Erec and EnideErec and Enide

A story adapted from the romantic verse by Chretien of Troyes

Disputed Sparrow-Hawk

Poor indeed was Enide's garb. Though her white well-worn garments may have been so old that they were full of holes, she still looked beautiful and charming. Within the clothes her body was fair, for nature had used all her skill in forming her and never again could she strive so successfully to reproduce her pattern. Her complexion was clearer than the lily, her delicate pallor suffused with a fresh crimson and her eyes so bright they seemed like two stars. She was made to be looked at, for never did Iseut the Fair have such radiant golden tresses.

At first sight of the knight, Enide drew back a little and blushed. Erec, for his part, was amazed to behold such beauty and asked the master of the house: 'Why is your daughter so fair and clever, yet so poorly clad?'

'I have been so long involved in war that I have lost all my lands. There is no nobleman who does not desire her for his wife but I will not give my consent for I am waiting for someone better. She is my joy and comfort, my wealth and my treasure and I love nothing so much as her precious self.'

Erec was one of many knights quartered in the town preparing for the fete on the following day, where, in the presence of all the people, a sparrow-hawk of six moultings was to be set upon a silver perch. Whoever wishes to gain the hawk must have a mistress fair, prudent and courteous and ask her to step forward to lift the hawk from its perch. The knight must be bold enough to defend the worth and name of his mistress against any challenger. Everyone expected Yder, winning it for the last two years without a challenge, to gain the prize again.

'I wish to defend the hawk on behalf of your daughter,' Erec told his host, 'for there is no damsel who is one hundredth part as beautiful as she.'

'No, sir knight. I expect fortune will bring hither some king or count to lead her away for there is no king who would be ashamed of my daughter, but till then . . .'

'Sire, I am called Erec, son of the rich Breton King Lac and I belong to King Arthur's court. I promise that if you give me your daughter tomorrow when I strive for the hawk I will take her to my country, give her a crown to wear and make her a queen of three cities.'

'I have heard much of you in this country and if you are indeed the son of King Lac then I can refuse you nothing - for you are valiant and brave. Here, I give you my daughter.'

Erec received her joyfully. Enide sat quietly, but happy that she was betrothed to Erec because he was valiant and courteous and knowing that some day she would be crowned a rich queen.

At the crack of dawn Erec and his host rose to pray at the church, not forgetting to make an offering, and hear a hermit chant the mass.

Enide helped Erec put on his arms (pictured top right), fastening a sword at his side and handing him his shield and helmet. She herself then mounted a bay palfrey - the bridle was the worse for wear - and all free in light attire, she rode by his side through the streets of the town. They made a handsome couple.

'Who can this knight be?' the people asked. 'He must be brave indeed to escort so fair a damsel.'

When they came to the sparrow-hawk sat upon the silver perch, they waited for the knight Yder to arrive. He presently came riding up with his mistress by his side and an evil-looking dwarf in front. The crowd quickly made way for them. Yder quietly told his lady: 'Step forward my dear, and lift the sparrow-hawk from its perch, for you are wondrous fair and full of charm.'

'Damsel, stand back!' Erec immediately cried. 'A better one than you claims it - more fair and courteous.'

Ignoring the anger rising in Yder, Erec bid Enide step forward. 'No lady exceeds you in beauty and worth, anymore than the moon outshines the sun.'

'Vassal!' Yder shouted at Erec. 'Who are you to dispute the hawk with me?'

'A knight from another land - King Arthur's court.'

'Then you must fight with me and pay dearly for it.'

A large place was cleared and people gathered around to watch. The two knights drew off then charged each other with their lances, knocking each other out of their saddles to the ground where they carried on the fight with swords. Great sword blows were exchanged, helmets rang, shields and hauberks shattered and swords became red with blood. The battle was long and both damsels came to tears.

Both knights became weary and had to take a rest. Amid her tears, Enide softly prayed for Erec who, seeing her love and beauty, was inspired with great boldness and renewed vigour. 'Vassal!'' he shouted to Yder. 'Too long we have rested; I call you anew to battle!'

