ALAN, KING OF THE BRETONS

Alan Rebras, king of Brittany, married on an evil day when he married the sister of the king of the French, for the marriage would only bring him misery. A few months after the marriage, Riwallon, count of Leon, who had sworn allegiance to Alan began to shun his company. Alan’s wife noticed this and wore out her husband with curtain lectures, calling him sluggish and cowardly for not extracting from Riwallon either the full service due or his life. “It would be easy enough to put him out of the way,” said Alan, “But he has two sons, Wigon and Clodoan. The later was lettered and clever but had degenerated into little more than a buffoon, absorbed in rhymes and jesting. Wigon, in contrast, is tall and handsome, wiser than any other man I know, skilled at arms. By his advice either he or his father are never absent from their lands at the same time.” “If matters stand so with them we should fear that, even if the father is dead, the son will vex us more sorely. We should make it our business to put Wigon out of the way first.” “That can easily be done, but make Riwallon come to us first.” On the strict summons Riwallon came and, after spending some days at court, returned home laden with gifts which he was able to distribute to his followers. Wigon’s followers became jealous. Some weeks later envoys arrived from Alan, who earnestly pressed that both men should visit Alan, but if not both then at least the son. Covetousness spoke at both their counsels, but Wigon was cautious and remained at home, against the opinion of his men. In private they charged him with cowardice and their anger was not abated when Riwallon returned with yet more gifts heaped upon him and his followers. Now Wigon found that his men were so angry that they insulted him to his face. With such pressure Wigon at last consented to go to Alan’s court. As Riwallon and Wigon rode off together they were met by Clodoan, who was astonished to see them going on such a fateful mission and persuaded Wigon to remain at home. Riwallon was received with the usual show of great respect, especially by the queen. As they were on the battlements of the castle there chanced to come two white noble vultures to feed on a carcass down below but then a small black vulture rushed in and dislodged them. Riwallon laughed. The queen asked him what he found so funny and the more Riwallon tried to hide the reason, the more he was pressed. As wild water rages at an obstacle so a woman rushes upon a secret. Eventually Riwallon admitted his thoughts. “There is a great hill in my land that is well known for breeding black vultures and another, within your boundaries, which breeds white ones. Whenever they fight one black will easily overthrow two white. So, in any engagement, one of my soldiers can overcome two of yours.” “If that is true then it is a matter that deserves your laughter and our tears.” replied the queen. They tactfully changed the subject and soon Riwallon thought it best to depart. When he had done so the queen went to Alan and relayed the tale but this time setting it out to be a threat. Once again Riwallon and Wigon were invited to the court but this time, before their arrival, one hundred French knights were placed in a vaulted building inside the outer gate. Clodoan once again predicted evil and induced Wigon to allow him to go in his stead, because they looked very similar, reasoning that his death would be a lighter loss. Wigon could follow at a distance and enter the castle if all was well. Riwallon and Clodoan entered the castle and then the gates slammed shut behind them and they were seized. Riwallon was castrated and blinded but Clodoan, avowing his name, was spared. The queen, seeing Wigon escape, shouted to the knights to chase after him. Wigon had sensibly organized a relay of six horses but found that the holder of the sixth, seeing no danger, had gone off to the nearest village to see if it boasted a tavern. The fifth horse, which he had not spared in the expectation of the sixth, began to flag just as they were coming near the border of a forest. A woman was spinning in front of her house. Wigon described his plight to her. She consented that he could hide in her cottage where he could watch over her child who was in the cradle and to amuse it so that it did not cry. The chasing knights came up and she told them that she had seen a horseman but he had just rode past the cottage. They believed her and rode on. Meanwhile Wigon, as a way of distracting the child, put a knife with an ivory handle into its chubby hand. After it had gone quiet, absorbed with the new toy, he looked around the cottage to see if he could find a better hiding place. Suddenly the child began to wail. Wigon rushed back to it but found it dead, having fallen on the knife. In horror he gave up all hope. When the mother came into the cottage and found her child dead she wanted to die herself. She rushed out in a frenzy to call back the knights and denounce Wigon. He caught up with her and vowed that he would be a son to her in place of the dead child. Whereas no profit can come of revenge, forgiveness can hold out hopes of great riches. By this time the knights had passed out of earshot and she wavered in her crying and he had time to repeat what he had said. Meanwhile her husband, who had been out in the forest, was alerted by her shouts and came running back. When told of the horror he was inclined to make the best of a terrible situation and agreed to take Wigon to a place of safety. Wigon later awarded his rescuer the belt of knighthood and made him master of much wealth and lands. Their descendants still own this land and are called the sons of the low-born one. Now Wigon gathered his forces and rose in revolt against Alan, who was forced to flee to his father-in-law, the king of the French. At his intervention Alan’s daughter and heir was given in marriage to Wigon and this produced a period of peace. One day Wigon was playing chess with his wife when he was called away by one of his courtiers on a matter of urgent business. He left one of his most loyal knights to continue the game. The matter concluded, Wigon returned and was about to enter the chamber when he heard his lady cry out, “Mate! But not against you. Against the blind man’s son.” The taunt was too much for Wigon. He turned on his heels and immediately started preparations to renew the war with Alan of Brittany. He took him by surprise and Alan was forced to flee again, this time to the church of St Lewi. He barricaded