Marie from France: Yonec

Here is the poem (the lays) of Marie de France concerning the myth Arthurian. Here is the storytelling version in modern French. The seventh lane is: Yonec.




Since I started Lais, I want to finish my job. The adventures that I know, I will tell them to you first. My project is above all to make you know the Lai d'Ywenec, son of the knight Eudemarec, the loves of his father and his mother, and his birth.

There was once in Brittany a very wealthy old man, who was Lord of Caerwent. This city, famous for the unfortunate events that happened there, is built on the banks of the Duglas River. Our old and rich character married with the intention of having children, to whom they would transmit his immense inheritance. The new wife, descended from a large family, was amiable, wise, and very beautiful. In short, she had so many good qualities that one could not have found her equal from her country to Lincoln, and even in Ireland. The parents committed a great fault in thus sacrificing their daughter. Our old man, who was very jealous, took all his care to keep his young wife; for that he shut her up in a tower, and gave her to watch her more, less than to keep her company, an old sister who had been a widow for a long time. There were many other women to do the service, but they were in another room. The poor little lady could not open her mouth and say a word without the consent of her ancient guardian.

More than seven years passed without the husband having children, without the lady leaving the tower, and without seeing her parents or her friends. When she went to bed, no chamberlain or servant entered her room to light the candles. The poor woman becomes so saddened by her position that she spends whole days in sighs and in tears. Taking no care of her person, she loses almost all her beauty and curses her charms which have caused her misfortune. At the beginning of April, the season when the birds make their sweet songs heard, the lord got ready early in the morning to go hunting. Before leaving he orders the old woman to get up to close the doors on him. After obeying, the old woman takes her book prayers and begins to read. The lady wakes up, and already tears flood her face; she is noticed by the old woman who pays no attention to her. She complained and sighed. God ! how unhappy I am to be in the world! My destiny is to live in this prison, from which I will only come out after my death.

I don't know what this jealous old man can have to keep me in slavery; what folly and what folly to always fear being betrayed! I can't go to church or hear services. If I could at least chat with someone and go for a walk, I would forget my husband's wrongs even when I least wanted to. Cursed be my parents and all those who made me enter into such a covenant! Mine is so vigorously constituted that I cannot hope for its death. No doubt that at his baptism he was plunged into the river of hell; for his veins full of blood, the strength of his muscles, belong to a strong man. I have often heard it said that in ancient times it often happened to the afflicted to have affairs which put an end to their sorrows. The knights found charming mistresses, and the ladies were never blamed for choosing a young, handsome, valiant and liberal lover. Besides, no one except them saw their lovers. I may be wrong, and perhaps we never have such an adventure. Ah! May God who has all power fulfill my desire!

After giving vent to her complaints, the lady sees near her window the shadow of a large bird of prey, and cannot guess what it may be. He enters the room by flying, and comes to stand next to her. After pausing for a moment, and while the lady is examining it, the bird takes the form of a young and handsome knight. The surprised lady changes color, and covers her face for the great fright she feels. The chevalier, who was very courteous, spoke to her in these terms: Madame, deign to calm down; I took the form of a round, which is a well-bred bird; my speech may seem unclear to you, but wait, and you will be informed of the reasons for my approach. I have come to these places to ask for the favor of being your friend; I have loved you for a long time and my heart desires you. I have never loved and will never love any other woman than you; and I will admit it to you, I would not have come to these places, I would not even have left my country, if you had not, yourself, given me the pleasure of asking me to be your lover.

The lady who had regained courage uncovered her face, and answered the knight. Lord, I agree to accept you to be my friend; but first I want to be sure that you believe in God. The knight had everything he needed to captivate a woman; he was in the prime of his life, handsome and well made. Lady, you're absolutely right, I wouldn't want you to have any suspicion of my faith for anything in the world. I firmly believe in the Creator who died to redeem us from the sin of our father Adam, caused by eating him from a very bitter apple. He has been, he is, Will forever use the life and refuge of sinners. Moreover, if you conceive of any doubt, send for your chaplain; tell him that very ill, you want to hear the service established by God himself, to erase the faults of humans. I will take your face and your features to receive the body of the Lord, I will recite my prayers, and I dare to hope that you will be entirely convinced of my religious feelings). I agree to it, resumed the lady. In the meantime, the knight suggests that he lie down on the same bed. We talk, but he is careful not to kiss his beautiful or do what his position seems to allow.

