[Editor/Translator's Note: This is found only in the Wedonus MSS VII.iii.0, and is written partially in Middle English doggerel and in part in French. Where it is appropriate, I have modernized the dialect and standardized the spelling. Mostly I have let Lady Ludmilla and Brother Westley keep their thees and thous, as the shift between intimate and proper pronouns plays a part in suggesting the growing intimacy between the churchman and his near-pagan love. I have also kept the archaic ethnic designations, such as Saracen and Moor; while these have clear racial overtones, to amend them would seem to be a betrayal of the Westley-poet's worldview and context.]
Listen here, men and maids, ladies and folk, and I shall tell you a fine story, by Christ, of a humble churchman of Wyndham and a lady of Kiev, with eyes of agate and a husband so evil that he did traffic with the familiars of the devil in Hell, the Wolf, Ram, and Hart. A famous tale, indeed, that once I heard in the inns of London Court, and repeated by ladies and lords as far west as the marches of Wales, where indeed...
[Ed: oddly enough, the poet spends a long time verifying this story has been told by a NUMBER of different audiences, managing to insult the Welsh and the French in seven different places, before finishing his introduction!]
Bring fine small ale! Light the evening fire! And by Christ, this tale will be told 'til Doomsday or longer.
In autumn thus the Lord of Wyndham Manor returned from Crusade, gone eleven month and seven year from his ancestral home, five years after the death of his third lady, God rest her soul! Lord Holland rode from London town, having seen the golden spires of Constantinople and, in truth, lands both North and East that were not Jerusalem town [Ed: One suspects this is a polite way of saying Lord Holland spent his time plundering lands not Jerusalem while he was "on crusade."], and came he home with great wealth, red gold beyond counting upon his back, fine steeds black as the pit, and a lady wife.
All fair was she, tall and fair of face, garbed in crimson and gold and a hood lined in whitest fur. Upon her breast lay a rood, fair carved by nuns of Lombardie, with the letter A to hang from it to stand for Amor Vincit Omnia. She spoke but little, and folk crowded the streets to see her waist girdled about in the style of the east, and her little feet, in soft leather boots the color of blood cunningly made by a cobbler of Damascus. Indeed, many claimed the Lady of Wyndham was a Saracen, tho' she was too pale, and many claimed she was of Constantinople, where Lord Holland had traded, and others yet claimed she was a Magyar queen.
Lord Holland was content with his bride, whose silences were honey-sweet and whose smiles were ensorcelling to those who looked upon her beauty, man and beast. He was an old man, three-and-twenty years to his name, with silver upon his hair, and hale and hearty yet. Famed was he for his battlings through the East. In truth he was said to have sailed to Damascus a pirate, and to have drunken ale with the wicked sorcerers of Carthage and Alexandria to learn the secrets of the devil, for well you know wizards and devils make these lands their home.
"I have wed me a wife," declared Lord Holland to his folk as he rode through Wyndham Town, "And she wants a ghostly brother t'attend her tongue. Who among the brothers of my monastery speak the language of Magyars and Rus and distant princes and kings? For he I'll pay a penny a day to be my lady's comfort and aid."
Then he shut himself and his lady in their manor and sent out the reeve to find him a worthy monk to attend his lady wife, for long had Lord Holland been away from his demesnes, and many duties had he to rectify, both to king and yeomen, baron and churl. He sent the lady thus to her chambers above the chapel, to weave and be attended in a high tower, so as she wove, she could hear the priests sing to Our Lady Mary and her holy son.
[Ed note: The manuscript loses twelve lines here, which one suspects sets up the monastery of Wyndham Town as run by Father Rupert and his brother in all things, Daniel Osbourne. Whether or not this was an encoded reference to Father Rupert's homosexual relationship with Brother Daniel is a mystery; it is referred to in Bosworth as proof of the repressed sexuality post-tenth century, but this editor is not sure.]
...and indeed, Father Rupert was loved by all in the town, not only of Wyndham, but of the village next over, Sunniedale, where Father Rupert walked through woods of fearsome beast and faerie magick to teach the children there love of Christ and all his saints, and of Mary, his mother dear. Ay, they say the Father Rupert of Wyndham, he, is famous on his own, and that he rode by Wild Elizabeth [Ed. note: Not much is known of this "Wild Elizabeth," who is mentioned in four different texts in the Wedonus MSS as though she were a well-known figure. It would appear she was some sort of mystical warrior, aided by Saxon peasants to face troubles from Norman sheriffs to the devil himself -- a clear prototype for both Robin Hood and Maid Marian!] as she brought an army to save the crown, and that his beloved brother Daniel, ay, he known as Daniel Osborn, would traverse to and fro in the wood in the form of wolf to protect his Father Rupert.
To this very Father Rupert came Lord Holland, beseeching his help, for he had wed himself a wife from distant land, who spoke but little English and no French, making certain threats to the monastery were help not to be given. And Father Rupert, he was troubled in his soul, for Lord Holland was well known to be a dark man, given to wickedness, and he feared for his brothers. Thus he went him up to Brother Daniel's cell and confessed his fears, and Brother Daniel in wisdom suggested that Father Rupert, for safety of Wild Elizabeth and the children of Sun-of-the-Dale, send up to Wyndham Manor Brother Westley, the finest linguist and theologian.
'For if Brother Westley succumbs, it will not impede us, and if he succeeds, he will bring many souls to Christ,' quoth Brother Daniel. And Father Rupert embraced his friend for the solution to his ills, and called Brother Westley to him in the chapel.
'My Brother,' quod he, 'Thou art called to a difficult task; ay, one that may steal from thee thy soul and salvation if thou art tempted by Lucifer in all his wiles and carnal lust, but that God hath called thee to, to bring about a great work and a wonder.'
Brother Westley was no beardless youth, but still a fine young man; full twenty-seven years had he, and ten spent in the service of Father Rupert in Wyndham Town, copying manuscripts and serving God faithfully. Full tall was he, with eyes the blue of summer-sky -- alas! a bit dim were they, so he could not see clear in storm nor night -- and a robe of stout brown cloth about his figure. He was the second son of a great lord, Baron Roger, a hard man full well known for his steadiness in war and his falcons of glorious renown. Many a lady of Wyndham Town, upon seeing Brother Westley, adjusted her skirt and would make to smile at the monk, but this brother praised God and St. Foy and would have none of these carnal delights, though his face was full handsome and he rode and walked like the finest of gentlefolk.
[Ed note: we lose more of the manuscript here, thanks to fire. Given that we pick up in the middle of a very heated interrogation of the heretofore unnamed Lady of Wyndham and Brother Westley, one suspects we have missed Brother Westley's acceptance of his assignment, a routine 'Gode be praised!' that he gets to tempt his soul with the beautiful lady, and his first glimpse of the Lady, who is suddenly now named Ludmillah, a clear Anglicization of Liudmila, a tenth century Russian martyr.]
...for indeed, the arrow of Cupid [Ed. note: signs of the Chaucerian influence, particularly the Knight's Tale, which we are thankfully saved from with the lost manuscript bit] had pierced his heart and where the good monk would before have said no woman gave him pause save Mary, mother of Christ, and our Lady, he now had eyes only for beautiful Lady Ludmillah, who gazed upon him with sweetest desire in her green eyes.
In many tongues he asked her what her name and country were. Truly, was she Lithuanian? Magyar? Slav? Saracen? Did she known it was well-known in the country that Lord Holland had brought her home to Wyndham to do his blackest rites, who was widely suspected of these obscenities? As all knew, three wives predated the lady with whom Brother Westley was so besotted, all strangers but for the first, who'd been a Welshwoman whose heretic clan had been burnt at the stake for wizardry.
'Lady, they say you are a witch,' quoth he, 'If you can, speak and tell me that you are not, for indeed, it would pain me deeply to hear this thing. Speak, speak, in any language you can!'
Weary, Lady Ludmillah tilted her head to gaze upon the handsome monk, whose heart and eyes were full of her and her beauty, and to smile upon him favorably, for indeed she favored his look.
'I am called Ludmillah,' said she in fair Greek. 'Father Gregorvitch, who rode with me to Constantinople when I went to meet my husband, converted me to the works of our savior Christ, and no longer do I follow the gods of my mothers. Fear me not, for I am no witch.'
Fair surprise did show upon Brother Westley's face, for he knew but little Greek and no woman who spoke the tongue. 'You speak Greek?' he inquired.
'I speak nearly as many tongues as you, my learned brother,' Lady Ludmillah said, casting down her eyes coyly. 'No English, nor French of Normandie, but I know Italian and the Russian of Kiev from whence I sprang, and some small German and Latin enough to say my Ave Maria and Pater Noster, as befits a lady. And ay, ghostly father, I speak Greek enough to go before the Emperor of Byzantium and give my regards.'
'Then you are gifted indeed,' said Brother Westley with no small awe. 'I speak but little Greek, and none of the Russian of Kiev.'
Again she smiled, and Brother Westley could no longer believe that Lord Holland of the Manor had bought her in Eastern markets to do the rites of heretics and black magicks. Indeed, none would believe such a thing of a beautiful woman of only two-and-twenty, with all the charms of the East upon her person.
'Then I will teach you!' cried she, clapping her hands with womanish delight. 'You will teach me the French of the Angevin and the Saxon of the yeomen, and I shall teach thee Russian and we shall spend great hours here to debate doctrine and scripture.'
Thus he promised her, for Brother Westley was under the spell of Lady Ludmillah from the first, and he could not bear to say her nay, forgetting quickly all the warnings of his good Father Rupert until he swore he would meet her every day but Sunday to teach her English and scripture and the great debates of the university at Paris.
Then rode he away toward the monastery, and Lady Ludmillah watched him go, a fire burning in her troubled heart. Then rode he away toward the monastery, and Lady Ludmillah watched him go, a fire burning in her troubled heart. For she was not faithful in her desire to meet with the monk for her education in Christ, alack no. She had secrets in her very soul, for she had covenanted with her husband, the foul Lord of the Manor, for a sack of red gold in exchange for her help in wickedness.
'Well met, my lady,' said Lord Holland at dinner. 'How liketh thee Brother Westley? He is a fine gentleman, the son of Baron Roger of some small fame in this neighborhood, though alas, his eyes are weak.'
'I find no fault in his eyes,' the lady said, her heart suddenly a- flutter with a warmth. 'Indeed, my dear husband, I like his looks right well, and shall seduce him as thou would have me do with pleasure as well as duty.'
At this the Lord Holland smiled; for well you know the Lady Ludmillah was less than half his age, and in the fairest blushes of her youth and flower, unused to feelings of passion and love, for she had been raised among women in the palaces of Constantinople [Ed. note: The poet seems to get confused here, as it is stated repeatedly that Ludmillah originates in Kiev. Perhaps it is the incipient Orientalist thread that Said notes in his objections to English romances. Then again, the Wedonus manuscript is full of continuity errors, claiming that one knight is the son of another, when it turns out he's his maternal grandson and the like...] and was unwary of the ways of men.
'Beware, my lady,' quod he. 'The hearts of young women are easily faulted in love, and I would not wish you break our bargain for a pair of weak eyes that cannot give you the things you desire, sweet silly girl [Ed note: sely = silly, a word less offensive then than now], so beware and be wary."
Thus said he, for Lord Holland was truly pleased with his new wife, and did not wish to lose her to the sweet salvation of Lord Jesus Christ and his servants, such as Father Rupert and Brother Westley. A curse on all men who tempt the young and foolish from God! For they are to be drowned with stones at the bottom of the sea for their wickedness.
Lady Ludmillah, in her vanity, tossed her head. 'Fear me not, husband,' said she, 'For I am the daughter of Eve, and I will be tempted by no man who doth not pay my fee.'
[Ed. note: as will be explained in a later section, Ludmillah...who has the secret witch name Lila/Layla....is the granddaughter of a 'Saracen' sorceress named Safiya from either Damascus or Baghdad in a clear reference to Sufism completely misunderstood. Safiya's daughter is named Hawwa -- Eve. The double reference is quite clever, though. Wisdom gives birth to Eve, who gives birth to the wise, subtle, and dark Ludmillah, who is both dear to the people AND a seductress like Lilith.]
'Be wise,' warned Lord Holland. 'Be thou not enchanted by a fine leg, if it is held by a man in tonsure...'
