As Sir Yvain ran about the forest one day, he encountered a man carrying some hunting arrows. Yvain rushed at this man, seized his arrows and his bow, and every day afterwards, Yvain would shoot at some wild beast and catch meat for himself, and he never lost an arrow. In this way Sir Yvain spent a whole season, living on roots and raw venison. He drank warm blood, like an animal.
Then, as he roamed further into the forest he came across a little hermitage. The hermit caught sight of this naked man, assumed that he was a madman and decided to take refuge inside his dwelling. He locked his gate, but because he thought it would be a kindly act, he put some bread and water outside his window first – but then he ran inside again as fast as he could go! Yvain ate the coarse barley bread thankfully, although he had never eaten such a bare meal before in all his life. He drank the water, finished the bread, then ran back into the forest.
But however demented a man is, he will come to where he can find comfort and sustenance, and certainly Yvain did, for he returned every day with fresh venison, laid it at the hermit's gate, ate the bread and went away. As soon as he was gone, the hermit would take the meat, skin it and boil it, and at every meal Yvain ate stewed venison with his bread. Then the hermit would go to the nearest town, sell the deer skins and buy some better bread, and Yvain would find beside the gate stewed venison and a fresh wheat loaf. He led this life for many years.
Then as Yvain lay asleep beneath a tree one day, a lady came riding by with two damsels. 'I can see a naked man!' exclaimed one of the damsels. I shall go over and see who he is.'
She dismounted, walked over and took a close look at him. On his face was a horrible scar, completely healed, but the maiden recognised it. 'By God!' she cried. 'It's Sir Yvain. Alas! How can he have got himself into such a terrible state?' She was so concerned for him that tears fell down her cheeks.
'Madam,' she told her lady, 'We have found Sir Yvain, the best knight in the world!'
'If this is Yvain,' replied the lady, 'I think we can restore him to his wits. At home I have an ointment that Morgan Le Fay gave to me. Let us go quickly and fetch it.'
Her castle was only half a mile away, and soon the lady had the pot of ointment in her hand. 'Take this,' she said to the damsel. 'It is very precious to me. Go back to the knight and see that you do not waste any. Use only what you need and bring the rest back to me.'
The maiden quickly gathered up shoes and leggings, shirt and underwear, and a fine robe. Also a good horse. When she had ridden back to where Sir Yvain lay, she found him still asleep, so she tied the two ponies to a tree and bravely approached the dishevelled form. She rubbed his head with ointment, and to tell the truth, she rubbed his entire body as well. Disregarding her lady's instructions, she used up all the ointment. Everywhere! She thought Sir Yvain was worth it.
Leaving the clothes lying beside him so that he would be able to dress himself, she stole away. The damsel watched him closely. After a little while, Sir Yvain awoke. 'Mary!' he exclaimed. 'What has happened to me?'
He sat for a while staring at the pile of clothes, then tried to get up, but his strength was not equal to the task and he collapsed in a heap. And yet he managed to put on the clothes at last. Then he turned his mind to finding some help. The damsel saw this, leaped up onto her pony and leading the other one, rode towards Sir Yvain, making out as though she had no idea he was there. When Yvain caught sight of her he called out, and she pretended to be startled and to wonder where the sound was coming from.
'I am here!' he cried.
The damsel rode up to him. 'What do you want?' she asked.
'Please could you help me,' replied Sir Yvain, 'I am disorientated. I have no idea how I come to be here. For charity, please lend me that pony you are leading and take me to some town.'
'Sir, if you will come with me I will gladly help you in whichever way you desire,' she said, courteously. She helped him up onto the pony. Then they rode quickly and soon came to the castle gate. Here they alighted and led their ponies in. The damsel went at once to the private chambers.
'Where is the ointment?' the lady asked.
'I will tell you the truth,' replied the damsel. 'My pony stumbled as we were crossing a bridge, he fell flat onto his belly and the pot flew out of my hand. If I hadn't quickly grabbed hold of his mane, the water would have claimed me as well!'
