THE FAIR UNKNOWN
Retold by F. J. H. Darton
Sir Gawain had a son, and he was fair to look on, bright of face and
well-favoured in body. He was named Geynleyn. But for love of his fair
face his mother called him Beau-fys, and no other name; and he never
asked her what he was truly called, for Sir Gawain had wedded this
lady secretly, and none knew that he was Geynleyn's father. On a
certain day Geynleyn went to the woods to hunt the deer, and there he
found a knight in gay armour, lying slain. Geynleyn wondered thereat;
but in a little time he took off the knight's garments, and clad
himself in the rich armour; and when he had done this, he went to
Glastonbury, where King Arthur lay at that time. He came into the hall
before the knights and greeted them.
"King Arthur, my lord," he said, "grant that I may speak a word, I
pray you. I would fain be made a knight."
"Tell me your name," answered King Arthur, "for since I was born I
never saw before me one so fair to look on."
"I know not what is my true name," answered the lad. "While I was at
home, my mother, jesting, called me Beau-fys, and nought else."
Then said Arthur the king, "This is a wondrous thing, that the boy
should know not his name when he would become a knight; and yet he is
full fair of face. Now will I give him a name before you all. Let him
be called Le Beau Disconus, which is to say, 'The fair unknown': so is
he to be named." Thereupon King Arthur made him a knight, and gave
him bright arms, and girt him with a sword, and hung round him a
shield wrought with the design of a griffin. Sir Gawain took charge of
him to teach him knightly ways.
When Le Beau Disconus had been made a knight, he asked yet another
boon of the king. "My lord," he said, "I should be right glad in heart
if I might have the first fight that is asked of you."
"I grant your asking," answered Arthur the king, "whatsoever the
combat be. But you seem too young to do well in a great fight."
Then they sat down to feast. Not long had they feasted ere there came
a maiden riding, and a dwarf beside her, in a great heat as though
with haste. This maid was called Elene the bright and gentle; no
countess or queen could be her equal in loveliness. She was richly
clad, and the saddle and bridle of her milk-white steed were full of
diamonds. Her dwarf wore silk of India; a stout and bold man was he,
and his beard, yellow as wax, hanged down to his girdle. His shoes
were decked with gold, and truly seemed a knight that felt no poverty.
His name was Teondelayn; he was skilled in playing all musical
The dwarf spoke to the maiden, and bade her tell her errand, and lose
no time. She knelt in the hall before all the knights, and greeted
them with honour, and said, "Never was sadder tidings than I bring. My
lady of Synadown is brought into a strong prison; she prays King
Arthur to send her a knight of stout courage, to win her out of
Up started the young knight Le Beau Disconus; his courage was stout
and high. "Arthur, my lord," he said, "I shall take up this combat,
and win the lady bright, if you are true to your word."
"Certain it is that I have promised even so," said King Arthur. "God
grant you grace and might."
Then Elene began to complain, and said, "Alas that I was ever sent
hither! Now will the word go forth that Arthur's manhood is lost, if
you send a witless and wild child to deal doughty blows, when there
are here knights of proved valour, Launcelot, Percevale, and Gawain."
Le Beau Disconus answered, "Never yet was I afraid of any man; I have
learned to fight with spear and sword. I will take the battle, and
never forsake it, as is Arthur's law."
Then said Arthur, "Maiden, you get no other knight of me. If you think
him not man enough, go get another of greater might where you can."
The maid said no more; but for wrath she would neither drink nor eat
at their feast, but sat down with her dwarf till the tables were taken
King Arthur bade four of the best knights of the Round Table arm Le
Beau Disconus straightway in arms true and perfect. "Through the help
of Christ, he shall hold to his word, and be a good champion to the
lady of Synadown, and uphold all her rights," he said.
When he was armed Sir Le Beau Disconus sprang on his horse and
received the king's blessing, and set forth a-riding with the maiden
and the dwarf. Till the third day she railed at the young knight
continually; and on the third day, when they came to a certain place,
she said, "Caitiff, now is your pride undone. This vale before us is
kept by a knight who will fight every man that comes; and his fame is
gone far abroad. William Selebranche is he named, and he is a mighty
warrior. Through heart or thigh of all those who come against him he
thrusts his spear."
"Does he fight so mightily then?" asked Le Beau Disconus. "Has he
never been hit? Whatsoever betides me, against him will I ride and
prove how he fights."
