Bliocadran

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Bliocadran

by: Samuel N. Rosenberg (Translator), Anonymous (Author)
from: The Camelot Project  2008

Copyright © 2007 Samuel N. Rosenberg
Translated for The Camelot Project by Samuel N. Rosenberg from the edition by Lenora D. Wolfgang, Bliocadran: A Prologue to the Perceval of Chrétien de Troyes, Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1976.

A note on the translation: The English version of Bliocadran is meant to serve effectively either as an autonomous text or as an aid to reading the Old French original. To this end, it is as faithful as possible to the French not only in sense but also in syntax and lineation. Despite an initial impression created by the format, it is in fact in prose. However, in an attempt to provide a distant acknowledgment of the original verse (rhyming octosyllables), the prose is somewhat poeticized both rhythmically and through a considerable use of alliteration.






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In the land of Wales there lived
twelve brothers of wealth and worth;
had you combed the countryside
through all its length and breadth
and the area all around as well,
you'd have found, I do believe,
no other knights of such high renown,
so rich in means, allies, and kin,
in castles and in fortresses,
in woods and streams and meadows.
They were accomplished knights,
bold and fierce on the field,
often traveling through the land
to tournaments and battles
to gain renown and reputation.
But of them I'll speak no more,
for there's only this to say:
that even the worthy can fall,
and so it sadly was with them.
Eleven brothers died,
and only one remained
to claim the legacy of all.
He was a wise and worthy man,
courteous, kind, and prudent;
Bliocadran he was called
by everyone in the land.
He was deeply distressed
that all his brothers were gone;
he brooded in sorrow and pain.
But you can't go on mourning
forever: it's foolish and futile;
there are times you need to feign
a gladness you don't feel,
[. . . . .]
a man who refuses to renounce
the pursuit of noble goals.
Bliocadran would delay no longer
but burnished his arms
and had his horses well shod:
to tournaments he'd return!
His wife and all those close to him
said: "Dear lord, no, please!
Stay here, don't go away;
it would be sheer folly!
If you go, you may be sure
you'll be leaving your land
defenseless and confounded,
your people pained and afflicted."
So much did they beg, so greatly insist,
that he granted their wish:
no way would he leave them.
How cheered they were to hear this!

Bliocadran remained with his wife,
a wonderfully worthy woman,
a good two years or more
without having any children
(nor had they ever had any)—
till God granted at last
that the lady grew big with child.
The news brought joy to all,
for they had no little love for their lord;
and their lord, you may be sure,
had such great joy in his heart
that nothing could have brought him
greater; this is the honest truth!
The lady had borne the child so long
that she was close to giving birth.
Now, one day after dinner,
her lord stood looking out the window,
watching people as they passed
along the road below.
Suddenly he saw galloping near
a squire astride a struggling mount,
hurrying toward the palace gate.
Into the courtyard he rode,
then, at the stairs, dismounted.
At this sight, the lord cried to the rider:
"Welcome, friend!" and he ordered
his grooms to attend to the horse.
At once, the young rider replied:
"I am grateful to find you,
my dear good lord,
proven knight that you are!"
Hardly hesitant to speak, that squire!
He was quick-witted and smart.
The lord said: "Take my word
and stay the night right here!
We'll lodge you well, I tell you,
and welcome you with pleasure."
"Sir," he said, "that may well be,
but meanwhile I would gladly have
some bread and wine, for I've not
eaten anything all day."
At that, the lord replied:
"Of course! as much as you like!"
He nodded to a knight and said:
"Take charge of this squire;
have a meal made ready for him
and look after him with care,
for he's had no food all day."
The knight led him away,
showing him every honor he knew;
he served him plenty to eat
in his chamber beside the orchard,
and did so cheerfully. At the end,
once he’d eaten as much as he wished,
the tablecloth was taken off;
the squire, with no wish to linger,
rose and left the room.
Bliocadran came up to him
and said in his courteous way:
"God bless you, dear friend!
Tell us what news you have,
the most reliable news you know."
"Indeed, my lord, so help me God,
I'll give you the news without a lie
or falsehood; no liar, I!"
the young man said. "The king of Wales   
has undertaken soon to hold,
for both the men of his land
and those who dwell in Cornwall,
a tournament opposing (indeed!)
the men of the Spring called Waste.
He has no wish to delay,
but is sending word throughout
the land in search of knights
tempted to enter the fight.
The day, I tell you, is close:
all are to gather on Saturday.
Dear sir, do come, by God,
and you shall see what a scene
it will be when those knights
and the crowd are all gathered!
The lord replied that, with God's help,
he'd be there, too!
At that, the youth departed
and continued on his way.
Bliocadran waited till morning
to summon his knights,
but he told his squires of his plan
to attend the tournament
and ordered rapid preparation;
then the knights all gathered together.
When they were all assembled,
he greeted them with jubilation.
He didn't take a moment's rest,
but had his sumpters loaded
and all equipment made ready.
That's when his knights rode off.
The people of the town implored
my lord Bliocadran
to remain at home,
and his wife, sad at heart,
gently repeated their entreaty.
But he said: "Quiet, my lady!
Have done with your distress!"
With that, he left his people—
left them all bewildered—
and they prayed to the Creator
that He guide the steps of their seigneur.