[Ed.: A lengthy passage describing their feast and redescribing Ludmillah in painstaking detail as the most beautiful woman in England at the time, is thus cut, as it duplicates material unnecessary to the appreciation to the text. For the full Middle English version, see DeKnight, ed, The Lay of Westley of Wyndham, EETS 730, 1887.]
Bright upon the morning dew thus came Brother Westley to see his lady Ludmillah fair, his heart afire with the love of Christ and the love of his lady, who he would teach both English and holy doctrine to her great benefit. He sang as he walked, a Kyrie Eleison and Agnus Dei, before seeing his lady, all attired in palest blue, as she walked along the battlements of her husband's castle, hair loose and free in the breeze, silken ribbons woven through it by the skillful fingers of the maiden who walked behind respectfully.
'God be with you, my lady!' called he to her as she stood upon the battlements.
'And you, ghostly father!' quod she, staring down upon his bald head encircled by his tonsure, for he, like a good monk, had shaved his head as the holy mother church did decree.
Well they met in the chapel then, the maid Gwendolyn sent to tidy up elsewhere, and thus began the lessons in English and the Russian too. Merry made the Lady Ludmillah with Brother Westley, asking lewd and lascivious questions of tongues, 'til he could stand no more.
'Lady, remember thy husband!' he said. 'Thou wilt shame thyself and me with these displays of silly merriment.'
'My husband is cruel eld, and the passions cold in his blood,' she said without shame in her Greek. 'He encourages my youth, dear Brother. Would you not do the same? I have been told I am passing fair. Am I not?'
At this, Brother Westley burned and shook, for he found the Lady Ludmillah more than passing fair, and feared lust as never he had before. 'Indeed, my Lady, thou art most truly fair,' quod he, 'And my eyes delight to look upon you. But you are Lord Holland's wife, and I am your confessor, to teach you English and French and the gospel of God. Cease your flirting, for it displeases our Savior most mild!'
'How can I displease my Savior so?' asked she, surprised. 'I do only what my nature bid me do, and are we not natural creatures?' [Ed. note: Unsurprisingly, Ludmillah brings to mind, however circumspectly, Aquinas, with echoes of Terence, as suits her personality and the poem's fourteenth century composition.]
'Ah, but our Savior would have us come to perfect love...caritas...that would prevent us from lust and have our love be pure as angels. Be ye therefore perfect, lady, as our Father in Heaven is perfect,' Westley reproved her. A most displeased pout came upon the lady's face.
'How is this perfect love any sort of love? How can one expect it to be love, as no man can keep it!' cried she. 'This is foolishness and priestly sophistry.'
Appalled, Brother Westley began to chide his silly lady, who had never heard Saint Paul's dictum that it was better to marry than to burn, but indeed, it was better to keep even as he, pure, chaste, and virginal. Alas for the Lady Ludmillah! Such things were unknown to the daughter of far Kiev, home to icons and corrupted Christianity as taught to her by the bearded and wed priest who knew nothing of Roman Christianity as God intended it to be.
'Prithee, lady, what knowest thou of thy God?' cried he. 'Our Lord, he is most meek and mild, and layeth but a gentle yoke upon us.'
'If it be so gentle, then he shall forgive thy lapse if thy intent be love,' marveled she. 'For I see well that you are fond of me, and why, I am fond of you.'
[Ed.: The wrangling continues for another twenty lines before Brother Westley must excuse himself to continue their lessons on another occasion. Oddly enough, this is the last mention of language lessons, and whichever language Ludmillah and Westley thus converse in is yet another mystery of the text.]
Distraught in mind and soul, Brother Westley thus went him up to Father Rupert's cell, who was in the midst of singing matins with Brother Daniel, his beloved friend, and praising Christ and St. Anthony.
'I am in love,' cried he, 'And I fear thus for my soul!'
'Speak, friend,' Father Rupert said. 'Who dost thou love? What would trouble your soul so? For thou art beloved by God, Brother Westley, and need not fear as long as you love him with all your heart.'
'I love the manor-lord's wife, who is all young and fair, and would throw her arms about my neck and bestow upon me a thousand adulterous kisses,' confessed Brother Westley. 'Advise me, good father, or I shall be lost to the devil's whim.'
'What hast thou quoted the lady?' asked Father Rupert, full amazed that young Brother Westley had been tempted by a woman to the consideration of adultery. 'Didst thee quote to her the words of wisest Solomon that wisdom is thy sister and prudence thy friend, and that thou art not tempted by a woman who is not thine?'
And Brother Westley admitted he had not.
'Did you quote her Theophrastus?' asked Brother Daniel. 'For indeed, that wise and golden book of marriage is not for a man who loveth knowledge, as women are most vain of all of God's creatures, wanting costly gowns and costlier jewels.'
And indeed, Brother Westley remembered these traditions, and indeed, his St. Jerome 'gainst Jovinian, and his heart was greatly cheered, for Brother Daniel and Father Rupert had given him strength against the bejeweled fingers and tender eyes of his Lady Ludmillah.
'Benedicte!' cried he. 'A thousand blessings upon thee both for these words of authority.'
And Father Rupert was amused, and asked Brother Westley, 'And what said thy gracious lady that thou couldst not recall even these common truths?' for he had oft been quite vexed by the monk's memories of the obscurest of words when words were not called for.
'She would teach me her tongue, for she comes of Kiev, and in truth, tis a bawdy tongue,' said the troubled brother, much to Brother Daniel's merriment, for in truth, they were two cheerful fellows, well aware of the weaknesses of man and woman. [Ed. note: And this passage, of course, earns more than its fair share of gender-and-sexuality scrutiny. A student of Foucault's, Jean-Marie du Mais, spends a great deal of time discussing how the knowledge of 'weakness' frees Brother Daniel and Father Rupert from the troubled sexuality of Brother Westley and Lady Ludmillah.']
'Then where she would put words of wickedness in thy mouth, put a devout tongue in hers!' quod he. [Ed. note: One suspects Brother Daniel doesn't have much faith in Brother Westley ability to resist the onslaught of temptation] 'And know thee, brother, that God preserves his servants in his way, and thou should have good faith in that.'
For indeed, Brother Daniel was a man of few words, and all of them most wise.
[Ed note: Cutting ahead through the endless showing off of the Westley- poet's knowledge of anti-feminist literature, Father Rupert counters Brother Daniel here, pointing out the very real problem that Lord Holland is working for the devil and that Lady Ludmillah's youthful gambit may be the boredom of a young wife -- and quoting Cicero, he points out she shouldn't have married him -- or she may be her husband's pawn and that Brother Westley should be careful. Less enthusiastic, but still obsessed, he promises Father Rupert, who must away 'to attend and succor my children of the dale' that he'll be careful.]
And thus it was three days later that Brother Westley went upon the path from the monastery of Wyndham and its fair church, in the midst of the good folk of Wyndham Town, up to the hill where the lady had abided in misery that she had lost her priest, for indeed, she was fond of his look, and fonder yet of her husband's good red gold, and she was e'er one to keep her words, foolish though they were.
'Come, come, lady!' called her maid of golden hair, the girl-child known as Harmony Faire, 'Thy confessor comes. Put on thy finery over thy camise!'
But she would not, for anger had entered her soul and she had always been of quick temper. 'Bring him to us,' said she, as imperial a princess as had been her mother's mother in the city of peace. 'For we would know why Brother Westley has broken his promise and left us bereft.' [Ed. note: one notes that there were apparently not enough princesses in this story and the Westley-poet felt compelled to turn the lady into one. Or perhaps it's a very loose use of the word princess.]
And the maid was a-frighted, and down she went to Brother Westley, who was most stern and pale in his resolve to brook no lascivious play from the lady in her finery and finer airs. 'She will not come down, for she says you have broken a promise to her and left her bereft,' said she. 'What say you, sir?'
'Tell my Lady Ludmillah that she bade me answer many weighty questions of doctrine and love when last we spoke, and it took me these three days to search the books of authority, and that I pray her, bear me caritas, as truly our Lord and Savior counsel. And thus, I will stay here until she attend me,' Brother Westley said, sitting down upon a stool. 'Bear this to thy mistress.'
Indeed, these words did terrify the little yellow-haired maid, for she was not quick, and her mistress would chide her for letting Brother Westley overwhelm her senses. But -- 'I go!' cried she, and Harmony up the staircase ran, her tiny feet carrying her to Lady Ludmillah's closet.
'God-a-mercy, where is my Brother Westley?' asked Lady Ludmillah, displeased at the delay. 'Speak, or I'll shake thy head 'til it break!'
'Oh, have mercy, lady! Have mercy! For I bear a message from thy handsome father, who bid me tell thee that thou bade him answer questions of love when last you spoke and indeed, he would take the three days to answer thee properly, and that he would have me bear thee holy love,' said the silly maid, trembling like a mouse with crumbs.
Lady Ludmillah considered this in silence, her husband's wicked counsel a-burning in her breast, and a smile at last crossed her lovely face. 'Come, girl,' quod she. 'Tell my gentle father thus: how might he bear me love if he would break my heart with dusty books? I learn my savior's love from my Brother Westley's look! Now go and tell him, or I shall be cross.'
Poor maid! She ran down the stair again, and stopped cold at the displeased look from Brother Westley, whom Harmony the Maid found passing fair, for all he were a priest and well-known to be a scholar and a scold.
'What says thy mistress, girl? Why is she not here?' asked he, full desiring that he could bypass the silly fool and demand the truth of the Lady Ludmillah herself, but indeed he knew he would be sorely tempted to sin were he to see her in her disarray, as Father Rupert had advised against.
'Have mercy, brother!' the maid did weep. 'My lady bid me ask you this philosophy. How canst thou bear my mistress love, quod she, if you would break her heart with dusty book? She learns our savior's love from thee, and thus she must see thee anon. Please go to her, Brother Westley, for she is right cross.' [Ed note: while this does go on a while, the sheer good humor in the section...one suspects Brother Westley and Lady Ludmillah of having fun at the dimwitted Harmony's expense...is worth preserving in its entirety.]
But he would not be moved. 'I shall not,' quod he. 'Tell thy mistress that she canst not learn Christian love from looks, though I would favor her with a thousand thousand to vouchsafe her soul from foulest Hell were it so. I must not allow her temptation, and thus she must come down to me. Go to!'
Weeping fled the little maid, to where her mistress waited with sharp tongue and sharp hand. 'What says he, fool?' asked she, keen-eyed and red-cheeked from the excitement of the battle of wills. 'Tell me!'
'O, lady, go down to him, for he shall not be moved, ay, not with a thousand cries of mercy and help!' the little maiden wailed. 'I will die of a fall if thou sendst me up and down the stairs from sunset 'til dawn.'
Lady Ludmillah was not well-moved by this plea, for her heart was full of love and intrigue, and her mind full of her husband's strategems and Brother Westley's game of words, and she was not a kindly mistress in her worser days. 'Go to, silly thing! Tell me what he says!'
'He says, thy confessor, that though he would favor thee a thousand thousand loving looks, he cannot save thy soul so. He must not favor temptation, and thus down to him you must go!' chanted Harmony, for she was most vexed by her lady and her lady's confessor, and out of breath besides.
Lady Ludmillah laughed, and clasped the maid's chin between her hands. 'My silly girl, do tell him thus,' quod she. 'If it is temptation he fears, why, then let him call upon Christ! And if Christ protects him as I am most certain he doth, then Brother Westley need not fear, for Christ's looks upon us will be most mild and will keep a devil from sin, let alone a humble priest and his devoted lady fair. I am but a poor woman, and need the favor of my priest's look to know the love of God.'
And indeed, well-pleased was Lady Ludmillah at her wit, for certain she was it would bring Brother Westley borne upon Cupid's feet. But Harmony the Maid was sore tired as she nodded her assay, and down the stairs she went a-stumbling, at last to fall at Brother Westley's feet, ankles twisted.
'Alas, I am sore of head!' quod she. 'I will bear no more messages, if I be sent to Coventry for my sin! She wishes thy presence, and tells thee cry to Christ, if thou fear temptation sore. I will have no more of this foolishness! Thou art mad as lovers for scripture and prattle, and I am no scholar as thee and she. Begone to the devil!'
