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The Two Brothers
Bellisant, the sister of King Pepin of France, sat in her round room, broidering. She had hair that was bright as the sun that stained her window, and eyes that were clear as pools of dew. She had a peaked chin and an air of wonderment. She held her needle with a grace that was fair to see.
Bellisant was fairest of all fair maidens, and there was that about her that won men's hearts, so that they loved her, not counting the cost of loving. But her heart was not less pure than her smile was tender; and when the peasant women chid their daughters, they would say, "Child, child, be careful – you will never be as good as the Princess Bellisant".
As Bellisant sat broidering she heard a step upon the stair, and she knew it was that of King Pepin, her brother, who held her dearest of all he loved. Yet would she not look upon him as he entered, for she knew that he came to speak of a suitor, who should take her from him; and Bellisant had had suitors beyond her reckoning, and liked them ill.
"What sewest thou, my sister?" asked the King, with gentleness.
Bellisant replied, "It is a robe for a child who hath lost her mother, and I have sewn into every stitch a sweet thought for her. But tell me, brother, what tidings are these I read upon thy face?"
King Pepin replied, "I bring tidings of Alexander, Emperor of Greece; for thy fair fame hath reached him. He seeks thy hand in marriage, and even now he waits below to look upon thy face."
Bellisant blushed rose-red. Then she said, "I will see no more suitors."
But the King made answer, coaxing her, yet with something of sternness mingling the sadness of his tone, "He is a mighty monarch, and it is well that thou shouldest see him."
Therefore Bellisant left her broideries, that the Emperor of Greece should look upon her face. And she tripped down the long stair and met him. Now she would have given him but a glance and then have withdrawn herself – such was the intention that moved her – but as she gave the glance her heart leapt up and went with it; and she knew that she loved Alexander and would wed none other. As for him, he loved her with a love as fond.
Thus it came about that fair Bellisant was wedded to Alexander, Emperor of Greece, and went away with him; and all France was in tears.
But Bellisant was happy, so that her fairness increased day by day; and many folk travelled from far countries just to look upon her face. And her heart was full of love for all people, and of thoughtfulness for the poor; so that she feared no evil from any.
But Alexander had a friend and minister, a priest whom he loved, but one who was of little credit to his order, being full of evil thoughts and crafts. This man would have had the Empress Bellisant love him with a greater love than she bore her husband; and since she would not, he made himself her enemy. So he set himself to think upon her helplessness, and in what fashion he could work her undoing, and afterwards made a plot against her.
Now the Emperor loved and trusted this man, and when the false priest came before him, wringing his hands and with tears heavy upon his cheeks, he begged of him that he would relate that which caused his distress.
But the priest replied, his tears again overflowing, and with every manifestation of distress: "How can I bring myself to relate this thing and be the means of bringing grief upon the man I love and honour above all men?"
Then the Emperor, perceiving that he himself must be the object of the priest's solicitude, turned pale with anxiety, not knowing what should come upon him. "Nay, dear friend, tell thy tale, and tell it quickly," cried he, "for thou fillest my breast with fears that are worse than knowledge!"
Thereupon the false friend fell upon his knees, and related to the Emperor how he had learnt of the wickedness of the Empress Bellisant, that her virtue was no real virtue, and that her fair face hid a heart that was blacker than night, and how she had plotted most grievously against the Emperor, and had never loved him. And these things he declared had been told to him in confession, so that he might not reveal the names of those who were partners in the Empress's crime.
When Alexander heard of these things, he was filled with grief and anger so great that he threw himself upon the ground and would see no one. And the priest slipt away, well satisfied that his evil work was accomplished; for it did not occur to the Emperor to doubt his friend.
When the Emperor had recovered from his grief, he raised himself; and since his sorrow was dim and his anger exceedingly great against Bellisant, he gave orders that she should instantly be put to death.
"For I will not," said he, "that others should look upon her beauty and be deceived." And he hid his face in his hands, remembering that virtuous Bellisant whom he had loved.
Then came Bellisant before the Emperor, stupefied with amazement at this evil thing which had come upon her, and knowing not how to defend herself from so cruel a charge. Pale were her cheeks as a lily, and heavy her eyes were with sorrow, and, dropping her little chin within her hands, she looked woefully at Alexander, declaring her innocence of any crime against him.
But he, turning away, crushed his hands upon his ears, crying, "I will not listen to thy false words, false Bellisant, lest I be again undone. Neither will I behold thy beauty, lest I should be again deceived and think thee pure!"