On they rode all three till they came to a castle in a vale. There
they saw a knight in bright armour. He bore a shield of green, with a
device of three lions: and he was that William Selebranche of whom
maid Elene had spoken. When the knight had sight of them he rode
towards them, and said, "Welcome, fair brother. He that rides here,
day or night, must fight with me, or leave his arms here shamefully."
"Now let us pass," said Sir Le Beau Disconus, "We have far to go to
our friends, I and this maid; we must needs speed on our way."
"You shall not escape so," answered William. "Ere you go we will
Then said Le Beau Disconus, "Now I see that it must be so. Make ready
quickly and do your best. Take a course with the spear, if you are a
knight of skill, for I am in haste."
No longer did they wait, but rode together in arms. Le Beau Disconus
smote William in the side with his spear; but William sat firm in his
saddle. Nevertheless so mightily was he struck that his stirrup
leathers were broken, and he swayed over the horse's crupper and fell
to the ground. His steed galloped away, but William started up
speedily. "By my faith, never met I so stout a man," he said. "Now
that my steed is gone, let us fight on foot." They fell to on foot
with falchions. [Footnote: Broad, short swords.] So hard they struck
that sparks flew from their helmets. But William drove his sword
through Le Beau Disconus's shield, and a piece of it fell to the
ground; and thereat Le Beau Disconus was wroth. He smote with his
sword downwards from the crest of William's helmet even to his
hawberk, and shaved off with the point of his blade the knight's
beard, and well-nigh cut the flesh also. Then William smote back so
great a blow that his sword brake in two.
"Let me go alive," cried William at that, seeing himself reft of his
arms. "It were great villainy to do to death an unarmed knight."
"I will spare you," said Le Beau Disconus, "if you swear a vow ere we
go from one another. Kneel down, and swear on my sword to go to King
Arthur, and say to him, 'Lord of renown, a knight sent me hither,
defeated and a prisoner: his name is Le Beau Disconus, of unknown kith
William went upon his knees and took a vow as Le Beau Disconus bade
him, and thus they departed each on his way. William took the road to
Arthur's court; and it chanced that as he went, he met, on that
self-same day, three proud knights, his own sister's sons. "William
our uncle," said they when they saw his wounds and his sorry array,
"who has done you this shame?"
"The man is not to blame," answered William. "He was a knight stout
and stern. One thing only grieves me sorely, that I must at his
bidding go to King Arthur's court." And he told them of his vow.
"You shall be full well avenged," said they. "He alone against us
three is not worth a straw. Go your way, uncle, and fulfil your vow;
and we will assail the traitor ere he be out of this forest." Then
William went on his way to the court of King Arthur.
But the three knights his nephews armed themselves, and leapt on their
steeds, and without more tarrying went after Le Beau Disconus.
Le Beau Disconus knew nought of this, but rode on with the fair maid,
and made great mirth with her, for she had seen that he was a true and
doughty knight. She asked pardon for the ill things she had said
against him at the king's court, and he forgave her this trespass; and
the dwarf was their squire, and served them in all their needs.
At morning when it was day, as they rode on towards Synadown, they saw
three knights in bright mail. They cried to him straightway, "Thief,
turn again and fight."
"I am ready to ride against you all," quoth Le Beau Disconus. He
pricked his horse towards them. The eldest brother (Sir Gower was his
name) ran against him with a spear; but Le Beau Disconus smote him
such a blow that he broke his thigh, and ever thereafter was lame. The
knight groaned for pain, but Le Beau Disconus with might and main
felled him altogether.
The next brother came riding fierce as a lion, as if to cast Le Beau
Disconus down. Like a warrior out of his wits he smote Le Beau
Disconus on his helmet with his sword; he struck so hard that the
blade drove through the helmet and touched the young knight's head.
Then Le Beau Disconus, when he felt the sword touch him, swung his
sword as a madman, and all that he struck he clove through. Though two
were against him—for the third brother also came riding to the
fray—they saw that they had no might to withstand him in his
fury. They yielded up their spears and shields to Le Beau Disconus,
and cried mercy.
"Nay," answered Le Beau Disconus, "you escape not, unless you plight
me your faith to go to King Arthur, and tell him that I overcame you
and sent you to him. If you do not so, I will slay you all three." The
knights swore to go to King Arthur, and plighted their troth upon
it. Then they departed, and Le Beau Disconus and the fair maid rode on
towards Synadown. All that day they rode, and at night they made their
lodges in the wood out of green leaves and boughs, for they came nigh
no town or castle; and thus for three days they pricked ever