter or the son of the King of Thessaly, living or dead, he would give the judgment of that person’s own mouth to him or to her, whatever in the world it be.  Though it were so, he found not a man upon the earth that might bring news to him.

As for the Knight of the Blue Arms and his party, this much: after their dismounting upon the green, as we said, the report comes before the king: four knights, noble, unknown, on whom is foreign gear and garb, to have dismounted upon the green.  The king sent a knight noble and well-adorned of his entourage—his name was Sir Brandamor—for to take them to the palace.  And after their coming into the presence of the king, they dropped to their knees and made gestures humble and honorful to him; and the king did lift his hand over their heads and said upon them to rise and gave them leave to speak and utter words, and he asked of them who of the classes noble or humble of the world were they.  The Knight of the Blue Arms answered to him in clear parlance of the British border, and what he said is this:

“Of the people within this border itself am I, O King and Lord,” said he, “and not possible is it yet for me to reveal my blood and my breeding, not till I should attain the fruit of my adventure which is yet without attainment.  And these other three you see, one of them is from the territory of Babylon, and another from the territory of India, and the third one the territories of Asia,” said he; “and we are a-traveling the world a certain spell for the increasing of every armed excellence, and we have come before your own presence, O King and Lord,” said he, “the way that we may be a spell among your household a-learning the skills of valor and warcraft, good habits and fine manners.”

“Let your maintenance be my affair,” said the king, “and you shall have your worth and earning from me like every king’s or prince’s son who is among my household.  And now,” said the king, “there is another matter upon me for the asking of you, and were there a scrap of news about that matter belonging to any of you, I would give the judgment of his own mouth and tongue to him.”

“What is that matter, O King?” said he.

“It is,” said the king, “a knight young and noble to have been among this household—that is, Orlando son of the King of Thessaly—and himself to have gone a certain day to the Forest of Wonders to see wondrous things in it that I might take my meal,” said the king.  “And we have not seen the man himself nor one word of his news from that day to this.  And soon after that,” said the king, “there was the only daughter of mine whose name is Melóra, and ’twas noticed that she had disappeared from this castle, and we have not found word of her dead or alive from that time till now,” said he.  And as he was a-saying those words, a shower of sudden spilling tears flowed from him, and his speech and utterance came to a cease.

And after the Knight of the Blue Arms saw that, he could not resist a swoon of grief, and he turned his back to the king and released a stream of sudden-running tears from himself.[20]  Whatever’s to be said of that, the Knight of the Blue Arms turned to the king again, and this is what he said:

“O King and Lord,” said he, “the fruit of my adventure is without attainment in this land, and my desire is thus: yourself together with the noblemen of your household to go to the place where ’tis likely my adventure will be fulfilled, and if that adventure be fulfilled for me, you will receive news from me that will put much sudden joy and utter jubilance upon you.”

After the king’s hearing those words, he pronounced that his household make ready, and they went out upon the green.  And there is not to be read a chronicle or history in the world which tells of ever being assembled in one place from the powers of kings and high princes the likeness of that vast household, respecting the multiplicity of exalted sons of kings and high princes, and of knights widely known, well-accomplished, and of stalwarts valiant, battle-victorious, and of mature men seasoned in skirmishes, and of young bloods burly, fine-bodied that were there, and respecting the peerless excellence of their arms and their armor and their garb, and respecting the fine form of the feats of agility and dexterity put on display, and respecting the beauty of their females and womenfolk.  Whatever’s to be said of that, after their being thus made ready for massive movement, they all went along in a single body till they reached the Forest of Wonders.