Thus the maid flounced away, tossing aside her lady's wishes to go to the cattle-shed and wait out the day, and thus Brother Westley was sore vexed, for indeed his lady's words were full of seeming sense. He pondered thus upon his stool while the lady awaited the latest missive from the missing Harmony, her temper waxing wroth and sore.
'He has gone and she will not tell me, curst slattern!' quod she at last in great vexation, just as he, alight on the feet of love, did cry, 'She will think me gone and I must do my lady no more ill!'
Up the staircase went he, while she, in foul temper, did throw open the door, skirt up and hair down, to find the wicked maid and curse her ways and perhaps slap her face. Down she came 'til with a shriek, she saw her gentle confessor.
'Get away!' she wailed, for she had truly not believed he would come to her while she was all undone so. 'I am hardly dressed for thee!'
'Nay, lady,' quod he, taking her white hand and kissing it. 'For thou art correct. Christ will protect me if we both pray for this temptation to be allayed. Now, let us sit down upon these stairs and I shall teach thee, by God's rood, and soon thou wilt need none of my looks to want thy savior Christ in true modesty and chastity!'
'God's will be done,' quod she, a smile upon her rose-sweet lips. 'Now teach me, dear priest, how I might know love if thou wilt not touch me, for all I have heard says that love is cold without a lover's kiss. What love dost thou bear me, then?'
[Ed: another endless wrangle between Westley and Ludmillah follows, partially obliterated by smoke damage, characteristically debating sacred and profane love in the best back-and-forth tradition of medieval romance. Not for nothing did Tolkien, an aficionado of the Wedonus MSS, though a skeptic to its authenticity, say of this romance, 'One wishes that Westley and Ludmillah had taken their cues as well as their style from Palamon and Arcite and their Emelye and fallen hopelessly, silently in love!']
'I will away now, lady,' quod Brother Westley, his heart full troubled by her tales of priest a-wed in Russian style, and how they did not fail in their pastoral care, and by her insistence of love so true that she would not to her husband's bed if he bade her endure in chastity as did the saints in days past. 'Pray to the Virgin for temp'rance and patience, and she will most surely succor thee.'
And though indeed, these words were wormwood to the storm-tossed soul of Lady Ludmillah, who indeed felt the gentle love of the Virgin and Christ warm her as she looked to Brother Westley's eyes, she cast down her eyes and inclined her head as a demure lady would.
'To-morrow, then?' asked she.
'To-morrow,' he agreed, springing to his feet and stumbling a few steps down the stairs, for Brother Westley had been known to be clumsy from his youth, though rare it was to stumble since taking holy orders.
'Dost thou promise, for truly, thy absence is sorrow to me,' Lady Ludmillah said, in her gentle face a promise of loyalty that troubled Brother Westley far more than his lust for her pretty face, for indeed, he feared she loved Christ only so far as she loved his priest's well- turned leg.
'To-morrow,' he repeated. 'Be temperate in thy love, lady, for truly I would not harm thee.'
And away went he to his cell to sleepless night, and Lady Ludmillah to her toilet went, to put on her haircase and kirtle for her lord as he called her to feast at his side on eel and mutton and the finest white bread, for indeed, Lord Holland was fond of his young wife, and trusted her white skin and red cheeks and reddest mouth to do the work a thousand demons could not.
'Hast thou done as thou hast promised, lady?' asked he as she came to the table, the bloom gone from her cheeks as she looked at the sleek grey head of her husband and saw the demon-marks upon his soul. 'Will he come to thy bed?'
'By-and-by,' said she, for indeed, while Lady Ludmillah had no further desire to aid her wicked husband in his evil plots, she could not but love her ghostly confessor, and in the ways of her mother, believed that truly, God and Christ would deliver Brother Westley to her if she but prayed and followed faithful.
'Thou art all pale, my finest trinket, my lovely doll,' said the manor- lord in honeyed tones. 'Hast he said ill to thee? I can bring thee a more amiable priest if he will not suit. My ally at court knows a hundred priests who would for thy beauty die cursing the Virgin and farting upon the rood. Don't allow one scoundrel to put fear of their weak-willed God in thee.'
Lady Ludmillah inclined her head and smiled her vainest smile. 'Thou sayest,' said she. [Ed note: again, we are left to wonder at the nature of Lady Ludmillah. While she clearly knows more than she lets on, the Westley-poet never qualifies why she has a pithy response for all of the men in her circle. Holland, for all his diabolical talkings-round, never quite convinces Ludmillah to accept his words at face value, and he is strangely emasculated by her charms, much as Brother Westley is. Lacan's discussion of das Ding may become relevant here; the veiling of the Reality of Lady Ludmillah makes her both object and subject, and her ownership of the situation is notable.]
Lord Holland thus embraced his wife passionately, making to woo her to his bed that night. 'My lady!' quod he. 'Well did I bargain to take thee from thy fathers in Kiev, though I was warned thou were of the worshippers of Anyanka, who makes woman proof against all sins 'gainst her reputation.'
She lay a kiss upon his head, her thoughts still veiled from the sorceror. 'Thou sayest,' said she again, the words of her priest burned into her brain as flame. 'I will to bed now, my lord. I have drunk too much wine and as thou didst note, I am near to fainting from weariness.'
'I have remedy for thy ill,' said her lord, for truly had he desired to bed her in his manor house at last. 'Come, my Ludmillah, let us tend thy head.'
'To-morrow,' she pled. 'Truly, my lord, I fain would ruin our pleasure with my ailing head. Give me a kiss, and a pledge, and to-morrow will I come with thee.' [Ed note: Many a medievalist conference has been livened up by analyzing this passage and talking about sexual politics in the Lay of Westley of Wyndham. That Lady Ludmillah, who has NO scruples about seducing a priest knowing that it would be adultery and witchcraft, would successfully brush off Lord Holland with the equivalent of 'not tonight, honey, I have a headache' has been a favorite joke of the lay.]
Lord Holland's face grew dark and he released her most unkindly. 'See that thou dost, for I am not inclined to be so forgiving of thee, woman,' said he. 'Thy affection for thy fair-faced priest doth make thee forget thy place.'
Fearful then, for Lady Ludmillah knew well of Lord Holland's dark arts and darker desires, she fled to her tower, to fall to her knees and pray, not just to the Virgin, as a good lady might, but her mother's demon god, a foul fiend called Anyanka, who thou might hear of in country towns in a country way.
'Lady Anyanka,' prayed Lady Ludmillah, for truly she was ignorant of what she did wrong, 'My husband hath scorned me, for he hath abused me as though I were the commonest slattern....'
[Ed. note: A truly fantastic passage seems to have been lost here, perhaps taken out of the manuscript by an offended scribe who didn't like the time spent on a manifestation of a female goddess who was well known in the area. In other MSS, it is hinted that Anyanka, who would appear to be some iteration of Baba Yaga, appears to Lady Ludmillah and curses Lord Holland with impotence so that he does not want to take Ludmillah to bed while she courts Brother Westley. Many feminist scholars have bewailed the loss of the exchanged between Anyanka and Ludmillah, especially one with the promised wit of the Westley-poet.]
At last she knelt, the sinful spirit gone, and took from her bodice a rosary that her simple maid had given her, and as a babe in her mother's arms might, frightened Ludmillah prayed to Mary, Queen of Heaven, saying thus:
'Blessed Virgin, most honored of women, thee I call at this my darkest hour, for I have need of mercy. I love a man, and he wilt not love me, though I have turned away my fortune and my lord to do as he wilt. Sweet maid, help a poor sinner, help me, for I am weak and fearful and would have thee tell me what I must do. I pray you that ye will my fears away, and subtly bring that servant, that fair fine Brother Westley, to my chamber to further teach God's love to me as a man should. Pray for me, dear Virgin, so I might find my way.'
And thus the lady went to bed, clutching her holy cross tight, and fell to sleep unaware what darkness soon would befall her, she that loved her homely father more than she ought.
Upon the hour of noon thus descended the lady, all agowned in modest brown, plaits encased in silk from Constantinople and shoes of Parisian leather, a French cut to her camise as she awaited then her humble priestly brother and his plaints of love, for she could not see much difference between the love of Christ in its purity and the love of her man in profanity, the rosary of her mother Mary dear swelling and falling upon her breast.
'And there thou art,' quod he, entering the chamber where the maids had set full many sweetmeats and cups of fine hot mulled wine to take the chill from the air, for in truth the manor keep was cold and oft very cold in the pale sun of November-time. 'Thou dost make thy father, God, the author of thy soul, most pleased in thy modest rainment.'
'Does it then also please ye?' asked she, eyes light and smile hopeful. 'I have prayed most thoroughly to Mary that I might please both my father God and my Brother Westley, and I would be sore displeased if I have failed in my assay.'
Brother Westley sat beside her on the bench and smiled. 'Full well dost thy demeanor please me, my lady, and thy gentle prayers more,' he said, having prayed again for strength to resist the lady's sinful pleas, for he knew she knew no better than her pagan mothers in their carnal lusts. 'Shall I teach thee further?'
'Instruct me as befits a lady,' said she, lifting her cup of wine all pleased that she had pleased Brother Westley so. 'Speak to me of God's love, for I crave to hear thee speak it.'
[Ed. note: While indeed, Westley's priestly dissection of caritas and holy love is justly famous in some circles as a work of mystic perfection, it has been excised from this edition for the most part, as the gist of his argument has already been laid out, and those interested in the spurious reasons Brother Westley claims he must abstain from Lady Ludmillah's bed will have read DeKnight et al's EETS edition, or perhaps the 1898 attempt by the minor Decadent poet J. Guedon, claiming descent from the Westley-poet, to rewrite 'Westley to Ludmillah: On Priestly Love,' which is notable mostly because it claims Ludmillah is not, in fact, in love with Westley, which most readers of the poem find to be ridiculous...and is in fact rejected by Guedon himself late in life. "Admittedly," the poet said, "I've never been fond of the type of harpy that the Lady Ludmillah represents, and it lead me to make hasty judgments in my youth..."]
'Thus, my lady, and indeed, my love,' said Brother Westley, swollen near to bursting with the light of God's love as he finished his lengthy sermon to the radiant Ludmillah, her hands clasped together in most Christian devotion, 'Thou seest how the ecstasy of God wilt penetrate thy heart and lead thee to desire no more to sin, no matter how the devil would simulate these glories with his wickedness.'
Closed he then his holy books, and gave his lady such a loving look that she nearly swooned with heavy thought, for indeed Brother Westley was well-famed for crafting his words with great authority and great knowledge of the church fathers and patristic traditions, as well as the holy scripture as given us to know the way, and its commentators at the universities. [Ed. note: a fascinating comment, given Ludmillah's response would make the hairs on the back of both St. Bernard's and Damiani's necks rise in its hypocrisy!]
'Benedicte, dear sir,' said she, converted by the light in her love's eye as well as the glory of Christ the Son and his sacrifice. 'I will sin no more, if it please thee, but indeed, I remain puzzled in the riddle of bodily love. Does not the good Saint Paul say 'tis better to marry than to burn if they cannot abide even as he?'
Brother Westley, certain that he would indeed be able to still Lady Ludmillah's endless questioning at this last, granted he did.
'What should St. Paul say to me? For I might abide as he, if indeed I had never seen thy gracious face,' said the lady, the truth at last on her tongue. 'My husband is old, and more, he is a wicked man who would incite me to basest sin and murder. If I were only to consort with that silly old man, I might indeed aspire to chastity and prayer, but love, I burn with a love so bright that to me, the light of Christ seems pale as the moon before the sun, and if thou cannot sate it, I fear it shall burst from my chest and I will be forced to follow it where it lead!'
'Hast thou learnt nothing from our wrangles?' cried Brother Westley, full vexed by the simple repetition of Ludmillah's base and carnal desires. 'If thou burn, throw thyself in the river to cool thy youthful ardor, for I will have none of thee, not one fond look from thy bright eyes, nor another dissembling word from thy soft red lips, nor another false blush from thy cheeks, nor the sight of thy princely instep most discreetly displayed beneath the table, nay, not even one touch of thy small, well-shaped hands, if thou dost not cease with thy foul plans to seduce me to thy bed! Seek thy God, lady, and when that search be true, seek me, for until then I will not see thee.'
