Watson, Henry. c. 1555. The hystory of the two valyaunte brethren Valentyne and Orson, sonnes vnto the Emperour of Grece. London : In Fletestrete at the sygne of the Rose Garland by me Wyllyam Copland for Iohn Walley.
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Valentine and Orson.
Pepin, King of the Franks, had a sister named Bellisance, who was exceedingly beautiful, and who was asked in marriage by many kings and princes.
The lady"s choice fell upon Alexander, Emperor of Constantinople, who came to the court of King Pepin to marry the princess. Great rejoicings took place on the occasion in all parts of the kingdom; and soon after the marriage the emperor took his leave, and carried his lovely bride in great splendour and triumph to Constantinople.
The Emperor Alexander"s prime minister was a selfish and subtle man; unhappily his influence with the emperor was very great. This man, observing the gentleness and sweetness of the Lady Bellisance, began to fear that she would undermine his influence, and he wickedly resolved to seek the destruction of the innocent empress. The emperor was of a credulous and suspicious temper, and the prime minister found means at length to infuse into his mind suspicions of the empress. One day when the emperor was alone, he entered the apartment, and throwing himself at his master"s feet, said: "May Heaven guard your majesty from the base attempts of the wicked and treacherous! I seek not the death of any man, nor may I reveal the name of the person who has intrusted to me a dreadful secret; but, in the most solemn manner, I conjure your majesty to beware of the designs of your empress; for that beautiful and clever lady is faithless and disloyal, and is even now planning your dethronement. Alas! my heart is ready to burst with indignation, to think that a lady of such charms, and the sister of a great king, should become so dishonourable and wicked."
The emperor giving perfect faith to his favourite"s tale could no longer restrain his fury; and abruptly leaving him, he rushed into the apartment of the empress, and in the fiercest manner dragged the fair Bellisance about the chamber by her long and beautiful hair. "Alack! my dear lord," she cried, "what causes you to commit this outrage?" "Base wretch!" he exclaimed, "I am but too well informed of your wicked proceedings;" then dashing her with violence upon the ground, he left her speechless. The attendants of the empress finding her lying senseless on the floor, uttered loud screams, which presently brought all the courtiers into the chamber.
Every one was sorry for their amiable queen; and the nobles demanded an audience of the emperor, to represent to him the wrongs he had done to an honourable lady, with whom no one before had ever found any fault. But the emperor was still blinded with passion, and to their representations he answered: "Let no man dare to defend a woman who has basely betrayed me. She shall die; and they who interfere in her behalf shall partake in the dreadful punishment that awaits treason."
The empress on recovery from her swoon, fell upon her knees, and thus addressed the emperor: "Alas! my lord, take pity on one who never harboured an evil thought against your person or dignity; and if not upon me, at least I implore you have compassion on your two children! Let me be imprisoned or put to death, if it so pleaseth you; but, I beseech you, save my poor children!"
The rash emperor, misled by the false tales of the prime minister, would not hearken to her: and the courtiers, perceiving that nothing could mitigate his rage, removed Bellisance from his presence.
Her faithful servant, Blandiman, now threw himself at her feet, exclaiming, "Ah! madam, let me prevail on you to quit this unhappy place, and suffer me to conduct you and your children to your brother, the good King Pepin. Innocent and noble lady, follow my counsel; for if you stay here the emperor will bring you to a shameful death."
"No, my faithful servant," replied she; "I cannot follow your advice. If I should steal away privately from the court, it might be said I had fled because I was guilty. No; I had rather die the most cruel death than bear the blame of that of which I am innocent."
The emperor so far relented, that he would not pronounce sentence of execution upon his queen; yet, as his mind was continually excited by false accusations against her, he resolved to banish her from his dominions, and immediately commanded her to quit Constantinople. At the same time he published an edict, forbidding all persons, on pain of death, to assist or succour the unfortunate lady, allowing her no other attendant than her servant Blandiman, whom she had brought with her from France. Sentence having been thus pronounced, the queen, Blandiman, and the two children, hastened away. As she passed through the city, she was met by multitudes of people lamenting the loss of so good an empress. When she had left Constantinople, "Alas!" cried she, "in what unhappy hour was I born, to fall from so high an estate to so low a condition as I am now in!"
