How I was reminded of the reason why Amadis and Oriana must proceed with total secrecy.
[Political map of Europe in 1346, just before the arrival of the Black Death, created and copyright © 2003 Melissa Snell, at About.com: Medieval History.]
At first, it struck me as almost an authorial convenience that Amadis and Oriana have to go through such enormous efforts to make sure that no one discovers their passion for each other. Then, earlier this month, I was in Barcelona and visited a museum exhibit that reminded me of a fact that would have been obvious to medieval and Renaissance readers: theirs is a forbidden, impossible love.
I visited "Princesses from far-away lands: Catalonia and Hungary in the Middle Ages" (Princeses de terres llunyanes: Catalunya i Hongria a l'edat mitjana) at the Museu d'Història de Catalunya. It describes the four attempts between the 12th and 16th centuries to use royal marriages to forge alliances between the Kingdom of Aragón in Spain and the Kingdom of Hungary.
More than 200 artifacts from museums and collections across Europe and the United States magnificently illustrate the environments surrounding these princesses. They were married off in their teens to men they had never seen, but they seemed to accept their destiny, and in fact they often proved as tough, shrewd, and capable of governing a kingdom as the men in their lives.
During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, every royal household in Europe was doing business in the marriage market. The family trees displayed in the exhibit look more like labyrinths than dendroids.
In our novel, King Lisuarte of Great Britain is naturally looking for the best bargain he can get for Princess Oriana, and everyone knows it. Although Amadis is a prince, Gaul doesn't seem to be important enough to merit consideration. Our hero's only hope is to become the world's best knight. In the meantime, if anyone learns of their love, Amadis and Oriana will face catastrophe.
So Amadis will fight any foe, attempt any noble deed, and strive to gain all the honor he can, whatever the peril, to prove himself worthy her hand. He and Oriana face a long, hard struggle, as ye shall see.
Another historical tidbit: Ye have heard how King Lisuarte had the tombs for Dardan and his beloved placed over carved stone lions. This was the custom in the 13th century: the stone sepulchers had lion-headed stone support beams set crosswise at their ends, which held the tombs off the ground, but which also served a symbolic purpose. The lions represented the death that devours all life, and they guarded the tombs against those who would despoil them.
Still, most of the sculptors probably never saw a real lion. I've seen such tombs, and I think the lions usually look more like hairy-headed, toothy, pug-nosed dogs. But it's the thought that counts.