The Romance of Sir Bevis of Hampton
12th century Anglo-Norman Boeuve de Haumton | 14th century, Middle English: National Library of Scotland, Cambridge, Manchester, Naples.
‘Tell me everything, my friend,’ Bevis said. The palmer replied: ‘I have been looking these past seven years for a man whose name I shall tell you: Bevis is his name.'
Let us turn again and speak of Saber, who is Bevis’s uncle. Saber was grief-stricken when the child Bevis was sold into slavery. He called his own son, Tierry, and asked him to travel into heathen lands, near and far, to see if he could find out where those mariners had taken Bevis.
‘Son,’ he said, ‘you’re my own flesh and blood and you’ll recognise your lord anywhere, I know. For my sake, I implore you, go and search for him; take seven years if you need to and look everywhere for him. I’ll give you money; just let me know where you are and I’ll send the money to you.’
‘I’ll search for Bevis until I find him, even if I have to go as far as India,’ replied Tierry.
So off went Tierry. He looked everywhere for Bevis. In the whole of the heathen world there was no town known to Christianity that Tierry did not travel to, but he could find no sign of him. He found not a trace of him.
Sir Bevis rode onwards on his mission, making as speedy progress as he could. He was riding through a large forest one day when he saw, on his right hand side, a palmer sitting eating his dinner. The man was all alone, but he seemed to be tucking into quite a good meal. He was sitting under a tree and making short work of three fowl that men call quails in these parts; he didn’t seem to be short of food, although he was dressed quite poorly. He glanced up with bright eyes when he saw Bevis approaching and generously invited him to share his meal with him.
‘Sir, come over here and dine with me. Share my food with me upon this ground, and let us speak with one another. You can tell me where you have travelled and what adventures you have seen. You look to be a gentleman and I’m sure that you will be able to help me concerning a man whose name I shall tell you when we have eaten.’
Bevis eagerly alighted from his horse and turned his thoughts to the feast before him. They ate and drank their fill; then afterwards they turned, as is customary, to conversation. Bevis asked the pilgrim if he was a Christian, where he had come from and where he was going and why he was travelling as he was. ‘Tell me everything, my friend,’ Bevis said.
The palmer replied: ‘I was born in England, in Southampton, beside the sea, and I was very happy there. I have been looking these past seven years for a man whose name I shall tell you: Bevis is his name. By God of heaven! I’ve sought him in many lands, far and near, and having my arms and legs tied up with rope is the only way to stop me from continuing my search. I won’t stop until I find him and can bring him back to England to help my father.’
‘What is your father’s name?’ asked Bevis.
The palmer replied innocently: ‘My father’s name is Sir Saber. He is Bevis’s uncle, and the cow that is Bevis’s mother instructed him to throw Bevis into the sea, and that was my father’s undoing. She went to my father and told him to kill her own son, my father’s nephew, by casting him into the sea and drowning him. But my father saved him. He didn’t kill him and because of this he is in great difficulty. He is holed up in a strong castle protected by the sea on all sides, in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. There is no shortage of food there, thankfully; there is more than enough to feed everybody for seven years.
‘This is my quest, then, to find Bevis. So tell me now, if you will, do you know where I can find this man?’
‘By God, I know him well enough!’ exclaimed Bevis with a laugh. ‘It wasn’t that long ago since I saw the Saracens hang him.’
Tierry fell in a faint, and when he recovered, he tore his clothes and his hair, sighed and wept. Bevis tried to comfort him.
‘Go home again to your father,’ he said, ‘tell him all about your suffering and tribulation, tell him about all the distant lands that you have been to and what adventures you have seen, and help him to defend his castle and keep him safe from those who wish him harm. Tell him what I have told you. Though you have sought him these seven years, you were never near that young man.’