Lordlingis, lystenith to my tale · þat is meriour þan þe nyghtyngale · that I wolle yow synge · Of a knyght, Sir Beuon · that was bore in Southampton · withouten lesyng – Gentlemen, everybody, listen to my tale. I will sing you a song, merrier than the nightingale. The knight Sir Bevis was born in Southampton and he was the finest of warriors, he won more battles and more booty than any of his generation and forced many kingdoms to worship Christ. His father was the good earl Sir Guy, who was lord of Southampton and all the surrounding countryside and shire.
Sir Guy was victorious in all his battles but didn’t marry until he was quite advanced in years; he took a wife in his old age, the beautiful daughter of the King of Scotland – alas, that he should choose her! It was to cost him his life. When he felt his strength and vigour waning, his thoughts turned towards matrimony and soon afterwards, my tale leads me to believe, he would have given away all his lands just to be rid of her!
The lady’s thoughts turn to evil as she plots injustice in her tower. ‘My lord is old and cannot satisfy me,’ she complains. ‘He would rather spend all day in church than come to visit me in my bedroom. If I had a lover, a young knight whose battle scars have not yet sapped his energy, he would be willing to make love to me with all his strength and vigour, to hold and to kiss me day and night, and propel me into bliss.’
This woman was very beautiful. The Emperor of Germany had loved her for a long while and had long sought her hand in marriage. He’d sent messengers to her father and visited her himself, but her father had been adamantly against the match and had given her to Sir Guy instead, even though old age had begun to creep up on him and his strength and vigour had begun to wane. But Sir Guy and his wife spent enough time with each other in bed for a child to be conceived: a boy whom they named Bevis, now a confident and good-looking child. He was only seven years old when his father died. This is how it happened:
Sir Guy’s lady called her messenger to her. ‘Messenger, give me your word that you won’t betray me. If you agree to this, I’ll give you gold and property, and make you a knight.’
The messenger, who was an arrogant and treacherous fellow, replied: ‘Madam, if you don’t find me to be the most loyal and trustworthy messenger you could ever wish to send, you can have my head cut off.’
The lady was satisfied. ‘Leave this tower and go into Germany,’ she said. ‘Use all your cunning and discretion, but go as quickly as you can and greet the emperor on my behalf and ask him, for my love, if, on the first day of the month of May he might arrange to be present with a large contingent of fighting men in the New Forest. I will see to it that my lord is there with only a small number of men. Tell him to cut off my husband’s head and to send it straight to me. When he has done this, I will be his, and then he can do with me whenever he wants, night and day.’
‘Madam, I shall go like the wind.’
Off went the messenger, may Christ send him grief! He took ship, the wind was perfect – alas! – and he soon arrived in Germany. Greeting a local man very politely: ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘would you be so kind as to tell me where I can find the emperor?’
‘Certainly,’ came the reply. ‘He’s in Rapain, I’m sure of it.’
The messenger thanked him and made his way quickly to Rapain. Here he found the emperor, and he fell to his knees before him, as was the custom.
‘Sir, the lady of Southampton greets you in the name of Christ,’ he said. ‘She asks if, on the first day of the month of May, whatever you may have planned, you might cancel it and instead have your men armed and ready in the New Forest beside the sea. She proposes to send her lord there with only a few companions. You can kill him there, and afterwards, she will make arrangements for you both to be married.’
‘Tell your lady that I am happy beyond words with this plan,’ the emperor replied. ‘Tell her that what she proposes shall be done, and for the trouble that you have gone to, to bring me this message, I shall give you a fine horse laden with panniers full of red gold. And within this fortnight I shall make you a knight.’
The messenger eagerly thanked him, then quickly made his way back to Southampton. The lady was in her tower. She sent for him and they spoke together.
‘Madam, the emperor sends his greetings and with great affection he assures you that he will be ready in the New Forest just as you ask, at the appointed time. If you are ready and willing to be rid of your husband, then he is happier still, many times over, to help you in this endeavour.’
The lady was very pleased to hear this.
On the first day of May, the lady lay in bed in her tower. She sent for her husband and told him that she felt dreadful and feared for her life. The earl was very upset to hear this and asked if there was anything he could do. She replied: ‘Sir, if I could have a wild boar, I think that that would do wonders to aid my recovery.’