'This is dreadful news!' cried the lady. 'That ointment was very valuable. But it is better that the two of you are safe. Go to the knight and see if he wants anything.'
'Madam, it would grieve me to do anything else.'
She went back to Sir Yvain, insisted upon washing him in a bath, then fed him until he had regained his strength. Sir Yvain's strength was not slow in returning.
One day, as he lay in the castle, the earl Sir Allers, along with knights, squires and sergeants-at-arms, with a wagon-train full of stores, laid siege to the castle. The lady arranged for armour to be brought to Sir Yvain, and a good horse. Sir Yvain took the armour, and all the other equipment. Then he rode out with a company of knights to face Sir Allers in the field. A knight rode over to meet Sir Yvain; their shields met, and soon the knight lay dead on the ground. Then another, then a third, and then a fourth lay dead. Yvain was so moved to anger that he killed a man with every blow! He lost some men, but the earl lost ten times as many. Every knight fled when he saw Sir Yvain approaching, and Yvain gave such heart to his own side that the least amongst them fought as bravely as a lion.
The lady watched all this and said: 'He is indeed a mighty warrior. Such a strong and courageous knight fully deserves praise.'
'Without doubt,' replied the damsel. 'Your ointment has not been wasted. See how he gallops across the battlefield! See how many men he kills! Everyone he strikes falls dead from the blow. Certainly, we will quickly see the earl discomfited. Madam, by God, if only he would marry you and rule here.'
Everybody in the castle was filled with joy when they learned that the earl had been captured. When they saw him approaching, they all issued out to seize him. Sir Yvain greeted the lady as she approached.
'Madam, throw this man into your prison!' he cried.
But Sir Yvain has no desire to stay himself. He prepares to leave at once, and takes his leave of the lady. She is not at all happy to see him go.
'Sir, if it should be your desire, I would ask you to stay here with me. I will yield to you my body, and all my lands.' She pleaded with him, but to no avail. His heart lay elsewhere.
Sir Yvain rode with a heavy and sorrowful heart along a narrow path through a forest. Suddenly, he heard a hideous cry and came upon a dragon attacking a wild lion. The dragon was doing great damage with its tail, and with the fire that issued from its mouth, and the poor lion seemed to be getting the worst of it. Sir Yvain decided to lend the creature a hand, so placing his shield in front of his face, he thrust his sword into the dragon's mouth so hard that the point emerged out of its belly! Then he cut at the dragon's throat and severed its head from its body. However, the jaws still held firmly onto the lion's tail, so Yvain cut the end of the tail, allowing the head to roll free. 'If the lion now attacks me,' thought Sir Yvain, 'I am ready for him!'
But the lion showed no inclination to attack Sir Yvain; instead he fawned up to the knight and licked the broken hairs at the end of his tail. Then he sat on his hind legs and raised his paws in a show of submission, for though he could not speak, he made it clear in other ways that he was thanking Sir Yvain for saving his life. The lion crouched down and licked Sir Yvain's feet.
When Sir Yvain saw this, he felt a great affection for the animal. When he rode off, the lion ran along beside him, and all day the lion followed Sir Yvain through the forest and would not be parted from him for a moment. And while in the forest, this hungry lion caught the scent of a wild beast; he gave signs that he intended to go after it, so that Sir Yvain would not be offended, and then bounded away for a few hundred yards, found a deer and killed it, drank the blood while it was still warm, then caught up the carcass in his mouth and carried it back to Sir Yvain, like a sack of wheat. By this time, it was getting dark so Sir Yvain made a shelter of branches, took out his flint and fire-iron and made a fire out of some dry moss and sticks. Meanwhile, the lion dismembered the deer, then Sir Yvain spitted some meat on long sticks and roasted it above the fire. The lion lay quietly and made no attempt to eat until Sir Yvain had finished his own meal. The lion was very hungry, make no mistake, and when Sir Yvain had finished eating, he gobbled down the rest of the carcass, raw meat, bones and all!
