Roderick then called to his squire
And also beckoned Dorigen’s maid,
Who had grown up with her.
‘Go now with Dorigen’, he said.
‘Be with her wherever she has to go
And do whatever she tells you to.’
He could not bear to watch her out of sight,
Which is unlucky, as some say,
But turned and closed the heavy door,
Alone inside his house once more.
This, then, is what Roderick did.
Before you judge him, wait until the end.
Yes, take another beer
And then give one to me,
For telling a tale is thirsty work.
Only one left, you say?
Well, then, let’s share it.
The three walked out into the wintry air
And soon they reached the bustling street
Where the people went about their daily lives,
Some to work and some to drink with friends,
All cheerful with their busy plans.
They walked along the frosty street,
Past the houses, past the busy market stalls,
Where women haggled over fish and meat,
Till they had left the busy town behind.
They made their way to the garden then
Where in summer they had danced and sung.
The day was cold and grey and on its way to night
Though it had hardly dawned at all so dark it was.
Dorigen’s body froze as she slowly
Forced herself along the road with eyes cast down.
She felt that all the people knew her shame.
She saw it in their looks and heard it in their words.
She was sure they pointed at her as she passed
And thought she heard their whispers as she went.
As she walked along with head bowed down,
She stared at the hard and stony ground,
Until they came to the open garden door.
Tristan was already waiting there for well he knew
That sooner or later she was bound to come.
‘Leave me’ said Dorigen to the other two.
‘I have some business with this man.
Wait here till I return.’
Though they longed to stay with her,
They stood aside and watched her go
Through the door into the bare garden there.
‘Madam, where are you going?’ said Tristan.
She answered as if she were half mad
‘To the garden as my husband bade,
To keep my word,
To keep the promise that I made.’
Her words went straight to Tristan’s heart.
He pitied her and marvelled how
Her husband made her keep her vow
So high he held all honesty and truth.
He saw how cruel and heartless he would be,
And sin against all honour and gentility,
If he went one step further now.
‘Madam, I prefer to suffer woe for evermore
Than break the love between you two.
I release you of every promise
That you have ever made to me.
I will never mention this again.
You have my word.
And so I say goodbye
To the best and truest wife
That I have known in all my life.’
And then he turned and went.
At first poor Dorigen stood confused.
She was too frightened to believe his words
So welcome were they to her ears.
Then the colour came back to her cheek
And her smile returned as lovely as before.
She called her squire and maid with happy voice
And loudly called them once again,
And they came quickly, pleased to hear her joyful voice
So different from when she left them there
To go to this strange meeting.
They were surprised to see her changed so much,
So happy now with head held high,
And were hard put to keep up with her
As she ran home along the street once more.
Her freezing fingers and her frosted feet
She never felt, no not for a moment
As she quickly made her way.
The street was gay with people
And she added to their laughter for
All the world was now a happy place once more.
The stalls were busy as she ran by
For the townsfolk bargained long and hard,
Buying for their evening meal at home.
She moved so quickly through the crowd,
That sometimes she walked right through the groups
Of cheerful housewives gathered there,
As they stood chatting in the street.
No sooner had she reached her door
Than she called her husband waiting there alone,
Pacing to and fro,
And told him all that had just passed.
And now we will intrude no more
But leave them to each other there,
In each other’s arms at last.
So back we go to Tristan now
Who thought of his debt and how to pay.
‘There’s no way out for me, there is just no way.
I must sell all I have and beg from town to town.
To shame my family and friends
At home I cannot stay.
The only chance, the only way,
Is if he gives me time to pay
Year by year on a certain day.
My promise I will keep at least.’
With heavy heart he took a key
And opened up his treasure chest
Of solid oak with strong thick bands of iron
And locked three times securely.
His brother, Anselm, helped him count the gold,
And from his lips
Came no reproach at all.
Tristan took five hundred pounds all told,
And went to the wizard asking him
Of kindness to give him time to pay the rest.
‘Sir, never yet have I failed to keep my promise.
Throughout my life I’ve kept my word.
And so rest assured
That I will pay this debt in full
Even if I go begging in the street.
Here take the half of what I owe.
In gold I have it in my hand.
Please give me time, two years or three
To pay the rest, of your great charity.’
The magician listened to his words
With serious look and asked him then,
‘Have I not kept the promise that I made to you?’
‘Yes, certainly, you have been true.’
‘And did you not enjoy this lady as you wished?’
‘No, not at all’, he said and sighed
And told him then what I’ve told you.
‘He told him about Dorigen
How she had come to him alone,
Pale and trembling,
With eyes dark red from weeping.
‘She had never heard of tricks or of illusion
And made her promise in all innocence.
I felt such pity when I saw her then.
As virtuous as he sent her me
I sent her back to him again,
In spotless honour as she came.’
The magician answered, ‘My dear brother
Each of you acted nobly to the other,
You, Tristan, as a squire and Roderick as a knight.
Now God forbid but if a wizard, truth to tell,
Can’t conjure up a noble deed as well.
Sir, I release you of your thousand pound,
As if you’d sprung now from the ground
And had never met me in your life!
I will not charge a single penny
For all my skills or all my work.
You’ve paid me well enough.
This is all I need to say,
Farewell to you and may you have good day.’
And saying this he took his horse
And set off on his way.
So, of all the people in my tale
Who was the noblest of them all?
Was it the lady, brave and blameless?
Tell me, if you know.
Finish your beer and take your coat and gloves,
The night’s turned raw.
But answer my question before you go.