Floris and the chamberlain made haste to depart and soon they came to the hostelry where Blancheflour had spent the night. They were dressed in the finest clothes, like merchants. The lord of the house was a courteous man; he set the boy beside him in a fine chair and with great relish they all fell to their food. Everybody in the hall drank and ate and made good conversation, except for Floris, who sat deep in thought, eating and drinking nothing. His thoughts were on Blancheflour. The lady of the house guessed that he must be in mourning and said quietly to her husband: ‘Haven’t you noticed how this young man is pining for somebody? He takes no interest in his food and drink. He is no merchant, I would say.’
‘Young man,’ she said, turning to Floris. ‘I can see that your thoughts are elsewhere. The other day, we had a young lady sitting here, her name was Blancheflour. She was brought here before they put her on a ship bound for Babylon. They intend to sell her there and I imagine she will command a high price. She behaved just like you – no differently – except that you are a boy and she was a girl.’
When Floris heard Blancheflour’s name mentioned, his spirits rose immediately. Lifting his goblet he said: ‘Dame, this toast is to you, both the wine and the golden goblet itself. For my mind has been in turmoil, wondering where I could begin looking for Blancheflour and now you have given me news of my love. No weather will stop me now from seeking her in Babylon.’
Floris rested in that place for the night and the following morning, as soon as it was light, he found a ship bound for that city. The weather was good, the winds fair and soon he was sailing across the salt sea. Floris gave generously to the mariners and they in turn, out of gratitude and respect, brought him quickly and safely to his destination. As soon as he set foot on land, Floris eagerly thanked God’s providence for bringing him safely to where Blancheflour had been taken. It felt like Paradise to him.
Soon, Floris began gathering news. The Emir of Babylon, he heard, was due to hold a feast at which all the noblemen of the region would be in attendance. Everybody of importance in the kingdom would be there to hear what the emir had to say. Floris was delighted to learn this because it might give him an opportunity of finding news of Blancheflour, if there was to be a public gathering. Floris travelled for many days to the delightful city of Babylon and there he found wealthy lodgings, as befits a king’s son. The accommodation was palatial, Floris had never seen anything like it. The lord of the inn was very rich, with much gold coming his way from travellers journeying by land and sea. Floris had no thoughts of economising but spent generously on food and drink, on red wine and white. The lord of the inn was a worldly man and sat the young man beside him, at his right hand, as they ate. Floris, however, did not eat. He brooded over Blancheflour. The mercantile and courteous innkeeper, noticing this, said: ‘Child, I believe you are worried about your merchandise?’
‘No, I am not thinking about my goods and chattels, I am thinking about a far more valuable item that I wish to exchange it all for,’ replied Floris. ‘My fear is that I shall find it but then not be able to recover it.’
‘The beautiful maiden Blancheflour was sitting here only a few days ago,’ declared his host. ‘All the time that she was here, she sat disconsolately in this hall and in her private room, lamenting Floris, whom she loves. She was very miserable and spoke only of this one young man.’
Floris ordered that a silver cup be brought to him immediately, and some scarlet clothing, lined with fur. Then he gave these to his host: ‘Take these, for your honour, and for giving me news of Blancheflour,’ he said. ‘She was stolen away from my country and I have come looking for her. If anyone can tell me where she's been taken to, I'd be a very happy man.’
‘Child, she has been taken to Babylon,’ replied his host. ‘The emir has purchased her. He paid seven times her weight in gold and was willing to give such a large amount because of her beauty and for her worth. He wants to take her as his wife and has put her into his harem, in the special apartments he reserves for his maidens, in a high tower.’
Floris stayed there the night. In the morning, he arose, gave a hundred shillings to his host and to his wife, kissed them both in farewell and took his leave. But before going, he implored his host to advise him, if he could, how it might be possible for him to gain entry into this harem to which Blancheflour had been taken. ‘Child, you will shortly come to a bridge,’ replied his host, helpfully. ‘On the other side of this bridge you will see an inn; this luxurious accommodation will be obvious to you. The person who owns this place is a courteous man, we have sworn brotherhood together – he will be able to advise you and to tell you all that you need to know. I will give you a ring so he will know that you've come with my blessing, and he will be as willing to help you as though it were me he was helping.’
