A bird appeared from out of the sky, a griffin, says the book, soaring over the forest. It was so large that it could easily carry off a knight in full armour. It snatched up the lioness and carried her across the sea to an isle. The child slept in the lioness's mouth and knew nothing of the journey, through the grace of God.
When the lioness was dropped upon the land, she reared up ferociously as the wild beast that she was, and through God's grace, she killed the griffin and ate it, then lay down beside the child. The infant sucked the lioness, as God willed, when it felt its milky teats near to its face. The lioness cared for the baby as though it was one of her own cubs, and was very protective of the infant. She made a den with her paws, placed the child in it and looked after it day and night.
And so the lioness remains, caring for this beautiful child. But the lady who has been cast into solitude cries her sorrow to Christ and cannot be solaced. 'Jesus, King of all,' she wails, 'with a heavy heart I call to you, help me! I was the daughter of a king and have been the Empress of Rome, but through the untruths that have been told of me I am reduced to this sorrow and disgrace. I have lost all hope of happiness! My two children have been taken from me. I cannot go on! I know that it is because of my sin, Lord, and I shall go to serve you while I live, in the Holy Land.
So she travelled and came at last to the Aegean Sea. She walked upon the shore and in front of her was a harbour and a great city with high towers. It was no great task to reach this city.
She found a ship ready to sail, filled with pilgrims, offered the sailors gold in return for a space on the ship and they sent a small boat out to fetch her. When she had climbed aboard they set her against the mast; and here she stayed, out of sight and with her tears unseen.
The ship came close to an isle and the captain instructed that the vessel heave to: 'for we need to take on fresh water,' he told them. Within sight was a high rock and beneath it a spring welling out over the stones. Two sailors were sent ashore. They climbed up to the spring, and were instantly set upon by a lioness.
The ship lay for a long while at anchor, waiting for the men to return, until the sun was at its highest point in the sky. Then twelve marines were sent out, with shining breastplates and spears, to see what had happened to the expedition. They found a lioness in her den with a little baby boy sucking milk from her. He wriggled playfully against the animal. Sometimes the child sucked milk, at other times he would play with the lioness.
The marines fled away in terror!
They described what they had seen on the rock – a lioness in her den, and a child with her. And both their sailors dead. Then the lady spoke up: 'Have mercy, Sirs! That is my child! Let me go ashore.'
They launched the tender once more and rowed the lady to the beach. She ran to the rock, and when the lioness saw her approaching, through the grace of Mary, she allowed the lady to take the child and then followed her as she walked back to the boat. When the sailors saw the lioness they were nearly frightened to death! Some grasped oars, others poles, to defend themselves and their ship.
They brought the lady back into the vessel, but no man dared carry the lioness, so she jumped thirty feet into the ship! There was little joy and many sailors jumped into the sea. But the lioness lay down beside the lady and began to suckle the child.
The wind blew, they hauled up sail and sped over the dark sea until they sighted land; it was a city with high towers called Jerusalem. Everybody was as delighted to see this as birds are to see the dawn. When the tide was right, the lady was brought ashore.
Word soon spread that a lady with a lioness had arrived in that rich city and the king sent for her; and when the king saw her he knew her to be the Empress of Rome and took her by the hand. He asked her what had happened, and she told him everything. He had the child christened Octavian.
The lioness stayed with the lady and the child, and everybody did their utmost to bring pleasure to the empress, until she had fully recovered from her ordeal. And so she lived in Jerusalem.
But what of her other child – the one who was taken by the ape?
As the wild ape crossed a path through the woodland, carrying the child, she met with an armed knight. They fought a hard battle together – so hard that the knight broke his sword in the struggle, but the ape abandoned the child and ran off. The knight took up the baby and carried it with him as he continued his journey. But soon he was set upon by ten outlaws. The knight was terrified, for his sword was now broken and he could not defend himself; and for all his courage and prowess, the outlaws soon won the lovely little child and wounded the knight so badly that he scarcely managed to escape with his life.
The outlaws went to a clearing, set the child down and began to play with it. The chief of the outlaws said: 'It is a great shame for strong men like us to kill a child. I suggest that we do it no harm but take it to the seashore and see if we can sell it. It seems to be quite a noble baby and we might be able to exchange it for quite a lot of gold and silver.'
Two outlaws readied themselves and made their way to the Aegean Sea. The baby was so handsome that no man could look upon it and not cry with joy. A Paris merchant approached them; his name was Clement the Villain.
'Sirs,' he said, 'If you like, I will exchange some shining new gold florins for this child!'
They told him they were asking forty pounds for the little boy.
'Then he will remain with you for quite a long while,' observed Clement, shrewdly. So they settled for twenty pounds and gave the child to Clement. Clement the Villain purchased a pannier to carry the baby in, and a nurse as well, to feed the infant. Then he made his way into France. He headed for Paris as quickly as he could and when he arrived at his hall he was received with great joy. His wife was delighted to see him and asked all his news and how he had come across the child.
