At this time Beaujolais, that delightful region of France, was a semi-autonomous fiefdom. To be in charge of such a large tract of rich land a man needs skill and luck. Guichard, however much he had of the former, and there are various views on this, he certainly had none of the latter, suffering repeated reverses in battle. Yet he remained magnificently unbroken in spirit and would always rise again from defeat as if newborn and once again ready for the fight.
But a man who wishes to retain his lordship in such trying times must, every so often, do things that put his soul in mortal jeopardy. So Guichard decided that it would be a good idea to retire to the monastery of Cluny in his old age and so make amends for his sins, which he feared were quite extensive.
Once there he set to quieting his mind, that had been so full of the cares of the world, and discovered that, very surprisingly, he had the soul of a poet, penning verses of joy at the landscape and nature surrounding him, where, in the past, he had merely rode through it to get to the next battle.
Sadly, Guichard’s son Humbert seemed to have inherited his father’s poor luck as well as his land and it soon looked possible that he would lose that inheritance. Things became so bad that he went to the abbot of Cluny and pleaded with him that his father be released from his vow and help him maintain the family’s honour. Since no abbot likes the status quo to be disturbed, unless it is for a good cause or the abbot’s benefit, this favour was granted.
As a mother wolf will protect her cubs, so a father will be fierce in maintaining his son’s patrimony. Guichard flew swift at the foe and then stuck to them like glue. So swift in fact that he let caution fly behind him in the wind and, in chasing too closely after an apparently retreating foe, he and his force were surprised in a narrow valley between two cliffs. No hope, no rescue, seemed possible.
The enemy, secure in their victory, were slow to strike. While there might be no hope of avoiding death in a defeat, no one wants to die in a victory and so miss out on the spoils. Seeing his chance the old man suddenly charged, scattering his surprised foes and forcing them to flee. Filled with new strength and courage, where other men might be satisfied with their victory, Guichard charged after them and numberless soldiers, attempting to rescue their lords, fell prey to a single monk.
But one special enemy of his, who had escaped his onslaught, allowed himself to fall behind, unseen by his company, caring nothing of his own life so long as he could take that of his sworn enemy. The former monk, exhausted by the fight and the heat of the sun, called his squire to him, entered a vineyard, where he took off his helmet, baring himself to the coolness of the breeze under the shade of a trellis of a tall vine.
His enemy saw his chance. He waited until the squire had departed to fetch water and then crept up on him and stabbed him in the neck, then riding off, satisfied with his work. When the squire returned he found his master near death and the monk, through the blood, made it known to him that he wished to confess his sins. When he had done so he asked the lad for a penance but the young man, as a layman, said he did not know what was right to give him.
“Then my penance must be to abide in hell, doing penance until the Day of Judgement, that is unless the Lord has mercy on me and that I may not, with the wicked, behold the face of indignation and wrath.”
With tears in his eyes, the boy replied: “I give you the penance you have asked for and I pray that it be as you say and God will be merciful unto you.” At which point the old man expired.
Was Guichard wise to risk his soul by returning to the world? Many would think him foolish but at least we know that, in whatsoever hour the sinner repent, he shall be saved.