Mary of France: Le Fresne

Here is the poem (the lays) of Marie de France concerning the myth arthurien. En voici la version conté en français moderne. Le troisième lais est : le Fresne.

the fresne

Le Fresne

I will bring back the Lay of the Ash, according to the story that has been given to me.

Il existoit jadis dans la Brittany, deux seigneurs qui étoient si proches voisins que leurs biens se touchoient. A-la-fois vaillants chevaliers et hommes riches, tous deux étoient mariés, et leur habitation n’étoit pas éloignée de la ville. L’une des dames devint enceinte, et au bout du terme, elle accoucha de deux enfants. Le mari, charmé de cet événement, s’empressa de le mander à son voisin; il lui envoie un messager pour lui faire part que sa femme étoit acouchée de deux enfants mâles, et pour le prier d’être parrain de l’un de ses fils. Le messager arrive chez l’ami pendant qu’on étoit à table, il s’agenouille et remet sa dépêche.

The neighbor thanks heaven for his friend's happiness, and presents a superb horse to the envoy. His wife, who was eating alongside her husband, began to smile as she listened to the messenger's story; she was false, haughty, slanderous and envious. This lady spoke very lightly when she said in front of her servants: With the help of God, I am truly surprised that the knight our neighbor dared to ask my husband what must be his shame and his dishonor, since his woman gave birth to two children at the same time. How to publish what must dishonor these spouses? We know perfectly well that he has never seen each other and that we will never see such a thing, if the woman has not had commerce with two men.

The husband, astonished at such language, stares at his wife, and blames her for what she has just said. Lady, he resumed, you had better be silent than speak thus; it is certain that the new mother deserves the good reputation she enjoys. The people of the house, present at the scene which had just taken place, repeated the remarks made by their mistress. The news spread throughout Britain. The wicked was blamed by all persons of the sex; poor and rich hated and despised her. The messenger returned to his master, reported to him the conversation he had heard. The latter was very sorry for the remarks that had been made at his friend's house; he took a dislike to his wife, and thought that she had really deceived him; from that moment he made a bad household, and had no more confidence in the mother of his children; it seemed that this husband was seeking every means imaginable to afflict this unfortunate woman, so convinced was he that she was guilty.

The lady who had spoken so badly became pregnant in her turn in the same year, and when she reached her term, she gave birth to two daughters. I ask you if the neighbor was not then well avenged, and what regrets the wicked girl had in her turn. Unhappy that I am, she said, what shall I do? I am dishonored for life. I will be despised by my husband and my parents who will hate me, according to the comments I made about my neighbor. They will no longer want to believe in my virtue as soon as they learn of my adventure. I have condemned myself, by maintaining that a woman cannot have two children if she had not had intercourse with two men. However, such a misfortune happens to me and I find myself in the same situation as my neighbor.

I now see the truth of the adage: He who slanders others and blames them often does not know what must happen to him. Praise is better than criticism; for if I had taken advantage of this advice, I would not be so much to be pitied. I must kill one of the children; I would rather implore divine mercy for this crime than be debased and mistreated. The persons who took care of this woman hastened to console her and warned her that they would not suffer the execution of a similar crime. The lady had with her a young person of free status whom she had brought up and whom she cherished. Seeing her protector crying and complaining, the afflicted young girl sought all means to console her.

Lady, said she, this pain does not at all suit your condition; please calm down and hear my opinion. You will give me one of the children, I will deliver you secretly, so that you will never see him again. No one can blame you now. I will carry your daughter near the door of a convent; I will take the greatest care of her on the way, and I dare to presume, with the grace of God, that she will be found by some prud'homme who will undertake to bring her up. The lady felt great pleasure at this proposal; she promised the maiden that for the great service she wished to render her, she would undertake on her part to reward her suitably. The beautiful child was wrapped in a very fine cloth, covered with a vermilion silk material.

La Meschine saw the mustier which the lady's husband had brought back from Constantinople. Never had such a beautiful fabric been seen. With a piece of ribbon they bound a large gold ring to his arm, which weighed more than an ounce. It was surrounded by garnets, and the name of the place where the child was to be deposited was engraved on it. This precaution was taken so that those who would find the poor little girl would learn that she was well born and that she belonged to rich people. The maiden took the child and carried him out of the bedroom; taking advantage of the darkness and the silence of the night to get out of the city, she first takes the main road, crosses the forest, then in the distance, on the right, the virgin having heard the crowing of the roosters and the barking dogs, she presumed that on this side there must be a town. This hope revives his strength and makes him double the pace. Her expectation was not disappointed, she entered a considerable city, where there was a rich abbey of women.