'I found him in the Holy Land and could not abandon him, in all truth,' he lied.
His wife seemed pleased. 'He shall be my own child,' she said, and kissed the infant many times.
They named the child Florent and by the time this little boy was seven years old he was handsome, intelligent and afraid of nothing. The merchant and his wife loved him as much as they loved their own lives. And when Florent was twelve, Clement deemed his other son ready to serve an apprenticeship and sent him to a candlemaker, and to Florent he gave two oxen and instructed him to drive them over the Seine to a butcher and to learn this trade. But it was not in the boy's nature to be a tradesman!
As Florent drove the cattle over the bridge he saw a marvellous sight; a squire with a handsome falcon on his arm. Florent went up to the young man and offered him the two oxen for the hawk. The squire was delighted with the bargain, took the oxen, and Florent, too, was overjoyed. The squire hurried away and Florent was keen to depart as well, in case the squire might soon realise the disparity of the bargain and wish to have his hawk back! He ran all the way home to Clement’s house, rushed in, gave the falcon some food and began to smooth and arrange its feathers.
Clement soon arrived in the hall.
'What have you done with the oxen I gave you?' he shouted. There was a terrible uproar as Clement beat the child mercilessly. 'You shall receive no food from now on other than what this hawk can catch for you!' he threatened.
Sorely bruised though he was, Florent went over to the falcon and stroked its feathers. He could not understand why his father was so angry with him. 'Sir,' he said, 'for Christ's sake, stop hitting me! Can you not see why I bought this falcon? If you would only look to see how beautifully his feathers lie, you would pray to God that you might give half your wealth to acquire another like him!'
A little while later, Clement put forty pounds in a bag and gave it to Florent to take to his brother across the bridge. As the child walked through the city of Paris, he caught sight of a beautiful white horse. Florent walked up to the steed. He had never before seen such a fine animal and without any hesitation or shyness at all he asked if it was for sale.
'Thirty pounds,' came the reply, 'and not a penny less.'
'This is too little, and you shall have more,' replied Florent, and he counted out forty pounds. The merchant was delighted, grabbed the money and disappeared with it. Child Florent leaped upon the horse's back and rode to Clement's house, bursting with pride. He sought no stable but led it right into the hall. After feeding it some wheat and hay he groomed the animal and combed its mane and its tail, so that not a hair was out of place.
It was not long before Clement arrived home. 'What have you done?' he screamed. 'What have you brought into my house?'
'For God's pity!' replied Florent.
Not long after this, war erupted in France. An army a hundred thousand strong rampaged through the country, destroying castles, burning towns – there was no wall that could keep them out.
Octavian, the Emperor of Rome, soon arrived in Paris with a large contingent of knights. Other Christian kings converged upon this city, fully armed and ready for war. This host remained in Paris for a month, unable to advance against the sultan's might. For the sultan had a giant.
The sultan also had a beautiful daughter, Mirabelle, a very pretty young lady whom the King of France had invited to stay at Montmartre to watch the fighting. She was the most beautiful young woman in the whole of Christendom, both Heathendon and Christendom combined.
'I cannot understand why your men have not taken Paris yet,' said the giant, condescendingly, to the sultan. 'It is a marvel to me that they are taking so long. If you and all your men will stop, I will undertake to capture Paris single-handedly. But you must promise me Mirabelle's hand in marriage if I do.'
'I agree to these terms,' said the sultan, approvingly.
The giant took the road to Paris, that very day. He stood twenty-two feet tall, between his forehead and his toes! No horse could carry him. He leaned over the outer wall and spoke to the people within, urging them to send out a knight to face him or he would destroy the land thereabouts, burn the city and kill everybody inside.
All the people ran to get a glimpse of the giant, but as soon as they did so they ran twice as quickly in the opposite direction! Five knights sallied out, saying they would trust to God and to Fortune. The giant was pleased to see them, and quickly killed them. Not one escaped alive.
When the giant had slain these five knights, he went back to the city wall and leaned over again.
'King Dagobert of France!' he cried, 'come out yourself and fight! I have promised the sultan's beautiful daughter that I will give her your head, and in return for your head, she has promised to marry me! If you will not come out, I shall destroy this city and you shall all die like dogs.'
Great fear then gripped the population. And while the panic grew, the giant knocked huge great lumps out of the wall with his club. All the people cried to God, and to his mother Mary, with tear-filled eyes and voices hoarse with terror.
'Father!' exclaimed Florent, 'I have a horse! All I lack is some armour! Ah, lord! Why is everybody so weak? I could do all that is required if I was armed properly!'
'If you carry on like this I shall clout you around the head!' replied his father.
