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/ The Best English Legends





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The Lass of Roch Royal, or, Lord Gregory

It was a wild, stormy night, many years ago since now, when a fair-haired young girl knocked on the gate of the Roch Royal Castle. Her clothes were soaking wet[1]1
soaking wet


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with rain; her large, sad eyes were moist with tears; and in her arms there was a bundle containing a small baby.

I am a poor young girl that came from Cappoquin, she cried, Im in search of Lord Gregory, pray God Ill find him! The rain beats my yellow locks and the dew wets me still. Besides, my child is cold and shivering in my arms. Lord Gregory, let me in!

A window-shutter clanged high above her, and a rough female voice shouted:

Lord Gregory is not here and henceforth cant be seen, as he is gone to bonny Scotland to bring home his new wife. So leave now these windows and likewise this castle, for it is deep in the sea you should hide your downfall.

But who will shoe my babys little feet? the girl moaned, in despair. Who will put gloves on her hands? Who will put a long linen band around her waist? Who will comb her yellow hair with an ivory comb? Who will be her father till Lord Gregory comes home?

But there was no answer; the gates remained shut.

Do you recall, darling Gregory, the unfortunate lass continued, her voice breaking with sorrow, that night in Cappoquin, when we exchanged pocket handkerchiefs, and, as for me, it was against my will? Your handkerchief was pure linen, love, and mine just coarse cloth, for yours cost a guinea, and mine but a penny?

Do you remember, love Gregory, that night in Cappoquin, when we exchanged rings on our fingers, and me against my will? For yours was pure silver, and as for mine, it was simple tin, for your ring cost a guinea, and mine but one cent.

But Lord Gregory, Im standing at your door now, with your child in my hands. Pray, open to me, let me it, let us get warm and merry again by your heath! I beg you to show some mercy at least, if Im denied your love!

No sound came from within the castle; only the storm and the sea waves united to turn the night into the chaos of the elements.[2]2
elements


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The girl raised her eyes, trying to catch a glimpse[3]3
catch a glimpse


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of some movement behind the windows, but could only see the streams of heavy rain, a lightning, and the sky, as if cracked from side to side.[4]4
cracked from side to side


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As for the hall behind the gate, nothing seemed to stir inside.

The poor lass was desperate.

There was a boat waiting for her in the nearby bay; and it was there she turned, still holding the child in her arms. She set the sail,[5]5
set the sail


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and the boat pulled out, a mere chip in the terrible storm. Soon it could not be seen anymore behind the thick veil of the shower.

A few hours later, nevertheless, the storm subsided. Morning came fresh and clean, with the autumn sun shining from behind the light mist. The sea waves looked tamed now; but no sign of the night visitation were there to find.

Soon after waking up, the young Lord Gregory went to tell his mother of the weird dream he saw that night.

You told me to get back to bed, mother, but I was sure I heard a female voice, young, melodic and sorrowful, at our gates.

Oh my foolish son! the old lady exclaimed, There was no one at night. I told you to sleep on and bother yourself not.

You deceive me, mother! young lord protested. I dreamt of the lass I love who came here, bearing my child in her white, slender arms.

My son, this was but a beggar who foolishly claimed to be your wife. What she wanted was to deceive you, to bind you with the bounds of the promise you arent obliged to keep. I told her to get away and to seek refuge[6]6
seek refuge


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for herself and her shame at the bottom of the sea. That wearisome girl must be lying down there now.

Now my curse on you, mother! cried the lord, horrified. Sure I heard the girl come knocking to my door, and you didnt let her in! Now, go and order three horses to be saddled for me: the black, the brown and the bay, saddle me the best horses in my stable; and I promise Ill range over mountains, over wide valleys and over the sea shore till I find the girl.

And so he rushed away from Roch Royal to find the cold body of the drowned lass and to fall dead by her side.

The Dream of Maxen Wledig

The Emperor Maxen Wledig was the most powerful Caesar who had ever ruled Europe from the City of the Seven Hills.[7]7
City on the Seven Hills ,


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He was an incredibly handsome man, tall and strong and skilled in all manly exercises; besides, he was gracious and friendly to all his vassals and tributary kings,[8]8
tributary king ,


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so that he was universally loved. One day he went hunting, and was accompanied on his expedition down the Tiber valley by thirty two vassal kings, with whom he enjoyed the sport heartily. At noon the heat was intense, they were far from Rome, and all were tired. The emperor suggested they made a stop, and they dismounted to take rest. Maxen lay down to sleep with his head on a shield, and soldiers and attendants stood around making a shelter for him from the sun by a roof of shields hung on their spears.

