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Chapter 4

CHAPTER IV.
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 only be 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.

THE BOY AND THE MANTLE.

In Carlisle dwelt King Arthur,
A prince of passing might,
And there maintained his Table
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*
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 the 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 taken 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.

* 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.

Thomas Bulfinch