Bliocadran thus went on his way
along with the knights he led,
riding together till they reached
a spot near the site of the tourney;
then they turned to their right
and took lodging in a castle
where a warm welcome was shown
to the lord and all his men.
Next day they were there no more,
but gone off to the tournament;
and once all sides were assembled,
the fighters, armed and armored,
all mounted on their horses.
While their foes rushed forward
so fast that they went flying
like bolts from a crossbow,
our men, in tightly closed ranks,
all rode toward the town
at their wonted, deliberate pace.
Bliocadran, at the head of the line,
had with him all of his knights;
his wish was to be first,
at the very start of the tourney.
Suddenly, from in front of another line,
a knight came dashing forward!
Bliocadran spotted him from afar
and spurred his horse in response.
The stranger was aware of this,
so he headed straight for him,
and the two met in a mighty clash.
But the stranger struck first
with such spite at our lord's shield
that his lance broke and shattered,
and Bliocadran, all ablaze,
flung his fury at the other's chest,
forcing the foe from his saddle
down to the ground under the rump
of his mount. Then he handed
that booty of battle to a valet
who led him to their stacks of gear
and stripped him of saddle and bridle.
The jousting was general from that point on
and the fighting was fierce.
Not once that day did Bliocadran
suffer a loss, but fought so well
that his prowess won everyone's praise,
so fine and daring were his feats.
Then, though, he saw a young noble
come near—tall, well mounted,
strong, and just as brave as he.
Facing each other from opposite ends,
they spurred furiously forward
and came together with a crash.
Bliocadran's powerful blow
made his foe's shield shatter and split,
though his hauberk did not rip apart—
but his own lance was smashed to bits,
as those in the lists could see.
The young fighter struck back
and, over the rim of his shield,
hit Bliocadran full in the face,
the blade of the spear pointing down
and out from the back of his neck.
He could only weave and stagger,
for he was fatally wounded;
he fell to the ground in a swoon,
but his men rushed to raise him
as they shouted out their grief.
Then they built a bier for him
and bore him in that litter
to the castle where they'd lodged.
There they gave him comfort
and put him very gently to bed
in a room far away from the crowd,
and they saw to his confession.
His life lasted but two more days,
for he delayed no more than that in dying.
They bore his body to a chapel;
his knights lamented loudly,
tearing their hair and their clothes.
Once the body was inside the church,
they held a fine service,
then buried their lord in the earth.