As she was thus complaining and weeping with anguish, her servant said to her, "Madam, be not discomforted, but trust in God, who will keep and defend you."
He had hardly spoken, before he espied a fountain, which he and his lady at once approached. After refreshing themselves at the fountain, they proceeded towards France. Many weary days and nights had been spent in travel, when, arriving in the forest of Orleans, the disconsolate princess was so overcome with grief and fatigue, that she sank, and was incapable of proceeding farther. Her faithful attendant gathered the fallen leaves and the moss to make a couch for her on which to rest, and then hastened away, to seek some habitation where he might procure food for his unfortunate mistress.
During Blandiman's absence the empress fell asleep, with her two infant boys laid on the couch beside her, when suddenly a huge bear rushed out of the forest, and, snatching up one of the children in its mouth, disappeared with its prey.
The wretched mother, distracted at the fate of her child, pursued the bear with shrieks and lamentations, till, overcome with anguish and terror, she fell into a swoon near the mouth of the cave into which the bear had carried her child.
It happened that King Pepin, accompanied by several great lords and barons of his court, was that same day hunting in the forest of Orleans, and chanced to pass near the tree where the other little boy lay sleeping on his bed of moss. The king was astonished with the beauty of the child, who opened his eyes as the king stood gazing on him, and, smiling, stretched out his little arms, as if to ask protection. "See, my lords," said King Pepin, "this lovely infant seems to ask my favour. Here is no one to claim it, and I will adopt it for my own."
The king little imagined it was his nephew, the son of his sister Bellisance, that he now delivered into the hands of one of his pages, who took the babe to Orleans to be nursed, and gave it, by the king's orders, the name of Valentine, because it was found on S. Valentine's day.
Blandiman, who had now returned, after looking in vain for assistance, missed his mistress; and after searching the forest for her, he at length espied her on the ground, tearing her hair, and uttering piercing cries of grief. "Ah, Blandiman!"she exclaimed, "can there exist in the world a being more encompassed with grief and sorrow? I left Constantinople the mother of two beautiful children, my only comfort under my bitter sorrow. A ravenous bear has now snatched one from my arms, and a no less cruel beast of prey has doubtless devoured the other. At the foot of yonder tree I left it when I pursued the bear; but no trace of either of my children remains. Go, Blandiman, leave me here to perish, and tell the Emperor of Constantinople to what a horrible fate, by listening to evil counsel, he has destined his innocent wife and children."
At this moment they were interrupted by the sudden appearance of a huge giant, who immediately attempted to seize the empress. Blandiman sprang to his feet, stepped before him, and began to draw and defend himself. His efforts, however, were unavailing: the giant prevailed, and slew him; and throwing the unfortunate lady over his shoulder, proceeded towards his castle.
Meantime the bear that had carried away the infant, bore it to its cave, and laid it down unhurt before her young ones. The young bears, however, did not devour it, but stroked it with their rough paws; and the old bear, perceiving their kindness for the little babe, gave it milk, and nourished it in this manner for the space of a whole year.