Returning to the room, the old woman finds the lady awake, and points out to her that it is time to get up; she even offers to bring him his clothes. The lady replies that she is greatly indisposed, and that, far from thinking of dressing, by the pains she experiences, she rather needs the help of the chaplain. Suffer in peace, madame, said the old woman, your husband having gone hunting, no one except me will enter here. I leave to think what was the despair of the lady. To come to her desires, she pretends to feel bad. The old woman, frightened by what she sees, opens the door and immediately runs to find the priest. The latter makes haste, leaves, arrives and brings with him the Eucharist which had been requested of him. The knight who had assumed the semblance of the lady, receives the bread and the wine from the chalice; the chaplain goes out, and the old woman runs to shut the doors after him. The lady is resting near the knight, and you have never seen such a beautiful couple. After having seen enough laughter, enough played, and after they had agreed on all their facts, the knight took leave to return to his country.

The lady begs him tenderly to come back often. Beautiful friend, I will see you whenever you want, at all hours of the day if you like. But I beg you, take care not to commit any indiscretion that might make our intelligence known. Be particularly wary of this old woman, who will be watching you night and day and will eventually surprise you. Seeing our love, she will bet your husband, and if ever the misfortune happens that we are discovered, I am forced to confess to you that I cannot defend myself and that I will have to die. On leaving, the knight leaves his friend in the greatest joy; the next day she gets up with pleasure, and throughout the week she has been charmingly cheerful. To please her lover, she takes more care of her toilet. Her calmer mind lets her regain her attractions, and soon she has recovered all her beauty. The tower which she lived in and which, lately displeased her so much, becomes for her a pleasant stay; she prefers him to any other, since she can see her lover as often as she wishes. As soon as her husband is away, day or night, she can converse with the ladder as long as she wishes. May God extend the happy time when she can enjoy the happiness of being loved!

The old husband noticed, not without surprise, the great change which had taken place in the character and in the conduct of his wife. He suspected that his orders were poorly executed by his sister, which is why taking her aside one day, he asked her the reason why his half, who was once so sad, now took the greatest care in dressing well. The old woman replied that she ignored him absolutely. It is impossible to be able to speak to your wife, she cannot have neither lover nor friend; however, like you, I have observed that she likes her solitude better than in the past. I believe you perfectly, my sister, but it is necessary to act cunning to clarify the mystery. Look, in the morning when I'm up and you've closed the doors on me, you'll pretend to go out and leave my wife alone in her bed. Hide in some corner where you can see everything, hear everything, and make sure you discover the reason for his contentment. They stop at this advice. Alas! what misfortune for these lovers whose loss is conjured!

Three days after this determination, the husband pretends to travel; he informs his wife that the king, by a letter, summons him to his court, but that he will return soon. He leaves the room, closing the door after him. The old woman gets up and goes to hide behind a bed where she can learn everything she wants to know. The lady was lying down, but she was not asleep. Believing herself to be alone, she desires the presence of her lover. He soon arrives to spend a few moments with her, they rejoice together, and as soon as it is time to get up, the knight leaves. The old woman noticed the way in which the lover came and went to his beautiful, and how he left her. She could not, however, realize this metamorphosis from bird to man and from man to bird. As soon as the husband, who had hardly moved away, returned, the old woman told him everything she had witnessed. In his anger he swears revenge. For this he immediately had a trap built which was to kill the knight. This trap consisted of four very pointed steel pins which folded over each other as they closed, and which were sharper than the best razor. As soon as this object of vengeance was completed, the husband had it placed on the edge of the window through which the knight entered when he came to visit his lady. Oh God! why must he not be informed of the dreadful fate that is being prepared for him!

The husband got up the next morning before daybreak; he says he's leaving to go hunting. The old woman gets out of bed to accompany her, then she comes back to bed because dawn has barely appeared. The lady awoke and knew that she was alone. Thinking of her friend, she wants to see him, talk to him, and her wish is immediately fulfilled. He comes flying against the window, and as soon as he leans on it, the pins close and injure him dangerously; one enters his body, and his blood flows on all sides. When the knight realizes that he is wounded to death, he enters despite the trap, and goes against the bed of the lady whom he floods with his blood. She considers her friend's wounds, and cannot get over her surprise and pain. Tender friend, it is for you that I am dying. I warned you well of the fate in store for me. Listening to her friend, the lady lost consciousness and was passed out for a long time. When she returned, the knight consoled her; he begs her not to grieve too much, because she is pregnant with a son who will be his consolation. You will name him Ywenec. Brave and valiant, he will be the avenger of his parents, and will kill the detestable author of all our evils.

The blood that flowed from his wounds did not allow the knight to be able to stay any longer. He bids farewell to his lover and leaves sorry. The lady follows him hastily, filling the air with her cries. She springs from a window into the country, falls over twenty feet high, and by a sort of miracle she does herself no harm. Coming out of her bed, the lady was dressed only in a simple shirt; the marks of blood which issued from the wounds of Eudemarec help the lady to follow in his footsteps. She entered a little cabin where her lover had taken some rest. This hut, the floor of which was soaked with blood, had only one entrance. She looks for him in the dark and not finding him, she leaves the hut, continues her course, crosses a beautiful meadow whose, to her astonishment, the grass was covered with blood, and nevertheless allows the road to be seen. had followed the knight. The lady arrives near a city closed by walls. There was no house, no tower which was not superbly constructed, because the inhabitants were very rich. Near the town is the swamp for fishing, the forest for hunting and the harbor for ships. On the other side, towards the keep, was the river which was very rapid. This is where the ships arrived, numbering more than three hundred.