Of Bliocadran I'll say no more here—
no more of him or the tournament;
I want rather to recount
the fate of the lady, who had stayed
at home, and tell how she fared
after her lord had departed.
Three days had barely passed
when the lady gave birth to a lad—
and a finer one had never been seen.
He was taken to the chapel
and there baptized and named.
Yet when he was christened,
he was given a name such
as had never been known
or borne or even mentioned.
With a youth in her household
the lady sent word to her husband
forthwith, for she wanted to know
how he was faring—but also
to say that she had had a son,
and a finer one had never been seen.
But the bearer of the message
found his lord dead and buried.
The news he was bringing
he recounted to all his companions,
and they were very glad of it;
but grief for their lord was great
and they couldn't show much joy.
At that point, the messenger left,
riding the same road back home.
The knights had expressly warned
he was not to reveal, by even a hint,
that their lord lay dead;
he was to say he'd answered
a summons from the king;
and that's what the youth truly did.
He took the long road back
and spurred at last into town,
dismounting beside the high keep
where his lady lay from her labor.
The messenger was greeted with joy
by all those he encountered,
then was led up to the chamber,
where he bowed at once to his lady
and all her attendants
and was welcomed back warmly.
"My lord sends you greetings,
my lady," said the young man.
"Know that no child has ever
gladdened him as this one does.
He had feared for your health,
and rejoices the danger is past
for yourself and his son.
I tell you, too, that if he could,
he would happily be here to see you;
the king, though, summoned him,
and they all went off to the king in Wales
the very day I reached him;
indeed, I watched how they departed,
my lord and his companions.
They will not be back this week."
The lady lying in her bed
had full trust that this news
of her lord was utterly true—
that the youth had truly seen him—
for he feigned with such conviction.
But not for nothing did he pretend,
for he had been amply warned!
The lady reached the day
when it was time to rise from bed.
One week later, without delay,
the knights were once more there
who had gone to the tourney
where their lord met his death.
"Sirs," said a leading knight,
"we face a knotty situation:
we have said not a thing to my lady
about her husband and lord,
who died so painful a death.
One thing is sure, though: nothing
could make me give her the news!
But nearby lives a good abbot;
let us ask him, out of kindness,
to come speak to my lady."
Then they had their horses
saddled and made ready;
foot in stirrup, each man mounted,
and off they rode in one great group.
When they came to the abbey,
they humbly greeted the abbot
and all who lived and prayed there,
then truthfully told of their lord
and how he had died
and how they had hidden
the news from their lady.
Would the abbot please tell her
and then offer her comfort,
for her need was surely great?
The abbot didn't hesitate
but instantly sent for his horse;
he ordered the knights
to stay right where they were
until he had seen the lady:
"I want first to give her the news
and speak to her a while;
you may return once I've done."
Each man answered: "Yes, I agree."
The abbot then rode off,
with just two servants and two monks.
The abbot and his escort
traveled along the way
until they reached the castle.
The abbot and monks dismounted
and started up the stairs
while the servants watched the horses.
In the great hall they then found
the lady lying in her bed.
When she saw them enter,
she rose to greet the abbot,
saying: "Welcome, good sir!"
The abbot, well-bred and tactful,
graciously replied:
"May our ever-truthful God
sustain you and keep you—
both you and your household—
and bless everyone you hold dear."
Then he sat down at her side,
and the two monks did likewise,
ever so gently, on the other side
of the bed where she lay.
The abbot was the first to speak;
with smooth and practiced words,
he began a fitting speech.
Before giving her the news,
he said: "You must surely love
the One who grants you health
and keeps you from sickness,
who redeemed us from our sins
and was crucified for us
and returned to life on the third day.
Then you, my lady, for love of Him
should always strive
to serve and honor Him
and very willingly welcome, my lady,
whatever He has granted you.
You know that death comes to us all
and that there is no escape from it,
no way to stop from going
to that place of no return,
at whatever hour God decrees.
My lady, I shall not hide from you
the news I bring and you should hear:
your worthy husband is no more;
he, so wise, so loved by knights
and all men of religion, is dead.
Now, my lady, give thought to your soul;
and may God give you strength!"
At this news, the lady fainted,
fainted at hearing the news of her lord,
hearing he had died and was buried.
The abbot, though, was prepared:
he rushed to revive her
with quick words of comfort.
But the comfort was painful and bitter.
Let us now recall the knights
left behind by the abbot.
Their grief came again to the fore,
and they fainted with pain;
then, once they'd revived,
they loudly mourned for their lord
as if he had died that very day.
But the lady, you may be sure,
ceded all her strength to her grief;
she wept as she mourned;
she would faint and then cry out.
She lamented: "Alas, what a loss!
Undone by death! Why do I live
now that I've lost my good lord,
the man who brought me such honor?"
She cried out loud cries,
tore at her hair, and beat her breast;
she cursed the hour of her birth,
that she'd been conceived and raised,
only to suffer this mortal woe.
What sobs you could have heard!
No man alive is so hard-hearted
that, seeing this, he'd not have wept.
What suffering and sorrow!
No, no gladness in that house!
The abbot wished to stay no longer;
he had his horse made ready
and took leave of the lady.
To the knights he bade adieu
once his words and urgings
had made them calm their grief.
The next day, with no delay,
in every church there was, the lady
had Mass sung for the dead;
many knights were in attendance,
townsmen and ladies, of course,
all unsettled by the death,
all full of sorrow and grief.
In that state the lady long remained,
yet found comfort in her son,
a surpassingly beautiful child;
to him she devoted every thought,
even while mourning her husband.
But of him I'll tell no more;
here is where his story stops.
Henceforth my tale will be about
the lady and her child,
and I shall say what became of her
and how she led her life.