Floris took this ring and bade the innkeeper farewell, for he was eager to be off. By midday, he had arrived at the bridge. He went immediately to the hostelry that was there and found this innkeeper sitting upon a marble seat. He seemed a very noble and courteous man and his name was Darius. Floris greeted him, produced the ring and entrusted it to him. And as a result of this ring, Floris had excellent service and some fine food! – fish, meat and the choicest bread, and wine, both red and white. But Floris continually sighed and seemed very miserable, and at last his host felt compelled to ask: ‘What is it that is making you so sad? I guess that you are without somebody you love, and this is making you miserable. Or is it that this accommodation is not to your liking?’
‘Sir, I have never stayed in a more delightful place,’ Floris assured him. ‘May God let me see the day when I may properly repay you. But my thoughts are all on the merchandise I hope to acquire. I fear I may have trouble getting it and my greatest concern is that I shall locate it but then be unable to reclaim it.’
‘Tell me what it is that you are seeking,’ said his host. ‘I will be happy to help you.’
Floris told the man everything; how Blancheflour had been stolen from him, how he was the son of the King of Spain and had come looking for Blancheflour through the great love that he bore for her and how he was now looking for some way to release her from the emir’s harem. His host looked at him as though he was mad. ‘Child,’ he said, ‘I see how things stand. You are eager to die. The emir has invited a hundred and fifty of his finest knights to a tournament and the most valiant king amongst them would not dare to attempt such a thing. If the emir found out, you would be a dead man for sure. Babylon, I know, is seventy miles in circumference and in the wall there are a hundred and forty gates and twenty strong towers and every day of the year there are markets with people milling about and goods to be traded and stored and secured; and there are a further hundred towers within the city, even more than this perhaps, and the weakest of them would be able to resist the siege of an emperor! If all the men in all the world had sworn to recover that maiden, they would be able more easily to pluck the sun and the moon from out of the sky!
‘Let me tell you: in the city, right in the middle, there stands a splendid tower. It is thousands of feet high and hundreds of feet wide and it is skilfully fashioned out of marble. There is nothing to compare with it in the whole of Christendom. The mortar is so strong that steel cannot break it. A high pinnacle above the roof is so ingeniously constructed that none like it has ever been seen before. Nobody needs to light a lantern or a lamp in this city because it shines as brightly at night as the sun does during the day.
‘In this tower there are twenty-four rooms that are reserved for the emir's maidens, and any man who could find a way of living there would be happy indeed. He would think that he had wandered into Paradise! There are servants who wait upon these maidens; but no man who still retains his manhood is allowed in this place. All of these servants are eunuchs. At the entrance to this tower is a gatekeeper, a proud and finely dressed man who is brave and astute and if any man approaches the tower without his permission, he is assaulted and castrated at once.
The emir is so magnificent that every year he chooses a new wife for the year. He has all the maidens fetched from this tower and taken to an orchard that is the most delightful on Earth. There is birdsong in this lovely place and it is surrounded by a wall whose least stone is made of solid crystal. Inscribed upon this wall is much of the wisdom of the world. There is a spring in this orchard that is wonderfully contrived – its waters come from Paradise and its gravel is all of precious stones, each with magic power. There are sapphires and sards, onyx and chalcedony. And this spring is so astute that if any maiden who has slept with a man comes to wash at it, the water will scream out as though it is mad and the water on the maiden's hands will turn the colour of blood! The girl who is accused in this way will quickly be killed, but those who are true virgins can wash in the water without fear.