The boy became hardy and robust; and as he grew in strength he began to range the forest, and attack the wild beasts with such fury that they used to shun the cave where he continued to live with the old bear, who loved him with extreme fondness. He passed eighteen years in this kind of life, and grew to such wonderful strength, that he was the terror of the neighbouring country. The name of Orson was given to him, because he was nurtured by a bear; and the renown of this wild man spread over all France. He could not speak, and uttered no other sounds than a wild kind of growl to express either his anger or his joy. King Pepin often entertained a great desire to see this wild man of the woods; and one day rode with his retinue into the forest of Orleans in hopes of meeting him. The king left his train at some distance, rode on, and passed near the cave which Orson inhabited, on hearing the sound of horses' feet, the wild man rushed upon the king, and would have strangled him in an instant but for a valiant knight, who galloped up and wounded Orson with his sword. Orson then quitted the king, and, running furiously upon the knight, caught him and his horse and overthrew both. The king, being quite unarmed, could not assist the knight, but rode away to call the attendants to his rescue. However, before they arrived on the spot, the unfortunate knight was torn to pieces, and Orson had fled to the thickest part of the forest, where, notwithstanding all their endeavours, they could not discover him. The noise of this adventure increased every one's terror of the wild man, and the neighbouring villages were nearly abandoned by their inhabitants.
Valentine, in the meanwhile, had been educated in all kinds of accomplishments with the king's two sons and his fair daughter, Eglantine. Nothing could exceed the fondness of the young people for each other ; indeed, there was never a lovelier princess than Eglantine, or a more brave and accomplished youth than Valentine. The king observing his inclination for arms, indulged him with armour and horses, and after creating him knight gave him a command in his army that was about to march against the Saracens. Valentine soon distinguished himself above the other leaders in battle. He fought near the king's side; and when his majesty was taken by a troop of the pagans, Valentine rushed through their ranks, slew hundreds of them, and replacing the king on his horse, led him off in triumph. Afterwards, when the Saracen city was besieged, he was the first to scale the walls and place the Christian standard on the battlements. By his means a complete victory was obtained, and peace restored to France.
Having conquered the Saracens, Valentine returned to the court of King Pepin, and was received with loud acclamations by the people, and joyfully welcomed by the Princess Eglantine. The distinctions and favour showered on him raised the envy and hatred of the king's sons, who plotted together to destroy Valentine.
It happened very shortly after the return of Valentine from his victory over the Saracens, that a petition was presented to the king by a deputation of peasants, praying relief against Orson, the wild man of the woods; the fear of whom was now become so great that the peasants dared not go out to till their fields, nor the shepherds to watch their flocks. The king immediately issued a proclamation, saying, if any man would undertake to bring Orson dead or alive to the city, he should receive a thousand marks of gold.
"Sire," said his sons, "we think no person is so proper to undertake this enterprise as the foundling Valentine, on whom your majesty lavishes such great favours, and who, it seems, aspires to the hand of your daughter. Perhaps if he conquers the savage with his sword, you will not think it then too much to reward him with the hand of our sister Eglantine.quot;
Valentine saw through the malicious design of the king's sons; and the king himself wished to protect him, and advised him not to encounter such an enemy.
"Pardon me, my liege," replied Valentine; "it concerns my honour that I go. I will encounter this danger, and every other, rather than not prove myself worthy of your majesty's favour and protection. To-morrow I will depart for the forest at break of day."
When the Princess Eglantine heard of Valentine's determination, she sought to turn him from his purpose; but finding him inflexibly resolved to attack the wild man, she adorned him with a scarf, embroidered by her own hands, and then retired to her chamber to pray for his safety.
At the first dawn of morning Valentine arose, put on his armour, and with his shield polished like a mirror, he departed for the forest. On his arrival there, he alighted, tied his horse to a tree, and penetrated into the thickest part of the wood in search of Orson.
He wandered about a long time in vain; till coming near the mouth of a large cave, he thought that might be the hiding-place of the wild man. Valentine then climbed a high tree near the cave; and scarcely was he seated among the branches, before he heard Orson's roar in the forest. Orson had been hunting, and came with a swift pace, bearing upon his shoulders a buck he had killed.