And with that he left her. Yet because, despite himself, her sweet voice lingered in his ears, and because there were many who wept for the fate of the Empress Bellisant – for she was already greatly beloved of the people – the Emperor commanded that she should not be executed, but should be exiled and forbidden the country under pain of death.
And he ordered that none should accompany Bellisant when she went forth save only her squire Blandiman, whom she had brought with her from her brother's court.
Therefore the Empress and Blandiman went into exile. And Blandiman said:
"Let us seek the court of King Pepin, that he may espouse thy cause and, having pity upon thy wrongs, may avenge thee; or may give thee succour till thine enemy hath betrayed himself."
Therefore they journeyed toward France.
And having reached, at length, that forest which is called the Forest of Orleans, Blandiman left his mistress and went in search of food.
And while he was absent Bellisant's two children were born, and they were both sons.
Now Bellisant sat gazing upon them, and weeping; for she reflected how her sons would never behold their father, or that fair realm which should have been their home. And as she wept, a she-bear approached the tree beneath which the Empress reclined, and, seizing one of the babes in her mouth, padded swiftly away.
At this calamity the Empress was as one distraught, and with her hair wild about her, and her tears falling, she pursued the animal, breaking her way through the tangles of the forest with bleeding hands. From her mouth issued cries of distress, but, alas! there was none near to hear; and ere she could free herself from the thorns that caught at her, the bear had plunged into new thicknesses and disappeared.
Thereupon Bellisant fell to the ground in a swoon, and she lay there, with hands outstretched, like one dead.
At that moment King Pepin came riding through the forest, for he had been out hunting. He saw nothing of the Empress as she lay deathlike among the bushes, but rode past, his eyes upon the ground, his face misshapen with anger and shame.
When he came to that tree where the Empress had been resting, he perceived upon the ground beneath it a new-born infant whom no one guarded.
The King bade his courtiers bring the child to him, and when he had looked upon it he felt something – he knew not what – stir in his heart so that he had almost swooned for love of the child. And when he had recovered himself, he said to his gentlemen, turning away his face so that his weakness might be hidden, "Let us take this child with us whither we go, for he moves me strangely to love. And he shall be brought up in gentleness, and shall be as mine own son."
Now the courtiers murmured, but they did as he had said.
King Pepin passed on his way, bearing the boy with him; and a little while afterwards Blandiman returned, bringing with him food and divers things which he had purchased.
But when he reached the tree where he had left Bellisant, there was no one by it. And near the tree the bushes were much broken. Then Blandiman went through the forest, crying the Empress's name in fear.
And when he had called several times, he heard a feeble cry, and discovered Betlisant, who had only now recovered from her swoon.
Then she lifted a stricken face and wept grievously. "Alas, Blandiman," cried she, "in one hour have joy and sorrow come upon me! For thou hadst left me but a little time, when my two sons were born, and hardly had this sweet joy been mine, when a great bear issued from the forest and carried one of them away. And the babe is even now devoured, since I could follow but a little way." And Bellisant bowed her head upon her knees. But Blandiman questioned her, fear stinging his heart. "Where, Madam, is the other babe, since thou hadst two sons ?"
Bellisant replied, "In my haste to follow this cruel beast, I left him beneath the tree where I had rested".
"Alas, Madam," cried Blandiman, scarce able to restrain his tears, "Heaven hath seen fit to afflict·thee cruelly! For I sought but a moment ago that tree, which I had marked well, and there was no living thing by it. Some other beast of the forest hath visited it in thine absence, and hath borne away the second babe!"
Bellisant sat still, stupefied with sorrow. After a time she said, "I will go to my brother, for he hath ever loved me and will regard my grief."
Blandiman hung his head and was silent. When the Empress lifted her great eyes to look at him, marvelling that he did not answer, he said, "As I passed through the forest I came upon King Pepin, who was a-hunting. On beholding me, he was seized with a great fury so that he lost power of speech. And when his voice returned to him, he told me how the Emperor had dealt all too tenderly by thee, and how he – the King – had dealt more had he been in the Emperor's place. For, King Pepin believes in thy guilt!"
Then rose the Empress to her feet, and with a sigh that almost broke her breast, she said, "I will seek some quiet place in the forest, that I may die there; for now my life is finished, and I am tired of the world with its sorrows and deceits."
But Blandiman said, "Nay, Madam, that were a pitiful thing to do, and an insult to Heaven who, one day, will prove thine innocence. Let us seek, instead, another country, and wait there with patience for a while."
