This is a ‘werewolf' tale rather like Marie de France's ‘Bisclavret', but longer and with more action. The rights and wrongs of the case are left ambiguous: Melion's attitude to women is clearly unacceptable and he gets what is coming to him, yet at the end of the story he is still unrepentant – in fact he doesn't even realise that he has done anything wrong. His wife's motivation is never explicitly stated, but it would be possible to argue that she acted to avenge the honour of all women against Melion. It seems likely that the question of ‘right' and ‘wrong' is left deliberately undecided, for the audience to debate after the recitation is over.
This translation is from Les Lais anonymes des XIIe et XIIIe siècles, ed Prudence M. O'Hara Tobin (Geneva, 1976). Translation copyright 1988, 1999, by Helen Nicholson.
Here begins ‘Melion’
At the time when King Arthur reigned (he who conquered lands and who gave rich gifts to knights and to warriors) he had with him a bachelor; I’ve heard him called Melion. Melion was very courteous and doughty indeed, and made himself loved by all; he possessed very great knighthood and was courteous company. The king had a very rich retinue, throughout the whole world he was praised for courtesy and for prowess and for goodness and for generosity.
On this day they were making their vows, and note that they kept them. This Melion vowed one which brought great evil on him. He said that he would never love a girl, no matter how noble and pretty she was, who had loved any other man, or had spoken of any.
It was so a long time. Those who had heard the vow repeated it in many places and told it to the girls, and when the girls heard it they hated him bitterly. Those who were in the royal chambers and served the queen – there were more than a hundred – held a council: they said that they would never love him nor speak to him, no lady wished to look at him, no girl speak to him. When Melion heard this, he sighed deeply; he did not wish to seek adventure any more, nor had he any wish to bear arms; he was very sad, very downcast, and he quite lost his reputation. The king knew about this and it troubled him greatly. He had Melion sent for and he spoke to him.
‘Melion,’ said King Arthur, ‘what’s happened to your great sense, your reputation, and your knighthood? Say what’s wrong with you, don’t keep it to yourself. If you wish for land or manor, or anything else you could have, if it is within my royal power, your shall have it as you wish. Willingly I will restore you to health,’ the king said, ‘if I can. I have a castle by the sea, in all this world is not its equal, it has beautiful woods for hunting and river banks for hawking, and it has a very valuable forest. I will give you this to aid your recovery. You will certainly be able to relax completely there.’
The king gave it to him in fief,.Melion thanked him for it. He went to his castle; he took 100 knights there. The country pleased him, and he liked the wood very much. When he had been there a year, he had come to love the country greatly, for he asked for no other distraction than what he found in the forest.
One day Melion and his foresters had gone hunting. With him were his hunters, who had a great affection for him, for he was their liege lord and all honour was mirrored in him. They soon found a great stag; they soon caught and broke it up. He stopped in a great clearing to listen out for the call. With him was a squire; in his hand he held two greyhounds. In the clearing, which was green and pretty, Melion saw a girl coming on a lovely palfrey; its trappings were very costly. She was wearing a dress of scarlet samite, which was very well sewn with laces, and at her neck a mantle of ermine – a queen never wore a better. A lovely body and fair shoulders; her hair was blonde; little mouth, well moulded and coloured like a rose; blue eyes, clear and laughing; she was very beautiful in every appearance; she was coming alone, without company, she was very comely indeed, and slender.
Melion went to meet her. He greeted her very politely. ‘Lovely one,’ he said, ‘I greet you in the name of the glorious King Jesus. Tell me where you were born, and what has brought you here.’
She replied, ‘I will tell you, for I will never lie in a word: I am of high birth enough, and born of noble lineage. I have come to you from Ireland. Know that I am very much your dear one. I have never loved another man apart from you, nor will I ever love again. I have heard you strongly praised, I would never wish to love another except you alone; never will I ever have love for another.’
When Melion realised that his vows had come about, he embraced her around the waist and kissed her more than thirty times. Then he went for all his men, he told them what had happened. They saw the girl; in the kingdom there was none so beautiful. They led her to the castle and they celebrated joyfully. He married her with great richness and he was very joyful. The festivities lasted fifteen days. He held her three years very dearly; he had two sons of her in the three years and was very happy and joyful at this.