With this he rose, as though he meant to leave, but truly, the heart of Brother Westley was not near so bold as he pretended. He had indeed taken much profane delight in the trembling lips and hands and indeed, the fair loving looks of the lady as she was touched by the words of God and love that he had borne her, and he, oh he, was in much need of a convenient icy stream!
'Stay,' quod she. 'For I will never speak another word of this love if thou will it, my dearest brother, but I could not leave loving thee if indeed the angels of God bade me let it go as vain. If thou wilt not have me, I will not be had, but oh, my confessor and dearest friend, forgive me! For if thou wilt come to my bed, I will never say thee nay. But if thou are indeed sure of thy holy orders, why then, so am I! Be no more wroth, for I love thee as sure as I love my life and breath, and would truly die before I made thee sad, Westley."
Brother Westley was amazed by this high speech [Ed note: as are we, though one suspects a later German influence, as well as a slight anti- fraternal post-Chaucerian note, in Ludmillah's constant importuning to Westley], and fell to his knees, his love all a-blaze as if it had never been stung by his lady's most unsacred whims. For indeed, he loved her and wished the salvation of her soul, for all that he could bare resist the charms of her wrists and eyes and words of love-making.
'Thou wilt never make me sad as long as thou keep faithful to this oath that ye have sworn before me, my lady,' he said, taking both her pale hands between his and raining kisses down upon them. 'Be strong and wise, as I know that you are prone to be, Ludmillah, and not even the devil of hell will tempt thee from chaste.'
Smiling, she took her hands from them and pressed them to her breast. 'Then go, dear sir,' said she. 'I must attend to my lord husband, and thou to thy duties at the monastery. Give my gentle thanks to Father Rupert and Brother Daniel for their most wise counsel to send thee to me, for with thy help, I will indeed see heaven and be forgiven by that most merciful savior Jesus.'
Emboldened by his lady's Christian speech, Brother Westley rose up [Ed. note: one must love the medieval double entendre!] and gently embraced his fair Ludmillah about her shoulders, laying but one bare chaste kiss upon her forehead.
'Until to-morrow,' said Westley to her, and she could but agree.
Thus Brother Westley left his lady to struggle gravely within his soul the questions she had raised for him, and alas! he had no counsel in this, for Father Rupert and Brother Daniel were off in the greenwood to aid the children of Sun-o'er-dale and preach the gospel to the small folk and their wild children. He looked up then to his crucifix, to meditate upon Christ the Savior, but his eyes could not bear the sight of that gentle lord in his agony when his soul shared that burning pain, and truly, when Westley went to his knees to pray, his lips could not form the words.
'I have spoken false to thee, lady,' he said all torn with madness and love, darts of pain in his breast. 'I have claimed my love for thee is as a priest for his beloved student, a soul that he could bring to God's pure love, and well thou know it to be lies! If I might have thy merest touch upon my breast, I would count it holy.'
Looked he then at the orb of the moon, all silver fullness, and clasped his hands. 'O, Jesu, have mercy upon me! My soul's weakness troubles me, and the fear of death is upon me. I love her that I might die, but I fear she loves me more than her God, and I would not have it so for her sake, though I would every look she gave and every kiss were bestowed upon me, for my heart is full of her. Lead me from this darkest temptation that I might save us both!'
But no mercy came from the heavens [Ed. note: which is a fascinating happening -- one never gets a very good explanation why God stops listening to Brother Westley, who is trying so hard to avoid temptation.] and dark in thought and lusty was Brother Westley when he lay him down after prayers, and no holy light could shake his wish to accept the Lady Ludmillah's promise of her bedchamber and he burned hot with the thought of how simple it would be to betake themselves to a private place to study and thus bring her to bed.
He did not sleep, so full of his lady were his thoughts, and by the third hour after dawn, Westley thus betook himself to the stream behind the monastery to cool his passions, but alas, the water was froze over and he could do no more but consider sitting upon it and deciding against. [Ed. note: this whole sequence recalls something of Troilus and Criseyde, as well as the dictums of the desert fathers, an interesting intertextual referent.]
Then went he up to the manor-house to sit within the chapel and to pray, but again, he could not form the words, for he was lunatick with love, moon-touched and lovesick. For hours he did think of nothing but the lady and her promises both sacred and carnal, and of the torment of his soul for his wicked desire to take her to bed. And indeed, at last the priest of the chapel, one Brother John Nathan, did touch Brother Westley upon the shoulder and smile.
'Benedicte, Brother! Why art thou so sad?' he asked. 'Thou art most favored by God and our Lady Ludmillah, who is in a right state, asking for thee.'
'Is she well?' asked Brother Westley, stung back to life.
'She is in most high temper, good brother,' said Brother John Nathan, for he was a small and honest soul who was passing fond of his lady and did wish her somewhere safer than Lord Holland's keep. 'She fears that she has offended thee by some flighty statement that is prone to fly from her woman's lips, so new to the tongue as it is. Will you go to her?'
Struggling mightily within his soul, Brother Westley rose to his feet and smiled, the love he bore his lady triumphant at last over his godly fears and holy promises.
'Ay,' quod he. 'Bid her prepare for me in her closet, good Brother John, for we have much to speak of love and God.'
Brother John, that good man, did go to the lady and bid her thus, and she, all cunning and bright, did smile to hear the news, for she was certain that Brother Westley's presence would prevent her from the sin that did tempt at her soul, poor wight! For she would not cause him pain, despite her wish to have him as a lover.
'I will do as is proper, and love from afar,' quod she, plaiting her hair and smoothing her gown, though she had not yet conceived an idea of how to defeat Lord Holland and his wicked plots 'gainst the holy brother.
The door flew open. 'Lady,' said Brother Westley, near-mad with love and despairing of a favorable look.
'Brother Westley,' said she, worried at her priest's unkempt appearance and the manner of his look toward her. 'Art thou well? For thy face is all pale and thy hair is wild. Has thou slept? Art thou ill?'
[Ed. note: several critics have asked if Ludmillah is being facetious here; as recently as the day before, she has actively been trying to seduce Brother Westley, and her new devotion to courtly love is downright suspect. I must agree that Lady Ludmillah, who is deeply singleminded in her desire for Brother Westley, probably has no scruples about playing the innocent to get bedded, but unlike others -- most notably Bynum -- I do believe in the conversion by song, which is a common enough trope.]
Westley in his haste crossed the room in three grand steps to the great surprise of his fair lady, whose eyes grew wide with wonder. 'Say to me thou lovest me and only me,' he ordered, putting his hands about her little waist.
'I do love thee, as I have said every day since first we met,' protested Ludmillah with small laughter, marveling at this great change wrought upon Brother Westley. 'What doctrine is this, good Brother? What message of Christian love and chaste behavior?'
Brother Westley laughed at her stratagem and lifted the plaits from her neck fondly. 'Thou do mock me with thy feigned innocence, my lady,' quod he with bitterest desire. 'Call me by name and bid me to thy bed.'
Then indeed did the lady Ludmillah shrink back, unsure and unbelieving. 'Thou art not my priest,' said she. 'For he counsels me every day to be continent and believing, and call upon God to quench that carnal love I bear my brother Westley. What demon art thou?'
'What, you will play me false now?' cried Brother Westley, gripping her about the waist and loins. 'You have promised me your bed, and this demon that ye claim is one thou hast made by thy heavy-lidded eyes, thy smiles given more easily than prayers, by thy words of earthly love. I am thy servant. Call me by my name and bid me to thy bed.'
Still marveling, the lady did place one kiss upon her good lover's mouth, gentle and trembling, and his ardent lips did seek hers again and again, burning hot.
'Call me,' said he for the third time in low tones of passion, loosening his lady's bodice. 'Tell me to come to thy bed, my lady, for I would be thy creature in all things and would die for thy least word of love.'
[Ed note: more than one of the readers of the Wedonus MSS was apparently quite eager for Lady Ludmillah to 'call' Brother Westley. Four different margin notes curse the lady for not 'calling a chap already!' which is impressive considering the text post-Westley, a fabliaux concerning Alex the Knave, a Cordula who may or may not be related to the Cordula of this text, and a monkey, has more explicit sexual detail and bawdy humor than the whole of this scene.]
'Westley,' quod she in soft tones, wishing with all her heart for this madman in whose arms she lay to be her dearest brother priest. 'Is't really thee? For if 'tis true, then I have sworn it so that my bed is thine, where I most desire thee.'
'Tis true,' he said, raining a hundred kisses upon her neck and bosom. 'Come now.'
And indeed, she yielded most totally, as the lady had wished it thus for many days, but as Ludmillah looked upon th'ardent Westley in all his impassioned lust, she was troubled by the shadow on his brow.
'An't please thee,' said she, still trembling in his embrace. 'I would not cause thee pain, my homely priest! Do not take me to bed if it would only give thee sorrow and pain.'
At these words was Brother Westley sore vexed, for he had decided in the silences of his heart that he could no longer push away his profane love for Ludmillah while he meditated in the chapel, and to hear her plead for him made him wroth. He thus clasped her close and shut her mouth with kisses 'til she did not wish to question further, alas!
But hark! Indeed, that most blessed Jesu, Lord and God, had heard the weak and tempted cries of Brother Westley both in his cell and in the chapel, and indeed, the fearful questions of even Lady Ludmillah, who had forgotten her wish to cause her friend and priest no pain in the heat of Westley's kisses and her weak womanly soul.
The song of the priests did come through the casement then, an Ave Maria twice and a Kyrie Eleison sung full brightly by that good man, Brother John Nathan, and his choir paid to sing on Sunday.
'No!' cried Lady Ludmillah, suddenly pained by pangs of conscience. 'Good brother, we mustn't do this. Westley!'
Alarmed by his lady's sudden fright, Westley pulled away from her [Ed. note: leaving the audience wondering just how far Brother Westley got with Lady Ludmillah. We know from later in this lay that they don't consummate, but some heavy petting seems to have gone down.], gasping and red from his exertions.
'What?' quod he.
'Listen to that,' she said. 'Tis God's own message to us weak and sinful folk.'
'What, woman?' asked he, full surprised until the words of the Kyrie Eleison reached his ears. As Christe Eleison was sung, Brother Westley wept, thankful he that Jesu his Savior had heard his prayer and kept his lady chaste enough to reject their sin before it could be consummate.
'I do believe in thy Jesus now, and ay, the Holy Virgin too,' said Lady Ludmillah softly as Brother John Nathan and his all-too-inspired choir ceased their heavenly message.
'Indeed, my lady,' Brother Westley said, ashamed of himself. 'What mischief the devil might create out of our too profane love if God and all his angels were not on our side!'
Lady Ludmillah then did blush, for indeed she knew the devil from many long tradition, and her lord's wicked plans for the holy monk. 'My love,' said she. 'I must needs be honest with thee now, though I fear you will hate me for this truth. Lord Holland my husband hath plotted against the holy monastery of Wyndham and he did tempt me with red gold and evil spells to this purpose. But indeed, I am a Christian now, and will no longer be tempted to evil.'
And truly was Brother Westley amazed at her speaking. 'What means this? What hast thou done in thy plotting and most foul sins?'
'Come with me now to the dungeons,' said Lady Ludmillah, a most desperate and cunning thought in her mind. 'For I will show thee a hundred wonders and marvels that thou must tell the good Father Rupert, for we are both in most terrible danger e'en now. The Lord Holland, my husband, would ensorcell thee by my womanly form, and cast thee into darkest cell after thy harlotry, and then use me to create more devilish works. Come, let us away to the dungeons and o'erturn his spells, for I do repent me all my ills. May Christ have mercy upon us!'
Brother Westley stood then, helping his most strange lady to her feet to replace her gown and re-plait her hair into its casing. 'Will the dungeons be safe?'
'Is any place on earth safe?' quod she. 'God be with us, and we shall be fine....'
[Ed. note: The manuscript, as fits a medieval romance, undergoes a shift at this point, and the previously somewhat monkly Brother Westley finds a proto-chivalric valor as he goes up against the monsters found in the dungeon of Lord Holland's manor. Many commentators find the second part of the manuscript most satisfying, especially given the religious content and the exciting nature of the adventure through the dungeon.]
The rotting stones were slick and cold, a faint miasma of green mold o'ercasting their foul stench. By candlelight went Brother Westley and his lady down the stairs, strange shadows and stranger screams putting the fear to the lady's gentle soul.
