When Alexandra saw them preparing to set off, she could hold back her emotions no longer and wept for sorrow; but nonetheless, she took them to a postern gate that led to the garden where William and Emelior had first kissed.
And then they were gone.
Alexandra went to her room and mourned for the loss of her two friends.
William and Emelior made their way quickly through the garden, fiercely on their four feet, as bears do, and happened to encounter one of the new arrivals from Greece, looking at the plants. Terrified out of his wits, he raced out of the garden as fast as feet can run, for he firmly believed that they were pursuing him and would eat him. His friends were happy to see him in such a state, thinking it a good joke, and so I shall leave them and speak of the bears.
They raced quickly away from the garden towards the forest that lay nearby. At first they went on all fours, as wild animals do, but when they grew tired, they went upright. And they walked through that wilderness all night, until dawn broke. Then they found a secluded hollow beneath an upturned oak. It was far from any habitation and so well concealed that nobody could see them. They were exhausted and thanked God for providing such a secret hiding place.
'But, darling, I fear we shall die of hunger,' said William.
'We shall live by our love,' replied Emelior, 'and through the grace of God, find blackberries or something to live on. Hazelnuts, or rose hips – all the fruits of the forest. Honestly, we can. This life will be alright.'
'No darling,' replied William. 'You have never had to live like this, and to do so now will be hard indeed. I mean to do better than to see you living on blackberries. I will find a path and wait for someone to come along carrying bread or milk or something like that to market, then I can snatch it from them and come straight back to you. I can think of no other way of staying alive.'
'No, you must not do that!' said Emelior. 'Whoever loses the food will run shouting and screaming towards the city and that will be the end of us. It is better to keep ourselves hidden and live on fruit.'
But we must leave them now and turn for a while to the werewolf; the werewolf who, all those years ago, looked after William, until the cowherd’s dog found him.
The werewolf had followed them all that night, quickly and silently, though they did not know that he was there. And when he saw them in the hollow beneath the oak and heard them talking about food, he made his way to a road through the forest. And it happened that a country yokel came ambling down the road with some bread and boiled beef in his pouch. The werewolf leapt out into the road with a roar, threatened to attack the man, then did so, knocking him flat. The poor fellow fully expected to die, got up and ran for his life, leaving his bag of food behind. The werewolf went straight back to where William was resting, and laid the bag beside them both. Then he ran off.
William saw this and wondered greatly why a wild beast should leave a bag so close to them. He reached for it, quickly opened it, and found the bread and beef inside.
The morning after William and Emelior's flight from the secluded garden, the wedding was to take place. Nobody suspected otherwise. The emperors arose; and everyone dressed in their most expensive outfits, as lavish and costly as their wealth would allow. The weather was good, the sun shined, and the Emperor of Greece and all his knights made for their horses as quickly as they could. To describe the robes that the groom was wearing, for whom all this expense had been incurred, and who imagined that he was soon to be married, would take far too long.
The Pope was at the church of Saint Peter, with his prelates and bishops and abbots and cardinals, all in their finest regalia, waiting to conduct the ceremony. The Greeks light-heartedly loitered, waiting for the bride to make her appearance. The Emperor of Rome waited also, with all his barons and the boldest of his realm, and as time passed, he began to wonder why his daughter was taking so long. Everybody was assembled. And at last he had a nobleman go to her chamber to call her to the church. The nobleman expedited his errand with all speed and found her chambers to be empty. No explanation could be sought since he could find nobody there at all. He went quickly back to the emperor to tell him that his daughter’s chambers were deserted. When the emperor understood this, he stormed off in a rage to Emelior's outer rooms and burst in through the door: 'Why the devil are you taking so long!' he shouted, and cursed. 'Emelior! Where are you?'
When Alexandra heard this she began to fear for her life. She left her room, went quickly to the emperor and courteously greeted him. Then she asked him what was the matter.
'I want to know why my daughter is taking so long,' he answered.
'Sir, my lady is asleep, honestly, I swear.'
'Then go quickly and wake her!' said the emperor. 'Tell her to get up immediately!'
'I dare not,' replied Alexandra, 'for she is angry with me, though I have not deserved it.'
'Why is that?' asked the emperor. 'Tell me at once!'