‘My love, where shall I find this wild boar?’ he asked. ‘I will wrestle him to the ground for you with my bare hands!’
‘In the New Forest, that’s where he lives.’
‘By God’s grace, I’ll catch this boar for you.’
‘Bless you. If you will do this for me, you’ll be the finest of all men in my eyes.’
The earl mounted his horse, hung his shield by his side, strapped on his sword but chose not to wear any armour, as he made his way into the forest with only three other men for company. Alas, that he isn’t more alert to the presence of danger!
When he entered the forest, suddenly a voice rang out: ‘Yield to me, you old fool!’ The emperor emerged from the woodland with a large contingent of men. ‘You’re going to hang by the throat and have your head cut off, and your son Bevis will be hanged as well, while your wife and I have sex every day.’
‘You criminal!’ exclaimed the earl. ‘If you have any thoughts of taking my wife and my child from me, I shall not let them go without a fight!’
Sir Guy spurred his horse, showing all the strength and courage that he could still call upon when needed, and struck the emperor with his spear, knocking him off his horse onto the ground. ‘You traitor!’ he cried. ‘Although I am old, do you think that I am afraid of you? You overreach yourself. You have no right to my wife and I’m going to make that very clear to you now!’ He drew his sword.
The earl would have delivered a death blow had not a great number of knights rushed over to rescue the emperor – more than two hundred, the book says. Sir Guy defended himself valiantly, swinging his sword and cutting off forty heads with it, and had he been wearing a good suit of armour he would have won the day, I’m sure. If only he had been wearing his armour! His three companions were quickly killed, and soon his horse was slain from under him and very shortly his only hope was to ask for mercy. The earl knelt before the emperor and pleaded for his life:
‘Through your generosity, I ask for mercy!’ he cried. ‘For all of your men that I have killed, take my sword and all my titles and possessions, but please leave me my young son Bevis, and my dear wife.’
‘By God, no!’ cried the emperor, angrily. He drew his sword and killed the good earl there and then, by cutting off his head. ‘Take this to my darling,’ said the emperor, giving the severed head to one of his knights.
The knight rode into Southampton, found the lady and greeted her: ‘Madam,’ he said, ‘the emperor sends his heartfelt greetings and delivers this to you.’
‘May he be blessed forevermore!’ she exclaimed. ‘He shall marry me tomorrow. And make sure that you ask that sweet man to come to my bedroom tonight.’
The messenger returned with this message.
Bevis, the earl’s son, was distraught when he learned what had happened to his father. He wept and wrung his hands and cried ‘Alas! Alas!’ Then he called his mother to him and when she arrived, he shouted: ‘You filthy whore! You deserve to be disembowelled and torn to pieces! It would give me the greatest pleasure to see this happen, for you have killed my father unjustly. What reason do you have, mother, to become a whore and to turn your castle into a brothel? Is this what beauty encourages? I commend all whores to the devil of hell, all of them, including you! And I’ll tell you one more thing: if I ever reach an age where I can bear arms, I shall bring grief to all those who have been involved in the killing of my father.’
His mother slapped him hard below the ear. It was a nasty blow. Young Bevis fell to the ground.
Saber quickly ran to him, like the true knight that he was: he was Bevis’s uncle and foster-father, and he helped Bevis up by the arm and was very angry to see the harm done to the boy. He led Bevis towards his house, and as he did so the lady called him back and said: ‘Saber, see to it that young Bevis dies. Have him hanged, or any other death that you like, I don’t care, but just make sure that he’s gone.’
Saber was very unhappy with this, but he told her that he would do as she asked. He took the child home with him, then took a pig, slaughtered it and sprinkled the blood all over the child’s clothes, just as though the boy had been butchered in them, so that he could show the clothes to Bevis’s mother. Then he gave Bevis, that noble child, some plain, ordinary garments to wear and said: ‘Son, you must look after my sheep in the fields for a fortnight, and when the wedding festivities are over, I will send you into another country, far to the south, to an earl who will look after you and teach you how to become a young nobleman. When you are old enough to bear arms and have become a man, then you will come back to England and win back your rightful heritage through war and by force of arms. I will help you to do this in every way that I can, when you are old enough, with all my might and with the edge of my sword.’