Thus he fell into a sleep so deep that none dared to awake him. Hours passed by, and still he slept, and still the whole company waited impatiently for his awakening. At last, the soldiers grew so tired that they could not stand still any longer, and the sounds of their spears against the shields awoke Maxen Wledig. He roused with a start.[9]9
with a start


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Ah, why did you wake me? he asked sadly.

Lord, your dinner hour is long past did you not know? they said.

He shook his head mournfully, but said nothing, and, mounting his horse, rode in silence back to Rome, with his head sunk on his breast. Behind him the whole company of kings and tributaries rode in fear, as they knew nothing of the cause of his sorrowful mood.

From that day the emperor changed utterly. He rode no more, he hunted no more, he paid no attention to the business of the empire, but remained in his own apartments and slept. The court banquets continued without him, he refused to listen to music and songs, and, though in his sleep he smiled and was happy, when he awoke his melancholy could not be cheered. When this condition had continued for more than a week it was determined that the emperor must be cured from this dreadful state of apathy, and his groom of the chamber,[10]10
groom of the chamber


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a noble Roman of very high rank indeed, a king, under the emperor resolved to make the endeavour.

My lord, said he, I have evil tidings for you. The people of Rome are beginning to murmur against you, because of the change that has come over you. They say that you are bewitched, that they can get no answers or decisions from you, and all the affairs of the empire are unattended while you sleep. You are no longer their emperor, they say, and they will no longer be loyal to you.

Then Maxen Wledig roused himself and said to the noble: Call my wisest senators and councillors, and I will explain the cause of my melancholy, and perhaps they will be able to give me relief.

Accordingly, the senators came, and the emperor ascended his throne, looking so mournful that the whole Senate grieved for him, and feared that he would die.

He began to address them thus: Senators and Sages of Rome, I have heard that my people murmur against me, and will rebel if I do not arouse myself. A terrible fate has fallen upon me, and I see no way of escape from my misery, unless you can find one. It is now more than a week since I went hunting with my court, and when I was wearied I dismounted and slept. In my sleep I dreamt, and a vision cast its spell upon me, so that I feel no happiness unless I am sleeping, and seem to live only in my dreams. I thought I was hunting along the Tiber valley, lost my companions, and rode to the head of the valley alone. I followed the river to its mouth. There was a great mountain, which looked to me the highest in the world; but I ascended it, and found beyond it fair and fertile plains, far more vast than any in Italy, with wide rivers flowing through that lovely country to the sea. I followed the course of the greatest river, and reached its mouth, where a noble port stood on the shores of a sea unknown to me. In the harbour lay a fleet of good ships, and one of these was most beautifully decorated with gold and silver, and its sails were of silk. There was a gangway of ivory, so I entered the vessel, which immediately sailed into the ocean. The voyage was short, and we soon came to a wondrously beautiful island. In this island I walked, led by some secret guidance, till I reached its farthest shore, broken by cliffs and mountain ranges, while between the mountains and the sea I saw a fair and fruitful land through which there was flowing a silvery, winding river, with a castle at its mouth. When I came to the gate of the castle, I was amazed by its splendour. It was all covered with gold, silver and precious stones, and two fair youths, whom I saw playing chess, used pieces of gold on a board of silver. Their clothes were of black satin embroidered with gold, and golden circlets were on their heads. I gazed at the youths for a moment, and then became aware of an aged man sitting near them. His carved ivory seat was decorated with golden eagles, the token of Imperial Rome; his ornaments on arms and hands and neck were of bright gold, and he was carving fresh chessmen from gold. Beside him sat, on a golden chair, a maiden (the loveliest in the whole world she seemed, and still seems, to me). White was her inner dress under a golden overdress, her crown was of rubies and pearls, and a golden waist was on her. The beauty of her face won my love in that moment, and I knelt and said: Hail, Empress of Rome! but as she bent forward from her seat to greet me, I awoke. Now I have no peace and no joy except in sleep, for in dreams I always see my lady, and in dreams we love each other and are happy; therefore in dreams will I live, unless you can find some way to satisfy my longing while I wake.

The senators were at first greatly amazed, and then one of them said: My lord, will you not send out messengers to search throughout all your lands for this maiden? Let each group of messengers search for one year, and return at the end of the year. So you shall live in good hope of success from year to year. The messengers were sent out accordingly; but, however hard they tried, after three years three separate groups had brought back no news of the mysterious land and the beautiful maiden.