A fortnight passed, and then one day, Sir Yvain came upon the spring where the thorn tree grew and where the stone and the basin were, the very place where he had fought and become the Knight of the Spring. He saw the tree and the chapel, and when he saw the stone he collapsed in a faint. As he fell, his sword slipped from its scabbard, its pommel dropped to the ground and point upwards it caught him in the throat, cutting his neck. When the lion saw the blood, he roared like a demented thing, for he firmly believed that his master had been fatally injured. It was pitiful to hear the sorrow and the anguish! Incredibly, the lion grasped the sword between his two paws, set the hilt against a stone and tried to kill himself with it. And he would have done, for certain, there was such affinity between them both, had not Sir Yvain at this very moment been able to raise himself from the ground. The lion saw this and joyfully licked Sir Yvain's hands and his feet.
'Alas!' cried Sir Yvain. 'How can I bear this? How can I bear to see again this chapel, this spring, this beautiful tree, this marvellous stone? A wild beast would have killed himself for love of me, so then how much more justified am I in taking my own life, for the love that I have lost?'
While Sir Yvain was lamenting and crying all this aloud, someone inside the chapel heard him. 'Who is that outside, moaning so loudly?' came a voice.
'A man,' replied Sir Yvain. 'I was once a man. Who are you?'
'The sorriest creature that ever lived.'
'I doubt it. I doubt that your sorrow is the equal of mine,' he replied. 'I was once a man, but now I am not one. I was a noble knight and a man of great valour. I had knights of my own, and great wealth, expansive lands, but through stupidity I lost it all. Most of all, I have lost the lady I love.'
'Alas!' cried the other, 'my plight is the more to be pitied. I have been accused of treason and tomorrow I am going to be burned at the stake.'
'Can you not find a knight willing to fight for you in single combat?'
'Sir, there are in this land only two knights who can help me. The one has gone I know not where, the other knows nothing of my predicament. The one is called Sir Gawain and the other Sir Yvain, and it is because of him that I am to be burned.'
'By Christ!' exclaimed Sir Yvain. 'You are Lunette who helped me once when I was in dire peril. I am Sir Yvain! Tell me, why are you accused of treason?' 1∩
'They say that my lady loves me so much she does everything that I advise her to, and so I am guilty of treason and the steward and his two brothers hate me for it. I said that it wasn't true and foolishly offered to find a champion to fight all three of them, to prove my innocence in a trial by combat. They granted me forty days to find one. But Sir Gawain is not at court; he has gone off to look for Queen Guinevere in a land from which no stranger returns.'
'As I am a true knight,' said Sir Yvain, 'I shall be ready tomorrow to fight with all three of them, for your love. I will not fail to give my utmost for you. But come what may, when anybody asks who I am, conceal my identity. Give some other name. Say that you do not know. Tell nobody who I am.'
Searching for somewhere to spend the night, Sir Yvain had not ridden far when he saw a magnificent castle and rode up to it. When he arrived at the castle gates he found four porters. They lowered the drawbridge and then fled because of the lion. 'Sir,' they all cried, 'we must ask you to leave the lion outside!'
'Sirs,' replied Sir Yvain, 'so help me God, my lion and I may not be separated. I love him as well, I must tell you, as I do myself. Either both of us will enter, or we will both make our way somewhere else.'
The lord of the castle appeared and seemed pleased to receive them both. Sir Yvain was led into a chamber, his armour was removed and he was given a fine new set of clothes to wear. Many knights, squires, ladies and damsels greeted him. But there were moments when everybody seemed to be weeping. Then, in his presence, they seemed cheerful and joyful enough. Sir Yvain was astounded to be in the midst of such apparent, if veiled, sadness.
'Sir, if it is your desire,' he said, 'I would like to know why you are so unhappy.'