'Sir, I cannot help but tell you the truth! My lady made me stay up late with her last night, just the two of us alone, and she told me something she had learned from someone who knew the customs of Greece. She said she would rather be wedded to a commoner than live her life with a Greek! And also, Sir, she told me something else that troubled me a lot, and this was the reason she was angry with me before we went to bed. She said that she had fallen in love with someone else, one of the bravest knights who has ever galloped a horse, and one of the most handsome. I asked his name, disapprovingly, and she told me that it was William.'
When the emperor heard this, he was almost mad with anger and grief, and strode into Emelior's inner chamber and up to her bed. But it was empty; there was nothing behind the curtains except bedclothes. Like a deranged man he asked Alexandra – he pleaded with her: 'Damsel, quickly, tell me where she is!'
'Sir, I haven't seen her since midnight,' replied Alexandra, sorrowfully. 'Send somebody to search for her at William's lodgings, and if William is there, she must still be in the city. But if William has gone, then my lady will have gone with him, in life or in death.'
The emperor raged in frustration like a tyrant. 'Ah! Has that traitor betrayed me, after I gave him wealth and looked after him since he was a foundling! Through his actions today I am ruined! My word has become worthless! By the great God that made me, if that traitor can be found, nobody will stop me from pulling his living body from the gallows and tearing him apart with horses.' The emperor called sixty of his knights and told them to go at once to William's lodgings, and if they found him there, to hold him by whatever means it took, and bring him in chains, as quickly as they could.
The knights had no choice, and with heavy hearts they went to arrest the man they all loved. And in all honesty, when they found his lodgings to be deserted they were very happy and relieved, and returned to the emperor with the news.
So, weary and upset, the Emperor of Rome made all haste to speak with the Emperor of Greece. Everyone was sorry that the wedding had to be cancelled, and the Emperor of Greece was particularly aggrieved. 'Let the cry go out,' he demanded of Emelior's father, 'throughout your empire, that every able-bodied man and woman should search widely, through wood and forest, heath and wasteland, and all secluded paths, and find that knight who has betrayed you.'
Up spoke one of the Greeks, so God give him grief!
'Sirs,' he said. 'I saw a curious thing yesterday evening as it was getting dark,' and he went on to tell them about the two bears he had seen running from the secluded garden.
So the cry went out for everybody to hunt for two white bears. Everyone joined in the search, on horseback and on foot, scouring the forests with bloodhounds until a group came to within a bowshot of where William and Emelior lay together. The werewolf placed himself in danger by running near to the hounds and trying to draw them away. When the hounds caught his scent, they abandoned their searching and ran in pursuit, over hills and through marshland, for many miles. Through God's grace, the werewolf led them a merry chase, leaving the white bears asleep, oblivious to all that was going on around them. And at last the people who were following the dogs realised that the trail had gone cold.
When the Emperor of Greece learned that there had been no sightings of the two bears, all the Greeks returned to their own country, vexed and unhappy. But the guards on all roads and crossings remained in place and the search went on for the bears; but because of the help the wolf was giving them, no one could discover where they were. He fed them when they needed food and guided them along the paths and trackways at night. And by day he led them to where they would find a suitable den to hide in. And while they slept, he stood guard against any danger. Thus the werewolf made possible their escape, and oversaw their progress into the border country with Apulia.
Travelling one night, they came upon a region where the forests and woods gave way to a treeless plain. And as the light brightened towards dawn, they saw a noble city with fine walls and battlements, known even now as Benevento. When William saw it, he grew uneasy and said to Emelior: 'Sweetheart, we are now in God's hands, for I have no idea where we can hide. Christ help us, for we are as good as dead, otherwise!'
As they stood, they noticed a quarry at the foot of a hill and made their way quickly towards it. Within the quarry, which seemed to have been quite freshly excavated, there was a rocky recess, a cave, and they crept inside, exhausted.
The werewolf kept watch under a crag. But they had not been asleep for very long when some workmen arrived with heavy tools, and when they came within sight of the cave and made ready to start work, one of them saw the bears lying together in each other's arms.
'Christ!' he exclaimed, running back to his fellows. 'You know that reward the Emperor has offered for finding those two white bears? Well, you'll never guess what I've just seen over there. We could soon be rich!'
His workmates were delighted at the news, and told him to run as fast as he could to the provost, while they kept watch. So the quarryman sped off. The provost quickly let the news spread throughout the city, along with a command that everybody should assemble on horseback or on foot, and surround the quarry.