"Hast thou been to this dark place before?" asked Brother Westley, disquieted by the echoes of their footsteps and the evil feel to the air.
'I have not,' Lady Ludmillah said. 'My husband, Lord Holland, forbade it, but I have heard rumor from the maids and serving-boys that perversions so wicked that the devil's dam would blush do take place here at the dark of the moon and the dim of the sun, on witches' sabbats and midnights drab.'
At these words the candle flickered. 'Let us not call the devil,' quod Brother Westley. 'Come, what wouldst thou show me?'
At these words they reached the very base of the black stairway, where gloom hung o'er the miserable occupants of that cold and dank place that was so near to hell that the reek of sulfur came from the reeds upon the floor.
'In truth, dear brother, I am not sure,' quod Ludmillah, her eyes casting about the dungeon, flitting to and fro. 'There are wonders and monsters many encaged in my lord Holland's menagerie, for so he calls it at his feasts over wine and dainties. I thought mayhap some of these wonders would be the devil's own and then thy brotherhood could come to bear against him.'
'Thou hast an inflated idea of Father Rupert's power, I fear,' quod Brother Westley, taking the lady's hand and kissing it. 'But indeed, if we find heresy and evil within these walls, we may then take it to the magistrate, and the archbishop, and mayhap then Lord Holland's reign shall be at last done and the lure of his red gold and devilish powers broken.'
'Ay,' quod Lady Ludmillah, curious about this hidden part of the manor that she had been forbid to explore as she walked through the sodden rushes and peered into the cells of the prisoners. 'I fear me that many of these cells are graves.'
'God-a-mercy,' Brother Westley said, looking with her. 'Thou sayest true. Thy husband is not kind to his fantastic menagerie, or mayhap they are returned to rot with the living as warning.'
'Or punishment,' said Lady Ludmillah, a wild fear entering into her soul as the candlelight danced upon the walls. 'I should not have brought us here, good brother. My lord will find us and cage us both for his pleasure, for he will be most disappointed that I have denied his devil's works and embraced Christ.'
At this, Brother Westley said nothing, for much did he fear that this conversion was as slight as all the others, and that confinement in a cell would overcome both his and her resolve to sin no more. Thus he led her from the gruesome cells by hand, taking them deeper into the stinking labyrinth the Lord Holland -- devil take that sinner! -- had carved from stone and bone and filthy slime.
Full long did they travel through that dark dungeon, and in truth Ludmillah grew dizzy and ill from the stench of death and the thin creatures that did still live, demon and man both. 'Have mercy!' they would cry. 'Good sir and gracious lady, have pity!'
[Ed. note: further gothic description of the dungeon follows, along with many more bloody passages, as Lady Ludmillah keeps wanting to faint but decides this is not such a good idea given that if Lord Holland finds them, they're worse than dead. We pick up, then, in one of the more fascinating exchanges of the section...indeed, what might be the first example of European vampire fiction.]
'Alas that I was born!' cried the man. 'Alas! Good sir, godly brother, sweet lady, stop!'
At that piteous importuning, Lady Ludmillah bid her Westley stop, for the prisoner within that cell had the voice of a piteous angel, all sorrowing and pleading. Carefully [Ed. note: in response to an earlier incident where Lady Ludmillah almost meets her end at the snatching hands of a harpy beast with claws] she bent low to look toward the occupant of the dank cell.
'Why, he is a man, a very wild Irishman, of fine shape and face,' she said, calling Brother Westley to her side. 'How came you to so low a place? And what art thou yclept?'
'I was called Liam in my youth,' quod the man, 'But in this foul dungeon they call me the angel, for the guards swear they have never seen so fair a man in so dark a place, dear lady, darker than even the bogs and more stinking than even at the midnight of St. Lucia day that is called Yule!'
But Brother Westley was not well-believing of the sweet words of Liam the Angel, for none in the place looked so well and full as he, as though he had recently supped on more than dry bread and tears. 'Beware this fool,' he warned Ludmillah. 'For all the Irish tell sweet tales from birth, and flatter the listener.' [Ed. note: one suspects Brother Westley is less wary of Liam the Angel's tales and more jealous of Ludmillah's interest in him, a character point well-noted in the text.]
'I could no more tell a sweet tale than thou could squeeze blood from a stone,' said Liam sadly and boldly. 'For mine is a tale of woe. Cursed I was by a Breton witch, and cursed by blood-drinkers before, those wicked and dissolute creatures who did kneel at the foot of the cross and lick at the feet of our lord Jesu in his agony, which is why a splinter of wood shall destroy them.' [Ed note: one sees a familiar vampire topos here, and a surprisingly evolved rationale for their existence and how to destroy them, though the word vampire has clearly not made its way to England yet.]
'Blood drinker?' cried Lady Ludmillah, revolted. 'Get thee behind me, Satan! For indeed it is as my Westley has said. Ye Irish devil, beguiler of a sympathetic lady, you would entrance me and then drain me of my blood, ye dead feeder upon the living, you abomination!'
'Aye, alas, I have fed upon the living. The rats of this dungeon are piped toward my cell, and thus I thrive where my fellows fail,' said Liam the Devil most piteously. 'Have mercy upon me yet, lady! For I am not as other blood-drinkers. I have been chosen by the hand of God to abate this curse upon me by doing his works in dark of night, where none might see, for 'tis as the scripture says, let not the right hand see what the left doth do.'
Brother Westley strode forward, brandishing his cross. 'If truly thou art chosen by God, then take this holy sigil in thy hand,' said he. 'For even the devil can quote scripture to his purpose. Take ye then this holy rood, and prove to my eyes and that of the lady's that ye are uncurst and deserve life, or else ye shall truly die.'
Reluctantly did Liam the Devil, with his angel's face, take that proferred cross, his heart greatly sorrowful, for indeed his curse was not so far abated that he could clutch the holy relic of God to his breast. Smoke rose from his hands and at last, throwing the cross aside with more-than-human strength, he sprang to the bars, his demon's face uncovered.
'Do ye think you and your ilk will keep me within this gilded cage?' he hissed in great anger and madness, driven to foul words in his anguish and long travail in Lord Holland's foul prison. 'I know your type, whited sepulchres who fear the truth! And indeed, good brother, I know thy sin, thy abiding lust for that strumpet who disports herself as the finest lady in England, thy wish to rut upon the stones like very dogs in their heat...'
'I would not say such things!' cried Brother Westley, taking up his cross to ward away the demon foul. 'Ye would have fed upon us like wolves upon sheep, and thou curse us? Curst creature! I bid thee shrivel and die, son of Satan!'
Liam the Devil burst into much merry laughter, for he had rarely seen the likes of the priest, who trembled even as he went forth for his lady. 'Cowardly lad, I know thee well,' quod he. 'And though indeed I would take thee in my arms and sup upon thy blood, I know it to be sin, and shall not take a human life. But thou, brave demon fighter, where is thy starch? I am but a caged devil. End my life, for indeed, I long to die!'
Brother Westley stared upon him, pity warring with rage in his breast, for indeed the blood-drinker had kindly eyes full of grief as he stared upon him, going from demon to human, and his words did strike too potent upon the good priest's soul.
'I am not God, devil, nor do I wield a sword,' said Brother Westley. 'Thy life is not mine to end, though I would its end for the slander upon my lady.'
'And fine she is,' taunted the demon. 'I smell thy kisses upon her skin but not thy human taint. What, did thou prove impotent? If she were to come to this cell, I wager she would find all she desired and more to put a blush in wanton cheeks...and ay, thou as well, for thou art near as fair as she in eyes and mouth...'
'Oh, enough!' cried Lady Ludmillah, for she was well tired of the demon's endless prattle. Snatching her wood-hilt dagger from her boot the gallant and most vexed of ladies in England brushed past her all- too-priestly love and thrust the sharpened wood deep within Liam the Devil's chest. 'If I would hear wicked words of shame for my misdeeds, I have me a husband who would like all to well to chide me!'
'Alack,' said Liam the devil. 'What manner of woman art thou? I am slain!'
And thus Liam the devil, angel-faced Irish boy, did fall to dust upon the floor, ne'er to be heard of again. [Ed. note: Except this is manifestly not true. 'Liam the Angel' has been linked to the Wild Elizabeth cycle in places, enough so that Gillian Harwood has questioned whether or not the demon in the dungeon was originally Liam the Angel, or if the name was substituted in to make the confrontation more interesting to those familiar with the Wild Elizabeth cycle, which is only tangentially related to Westley and Ludmillah.]
'O, what hast thou done?' wailed a new and feminine voice. 'My Angel! O, sweet Liam! What hast thou done, wicked lady?'
And Lady Ludmillah was of foul temper then, for she had grown weary of being insulted as though she were the commonest swiving slattern of the village green. 'I have slain a demon, prating fool,' quod she. 'And what manner of demon art thou, that I may have at thee, too?'
'O sweet Liam, what have they done!' cried the maid within the facing cell. 'Sweet Liam, dear chosen of God...thou foolish lad, to let the woman do this! For Liam the Angel was called by God to minister in blackest night, and I to see his way, for I am yclept Cordula, the fairest diamond of the sea...'
[Ed note: the character of Cordula is strangely compelling, though minor. She makes a few appearance in other Wedonus poems, primarily the earliest fabliaux featuring the ever-popular Alex the Knave, a one-eyed village boy who is consistently being shamed. Sir William the Poet, who we have not yet met, is extremely fond of Alex the Knave, though oddly, William the Poet treats Alex the Knave as a fictional character, though he is linked to Cordula and several other minors of the Wild Elizabeth legends.]
'He drank blood,' said Lady Ludmillah. 'If he could, he would have feasted upon thine like a lamb to the slaughter, fool child.'
'I saw for him,' wept Cordula. 'So much evil in the world I saw, and if but my knight Liam were freed from this foul encampment, he would have gone forth and stopped it! But thou, proud witch, and thou, coward priest, you have done a wrong and will suffer greatly for the death of Liam the Angel. Indeed...'
Wailing all sudden, Cordula fell then to the floor and took fit, shaking back and forth in the possession of some angel or devil, they knew not which; and indeed, at the sound of Cordula's shrieks and screams did all the occupants of that gaol, both living and dead, take up her cries, calling for the guards and Lord Holland, for Cordula wept.
'We are undone,' said Brother Westley. 'We will not 'scape this dungeon. Thou ought not to slay that Liam, lady, for thou hast brought doom from heaven upon our heads.'
And oh, was the Lady Ludmillah stung, for she truly loved that priest, Brother Westley, more than life, and to hear him slander her brought deep anguish to her soul. 'Thou shalt,' said she. 'For I have heard, all in whispers between the serving-girls, that there is a second door from this place that will leave thee in the woods. Go down past this monster's cell, and turn twice, and the door shall be before thee...'
'What, and leave thee to the tender mercies of Lord Holland?' asked Brother Westley, perhaps now mindful that his words of vexation had been a thorn in Lady Ludmillah's stormy soul. 'If I die, 'twould be my wish to die with thee.'
Lady Ludmillah then did regard her priestly beloved with some consternation, for in truth, she was a practical soul of the old school, for all her blushes and swoons, and knew that Lord Holland would take no pause before running Brother Westley right through on suspicion of cuckoldry.
'I would rather ye not die, nor me,' quod she. 'Take to thy feet, good brother, for I will not be thy executioner, not even if you bid me so. I will speak fairly to my lord and so overweening is his belief in my wickedness and so lascivious his lust that I might deceive him and blind him to my true intent.'
And Brother Westley was so overcome with surprise that he did embrace his lady and kiss her twice upon the mouth. 'Surely, you do not wish me to abandon thee,' he said. 'Must I leave thee in such peril?'
'If thou wish us both to have breath this night, yes, thou must!' she said. [Ed. note: Ludmillah's strong point is clearly not patience; frequently, treatments for paintings of the romance have shown Lady Ludmillah beyond her patience with Brother Westley, who is characteristically not shown in monkly garb despite his explicit priestly station.]