The child thanked him and wept tears of sorrow, then made his way to the fields with his sheep. As Bevis was watching over his animals, he looked over towards Southampton, which should have been his by right, and saw a throng of people near the tower dancing and singing in great merriment, and heard the sound of tabors and trumpets drifting in the wind.
‘Lord,’ he cried, ‘have pity on me! Am I not an earl’s son, and now a lowly shepherd?’
Bevis seized his cudgel and strode off, angry and aggrieved, towards the tower. ‘Porter,’ he said when he got there, ‘let me in. I’ve a little something I want to say to the emperor.’
‘Away, you imp!’ cried the porter. ‘Do you think you’re going to impress me with this arrogance? Unless you skedaddle at once, you’ll bitterly regret it. Bugger off!’
He turned back towards his guardhouse and shouted: ‘Can you see this tiny son of a whore brandishing a stick at me? If he carries on like this much more, I’ll give him a good whack on the head.’
Bevis was ashamed to hear himself spoken to like this; he was so angry that he didn’t know what else to do, so he smashed his stick over the man’s head and broke his skull.
‘By God, you are right to call me the son of a whore,’ he said. ‘I know this for sure. But I’m no imp.’
Bevis left the man bleeding on the ground as he made his way into the hall, where he looked around, quickly spotted the emperor and shouted: ‘Sir, what are you doing with your arm around my mother’s shoulders? That’s my mother’s hand you’re holding! What are you doing on my land, without my permission? If you don’t return my lands and my rents to me and go away at once, I’ll make you pay! Why did you kill my father? You should be hanged and disembowelled for it! In the name of God, give me back what is mine!’
‘Shut up, you little fool!’ exclaimed the emperor.
Bevis was beside himself with rage to hear himself spoken to like this and marched towards the emperor. Despite the crowd of people in the hall, he struck him three times on the head with the stick, which was still in his hands. Three times he struck him, and the emperor slumped unconscious onto the table. Bevis’s mother quickly shouted: ‘Seize him!’
Bevis knew that he had to leave at once; knights were rising from the tables all around him, but there was much sympathy in the hall for the young lad and they let him escape, for none of them wanted to be the one to capture him. Bevis ran back home as fast as he could. Saber was there.
‘Bevis, by the holy cross, why aren’t you in the fields?’ he asked.
‘I’ll tell you,’ Bevis replied. ‘I’ve just beaten my stepfather with my stick. I whacked him over the head with it three times and left him for dead in the hall.’
‘Oh my God!’ said Saber. ‘Your mother will kill me. Do what I tell you now. If you don’t, we’re both dead.’
Saber led Bevis into a chamber. His worries were well founded, for Bevis’s mother appeared very shortly.
‘Saber, where’s Bevis, that traitor? That villain!’
‘Madam, I killed him as you asked, you know that I did. I showed you his clothes.’
‘You liar! Find out where he is. If you don’t deliver him to me quickly, I’ll see to it that you suffer for it greatly. I’ll have you killed in a most unpleasant way’
Bevis couldn’t bear hearing his foster father Saber being threatened like this: ‘Here I am,’ he cried. ‘Don’t you do anything to harm my uncle!’
The lady seized Bevis by the ear. ‘You should be dead!’ she told him. Then she called three knights to her, ones who were loyal to her and had no feelings for the boy, and gave the child over to them.
‘Go as quickly as you can to the coast,’ she instructed. ‘If there are any ships there from heathen lands, sell this rat to some merchants this very afternoon, and let them take him away with them.’
The knights made their way to the quayside of Southampton and quickly put the boy up for sale. There were many merchants from far-flung lands milling around the place. They sold him to some Saracens and got quite a lot for him.
The wind and the weather were fair, Bevis was soon taken far over the sea and ended up in Armenia. The ship landed, and three merchants took him into the city, hoping to get a good price for him. They draped him in silver chains and led him around the streets with a garland of roses on his head, keeping a firm hold of him and hoping to get plenty of gold for their captive Englishman. But they were asking more than people had to give, until the king’s steward, who had no shortage of gold, came along and bought him.