Emelior woke from a nightmare. Waking William she said: 'Darling, I am so frightened. I dreamed that our cave was visited by wild bears, apes and bulls, and there was a little lion, the leader's cub, who was seized by our werewolf. I am frightened of what the dream might mean.'
'Don't be afraid,' said William. 'Dreams are nothing but phantoms. We shall rest here, safely, until nightfall.'
But shortly they heard a huge commotion of horses coming from all directions around the quarry, as though all hell had been let loose! William went to see what was going on and saw mounted knights, fully armed, proudly displaying their horsemanship and boasting to a handsome little boy who had been brought up to see the bears captured. When William became aware how close they were to catastrophe, he turned to Emelior.
'Darling, do as I tell you: take off your bearskin and stand in your clothes, and as soon as you are seen you will be recognised. Then your life will be spared, for the love of your father.'
Weeping uncontrollably, Emelior replied: 'What! Do you believe, darling, that I would leave you in order to save myself? No, by He who bought us on the cross with his blood! This bear's pelt shall never leave my back, be certain of that!'
By this time the provost had given orders for the bears to be captured. But as God willed, the werewolf knew of their danger and quickly, like a mad animal, ran at the provost's small son, catching him up in his jaws. He ran on through the crowd, making a dreadful noise and acting for all the world as though he meant to eat the boy.
'Help! Everybody after him!' screamed the provost. They pursued the wolf with such a noise of shouting and of horns, and were all so wholly absorbed in the chase that nobody remained in the quarry at all. And whenever the werewolf had gained half a mile or so on his pursuers, he would pause and rest in order to allow those following to think that they had a chance of catching up with him and rescuing the child. Then he would set off again. And this carried on all day, and no one was able to overtake him, and nobody dared to try to use an arrow or a spear, for fear of hitting the child.
So long did the chase continue that when twilight approached, the werewolf knew that there was little need to carry the boy any further. So he put the child down without a mark on him, not even a bruise, and as soon as he had done this, he raced swiftly away as though he had gone no more than half a mile all day.
When the provost saw that the wolf had at last dropped his little son, he spurred ahead of all his people and gathered the child up in his arms, kissing and hugging the little boy and anxiously inspecting him for signs of injury. And when he saw that he was unhurt, he forgot all his troubles. And it was a very happy crowd indeed that made its way home.
William and Emelior made their way quickly over hills and across valleys, keeping to the narrowest and loneliest of paths, and each step was fraught with the danger of meeting someone who might recognise them. And as for the werewolf, he made his way to William and Emelior, using the senses that only dogs possess, and acquiring on the way some food and wine for them, he laid these at William's feet and scampered away.
William was surprised, and Emelior also, that the beast went away and never stayed with them, though he helped them enormously.
'Certainly,' said William, 'this wolf must have a human soul. See what sorrow he suffers to keep the two of us alive. He never fails to bring whatever we need straight to where we are. May Christ keep him from all harm!'
'Amen,' said Emelior. And they happily tucked into the food that the werewolf had brought, for they were very hungry. And they rested all that day, and to tell the truth, all the following night as well, for Emelior was so weary she could not walk a step further.
Early the following day, before the sun was up, some colliers approached, laden with coal. When they had moved off, William said to Emelior: 'Darling, we cannot walk about in these bearskins any more, if we can find any alternative at all.'
'I agree,' said Emelior. 'If we go about like this any more, we shall be recognised the moment someone sees us. But I cannot see any alternative.'
'Nor I,' said William.
While this was going on, the werewolf had been hunting a huge deer, a hart, and brought it down right beside their den. Then he went off and found a hind, and served it in the same manner, bringing it down, too, beside their den. And then he went away without a sound. William knew immediately what the wolf had in mind.
'Do you see what the werewolf has done?' he said. 'May Christ keep him from sorrow! Let's take the skins off these animals and dress ourselves in them before going any further.'
William took the hart and Emelior the hind and they skinned them as quickly as they could; then each playfully dressed the other so that the skins were firm and tight, each sewn together so skilfully that the hide looked exactly as it had done upon the beast on which it had grown. They seemed more convincing as deer even than they had been before, as bears, the skins fitted so perfectly!