They fought on, giving a Roland for an Oliver until Erec, with a powerful blow, entirely split his opponent's helmet and the stunned Yder fell to the ground.

'Mercy!' Yder begged. 'You have defeated me - I yield my sword.'

Erec refused his sword.

'Oh gentle knight, why do you have such mortal hatred for me? What crime have I committed against you?'

'A few days ago you allowed your ill-bred dwarf to strike one of Queen Guinevere's ladies while King Arthur was hunting the White Stag, and for such a crime I may well hate you. As my prisoner, you must take yourself to Queen Guinevere at Cardigan and place yourself in her hands.'

'Gentle knight! I pledge you my faith that I will go without delay and place myself at the Queen's mercy.' With these words Yder mounted his steed and rode off.

At his plighted word everyone around was glad but most rejoiced for Enide in her white raiment, she of the gentle and open heart, the daughter of a poor vavasor.

When Erec returned to his lodgings with Enide, anyone who was present would have witnessed a happy scene. The triumphant knight took his seat at the head while Enide, her face radiant, fed the much disputed hawk upon her wrist with a plover's wing. Great honour, joy and prestige she had gained that day and she was very glad at heart, making no secret of her joy.

Next morning, when Erec and Enide left for King Arthur's court, her mother and father could not hold back their tears, for such is love and human nature and affection between parents and children, though they knew they would receive great honour from her marriage.

As the betrothed couple rode along Erec could not look at her enough: Enide's fair and laughing eyes gladdened his heart and he could not help giving her a kiss. She looked at him with clear eye and loyal heart. A perfect match they were in courtesy, beauty and gentleness, so alike in quality, manner and customs, so well suited to each other, they each stole the other's heart away.

The White Stag

Guinevere Greets Enide When Erec and Enide reached Cardigan castle, King Arthur and Queen Guinevere greeted them warmly for they were already aware of Erec's battle with Yder - the defeated knight had earlier surrendered to the Queen. The King, praising Enide's beauty, lifted her down from her horse; and the Queen (pictured right), seeing her dressed in poor clothes, quickly took her off to present her with one of her own fine gowns.

Rich and fine and embroidered with little crosses, the greenish-purple mantle had two sable skins around the neck; its two tassels held more than an ounce of gold with a hyacinth on one, and on the other, a ruby flashing like a burning candle. The tunic, lined with white ermine even to the sleeves, had at the wrists and neck-band more than half a mark's weight of beaten gold and set in the gold were precious stones of varied colours of indigo, green, and blue.

Ribbons made of silken thread and gold were quickly added and when Enide put on the finished gown, it became her so well that she looked lovelier than ever. Her old frock she gave away to some poor woman for the love of God.

On entering the court and seeing all the knights steadfastly admiring her, Enide blushed. The King, seein g her embarrassment, gently took her by the hand and made her sit on his right hand. The Queen, sitting on his left, said to him: 'Now you can bestow the kiss on the fairest of the court, for this maiden is the most charming of all the damsels here - or indeed the whole world.'

White StagAn ancient custom held that whoever killed the White Stag in the hunt must kiss the fairest maiden of the court - come what may. The custom could bring great ill: there were five hundred damsels of high birth and each had a bold and valiant knight for her lover who was ever ready to contend that she was the fairest of them all.

In the hunt, the King himself had killed the White Stag. 'I am bound to keep the tradition of my father Pendragon.' he told the court. 'Now fully tell me what you think. Is this damsel Enide not the fairest of my household and by right should receive the kiss?'

The knights answered with one accord: 'In this damsel there is more beauty than radiance in the sun. You may kiss her freely.'

The King turned to Enide, embraced her and she courteously allowed him to kiss her: 'My dear, I give you my love in all honesty, with true heart, without malice or guile.'

So the tradition of the White Stag was carried with a kiss.

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