'Do not take offence, father,' replied Florent, 'but I shall go and fight this giant whether I am armed or not. You cannot stop me!'
'Well, if this is the case,' replied his father in exasperation, 'I have some armour, such as it is, and I can lend it to you. But it hasn't seen the light of day for many years, I warn you.'
'Father! I don't care. Victory is ours! Quickly, let me put it on before somebody else goes and kills the giant first.'
But Clement's heart nearly burst for sorrow when he cast a padded undergarment over Florent. Then he placed a coat of chain mail over Florent's head and let the rusty links fall about his body. He brought a shield and a lance and they were both in somewhat less than perfect condition. He gave the child a sword that had not been drawn from its scabbard in seven years, and this was obvious to see.
Clement tried to draw it, but it would not pull out. Gladwyn his wife took hold while Clement tugged. It came out suddenly and they both fell over backwards! Clement landed awkwardly and hit his nose on the ground. Florent stood laughing.
So Florent in his unsightly armour has mounted his horse and brandishes his rusty sword! He enclosed his head in a very dirty and rusty helmet and both Clement and his wife wept as he rode off, for they loved the child as their own lives. They prayed to Christ: 'Give him grace to make a good account of himself.' It was all they could do.
The king and all his knights saw a horseman approaching in rusty armour and wondered who he was. Many a scornful word was cast at Florent as he rode through the city, but he took no notice. Everybody ran to the walls to see the fight, when it became obvious what was going on. His father, Clement, could hardly bear to watch.
Florent soon came to the gates and asked the porter to open them wide. Everyone nearby burst out laughing in anxious derision, and began shouting abuse. They all said to the person next to them: 'Here comes a mighty bachelor, magnificent in his saddle! You can see by his shining armour that he is going to save us from this giant!'
The giant stood with his steel club in his hand as Florent rode out and gave the child such a blow that Florent's shield split at once into two pieces. The child was crestfallen, but he had no thoughts of running away. He gave the giant a heavy blow in return, with his rusty sword. The giant's arm fell off and blood started pouring from the wound! Clement jumped up onto the city wall and shouted joyously: 'Well done! Well done!'
Florent, in his ridiculous armour, sprung like the spark from a spitting coal and galloped up to the giant. This was no child's play! The giant struck Florent again and both horse and rider fell to the ground. Florent's horse struggled to its knees.
'Give him another blow like the one before!' encouraged Clement, from the safety of the walls.
As badly off as he was, lying there on the ground, the child took heart from Clement's cries. He took up his sword and struck the giant on the shoulder, cutting down almost to his breast! The giant fell dead to the earth.
And so it came to pass, through God's grace, that Florent killed the giant, as the book of romance tells us. All the kings and noblemen stood upon the walls and cheered when the giant fell. Everybody laughed for joy when Florent cut off the giant's head! But the child took no notice of them – instead, he remounted and galloped away towards the castle at Montmartre, where the sultan's daughter was staying, carrying the head.
When he arrived at the hall of the castle, he found all the tables laid and everybody preparing to eat. The maiden was ready to sit down.
'Damsel,' said Florent, 'your giant greets you and brings you a severed head. It is not the head of the King of France, however, for that was too difficult for him to obtain.'
When the maiden saw the head, she recognised it.
'He was always true to his word!' she exclaimed in shock.
'Damsel!' said Florent. 'beautiful maiden! I would request that you now give to me what you promised to him!' and he leaned over and kissed her. Then he caught her up into his saddle as if to carry her away, but all the gates of the castle were quickly barred to him. A hue and cry was raised and very soon some armed knights appeared, with long spears and sharp swords. Florent put the maiden down and prepared himself for a fight. He tore off her sleeve and cried: 'You will know me by this when we next meet!'
Child Florent, in his rusty and unpolished armour, made many a Saracen bleed, I tell you! He made many heathens lie upon the ground! And when he had defended himself against all his attackers, without sustaining a single wound, he rode back to Paris. The Saracens took the maiden and fled to Clermont, where the sultan was waiting.
They took the young girl into her father's pavilion and, kneeling, they put her down. The sultan walked over, kissed his daughter and with great solemnity led her up to the royal platform. She told her father how his giant, Agillous, had been killed and how she herself was nearly captured. Her father was very upset. He bit his lip and pulled at his beard, took on a terrible appearance and vowed that he would hang the King of France and cause all of Christendom to be burnt to ashes! Man, woman and child. Nothing would be left!
'Daughter,' he said, 'go to your private quarters and be happy, for you shall shortly be avenged.'
His daughter's pavilion was readied and she was led in with all her maidens. Soft seats were placed for her comfort, but she could neither eat nor drink for the turmoil that raged in her heart. She thought about his face, his complexion, his manner – she could not get him out of her mind!
'If only he had taken me, and I was with him now,' she sighed.