He kissed her again upon her rose-red cheek, and clasped her hands. Ludmillah gave him a hard look, for indeed she knew the ill-favor of her husband far better than Brother Westley might imagine, having faced it in the matter of her cursing Lord Holland for her beloved's sake. Turned she from him with hardest look to prepare herself for the onslaught of foul rumor, whose wicked tongue doth caress as flame, mocking the innocent and pleasing the guilty. [Ed. note: though given that Ludmillah has all but committed out-and-out cuckoldry, the paean to rumor is oddly humorous here.] Fie upon its shameless words, that do so many hearts trouble and souls ache! The pleasing waters of innocent words ought quench that flame.
And thus, at last, did Brother Westley flee, in terror that such thing proved him a coward despite his lady's plea, and to the monastery did he run to find himself good counsel if he did have to travel 'cross England and to the far marches of Wales to find that thing.
Lady Ludmillah, thus, in piteous fear stood rooted to the spot, the loathsome stones about her seeming bedaubed with blood and gore, until Lord Holland came, leading his soldiers through the noisome dungeon in a clatter.
'My lady, there has been rumor of murder here,' quod he. 'Where is thy pleasant companion? Sure, he has not left thee alone and bereft in this most cold and unpleasant place, sweetheart?'
And Lady Ludmillah cast down her eyes and looked abashed, for she was as all daughters of Eve and well-versed in the ways of pleasing foolish male eyes who find a lady's countenance to hold her soul and hast not read the authorities on the nature of woman.
'Alas, we have quarreled, my lord,' quod she, wringing her hands as if in deepest despair. 'I have tired of this Brother, and would be reconciled with thee, good sir and my dear husband, to seek thy forgiveness and thy affection, which I fear I have lost in a girlish whimsy.'
'Why, sweeting!' cried Lord Holland, embracing the lady. 'My bravest love, come with me, for I will hear more of this priestly brother's perfidy against thee to bear to the abbot.'
Her arm in his grasp, the lady was thus dragged from the dungeon, much to the amusement of Lord Holland's thuggish warriors and the occupants of that loathsome place, who did in truth bear Lady Ludmillah hatred for her clean and fair face and gown, which was entirely ruint when the Lord Holland, his rage belying his pleasant words, did throw Lady Ludmillah 'gainst the floor of the buttery when he ascertained that only he and she were around.
'How dare you?' cried Ludmillah amongst the rushes, her face bright with something not sorrow. 'I am thy lady and thy behavior is most churlish!'
'As befits a lord who has been cuckolded and mocked by his most false of wives, who cannot even keep the priest in her clutches long enough to fulfill her promise to her wedded lord,' said Lord Holland in most deadly earnest. 'I have been more than kind to thee and thy childish whims, woman, and I have been given horns without the promis'd reward.'
Still kneeling upon the floor, Ludmillah began to weep [ed. note: big crocodile tears, as it's noted in other parts of the narrative that Lady Ludmillah doesn't cry. Her performance for Lord Holland is quite impressive and much has been made of the performative nature of Lady Ludmillah's character in Bakhtinian criticism in the last ten years] large tears and throw her arms about her lord's legs.
'Do not doubt me, my love!' quod she. 'For I have been seized with folly at my infatuation for this ghostly brother, whose charms have been that of a lover rather than a priest, and have failed in my duties to thee, my spouse and true friend.'
'What, would thou prove thy love with wailing?' asked Lord Holland, for his heart was stone against the lady's misery. 'Get up; I would not have thee fawn about like a dog.'
Ludmillah rose, no tears left to shed. 'What must I do to prove myself?' she asked, as pale as light at dawn and as lovely. 'I am thy wife; command me.'
'The seduction of the priest has gone awry, and little can thou do to save it,' said Lord Holland, his face still cold as the blackest ice in winter. 'What need have I for thee?'
And thus was the Lady Ludmillah truly frightened, for Lord Holland had a killing look in his grey eye, and wild rumor did fill the castle that the predeceased lady of the manor, one Lady Katharine, had met an end in the chill of the river, a claim of madness and suicide thrown over the bare corpse, who did not even thus merit Christian burial.
'Whatever need that ye find, I will fulfill,' said she in sweetest tones, praying that her beauty and her voice might find some manly desire less hard than stone and turn Lord Holland's look to her favor. 'Thy lady, thy very wedded wife, I am; my world, my body, my very look is thine to order, as all the authorities have taught.'
A smiled thus crossed Lord Holland's face, one that promised torture and death and hellfire, for he was a very monster, a servant of the devil and his kin. 'Then I have a use for thee,' quod he, taking her chin in his hand and turning her head back and forth with a mischievous air. 'In three nights, it shall be the new moon...'
[Ed. note: As is customary with most translations of the Lay of Westley of Wyndham, Lord Holland's explanation of just what exactly he plans to do with what must have been a truly traumatized Lady Ludmillah has been cut, as it focuses heavily upon astrological aspects that make little sense to a modern audience.]
'And indeed,' said Lord Holland, stroking the lady's shoulder as she began to tremble with a stomach-ache, 'On that happy night shall we conceive the Destroyer, who has been locked in some futurity where his spirit cannot be unlocked, and when thou bring him forth, truly wilt thou be the most blessed of women among the demons, and a new world shall be born upon thy labors.'
Now, Lady Ludmillah was weak from fear, and near to fainting, but the curiosity of what Lord Holland proposed to do to her and by her left her questioning. 'How can this be?' quod she. 'If the Destroyer will come, then thou hast divined it. How can we, in this far past, change what must needs be, the birth of the Destroyer to come? How came he to be confined?'
'Ah, thou hast struck upon it, lady,' said Lord Holland [ed. note: who doesn't seem to get it any more than Ludmillah or the audience] with a sharkish laugh. 'If the binding hast not yet happened, why then...we shall call him, as my masters wish. Now what say you, my swan, my sweeting? Must I bind thee to the altar or will you say aye to this?'
Behind Lord Holland the firelight raged up, so he did seem bathed in blood, and Ludmillah again nearly fell faint at her grim lord's feet, as he did seem to truly desire, for he was still under Anyanka's curse and could only find his manhood when the curser was insensate. But the lady was not faint, nor was she cowed, for an Amazon did reside within her breast [Ed. note: Terry Jones, in one of his typical jokes about the lay, asked, 'What was her name? Diana? Hippolyta? Now, now, Lady Ludmillah, there's no having an Amazon concealed in your breasts if you're not going to introduce us!'] and she did no longer fear this devil Lord Holland as a humble petitioner in Christ.
'I say that what must be, will be, three days hence,' quod she, clasping his hand and making to kiss his rings. 'My good lord does honor me so unexpectedly.' [Ed. note: Given Ludmillah's notoriously bad temper, one suspects Ludmillah is considering showing Lord Holland just how much she appreciates the honor with a sharp knife.]
'Tis only what my lady wife deserves,' said Lord Holland. 'Dost thou wish to withdraw?'
'My lord is too wise,' quod she, leaning up on tip-toe to kiss Lord Holland on the chin. 'I am overwhelmed by this news, and must to my rooms to contemplate and prepare.'
'Go to,' Lord Holland said with a laugh, playfully swatting the lady's bottom as she, near tears and weariness, fled to consider what she could do to save herself from this most terrible of fates...
[Ed. note: meanwhile, back at the ranch...we lose ten lines here, because it really does end with a bottom swat ... okay, so Lord Holland seized her privily about the arse like he was hende Nicholas from the Miller's Tale, but I'm guessing he swatted her on the butt, which, you know, Lady Ludmillah did not appreciate. Anyway, the manuscript reaches a high point here, one that is very controversial but that the majority of readers decided is probable, given the Wedonus manuscript's enjoyment of punishing lovers for no particular reason.]
In prayers and preparation was Brother Westley, much certain that he had committed sins of the highest order against the ever-fickle God of Love and his all too bold lady, whom he ought, by all accounts, to defend to his very death at the hands of Lord Holland, despite her protests.
'I must return to the manor,' the hapless brother said. 'For truly, I have failed the lady in this moment and ought to be scourged for it...for if she dies, then I shall most certainly deserve hellfire for my failings.'
Thus in this darkest moments for the young priest came rapping at the door his friend and confidante, that same Brother Andrew of whom thou hast heard so many tales for his tales are ever being told for merriment and learning at the tables of the lowest and highest to both's great satisfaction. Ah, that good Brother Andrew, he who journeyed forth with that knight, Sir Percyvale, when great griffins winged down on Sundale! Ah, that good Brother Andrew, who did learn the words that God did speak to his mother Mary fair when first she came to heaven, that fine good man Brother Andrew!
'Brother Westley, there is a lady,' quod he in quiet tones with no small alarm. 'I think she is the lady of the manor keep, though I have not seen the lady, unless she is the lady, so I am not certain. But the lady is of goodly height, with plaits full dark, like sable or ermine, though indeed, the chapel is dark, so she may have flame-red hair, as the goodwife of the greenwood does, or perhaps the lady's hair be shot through with gold...'
And inded, Brother Westley tried to speak, for he was sure that the Lady Ludmillah did await him in great need in the alcove, but that Brother Andrew would not be paused in his description of the fair lady.
'I did not see her eyes,' said Brother Andrew, looking to and fro as though for accusing eyes, 'but she made noises as though she had been made cold and sad by her walk, snuffling and sniffling through her nose in most piteous fashion, her hands barely covered by a fur muff and she did speak in most low tones to me, good sir, quod she, kind sir, and I did cry, what, me? I am but Brother Andrew, least of the brothers of this godly house. What sir am I? And she said, Brother Andrew, least of the brothers of this godly house, I do beg thy pardon. Couldst thou pity a poor and foolish lady of high station but low spirit, and bring to me a priest of thy order, if he indeed is here? And I said thus, and she asked for thee, so wouldst thou come to see the lady and bid her leave? For it is 'gainst all the rules of our order, as thou well knowest, for her to be here, and I would rather not face the wroth of Father Rupert for mine disobedience.'
And Brother Westley could not decide, for life of him, whether to be merry or wroth with that good Brother Andrew. 'Indeed, good brother,' at last he said. 'I will see to the lady's need and prevent thy sin.'
Thus said, Brother Westley did hurry to the alcove where his lady sat in misery by the light of a single candle, which gave her face an unearthly glow and did again make the priest's heart quicken.
'I beg forgiveness,' he said, falling to his knees before her. 'I have been most unmanly, most ungracious, and most unbefitting to be called thy friend. If thou would have no more of me, it would only be thy right.'
'My right?' asked Lady Ludmillah with bitter laughter, a deep melancholy most clear upon her face. 'Since I have taken up with Lord Holland, it would be better to be the naked beggar babe before the cathedral door than a lady Ludmillah. I have been outraged as a sacrifice to cruel ambition; I have committed sins so great that God himself may not forgive them. And now, this night, I have forsworn myself to my husband that I will be his sacrifice again, so that he might bring forth the Destroyer with this carnal, fallen flesh. There is no forgiveness for me, Brother Westley, so call upon God if you would have some.'
At this most bitter and sorrowing speech was Brother Westley amazed, for indeed Ludmillah had never once despaired, not even in the foulest dungeons, to find some hope or some clever plan. 'Now, indeed, by St. George, what is this melancholy, sweetheart?' asked he, lifting her to her feet. 'My lady Ludmillah is a charmed and charming young wife, whose honeyed tongue and great wit has saved her and those she does favor time and time again. I do not fear that we will find a way to overcome that monstrous beast, that friend of Satan, that foul lord thy husband. Now speak, my dearest sweetheart, and do tell what has gone so afoul.'
Ludmillah, brought near to failing with those sweet words, threw her arms around Westley's neck, in pained tones telling what devil's deal she made with Lord Holland, and how she did fear that on the third night that will she or no, the Lord Holland would claim her soul for the devil and that there would be no saving her yet.
'I would rather die,' said she. 'And if there is no solution, why, then, I will throw myself from the tower a suicide.'
Brother Westley shook his head. 'Why, then, thou wilt not,' he said. 'If I must chain thee to a wall, thou wilt do thyself no harm, nor shalt thou become an unclean vessel for that madman's foulness, nor his Destroyer neither. Now, come, lady, for this place is no sanctuary for us tonight.' [Ed. note: this is unexplained, though it may tie back into Brother Andrew's concerns for spies earlier in the text. Perhaps some missing part of the manuscript explains to us that some of the monks of Father Rupert's monastery have been corrupted...though that would seem to make Ludmillah's first seduction attempts unnecessary.]
