Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chapter 45

How Durin left with Oriana's letter to Amadis, and when Amadis saw it, he abandoned everything he had undertaken and in desperation left secretly for the forest.

[A page depicted on the pedestal of the monument to Christopher Columbus in the Plaza de Colón in Madrid. Photo by Sue Burke.] 

Durin complied with the order of Oriana and immediately left on a very fast horse, and within ten days he had arrived in Sobradisa, where the beautiful Queen Briolanja was. When he had arrived in her presence, she appeared to be the most beautiful woman he had ever seen after Oriana. He learned from her how Amadis and his brothers and cousin Agrajes had left two days earlier, and, following their trail, he rode so hard that he arrived at Firm Island at the same time that Amadis passed through the arch of the loyal lovers, and he saw how the copper image did more for him than it had for all others.

However, when Amadis came out because of the news he had learned about his brothers, and Durin saw him with Gandalin, he did not give him the letter, nor afterward, even after Amadis had entered the protected chamber and everyone on the island had received him as their lord. He did this on the advice of Gandalin, who knew it was a letter from Oriana and feared what might be in it, whether good or bad, and that before his lord received title to the island, he might become agitated or swoon. He was sure that in addition, Amadis would abandon everything he had in the world to comply with whatever she might order.

But after things had become calm, Amadis had Durin called to ask him about the news from the court of King Lisuarte. When he arrived, Amadis took him to stroll through an extremely beautiful garden, and, distancing himself from his brothers, said that if Durin had come from the court of King Lisuarte, he should tell him any news that he knew.

In response, Durin said:

"My lord, I left the court in the same situation as it was when ye left, but I come to you with a message from my lady Oriana, and this letter that ye see is the reason I have come."

Amadis took the letter, and although his heart felt great joy, he tried to hide it so that Durin would know nothing about his secret. But his strength and judgement could not hide his sadness when he read the potent and fearful words that came in the letter, and he clearly showed that he felt as if cruel death had come, with so many tears and sighs that it seemed as if his heart had been rent to pieces. He became so faint and insensible that it seemed that his soul had just been taken from his flesh.

Durin had suspected nothing, but after he saw him weeping so hard, he cursed himself and his fate and death itself for not having overcome him before he had arrived.

Amadis, who could not remain standing, sat on the grass that was there and picked up the letter that had fallen from his hands, and when he saw the writing on the envelope that said, "I am the damsel whose heart has been wounded at sword-point, and ye are the one who attacked me," his sorrow was so beyond measure that for a time he seemed dead. Durin was very frightened and wanted to call his brothers, but because that would reveal Amadis's secret, he feared it would make him irate.

When Amadis had recovered, he said with great grief:

"My Lord God, why does it please you to give me death without deserving it?"

And then he said:

"Oh, loyalty, what a foul prize ye give to he who has never failed you. Ye made my lady fail me, yet ye know that I would rather suffer death a thousand times than fail to follow her orders."

He picked up the letter again and said:

"Ye are the cause of my sorrowful end, and so that death may overcome me sooner, ye shall come with me."

He put it in the breast of his tunic, and he told Durin:

"Did she order thee to tell me anything else?"

"No," he said.

"Then shalt thou carry back my reply?" Amadis said.

"No, my lord," he said. "I am prohibited to take it."

"And Mabilia or thy sister, did they tell thee anything to say to me?"

"They did not know that I was coming," Durin said. "My lady's orders were a secret from them."

"Oh, Holy Mary help me!" Amadis said. "Now I see that my sad fate is without remedy."

Then he went to a stream that flowed from a spring and washed his face and eyes, and told Durin to get Gandalin and to come back with him alone. He did so, and when they returned, they found him as if dead, and he spent a long time lost in thought. When he recovered, he told them to call Ysanjo, the governor, and when he came, he said:

"I want ye to promise me as a loyal knight that ye shall say nothing to my brothers about what ye shall now see until after they have heard Mass."

He promised, as did the two squires, and then he ordered Ysanjo to have the gate to the castle opened secretly, and Gandalin to bring his arms and horse outside it without anyone knowing.

They did so, and he remained thinking about his dream the night before:

He somehow found himself armed and on his horse on a knoll covered with trees, and around him many people were joyful. A man arrived among them who told him:

"My lord, eat what I bring in this box."

And he gave it to him to eat, and it seemed to taste like the bitterest thing that could be found. It made him feel very faint and uncomfortable, and he dropped the reins of his horse, which went where it wished. It seemed that the people who had been joyous had become so sad that he felt sorrow over it, but the horse fled far from them and entered some trees.