And, having so decided, they left that realm, and, after passing through many vicissitudes, arrived at the castle of the giant Ferragus, which was in Portugal. And he, being a man of a great heart, though a pagan, had pity on those poor fugitives, and gave them hospitality for many years.
Of these things King Pepin knew nothing, for he had blotted out of his heart fair Bellisant, who had used to sit broidering in her round room, making garments for the poor. But he loved Valentine – for so he had named the child he found – and had great delight in him as he grew from a child to be a youth.
And Valentine was a youth of a high courage, and one having a great skill in all manly exercises. Besides this, he was so good to look upon that there was scarce a maid who did not turn her head as he passed by.
King Pepin had two half-sons, Haufry and Henry, whom he loved little. For these were clumsy men, loutish and slow, and were devoid of any generous thoughts. Little grace had they in aught that was manly, for their habit was to go about, as burrowing creatures, seeking to betray some secret, or ferret out some action done amiss.
These men harboured a great jealousy of Valentine, envying him his skill, his fine presence, and the King's affection – which they coveted only on account of the honours he might bestow. They would have done away with him in some dastardly fashion, had not they feared the King's enquiries and his wrath. As they might not work this evil, they ever sought other means of bringing him to his death.
Therefore Haufry and Henry stood in the King's presence when a messenger arrived from a neighbouring king, besmirched, torn, and short of breath, craving the aid of one who would help regain a castle which had been taken by the heathen. "The post is one of great danger," cried the messenger. "Lend us, O King, a knight of a brave presence and a lion-like heart."
Then cried Haufry and Henry, dropping their eyes to hide their hate, and making a pretence of love, "Send Valentine for who is like to him in battle? He is the bravest of all brave knights. Send Valentine!"
And Valentine, bending the knee, prayed, "King Pepin, bid me go."
And the King bidding him, he went with his men; and there were few who thought to see him again.
Then were Haufry and Henry at a loss to know how to dissemble their joy, for they waited to hear tidings of Valentine's death.
But he returned, laden with costly spoil, and with many honours upon him; and King Pepin fell upon his neck and embraced him, doing him further honour.
Then Haufry and Henry turned their faces to the wall, for they were dark with hatred, and, try as they would, they could not find words to utter in praise of Valentine.
After many months had passed by, an enemy came upon King Pepin, one who was cruel and treacherous, creeping into the country at an unsuspected spot, and bearing poisoned weapons. When the King gained tidings of this he was troubled, not knowing whom to send to defend him from such a foe. For that knight must have coolness, and wisdom, and much knowledge of strategy, and it might be that he would never return from the quest.
Then spake Haufry and Henry, avoiding the eyes of the King, "Send Valentine, for is not he a knight of marvellous wisdom and a rapid wit? Hast not thou vaunted many a time to us his sagacity, saying that thou hadst never known the like? Send Valentine, that he may rid thee of thy foe."
But the King was loth, loving not the thought of sending him.
But Valentine bent the knee, with cheeks aglow and eyes afire. And he prayed, "King Pepin, let me acknowledge the debt I owe thee; let me rid thee of thine enemy."
And when the King had bidden him, all reluctantly, for he was heart-sore to utter the words, Valentine made his preparations in secret and set forth.
For many days the King waited, mourning secretly, and seeing no brightness in the sunlight; but at last Valentine returned, weary and wounded, yet triumphant. For the King's foe was crushed, and would trouble him no more.
Then King Pepin lavished new honours upon Valentine, and loved him with an increased love; and Haufry and Henry withdrew themselves and went to lonely places, where they talked of Valentine as they were moved by their hate.
Now King Pepin swore that Valentine should go on no more hazardous adventures till a long time had passed; but the knight had been but a short space at court when a most woeful message came from the peasant people near the Forest of Orleans, begging King Pepin to send a valiant knight to deliver them from the ravages of a fearsome man-monster who dwelt in the forest.
"He is the most fearsome monster that hath ever been seen," said they, "and of a most terrible strength. It is said that he was nourished by a shebear and reared among her cubs; and, indeed, it is a likely story. For though his form be human, he hath a covering of hair upon his body; neither doth he utter sounds which can be understood by men, but strange groans and noises. And his strength is beyond that of any beast of the forest. He hath killed all who have come into conflict with him; therefore, O King, it were well that thou shouldst send the bravest knight of thy court to rid us of this wild man."
When King Pepin received this message, he was filled with uneasiness, and would in no wise consider who was his most valiant knight, for that he knew in his heart. And he looked about him for another knight whom he might send upon this quest.