Then the groom of the chamber said to Maxen Wledig: My lord, will you not go forth to hunt, as on the day when you had your dream?

To this the emperor agreed, and rode to the place in the valley where he had slept. The groom of the chamber then said: Will you not send messengers to the rivers source, my lord, and tell them to follow the track of your dream?

And thirteen messengers were sent, who followed the river up until it issued from the highest mountain they had ever seen. Behold our emperors dream! they exclaimed, and they got to the top of the mountain, and descended the other side into a most beautiful and fertile plain, as Maxen Wledig had seen in his dream. Following the greatest river of all probably it was the Rhine the ambassadors reached the seaport on the North Sea, and found the fleet waiting with one ship larger than all the others; and they entered the ship and were carried to the fair island of Britain. Here they journeyed westward, and came to the mountainous land of Snowdon, where they could see the sacred isle of Mona, or Anglesey, and the fertile land of Arvon lying between the mountains and the sea. This, said the messengers, is the land of our masters dream, and in that fair castle we shall find the maiden who our emperor loves.

So they went to the castle of Caernarvon, and in that impressive fortress was the great hall, with the two youths playing chess, the old man carving chessmen, and the maiden in her chair of gold. When the ambassadors saw the fair Princess Helena, they fell on their knees before her and said: Empress of Rome, all hail!

But Helena half rose from her seat in anger as she said: What does this mockery mean? You seem to be men of gentle breeding,[11]11
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and you are evidently messengers: why, then, do you mock me thus?

But the ambassadors calmed her anger, saying: Do not be angry, lady: this is no mockery, for the Emperor of Rome, the great lord Maxen Wledig, saw you in a dream, and he swore to marry none but you. Which, therefore, will you choose, to accompany us to Rome, and there be made empress, or to wait here until the emperor can come to you?

The princess thought deeply for a time, and then replied: I would not be too credulous, or too hard of belief. If the emperor loves me and would like to marry me, let him find me in my fathers house, and make me his bride in my own home.

After this the messengers returned to the emperor in haste. When they reached Rome and informed Maxen Wledig of the success of their mission he at once gathered his army and marched across Europe towards Britain. He conquered Britain and eventually reached the fair country of Snowdon. He entered the castle and saw, at last, with his own eyes first the two youths, Kynon and Adeon, playing chess, then their father, Eudav, the son of Caradoc, and then his beloved, beautiful Helena, daughter of Eudav.

Empress of Rome, all hail! Maxen Wledig said; and the princess bent forward in her chair and kissed him, for she knew he was her destined husband. The next day they were married, and the Emperor Maxen Wledig gave Helena as dowry all Britain for her father, the son of Caradoc, and for herself three castles, Caernarvon, Caerlleon, and Caermarthen, where she lived in turn; and in one of them was born her son Constantine, the only British-born Emperor of Rome. To this day in Wales the old Roman roads that once connected Helenas three castles are known as Sarn Helen.

The Tale of Gamelyn

In the reign of King Edward I,[12]12
King Edward I I, 12721307.


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there lived in Lincolnshire a noble gentleman, Sir John of the Marches. He was now old, but was still a model of all courtesy and a perfect gentle knight. He had three sons, of whom the youngest, Gamelyn, was born in his fathers old age, and was greatly beloved by the old man; the other two were much older than he, and John, the eldest, had already developed a wicked character. Gamelyn and his second brother, Otho, respected their father, but John had no respect or obedience for the good gentleman, and was the chief trouble of his declining years, as Gamelyn was his chief joy.

At last old age and weakness overcame the worthy old Sir John, and he was forced to take to his bed,[13]13
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where he lay sadly thinking of his childrens future, and wondering how to divide his possessions fairly among the three. Fearing that he could commit an injustice, Sir John sent throughout the district for wise knights, asking them to come hastily, if they wished to see him alive and help him. When the country squires and lords, his near neighbours, heard of his serious condition, they hurried to the castle, and gathered in the bedchamber, where the dying knight greeted them thus:

Lords and gentlemen, I may no longer live; but I pray, for my sake,[14]14
for my sake


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to help me to divide my lands among my three sons. For the love of God, do it justly, and forget not my youngest, Gamelyn. Seldom does any heir to an estate help his brothers after his fathers death.