'The joy we have at your arrival, Sir, cannot mask the despair we feel at the terror that will unfold tomorrow,' replied the lord of the castle. 'A giant lives nearby, a haughty devil called Harpin of the Mountain. It is because of him that our sorrows are magnified. He has robbed me of my lands and my wealth, and now all I have left is this castle. I had six sons, all of them knights, and now two of them are dead, slain before my very eyes, and the others will be killed tomorrow. And all because I will not agree to him marrying my daughter. For this reason he has sworn to win her by force and then to give her to his ill-bred scullions to take their full sexual gratification from, unless I can find a knight by tomorrow morning who dares to meet him in single-combat. And I have nobody.'
Sir Yvain listened to this in silence.
'Sir,' he said, 'I think it a wonder that you haven't been to King Arthur's court for help.'
'Sir, so God help me, I sent a messenger to the king's court to ask for help from Sir Gawain, for he is my brother-in-law. But Sir Gawain was not there.'
Sir Yvain sighed. 'Sir,' he said, 'for Sir Gawain's sake, I shall undertake this battle with the giant, but on these terms: that if he does not show up by midmorning I shall depart, for I have other things to do. I have something that must be attended to before midday.'
'Sir!' the lord cried. 'May God reward you for this!' All the people in the hall fell upon their knees in thanks. Then a damsel approached him, a beautiful young lady, accompanied by her mother, and they fell on their knees before him and thanked him profusely. But: 'God forbid,' cried Sir Yvain, 'that Sir Gawain's sister should kneel before me!' He quickly raised them up onto their feet again and begged them to be of good heart.
When it was time to retire for the night, the lady led Sir Yvain to his bed. But she was very frightened of the lion. No one dared go near the room, and Sir Yvain and his lion spent the night there together.
When morning broke, the lady and her daughter went to Sir Yvain's room and unlocked the door. Sir Yvain first of all went to hear Mass in the church, then went to the lord and said: 'Sir, I must depart soon. I can stay no longer, for I am needed somewhere else.'
The other knight was overwhelmed with grief. 'Sir,' he implored, 'for the love of Sir Gawain, please stay a little longer. Help us before you go. I will give to you half my lands if you will help us!'
It was heartrending to see the lamentations that ensued. Sir Yvain was torn apart with pity, his heart felt as though it would break into three pieces, but he was very worried for the damsel Lunette.
Just then, a young man came running up to tell them that the giant had made an appearance. 'He is driving your sons in front of him,' he said, 'and they are all naked.'
The giant was huge and carried an iron club in his hand which he was using to hit them with. It was pitiful to hear them cry out. They had no protection, and on the other side of them was a dwarf carrying a whip with ten knotted cords. Every blow drew fresh blood, and when they arrived at the walls of the castle the giant cried: 'If you want your sons back, deliver to me your daughter so that I can give her to my foulest sex-starved scullions to do with as they wish. She'll no longer be a virgin when they've finished with her, I'm certain of that!'
When the lord heard this, he cried out as though he had lost his mind.
'This is a very cruel and uncouth giant,' said Sir Yvain. 'I will rescue your daughter from this terrible fate or shortly die myself.
Soon Sir Yvain was armed and all the ladies delighted in seeing it. They helped to lace him into his armour, then he leapt up onto his horse. The drawbridges were let down and Sir Yvain rode over with his lion. Many distressed and anxious men were left behind in the castle, praying on their knees for a happy outcome.
Sir Yvain rode onto the plain and the giant advanced towards him. His club was long and heavy and his arms were muscular and strong.
'Who made you so brave as to come out of the castle?' he asked, tauntingly. 'Whoever sent you has little love for you!'
The giant wore only leather for protection. Sir Yvain galloped quickly forwards and struck him in the chest with his lance. The weapon was strong and the blow pierced the giant's clothing. Where the point entered, blood spurted out. The giant stumbled from the impact, but then aimed a blow at Sir Yvain, and it is a wonder that the knight's shield remained in one piece! Sir Yvain dropped his lance, took out his sword, and the giant swung again with his club. The battle raged on, until Sir Yvain found need to rest for a moment. His lion saw this, saw that Sir Yvain's head had dropped, and thinking that his lord was hurt he bounded suddenly into the fray. Seizing the giant in his jaws, the lion ripped the skin from the giant's neck to his thighs, exposing all his ribs to the bone. Sir Yvain recovered his strength enough to slice off the giant's cheek with his sword. Then he cut through his shoulder, so that both club and arm fell to the ground. Finally, Sir Yvain thrust his sword into the giant's heart. The giant fell like a heavy tree, dead to the ground. The battle was over.
