La Demoiselle à la mule (also sometimes called La Mule sans frein) is a fairly short verse novel (1136 octosyllables), written between around 1190 and 1210, which depicts the legends Arthurian and in particular the character of Gawain who is the hero.
Le King Artus of Brittany held plenary court in his royal city of Carduel, at the feasts of Pentecost. To him had rushed all that his kingdom contained of noble ladies, high barons and knights. There were only tournaments and feasts, and great jubilation in the entire city.
On the second day of the assembly, as the king and his guests were leaving the table, a woman was seen from afar in the meadow, appearing to be approaching the castle, and who was mounted on a mule without a halter and without a brake. This sight piqued curiosity. The king, the queen, everyone went to the windows, everyone tried to guess who this solitary traveler was and what she wanted. When she was near the walls of the mansion, we saw that she was young and pretty. All knights and all the pages flew in front of her and hastened to help her off her mule. We saw then that her beautiful face was wet with tears and that she gave all the signs of the sharpest pain.
They led her to the great Artus. She bowed deeply to him, wiped her eyes, and apologized for coming over and bothering him and asking for help: "What's your trouble, beautiful young lady?" said Artus. If he is one of those who can be relieved, we are, my knights and I, at your mercy! “See,” she said, pointing to her mule, “they've removed the brake from my mount; I have been crying since that day and will cry until it is brought back to me. Only the bravest of knights can win it back and return it to me: where to look for this treasure other than at your court, great king? So she begged Artus to allow some of the brave people around him to take an interest in his misfortune. "Whoever," she added, "who consents to become my champion will be led proudly by my mule instead of combat, and as a price for his courage, I publicly pledge to become his lady." "
It did not take more to tempt the bravery of the Knights of Artus. All were going to offer themselves and seek the honor of choosing the beautiful. But now the Seneschal, Master Queux, is the first to speak. He was Artus' foster brother, and his gonfalonier. He was neither handsome nor brave, the poor sire, and the lady would have preferred a younger and more attractive champion. But he had to accept his arm. He therefore swore to bring the brake back, even if it was at the end of the world. But, before leaving, he demanded that the young lady let him take a kiss on account and already he was approaching his bearded face to the ruddy face of the stranger. But she pushed him away and refused absolutely any reward before he was back. Queux therefore took up arms, grumbling and left, letting himself be led by the mule, as had been recommended to him.
The still trotting mule led him into a large forest. No sooner had they entered it than from all the thickets and forests sprang up herds of lions, tigers and leopards. They roared hideously and looked as if they wanted to devour Master Queux. The poor man was very sorry for his bluster, and at that moment he had for ever given up all the kisses in the world. How he would have liked to be with Artus, in the great hall of Carduel's castle! But as soon as the ferocious beasts recognized the mule, they They all bowed down to lick his feet and went back to their lair. What a sigh of relief gave Master Queux!
On leaving the forest, there appeared a valley so dark, so deep and so black that the most valiant knight would not have dared to enter it without shuddering. The mule entered it without worrying about its rider who was trembling like a leaf. And it was not without reason. From all the cracks in the rock escaped scorpions, dragons and snakes, which hissed and vomited flames. These flames alone threw some light into the depths of the valley. All around poor Seneschal the raging winds roared, torrents roared like thunder, mountains crumbled with a horrible crash. So although the air was colder than in Iceland, sweat was streaming down Master Queux's whole body. However, he crossed the valley, thanks to his mount, and began to breathe. But in front of them, at the edge of a large deserted plain, there is a wide and deep river, where neither bridge nor boat could be seen. Above the black waters, between two steep rocks which bordered the two opposite banks, stretched the rounded trunk of a large fir tree. Queux could not make up his mind to venture onto this bridge. He therefore gave up the adventure and retraced his steps with low ear. Alas! we had to go back through the valley and the forest. The snakes and the lions seemed to be laughing at him, which did not prevent them from rushing at him with a kind of joy, and they would have devoured him a thousand times, if they could have thrown him to the ground without touching him. the mule.
As soon as he approached the castle, the lookouts who watching at the top of the towers signaled it to King Artus. And everyone to go to the windows to watch his entry. The knights assembled as if to receive him with honor. Artus himself came to offer to take him to the promised kiss. What bursts of laughter resounded around poor Queux when he had to admit that he came home empty-handed! Ladies and young ladies, barons, squires and pages, each joked him, and the unfortunate Seneschal, not knowing what or to whom to answer, and not daring to raise his eyes, disappeared and went to hide.
The young lady was even more distressed than he was. Fallen in hope, she cried bitterly. The brave Gauvain, the best of the knights of Artus, was touched by his sorrow. He approached, offered her boldly his sword and promised to dry up his tears; but like Messire Queux, he wanted a kiss in advance. The dangers to be run were known, the beauty's misfortunes increased. Gauvain had, moreover, another face than his predecessor. And how could one refuse such a valiant knight, whose value, so often proven, inspired confidence? The kiss was therefore granted and Gauvain set off in his turn on the mule.
The same dangers presented themselves; he only laughed at it. Lions and serpents swooped down on him; he drew his sword and went to fight them. The monsters, bowing before the mule, quietly retired and Gwain put his sword back in its scabbard. Finally he arrives at the river, sees the pine tree trunk, recommends himself to God and rushes over this perilous bridge. It was so narrow that the mule could barely put half of its feet on it, so smooth and so rounded that you could have sworn it would slip with every step. All around the hero the foaming waves rumbled up and rushed over him to knock him down and swallow him up; but he was unshakeable and happily landed on the shore.
