The Knight’s Tale : Palamon and Arcite 5

Trumpets and all kinds of music began to play, and the company rode out in a grand procession through the streets, which were hung with cloth of gold. Duke Theseus rode first, like the great lord he was, and Palamon and Arcite were on either side of him. After them rode the queen and Emily, and after them other noble ladies, and then the knights, in their proper rank and order. All took their places in the seats round the place of battle except the two hundred that were to fight that day. These went in two parties. Arcite and
his hundred passed with red banners in through the gate of Mars in the west, while Palamon and his hundred with white banners came through the gate of Venus in the east.

Both sides were ranged in a long line facing each other, longing to begin, while their names were read aloud, and their number counted. Then the gates were shut, and the busy herald drew aside. The trumpet and clarion rang. Each knight put his spear in rest, and struck spurs into his steed. Tough ash shafts were shivered on shields. Up sprung the tall spears twenty feet in air. Sword
blades flashed like silver ; helmets were hewn and hacked, and the red blood ran. One thrust through the thick of the throng — steeds stumbled and fell.
Another rolled on the ground, or stood fighting on foot with his truncheon. Another was hurt in the body, and borne struggling to the stake.

Now and then Theseus made a sign to stop, while the knights rested and refreshed themselves, and then they fought on fiercer than ever.

Many a time that day the two Thebans met.  Each had struck the other from his horse, and they never met without one being wounded. No tiger robbed of her whelp was fiercer than Arcite, and Palamon was as savage as a hunted lion mad with hunger. Their strokes fell thick upon each other’s head, and both were red with their own blood.

But all things have an end, and before the sun sank in the west the strong King Emetrius came against Palamon, as he was fighting with Arcite, and wounded him, and by the force of twenty knights Palamon was at last dragged to the stake. He would not yield, and in trying to rescue him King Lycurgus was struck down. It was a noble straggle. Palamon before he was taken hit Eme-
trius so hard that he struck him a sword’s length from his saddle, but all for nothing; Palamon’s bold heart could not save him. He was carried to
the stake, and could fight no more, but sat down in sorrow.

When Theseus saw that Palamon was taken, he cried, ‘ Ho ! enough of fighting. I will be a true judge, and favour none. Arcite of Thebes shall marry Emily, for he has had the fortune to win her fairly.’

Then the people began to shout in honour of Arcite, and for joy that the princess had been fairly won, until the murmur and the uproar rose so loud and high that it seemed the very walls would fall.  Alas! what can fair Venus do for her own knight, whose prayer she granted, but who now lies helpless watching the triumph of Arcite.

The trumpets blew, and the minstrels played in honour of the conqueror. The joyous heralds proclaimed his praises with loud voices. Arcite took off his helmet and spurred across the field bareheaded, looking proudly upwards at his Emily. And she looked down and gave him back kind glances, for most women taker the lucky side, and love those who win.

Thus Arcite was at the height of his happiness, when suddenly there seemed to come from the ground a flashing of fire, and his horse swerved, started aside, and fell, and Arcite was thrown upon his head, and lay like one dead, his breast broken against his saddle-bow. His face turned as black as a coal, and they had to bear him home to Theseus’ palace. There they cut his armour off him, and laid him quickly and gently on a bed, he calling always on the name of Emily, for, hurt as he was, his reason and his memory had not failed.

In spite of this ill-fortune, Theseus and the other knights rode back to Athens with pomp and gladness, for Theseus would not let them all be sad because of Arcite’s fall. ‘Arcite will get well again,’ they said ; besides, they all rejoiced because not a knight was killed. They were all bruised and wounded, one knight especially, whose breast bone had been struck through with a spear, but
still none was slain, and they put salves upon their wounds, and drank medicine made of herbs, to make them well.

The Duke praised them all, and made a great feast for these noble visitors, as it was right he should. And no one thought it a shame for any knight to have been dragged to the stake, for a fall is only bad luck, and no man could be thought a coward when he did not yield but was dragged along, twenty against one, all clinging to his arm or foot. So Theseus made proclamation that there
should be no taunts or jealousy, for all had fought bravely, and should now be like brothers. And after three days’ feasting the knights rode back to their homes, and the Duke himself honoured them with his company till they had passed the city gates, and so they all bade good-by.

But Arcite grew worse and worse, and no doctor could cure his wound ; and at last he knew that he must die. So he sent for Emily and his cousin Palamon, whom he still loved in his heart. And when they were come to his bedside, he turned his eyes on Emily, and said : ‘ I had thought to tell the long tale of my past sorrows to you, Emily, for I love you more than all the world, but now I am too weak and sad. I think that even when I am dead my ghost will love you. Oh what misery I have gone through for you, so long, so many years ! And now I must die, my Emily, and leave you, my heart’s queen, my wife. I have lived
so long only for you, and I now am dying for you. This world is a sad place at the best. One day a man is with his love, the next in his cold grave, all alone, with no” one to comfort him. Farewell, my sweet, farewell my Emily! Put your two arms softly round me, and listen to what I say. I have had a bitter quarrel with cousin Palamon many a day for love of you, but I call God to witness that there is no man so worthy to be loved as he, so brave and honourable, so wise and humble. He is of royal blood too, and I know that he will never cease to love you. If ever you marry, marry gentle Palamon.’

Here his voice failed him, for his limbs grew cold in death ; but still his dim eyes were fixed on Emily, his last word was her name.

I cannot tell the grief of Emily and Palamon when they saw that the brave spirit of Arcite had left his body. Emily cried both night and day, for women almost always cry thus when their lovers or their husbands die, and if they could not cry as much as they desire they would be sure to fall ill and die in the end. Young and old in Athens wept for Arcite. Theseus himself could not be cheerful any more until his old father came to comfort him.

They dressed the dead knight in cloth of gold, and laid his bright sword in his hand, and carried him gently through the city, and a long train of mourners followed him. They brought him sadly to the little wood where he had met Palamon. It was still as sweet and green as on the day when Arcite had sat under the boughs and thought of his love. There Theseus had made them build a great pile of wood heaped with spices and all manner of rich things, and they laid the body of Arcite upon it with love and reverence. Then Emily, crying all the time, set fire to the wood, and Arcite was burnt to ashes, as was the custom
of that country. It was the grandest and costliest funeral that was ever known. *****

Years went by, and Arcite was still held in honourable memory, though all except Palamon and Emily had long ceased to grieve for him. At last it happened that Duke Theseus wished to make a treaty of friendship with the Thebans. So he sent for Palamon to come to a great council held at Athens, and Palamon came sadly, still wearing his black clothes in mourning for Arcite.
Emily, too, sat in the council-room. After a long silence in the hall, Theseus spoke, and said : ‘All things have an end. The great oaks that live for centuries at last decay and fall, and even the hard stones wear beneath our feet ; rivers run dry, and cities pass away. We should not mourn, then, too long for Arcite, who only went from us a little before his time. We may think him happy to
have died at the height of his glory.

‘Take pity, Emily, on your own knight Palamon. He is a royal prince, and even had he been poor and humble, still you should pity him who has served you so faithfully.’ Then Theseus called Palamon to come near, and made him take Emily’s hand, and she looked on his pale face with love and pity.

So, as Arcite had wished upon his death-bed, Palamon at last married Emily, and they loved each other tenderly, and lived in great honour all their lives.