There he saw a place formed by some stones surrounded by water. He dismounted and removed his armor, and he went there with hopes to rest. An old man arrived dressed as a friar, took him by the hand, came close and, showing pity, said some words to him in a language he could not understand.

At that he had awoken. And now it seemed that however in vain he had held that dream before, it had turned out to be true. After he had thought about this for a while, he took Durin with him, and, hiding his face from his brothers and from everyone else so that they would not see his emotions, he went to the gate of the castle, where he found the sons of Ysanjo. They had the gate open, and Ysanjo was outside. Amadis told him:

"Come with me. Have your sons stay behind and tell them to say nothing of this."

Then they both went to the hermitage that was at the foot of a rocky peak, and Gandalin and Durin went with him. Amadis was sighing and groaning with such anguish and grief that those who saw him were sorrowful at the sight. He asked for his armor, he put it on, and he asked Ysanjo to what saint the church belonged. He said the Virgin Mary, and that miracles happened there often. Amadis went inside and knelt on the floor, weeping, and said:

"My Lady Virgin Mary, consolation and aid for those in tribulation, to You, my Lady, I commend myself. Intercede for me with your glorious Son so that He has mercy on me. And if Your will is that my body have no remedy, have mercy on my soul in my final hours, for I have no hope but death."

Then he called Ysanjo and told him:

"I want ye to promise me as a loyal knight to do what I shall tell you here."

Turning to Gandalin, he took him in his arms and sobbed, and held him a while unable to speak. Finally he said:

"My good friend Gandalin, I and thou were raised drinking the same milk, and we gave been together all our lives. I was never in travail or danger without thou taking part. Thy father took me from the sea as small as if I had been borne that night, and thy father and mother raised me well and with much love. And thou, my loyal friend, hast never thought to do anything but serve me. I had hoped that God would give me some honor that I could use to give thee what thou dost deserve. But now this great tragedy has befallen me which I hold to be more cruel than death itself, and thus we must part. I have nothing to leave thee except this island, and I order Ysanjo and all the others for the homage they have done me, that when they learn of my death, they take thee as their lord. And although this realm shall be thine, I order that thy father and mothers may enjoy it in their days and after that it shall be freely thine. This is for having raised me, for my fate has not left me time to fulfill all that they deserve and that I wish I could give."

Then he told Ysanjo to use some of the income he had collected from the island to erect a monastery there in honor of the Virgin Mary where thirty friars could live, and to provide them funds to sustain themselves.

Gandalin told him:

"My lord, ye never had to fear that I would leave you, and I shall not now for any reason. If ye were to die, I do not wish to live, and after your death may God never give me honor nor realms, so what ye wish to give me, instead give to one of your brothers, for I shall not take it nor do I deserve it."

"Be quiet, by God!" Amadis said. "Do not say such madness nor give me sorrow, for thou never hast before, and do as I wish, for my brothers are so blessed and of such great prowess at arms that they can easily win great lands and realms for themselves and even enough to give some to others."

Then he said:

"Oh, Ysanjo! My good friend, I am very sorry to not have time to give you the honors that ye deserve, but I leave you among those who shall do so for me."

Ysanjo, weeping, told him:

"My lord, I ask ye to take me with you, and I shall suffer what ye do, and I ask this in payment of what ye would give me."

"My friend," Amadis said, "I know that ye would do so, but my suffering can find no help except in God, and I want Him to guide me by His mercy with no one to accompany me."

And he said to Gandalin:

"My friend, if thou wishest to be a knight, become one now with my arms, which thou hast cared for so well that they ought to be thine, and which I shall have little need of. If not, go with my brother Sir Galaor, and have Ysanjo tell him on my behalf to take thee, and serve him and protect him in my place. Know that I always loved him above all others in my family. My heart is heavy for him above all others, as it should because he is the best and was always very humble with me, which now gives me double sadness. Tell him that I commend my dwarf Ardian to him, and he should take him with him and never forsake him, and tell the dwarf to live with him and serve him."

When they heard this, they felt great grief, but they made no response to avoid angering him. Amadis embraced them saying:

"I commend you to God, for I never expect to see you again."

He forbid them to follow him in any way, spurred his horse before they could remind him to take his helmet or shield or lance, and quickly entered a thickly forested mountain, going wherever the horse wished to take him. Thus he rode until past midnight lost to his surroundings until the horse found a little ravine of water that came from a spring, and, thirsty, followed the stream until it could drink from the spring, letting branches of trees strike Amadis in the face. That brought him back to his senses and he looked around but saw nothing except thick underbrush, and he was happy, believing he was far away and hidden.