The steward went to the king and presented the young child to him. The king was very happy and thanked his steward many times. ‘Mohammed!’ he exclaimed. ‘I would be delighted and so proud if this wonderful-looking child would learn to bow before us. If he could be persuaded to embrace Islam, then I’m sure – my lord Mohammed – you will be equally delighted. By Apollo who sits on high, I’ve never seen a fairer child than he is, in length and breadth and limb.
‘Child, where were you born?’ he asked. ‘What is your name?’
‘Sir,’ said the boy, ‘my name is Bevis. I was born in England, in Southampton, by the sea. My father was earl there, but my treacherous mother had him killed and she sold me into slavery. She’s capable of anything! But sir, when I’m able to ride a horse well and bear arms and break lances, I’ll avenge my father’s death, I promise.’
Then Bevis told the king everything: he told him how the emperor had murdered his father and when he had finished, the king was quite overcome with emotion and very impressed with the boy.
‘I have no heir to pass my lands on to when I die,’ he confided. ‘None except for my daughter, Josian. If you will renounce your faith and take my lord Apollo as your god, I will give you her hand in marriage in the fullness of time, and you shall inherit all of my lands when I am gone.’
‘No,’ said Bevis. ‘Certainly not! Not for all your silver and gold will I abandon Jesus who paid such a high price for humankind. All those who believe in false gods must be idiots!’
The king admired Bevis’s courage, and his conviction, and thought even more of him because of it. ‘Bevis, while you are still a child you shall be my chamberlain,’ he said, ‘and when you are made a knight you shall carry my banner into battle.’
‘Whatever you wish,’ replied Bevis.
The years went by and the king grew to love Bevis very much, and so did his beautiful and intelligent daughter Josian; in fact, everyone grew very fond of him. By the time he was fifteen years old, there was no young man in the whole of the king’s retinue, neither knight nor squire, who dared to ride against him nor engage him in a fight.
The first conflict that Bevis took part in, I believe – since arriving in heathen lands, that is, and this is absolutely true – was on a Christmas Day. Bevis was riding with sixty Saracens towards the river when a Saracen began to tease him and asked him if he knew what day it was in the Christian calendar. Bevis replied: ‘I haven’t the slightest idea what day it is. I was less than ten years old when I left England, so how should I know?’
The Saracen laughed. ‘It is the first day of Yule, when your God was born in a stable with some donkeys. Christians make a big thing of it and have a lavish festival to honour him, so I’m going to honour mine, now, and just a enthusiastically, both Mohammed and Apollo.’
‘I have dishonoured my religion,’ confessed Bevis. ‘But I have seen knights riding to tournaments with their helmets shining brightly and their shields glistening, and if I was as tough and courageous as my father, Sir Guy, I would, for the love of my God who sits in heaven above, fight with you all, right here and now!’
‘This sounds like fighting talk!’ exclaimed the Saracen to his companions. ‘This Christian dog says that he will knock us all off our horses! Shall we see if he can do it?’
They all crowded around him and began to strike blows, giving Bevis many wounds, some of them deep, until at last Bevis had had enough. Although his body was smarting from the injuries he had received, he gathered his courage, wrestled one of the Saracens off his horse and managed to wrench the sword from out of his hand as he fell. Then he began to inflict some serious injury with it! Sixty Saracens received such a blow upon the neck with the edge of this sword that their heads went rolling into the dirt. Some he cut into two halves, some he left hanging under their horses’ feet. None escaped before Bevis had struck every one of them on the head with his sword.
The riderless horses galloped back to their stables, they knew the way, and Bevis rode home, bleeding from wounds everywhere. He tied up his steed and quickly went to his room. There, he lay face down on the floor to rest and to give himself some relief from his many wounds.
When word came to King Ermine that a large number of his young men had just been killed, and by whom, the king swore and commanded that Bevis be hanged and dismembered for it. But Josian spoke up and said to her father: ‘Sir, I firmly believe that Bevis would not have killed your men, by Mohammed and Termagaunt, unless it had been in self defence. Please,’ she said, ‘therefore, do as I ask: before you have Bevis executed for this crime, I ask you, for my love, let him come before you and give his side of the story, and then, when you know a little better who was in the right and who in the wrong, then you will be in a better position to know whether to sentence him to death or to offer him your forgiveness, and you can give your judgement then.’
‘My generous daughter,’ the king replied, ‘let it be as you say.’