Valentine could not help admiring the beauty of his person, the grace and freedom of his motions, and his appearance of strength and agility. He felt a species of affection for the wild man, and wished it were possible to tame him without having recourse to weapons. Valentine now tore off a branch of the tree, and threw it at Orson's feet; who, looking up and espying Valentine in the tree uttered a growl of fury, and darted up the tree like lightning. Valentine as quickly slipped down on the other side. Orson seeing him on the ground leaped from the tree, and, opening his arms, prepared in his usual manner to rush upon and overthrow his antagonist; but Valentine holding up his polished steel shield Orson suddenly beheld, instead of the person he meant to seize, his own wild and terror-striking figure. Upon Valentine's lowering the shield, he again saw his enemy, and with a cry of transport prepared to grasp him in his arms. The strength of Orson was so very great, that Valentine was unable to defend himself without having recourse to his sword. When Orson received a wound from the sword, he uttered loud shrieks of anger and surprise, and instantly tearing up by the roots a large tree, furiously attacked Valentine. A dreadful fight now ensued, and the victory was a long time doubtful; Orson received many dreadful wounds from the sword of Valentine, and Valentine with great difficulty escaped from being crushed to death beneath the weighty club of Orson. At last Valentine's skill prevailed, and the wild man was conquered, and lay prostrate on the ground at his feet.
Valentine now made signs to Orson that he wished him to accompany him, on which he quietly suffered his hands to be bound; and Valentine having mounted his horse, the two brothers proceeded towards Orleans.
Wherever they passed, the people on seeing the wild man, ran into their houses and hid themselves. When Valentine arrived at an inn where he intended to rest during the night, the terrified inhabitants fastened their doors, and would not suffer them to enter. Valentine made signs to Orson, who placed his shoulder against the door, and forced it open in an instant; upon which the people of the inn all ran out at the back-door, and would not venture to return. A great feast was in preparation, and there were plenty of fowls and good provisions roasting at the fire. Orson tore the meat off the spit with his hands, and devoured it greedily; and espying a caldron of water, he put his head into it and drank like a horse.
In the morning, Valentine resumed his journey, leading Orson as before. On arriving at the city, the inhabitants shut their doors, and ran into the highest rooms to gaze upon the wild man. When they reached the outer court of King Pepin's palace, the porter in a great fright barred the gate with heavy chains and bars of iron, and would not be prevailed upon to open it. After soliciting admittance for some time, and being still denied, Valentine made a sign to Orson, who, tearing up one of the large stone posts that stood by, shattered the gate to pieces. The queen, the Princess Eglantine, and all their attendants, fled to hide themselves when they heard that Orson was arrived; and Valentine had the greatest difficulty to persuade them to believe that Orson was no longer furious and savage as he had been in the woods. At length the king permitted him to be brought in; and the whole court soon gathered in a crowd in the apartment, and were much amused by his wild actions and gestures, although they were very cautious not to come near him. On Valentine's making signs, he kissed the king's robe, and the hand of the Princess Eglantine; for Orson had now become so attached to Valentine that he would obey him in all things, and would suffer no other person to attempt to control him. If Valentine went for a moment out of his sight, he would utter cries of distress, and overturn every one that stood in his way, while he ran about the palace in search of him; and he slept at night in Valentine's chamber on the floor, for he could not be prevailed to lie on a bed.
Very soon after the capture of Orson, a herald appeared at the court of King Pepin, from the Duke of Aquitaine, summoning all true knights to avenge the cause of the Lady Clerimont, daughter to the noble duke, who was held in cruel captivity by Atramont, the black knight: the herald proclaimed that whoever should conquer him would receive the hand of the lady in marriage, together with a princely dowry. This knight was so famous for his cruelty and his victories, that the young lords of the court all drew back, and were unwilling to enter the lists; for it was known that he was defended by enchantment, and it was his practice to hang upon a high tree all the knights whom he had defeated. Valentine, however, offered himself without hesitation; and though he did not intend to ask the lady in marriage, he nevertheless determined to attempt her rescue from the hands of the giant.
Valentine, followed by Orson as his squire, soon reached the castle of the black knight, and immediately demanded the freedom of the captive lady. This was refused, and the two knights at once began the combat. The fight was long and equal. At length Atramont demanded a parley: "Knight," said he to Valentine, "thou art brave and noble; behold, yonder hang twenty knights whom I have overcome and put to death: such will be thy fate; I give thee warning."