One day he went into the forest, and led his dear wife with him. He found a stag and pursued it. It fled, head down. He had a squire with him, who was carrying his quiver. They entered a great clearing, and looked into the bushes. He saw a very large stag standing there, and looked at his wife, laughing.
‘Lady,’ he said, ‘if I wished, I would show you a very large stag: see it, there in those bushes.’
‘Faith,’ she said, ‘Melion, know that if I don’t have some of that stag, I shall never eat.’ She fell in a swoon from her palfrey, and Melion picked her up. When he could not comfort her, she began to weep bitterly.
‘Lady,’ he said, ‘mercy, for God’s sake, don’t weep any longer, I beg you; I have on my hand such a ring, see it here on my middle finger. It has two stones in the mounting, no one ever saw any made like these; one is white, the other scarlet; you may hear a great marvel of them: touch me with the white, and place it on my head, when I have undressed completely, I will become a wolf, great and running. For love of you, I will catch the stag, and bring you some of the fat. For God’s sake I beg you, wait for me here, and guard my clothes. I leave you with my life and my death; there will be no comfort for me if I am not touched with the other ring, for I will never be a man again.’
He called his squire and commanded him to take off his stockings. The latter came up and took off his lord’s stockings, and Melion went into the wood. He took off his clothes, none was left, he put his cloak around him. She touched him with the ring, when she saw him undressed and naked. Then he became a great running wolf. He had fallen into great trouble!
The wolf went off, running very fast, where he saw the stag lying. Quickly he was on the trail. The struggle was great before he had approached and caught it and had some of the fat.
The lady said to the squire, ‘Now we’ll leave him to hunt.’ She mounted, did not wait any longer, and she took the squire with her. The lady returned straight to Ireland, her country. She went to the harbour, found a ship, and spoke at once to the sailors, that they should take her to Dublin, a city by the sea, which belonged to her father, the king of Ireland; from that moment she had what she requested. As soon as she had come to port she was received with great joy. Here we leave her at that, and talk of Melion.
Melion chased the stag, pressing it hard. He caught it up in the moor, knocked it down at once, then took from it a great steak and carried it off in his mouth. Hastily he returned to where he had left his wife; but he did not find her, she was heading for Ireland. He was very unhappy and did not know what to do when he did not find her in the place. But nevertheless, although he was a wolf he had the reasoning and memory of a man. He waited until it started getting dark; then he saw a ship which was being loaded, which was to sail that night and go straight to Ireland. He went in that direction, waited until night came and entered it without thinking of the risk, for he had no care for his life. Under a hurdle he hid himself, and crouched and lay waiting. The sailors hurried themselves, for they had good wind; they then turned towards Ireland, each had what they wished for. They hauled their sails up, they ran by the sky and by the stars, and the next day as day broke they saw the land of Ireland. And when they came to port, Melion waited no longer, but came out of his hurdle and leapt out on to the sand. The sailors shouted at him, and threw their oars; one hit him with a stick, so that they almost caught him. He was glad when he escaped them.
He went on to a mountain. He looked out for a long time on the country where he knew his enemies. He still had his steak, which he had brought from his land; he was very hungry, so he ate it. The sea had exhausted him.
He went into a forest, found cows and oxen there; he killed and strangled many. There he began his war: he killed more than a hundred at this first beginning. The people who were in the woodland saw the loss of the animals. They ran to the city and told and related to the king that there was a wolf in the forest who was laying the land waste, had killed many of their animals. But the king thought nothing of it.
Melion went through the forest so far, through mountains and through desert, that he had ten wolves accompanying him. He coaxed and flattered them so much that he led them with him, and they did everything he wished. They wandered through the land, mistreating men and women.
They had been a complete year like this and had laid the whole land waste, killed men and women and destroyed the whole land. They knew how to watch out for themselves very well and the king could not trap them. One night they had travelled a long way and they were tired and harassed. They arrived at a wood next to Dublin, on a hill alongside the shore: the wood was next to a plain, all around there was open country. They entered to rest, but they were destroyed and deceived. A peasant saw them – he ran at once to the king. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘in the round wood the eleven wolves are lying.’ When the king heard this, he was very pleased. He addressed his men.