At once, Josian called two knights to her. ‘Go to Bevis’s chamber,’ she said, ‘and ask him to come to speak with me, and say that my father is quite willing to make his peace with him.’
The knights went off to Bevis’s room and asked him, as the courteous and noble young man that he was, if he would come to speak with Josian. Bevis raised his head up from the floor and gave them such a stern glare, with his eyes bulging and his brow furrowed, that the two knights were scared out of their wits.
‘If you weren’t carrying a message, I would kill you both here and now, you foul liars!’ he shouted at them. ‘I won’t get up from this floor to speak with any heathen dog. She is a bitch and you are dogs. Get out of my room!’
The knights left immediately; they were happy to be away from there. They quickly went back to Josian.
‘He wasn’t very pleased to see us,’ they said. ‘He called us “dogs”. We’d rather not see him again, to be honest. Not for all of Armenia!’
‘Gather your courage and come with me,’ replied Josian.
So they all went back to Bevis’s chamber.
‘Bevis, my darling,’ said Josian, when they arrived. ‘For God’s love, speak to me.’ She kissed him on the chin and on the mouth and gave him medicines steeped in wine, and after a while she managed to quell his anger.
‘Josian, forgive me,’ he said. ‘But I am badly wounded.’
‘Bevis,’ she replied, ‘I am the finest of physicians. No one has a better ointment than the one I have brought along with me. But first, let’s quickly go to see my father.’
So Bevis went trustingly with Josian and they made their way to King Ermine. Bevis then gave the king a true account of what had happened and showed him the many wounds that he had received, any one of which would have been enough to bring a man down.
‘I wouldn’t want you dead for all the lands that I hold,’ said the king. ‘Please, my daughter, do all you can to save this man. Heal him if you can, heal this doughty young man.’
Josian took Bevis into a chamber, had baths prepared for him, the hot water steeped with herbs and medicines, and used her ointment, so that in a short while Bevis was well on the road to recovery. It was not long before he was as eager to fight again as a falcon is to set off into the air.
There are other examples of Bevis’s skill and bravery that I have to tell you about too, if you will stay and listen. There was a wild boar in the district. Everyone was frightened of it. No animal had taken so many lives, men and women, and he didn’t care if ten knights were after him. He didn’t give a bean! Two great tusks protruded from his mouth, each of them over five inches in circumference, his hide was impenetrable and his bristles were long and coarse. He was such a terrifying sight that no man dared to approach him, let alone threaten him.
Bevis lay in bed one night and conceived the idea of demonstrating his strength and valour against this boar, by himself, alone. So the next morning, when it was light and everybody was up and about, Bevis saddled his hunter, intending to hunt that boar. He strapped on a good sword, carried a spear, hung a shield by his side and set off towards the forest.
Josian saw him leaving and thought, as always, that he looked magnificent. ‘May I never have possessions or any joy at all unless I can kiss him at least once,’ she said to herself with passion. ‘It will be a lucky lady indeed who has him to play with in bed!’
Bevis arrived at the forest and quickly tied his horse to a thorn tree and hung his shield around his neck. Then he blew a good blast on his horn, three loud phrases one after the other, so that the boar would know he was there. When he came to the boar’s den, he could see the bones of dead men that the boar had killed in the forest and dragged back to eat, and to drink their blood.
‘Come out, you cursed soul, come out quickly and fight!’ Bevis cried.
As soon as the boar saw Bevis, its bristles stood on end. It looked at him with piercing eyes as though imagining how pleasant it might be to swallow him whole, then opened its mouth and gave out an almighty snarl. Bevis ran at the beast with his spear levelled, but it stood its ground against the assault and the spear broke into pieces against the boar’s hide, which was as hard as flint. Bevis’s spear was now useless, so he drew his sword and attacked the animal with that. The boar counterattacked in response, and so it went on. The battle lasted for a long while – until evensong I believe. Bevis became so weary that his strength started to fail and he expected to be killed at any moment. The boar was growing just as tired, however, and suddenly turned and retreated.
While the boar was resting, Bevis made a prayer to God and to his mother Mary: ‘May one of us be killed before this battle ends!’
