Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

A haunted knight

A squire at the count de Foix's court tells Froissart another story.

Book III, ch. 9 (Johnes, v. 2, pp. 99-100).  I saw him frequently afterwards in the hôtel de Foix, when we had always some conversation. I once asked him about sir Peter de Béarn, bastard-brother to the count, who seemed to me a
knight of great valour, and if he were rich or married. "Married indeed he is," replied he, "but neither his wife nor children live with him."

"For what reason?" said I.

"I will tell you," replied the squire.

"Sir Peter de Béarn has a custom, when asleep in the night-time, to rise, arm himself, draw his sword, and to begin fighting as if he were in actual combat. The chamberlains and valets who sleep in his chamber to watch him, on hearing him rise, go to  him, and inform him what he is doing: of all which, he tells them, he is quite ignorant, and that they lie. Sometimes they leave neither arms nor sword in his chamber, when he makes such a noise and clatter as if all the devils in hell were there. They therefore think it best to replace the arms, and sometimes he forgets
them, and remains quietly in his bed."

I again asked, if he had a large fortune with his wife.

"Yes, in God's name had he," says the squire; " but the lady keeps possession of it, and enjoys
the profits, except a fourth part, which sir Peter has."

"And where does his lady reside?"

"She lives with her cousin the king of Castille:  her father was count of Biscay and cousin-german to don Pedro, who put him to death. lie wanted also to hay hands on this lady, to confine her. He seized her hands, and as long as he lived she received nothing from them. It was told her, when, by the deaths of her father, she became countess of Biscay,' Lady, save yourself; for if don Pedro lay hands on you, he will put you to death, or at least imprison you, for he is much enraged that you should say he strangled his queen, sister to the duke of Bourbon and the queen of France, in her bed; and your evidence is more readily believed than any other, for you were of her bed-chamber.' For this reason, the countess Florence de Biscaye quitted
the country with few attendants, as one naturally wishes to fly from death, passed through Biscay and came hither, when she told my lord her history.

"The count, who is kind and affectionate to all ladies and damsels, had compassion on her, detained her at his court, and placed her with the lady de la Karasse, a great baroness of this country, and provided her with all things suitable to her rank. Sir Peter de Béarn, his brother, was at that time a young knight, and had not then this custom of fighting in his sleep, but was much in the good graces of the count, who concluded a marriage for him with this lady, and recovered her lands from don Pedro. She has a
son and daughter by sir Peter, but they are young, and with her in Castille, for she would not leave them with their father; and she has the right of enjoying the greater part of her own lands."

"Holy Mary!" said I to the squire, "how came the knight. to have such fancies, that he cannot sleep quietly in bed, but must rise and skirmish about the house! this is very strange."

"By my faith," answered the squire, "they have frequently asked him, but he knows nothing about it. Thin first time it happened, was on the night following a day when he had hunted a wonderfully large bear in the woods of Béarn. This bear had killed four of his dogs and wounded many more, so that the others were afraid of him; upon which sir Peter drew his sword of Bordeaux steel, and advanced on the bear with great rage, on account of the loss of his dogs: he combated him a long time with much
bodily danger, and with great, difficulty slew him, when he returned to his castle of Languedudon, in Biscay, and had the bear carried with him.  Every one was astonished at the enormous size of the beast, and the courage of the knight who had attacked and slain it.

"When the countess of Biscay, his wife, saw the bear, she instantly fainted, and was carried to her chamber, where she continued very disconsolate all that and the following day, and would not say what ailed her. On the third day she told her husband 'she should never recover her health until she had made a pilgrimage to St. James's shrine at Compostella. Give me leave, therefore, to go thither, and to carry my son Peter and my daughter Adrienne with me: I request it of you.'
Sir Peter too easily complied: she had packed up all her jewels and plate unobserved by any one; for she had resolved never to return again.

The lady set out on her pilgrimage, and took that opportunity of visiting her cousins the king and queen of Castille, who entertained her handsomely. She is still with them, and will neither return herself nor send her children. The same night he had hunted and killed the hear, this custom of walking in his sleep seized him.

"It is rumoured, the lady was afraid of something unfortunate happening, the moment she saw the bear, and this caused her fainting; for that her father once hunted this hear, and during the chace, a voice cried out, though he saw nobody, 'Thou huntest me: yet I wish thee no ill; but thou shalt die a miserable death.' The lady remembered this when she saw time bear, as well as that her father had been beheaded by don Pedro without any cause; and she maintains that something unfortunate will happen to her husband; and that what passes now is nothing to what will come to pass. I have told you the story of sir Peter de Béarn," said the squire, "in compliance with your wishes: it is a well-known fact; and what do you think of it?"

I was very pensive at the wonderful things I had heard, and replied, "I do believe everything you have said: we find in ancient authors how gods and goddesses formerly changed men into beasts, according to their pleasure, and women also into birds. This bear, therefore, might have been a knight hunting in the forest of Biscay, when he, perchance, angered some god or goddess, who changed him into a bear, to do penance, as Acteon was transformed into a stag"

" Acteon!" cried the squire: " my good sir, do relate it, for I shah be very happy to listen to you."

"According to ancient authors, we read that Acteon was a handsome and accomplished knight, who loved dogs and the chace above all things. He was once hunting a stag of a prodigious size: the chace lasted the whole day, when he lost his men and his hounds; but, eager in pursuing the stag, he came to a large meadow, surrounded by high trees, in which was a fountain, where the goddess of Chastity and her nymphs were bathing themselves. The knight came upon them so suddenly that they were not aware of him, and he had advanced so far he could not retreat.

"The nymphs, in their fright, ran to cover their mistress, whose modesty was wounded at thus being seen naked. She viewed the knight over the heads of her attendants, and said. 'Acteon, whoever has sent thee hither has no great love for thee: I will not, that when thou shalt go hence, thou brag of having seen me naked, as well as my nymphs; and for the outrage thou hast committed, thou shalt perform a penance.  I change thee, therefore, into the form of the stag thou hast this day hunted.'  He was instantly transformed into a stag, who naturally loves waters.

"Thus it may have happened with regard to the bear whose history you have told me, and the countess may have had some knowledge or some fears which at the moment she would not discover: she therefore ought to be excused for what she has done." The squire answered, " It may perchance be so;" and thus ended our conversation.

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