The king called his men. ‘My lords,’ he said, ‘listen here! Know for truth that this man has seen all eleven wolves in my forest.’ They stretched out around the wood the nets in which they used to catch pigs. When they were all stretched out, the king mounted; he did not wait any longer. His daughter said that she would come with him and see the wolf hunt. At once they went to the wood, quietly and in secret; they surrounded the wood completely, for there was a great number of men there, who were carrying axes and maces, and some bare swords. As well as that there were 1,000 hounds crying out who soon found the wolves. Melion saw that he was betrayed; he saw clearly that he was in a bad position. The dogs came bearing down on them and they went fleeing to the nets. They were all torn apart and killed. Not a single one escaped alive except Melion, who escaped by throwing himself over the nets; he went away into a great wood; he escaped from them by cleverness. The hunters returned to the city, where the king made himself very happy.
The king was very joyful that he had ten of the eleven wolves, for he was very well revenged on the wolves: none had escaped except one. His daughter said: ‘That’s the biggest. He will still make them all regret it.’
When Melion escaped, he climbed up a mountain. He was very sad,as it weighed on him greatly about his wolves that he had lost. He had laboured hard for a long time, but now he will soon be rescued. King Arthur was coming to Ireland, for he wished to make a peace. They had been at war in the country, and he wished to reconcile the enemies. He wished to go and conquer the Romans, and he wished to lead them with him in his war. The king came discreetly, he did not bring many people; twenty knights he brought with him. It was very good weather, and he had a good wind. The ship was very rich and great, there was a good pilot; it was well furnished, provisioned well with men and arms. Their shields were hung out, Melion recognised them; first he knew Gawain’s shield, then he recognised Ywain’s shield, then King Idel’s shield (Ydier); this all pleased him and he thought that it was fine. He recognised the king’s shield well. Note truly, he had great joy when he saw it! – he was very glad and rejoiced very much for he believed that he could still find mercy. Towards the land they came sailing, but the wind came against them so that they could not enter the port; then there was great discomfort.
They turned to another port, two leagues from the city. There used to be a great castle there, but now it was all ruined, and when they arrived it was night; it had become dark.
The king arrived at the port. He was very tired and harassed, for the ship had made him very sick. He called the seneschal.
‘Go out,’ he said, ‘see outside there where I can sleep tonight.’ The seneschal returned to the ship, called the chamberlains.
‘Go out,’ he said, ‘outside with me, and we’ll prepare the king’s lodging.’
They went out of the ship and came to the lodging; they had two candles carried and they had them lit very quickly. They carry quilts and carpets; it was well furnished hastily. Then the king disembarked and came straight to the lodging. And when he had entered, he was pleased when he found it so good.
Melion did not hesitate. He went on to meet the ship, he halted near to the castle; he recognised them very well. He knows well if he does not have comfort from the king, he will receive death in Ireland; but he does not know how to go on. He is a wolf, he cannot speak; and nevertheless he will go on and put himself at the mercy of fortune. He came to the king’s door. He knew all the warriors; he did not stop, he went straight to the king, although he is in danger of death. He lets himself fall at the king’s feet, he does not wish to get up again; at which you would have seen astonishment there. The king said: ‘I see marvels! This wolf has come here to me. Now, you should be well aware that he is under my protection, no one dare to touch or approach him!’ When the food was ready, the lords washed, the king washed and sat down. Before them cloths were laid. The king called Ydel, and sat him at his side.
At the king’s feet lay Melion, he knew all the lords well. The king looked at him often; he gave him a piece of bread and he ate it. The king began to marvel. He said to King Ydel: ‘Look, be sure that this wolf is tame.’ The king gave him a piece of meat and he willingly ate it. Then Gawain said, ‘Lords, see, this wolf is completely turned against nature.’ All the lords said between themselves that no one had ever seen such a courteous wolf.
The king had the wine brought before the wolf in a basin. The wolf saw it and he drank some. You may be sure that he desired it greatly; he drank enough of the wine and the king saw him do so very clearly.
When they had got up from eating, and the lords had washed, they went out on to the beach; the wolf was always with the king, he could not find anywhere to go where the wolf could be taken from him. When the king wished to go to bed, he ordered his bed to be prepared, he went to sleep, he was very tired, and the wolf went with him; he could not be separated from him. He went to lie at the king’s feet.