A number of nuns were there under the direction of an abbess. The young person after considering the different parts of the monastery, such as the towers, the walls, the bell tower, stopped in front of the door to implore the favor of heaven. After kneeling down, she said the following prayer. Give me the grace, O my God, by your holy name to take pity on this child, and to protect him from all misfortune. Her prayer finished, the maiden looked behind her, and perceived a very large ash tree, the trunk of which was divided into four branches which covered the ground around with their shade. Immediately taking back in her arms the innocent creature she had deposited, she hastened to place it on this tree, then having again commended it to God, the young lady left to return to her lady, and give her an account of what she had done.

In the abbey remained a doorman whose functions were to open the doors to people who came to prayers. That day this man had gotten up earlier than usual. After lighting the candles and the lamps, ringing the bells, he opens the great door and goes out; the first object that strikes his gaze on casting his eyes on the ash tree is the silk stuff in which the child was enveloped. Assuming that this object could have been stolen, the doorman hastens to come to the tree to take this stuff, and give it to the true owner. But at the moment when he brought his hand to it, the prud'homme discovered that the silk fabric was used to wrap a child. He gave thanks to heaven, went and took this innocent creature, carried her immediately to his house, handed her over to his daughter, who was a widow and had a young child whom she was nursing.

The prud'homme returning to the house calls the young widow saying to her: Come on my daughter, get up immediately, light the candle and the fire. I bring you a child that I found on the ash tree, you will warm it, bathe it and feed it with your milk. The widow followed her father's orders step by step, she lights the fire, warms the child, bathes him and nurses him; then, while undressing the child, the sight of the gold ring and the silk material, made these good people assume that the abandoned child must belong to a high class. The next day after the service, when the abbess was leaving the church, the porter came to her to tell her about his adventure. The abbess asks to see this child dressed in the same way as he was found. They go to look for him, and the lady, after having examined him well, warns that she will take care of his education, that she will raise him like her niece.

The abbess forbids the porter to make known the manner in which this child had been abandoned and found on an ash tree whose name was given to her and which she kept. Finally the child was nursed in the abbey under the eyes of the abbess, who called her her niece. When Ash had reached that age when nature forms young people, she surpassed in beauty and amiability all the young ladies of Brittany. The kindness of her character, the charm of her conversation, made her dear to everyone, and her qualities even surpassed the graces of her face. She was so good, so amiable, so well brought up, she spoke with so much sweetness and grace that one could not see her without loving and esteeming her.

There existed at Dol a lord called Buron, who was beloved by his vassals. He heard about Ash's good qualities, and couldn't help loving her. Returning from a tournament, he passed by the convent, and begged the Abbess to send for her niece. The chevalier found the young lady so high above the portrait that had been painted for him, that he was entirely in love with her. He will consider himself very unhappy if he does not obtain the love of this beauty. His reason is troubled and he does not know what to resolve, nor what side to take. If he comes too often to the abbey, the superior will discover the reason for his visits, and will forbid him to continue them. By dint of thinking about his situation, he thought that by making various donations to the convent, he would enrich it forever, and that he would ask in return for an apartment to occupy it when he passed through the township. To obtain the confidence of the nuns, he gave them considerable lands, in order to make people pray for him, but Buron had many other motives than that of asking forgiveness for his faults.

As soon as he had obtained the object of his request, he often came to the monastery to find the occasion to speak to Ash. He begged her so much, made her such beautiful promises that this young lady finally consented to give him her love. Having obtained the favors of his beauty, he spoke to her one day in these terms: Beautiful friend, since you have chosen me as your lover, follow me to my castle. Judge of your aunt's anger if she were informed of our loves, and what would be her wrath if you became pregnant. If you believe me come with me, you will never lack for anything, and you will share my riches. The beautiful Ash, who loved her friend tenderly, readily complied with his wishes, and followed Buron to his chateau. She took with her in her flight the ring and the stuff which were to serve to make her recognized one day. The abbess had told her how she had been found on a tree, so Ash kept preciously in a chest the various objects with which she was wrapped.

It was a great happiness for this unfortunate young lady, that the good abbess who had brought her up and nourished her by giving her back the ring and the cloth, to have told her how she had been abandoned at birth, and by what chance she had fallen. in his hands. Knowing how important these two objects were to her, Ash was careful not to forget them. So she took the greatest care of them and constantly watched that they did not go astray. Buron, whose tenderness was extreme, led his beautiful mistress to his land, where she made herself loved and cherished by all who knew her. They had been together for a long time, when the knights repeatedly explained to their lord that they would be flattered to see him marry a woman of his rank, and to send away his friend, in order to have an heir. The knights give him a glimpse that if he leaves his land to a stranger or to his beloved, they will no longer hold him as lord, and that they will cease to serve him. Buron, forced to defer to the advice of his knights, asked them what wife from the province he could take.