When they were dressed in their skins, they stayed in the den until the sun had set. But when night descended, they were eager to continue their journey, and the werewolf followed, then led, showing the paths they should use, taking the least inhabited route towards Sicily.
Led by the werewolf, William and Emelior travelled over moors and plains, but everywhere they came to they found the land damaged, destroyed, towns and villages burnt, though the walls were still guarded. And all this was William's land, it has to be said, he who was a deer; and here is the reason why war and suffering had visited the region. You have already seen how William's father, the King of Apulia, Sicily and Calabria, had tried to rescue his young son from the jaws of a wolf. Well, the king had died, leaving his wife, William's mother, to look after their beautiful daughter. She was younger than William by three years, with the most attractive figure that any young nobleman could wish to hold on the dance floor, and she had attracted the attentions of the son of the King of Spain. But William's mother was against the marriage and supported her daughter in rejecting the suit, and it was for this reason that the King of Spain was making war upon the land. Towns had been burnt, people killed, and the queen herself had been forced to flee to her principal city of Palermo. And now the King of Spain besieged this city relentlessly; his son made many serious attempts to storm it, though its brave defenders had managed to see off the attacks, with great loss of life on both sides. But now the people were in dire straits and had come to the queen begging her to accede to the King of Spain's demands. For they could no longer resist the siege; the King of Spain could call upon fresh troops whenever he wished, whereas they were all tired and hungry.
'Lords,' said the queen, 'you are my liege men and have served me well in arms, and I know the situation, I know that you are each of you near to the limit of your resources; but I have hope that things will improve, for I have sent for my father, the Emperor of Greece, and I know that he will send help. However, Greece is far away, as you all know, and it may take him a short while to arrive. Therefore I beseech you, my bold warriors, for the love of He who made you, maintain your hardiness and defend our city until God sees fit to send us some relief!'
And she instructed two knights to go quickly out of the city to the enemy camp, to ask for a fortnight's truce. And if at the end of this time no help had arrived, she resolved to offer the King of Spain anything he wanted, short of her daughter's hand in marriage. But the messengers returned without a truce, and when she learnt this, she went anxiously to her room and prayed all night for help.
But now we must leave the siege of Palermo, the harsh assaults and the determined defence, and return to the two animals who journey ever onwards, guided by their werewolf.
Listen to what happened, all you gentlefolk! The two deer travelled for a long while, along secluded paths, over hills and along valleys, until they came to a magnificent city on the coast. The beasts spent all day hidden in a den, in a cliff near to the harbour, until evening darkened into night. Then they made their way quickly to where a great many ships were tied up. The wolf looked carefully for a vessel that seemed ready to sail, and found one fully laden with amphorae of wine. The crew were asleep, having been given free time until the moon rose, for the ship could do nothing until then. And when the wolf perceived this, he went back to the hart and the hind and, by signs and gestures, he communicated the situation to them and they followed him on board. The werewolf found them a place where they could hide amongst the cargo. When the moon arose and the tide neared its flood, the ship set sail and left port.
When they were nearly across the strait, the werewolf addressed his mind to how he could help the deer to get off the boat without coming to any harm. And as the ship was approaching the land, he leaped overboard in full view of the crew. The sailors saw him and grabbed oars and spars, anything that came to hand, and threw them at him. One man in particular had a good aim and hit the werewolf as he entered the water, causing him to sink beneath the waves; he nearly drowned, but through sheer strength the werewolf recovered his senses and swam swiftly away, in full view of them all. And they, intent upon killing the animal, sailed after him and dropped anchor. The werewolf was clever and loitered on the beach, giving the crew every hope of catching him, and they all piled into the tender and rowed ashore, leaving only a little lad in short trousers to look after the ship.
When the boat with all the sailors in it had set off for the beach, the hart and the hind emerged onto the deck. When the boy saw them, he was terrified. Imagining that he had to protect himself from these creatures, he aimed a blow at the hind’s neck which sent her sprawling head over heels across the hatches. The hart went over to where she lay, picked up the hind and leapt into the sea with her!
The hart swam to a safe distance from the ship, then looked to see how badly injured the hind was. He was relieved to see that she was a bit shocked, that was all.
‘Oh, darling! Why do you have to endure so much that by rights should be mine to receive? I would kill that boy if he was here now!’
‘No, my darling,’ replied Emelior. ‘It doesn’t matter. Let’s just thank God that we have escaped.’