‘Beside this spring there stands a tree, the fairest on Earth. It is called the Tree of Love and it bears blossom all the year round. The maidens are brought beneath this tree and the one that a flower falls onto is declared to be the queen. If there is a maiden there whom the emir particularly desires, this blossom will fall upon her, through the power of its magic and enchantment. The emir chooses his next queen in this way and everybody this year expects it to be Blancheflour.’
Floris fainted three times at this news before he could speak. ‘Darius, I shall die unless you can help me,’ he sighed at last, weeping.’
‘Dear child, I can see that this is a matter of life and death to you. The best advice I can give, then – and I can give you no other – is that you go tomorrow to the tower disguised as a workman. Carry in your hands a measuring rod and a set square as though you are a mason. Pretend to inspect the tower. The porter is a cruel and distrustful fellow and will come immediately over to see what you are doing and will accuse you of everything he can think of. He will say that you are spying. You must answer him calmly and politely and say that you are an engineer, come to inspect the tower because you wish to make one like it in your own land. It will not be long before he invites you to play chess with him. He will be very insistent, for he will be eager to take all your money from you.
‘When the board is brought out, tell him that you will only play if there is to be money involved. Have thirty marks on you, in your pocket. If he wins anything from you, give it to him straight away, and if you win something from him, don’t be in any hurry to receive it. Then he will be very eager to invite you to play again the next day. Tell him that you will be delighted to do so.’
‘The next day, take sixty marks along with you, but don’t bring the gold cup, the one that was given in payment for Blancheflour. Wait until the third day before doing this. On this third day, take along with you a hundred pounds, as well as the gold cup. Give him as much money as you can. Pay no heed to the amount. He will be very eager to persuade you to place your golden goblet down as a bet. At first you will say that you are tired of playing and want to stop. He will raise his own stake in order to tempt you to the board. Then you will agree to let him have the cup anyway, although it is of fine gold and immensely valuable, and indeed, you will say that you would do so even if it was three times as valuable. Give him the impression that you have no shortage of funds and own an immense amount of wealth – gold, silver and rich lands. He will by now have formed such a desire to be friends with you that he will fall to your feet and beg to become your man. You will graciously accept this offer of trust and his oath of fidelity, for he will then be able to help you in some scheme that you may devise.’
And this was exactly what Floris did! On the third day, the porter swore to become his man.
‘Now that you are my man and all my trust is in you, perhaps you will be able to give me some advice, and so save my life,’ said Floris. And he told the man everything: how Blancheflour had been taken from him and sold, that he was the son of the King of Spain and had come to Babylon because of his love for her, and that he intended to find some way of rescuing her. The porter listened to all of this and sighed miserably.
‘I am betrayed!’ he moaned. ‘I have been betrayed by this gold and this cup and my life is now in jeopardy. But I know how things stand. I do not wish to die for you but neither, whilst there is life left in my body, will I go against my vow of loyalty to you. I will be true to our agreement, come what may. Go back to your lodgings while I think of a plan. Give me three days. I will do what I can for you.’
Floris spent these three days talking when in company, weeping when alone, and the time dragged interminably. Meanwhile, the porter conceived a plan. He arranged for flowers to be gathered from a meadow, pretending to guess that this would be to the maidens' liking. He had two baskets filled, and this was his plan: to hide Floris in one of these baskets.
Two eunuchs were fetched to carry this load and it was so heavy that they began to complain. They asked God to send a bad end to the person who had put so many flowers into this one basket! And when they were told where to take it, they were given muddled directions, took a left turn before coming to Blancheflour’s room and brought the basket instead, with all the flowers, to the room of a maiden called Clarice.
The eunuchs set down the basket, offered a curse to the person who had stuffed it with so many heavy blooms and left it there. Clarice came up to the basket and was eager to see the flowers and to hold them. Floris believed that the footsteps he could hear were those of Blancheflour and he sprang out like a Jack-in-the-box. Clarice screamed and cried out in fear. Floris, realising his mistake, ducked back down again beneath the flowers, thinking that he had been betrayed and little caring now if his death was imminent. Maidens came running into Clarice’s room, ten, twenty, and very quickly a crowd of young ladies had gathered, all asking what it was that had caused Clarice to scream so loudly. But Clarice by now had guessed that the basket was meant for Blancheflour; their rooms were next to each other and she and Blancheflour were often in one another’s company. They had confided in one another and were good friends. Quickly, Clarice told them all to go back to their rooms.
