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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter VII. Caradoc Briefbras; or, Caradoc with the Shrunken Arm
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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter VII. Caradoc Briefbras; or, Caradoc with the Shrunken Arm Post by :ckster0905 Category :Nonfictions Author :Thomas Bulfinch Date :January 2011 Read :2771

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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter VII. Caradoc Briefbras; or, Caradoc with the Shrunken Arm

Caradoc was the son of Ysenne, the beautiful niece of Arthur. He
was ignorant who his father was, till it was discovered in the
following manner: When the youth was of proper years to receive
the honors of knighthood, King Arthur held a grand court for the
purpose of knighting him. On this occasion a strange knight
presented himself, and challenged the knights of Arthur's court to
exchange blow for blow with him. His proposal was this--to lay his
neck on a block for any knight to strike, on condition that, if he
survived the blow, the knight should submit in turn to the same
experiment. Sir Kay, who was usually ready to accept all
challenges, pronounced this wholly unreasonable, and declared that
he would not accept it for all the wealth in the world. And when
the knight offered his sword, with which the operation was to be
performed, no person ventured to accept it, till Caradoc, growing
angry at the disgrace which was thus incurred by the Round Table,
threw aside his mantle and took it. "Do you do this as one of the
best knights?" said the stranger. "No," he replied, "but as one of
the most foolish." The stranger lays his head upon the block,
receives a blow which sends it rolling from his shoulders, walks
after it, picks it up, replaces it with great success, and says he
will return when the court shall be assembled next year, and claim
his turn. When the anniversary arrived, both parties were punctual
to their engagement. Great entreaties were used by the king and
queen, and the whole court, in behalf of Caradoc, but the stranger
was inflexible. The young knight laid his head upon the block, and
more than once desired him to make an end of the business, and not
keep him longer in so disagreeable a state of expectation. At last
the stranger strikes him gently with the side of the sword, bids
him rise, and reveals to him the fact that he is his father, the
enchanter Eliaures, and that he gladly owns him for a son, having
proved his courage and fidelity to his word.

But the favor of enchanters is short-lived and uncertain. Eliaures
fell under the influence of a wicked woman, who, to satisfy her
pique against Caradoc, persuaded the enchanter to fasten on his
arm a serpent, which remained there sucking at his flesh and
blood, no human skill sufficing either to remove the reptile or
alleviate the torments which Caradoc endured.

Caradoc was betrothed to Guimier, sister to his bosom friend,
Cador, and daughter to the king of Cornwall. As soon as they were
informed of his deplorable condition, they set out for Nantes,
where Caradoc's castle was, that Guimier might attend upon him.
When Caradoc heard of their coming, his first emotion was that of
joy and love. But soon he began to fear that the sight of his
emaciated form, and of his sufferings, would disgust Guimier; and
this apprehension became so strong, that he departed secretly from
Nantes, and hid himself in a hermitage. He was sought far and near
by the knights of Arthur's court, and Cador made a vow never to
desist from the quest till he should have found him. After long
wandering, Cador discovered his friend in the hermitage, reduced
almost to a skeleton, and apparently near his death. All other
means of relief having already been tried in vain, Cador at last
prevailed on the enchanter Eliaures to disclose the only method
which could avail for his rescue. A maiden must be found, his
equal in birth and beauty, and loving him better than herself, so
that she would expose herself to the same torment to deliver him.
Two vessels were then to be provided, the one filled with sour
wine, and the other with milk. Caradoc must enter the first, so
that the wine should reach his neck, and the maiden must get into
the other, and, exposing her bosom upon the edge of the vessel,
invite the serpent to forsake the withered flesh of his victim for
this fresh and inviting food. The vessels were to be placed three
feet apart, and as the serpent crossed from one to the other. a
knight was to cut him in two. If he failed in his blow, Caradoc
would indeed be delivered, but it would be only to see his fair
champion suffering the same cruel and hopeless torment. The sequel
may be easily foreseen. Guimier willingly exposed herself to the
perilous adventure, and Cador, with a lucky blow, killed the
serpent. The arm in which Caradoc had suffered so long recovered
its strength, but not its shape, in consequence of which he was
called Caradoc Briefbras, Caradoc of the Shrunken Arm.

Caradoc and Guimier are the hero and heroine of the ballad Of the
"Boy and the Mantle," which follows:


"In Carlisle dwelt King Arthur,
A prince of passing might,
And there maintained his Table Round,
Beset with many a knight.