"Base traitor," replied Valentine, "I fear thee not; come on -- I defy thee."
"First," rejoined the black knight, "fetch me yonder shield; for in pity to thy youth, I tell thee, unless thou canst remove that shield, thou canst not rescue the lady, nor conquer me."
Valentine approached the shield; but, in spite of all his efforts, he could not loosen it from the tree, though it appeared to hang on only a slender branch. Valentine, breathless with his exertions to pull down the shield, stood leaning against the tree, when Atramont, with a loud laugh, exclaimed, "Fly and save thyself, fair knight; for since thou canst not move the shield, thou art not destined to be my victor. Further, know there is no one living who can subdue me, unless he be the son of a mighty king, and yet has been suckled by a wild beast."
Valentine started on hearing these last words, and immediately ran to Orson, and led him to the enchanted shield. On Orson's raising his arm towards it, it dropped instantly from its place. A loud blast of wind rushed through the trees, the ground rocked beneath their feet, and the black knight trembled and turned pale; then gnashing his teeth he seized his sword, and attacked Orson with desperate fury. At the first blow, Atramont's sword broke in pieces upon the enchanted shield. Next he caught up a battle-axe, which also snapped instantly in two. He then took a lance, which was shivered to atoms in the same manner. Furious with these defeats, he threw aside his weapons, and trusting to his great strength, attempted to grasp Orson in his arms: but Orson, seizing him as if he had been a mere child, dashed him on the ground, and would have instantly destroyed him, had not Valentine interposed to save his life. Orson continued to hold him down till some chains were brought, when, in despite of the furious struggles of the black knight, Orson bound him in strong fetters, to lead him away a prisoner.
Atramont, finding himself conquered, addressed himself to Valentine, and said: "This savage man is my conqueror, and there is some mystery in his fate. Hasten to the castle of the giant Ferragus, where, if you can conquer him, you will find a brazen head, kept by a dwarf, that will explain to you who this savage is. You will also be able to set at liberty all the captives whom he keeps confined in his dungeons."
He then directed them on their way to the giant's castle; and after they had rested and refreshed themselves, they took their departure.
They had to pass over many a hill and valley, and through wild and trackless forests; at last they came in view of the giant's castle, to which the entrance was by a bridge of brass. The building itself was of marble, and the battlements were surmounted by golden pinnacles, which glittered richly in the evening sun as the two brothers approached the castle. Beneath the bridge of brass a hundred bells were fastened by a strange device, so that neither man nor beast might pass over without a loud alarm being given. The moment the two travellers began to cross the bridge the bells sounded, and immediately the great gates of the castle were thrown open, and a huge giant stalked forth, bearing in his hand a knotted club of steel. He immediately summoned them in a voice of thunder to lay down their arms.
"Yield, you caitiffs!" said he, "or I will make you food for the wolves and birds of prey. No one comes here and escapes with his life so long as I can wield my good club."
"Vain boaster," replied Valentine, "I scorn you and your threats! I come determined to force the brazen gates of your castle and to set free your prisoners."
With these words he put spurs to his steed, and aimed his trusty spear at the giant's head. The first thrust made the giant bleed, and he, in his turn, aimed a desperate blow at the knight. This happily missed, and left Valentine an opportunity of attacking the giant with his sword, which he did with the greatest courage, aiming blow after blow, first on one side, then on another, with the utmost agility and skill. But at last the giant, mad with pain and rage, saw that his adversary was beginning to flag, and found opportunity to deal him a tremendous blow with his mace, which laid both horse and rider senseless on the ground. He now grinned a hideous grin, and, stooping down, he was about to aim a second blow, exclaiming, "Now, caitiff, breathe thy last." But before he could raise his arm to strike, two tremendous blows descended upon his own head, and the monster fell groaning to the earth. These blows came from the knotty club of Orson, who, seeing his friend's danger, ran up just in time to save him. The giant was dead; and, with Orson's care and attention, Valentine soon began to recover.