The boar suddenly rushed into a fresh attack with all its might, foaming excessively at the mouth, its bristles standing on end. Bevis, on this occasion, and through the grace and excellence of God, managed to slice away half of each of the boar’s tusks with a single swipe of his sword. The tip of his sword cut through the boar’s skull and exposed a hand’s breath of the brain underneath. At this, the boar gave out such a cry that the sound was heard for miles around; men heard that cry from as far away as the castle itself. The boar opened its mouth so wide that Bevis was able to thrust his sword down its throat and cut the animal’s heart in two. Bevis withdrew the sword and then cut the boar’s head off with it. He set the head onto the end of what remained of his spear and prepared to carry it back to the castle, but first he put his hunting horn to his mouth and blew the motif for a kill, so pleased was he at what he had achieved.
Bevis intended to take the head to Josian, but before he could reach the castle he was accosted by a large company of men. The king had a steward who had intended to kill the boar himself and was now very jealous of Bevis’s success. He had brought twenty knights along with him, and ten foresters, so the book tells us.
Bevis wanted only to wish them a good day and to travel onwards in peace, but the steward had other ideas.
‘Cut him down! Kill him!’ the steward cried.
Bevis could see that he was in grave danger and went to draw his sword, but he’d left it behind when he had killed the boar. He had nothing to fight with! Bevis was dismayed, but thinking quickly, he pulled the boar’s head from the end of the spear and, using the tusks on the boar’s head as a weapon, he quickly won a sword for himself; it was called Morglay. When Bevis had this sword in his hand, he ran circles around those who were trying to kill him, for no knight has ever wielded a better one. Some he hit on the helmet, toppling them from their horses, others he struck so hard with this sword that he cut their head off with a single blow. He laid into these heathen knights so fiercely that none of them could overcome him, and he hit the king’s steward so hard that he split the man’s body into two pieces, by the grace of God Almighty. He threw the corpse onto the ground and mounted the new horse that he had won. He thought that this reward for that stroke was excellent, for the horse was a much better one than the one he had been riding. The horse was called Arundel, which means swallow, for the steed was as swift and sure as a swallow in flight.
Bevis rode over to offer a truce to those knights who were still alive, and to the foresters, but as he approached them he was met by a cascade of arrows. He could barely defend himself against them, so he abandoned all thoughts of peace and in a little while had cut down all ten of the foresters and sliced their bodies into bits.
It says in the book that Josian was watching all this from the castle and had witnessed everything. ‘Oh God,’ she said. ‘Bevis is so strong and courageous! If I possessed the whole world, I would give it all up in order to marry him. Unless he can love me, I am dead! Sweet Jesus, what shall I do? I am in love, and Bevis knows nothing of my feelings for him.’
The young lady complained in this way, as she lay alone in her tower. Bevis, meanwhile, left all the carnage behind him and made his way to the castle. There, he presented the boar’s head to King Ermine. The king was very pleased and thanked Bevis a hundred times. He had no idea yet that his steward had been killed.
At that moment, a king arrived with plans to win Josian’s hand in marriage, although unbeknown to him she loves Bevis with every fibre of her being. This king’s name was Bradmond.
‘Sir, give me your daughter to be my wife,’ he called out at the top of his voice. ‘If you refuse to do this, I shall win her in battle. I’ll surround you on all sides, destroy your land and your crown and make your daughter lie beside me. And then to spite you, when I’ve finished with her I’ll give her to a scabby scullion to have filthy sex with.’
‘By God, we will defend her from you!’ exclaimed King Ermine, angrily. He descended his tower, sent for all his knights and asked them for their advice.
If Bevis was a knight,’ interrupted Josian, ‘he would be able to protect you well enough! I saw him kill your steward earlier. Bevis had left his sword behind at the place where he killed the boar, and only had the truncheon of his spear left with the boar’s head stuck on it, and your steward had twenty-four knights and ten foresters all armed to the teeth. But Bevis seized the head of the boar and gave the steward a massive blow with it when he realised the danger that he was in. He fought until all the knights were dead. He won the good sword Morglay, and that fine horse Arundel as well. He killed the ten foresters and then rode back here, unmolested.’
King Ermine swore at once that Bevis should be knighted. He called for Bevis and said:
‘I shall make you a knight and you shall carry my banner into battle. I am going to have to fight against King Bradmond.’
