Author's Note: The title of "Le Soldat et les Trois Soeurs" comes from a short film by the distinguished French director Pascal Aubier. The excerpt from "The Lay of Guigemar" comes from a collection of my new versions of three medieval lays, Willem and the Werewolf (eFitzgerald Publishing).
Le Soldat et les Trois Soeurs
After he woke up, no one was quite sure what to do. They took him to a hotel, nourished his new-formed consciousness with bowls of soup, oatmeal, warm coffee, hot mulled ale; still there was no spark. The oldest sister spiffed up his pillows briskly, changed his sheets, read him Milton and Dryden. The middle sister slipped in beside him, lifted her nightgown, and fitted herself to him, but he lay passive to her ministry. At that the youngest, whose habit it was to sit back, or stretch out flat on her back and watch her sisters work, began to laugh. Her laugh was high and light, like a cat’s yawn. He began to laugh too, like a banshee.
excerpt from The Lay of Guigemar
From The Lay Of Guigemar, by Marie de France A new adaptation by Tad Richards Our story starts in France, in Brittany. This baron had a son named Guigemar, Skilled in the sword and mace, in archery. None were his equal in the arts of war, Not in Lorraine, Anjou, or Gascony; Yet fair and just, and steadfast as a star: In Germany, in England or in Spain, They’d heard his name to rival Charlemagne. Add to this reputation far and wide A face so fair as though Apollo’s son. How many maidens wished themselves his bride! Or even for a bit of ribald fun, And yet it mattered not how many tried; The total of his conquests numbered none. In tournaments he wore no maiden’s glove, Nature had cursed him thus: he could not love. No matter how a maid might work a wile, Or leave her bodice partially unlaced Or show a bit of ankle to beguile, For all of that, his heart had never raced, His pulse had never quickened for a smile, He seemed content to live his days out chaste. While some pursued an evening’s revelry, He chose the horse, the hounds, and falconry. In springtime, Guigemar came home, to spend The season with his family, to punt Along the Arz, to wander with a friend Through old familiar woods and fields, to hunt The verdant glens and forests that extend From castle walls down to the riverfront, Refresh himself from turmoil and fatigue Of battle’s harsh demands, and court’s intrigue. At hunt one day, he found that he had strayed Onto a path that wound to left and right, Until he came upon a forest glade. His friends and dogs had moved on out of sight, When suddenly he saw, deep in the shade, A full-grown hind, in color purest white, Her beauty like the pale and crescent moon, Her movement like a strange and haunting tune. The deer as yet did not appear to know Another living creature sojourned there; He stood, and notched an arrow in his bow, The startled hind then bolted from its lair. Guigemar pulled the string, and let it go, The deadly arrow whistled through the air And struck its mark; the deer let out a cry, The arrow ricocheted, and pierced his thigh. He pulled the missile from his leg, which bled Profusely as he dragged himself to where The beast lay dying, wounded in the head. They locked eyes. Guigemar was stunned to hear The creature speaking words to him. It said: “Attend me now, bold hunter, have a care! I soon must die, but your fate will be worse; Your wound is deep, but deeper still this curse.” “What is this curse you say I must endure?” “Your wound is sore and deep, and will not heal, No doctor nor no witch will find a cure; The pain will burrow deep until you feel As deep within your heart, a love that’s pure. Until you’re turned like clay upon love’s wheel, Until you feel the pain that love can bring, That wound you got from me will burn and sting.” “Alas,” said Guigemar, “this curse you speak May never lift—I am insensible To love and all the sorrow it can wreak, And all the joys. I’ve never felt love’s pull.” “Until you suffer for a woman’s cheek And she for yours—until your heart is full, This wound of yours will never find surcease. Now go away and let me die in peace.
©2022 Tad Richards
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