Then they went from that place to the guest house, for Father Rupert did always make clear, whether he was in his place or aiding his children of the Sun i' the Dale, that a visitor in need would always find hospitality and sanctuary there, and Brother Westley knew that Father Rupert and Brother Daniel would have great sympathy for the lady's plight, as any man or woman would.
'Tonight shalt thou stay here, for it is protected by this brotherhood,' quod Brother Westley, lighting the great multitude of candles within the small house. 'None but Brother Andrew know that thou art here, and tomorrow we shall thus set forth for the wood where Father Rupert doth preach to the children and aids in their travails and sorrowings.'
'No, love, this is no wise plot,' quod Lady Ludmillah, sitting down upon a wooden bench upon embroidered cushions made by Norman nuns were thrown as though it were a lordly house -- gifts of gratitude for Brother Daniel when he went to Brittany to aid against demons at that nunnery -- and looking at the dance of the flames in the fire. 'You shall go for this help, and I shall go to the dame of the greenwood cottage to-morrow noon and beg a tincture of herb to place upon the wine for the night that Lord Holland would commit his ritual.'
And though her words were wise and clever, Brother Westley found himself troubled. He went to her, to take her hand and look upon her countenance for signs of dissembling, and there were none, though she looked as fair and red-cheeked as a maid a-maying with barely sixteen summers to her name.
'What of the child? If thou dost not conceive, surely he will be suspicious,' said the brother, who did not see, as yet, what Ludmillah had resolved upon their walk toward the house where Father Rupert kept guests in full hospitality and gracious gratitude. Indeed, she had prayed to the Virgin, whom the lady viewed as her patron as the demon Anyanka had been to her mothers, and sure was she that she would be triumphant.
Alas, those proud ladies whom love's cruel arrow has pierced! For they are wise and dissembling, but not awake to the true call of Jesus and his maiden mother, the Virgin Mary free and mild.
'Aye,' quod she, her hand still clasped in his. 'But thou wilt not be gone so long, not long enough to uncover me. And if we have survived the manor's dungeon, the suspicions of my lord are easily allayed, especially with more wine and fevered kisses.'
Brother Westley sighed, for memory of those fevered kisses that he could not be favored with, and those sweet looks that were not for him. 'I would not leave thee, not again,' he said. 'I might send Brother Andrew, or John Nathan, to vouchsafe thy gracious person 'gainst murderous whim of thy lord, for I should not leave thee defenseless before that demon!'
'No, nor shall I allow this,' quod she. 'I ask ye thus for two things to guard me whilst thou art on thy journey...nay, I would call it a most noble and fine quest by my own demon hunter...to protect me and this Wyndham Town from the cruel acts of Lord Holland.'
In some small pride, Brother Westley swelled at Lady Ludmillah's florid praise of him, smiling at her. 'Anything that thou ask, I shall give,' quod he, not wisely but boldly.
'I would ask that small cross about thy neck that I might conceal it, for protection against those cruel dark magicks that would call the devil upon thee,' said she. Brother Westley immediately took his from about his neck and bound it about hers carefully, the tips of his fingers brushing across her neck.
'Now what else, my lady?' asked Brother Westley gently.
'A kiss,' quod she with a sudden sparkle in her eyes. 'For thou must be gone for many days, and that for reasons that will ever separate us in this life. And I would have a memory of sweetness to vouchsafe me against this galling dissembling I must make merry in while that beast, Lord Holland, draws breath and rules the manor.'
Now, at this Brother Westley would have turned, for truly he knew that he was weak and this was the veriest temptation to the most sinful adultery and lechery, but he had promised her anything she asked, and indeed, bright tears were welling up in her eyes.
'One kiss,' quod he. 'A most chaste and friendly kiss, for I am thy confessor, thy priest, thy teacher in Christian ways, and cannot be thy lover or thy wedded husband and must not lead thee into sin.'
'One kiss,' she agreed, tears upon her cheeks. 'Do not chide me so, for I am a woman and afraid for thy life and mine. Give me a kiss for comfort and for strength for what I must do; do not speak to me harshly about what I have not asked for.'
So Brother Westley sat down beside Ludmillah, the loveliest of ladies, and gently bestowed upon her lips one kiss, but, alas! This was no chaste kiss, for indeed the trembling of Ludmillah's mouth when he kissed her was more intoxicating than wine, her gentle cry tinder upon a flame. He kissed her once, then, upon finding he was not gainsaid, kissed her again, and again a third time.
[Ed. note: which has led more than a few commentators to suggest that Brother Westley should have found a more appropriate place to kiss Lady Ludmillah, such as the cheek or the forehead, and has outraged those who consider this a failed romance because of the failures to stay within regular strictures of courtly love. Again, I suggest because of the end punishments, where the social norms are forced upon the lovers, this is less failed romance and more of an aspect of a morality tale. Sic temper ill-fated lovers!]
'Now,' quod she breathlessly, 'What's this?'
'A kiss for comfort,' quod he, kissing her upon her cheek. 'And a kiss for strength. And again, a kiss for thy bravery, and now one for thy mouth, that I have long thought needs much stopping up with kisses until thou art merry.'
Ludmillah looked upon him with some slight alarm, but more cheer, for she was of a practical temperament that could forget sin and instruction in gravest morals for matters of earthly necessity.
'And if it takes 'til dawn?' she asked.
'Then,' said Brother Westley, at last lost to the temptations of love that did buffet him about mercilessly, like a ship tossed upon the seas before sinking into that wine-dark expanse, 'Until dawn shall I make thee merry, for I will not leave thee until all memory of tears is gone from thy fairest face. I have promised to comfort thee; I will, for the great love and friendship I bear thee, keep this promise.'
[Ed. note: Now, obviously, given the propriety of the situation, we get a very nice fade to black here, as some sexual sins must truly be left to the imagination. Though, clearly, the bawdy anonymous 15th century balladeer who wrote about the priest, the lady and 'merry making by candle 'til dawn' didn't think so.]
Upon the first pale rays of a grey dawn did Brother Westley wake from deep and restful slumber to discover an empty bed, for Lady Ludmillah had wisely realized that if Lord Holland were to be guiled by her plottings and plannings, she would have to behave as a dutiful wife. And truly, Brother Westley was again doleful and bereft, for in his heart, he wished to cast off his vows in truth as well as in spirit and take his lady to the far ends of the world where neither Lord Holland nor his vengeful spirits could harm them, but he did recognize that the privy wishes of a lover were not always those of God's high good. [Ed. note: intriguingly, Fradenthal points this out as the moment of tragedy within the narrative, where Ludmillah and Westley constantly deny their "transcendant jouissance" to submit themselves to an order where their sacrifice is not appreciated, and that the reader is asked to find the jouissance in the text in the constant denial of gratification in the love story because of the pleasure of the sacrifice.]
'Would that I had a token of her affection!' he said in lowly spirits, for the quest he would soon undertake gave pause even to the bravest knight. Then he did see that upon the coverlet that Lady Ludmillah, in foresight, had left for him her crimson-and-golden girdle [Ed. Note: shades of Gawain and the Green Knight!] to bind about his waist as would the proudest knight who did his lady's bidding for her love, though Brother Westley, in shame and delight, knew his lady's love was fixed upon him.
Thus arrayed and prepared, Brother Westley set out upon his path, the clouds lit as gold by the rising sun and the air with a cold and bitter chill in it, clutching his staff as he crossed the fields and dales into the woods and that treacherous path.
Full six weeks walked he, meeting with many and varied a mighty adventure, for he did encounter the small folk at the edges of the greenwood, who sang to him mockingly that he had doomed his lady fair, o! Lost was she to the darkest rites of the wicked Lord, but Brother Westley did banish those lost souls by singing psalms and calling Ave Maria, Christe Eleison, and praying that those souls who heard his godly pleas would be thus converted. Indeed, 'tis said that the small creatures of the wood followed him after this, Christ's very truth borne into their soul by the piteous quest and broken heart of this brother who felt himself no more a priest.
[Ed. note: it is assumed that in the original version, Brother Westley's original walk through the woods is gone into in much more detail and that given the excitement of the romance, Brother Westley's quest is made secondary, again suggesting a later date of composition. Liuzza suggests that the digression exists in the 12th century French verse 'Sir Wesley,' but this is a highly controversial theory.]
On the fortieth day of his walking to and fro throughout the countryside did Brother Westley, weary, cold, and hungry, slip upon treacherous rocks and fall into the icy river, which current lifted him up and would drag him down to death and failure. But Brother Westley did raise his voice in mighty prayer, 'O Lord Jesu!' quod he, 'Not for myself would I be saved, but to protect my lady and her life from that enemy of thine, that demon Lord Holland of Wyndham Manor. By the rood, and by thy gracious mother most free, spare my life, though I am a worm, a sinner, and a faithless coward!'
And indeed, God took pity on that man, for riding along the road came three of the finest knights on life, parfait gentil chivalrous men whose names are famed in book and tapestry: [Ed. note: which we, of course, don't have.]
First, Sir Raleigh, yclept by all The Finn. Full fair and strong was he, with golden locks that tumbled about his face. A mighty knight, Sir Raleigh, whose prowess in battle was matched by his just ways, and indeed, he was sought out for his decisions in law and order. In his armor he sat bravely, crying, 'Look, ho! A godly brother in need!' Brave and haughty lord, Sir Raleigh! He was no man to cross.
Now thus came Sir Carlos the Moor to the river, for he could swim when the currents were fast and high. He was a tall man, who had come to Christ in Seville by the preaching of a pious and grand preacher who stood in the city square to proclaim the gospel, and most valiant in the keeping of Jerusalem in days gone past. He had ridden 'cross Germany and Hungary and even Italian lands, all as a warrior of God, and now to England he had come to be as valorous in that land as in all others.
'Take my hand, sir!' cried Carlos the Moor, and Brother Westley did seize upon it to be dragged upon the land, soaked and chilled to the very bone. 'What misfortune has befallen you, fellow? Rarely have I seen such a thin and pale cleric upon the roads. Hast thou been robbed or beaten?'
'Nay, Sir Carlos,' quod the third of the trio of knights, who dismounted from his charger, a proud roan beast envied for its endurance up and down England, and even in the marches of Wales and Scotland. 'Have ye no eyes nor heart? Look upon this priest's face and thou shalt know it truly, that indeed this good brother is a man in most desperate love.'
'Why, Sir William!' said Sir Raleigh. 'Wouldst thou impugn this priest so?'
Sir William the Poet, for i-truth, twas he who spoke those prophetic words, did aid Brother Westley to his feet and threw his finest cloak over the sodden priest. 'Tis no rudeness I meant, though the priestly business would give a lover pause, 'tis true,' he said. 'But, tell us, good fellow, if it is indeed love that sets thy feet on this cruel hard path to seek further aid and help, for indeed I divined this morning that we three brave knights, of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, would be called upon to assist a true lover in his quest to depose an unjust lord and evil man. My friend, art thou the man?'
[Ed. note: ah, Sir William the Poet, the most beloved knight of the Wedonus MSS. Debates about Sir William have marred critical scholarship of the manuscript for decades, ever since the fiery denunciation of Sir William by Bolyn in the 1956 monograph, 'The True Character of William the Poet' and the equally fiery defense of Sir William as the perfect chivalric model by Tucker in 1958. While it is universally agreed that there is something charming about Sir William's passionate defense of profane love, for a Hospitaler and a knight united to his two brothers in arms, his general love of bawdry, magic, and his odd preknowledge of everything make him an equally annoying figure to many. Recently, Gillian Newsom has suggested a new critical volume on the scholarship surrounding Sir William, with the title 'Fair and Balanced: The Debate on Sir William the Poet,' which will certainly be an interesting read, if nothing else.]
Brother Westley was quite taken aback by this knight's allegations, for all true were they, and most far-seeing. 'I may be, good sir,' quod he. 'But prithee, share with this poor fool thy names, so I might thank ye properly and offer up prayers for thy glory and salvation, if my poor words are heard by heaven.'
'Indeed, I am Sir William the Poet,' said the knight. 'And these my comrades, Sir Raleigh, yclept the Finn, and the Moor, Sir Carlos, whom thou wouldst recognize as thy savior. Now, indeed, who art thou, and where is thy monastery, good brother? And indeed, who is this lady whom thou hast fallen so deeply in love with that thou wouldst trod up and down the countryside to seek aid for her?'