the door and prayed to the blessed Lewi to guard one entrance while he kept his enemies off at the other. Finding themselves unable to open the door guarded by the saint, the soldiers concentrated on that held by Alan and, with great difficulty, eventually overpowered him, dragged him out into the churchyard and there castrated and blinded him. It is said that, because of the saint’s anger, to this day in the parish, no beast can inseminate its mate and the farmers are forced to take their animals outside the parish to allow this to happen. Wigon carried off Alan’s eyes and privy parts. When he returned to his castle he hid them up his left sleeve and went to his lady’s chamber to play chess, with a smiling, merry face. When he had won the game he calmly dropped the body parts onto the board, crying, “Mate against the blind man’s daughter!” She smiled calmly, pretending amusement. “Haven’t you carried out a clever piece of justice.” was all that she said. Hoel, count of Nantes, was young and handsome but principally found favour with Wigon’s wife because of the harm he might do Wigon. Secretly she sent messages to the count and they formed a pact, she for revenge, he for greed, both for lust. Wigon was invited to Nantes and, as soon as he arrived, was seized and killed. Now Hoel usurped all power and married Alan’s daughter. Their first born child was a girl who was eventually given in marriage to an influential noble by the name of Ilispon. Later they had a boy, whom they named Salomon. After Hoel’s death it was Ilispon who acted the quickest and, by violent warfare, mastered all Brittany. It came to his mind that, in order to avoid any challenges, he must kill the baby Salomon. But Henno, a noble still faithful to the memory of Hoel, carried off the child before this could be accomplished and hid him among the servants in his kitchen. When the boy was fifteen and working as a kitchen drudge, a boar outran Illispon’s huntsmen and ran into a wood near Henno’s castle. Henno and all his retainers, hearing the cries of the hunt, rushed out of the castle and helped the huntsmen surround the wood but no one was bold enough to actually go into the wood and tackle the boar. Seeing everyone hesitate, Salomon, still wearing his work clothes, blackened by smoke and stained with grease, decided to take it upon himself to enter the wood, though all he had was a cloth, which he held in his left hand and a small kitchen knife in his right. When the boar attacked he distracted it with the cloth and was able to slay it with the knife, earning the admiration of everyone. While the boar was drawing everyone’s attention, an old man called him aside and asked him his name. “My name is Salomon. Of my family I know nothing, for Henno found me cast out and brought me up.” The old man, with tears in his eyes, said, “I know your lineage and you should be proud of it.” When Salomon told Henno about this encounter, the lord feared that his plan would be betrayed so told Salomon the truth about his ancestry. He fortified his castle and prepared for the worst. He sent messages to all those who had been angered by Illispon, which by now were many, and they gladly came to his aid. When Illispon heard of these developments he too was frightened and sent out word to his supporters that they should come to his aid. Among those who came was Meinfalin of Quinperle, a man of great wisdom. Now, at this time, Illispon’s wife had cast her eyes on a youth in the king’s company and he had not been slow in returning her affection. When they heard that Meinfalin was due to arrive they feared that a man of such discernment would soon flush out their secret. The lady schemed to have Meinfalin removed from the king’s counsel, either by some false charge or putting on him some shameful cause of offence, but Meinfalin found this out and enjoined all his eight sons and the retainers who came with him to practice the greatest restraint, whatever provocation was set against them. One day a jester, wandering about in the hall, upset a vessel of milk over Meinfalin’s head. He appeared merely amused, shook the milk off over the jester and, with good temper, waited for Illispon to say something. When Illispon said nothing he merely smiled, asked leave to depart but, instead of going home, went to Henno, who was glad to see him. “Perhaps I could ask your advice.” said Henno, when they were seated together. “I had originally agreed that my neighbour Camo, a wise and valiant man, should marry my daughter. Now I have decided that she should marry Salomon. Camo is now fortifying his castle and gathering his forces and plans to take vengeance on me.” Meinfalin said, “Get Salomon and your daughter to come with me to Camo and perhaps we can smooth the matter out. So this is what happened. Meinfalin bowed to Camo and said, “Our lord, Salomon, whom the laws and rights of our fathers have placed over us, resigns to you his love, the daughter of Henno, that you be not defrauded of your love.” Overcome with this generosity, Camo extolled Salomon and promised to aid him with all his force. Ilispon gathered his forces and hastened to attack. Meinfalin examined the battlefield at night so as not to let the enemy see his attention. He saw Illispon come alone to a tree and make a sacrifice to the infernal gods and getting the answer that whoever first gained the advantage of the hill on which the tree stood would win the day. Illispon went back to his forces and prepared the battle array, while Meinfalin went to Salomon and brought him and his forces to the spot before dawn. On top of the hill Salomon’s squadrons positioned themselves, with one hundred knights hidden in reserve in a small wood. In the battle, as was foretold, Illispon’s forces were beaten, although Meinfalin and seven of his sons were among those killed in Salomon’s army. Salomon, retiring with his bodyguard, came across Leucius, with double his number, who had been held in reserve. Although Leucius was Salomon’s ally he saw his opportunity for mastery and, instead of greeting Salomon, took council with his men as to whether he should use the opportunity to kill Salomon. Seeing this, Salomon became suspicious and drew his men up in defence. Leucius and his men attacked, driving Salomon back. Hearing the commotion, the hundred hidden knights came to their lord’s aid, the traitors were defeated and Leucius was hanged for his treachery. So Brittany was ruled well by Salomon and his heirs for many years.

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