"And there he kept his Christmas,
With mirth and princely cheer,
When lo! a strange and cunning boy
Before him did appear.

"A kirtle and a mantle
This boy had him upon,
With brooches, rings, and ouches,
Full daintily bedone.

"He had a sash of silk
About his middle meet;
And thus with seemly curtesie
He did King Arthur greet:

"'God speed thee, brave King Arthur.
Thus feasting in thy bower,
And Guenever, thy goodly queen,
That fair and peerless flower.

"'Ye gallant lords and lordlings,
I wish you all take heed,
Lest what ye deem a blooming rose
Should prove a cankered weed.'

"Then straightway from his bosom
A little wand he drew;
And with it eke a mantle,
Of wondrous shape and hue.

"'Now have thou here, King Arthur,
Have this here of me,
And give unto thy comely queen,
All shapen as you see.

"'No wife it shall become,
That once hath been to blame.'
Then every knight in Arthur's court
Sly glanced at his dame.

"And first came Lady Guenever,
The mantle she must try.
This dame she was new-fangled, (1)
And of a roving eye.

"When she had taken the mantle,
And all with it was clad,
From top to toe it shivered down,
As though with shears beshred.

"One while it was too long,
Another while too short,
And wrinkled on her shoulders,
In most unseemly sort.

"Now green, now red it seemed,
Then all of sable hue;
'Beshrew me,' quoth King Arthur,
'I think thou be'st not true!'

"Down she threw the mantle,
No longer would she stay;
But, storming like a fury,
To her chamber flung away.

"She cursed the rascal weaver,
That had the mantle wrought;
And doubly cursed the froward imp
Who thither had it brought.

I had rather live in deserts,
Beneath the greenwood tree,
Than here, base king, among thy grooms
The sport of them and thee.'

"Sir Kay called forth his lady,
And bade her to come near:
'Yet dame, if thou be guilty,
I pray thee now forbear.'

"This lady, pertly giggling,
With forward step came on,
And boldly to the little boy
With fearless face is gone.

"When she had taken the mantle,
With purpose for to wear,
It shrunk up to her shoulder,
And left her back all bare.

"Then every merry knight,
That was in Arthur's court,
Gibed and laughed and flouted,
To see that pleasant sport.

"Down she threw the mantle,
No longer bold or gay,
But, with a face all pale and wan
To her chamber slunk away.

"Then forth came an old knight
A pattering o'er his creed,
And proffered to the little boy
Five nobles to his meed:

"'And all the time of Christmas
Plum-porridge shall be thine,
If thou wilt let my lady fair
Within the mantle shine.'

"A saint his lady seemed,
With step demure and slow,
And gravely to the mantle
With mincing face doth go.

"When she the same had taken
That was so fine and thin,
It shrivelled all about her,
And showed her dainty skin.

"Ah! little did her mincing,
Or his long prayers bestead;
She had no more hung on her
Than a tassel and a thread.

"Down she threw the mantle,
With terror and dismay,
And with a face of scarlet
To her chamber hied away.

"Sir Cradock called his lady,
And bade her to come near:
'Come win this mantle, lady,
And do me credit here:

"'Come win this mantle, lady,
For now it shall be thine,
If thou hast never done amiss,
Since first I made thee mine.'

"The lady, gently blushing,
With modest grace came on;
And now to try the wondrous charm
Courageously is gone.

"When she had ta'en the mantle,
And put it on her back,
About the hem it seemed
To wrinkle and to crack.

"'Lie still,' she cried, 'O mantle!
And shame me not for naught;
I'll freely own whate'er amiss
Or blameful I have wrought.

"'Once I kissed Sir Cradock
Beneath the greenwood tree;
Once I kissed Sir Cradock's mouth,
Before he married me.'

"When she had thus her shriven,
And her worst fault had told,
The mantle soon became her,
Right comely as it should.

"Most rich and fair of color,
Like gold it glittering shone,
And much the knights in Arthur's court
Admired her every one."

(Footnote 1: New-fangled--fond of novelty.)

The ballad goes on to tell of two more trials of a similar kind,
made by means of a boar's head and a drinking horn, in both of
which the result was equally favorable with the first to Sir
Cradock and his lady. It then concludes as follows:

"Thus boar's head, horn, and mantle
Were this fair couple's meed;
And all such constant lovers,
God send them well to speed"

--Percy's Reliques.

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