They now began to search the giant's castle, both to set free his captives and to find the dwarf who would give the promised explanation. As they went through the gloomy apartments and dungeons, they found the bones of many murdered knights who had been overcome by the giant, and at last, in a little dim cell lighted by one small window, they found a lady lying on the ground and bathed in tears. At their entrance she lifted up her eyes and begged for mercy. Valentine gently raised her, and assured her that they were come to succour her, that the giant was killed, and that the castle-gates were thrown open. They then led her out of the dungeon into one of the apartments of the castle, and supplied her with food and wine and attended to all her wants.
They then inquired her name and her story, when she related to them her whole history, as it has been already told, from the time of her marriage to the hour when the fierce giant slew her trusty attendant, and carried her off by force to the castle. But, when they heard her name, and that she was sister to King Pepin, they were beyond measure amazed and overjoyed; for they had often heard the sad story of the Empress of Constantinople, and how the emperor, after she had gone, had discovered the treachery of his prime minister, and had made long and anxious search for his wife and children, but in vain.
Valentine and Orson determined to set out for the coast of France as soon as the Lady Bellisance was able to travel, knowing how overjoyed the old king would be to see his long-lost sister. But, before taking their departure, they went to search for the dwarf, who at last was found in one of the turrets of the castle, and who immediately expressed his willingness to serve his deliverer, now that his cruel master was dead.
They desired him to lead them to the chamber where the brazen head was kept, which he immediately did. Valentine fixed his eyes upon the head, anxious to hear what it would say concerning his birth. At length it spake thus: "Thou, O renowned knight, art called Valentine the Brave, and art the man destined to be the husband of the Princess Eglantine of France. Thou art son to the Emperor of Greece, and thy mother is Bellisance, sister to King Pepin of France. She was unjustly banished from her throne, and after many wanderings, she was seized by a giant and confined in a dungeon of this castle, where she has been for twenty years. The wild man, who hath so long accompanied thee, is thy brother. You were both lost in the forest of Orleans. Thou wert found and brought up under the care of King Pepin thy uncle, but thy brother was stolen and nurtured by a bear. Proceed to France with the innocent empress, thy hapless mother. Away, and prosper! These are the last words I shall utter. Fate has decreed, that when Valentine and Orson enter this chamber, my power ends."
Having thus spoken, the brazen head fell from its pedestal, and in the fall was broken into a thousand pieces.
The two youths stood for a moment fixed with astonishment; they then joyfully embraced each other, and rejoined the empress to tell her the extraordinary news they had just heard. Imagine her surprise when she saw before her her two long-lost sons. To describe her emotions on this joyful occasion would be impossible.
After the first transports were over, they prepared for their departure. The stables of the giant's castle furnished them with horses; and everything else necessary for their journey was found in its well-stored recesses. So, taking with them the dwarf as their servant, the whole party proceeded towards France.
The meeting of King Pepin and his dear sister was, we need not say, a happy and joyful one. A courier was immediately despatched to Constantinople to inform the Emperor Alexander of the arrival of his empress at the capital of France. The messenger found him still mourning the loss of his innocent queen, and refusing all comfort from those around him, from the thought that by his own folly and rashness he had been the cause of her banishment and death. The news was like life to the dead; and the emperor, as soon as he had sufficiently collected himself to give the proper orders, set off with his whole court to meet his long-lost queen, and to bring her back in triumph to her throne. His delight was still further increased when he saw the two youths his sons, and embraced them for the first time since they were children.
Great rejoicings, feasts, dances, and tournaments were held in honour of these events in all parts of the French king's dominions; and, in due time, the emperor and his queen, accompanied by Orson, took their departure for their own country. Valentine remained at the court of his uncle, and was shortly after married to the fair Princess Eglantine.
At the death of the monarch they succeeded to the empire, and were blessed with a long and prosperous reign.
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