While his horse drank, he dismounted. Then he tied it to a tree, and sat on the grass to mourn, but as he wept, his head sank lower and lower, and so he fell asleep.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Chapter 44 [final part]

[How Amadis became lord of Firm Island, and how disaster followed.]

[Art from the 1526 edition of Amadis of Gaul, printed by Jacobo and Juan Cromberger in Seville.] 
Sir Galaor and Florestan, who were waiting for Amadis and Agrajes outside the arch, saw that they were taking their time, so they decided to go to see the protected chamber, and they asked Ysanjo, the governor, to show it to them. He said that it would please him, and took them to see the chamber from a distance and the pillars that ye have heard of.

Sir Florestan said:

"My lord brother, what do ye wish to do?"

"Nothing," he said, "for I have never willingly become involved with enchantments."

"Then rest here," Sir Florestan said, "for I wish to see what I can do."

Then, commending himself to God, raising his shield before himself and with his sword in hand, he advanced. When he entered the enchanted area surrounding the chamber, he felt himself attacked on all sides by great blows with lances and swords, so many of them that it seemed that no man could survive. But since he was strong and valiant of heart, he could only go forward, attacking here and there with his sword, and from what he felt with his hand, he seemed to strike armed men but his sword could not cut them. So he passed the copper pillar and reached the marble one, but then he fell and could go no further, for he had lost all his strength. And then he was thrown out of the area, as had been done to the others.

Sir Galaor, when he saw that, felt very sorry for him and said:

"Regardless of what my will had been regarding this test, I shall not fail to take part in the danger."

He ordered the squires and the dwarf to remain with Florestan and splash cold water on his face. He took up his arms, commended himself to God, and went toward the door of the chamber. Immediately many hard and powerful blows struck him on all sides, and with great difficulty he reached the marble column. He held it and waited for a while, but when he took another step forward, he was attacked with so many blows that he could withstand them no more and fell to the earth, and like Sir Florestan, he was so stunned that he did not know if he was alive or dead. Then he was thrown outside like the others.

Amadis and Agrajes, who had spent some time walking through the garden, returned to the statues and saw there, in the jasper, his name written, which said:

"This is Amadis of Gaul, the loyal lover, son of King Perion of Gaul."

And as they enjoyed reading the words, Ardian the dwarf came to the gateway of the arch shouted:

"My lord Amadis, come help, for your brothers are dead!"

When he heard this, he left quickly, with Agrajes behind him, and he asked the dwarf what he meant, who said:

"My lord, your brothers tested themselves at the chamber and did not succeed and were left near dead."

Then they mounted their horses and rode to where they were, and found them in a bad state as ye have heard, although they had grown more conscious. Agrajes, who had a strong heart, quickly dismounted and, as fast as he could, went with his sword in hand toward the chamber, striking on one side and the other. But his strength was not enough to bear the blows that he was given and he fell between the copper and marble columns, stunned like the others, and he was thrown out.

Amadis began to curse having come there, and he said to Sir Galaor, who was now almost recovered:

"Brother, I cannot fail to place my body in the same danger as yours."

Galaor wanted to stop him, but Amadis quickly took up his arms and went ahead, asking God to help him, and when he arrived at the protected area, he paused and said:

"Oh, my lady Oriana, from whom comes all my strength and valor, think of me, my lady, as much as I need your delightful memory at this time!"

And then he went forward and felt himself attacked fiercely on all sides. He arrived at the marble column, and when he passed it, the entire world seemed to be trying to strike him, and he heard a great shout of voices as if the world were falling, and they said:

"If ye turn back this knight, then no one else in the world now may enter here."

But despite his woes, he did not cease to go forward, falling to his hands and knees at times. His sword, with which he had given great blows, had fallen from his hand and hung from its strap, and he could not recover it. And thus he arrived at the door of the chamber and saw a hand that grasped his hand and pulled him inside, and he heard a voice that said:

"Welcome to the knight who surpasses the skill of he who made this enchantment and who in his time had no equal. Ye shall be lord here."

That hand seemed large and hard, as if it belonged to an old man, and the arm was clothed in green and gold silk brocade. And when Amadis was inside the chamber, he was let go and he saw the hand no more, but he felt rested and had regained all his strength. He took the shield from around his neck and the helmet from his head, put his sword in its sheath, and thanked his lady Oriana for the honor that he won in her name.