‘Gladly!’ exclaimed Bevis. ‘I’ll be delighted to, by the Holy Cross!’
Straight away, the king knighted Bevis and gave him a handsome shield with three eagles picked out in azure against a background of gold and silver. Then he strapped the sword Morglay onto him. Josian brought him a coat of chainmail and a padded coat to wear underneath. Bevis put on the coat – which was worth a small town – and the chainmail, and all those who witnessed this said that they had never seen chainmail like it. It was so strong and finely made that nothing could damage it, but it weighed no more than a single penny! Josian also gave Bevis the horse Arundel, to be his own. Bevis leapt into the saddle at once and led his contingent away, with their gleaming shields and bright banners, three thousand and fifteen men in total.
Bevis found himself receiving immediate attention from King Bradmond’s forces. King Radsone, who was as shaggy as a sheep, was King Bradmond’s standard-bearer. Bevis spurred Arundel with golden spurs and Arundel knew exactly what to do. Bevis impaled King Radstone through the chest with his spear. Shield, chainmail and leather were no more use to him than a button! He fell dead to the ground.
‘Get some sleep down there, you heathen hound!’ cried Bevis. ‘You would have been better off staying at home than coming here.’ Then he laid into the enemy with ferocity and courage, and killed Saracens like a frenzied madman. Sir Bevis killed as many in that fight as the rest of his comrades put together. He swung Morglay without rest until the sun began to set.
Bevis and his contingent killed sixty-thousand that day; they had all come from Damascus, but they never returned home. When Bradmond saw that his army had been cut to pieces, he fled the battlefield with what forces he had left.
As Bradmond was riding beside the seashore with the remains of his army, he came across two of Bevis’s knights. He got down off his horse, captured them, tied them up and led them off, intending to take them to his prison and earn a good ransom for them. He was roping them to a horse when Bevis spotted what he was doing and quickly gave chase.
‘Bradmond, you foul wretch! Did you come here to take Josian back with you like that? You’re going to find out quickly enough who’s here to stop you and hang you on a gibbet! To get past me, you’ll have to get past Morglay.’
Without another word being spoken, Bevis hit King Bradmond on the helmet with his sword and toppled the man to the ground.
‘Mercy!’ cried Bradmond. ‘I yield to you! I surrender! But I’ll give you a thousand castles, cities and towers if you’ll let me escape.’
‘No, by Saint Martin! I am sworn to King Ermine, and all that I do, I do in his name. Therefore, God help me but you will swear to me now, at once, and by all that you hold dear, that you will never make war on him again but pay homage to him instead, and hold your lands from him, and give him sovereignty over all that you possess.’
‘I swear to all this,’ replied Bradmond. ‘I will never again seek to harm him, and I will never take up arms against you, Bevis.’
When he had sworn to all this, Bevis let King Bradmond go, which was a great pity. It’s a shame that he didn’t kill him there and then. Bevis will spend seven years in his prison, as you will hear in a little while.
Bevis went quickly home and came before King Ermine. ‘King Bradmond of Saraceny has agreed to pay you homage and to be your vassal,’ he said. ‘He will hold his lands, hereafter, from you.’
King Ermine was delighted to hear this and thanked Bevis many times. The beautiful maiden Josian helped Bevis to remove all his armour and made sure that he was comfortable at the table; she served his meal herself. Then she did all that she could to persuade him to go to her private chamber afterwards and once there, she gave him water to drink and made him feel very much at home.
Bevis sat on her bed, and the beautiful Josian saw her opportunity and seized it.
‘Bevis, my darling, have mercy on me! I have loved you for a very long time. There is no remedy. Unless you can give yourself licence to do whatever you wish with me, right now, I will die.’
‘God forbid!’ exclaimed Bevis. ‘There is no king, prince nor sultan in this whole world who wouldn’t take you to be his wife in an instant, the moment he set eyes on you! I am a knight from a foreign land and possess nothing except for the clothes that I stand up in.’
‘It doesn’t matter!’ she cried. ‘I would rather take you as my lover, dressed only in your shirt, than possess all the wealth in the entire world. Can you not learn to love me discretely?’
‘No,’ said Bevis, with equal conviction.