But Haufry and Henry, who were secretly filled with joy at the message, spake in the King's ear, yet loudly, so that all men might hear, "Who is this knight most valorous, but Valentine? Hast not thou loaded him with honours and with riches beyond all other knights? Send him, therefore, to those poor people, that he may rid-them of their enemy."
Then spake the King, with anger hot in his breast, "Well I know why ye so advise me! Have not ye long envied Valentine and nourished hatred against him? It is your evil malice that now speaks, since ye would compass his death, if ye could."
But Haufry and Henry replied, smiling falsely, "Send Valentine. Otherwise, is not his honour assailed, since thou wilt have it that he is no longer thy bravest knight?"
King Pepin replied, trembling, "Valentine is not yet recovered from his wounds."
But Valentine, kneeling before the king, prayed, "Bid me, King Pepin, go upon this errand, for my wounds trouble me no more, and I would fain aid these poor people. Moreover, there is a voice within me that bids me go."
And the King having bidden him as he desired, he set out.
It was evening when he reached the Forest of Orleans. Therefore he tied his horse to a tree, and having climbed into the branches above, slept there the night through.
And in the morning he was awakened by a furious noise, which shook the tree in which he rested, and was unlike any he had ever heard.
Valentine looked through the leaves of the tree, and he beheld a creature in the form of a huge man, but covered with hair as a beast is covered, who was clawing at Valentine's horse and uttering the fearful sounds that had awakened him.
As Valentine watched the scene, the horse, affrighted, kicked out at this creature, so that he was wounded. Whereupon he flew at the animal as if to tear it to pieces, uttering a most fearful cry of rage.
"Nay, hold!" cried Valentine. "Hath not King Pepin sent me here to fight with thee, as man with man? I pray thee do no more mischief to my horse, since in one moment I shall descend to try thy skill."
Whereupon he climbed nimbly down the tree and swung to the ground.
And the wild man had no sooner beheld him upright upon his feet than he flew at him, howling, and felled him to the ground – for his onslaught was in force like none Valentine had known.
But the knight speedily recovered himself, since he could move with a greater ease than the wild man, and, gripping hard at his sword, he rushed upon his enemy, dealing him vigorous thrusts, which the other easily beat aside by his huge strength.
They had contested in this way for some time when Valentine, finding that his strength was as nothing beside that of the wild man, nerved himself for a great blow, to be nicely delivered; but even as he made it, the wild man seized his arm in a grip of iron and threw him violently upon the ground.
Having done this, the wild man appeared strangely discomfited and disinclined to follow up his advantage, and he stood gazing at the knight the while he raised himself from the ground. Whereupon Valentine, giddy from his fall, and full of anger against the wild man, again rushed at him, repeating the stroke he had attempted; and since the other was ill-expecting the thrust, it chanced that he turned it aside carelessly, so that the sword's point pricked his flesh.
At that he gave a bellow of rage, and, running to the tree in which the knight had rested, plucked it up by the roots with one pull, and came rushing towards the knight, brandishing it in his hand.
But as he came upon Valentine, the desire to injure the knight again left him, whereupon he let the tree fall from his hand, and stood waiting.
And Valentine, thinking the creature to be aweary, proposed that they should rest for a while before continuing the fight. Thus they rested, side by side, beneath the trees; and as he observed the wild man, Valentine was shaken by a strange sweetness, and found that the desire to fight with him was gone, and he was filled with a love which he did not understand.
"Wild man," said he, speaking gently, because of the love that was within him, "I have no longer desire to fight with thee. Wilt not thou quit this wild life and return with me whence I came? For I could love thee well, and I would have thee for my brother, and teach thee to be as other men."
To this the wild man assented, and, rising, he followed Valentine where he went.
And Valentine returned to King Pepin, scatheless, and bearing the wild man in his train; and he received new honours from the King.
Then Haufry and Henry were affrighted, for they thought, "He bears a charmed life, and none may hurt him."
Now the wild man was baptised, and he was named Orson, because he had been found in a wood, and he became as other men, but ever with a strength beyond the strength of man.
Valentine and Orson went upon many adventures, some grave, some of a lighter humour, faring forth together, for the love between them was wondrous strong.
And they discovered their mother, the ill-used Bellisant, and they restored her to the Emperor her husband.
For – as wickedness is ever its own undoing – the false priest one day betrayed his falseness; and the Emperor knew Bellisant to be as innocent as she was unfortunate and as pure in heart as she was fair to see.