At this time, everyone in the castle had heard it proclaimed that he had been granted the lordship and saw him in the chamber, and they began to call out:

"Our lord, we have received that which we have desired for so long, praise God!"

The brothers, who had recovered more of their consciousness, saw how Amadis had succeeded where they had failed, and they were happy because of the great love they had for him, and ordered themselves to be carried as they were to the chamber. The governor, with all his men, came to Amadis and kissed his hands as his lord. When they saw the amazingly worked and splendid things there, they were astonished, but these were nothing compared to the chamber where Apolidon and his lover had lived, which was made in such a way that not only could no one duplicate it nor even understand how it was made, it was such that those inside could see clearly what was being done outside, but those outside could in no way see anything within.

There for a time they were all happy, the knights because they had in their family such a knight whose skill surpassed all those in the present world and in the previous one for a hundred years, and those who lived on the island because they had found a lord whom they hoped would be blessed and who would rule over many other lands from that island.

Ysanjo, the governor, said to Amadis:

"My lord, it would be good if ye were to eat and rest, and tomorrow all the noblemen of the land will come here and do you homage, receiving you as their lord."

At that they left, and they entered a great palace, where they ate a well-prepared meal and rested that day. The next day, everyone on the island came together amid fine games and festivities, and they took Amadis as their lord with the pledges of vassalage as were customary in that time and land.

And so as this story has told, Amadis won the Firm Island one hundred years after the handsome Apolidon had left it enchanted, which served as true testimony that in all those years no knight had come who surpassed his skill.

But upon reaching such glory by great deeds at arms, which ought we to judge to be better: to win or to lose? Some men win, and these feel what that knight Amadis might have felt, while others, who expected victory and instead received the opposite, weep at their misadventure. Which of these two extremes is better? I have seen that the first can attract great sins through pride due to human weakness, which has no bounds, and the second, great desperation. Who can chose wisely between them? The reasonable judgement that the true Lord gives to men over all living things tells us that prosperity and adversity shall not last, and the heart that has been indoctrinated and reinforced may judge one against the other and reach a blessed middle course.

But will Amadis of Gaul take this middle course now that fickle Fortune has prepared herself to show him the toxic henbane and poisons that are hidden within these joys and achievements? I think not. Up until now, without measure or pause, favorable things have occurred to him through no combat against Fortune, but now, incomparably, his heart and his reason shall be defeated and subjugated by her, and his mighty arms shall not serve him, nor the sweet memory of his lady, nor the bravura of his heart. But he shall be helped by the great pity of our Lord who came to our world to serve sinners and sufferers. Now ye shall be told of his sorrows and later happiness.

It has already been told in the first part of this great story how Oriana, when she heard the words of the dwarf about the pieces of the sword*, was overcome by ire and rage and so upset that she took no note of the wise counsel offered her by Mabilia and the Damsel of Denmark. Now ye shall be told what she did about it after that day when she gave way to passion and let it grow within her.

Although her habit was to be in the company those damsels, she changed, and, disdaining their presence, spent most of her time alone thinking about how she could avenge her rage and cause sorrow to the one who had enraged her, as he deserved. She decided that since he was not present, in his absence all her feelings could be manifest in writing. When she was alone in her room, she took ink and parchment from their box and wrote a letter that said this:


"My enraged complaint accompanied by complete justification gives rise to cause my weak hand to declare what my sad heart can no longer hide against you, the false and disloyal knight Amadis of Gaul. It is now known the disloyalty and irresolution ye have shown against me, the most miserable and neglected woman in the world. Ye have withdrawn your love for me, whom ye had loved above all things in the world, and given it to she who due to her age has not sufficient discretion for love nor wisdom.

"And because my defeated heart can take no other vengeance, I wish to withdraw all the excessive and misemployed love that I had for you, since it would be a great error to love someone who despises me and to spurn all others as a result of this love and desire.

"Oh, how poorly I used and subjected my heart, since in payment for my sighs and passions, it was mocked and discarded. And because this deceit has been made manifest, do not come before me anywhere I am, for ye may be certain that the burning love I had for you has become rabid and cruel rage, which ye deserve. Take your fallen faith and knowing deceits and deceive another poor woman like me, for I have overcome your lying words and will receive no excuses nor petitions from you. I shall not see you; instead, I shall weep many tears over my misfortune and with those tears end my life and finish my sad lament."