And after their coming to that place, they go to the block of stone that was in the forest’s midst, and the Knight of the Blue Arms takes the lance of the King of Babylon in his hand and goes to the block.  And he did bear three thrusts of the lance into it, and with the third thrust the block did roar, the way it was like unto a thin, fragile-rimmed bladder full of air after breaking apart, or a heavy-sodded plot of earth after being lightning-struck, and the rumble and the thunder that the block did make after splitting itself apart—’twas a maw, yawning, appalling, open-jawed, that was left in its stead.  And after the place’s opening in that manner, the demonic she-druid named Terribilis that was keeping disenchantment away from the cave leapt out beneath the vaults of heaven amid fiery phantoms.[21]  After that the Knight of the Blue Arms comes into the cave, and he drew the carbuncle out of his bosom and bared it in the cave, the way that, through the strength of its splendor and brilliance, at least its rays should be clear therein.  And after bringing brilliance into the cave in that manner, he found the son of the King of Thessaly in frightening, unrecognizable guise, for like the remains of the dead after exhumation was he, without responsiveness, without speech, without a single trace of living likeness about him if ’twere not the sinews and thin tendons a-binding his limbs and bones together.

The Knight of the Blue Arms took him by the hand and led him out among the host, and a great wonder to the king and to the assembled host was the thing they saw.  And after that the knight drew from his waist the bottle in which was the oil of the boar of Tûs, and he said:

“O Son of the King of Thessaly,” said he, “swallow thou some of the cure that is in this vial, and ’twere better for you then till the end of your days.”

And he touched the vial himself to the man’s mouth, and Orlando did swallow three mouthfuls from the vial, and after his drinking the third mouthful, there came upon him his own form and shape, his own gestures and features.  And the king and the knights were seized by recognition of him, and they closed in around him on every side and kissed him fondly, fervently.[22]  And after that the king sought account of him, who was it had brought him into those straits, or who had split him off from the household.  Orlando said that it was Sir Mador son of the King of Spain and Merlin the druid had laid sorcery and devilry upon him, and that none was the chance of help for him but in finding the three treasures we have mentioned, and none was the hope in himself to find that assistance throughout ages of ages.

“If it’s so,” said the king, “is there recognition in you of this knight who released you?”

“There is not, surely,” said Orlando, “for I am unaware who he may be of the world’s men noble or humble.”

With that the Knight of the Blue Arms turned to the king and dropped himself upon his two knees, and he said:

“O King and Lord,” said he, “I will no more be concealing myself to you.”

And with that he put away the head trappings of battle and hard combat from him and bared his front features and face, and he said:

“O King and gracious Father,” said she, “here stands your daughter Melóra.”[23]

With that the king was seized by recognition of her, and he took her in his hands and kissed her fondly, fervently, and there flowed showers of large-dropped tears from extreme-greatness of sudden joy and surging jubilance.  And he sought account of her, how had she left the stronghold without detection, or how had it befallen her to release the son of the King of Thessaly.  She revealed to him from start to finish the way she had drawn admission of his tricks from the son of the King of Spain, and that it were not possible for any man ever born to release him, that she herself had taken arms of warcraft upon her and that she had gone to seek the treasures would bring assistance to him.  And she did reveal her adventure and excursion from beginning to end, and every great feat brought off by her in the settlement of the King of Babylon, and the way that the King of Babylon did give the lance to her, and how he did send his own son—Levander, son of the King of Babylon—to collect the oil of the boar of Tûs that was belonging to the King of Asia, and the way that the King of Asia did pass a judgment of death upon them and that Uranus, captain of the guards, did release them and did instruct them how they might seize the oil from about the king upon his being gone a-hunting, and that they left the King of Asia bundled and hard-bound in the wilderness sole and alone.  She revealed as all the rest how they did go in a threesome to the territory of the King of Narsinga and the way that they did coax him and his daughter upon the sea with them, and that ’twas he the fourth man among them with the fashion of a knight upon him.

After that long account, the King of the World turned to the King of Narsinga and to the son of the King of Babylon and made them welcome finely, politely, and he gave grateful thanks to them and in the same way to Uranus for saving his daughter and the son of the King of Babylon from the King of Asia’s hands.  After the son of the King of Babylon and the King of Narsinga saw that a maiden fine, mild-spoken and the daughter of the High-King of the World was she who had been for them a companionable, comradely lad, and with her doing of great deeds not possible for other knights or champions to do, wonder and shocked awe seized them, and they told to the king and to his entourage her glorious feats and great deeds in full depth and detail.