Seven months, I believe, had passed
since the lady had learned the news
of her husband's death; she stayed
at home until the month of April;
she tended to her son,
and in his company found comfort
and distraction.
Time and again she had pondered
how she could stop him
from ever becoming a knight
or learning to bear arms or even
hearing knighthood mentioned—
for in her son was all her solace.
And if he were killed by arms,
like his uncles and his father,
she, his mother, would surely kill
herself with grief a moment later;
not one more day could she live.
If she could contrive it, she thought,
she'd gladly move to the waste forest,
and she would do so soon!
No one must know where to find her
until her son were old enough
and wise enough and mature;
he must see no man
except the trusted few.
Thus she planned to protect him:
and she'd have nothing to fear
for all the days of her life.
She turned to a servant of hers—
sent for a steward she cherished
with deepest affection,
a man quick-witted and worthy.
He had twelve children with his wife:
eight sons and four daughters,
every girl charming and lovely,
and all well-bred and bright.
Into their house came the messenger
whom the lady had dispatched;
he found the steward seated
by the bedside [of a child].
The young man said to him
he should come along with no delay
and let nothing prevent him:
His lady was ordering him to come,
and no task should hold him back!
The steward lost no time
nor held back a single moment.
Thus it was, I do believe,
that he went out with the messenger.
Together they rushed off from there
and soon reached the lady's chamber.
When the lady saw her steward,
she greeted him with great affection:
"Steward, you are most welcome here!"
He was hardly mute in turn,
but said: "My lady, God save you—
God the all-powerful over all!
May he grant you gladness and health!
My lady, you have called for me;
now tell me your pleasure."
The lady took him by the hand
and led him to another room;
they sat down together on a couch.
She spoke at once,
she whose heart was heavy:
"Steward, I ask, by God,
that you take pity on my son
and me, my dear good man!
You are a man of worth and a knight
and have always been loyal to me.
I'll tell you, then, what I have in mind:
I want to leave this place and go
where my son will not be killed.
I will move to the waste forest
and there protect him
as long as God wills.
And should you wish to come with me,
my gratitude would be great
and I would never abandon you.
Bring your wife with you,
for the sake of God and your soul,
and bring your whole household, too;
I would indeed be all the gladder."
She spoke enough and urged so much
that the steward agreed
most gladly to go
to whatever place she liked,
because he clearly understood
that he could hardly stay behind.
He said: "Our people, my lady, make it
necessary to act with great discretion,
for if they had a hint of the plan,
they would never let you leave.
But suppose you send for all your men
and tell them that, with the child,
you wish to undertake a pilgrimage
to Saint Brendan of Scotland,
and ask that they conduct themselves
with all courtesy and correctness.
They shall then swear to guard
your land in the name of your son,
as you wish, and acknowledge him
as their lord; and indeed they shall
hold him as such and defend him
as their seigneur and protect him.
You will be doing this—so commanding
your men—with all my support."
The lady answered courteously
that she would accept his counsel.
At that, they closed their discussion
and came out of the room.
The lady faced no impediment
and had no reason for delay.
All the knights throughout her land
she searched out and summoned,
townsmen and ladies and servants,
and all who owed her their allegiance;
all her messengers rode out at once.
Four days later, I believe,
all those convoked assembled,
and the lady held her meeting
with her people.
She said, with courtesy and tact:
"My lords, here you are assembled
at my call and summons,
and yet you know not why.
Now I shall tell you truly:
it is because I pledged sometime ago
to take this child, my son, right here,
to Saint Brendan in Scotland, so God
might grant him strength and power
and keep him safe and sound for me;
I wish therefore to leave tomorrow.
I ask for your considered backing;
it is what I wish. Grant it to me,
and I shall leave tomorrow morning
and take the steward with me.
Since, throughout my land,
I want no strife or warfare,
I want you all to swear to me
that you will defend the land
for my son, so that, should he return,
the land would be his.
Now you know what I want of you;
I await your response."
Know that the knights were astonished
when they heard of this plan,
for they would gladly have retained
both mother and son if they could.
They said: "My lady, in God's name,
remain here this summer,
or leave us our young lord.
Should both of you perish,
we would be wholly undone."
The lady then said, though meaning
no scorn: "Be sure of one thing—
it would be pointless to insist,
for I will take my child with me
and guard him as the son of mine he is."
At that, they gave her leave.
"Who will go with you?" they asked.
"I will!" cried knights. "And I!"
said servants, who were all dismayed
to see here go away
and take her son as well.
The lady had a nephew—a fine knight
he was, both worthy and bright;
to him, without a moment's pause,
she had the barons who were there
pledge to secure the land
and honor his command
till God allowed their lord's return;
one and all, she had them swear.
When they had thus sworn,
the knights returned
to their lodgings to rest.
One whole month before,
the lady had taken her treasure,
which abounded in silver and gold,
and sent it out of the land;
servants had readied the carts
and wagons — a hundred or more—
laden with oats and wheat of all sorts,
and sent them on their way;
they'd sent away horses and livestock,
steers and cows, sheep and ewes;
and this they had done, as the story goes,
with no one, I tell you, noticing any hint
that the lady would be leaving
with no plan to return.
She now wanted no further delay,
but set out the next morning at dawn
with her son and her steward
and the whole of his household—
and the lady was exceedingly glad.
Friends and kin formed an escort,
who displayed great distress,
but she sent them back home.