When her letter was finished, she sealed it with Amadis's own well-known seal, and on the envelope she wrote:

"I am the damsel whose heart has been wounded at sword-point, and ye are the one who attacked me."

She spoke in utter secrecy with a page named Durin, brother of the Damsel of Denmark, and ordered him not to rest until he had arrived at the kingdom of Sobradisa, where he would find Amadis, then give him the letter, watch his face as he read it and stay with him that day, but take no letter from him in response, even if he wished to give him one.

* Translator's note: In Chapter 40, Amadis left London to help Briolanja regain her kingdom, but he had not gone far before he realized that he had left behind Briolanja's father's sword, which she had given him and which he had later broken in battle. His servant, the dwarf Ardian, went back to get it, and as he left, he told Oriana that the broken sword meant a lot to Amadis because he had received it from the woman he deeply loved. Ardian did not know that Amadis loved Oriana, and he had mistaken Amadis's kindness to Briolanja as love rather than chivalry. Although Oriana's friends Mabilia and the Damsel of Denmark tried to convince her that Ardian might be wrong, she believed him and grew irate.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lancelot and Blodeuwedd: Supernatural Lovers

Tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table formed one of the most fertile literary traditions in medieval Europe — and they are still inspiring authors to this day.

As part of a blog exchange, I've just written about Amadis of Gaul for Theresa Crater's blog, and now she tells us how Arthurian legends have inspired her writing:


I retell the mythology and stories of ancient sites around the world in my Power Places series, starting in Egypt with Under the Stone Paw. For the second novel, I wanted to write about Avalon and the mythology that has always drawn me. But I was warned that publishers are wary of King Arthur stories, that they think they've been overdone. Yet the Arthurian romance and Grail quest stories form the heart of the "Matter of Britain," as it's called by many spiritual traditions with their roots in Celtic soil. For Beneath the Hallowed Hill, I decided to combine several different stories involving supernatural lovers, pulling on Arthurian romance and Celtic mythology.

Lancelot is the knight of the Round Table renowned for his skill in combat, his piety and his love for Guinevere, the wife of King Arthur. Many people have difficulty reconciling Lancelot's Christian strictness with his adultery, but tales of triangular affairs fill old romances and Celtic mythology. The story of Tristan and Iseult is one example. Another is a May Day myth of two brothers who fight over the love of a woman on Beltane. This myth has many variants. Some tell of a king whose wife has been abducted by a rival who fights to win her back on May 1st. Sometimes the king sends a champion, a great knight similar to Lancelot. Beneath the Hallowed Hill culminates on Beltane.

Lancelot's origins also suggest another ancient Celtic theme. Some of the older stories say that Lancelot came from the land of faery. Another explanation is that Lancelot is an amalgam of stories about an infant stolen by faeries who reappears as a young hero at a tournament or who rescues a woman held in the other world. See how these stories intertwine? In the faery tradition, human/fae liaisons are common. As Christianity overtook Britain, these encounters came to be seen as dangerous, then evil. So Lancelot, being from the magical land of the faeries and becoming lovers with a human woman, could not help but bring destruction to Camelot.

What of the unfaithfulness of Guinevere? Perhaps Guinevere's origins are not as human as we usually imagine. Stories of the Celtic goddess Blodeuwedd might give us a hint here. In Welsh this name means "flower face" or perhaps one made of flowers. The name also is similar to an ancient name for the Owl. She is a spring goddess, made of flowers, and as R.J. Stewart has pointed out, she is the young goddess, not for monogamy or marriage. In Welsh mythology, Blodeuwedd does marry Llew, but with disastrous results. Since the Celts were matrilineal, power passed through the queens. The king "married the land" when he married the queen, thus gaining his sovereignty. In Llew's story, he leaves Blodeuwedd alone and a young man named Gronw appears at court. They fall in love at first sight and plot Llew's death, which is quite difficult to accomplish, involving a great deal of magic and intrigue. But Llew escapes at the last moment by turning into an eagle and flying away. He kills Gronw and turns Blodeuwedd into an owl.

In Beneath the Hallowed Hill, I've pulled on elements in all these myths associated with Avalon to tell my story, but not in ways that are immediately recognizable. Avalon is layered with mythology, as is Egypt. Perhaps I'll return to tell more stories from these magical lands.


Theresa Crater has published two contemporary fantasies, Beneath the Hallowed Hill and Under the Stone Paw and several short stories, most recently "Bringing the Waters" in The Aether Age: Helios. She has also published poetry and a baker's dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches writing and British lit in Denver. Visit her website at http://theresacrater.com