Whatever’s to be said of that, the king turned his attention to the judgment of Sir Mador son of the King of Spain and of Merlin the druid, and he cast shackles and hard bonds upon them.  And after that, those vast hosts did proceed in one mass till they reached the Castle of the Red Hall.  And the king sat in his customary place, and the King of Narsinga sat upon his right shoulder and the son of the king of Babylon upon his left shoulder, and the queen did sit on the side above-behind, and Melóra beside her, and the son of the King of Thessaly on her other side, and the other nobles so forth from that on.[24]  And Sir Mador and Merlin are brought into the king’s presence, and they did admit with admission of their own mouths and tongues every trick and every fraud they did devise against Orlando son of the King of Thessaly.  And on the strength of that, the king and his counsel did bear a verdict upon them to be burned on the castle’s green thus as was due to their misdeeds, and all did praise as one that verdict.  And then Melóra spoke, and it’s thus she said:

“O King and Lord,” said she, “you did swear the judgment of his own mouth to the one who would bear news of me alive or me dead, or of the King of Thessaly’s son dead or alive, to you; and since it’s I have brought news about either of the two to you, ’tis my desire to get my request of you.”

“You will get that, surely,” said the king, “whatever you may ask.”

“If it’s so,” said Melóra, “on the strength that it’s on my account that the son of the King of Spain did do every misdeed that he did, what’s my desire is a pardon of his life to be received by himself and by the druid and them to send in exile from this castle.  And the second request I hold you to: the son of the King of Thessaly for myself to receive as husband and beloved partner.”

All praised as one the mildness and mercy of the royal youth and the bravery of her great deeds; and the king granted to her everything she sought on the spot.  And were married she herself and the son of the King of Thessaly one to the other, and were married Levander son of the King of Babylon and Verona daughter of the King of Narsinga in that same manner, and the King of the World did bear to them a greatness of gems and riches and treasures.

And those foreign nobles were a long while at the King of the World’s side in pleasure and revelry, till the desire seized the King of Narsinga to set out for his own land.  And once this was perceived by the King of the World, he did ready a mighty fleet, massive, magnificent, to escort the King of Narsinga to his land and his own home soil.  And at his being on the verge of setting out, Melóra came face to face with him, and the carbuncle in her left hand and the King of Babylon’s lance in the other hand, and what she said is this:

“O King of India,” said she, “for that I have finished my great adventure and that I have gained release for my beloved, and that I swore to set you safe upon your own land, here for you is the carbuncle back along with thanks and with my well-wishing to the last gasp of all time and life.  And, O Son of the King of Babylon,” said she, “here for you your father’s lance, and I am beholden to you for what you endured of distress and of damage on my behalf throughout my adventure a-traveling the world.”

“It it’s so,” said the King of Narsinga, “I bestow it upon you yourself again.”  And the son of the King of Babylon did bestow the lance upon King Arthur.

And after that, the King of Narsinga goes upon the sea, and with him the flower of knights most noble and most honorable who went to escort him to his own land.  There went among them twelve knights of the stalwarts who were customarily around the body of the king himself to protect him, in the formation that is called today the Gallic Secret Guard.[25]  Here are their names: Sir Gawain, the son of the King of the World’s sister, and his two brothers Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris; Sir Brandamor son of the King of Italy; Sir Marravus son of the King of Ireland; Sir Frol, Sir Tor, and Sir Hector, and not known to us are their fathers; Sir Lameric from the borders of Dover, a knight high-valiant; Sir Bevus, Sir Bobus, and Sir Lancelot son of the King of Motley Mountain; and another bunch of high-valiant knights not mentioned here.  And not a particle of story is related of them till their reaching land on the border of India.[26]

And after their coming to the King of Narsinga’s palace, not possible were it to tell or witness to the greatness of gaiety and pomp that was made about them.  And the King of Narsinga revealed to his grandees and great nobles his adventure and excursion from beginning to end, and the way that he was taken to the Castle of the Red Hall.  And after the knights’ being a long while in his company, they set their hand to departure, and the king ranged his own fleet with them full of pearls and gems and stones wondrous-lovely and high-priced, and the kings and high princes set sail together with tokens of obedience and honor to the King of the World.