The king of Ireland had had messages that Arthur had come to him. He was very pleased and rejoiced greatly at it. Very early, at dawn, he rose; he went down to the port. He took his lords with him and they journeyed straight to the port. They greeted each other very warmly, Arthur showed him great friendship, and did him great honour. When he saw him coming towards him, he did not at all wish to act proudly; he got up and kissed him. The horses are ready, they wait no longer, they are mounted, now they will go towards the city.
The king mounts his palfrey, he took good care of his wolf, who did not wish to leave him, and was always at his stirrup. The king of Ireland was very joyful with Arthur. The escort was rich and large. They came to Dublin, and dismounted before the great hall. When the king went up into the keep (donjon) the wolf held him by the skirt of his robes; when King Arthur was seated, the wolf set himself at his feet.
The king looked at his wolf. He called him beside the dais. The two kings sat together. There was a very rich company there, and the lords were served very well. Everywhere throughout the house they were very plentifully served. But Melion looked, and recognised in the middle of the hall the squire whom his wife had brought. He knew well that he has crossed the sea and had come into Ireland.
He went to seize him by the shoulder. The other could not hold out against him; Melion knocked him down in the hall. He would have killed and destroyed him on the spot if it were not for the king’s servants, who saw the great disturbance. From every part of the hall, they brought wooden clubs and sticks. The wolf would have been killed there and then, when King Arthur cried out. ‘Don’t you dare touch him,’ he said, ‘Faith! Know that this wolf is mine.’
Ydel said, son of Urien (?Ywain), ‘Lords, you are not doing right; if the wolf did not hate the lad, he would not have touched him.’
And the king said, ‘Ydel, you’re right.’
Arthur went down from the dais, and went to the wolf. He said to the young man: ‘You will confess why he caught you, or you die.’
Melion looked at the king and tightened his grip on the lad. The lad cried out and asked mercy from the king, and said that he will tell the truth. At once he told the king how the lady had brought him, how she had touched Melion with the ring and led him to Ireland. He said and admitted everything, as it had happened to him.
Arthur called the king of Ireland: ‘Now I know well that this is true; I am very glad about my warrior. Have the ring brought to me, and your daughter who carried it off; she has tricked him wickedly.’
The king turned away, went into his chamber, took King Ydel with him. He flattered and coaxed his daughter so much that she gave him the ring. He brought it to King Arthur. As soon as he saw the ring, Melion knew it well. He went to the king and knelt before him and kissed his two feet. King Arthur wanted to touch him, but Gawain would not allow it. ‘Good uncle,’ he said, ‘don’t! Take him into a chamber, one to one privately, so that he is not embarrassed by the crowd.’
The king called Gawain, and took Ydel with him too; he led them into a chamber. When he was in, he shut the door. He placed the ring on the wolf’s head. He face appeared like a man’s, all his figure changed, then he became a man and spoke. He let himself fall at the king’s feet. They had him covered with a mantle. When they saw him formed as a man, they rejoiced a great deal. The king wept with compassion over him, and as he wept asked him how this had happened to him; they had lost him through sin. He had his chamberlain sent for, he had rich clothes brought for him; he dressed and groomed him well and led him into the hall. They were amazed throughout the house when they saw Melion coming.
The king of Ireland brought out his daughter and presented her to Arthur to do all his will with her, whether he wished to burn or dismember her. Melion said, ‘I will touch her with the stone, I will not let her off.’ Arthur said to him, ‘You will not! For the sake of your lovely children you will leave it.’ All the warriors begged him, and Melion granted their request.
King Arthur stayed until he had brought peace in the war. He went to his own country, taking Melion with him. Melion was very glad and had great joy. He left his wife in Ireland, he commended her to the devils. She would never again be loved by him, because she had reduced him to such a state as you have heard in the story. He never wished to take her back, he would rather let her be burnt or hanged. Melion said, ‘It will always happen that whoever believes his wife in everything will be ruined in the end. He ought not to believe all she says.’
The lay of Melion is true, all the warriors say this for certain.
Explicit on Melion.
Here ends Melion