The sailors soon returned and the boy told them about the deer, how strange it had all been, and how he didn't know what had happened to them after they'd jumped off the ship. Now hear of the animals and of the wilderness they travelled through.
When the deer had leaped overboard and the werewolf had well and truly given the shipmen the slip, he went as quickly as he could to the hart and hind, and when they saw their beast, they were delighted that he had escaped without any injury. They went onwards together, happy to be alive, although everything was wasted, burnt and destroyed. But wherever the werewolf led them, they followed, and he guided them to a distant town, a very handsome town, the fairest that any man might look upon; it was without equal and its name was Palermo. In the shadow of the royal palace were some gardens in which lay a menagerie, though as a result of the conflict it was now destroyed. The deer headed for these gardens, led by the werewolf who was ever their guide, and found a well-concealed hideaway in a crag very near to the queen's chamber. All day they hid there, and on into the night. The werewolf went off to find food and drink, and when he returned they made themselves as merry as they could. But now we shall fall silent about the beasts for a moment and speak of the queen, who languishes in the castle with much anxiety.
The Queen lifted up a window of her chamber that looked over the part of the gardens where the deer were resting and, looking out over the ruins of the menagerie, she saw beneath a lovely laurel tree a hart and a hind embracing one another. They were talking together, but the queen could not hear what they were saying. So amazed was she at this sight that she stayed at the window for a long while, watching the deer as they lay in the seclusion of a shrubbery, thinking themselves unobserved. And only when it became so dark that she could scarcely see them at all did the Queen dress herself and go into her hall, to raise as much cheer as she could muster. And when supper was over and everybody had washed, she was told by her knights how hopeless the situation had become, how her walls were all broken and her ramparts burned, and that the siege could no longer be withstood.
Then the queen said courteously: 'Lords, you are all my liege men and have sworn to uphold my rights, and no finer men than you exist; therefore, for God's love and for your own honour, you must protect me from these wicked men who would have me killed. Truly, if I escape this peril, you will all be rewarded handsomely and your fortitude shall not have been wasted.'
And her knights and noblemen agreed that they would stand by her and do her bidding. The queen thanked them, then hurried to her chapel to ask her priest to sing a Mass. And when the Mass was finished she went to her private rooms and waited at the window where she had been watching the deer; and she saw that they were still there. The hot sun during the day had so dried their skins that their clothes were visible beneath. The queen was intrigued. She called her priest to her room and showed him the sight, and as soon as he saw the deer, he said: 'For the love of Mary, be dismayed no longer! You know how the daughter of the Emperor of Rome was recently given away in marriage to the son of the Emperor of Greece? She could not be made to honour her commitment and ran away with the man she loves, one of the bravest knights in her father's Empire. They were dressed in the skins of two white bears, then they changed these for the skins of two deer, by some means that is totally beyond me. Well – there they are! There can be no question. There they are! Think how best to gain the confidence of these animals, so that the knight and the lovely damsel will come to your room.'
And the queen thought it best if she were sewn into a huge deerskin, as the knight and the damsel were, and to go out into the garden and lie under a bush, and see if she could get them to speak to her. Quickly, the priest obtained a hide and then, as it was getting late, they retired to their beds for the night. But the breaking dawn found the queen magnificently dressed in the deerskin. She made her way via a postern gate into the garden, where she lay down beneath a bush close to where the deer were concealed; and nobody knew she was there except for the priest and one of her handmaidens, the one she loved the most. They waited for her by the small doorway in the wall; and when the sun rose above the horizon, the hart and the hind woke up and began to speak:
'Darling,' said William, 'it has been such a long time since I saw your face. I long to see it again, if such a thing were possible.'
'And I yours,' said Emelior. 'But we should not creep out of these deerskins until our werewolf gives us permission. Only he knows what is in his mind.'
As they embraced, they caught sight of a huge deer lying beneath a bush.
'By Mary!' exclaimed Emelior. 'I think that deer is asleep. Honestly, it cannot be afraid of us.'
'Why should it be?' asked William. 'There is no reason for it to think anything but that we are deer like itself, we are so subtly sewn into these skins. If it knew the truth, I bet it would be off like a shot!'
'Oh no I wouldn't,' said the deer. 'Christ knows, I have no desire to run from the pair of you at all. I know who you are, where you are from and why you are running.'