And after their coming to the Castle of the Red Hall, not long were they in it till a company of them was sent with the son of the King of Babylon and the daughter of the King of Narsinga to the borders of Babylon, and another company with the son of the King of Thessaly and Melóra daughter of the King of the World to the beautiful-bayed borders of Thessaly,[27] a place where they passed a spell and a season as if released to their own leisure.  And Sir Mador son of the King of Spain and Merlin the druid were exiled forever from the Castle of the Red Hall after finding the pardon of their lives through Melóra.

So that is the adventure and excursion of Melóra daughter of the King of the World and Orlando son of the King of Thessaly up to that point.[28]



[1] I.e., in the dead of winter, when the sun is seen to rise and set well south of the equator.  The dream is thus mythically designated as a solstitial tale of new birth in the midst of death, like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  Though the romancier and his or her recent sources may have meant nothing more by the southerly sunrise than that Melóra’s lover would hail from parts south, note that Melóra will vanquish her adversary in the dream with a palm branch.  This opens up the distinct possibility of Christian allusions.  If the palm branch makes a subtle gesture toward the Crucifixion story’s death-and-rebirth sequence of redemption, why may not the winter solstice raise an equally subtle hint of that sequence through Christmas?

[2] Of course, this second vision seems also to resonate with Christian typology.  Yet note that the apple, instead of collaborating in the snake’s evil designs, opposes and at last defeats them.  The Hebridean Gaelic poet Mary MacLeod equated the finest apple on the tree with physical and moral excellence in several poems composed probably just a few decades before this tale was set down (cf. Gaelic Songs of Mary MacLeod, ed. J. Carmichael Watson [Edinburgh: Scottish Gaelic Texts Society, 1965], 46-47).  Christian allegory, therefore, is sharing space with local tradition.

[3] The individually tailored prohibition or taboo (geis in Irish) is common among Celtic mythological figures.  The gigantic Welsh king Bendigeidfran, for instance, was forbidden to pass a night under a roof.  Do coilled mo gesa uile ocus táinic comartha deridh mo sáegail don chur so, remarks Cú Chulainn in the tale of his death, Aided Con Culainn: “All my taboos have been violated and the concluding mark of my lifespan has come in this event.”

[4] Angels of Paradise (with a capital “p”) do not belong among Celtic paganism’s furniture: the simile clearly implies the author’s Christianity.  Yet the bizarre young man with single appendages resonates with the one-eyed, one-legged ogre in the Welsh romance Owein, a shamanic figure surrounded by obedient wild animals rather than frail humans.  (As we shall find, the harper is none other than the supreme shaman, or druid, of Arthur’s court.)  Once again, this tale has seamlessly melded the ancient and the recent—a tendency for which the technical term is homeostasis.

[5] Mac an tSaoi mentions these disembodied hands as evidence of the tale’s many native Irish elements (ix—and she cites the journal Ériu, v. 3).  In fact, a great many of the Forest of Wonders’ marvels recur in Irish traditional matter.  A story which Séamus Ó Duilearga collected in the 1930s from a non-literate raconteur features a miraculously supplied table (without so much as serving hands) in an empty house (but for a cat) whose rules impose speechlessness upon the hero until he survives three contests (whereupon the cat is redeemed from enchantment to become a lovely maiden).  See Leabhar Stiofáin Uí Ealaoire (Dublin: Comhairle Béaloideas Éirinn, 1981), 69-72.