‘I went to pick up some flowers from this basket when a large butterfly flew out and startled me. I’m sorry. That’s all it was.’
The maidens laughed and returned to their rooms. As soon as they were gone, Clarice went swiftly into Blancheflour’s room and said jokingly: ‘Would you like to come to see a really lovely flower? You will like it when you see it, I promise!’
‘Go away, Clarice,’ replied Blancheflour, dejectedly. ‘Don’t make fun of me. Everybody is saying that the flower is going to fall on me and that the emir is going to choose me as his wife; but that day shall never dawn when men accuse me of being untrue. I shall never change my love for another. Neither will Floris. And now that I shall never see Floris again, no other man is going to have the pleasure of my body, I assure you!’
Clarice stood listening to this display of faithfulness and fierce rebellion and said, laughing: ‘Come and see this flower. Please come.’
Blancheflour followed Clarice into her room, where Floris was already overjoyed because he had been able to hear all that had been said in the adjoining room. He stood up in the basket. Blancheflour’s colour changed. They both recognised one another immediately. Without saying a word, they ran into each other’s arms and hugged and kissed, then they began to weep, clasping each other in their arms for a long while, although it seemed to them just a moment. Clarice stood and watched them, and then, laughing, she said to Blancheflour: ‘Friend – do you recognise this flower? You had little interest in seeing it a moment ago, but now you won’t let go of it! It would take some rare skill indeed to prise the two of you apart now!’
Floris and Blancheflour both fell at Clarice’s feet weeping and begging her not to reveal what she had seen; for they all knew that if the emir found out they would both be killed for sure.
‘Have no more fear than if it was I, myself, in your place,’ Clarice assured Blancheflour. ‘You may trust that I will bring comfort and happiness to you both.’ Then she led them to the bed and made them lie down on the silk sheets and coverlets. When they were safely on the bed, she drew the curtains around them. Floris and Blancheflour immediately began to hold one another again and to kiss.
‘Lord who made man, God’s Son, thank you!’ whispered Blancheflour. ‘My sorrows are at an end. I have found my love and all my cares have melted away to nothing.’ And each told the other how unhappy they had been since their separation. Clarice did all that they asked of her, quietly and with discretion. But she may not be able to protect them for very long. For the emir is in the habit of summoning two maidens from their rooms every morning to fetch him water and basin and towels to serve him – he washes his hands in the basin and one of the two maidens produces a mirror and a comb; but however well they honour him, another two are chosen to perform this duty the next day, and by chance, the very next morning it is the turn of Clarice and Blancheflour to serve the emir in this way.
The morning following Floris’s arrival in a basket of flowers, it was Clarice and Blancheflour’s turn to wait upon the emir. Clarice got up early and – God bless her – she called to Blancheflour to quickly arise and to go down to the emir’s apartments with her, which were lower down in the tower. ‘I’m coming,’ called Blancheflour, but she was still half asleep.
Clarice got ready and made her way to the emir, thinking that Blancheflour had already gone on ahead. As soon as she arrived, the emir asked after Blancheflour.
‘Sir – she has been awake all night,’ said Clarice, thinking quickly. ‘She has been kneeling and reading from that book that she reads, praying all night to her God to give you his blessing and grant you a long life. And now she is fast asleep.’
‘She is a very sweet girl,’ replied the emir. ‘I am right to desire her as my wife, if she makes such an effort to secure a long life for me.
When their turn came around again, Clarice arose early in the morning and urged Blancheflour to get up. ‘What are you waiting for?’ she called. ‘Get up!’