Josian fell down in a flood of tears. ‘You’re right,’ she sobbed. ‘In this world there is no king nor emperor who wouldn’t choose me to be his wife. And you! Churl! You have rejected me! May Mohammed send you pain and suffering!’
‘Damsel,’ said Bevis, ‘you are being unfair to me. It is true that I possess nothing, neither here nor in my own country, but my father was an earl. How can I then be a churl, if my father was a nobleman? You gave me a horse. Have it back. It is unsafe being on friendly terms with you and I want nothing more to do with you. I shall return to my own country. You will never see me again.’
Bevis went off to his lodgings in the town. He was very upset, and ashamed that she had made him appear so naïve and stupid.
When Bevis was gone, Josian’s fears and sorrows rose within her until she became quite distraught. She imagined that the tower would fall in upon her. She called her chamberlain, Sir Boniface, to her, told him what had happened and instructed him to go at once to Bevis and to try to make amends for everything, everything that she knew she had done wrong. Boniface went off and found Bevis in his chamber.
‘Josian has sent me,’ he said. ‘She says that she regrets all the things that she has said and which have upset you. She will make amends, in any way that you wish.’
‘Tell her that there’s nothing a messenger can say that will change my mind. But for taking the trouble to bring this message to me, I will give you a fine reward: a milk-white robe with a border of red silk and fastened with gold buttons; a robe fit for a king.’
Sir Boniface eagerly thanked him and turned for home, where he found Josian in a dismal mood. His answer, when he gave it, did nothing to cheer her up.
‘I advise you to go to see him yourself,’ he said. ‘Honestly, you did a dreadful thing when you slandered such a noble knight as him. Look at this robe he gave me!’
‘Alas,’ she cried. ‘It’s no act of a churl to give a messenger such a fine robe. Since he won’t come to me, I will go to him. Whatever may come of it, I shall go to his chamber.’
Bevis heard that the maiden was outside and pretended to be asleep.
‘Awake! Wake up!’ she cried. ‘I’ve come to make it up to you, my darling. Show your nobility and your generosity. Say a kind word to me now, and show me your love.’
‘Damsel,’ replied Bevis, ‘leave me in peace. Go away! I’m weary from fighting. I fought for you, but it’s the last time that I will.’
‘Have mercy on me!’ she cried, and fell down in a flood of tears. ‘Forgive me for acting so rashly and for insulting you. As a reward, I shall renounce all my false gods and become a Christian, for your sake.’
‘I accept your apology, then,’ said Bevis at once, and kissed her on the mouth.
That kiss was nearly the death of him, though. He’d appointed as his chamberlain one of those two knights whom he’d rescued from the clutches of King Bradmond, but it would have been better if he had let him stay captured. The man went straight to the king with what he had seen:
‘Sir, that believer in a false god, Sir Bevis, is having sex with your daughter.’
This is what that villain said! May he die an agonising death for it! All he had seen was Bevis kissing Josian once on the mouth. But it’s true what is said in romance: save a thief from the noose and he won’t rest until he’s seen you hanged on the same rope.
‘Alas,’ cried King Ermine. ‘This is terrible. Not for all of Armenia would I wish to see him accused of any crime. He must be punished for it, though, this is absolutely clear. But I would rather not have to watch him being killed.’
Up spoke a Saracen – may he have God’s curse and mine! – ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘why don’t we write a letter to King Bradmond and give this communication to Bevis to deliver. In this letter we can say something to the effect that the messenger, Bevis, has gone to bed with Josian and suggest that Bradmond has him killed, and he can have the hand of your daughter in marriage if he still wants it.’
The letter was written, then the king sent for Bevis and said: ‘Sir Bevis, I want you to go to King Bradmond, who has sworn friendship to us now. I ask you to make yourself ready to take this letter to him. But you must swear upon your faith that you won’t show the letter to anybody.’
‘If I can take Arundel,’ said Bevis, ‘I’ll go into that land at once and deliver it for you very quickly. I’ll take Morglay as well.’
‘It is not customary,’ replied the king, ‘for a messenger to deliver a message riding a warhorse or carrying a sword. A quieter and more comfortable pony would be much more appropriate. Take a little hackney, and leave your sword Morglay behind.’
So Bevis mounted a riding pony and rode on his way, carrying with him his own death warrant; may God, who sees everything, find a way of protecting him.