There stood a fortified castle, furnished on the outside with a row of four hundred palisade-shaped stakes, each of which bore a bloody head, with the exception of one whose still bare point seemed to await this terrible ornament. The fortress, surrounded by deep ditches, filled by a rushing torrent, turned on itself like a grindstone on its pivot or like the hoof which a child spins on its belt. No bridge crossed the ditch and Gauvain, who saw no way to get to the wall, wondered how he could exercise his value in this place. He waited nonetheless, hoping that the fortress, perhaps, in one of these revolutions, would offer him some gateway, and determined in any case to perish in the place rather than return shamefully. A door indeed opened; he stung his mule, which leaped across the ditch, and here he was in the castle.
Gauvain first believed himself to be in the kingdom of death. Empty courtyards, no one at the windows, the silence of solitude everywhere. A dwarf finally appears, stands in front of him and examines him from head to toe. Gwain asks him who his lord or lady is, where they can be found and what they require. The dwarf does not answer and withdraws. The knight continues on his way and sees a terribly ugly giant emerging from an underground passage, hairy like a bear and armed with an ax. Gauvain questions him as he had questioned the dwarf. The giant praises him for his courage, but pities him for having come to attempt an adventure the outcome of which seems likely to be fatal to him and which the sight of the severed heads which lined the palisade should have warned him to avoid. However, he puts himself at his service, feeds him, treats him well, leads him to the room where he is to sleep; but, before going out, he orders the hero to cut his head down, announcing that he will come in his turn to do the same to him the next day. Gauvain takes his sword, and rolls his head to his feet. The giant picks it up, puts it back on his shoulders and leaves. Gauvain couldn't believe his eyes. But, like a man accustomed to adventures, he lies down and sleeps peacefully, without worrying about the fate that awaits him the next day. At daybreak, the giant arrives with his ax to keep his promise; he awakens the knight and, according to their conditions of the day before, orders him to present his head. Gauvain cranes his neck without swaying; it was only a test to tempt his courage. The giant embraces him with transport and praises him for his courage. The knight then asks where he can get the brake, and what to do to get it. "You will find out before the end of the day," said the giant to him, "but prepare all your valor, you never needed it again, because you will not run out of enemies to fight. "
At noon, he is taken to the place of the fight. Appears an enormous lion which, while foaming, gnawed its chain and, with its claws, dug the earth with fury. At the sight of the hero, the monster roars, bristles its mane, opens an enormous mouth; his chain falls and he rushes towards Gauvain whose hauberk he tears. He was killed, however, after a long fight, but to make way for another bigger and more furious still who succumbed in his turn not without danger to our hero. Gauvain seeing no more enemy appear asked for the brake. The giant, without answering him, takes him back to his room, makes him serve food to repair his strength and announces to him that he is going to fight another enemy.
He was a formidable knight, the very one who had planted the stakes of the enclosure, and who, with his own hand, had attached to them the heads of the three hundred and ninety-nine conquered knights. They each bring a horse, and give them a strong lance; they move away to take a career and merge on each other. From the first shock their spears shattered and the straps of their horses broke. They get up immediately to begin a new combat on foot. Their weapons resound under their formidable sword, their shield sparkles and, for two whole hours, victory remains uncertain. Gauvain redoubles his courage; he deals such a terrible blow on the head of his adversary that, splitting his helmet to the circles, he stuns him and knocks him down. It was all over with the knight; he was going to perish if he had not confessed himself conquered, and the laces of his helm were already being torn from him. But he surrendered his sword and asked for life. From that moment everything was ended. The winner was entitled to the brake; it could not be refused to him; all that remained was to make him renounce it himself, and this is how they hoped to succeed.
The dwarf, coming to greet him with respect, invited him on behalf of the lord of the lord, his mistress, to take part in a great feast. She received him covered with silk and precious stones and seated on a silver throne surmounted by a velvet canopy embroidered with gold. Her beauty was dazzling. She had Gwain placed at her side and wanted to serve him herself throughout the meal. Among other things, she reproached him tenderly for the death of her lions and the defeat of her knight. "They were," she said, "my only defenders!" She then confessed that the young lady with the mule was her sister and that she had taken the brake off her. “Renounce, Messire,” she added, “the rights of your victory. Fix yourselves close to me and dedicate to me this invincible arm whose strength I have just experienced, this castle and thirty-eight other more beautiful still are yours with all their riches, and the one who begs you to accept them will be honored itself to become the winner's prize. "
These attractive offers did not shake Gauvain. He still persisted in demanding the brake, and when he had obtained it, he set off again on the mule amid the festive chants of a crowd of people who, to his astonishment, ran in his path. These were the inhabitants of the castle who, until then confined to their houses by the tyranny of their lady, could not leave them without running the risk of being devoured by her lions and who, now free, came to kiss their hand. liberator.
Gauvain therefore returned to Carduel. It was a big celebration on his return. The young lady received him with transports of joy and gratitude and granted him the promised kiss. But, look at the malignity of women, hardly had she paid her debt when she had everything prepared for her departure. In vain Artus and Queen Juniper urged her to wait until the feasts were over, nothing could hold her back; she took leave of them, got on her mule and set off again.