Sire, near here is a prudish man, father of an only daughter and very rich. This young lady who is the prettiest in the canton is called Coudre. Thus, by abandoning Ash, you will have to replace it Sewing; the latter bears fruit, and the Ash bears none. The request having been made to the parents was accepted. But unfortunately ! the knights did not know that the two young people were twin sisters. Ash was the unfortunate abandoned, and her sister was destined to become the wife of her friend. The marriage is finally settled, and as soon as Ash learns that her friend is going to marry, she shows no trace of grief, and devotes herself to the hardest work. She serves her lord as usual and takes care of everyone; also all the people invited or those of the house marveled at his courage and his devotion. Buron's friends had gone to the chateau on the day of the wedding, as well as the Archbishop; the knights of the town of Dol brought him the new wife.

Coudre's mother had accompanied her daughter; fearing that her son-in-law would return to his first love, she wanted to advise him to send Ash away, and to marry her to some good man. The wedding was very beautiful, and while they gave themselves up to the pleasure, Ash went through the rooms of the castle to examine if everything was in place and if nothing was missing. It did not appear that this marriage displeased her, for she had served the new bride with so much grace that the guests could not recover from their surprise. Everyone praised his conduct, care, and activity. The mother, admiring the courage, the patience, the good heart of Frêne, granted him her esteem and her friendship. Ah! if she had recognized her daughter, she doubtless would not have wanted to take her friend away from her. Always attentive, Ash will have the nuptial bed made. Leaving her cloak, she shows the chamberlains how to do it to conform to the taste of their lord. The bed was made up, and seeing that it was covered with a material that was not very rich and in bad taste, Ash opened his chest, took out the beautiful material in which it had been wrapped, and had it used to decorate his friend's bed. . She did it with all the more pleasure because the archbishop was to come to bless the room of the two spouses, and fulfill his ministry.

As soon as everything was ready, the mother led Coudre into the nuptial chamber and wanted her to sleep. Casting her eyes on the bed, she sees the precious fabric, recognizes it, remembers the use she makes of it, then experiences an involuntary shudder. Where can this stuff come from? by what chance is she in my son-in-law's castle? To clear it up, the lady calls a chamberlain; Tell me, my friend, you must know, how did your master become the owner of this stuff? I will satisfy you, madam, it is Frêne, the young person who brought it; seeing that my lord's blanket was not rich enough for such a solemn day, she gave the one you see. Send for her immediately, and as soon as she sees him: Ah! beautiful friend, said the mother to her, please tell me where this good stuff was found, where does it come from, who gave it to you? Lady, my aunt the abbess who took care of my childhood and who brought me up, gave me this fabric as well as a gold ring, and enjoined me to keep them preciously. They had been given to me no doubt by the authors of my days who sent me to the convent.

Beautiful friend, could I not see this ring? yes madam, no doubt, I will look for it and bring it to you. As soon as the lady looked at it, she recognized the ring, no longer doubting that Ash was her daughter. Kiss me, my child, you are my daughter; the shock that this unhappy mother felt when she said these words made her fall into a swoon. Coming to her senses, the lady sends for her husband, who arrives terrified. As soon as he entered, his wife fell on her knees, kissed her, and begged him to forgive her. The husband, who knew nothing of the adventure, replied: Lady, there is no dispute between us, please – get up, because you are completely forgiven. Do me the pleasure of letting me know what you desire. Sire, I will not confess my fault until you have listened to me, and then forgiven me. It reminds you of the rash judgment I passed on my neighbor who had given birth to two boys. I spoke against myself without knowing it. In my turn I had two daughters at the same time; I hid one which was taken to a convent. I wrapped her in the precious stuff you had brought from Constantinople, and I hid in her swaddling clothes the beautiful ring you had given me the first time you spoke to me.

Well, sire, nothing can be hidden, I have just found here the stuff, the ring, and my daughter whom I had lost through my fault. It is this person, so amiable, so wise, and so beautiful, whom the Chevalier had loved for a long time, and whose sister he has just married. Madam, replied the husband, I am very satisfied and very happy that we have found our daughter before the fault was increased, Heaven grants us its favors doubly. Come, my dear child, come and embrace your father. Ash is at the height of happiness, since she has just found her parents. His father left them immediately to go and speak to his son-in-law and to the archbishop, and tell them of this news. As soon as he was informed of it, Buron could not contain his joy, and the prelate advised him to wait until the night was over, because the next day he would break the knots he had formed the day before. It was therefore decreed that the first marriage should be declared null, and that Buron would marry his friend with the consent of her parents. The father divided his property into two equal shares, one of which was given to Frêne. When the knight and his wife returned to their country, after the wedding which was very beautiful, they took with them Coudre, their other daughter, who found in her country a very rich party.

Quand on connut cette aventure et sa fin , les Bretons en firent le Lai du Frêne, ainsi appelé de la dame qui en est le sujet