The friends whom Sir John had invited thought long over the disposal of the estate. Most of them wanted to give all to the eldest son, but a strong minority said they must not forget the second. They all agreed, however, that Gamelyn might wait till his eldest brother chose to give him a share of his fathers lands. At last it was decided to divide the inheritance between the two elder sons, and the knights returned to the room where the brave old knight lay dying, and told him their decision. He summoned up strength[15]15
summon ones strength


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enough to protest against their plan, and said:

No, by Lord, I can yet leave my lands to whom I wish: they still are mine. Then be silent, neighbours, while I make my will. To John, my eldest son, and heir, I leave five ploughlands, my dead fathers heritage; and same to my second, which I myself won in battles; everything else I own, in lands and goods and wealth, goes to Gamelyn, my youngest. And I ask you, for the love of God, not to forsake, but guard his helpless youth and let him not be denied his wealth.

Then Sir John, satisfied with having proclaimed his will, died with Christian resignation, leaving his little son Gamelyn in the power of the cruel eldest brother, now, in his turn, Sir John.

Since the boy was very young, the new knight, as a natural guardian, got the control of Gamelyns land, vassals, education, and nurture; but he did not fulfil his duty, for he clothed and fed the boy badly, and neglected his lands, so that his parks and houses, his farms and villages, fell into decay.[16]16
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The boy, when he grew older, noticed this and tried to change it, but did not realise the power in himself with which he tried to redress the wrongs.[17]17
redress the wrongs (.)


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Later, though, he fully understood what injuries he could inflict others, so no man would dare to face him in fight when he was angry, so strong a youth had he become.

While Gamelyn, one day, walking in the hall, was thinking of the ruin of all his inheritance, Sir John came in, and, seeing him, called out: How now: is dinner ready?

Furious at being addressed as if he were just a servant, Gamelyn replied angrily: Go and do your own baking; I am not your cook.

Sir John was astonished. What, my dear brother, is that the way to answer? You have never addressed me so before!

No, replied Gamelyn, because until now I have never considered all the wrong you have done me. My parks are broken open, my deer are driven off; you have deprived me of my armour and my horses; all that my father left to me is falling into ruin and decay. Gods curse upon you, false brother!

Sir John was now angry beyond all measure,[18]18
beyond all measure


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and shouted: Stand still, vagabond! What right do you have to speak of land or vassals? Thou shall learn to be grateful for food and the roof above your head.

A curse upon him that calls me a vagabond! I am no worse than yourself; I am the son of a lady and a good knight.

In spite of all his anger, Sir John was a careful man, thinking of his own safety. He would not risk an encounter with Gamelyn, but called his servants and told them to beat him well, till he should learn better manners. But when the boy understood his brothers intention he promised that he would not be beaten alone others should suffer too, and Sir John not the least. Leaping on to the wall, he got a pestle standing by the wall, and so boldly attacked the servants, that he drove them into a heap. Sir John had not even got that small amount of bravery: he fled to the next room and shut the door, while Gamelyn cleared the hall with his pestle, and chased the cowardly grooms.

Brother, said Gamelyn, when he finally saw where the latter was hiding, come a little nearer, and I will teach you how to play this merry game.

No, I will not come till you put down that pestle. Brother, be angry no more, and I will make peace with you. I swear it by the grace of God!

I was forced to defend myself, said Gamelyn, I could not let grooms beat a good knights son; but now grant me one gift, and we shall soon be at peace with each other.

Yes, certainly, brother; ask for your gift, and I will give it readily. But indeed I was only testing you, for you are so young that I doubted your strength and manliness. It was only a pretence of beating that I meant.

This is my request, said the boy: if there is to be peace between us you must give to me all that my father left me while he was alive.

To this Sir John agreed with apparent willingness, and even promised to repair the decayed houses and restore the lands and farms; but though he showed content with the agreement and kissed his brother with affection, yet he was inwardly planning a treachery against the unsuspecting youth.

Shortly after this quarrel between the brothers a wrestling competition was announced, the winner of which would become the owner of a fine ram and a ring of gold, and Gamelyn decided to try his powers. Accordingly he asked a horse from Sir John, who offered him his choice of all the horses in the stable, and then curiously questioned him as to his purpose. The lad explained that he wished to compete in the wrestling match, hoping to win honour by bearing away the prize; then he mounted his horse and rode away merrily, while the false Sir John locked the gate behind him, praying that he might get his neck broken in the contest.

The boy rode along, rejoicing in his youth and strength, singing as he went, till he drew near the appointed place, and then he suddenly heard a mans voice crying, O grief! Alas! and saw a venerable yeoman wringing his hands.[19]19
wring ones hands


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