[6] The consumption of food in this sinister otherworldly setting seals Orlando’s doom.  Cf. Circe’s deceptive cordiality (and exquisite singing) in the Odyssey: the crewmen can be changed into beasts only after they have drunk their hostess’s offering. 

[7] The reference to God (Dia in the singular, capitalized) is unequivocally Christian.  The hag’s name is an Mhilltionach in Irish: The Destroyer, The Terror.  Her dread of efficacious prayer is perhaps the text’s most explicit acknowledgment of any Christian practice’s strength.

[8] The references here have all the inaccuracy and confusion of legend, naturally.  The lance of Longinus (called Laginus in the Irish text) was common coinage in medieval romance, as were various flamboyant facsimiles of the Turkish emperor Saladin.  Tús may be a cryptic evocation of the Iranian city bearing that name; but in her Forward (ix), Mhac an tSaoi connects the word (on a basis not entirely clear to me) to the obscure and ancient Irish tale, Oidheadh Chloinne Tuireann.

     A final remark about the hag’s curse: in Irish, the words for “knight” and “hero” are masculine—which is highly significant.  The spell’s terms do not foresee and neutralize the intercession of a female!

[9] Here the druidical prohibition’s being limited to aid from the masculine gender is not only made more clear, but the further presumption is introduced that no novice to arms could possibly win the three items necessary for disenchantment.

[10] This is our first and final alert that Melóra will henceforth be referred to by the masculine pronoun suited to her disguise until she finally reveals herself in Britain (but for a brief, confidential aside with the King of Babylon).  The very next sentence begins to style the Knight of the Blue Arms as “him”.

[11] Melóra’s first formal speech in her manly disguise demonstrates that she must have imbibed the lessons of chivalry long before ever imagining that she herself might need to practice them.  This superiority of moral character is an important part of her psychological profile and the basis of the physical heroism that follows.

[12] This is one of the romance’s most puzzling passages.  The disguised Melóra gives the king no reassurance about her physical adequacy to the challenge, yet he is suddenly reassured; and she furthermore promises that she will make no undue request if victorious, yet the only reason for her volunteering is to secure the Lance of Longinus—a treasure not expressly mentioned in the pact.  No doubt, the text’s often traditional style has failed here to produce the finesse of detail and motivation typical of higher literacy, a rough seam which the romancier usually manages to smooth over elsewhere.

[13] There may be a hint in the contrastive description of horses and armor that Melóra/The Blue Knight enjoys an edge in light alacrity which compensates for her inferiority in raw power.  The subsequent account of the combat does not exploit this hint, however.  Could this passage contain the remnants of an allusion to the flying horse (or hippogryph) in the Orlando Furioso, which is able to bring its riders triumph over vastly superior adversaries by darting about like a wasp?  The Blue Knight has already been associated with a “wingèd griffin” before the combat begins.  The general similarity of Ariosto’s third and fourth cantos to the entire plot of Eachtra Mhelóra is indeed striking: viz., the female knight Bradamante is trapped in the cave where Merlin lies buried, a priestess introduces the young Amazon to Merlin’s prophecy, and Bradamante thereafter promptly liberates her beloved Ruggiero from the sorcerer Atlante’s illusory castle—whereupon she acquires the marvelous hippogryph.  Resonances between the Italian and the Irish are plainly much stronger here than they are later in the garden of Alcina, which some scholars have tried to connect to our text through Spenser’s Faerie Queene (Mac an tSaoi viii-ix).

[14] This vaguely pagan oath is the formula used throughout the romance in foreign lands, and the Knight of the Blue Arms uses it himself (herself) with the King of Narsinga.  Behind it is more than the romancier’s acknowledgment that the non-European world does not worship the Christian god: the terms stem from ancient Ireland.  Cf. King Domhnall’s great oath at the beginning of the late twelfth-century Fleadh Duin na n-Gedh: “Ugaine Mar … invoked the favor of the sun and the moon, of sea and land, and dew, and prismatic hue, and the favor of all natures visible and invisible, and of every nature in heaven and on earth…” (The Banquet of Dun na n-Gedh and The Battle of Magh Rath [Felinfach (Wales): Llanerch, 1995], 2: my translation).

