Alexander and Soredamors

A story, adapted from the romantic verse by Chretien of Troyes

AlexanderSoredamorsAlexander, fair and brave, was the first son of the Emperor of Greece and Constantinpole. Scorning to be a knight in his own country, he came to Cornwall with twelve companions to join the famed court of King Arthur.
Well-skilled in speaking fair and wisely, he saluted the King: 'Your widespread renown has drawn me to serve and honour you in your court; and if you will accept the service of myself and my companions then I shall remain here until dubbed a knight by your own hand.'
The King at once replied: 'Friend, I refuse neither you nor your companions - be welcome all.'

Two Lovers Hiding Their Love

Over the next few months, Alexander and his Greeks did not vaunt themselves nor boast but gained the good graces of all the court and impressed King Arthur. The King asked Alexander to accompany himself and Queen Guinevere on a trip to Brittany. Sailing in the same ship was Soredamors, one of the Queen's maids-in-waiting. Soredamor caught Alexander's eye, and he caught hers.

Soredamors was scornful of love though her name meant 'gilded over with love'. Yet so charming and fair she might have learned of love if she had lent a willing ear but she had never met any man whom she would deign to love, whatever his prowess, lordship or birth.

Now Love avenged himself and aimed his dart for all the pride and scorn that she had always poured on him. It was only with great difficulty that she restrained herself from casting glances towards Alexander. At first she was grateful at her feelings but then it hurt. One moment she liked it; the next she would have none of it. 'Have my eyes betrayed me?' she exclaimed. 'My heart, usually so faithful, now bears me ill-will. What I see pleases me one moment but pains me the next.'

She had begun to pay dearly for her previous pride and disdain. 'My heart ought not to have any desire that causes me pain but it does. This man does not speak as he would do if he were in love with me, so shall I love him without return? Nay, if I do not look at him, no harm will come to me and I shall never seek his friendship. Does Love think to set me on the path that has led others astray? Not me, who cares nothing for him, for I shall be able to baffle Love in his efforts to get control of me.'

She did not know that Alexander also loved and desired her but he too dared not speak. He had once believed there was naught but good in Love but he had since learned that he played tricks and was full of enmity. 'He is a fool who joins his ranks for he always seeks to harm his followers. Upon my faith his tricks are bad.'

Neither spoke nor acted in accordance with what each saw in the other and so fanned the flames of love all the more. During their stay in Brittany their love waxed but each was abashed before the other, no flame or smoke arising from the coals beneath the ashes, each hiding the truth from the other's eyes, leaving them both in torment.

Love presented Sordamor to Alexander in his mind and distressed him, filching his heart away and granting him no rest. One moment he delighted in recalling her grace and beauty, but then he grieved, believing that she would never bring him joy. 'I might as well hold myself a madman,' he exclaimed, 'for truly I am beside myself when I dare not speak what is in my mind. Love has wounded me so deep that he has shot his dart into my very heart and not withdrawn it again.'

Each night Soredamors lay in such distress that she could not sleep. Love confined within her heart a struggle and conflict that caused her so much pain and anguish that she wept and moaned. When she looked within her heart to see what manner of man for whom Love was tormenting her, she felt content; but moments later she ridiculed all the thoughts she had before and tossed and turned again. 'Shall I beseech him then? Nay, for did ever such a thing come about where a woman is so forward as to make love to a man? There is nothing to do but wait and suffer.'

Thus in their distress they remained throughout the summer in Brittany till troubling news came from Dover. Count Angres of Windsor, to whom King Arthur had entrusted his kingdom, had traitorously gathered together a great rebellious army. Alexander immediately requested King Arthur to make knights of himself and his Greek companions, to which the King readily agreed.

A Daring Deed

When King Arthur returned to Britain he found that Count Angres, not having all the people's support, had sacked London and retreated to the well-fortified Windsor Castle.

Camping on the opposite side of the river Thames, King Arthur and his faithful knights strove their utmost to break down the castle's defences by shooting arrows, javelins and bolts, but to no avail. At the head of his Greek knights, Alexander so excelled himself in the fighting that the King added 500 Welsh knights and 1,000 troopers to his command. The King also offered a cup of great value - weighing fifteen marks of gold - for anyone who could effect surrender of the castle.

That evening, as was his custom, Alexander visited the tent of the Queen where she presented him with a white silk shirt embroidered in gold. Pretending that she was not aware of their love for each other, the Queen had bid Soredamors to sit by her and asked her: 'Tell us truly, damsel, did you have a hand in the sewing of this shirt?'

Though Soredamors felt a little shame, she gladly explained: 'I helped stitch it here and there but inserted at intervals in the sleeves and neck a thread of my own hair to see if any man could tell the difference.' The hair was as bright and golden as the thread of gold itself.

Alexander was overjoyed, hardly able to restrain himself from worshipping the golden hair but well-nigh speechless with embarrassment. Only when he was alone did he kiss the shirt a thousand times: thus did Love make a fool of a sensible man.

That same night, a party of the traitors slipped out of Windsor Castle to cause mischief but God hates traitors more than any other sinners and the moon began to show itself. Spotted by Alexander's men who fell amongst them, they were all killed or captured.

It was then that Alexander hit upon his daring plan. 'Let us change our gear,' he told his men. 'By taking the shields and lances of the traitors, the defenders inside the castle will suppose we are of their party and let us in.'

The deceived castle gate keeper did open gate to them. Thus catching the garrison by surprise, Alexander and his Greeks charged straight at the defenders, forcing them to retreat to the keep. Count Angres and his knights made a last stand at the keep gate, making a desperate fight of it. When the valiant Alexander captured the Count, the rest of the knights surrendered.

King Arthur's knights, unaware of Alexander's daring deed, found their Greek companions' shields lying among the slain traitors and assumed Alexander and his knights were dead. It caused them great distress.

When Soredamors heard the news she lost her colour and her senses. Not daring to openly show her distress she shut her grief within her heart. Soredamor's sorrow changed to joy when Alexander came out of the castle with his prisoner and King Arthur, greatly pleased, presented him with the precious gold cup.

The Queen summoned both Alexander and Soredamors to her tent and told them: 'Lovers know not what they do when they conceal their passion from each other. I have plainly seen in the faces of both of you that of two hearts you have made but one. So conceal nothing. Exercise no tyranny and seek no passing gratification but honourably join together in marriage - for I believe your love will long endure.'

Alexander replied: 'Since you know what my wishes are, I can no longer conceal them from you; but it may be that this maiden may not wish that I be hers and she be mine? Even so I place myself in her hands.'

Soredamors trembled at his words, having no desire to refuse him. Falteringly she gave herself to him and said to the Queen: 'My heart and body are at your command to do as you please.'

The Queen clasped them both in her arms and laughingly said: 'I give over to thee, Alexander, thy sweetheart's body and I know thy heart will not draw back. I give each of you to the other. Do thou, Soredamors, take what is thine; and thou, Alexander, take what is thine?'

They both quickly answered 'Yes' and the marriage was celebrated that very day at Windsor. The couple had all the happiness that they could desire and no one could describe, without falling short of the truth, the magnificence and pleasure that everyone felt at this wedding of the two unwilling lovers.

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