A Good Son Saves His Noble Parents From Great Peril

July 30, 2020

All “infants” had not the impudence of Roland. Some of them at the age of twelve were already grave and steady, and regarded life in its true light. I do not wish to close the few pages which I have devoted to the virtues of our budding knights without having traced, rapidly, a portrait of one of these damoiseaux of high lineage and proud air who were devoted to duty and to duty alone. I will call this portrait simply “a son,” and I regret very much that Victor Hugo has never found a place for him in his magnificent gallery of his Legend of the Centuries. It is more beautiful than Aymerillot.

“A son!” We must first picture to ourselves the authority of a father of the Feudal period. Although he lived with his family every day and all day, he was rather feared than loved, and thus embodied the old proverb, E longinquo auctoritas. The children began by trembling in the presence of their father, but subsequently embraced him. All his sons fixed their regard upon him with a view to resemble him, and were ready to take up the sword in his defense. It was a kind of patriarchal life mingled with military roughness, of which there is no need to exaggerate either the beauty or the rudeness. The following tale is authentic and will vouch for this, for it is more historical than many histories. It came to pass at one time that the English people in London were very much interested in a young Frenchman, about twelve years old, who had recently arrived at Dover, and had resided in London for some few days. Everyone was talking of this extraordinary youth. He was very handsome, and none of his contemporaries could compare with him any more than a magpie can compare with a falcon. Who would not have admired him, he was so adroit with the bow, so clever in fencing! But, above everything, so generous! All day he would be giving away rich furs, horses, and falcons.

So one can imagine that it was easy enough to be clothed in London at that time free of expense. One had only to go to the young Frenchman’s house, where a number of servants were ready and willing to distribute cloaks, pelisses and other garments to the applicants. All the poor people knew the way to this blessed mansion. The King had taken the youthful valet into his service, and all the châtelaines in England united in a chorus of praise of his beauty and accomplishments. His mother, in France, prayed for him! (His mother was Saint Aida.)

His name was Witasse [Editor: Eustace?]. He was the son of the Count of Boulogne, and the brother of that Godfrey who was destined one day to refuse, so piously, to wear the golden crown in the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Now just at the very time when this damoiseau of Boulogne was making such a sensation in the city of London, it happened that Rainaume, Count of Montreuil (a traitor), took possession of the territory of his lord, the Count of Boulogne, who was dangerously ill; and whilst this eldest son was in England he invaded the province at the head of a thousand knights, pillaged, burned, and committed sacrilege everywhere. The history of the Feudal period is full of acts of violence of this nature, which should be spurned and held in abhorrence by every honest man.

However, in this instance, a courier mounted and rode in hot haste to the castle of the Count of Boulogne with the news.

“Your territory—your whole territory is in flames!” he cried.

The poor count listened in fear and trembling, but anger overcame him and he essayed to rise from his sick bed to punish the traitor, but alas he fell back, unable to get up. The countess tore her hair, and exclaimed:

“My son, my dear son, why are you not here?”

It was at once decided that a message should be dispatched to the young traveler; and then the youth’s mother became comforted, took courage, and supported by her pride became almost sublime.

“I myself,” she exclaimed, “I myself will, in the absence of our son, engage in raising an army. I will find the knights, and trust our son will arrive in time.”

Four days afterwards the Count’s messenger arrived at Dover. He mounted his horse and rode without once getting off the animal’s back until he entered London. He took his meals on horseback, and only stopped three times to drink on the road. He flew along the highways, and at length, almost as exhausted as his poor horse, he was fortunate enough to enter the palace of the King of England.

It happened curiously enough that the messenger arrived exactly at meal-time. It was the dinner hour. A very youthful-looking man was standing behind the king’s chair. The youth had fair hair and was holding a golden cup in his hand. This youth was Witasse.

The messenger came in without any ceremony, took the lad aside and in a few words delivered his message.

“Your father is ill, and a traitor has invaded his territory. Come!”

Without hesitating an instant the valet placed the golden cup in the king’s hand.

“I am not thirsty,” said His Majesty in surprise: “and I did not ask for wine.”

“Take it,” replied the damoiseau, brusquely. “If you do not it will fall to the ground.”

Then, without vouchsafing any further information, he quitted the palace.

People who happened to be traveling between London and Dover that day, gazed in stupefied astonishment at the youth and his attendant who were riding madly along, their horses all covered with foam and sweat. No halting, no pulling up. Quickly—more quickly still. The riders scarcely took time to prostrate themselves before the altar in Canterbury Cathedral when they were again like the wind. “Faster, faster,” was the cry.

At length they came in sight of Dover.

“Who are those sailors?”

“Boulogne fishermen.”

“Quick, a boat! More quickly still! Make haste!”

They reached the shores of Boulogne, and then a terrible sight met the eyes of the youthful traveler, who had come with such tremendous haste from London town. The whole province was in flames.

“Vengeance, vengeance!” he exclaimed.

Witasse then mounted a horse and went forth to encounter the traitor who had thus devastated the Count’s dominions. The young man proved victorious, killed his adversary, and then without a word returned to England. He had avenged his father.

Some days afterwards, as midday was being recorded by the convent bells, the King of England sat down to dine. He at once perceived a youth with fair hair and merry eye, who tendered to him his golden cup of wine. The valet was quite covered with dust, and strange to relate was wearing spurs.

Roland de Roncevaux. The statue of Roland, is located in the centre of the town hall square in front of the House of Blackheads in Riga, Latvia. Photo by Patrick Mayon

“Whence come you, Witasse?” asked the king, who suspected his page had absented himself upon some adventure of an amours nature.

“I come from a certain place,” replied the young man proudly, “a place whither none could have proceeded in my stead.”

Modestly, he remained silent, and rather concealed the facts: he never mentioned his great filial devotion. The king was not made acquainted with the circumstances till long afterwards, and was full of admiration.

“We must make a knight of him at once,” he cried.

Next day Witasse, the model son, was no longer a damoiseau!

 

León Gautier, Chivalry, trans. Henry Frith (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1891), 197–200.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 737

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