[15] This mid-sentence shift in pronouns, though extremely awkward, is the romancier’s guileless way of juggling the conflicting demands of gender.

[16] The reference to “related adventures” as the romance’s source material confirms the unavoidable conclusion that the work was compiled from several accounts (themselves more or less loosely transmitted across Europe), not primarily composed from one author’s imagination.

[17] It is notable that, in this episode, Melóra leaves the more aggressive role to Levander.  The romancier seems to imply that while she needed to employ physical might, the princess was the equal of any male adversary—but that her ultimate end is to forsake male conduct as soon as possible for a more proper demeanor rather than to transform herself permanently.

[18] Of course, the implication is that the King of Asia wastes away in an anguishing death—unless another fate awaits him.  Though the knights leave his ultimate end to destiny, death would be seen as well deserved of him: his comments about King Arthur have been overtly contumacious, and he has violated the sacred duty of hospitality by designing to murder his guests.

[19] Castiglione has left us a portrait of the well-rounded courtier which includes musical accomplishment—but the Celtic association of martial prowess with those poetic skills dedicated to eternizing it is far older.  The legendary Fianna of Ireland were required to be masters of poetic composition, from which some degree of performing ability could scarcely be excluded; while the medieval Welsh tale, Math vab Mathonwy, has the nobles Gwydyon and Gilvaethwy disguising themselves as bards to penetrate the court of Pryderi in a ploy similar to the Knight of the Green Arms’ subterfuge here.

[20] It is tempting to speculate that the romancier may have had Odysseus in mind—perhaps both his covert weeping in the court of Alcinous (Od. 8) and his stubbornly preserving his disguise before Penelope (Od. 19)—when writing down this scene.  If the author did have such a familiarity with the classics, we would be witnessing an adroit combination of wide literate learning with an oral narrative style such as few contemporary theorists seem able to imagine.

[21] A second possible allusion to classical epic—this time to the scene in Aeneid 8 where Hercules breaks into the smoky cave of the hellish Cacus—may appear here.

[22] Guest and host exchange this kind of kiss in the third book of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and it survives today through Gallic tradition in certain French ceremonies where honors are bestowed.  Such male-to-male expressions of affection are of ancient Celtic provenance: cf. the three kisses which the poets give to Cú Chulainn in section 10 of the Aided Con Culainn.

[23] Here, of course, the feminine pronoun is here permanently resumed in references to Melóra.

[24] The phrase employed in describing the queen’s position in this arrangement, don taoibh air-ail, suggests a kind of amphitheatric setting behind Arthur if I have properly interpreted ail as the word also used for a cliff; but my confidence in this translation is not complete.

[25] This formation—the gallógláigh culchoiméada—seems in design and purpose similar to the contemporary Secret Service contingent which discreetly surrounds the American president.  Mhac an tSaoi observes in her Forward (x) that the institution of guardian gallógláigh was largely defunct after the Battle of Kinsale (1601) and that this passage hence helps to date the tale’s matter.

[26] The indications here of a broader narrative tradition selectively exploited by the romancier are too numerous to detail, but taken together once again suggest a wide eclecticism rather than an individual creativity of style.  The paragraph’s final sentence especially implies a mining of other texts for material.

[27] The real Thessaly, of course, is landlocked.

[28] Note two qualities of this ending: a) the romancier’s meticulous and almost prolix care to account for the restoration of order in every detail, and b) the hint that the adventure of Melóra and Orlando may continue in Thessaly.  Both qualities indicate a traditional outlook, the former in its regard for social stasis, the latter in its presumption that texts may go on indefinitely.


John Harris is president and founder of The Center for Literate Values.  He received his doctorate in Comparative Literature from the University of Texas at Austin, and is now employed as a visiting lecturer by the Tyler branch of that system.