‘I’m on my way,’ Blancheflour replied as Floris began to cuddle up to her and she fell asleep again in his arms; something they will soon come to regret.
Clarice arrived at the column from which water was pumped up to the higher levels of the tower, carrying the gold basin that she was to take to the emir. She called once more to Blancheflour to come with her. There was no reply, so Clarice assumed that she had already left. She made her way down to the lower levels of the tower, to the emir’s apartments, and at once the emir asked after Blancheflour and wondered why she was not there, as she was supposed to be.
‘She was up before I was,’ replied Clarice. ‘I was expecting to find her here. Hasn’t she arrived yet?’
‘She is treating me too casually,’ said the emir and he called his chamberlain to him, instructing the man to go and find out where Blancheflour was. The chamberlain went at once to her room and stood before her bed. There he could see Floris and Blancheflour together, kissing one another. The chamberlain went straight back to the emir to tell him what he had seen. The emir called for his sword. Then, swearing that he would quickly find out what was going on, he strode determinedly with his chamberlain to where Floris and Blancheflour were still lying together. They were fast asleep. The emir ordered that the bedclothes be pulled back. This was done and it was immediately apparent that one of them was male, the other female. The emir shook with rage! His instincts were all for killing them there and then. But before he killed them, he thought, he would find out exactly who this man was.
Floris and Blancheflour awoke and saw a naked sword above their heads. They were both terrified.
‘Tell me, my fine friend, who made you so brave as to dare to come into my tower to sleep with this maiden?’ said the emir to Floris. ‘You were born under an unfortunate star, this much is certain, for an ugly death is to be your reward for this.’ They both cried imploringly for mercy and the emir relented enough to agree to call together all his noblemen to pass judgment upon them. He ordered them to get up and put on some clothes. Then he had them tied up and thrown into his prison, while he assembled all his barons. And to get quickly to the point, all the noblemen arrived and gathered in his magnificent hall; kings and dukes filled the space as the emir angrily set out the charge against the two prisoners.
‘Lords and nobleman, you have all heard of the greatly honoured maiden Blancheflour, the maiden I paid an immense amount of money for, seven times her weight in gold. I did this because of her beauty and for her inestimable worth, and also because I truly believed that she would make me a fitting queen. But I have this very morning stood before her bed and found a naked man beside her. My immediate thought was to kill them both, there and then, despite their pleading. I was wild with anger and yet I chose to stay my hand and to send for you. I want you to pass judgment for me. And now that you know all the facts, avenge me quickly, I urge you.’
‘We have heard all about this disgraceful matter,’ said one of the kings. ‘But before we condemn them to death, we would like to hear what they have to say for themselves. Our judgment will not be proper unless we hear them speak in their defence.’
So Floris and Blancheflour were sent for. Preparations were made to burn them alive. Two strong Saracens led the frightened children towards the fire. They wept for one another as they were led to their deaths.
‘We have no hope now,’ confided Floris to Blancheflour. ‘If it was possible for a man to do so, I would die twice; once for you and once again for myself, for I am completely responsible for what is about to happen to us.’
‘The guilt is all mine,’ insisted Blancheflour, through her tears.
Then Floris took the ring that his mother had given him. ‘Take this ring,’ he said to Blancheflour. ‘You cannot die while it is yours.’ He gave her the ring, but she gave it back to him. ‘I shall never wear it if doing so condemns me to watching you die!’ she insisted. Floris tried to force the ring onto her finger and she threw it away. A duke spotted it on the ground and leant over to pick it up. He was very pleased to have found it.
