King's Cross

Old French Tales from Brittany

Marie de France: The Story of Guigemar

12th century, Old French: British Library, Bibliothèque Nationale Paris.

The deer fell very badly hurt; but incredibly, the arrow bounced off the deer’s skull, flew back through the air and transfixed Guigemar through the thigh.

Guigemar returned to Brittany for a few weeks, to visit his parents and his sister, and the desire came upon him one day to go hunting. Knights were gathered and they all went off into the forest where they were very soon able to unleash their dogs at a large deer. In the ensuing tumult, Guigemar found himself left behind when suddenly, he came across a snow-white hind in a thicket. Letting the rest of the hunt go on ahead, he shot an arrow towards the animal as it bolted, having been startled from its refuge. The shaft flew through the air and hit the creature on the front of the head, knocking it to the forest floor where it lay very badly hurt; but incredibly, the arrow bounced off the deer’s skull, flew back through the air and transfixed Guigemar through the thigh, pinning his leg to his horse. Guigemar dismounted and, bleeding profusely, limped and fell beside the creature which lay fatally injured on the ground.

'Alas! you have wounded me terribly,' it cried, 'and you will receive no cure for your own injury until you are healed by a woman whom you must learn to love with the same intensity as she loves you. Now go, and let me die in peace.'

Guigemar lifted himself from the ground and asked his squire to go and fetch all his companions. Then he bound his wound with his shirt as best he could, limped with great difficulty back to his horse, mounted, and rode off through the forest. Desiring suddenly to be alone, and not wishing his companions to find him, he followed a path that came out at last into an open plain. A distant mountain fed a stream that ran down to a harbour, and in the harbour was a single ship lying as though ready to sail. Approaching this ship, Guigemar saw that it was made of ebony; it was black, and the sail was of silk.

Guigemar was deeply worried, for he had no idea that such a plain existed beside the forest and there should be no harbour, to his knowledge, anywhere within the district.

'So which of them did the arrow actually kill?' said Quintin.

Story fragment retold from: Burgess, Glyn S., and Busby, Keith, 1986. The Lais of Marie de France. Translated from Old French with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. Guigemar, pp 43–55.

broomstick

The Breton lai of Guigemar, abridged and retold.

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