The lady entered the city through the lower door which was open, she crosses the main street, and the trace of blood helps her to find the castle where she does not meet anyone. The stairs were all stained with blood. It successively crosses two rooms, one small, the other larger; they were each occupied by a sleeping knight, but at the third she found her lover's bed. The supports are enamelled gold, and one could not estimate the value of the blankets, the candlesticks and the candles which burn night and day, because they are worth all the money of a kingdom. As soon as she entered the lady recognized her lover; all frightened by the spectacle she sees, she loses the use of the senses. The knight who loves him tenderly lavishes help on him despite the pain he experiences from his wounds. As soon as she came back, the knight seeks to console her, and says to her: Beautiful friend, in the name of God, I beseech you, get out of here, because I will die towards the middle of the day. The grief that my people will experience will be so great that if you were found here you might be insulted. My knights are well aware that they are losing me as a result of our love, and I am very worried about you.

The lady replied: I want to die with you, dear lover, since when I return to my husband, I am sure he will kill me. Rest assured, beautiful lady, take this golden ring; as long as you keep it, your husband will not think of you and will not make you suffer any more. The knight takes his sword, gives it to the lady, advising her not to give it to anyone, and to keep it carefully for their son when he is able to use it, and he has been armed as a knight. You will then go to a party, accompanied by your husband. You will be received in an abbey where you will see a large tomb, and you will be told about the end of the knight it contains, you will then give my sword to your son; you will tell him the story of his birth, of our misfortunes, of my death, and we will see the effect of his vengeance. After having finished his instructions, Eudemarec gives his friend a bliaut of a precious cloth, has it dressed, and begs her to leave him alone.

The sorry lady leaves, taking with her the ring and the sword which must one day avenge her. She was not far than half a league from the city, when she heard the bells ringing and piercing cries raised by the people of the castle, who had just lost their lord. By the pain which she experiences on hearing of the death of her friend, the lady fell four times swooning; and when her senses had returned to her, she rested for a moment in the cabin which she had visited in the morning; continuing to walk she arrived at the castle of her husband, who left her perfectly quiet ever since. The lady gave birth to a son whom she nourished and whom she named Ywenec. In the kingdom one would not have found its equal in beauty, in prowess, in courage and in generosity ^. When he reached the required age, he received knighthood. Now, listen to what happened to him in the same year.

The feast of Saint Aaron was celebrated in Carlion and in several other towns. According to the custom of the country, the husband, in addition to several of his friends, went there with a large retinue, his wife and the young Ywenec. Knowing little of the route which they were to take, they had with them a young man who directed their march, and who led them into a superb town which they did not know. We could make out a rich abbey where the young man who guided them made them lodge. Society was received and treated in the abbot's own room. The travelers warn that they will leave the next day at the end of the mass. The abbot begs them to want to give him a day. He wants to show them the chapter rooms, the refectory, the apartments; and, by reason of what they had been perfectly received, the travelers consent to prolong their stay. After dinner, the strangers visit the house, and enter the chapter room.

There is a large tomb covered with a precious tapestry richly embroidered in gold at the top, bottom and sides. The tomb was surrounded by twenty lighted candles which were carried by candlesticks also of gold; the censers in the service of the deceased were made of amethyst. The travelers begged their guide to kindly teach them the name and history of the personage contained in the tomb. The religious shed tears and tell with tears that it is the body of the most valiant, the most beautiful and the most beloved of knights born and to be born. This one was our king and never one saw one more affable. He was killed as a result of his love affair with a lady from Caerwent; and since that time the earth has been without a lord. We are impatiently awaiting the arrival of a son he had with his mistress, who according to his last wishes is to succeed him.

When the lady had heard this speech, she called Ywenec and said to him: You know, beautiful son, why God brought us here; here is your father's tomb, and here is his murderer. At the same time, she gives him the sword of Eudemarec, which she always carried with her. Yvenec knew the secret of his birth, the story of his parents' love affairs, the assassination of his father. After this speech the lady fell dead on the tomb of her lover. Ywenec seeing that his mother no longer exists, comes against the old man, takes his good sword, and knocks his head off his shoulders. He avenged in one stroke the misfortunes of the authors of his days. As soon as the news of this event spread in the city, the body of the lady was placed and enclosed in the coffin of her lover. God will have them in his mercy. The people recognized Ywenech as their king before he left the church.

The people who had knowledge of this adventure made it a long time later to recall the sorrows and the sorrows endured by two tender lovers.