And so the children were taken to their fate, and stood weeping before the flames. They stood before all the kings and dukes, and they thought their situation hopeless. There was no man so hard of heart that he did not look upon these two children and wish that he could reprieve them – or perhaps purchase them with gold or some other wealth, if they would only speak in their own defence. Floris was so fine a young man and Blancheflour so sweet a maiden. Of all the men and women alive today, there are none who could possibly look as handsome and dignified in adversity as these two did. Nobody would have guessed that they were being taken to their deaths, except only by the tears that trickled down their cheeks. But the emir was in no mood for pity. His anger still burned. He ordered them to be bound and then he threw them into the fire. But the duke who had picked up the ring summoned the courage suddenly to speak in their defence. He was eager to try to help them if he could and explained how he had seen them passing the ring to each other and then finally throwing it away. The emir commanded the children to be taken from the fire so that they might speak. He asked Floris who he was and Floris replied quickly: ‘Sir, never mind about me, but you shouldn’t kill this maiden. Kill me, Sir, but let the girl live!’
‘No, the guilt is mine!’ cried Blancheflour.
‘Then you shall both die,’ shouted the emir. ‘I shall take my vengeance upon you both!’ He drew his sword from its sheath as though to kill them. Blancheflour bent her neck forward to take the blow, but Floris pulled her back. ‘I am a man and I shall go first,’ he said to Blancheflour. ‘You should not receive a blow that is rightfully mine.’ He bent his own head forwards to receive the emir’s sword, but Blancheflour pushed him out of the way. All the kings and dukes who were watching this were amazed at the children’s eagerness to die for one another. They all said: ‘Sir, it is hard for us to bear this pitiful scene.’ The emir, although he was still angry, was beginning to feel less antipathy towards them himself, seeing them so eager to save one another and how every king and duke was standing with tears in his eyes. And because he had loved the maiden so much, he could not stop himself from weeping as well; he turned away and let his sword fall to the ground. He could not hold it. The duke who had found the ring spoke privately to the emir, and his words had an immediate effect. He advised the emir to spare the children.
‘Sir, there is little to be gained by killing these children. It would stand you in better stead to find out from Floris who it was who helped him to get into your harem. It would be wise to know if there is anyone you should be wary of.’ So the emir said the Floris:
‘Who made it possible for you to get into my tower?’
‘I will never tell you that, unless this person can be forgiven as well. I will only tell you if this is agreed to beforehand.’
On the advice of his noblemen, the emir assented. So Floris told the whole story, from beginning to end: how Blancheflour had been sold in order to be taken from him, how he was the son of the King of Spain and had come to find this maiden whom he loved, planning to use some trick to gain access to the tower in which he had learned she was being held. He explained how, through a display of his great wealth, the porter had sworn allegiance to him and how he was carried up into the tower in a basket of flowers. All the kings and dukes laughed when they heard this.
Now the emir – God bless him! – set Floris by his side, dubbed him a knight and asked him to serve in his retinue. Floris fell to his feet and asked that Blancheflour be given to him. The emir gave him Blancheflour to wed. Floris thanked everybody there. They were taken to a holy place and married with the ring that Floris’ s mother had given to him. When they were married, Floris and Blancheflour, in their joy, both fell to the emir’s feet to kiss them. Blancheflour asked if Clarice could be brought from the harem and so she was fetched from the tower; and there she married the emir before them all. There was such a magnificent feast afterwards that I cannot begin to describe it all!
It was not long afterwards that Floris received news that his father had died. All the noblemen at the emir’s court recommended that he return home and take possession of his kingdom. So he went to the emir to ask him for leave to depart. But the emir was reluctant to do this.
‘If you will take my advice, you will stay here with me,’ he said. ‘I will give you a kingdom every bit as large as your father’s.’
‘You cannot keep me here with promises of land and wealth,’ replied Floris. ‘It is wrong of you to try.’ So they commended the emir to Drighten, and sailed home. Floris was crowned king and Blancheflour queen. Then they received the body of Christ from a priest’s hand and thanked God for all that He had done.
They are both dead now. May Christ guide all our souls to heaven. This tale of Floris and Blancheflour has finished. After much trial and hardship they were brought to happiness and wellbeing.
Translation and retelling of Floris and Blancheflour copyright © Richard Scott-Robinson, 2016