They carefully made their way
straight to a castle that stood
on the Sea of Wales
and was impressive and pleasant;
the peasants called it Calfle,
as did all others in the region.
There the lady assembled everyone
she had brought along; but she barely
lingered there and instead moved on
with her belongings, more abundant
than a queen's or king's;
and her people went with her.
They never paused a single day
until they entered the forest,
and there they wandered two whole weeks.
They saw no town, no dwelling,
nothing but forest all around.
Along the rough road they wandered,
through the endless waste forest,
until they came to a heath
with low trees leafed out and green.
Tens of leagues wide seemed the heath,
and below it lay a meadow
that was lovely and pleasing.
Further along, a broad stream
flowed down from the forest.
I assure you it was lovely
and I can tell you, in short,
it was just made for a mill!
That's where the lady and her people
immediately dismounted;
and there they stayed the night
till morning came and they arose.
The lady turned to her steward
and asked what he thought of that spot
as a place where her son
would be sheltered and safe,
and the steward answered, saying:
"My lady, I tell you in truth
for tens of leagues around us
there is no town or village or house,
no man or woman, it seems to me,
and it would be good to settle here.
Let us build a dwelling here
and make it our refuge.
My sons will build it very well,
using the wood that abounds
in the forest around us."
"Do as you think right," she replied,
"and it will be acceptable to me."
The steward hurried to his sons
and said: "Good sirs,
this is no time for tarrying!
Start to clear this place of trees
and prepare the wood for building:
you will build a house here
in which all of us can dwell.
That is my lady's wish."
The sons agreed with no complaint.
They went right into the woods,
and in two weeks' time had worked
hard enough to produce a house
protected all around by pales,
a dwelling large enough to lodge
the lady and her entire household.
The servants prepared the ground
and tilled the soil
and, once the fields were ready,
they planted them with grain.

Thus they lived for a long while,
and the lady watched over her son.
Little by little, he learned to ride
and learned to hurl javelins
as the sons of the steward did—
who could do so very well.
Fourteen years the lady stayed
in such seclusion in the forest
that no man alive knew
where she lived.
Her people at home went seeking
and searching at sea and on land,
but could uncover no clue;
they all came to believe
that she and her household
had drowned and died at sea;
and so they concluded their quest.
Meanwhile, the lady gave her son
to understand there was no house,
no man, no woman, in this world
however vast, outside their forest;
and the child believed her,
for he was artless and trusting.
She sat him down beside her on a bed,
gave him a hundred mother's kisses,
called him "dear son," "little lord,"
then said: "My son, go into the forest,
slay roebucks and stags
as often as you like,
but there is one thing I forbid:
If you should see any people
who are all dressed up
as if they were covered in iron,
remember they are really devils,
wicked and winged,
all ready to devour you.
Don't stop to talk with them,
but run and come back home
and cross yourself with care;
that way, you're out of danger!
And recite your Credo, too, dear son—
in God's name, I urge you —
that way, you needn't fear a thing."
"Mother," he said, "I'll do as you say.
Rest assured, if I saw such people,
I would come running home very fast—
if, with God's permission,
I could pull myself away."
With that, he rose from his seat.
He slept all through that night
and in the morning he awoke.
He hurried to make ready
and, as quickly as he could,
he had his horse saddled,
and he mounted in a moment.
Off into the forest he rode,
his three javelins in his hand.
All day long, without a pause,
he hunted through woods and fields
but found no game to take;
he said he'd be back the next day
and push further out than before.
Then he returned to the house
and quickly dismounted.
His mother went to greet him
and covered him with kisses,
then asked him very gently—
and gently ordered—that he say
what he'd encountered in the forest.
The boy said, without lying:
"Yes, mother, I was in the forest
and I assure you I enjoyed it!
It was a wonderful pleasure."
That's all that was said that evening:
the mother posed no further question;
the young man offered no further reply.

































(see note)