Everybody in the castle was delighted. The gates were thrown open and the lord ran out to congratulate and to thank Sir Yvain, followed by his lady, his daughter and everybody else.
'Goodbye!' cried Sir Yvain. 'Live happily, for I must go.' 2∩
Sir Yvain took the shortest way to the chapel and soon came upon a roaring fire and the beautiful Lunette standing beside it, dressed in a simple smock and tied up, ready to be cast into the flames.
'However formidable and numerous her enemies are,' thought Sir Yvain, 'I shall not flinch through cowardice, for both God and right are on my side, and they will both support me. And my lion also, he will help, so we are four against their three.'
Sir Yvain rode up and cried: 'Wait, I command you! You must be mad to think of burning this innocent damsel. You will not do it, so God help me!' His lion was beside him. Lunette was standing with her hands tied behind her back. Sir Yvain was so distressed to see this that he could hardly stay on his horse. Nobody recognised him.
While Sir Yvain's horse stood, Lunette knelt before the priest, confessed her sins and received absolution. Sir Yvain rode up, dismounted, took her by the hand and lifted her from the ground.
'Where are your enemies?' he asked.
'Sir, they are over there, waiting for me to die. They have falsely accused me of treason. Sir, you have arrived not a moment too soon.'
The steward heard this and hurried over. 'You lie, you harlot!' he cried. 'You stand here rightly accused of treason. She has betrayed her lady,' he turned to Sir Yvain, 'and she will do the same to you, Sir. Therefore I advise you to go back the way you came. You take very poor advice if you intend to lay your life on the line for this damsel.'
'I have already had some success this morning,' replied Sir Yvain, 'and despite my exertions, I shall continue along the path I have chosen, and shall not fail.'
Sir Yvain told his lion to go over and lie down, and the beast obediently lay in front of them all with his tail between his legs. The three knights came galloping into the attack, all at the same time, and Sir Yvain rode against them ferociously, for one of his blows was worth three of theirs! He struck the steward so hard on the shield that he fell to the ground, but the steward managed to get up and began to attack Sir Yvain with his sword. At this the lion became very agitated and would not lie still. While all the ladies were praying fervently for Sir Yvain, the lion bounded over towards his master.
Rushing towards the steward, the lion attacked the man viciously, tearing at him with tooth and claw, at armour, cloth and bare flesh, mauling him from the shoulder down to the knee. The man's entrails poured out onto the ground and he fell in a heap, dead. There was no sound of anybody mourning. Sir Yvain did his best to discipline his lion and to get him to return, but the lion would not lie down and despite Sir Yvain's commands thought that his master was well pleased with his help. The two remaining knights struck the lion from all sides and gave the beast many wounds, and when Yvain saw this, he attacked them so ferociously and so grievously that both of them were toppled to the ground. They soon surrendered to Sir Yvain. Then everybody cheered with delight. Sir Yvain threw the two knights into the fire.
'He who accuses falsely shall suffer as the accused would have done!' he cried, judiciously.
Everybody was eager to offer their services to Sir Yvain, and to honour him. None of them except for Lunette had any inkling that this knight was their lord. The lady, who was Lunette's mistress and Yvain's wife, invited him to come back with her and to stay for a while, until his wounds were healed. But he set not a straw by his wounds, he said. He was, however, very concerned for his lion.
'Madam,' he said, 'thank you, but I cannot stay.'
'Sir, as you must leave us, tell me your name.'
'Madam,' he replied, 'I am called the Knight of the Lion.'
'We have not seen you before now, nor have we ever heard of you.'
'I am not widely known in these parts,' he replied.