'My name is Westley of Wyndham,' said the man, who watched in wonder as Sir Carlos started a fire to warm the four. 'I come from Father Rupert's monastery, he who rides with Wild Elizabeth, on a most desperate task to protect the new young wife of that old devil, Lord Holland of Wyndham Manor.'
[Ed: Westley then proceeds to retell the story, including the successful seduction, though not the failed one, which leads some scholars to believe that it's a duplicated section by the scribes. Sir Raleigh is disapproving, Sir Carlos is not entirely sure of Lady Ludmillah's fidelity, but Sir William, of course, is impressed.]
'Ay me,' quod Sir William the Poet. 'This is indeed a tale of great love and great woe! And that villain, Lord Holland, for too many years we knew of his perfidy and could not act for lack of evidence, which thou hast readily provided us, and thy gracious lady, too. We shall at once ride up and bring forth a mighty brace of warriors to depose that foul villain and unite thee properly with thy lady.'
Sir Raleigh raised his hand at this. 'Now, now, Sir William. First we must consult on account of this adultery what indeed the holy church will wish to do with these immoral lovers who have broken that law of God. We shall indeed aid thy quest to rid us of Lord Holland, good brother, but do not hope too strenuously that thy lady shall be united with thee, for she has penance she must undertake to remove that taint of witchcraft from her soul.'
Now, Sir William looked distressed at this all-too-wise plan, and Sir Carlos even had a look of disquiet, for Brother Westley had made it quite clear that he would resign his holy orders as he felt he must rectify his sin by Lady Ludmillah by asking her to marry him. But Brother Westley heard the reproval and bowed his head. 'As the holy church said,' quod he. 'Now, good sir knights, what wilt thou have me do? For it has been many weeks since last I was in Wyndham, and there may be some who fear me dead, including that gentle lady whom I have wronged. I would travel most swiftly back to Wyndham to assure her, all in secret, that help comes.'
Sir Carlos, who had taken a great liking to Brother Westley, did smile. 'I have a grey palfrey, good priestly sir, that I will lend to thee to return to this Ludmillah for whom thou art so tenderly inclined, so that tomorrow, after supping and feasting with us, thou may set out on a return to Wyndham, and we will follow the day after after raising Sir Graham and the finest knights of England to ride with banners and trumpets to cast down this foul tyrant from his post."
[Ed. note: a description of the feasting follows, and the first digression, a fabliaux of Alex the Knave, of whom Sir William the Poet is overly fond, occurs, which is translated excellent by Hayward Dunning into modern street style and may be posted later. Brother Westley is given better, warmer clothes, a good place to sleep for the night, and much advice and fellowship from Sir Raleigh, Sir Carlos, and Sir William, ending with this bit:]
'Now, at last sir,' said Sir William the Poet, about whom much is said, 'This rood, here, was worn by my father's father when he first rode into Jerusalem a valiant champion. God blessed him, and my father, too, and me. I give it now to thee, good sir, for I place all my faith in love.'
Brother Westley took the cross, which was simple wood. 'Benedicte, good Sir William,' quod he. 'May God bless thee for thy generosity, and the hospitality of thy house!'
And thus, with rood upon his neck and upon the fine grey palfrey of Sir Carlos, Brother Westley rode toward his fair lady with cross upon his chest and hope at last in his heart.
Upon the marches and plains did Brother Westley ride forth, and that cross that he bore from Sir Carlos the Moor, finest and strongest of those knights with a blade, and perhaps the mightiest knight on life with an axe, over hill and through dale went he, singing songs of high praise for Our Lord Jesu and his mother Mary dear and free.
'Alma mater redemptoris,' sung he, and Ave Maria, and Kyrie Eleison, and lyrics written by the Brother Daniel, who had harped as a youth in days long past in the countryside golden and fair.
'Blessed be the Lord our God! Blessed be the Virgin proud and fair! Blessed be our lovely earth, blessed beyond the brightest air...' [Brother Daniel's tuneful ode to God and nature, which sounds vaguely Franciscan in origin, has often been used to attempt to date the lay; however, as Plimpton has pointed out, it would appear the song is of a late date than most of the lay, and that it is perhaps a scribal attempt to connect Westley's going across the plains singing to the curious incident that follows.]
And while he sang those bright and holy words so sweet, those scabrous robbers and thieves who infest the roads, searching for gold or brass, were lulled away, for thus does God protect his own, and that Brother Westley was so richly blessed that not even the mangy hound of a bandit crossed his path before he was a bare day from the very manor of Lord Holland and his pit of cruel filth.
But even the most blessed of God must be tested, and Brother Westley was to be sore tested as he rode that final day, a bitter cold but fair bright day through the most barren of wastes, all bramble and wind and bluster to test even the patience of that palfrey given Brother Westley by Sir Carlos, Sir William, and Sir Raleigh the Finn.
'Alack, this will take a long while, and each day I feel my lady's strength fail,' quod Brother Westley, long since burnt by the sun and looking more like a gentleman than a good monk, though he had not failed in any ritual that he could complete himself, praying to the Lord our God morning noon and night, and being charitable to those few he saw haunting the roads that are so lamentably ridden by thieves and bandits of foulest repute. 'May God keep her safe from harm 'til I arrive!'
At this, of all moments, did that brother hear cried, 'Help!' in most piteous tones, and again, 'Help! Help, for pity's sake!' and Brother Westley, though unarmed but for his knife and rood, did turn his horse and ride toward that voice, which reminded him of his dear Lady Ludmillah a-sorrowing in her dark and terrible keep so far from him.
'Ay, what goes on here?' asked Brother Westley, coming thus upon a scene of near-defilement, with a young maiden clinging to a scrap of cloth for modesty's sake while two large men taunted her. 'What doth this mean, good fellows? Surely, the maid must need her clothing.'
And ay, one of those louts, a fellow with an ill-kept, ratty look about him, for he seemed clever but wicked, laughed. 'Brother, we have need of the maiden's clothing, and indeed, the maiden, if thy wits are not too thick to follow! For we are young, and youth has needs that needs must not be denied.'
'Faugh! That is nothing but sophistry,' quod Brother Westley. 'Give the maid back her robe or I shall give thee a whipping that thou shalt not soon forget, licentious youth!'
Mockingly, the louts drew back to reveal all carried stout staffs and could wield them with some skill, and Brother Westley, though a noble man and a fine and pious monk, was not armed to defeat these louts but with his cross, which he drew out from his vestments.
'Would you attack a man of God who is followed by the three greatest knights in all of England, and indeed, in Scotland and Wales, too?'
'Scotland and Wales?' asked the mocking youth, leering at the cringing woman who was still near-naked. 'And ay, the Kingdom of Dogs and the Principality of Pigs as well?' [Ed. Note: The resurgence of national pride is a recurring theme in the last third of the poem, though it is fascinating to see who speaks the nationalism.]
'Be quiet, lad!' said Brother Westley, quite wroth with this glib- tongue ass who brayed a mighty tongue but said very little. 'Give me thy brother's staff and I shall show thee what a man who is in the company of Sir William the Poet, Sir Carlos the Moor, and Sir Raleigh the Finn...'
But the waggish youth went white at these mighty names and his companions squeaked and shrieked as mice do in fright at the whisker of the cat. 'Sir Raleigh? Sir William? Sir Carlos? What have thee to do with them?' asked another of the callow youth.
'They have covenanted with me to quest across England to bring down the foulest tyrant of these lands, Lord Holland, who has so recently returned with ill-gain from the Orient,' said Brother Westley, dismounting to reveal how much taller and stronger he was than the youth. 'Give me a staff, lad, or give me this maid's gown.'
Shaken and terrified, the youth threw the gown and girdle to Brother Westley and then took to his heels with his companions, screaming and shouting that the boys must leave, for Sir Carlos the Moor was riding to slay them. Brother Westley, all amazed that his absent fellows were so mighty, did give that young lady, who had long since stopped fearing and simply smiled in surprise, her rainment.
'What are you called?' she asked in country dialect as he turned his head away in modest way. 'I am Dame Winifred, of the near greenwood. The dirty lads had stolen my dress to force me to give them charms to get through a serewood; they perhaps would have ravished me, but what will not happen does not bear fretting over.'
'My name is Brother Westley of Wyndham. I am one of Father Rupert's monks, the confessor to the Lady Ludmillah of Wyndham Manor,' quod he. 'And indeed, I am lately the lady's lover and dearest friend, gone to seek out mighty knights to protect her from the ravagements of her foul eld spouse, that wicked Lord Holland who practices witchcraft and the devil's arts and consorts with succubi.'
At this denunciation Winifred of the wood drew herself up very tall and thin, which was near as thin as the fairest birches that populated the wood between the monastery and Sunny-o-the-dale. 'And I, who am no friend of Lord Holland, who practices blackest magicks and treats all his thanes as mere slaves, has heard that this Lady Ludmillah is a sorceress of ill repute, tempting a foolish monk to her bedchamber and weeping sore of her fear of her husband, only to laugh with him over the foolishness of that monk for falling so deeply in love and losing his soul over so foul and dried-up a witch as she.'
Now at these words was Brother Westley shamed, for well he knew what foolish monk was being whispered about by the countryside, but he would not brook this slander to his lady, who he knew in his heart's blood was faithful to him once she had made vow.
'Indeed, my good dame Winifred, thus we ought not hear rumor's foul prickings,' quod he. 'What, pray tell, have I done to make thee so ill- willed toward me and my lady, who is indeed at her prayers these days for her many sins and mistakes of her godless life?'
Winifred, whose hair was brown as the bark of trees and smooth and rippling as the wind through grass, did smile at him, and at that moment Brother Westley found himself a bit elf-touched, noting that that fair maiden had ears that were most uncommon, and her smile was a sweet and generous thing, as corn at the harvest, and her eyes were the rich color of a fine dark ale, glimmering in torchlight. [Ed: Many scholars are very curious about this blazon of Winifred, who is clearly a country lass, but who is also surprisingly enchanting to Brother Westley, though not necessarily in a romantic way. Treichler suggests that this detour into fairyland is a way of condoning white magics, or at least suggesting their wide acceptance in the popular culture.]
'Good sir, my mother, and my mother's mother, who have gone on to the far country, the lands of eternal summer, they would weep to hear that a man of God who crossed these lands would not know that there is magic here, since before the days of Uther Pendragon, and that the Lady of the Lake herself smiled upon our house,' said the maid, who was sorrowfully prone to speaking overmuch. 'We smile kindly upon our friends, Brother Westley, but those who oppose my house would find themselves bewildered and entrapped in that sere wood beyond that hill.'
At this did Brother Westley start and fear, for he knew then that the maid was of Faerie and that the path might be a longer while than he had e'er known; indeed, he might never again look upon the lovely face of his Ludmillah, who tarried faithfully in her tower, abiding for his return until Lord Holland did murder her in rage that she would not aid his foul experiments.
'Now, maid,' quod Brother Westley. 'I harbor no ill toward thy house...indeed, I offer the services of my palfrey, given to me as a gift by a mighty Moorish knight, a man as tall as a tree and as loyal as John the Beloved, to help thee journey home, if the way is far.'
Winifred of the woodland laughed at this gallantry, for she was a cunning and naughty maid, much given to changes of demeanor as fast and flickering as a candle's flame, turning with the tide, and she had decided she was passing fond of this lovelorn brother and his hopeless quest to win the proud Ludmillah.
'Come then, boost me to my seat upon this very fine horse, and we shall ride across the plain to thy Babylon, Brother,' quod she, shaking out her hair. It seemed to Brother Westley that golden leaves fell to her feet, and thus became slippers, but he could not believe it to be true. So he shook his head, lifted Winifred up, and fancifully mad [actually, there's a French borrowing -- fee-foule, which is impossible to translate as well, which would be why the borrowing], mounted behind her.
Off then they rode, the long grey way to where Ludmillah, our fair and fine lady, awaited her heart's spouse, her lover, her good ghostly confessor, in his new and more noble demeanor.
Now, despite the rumors heard by the maid Winifred [Ed. note: whose fairyland origins remain under debate, given the inconsistency of referring to Winifred as a fairy. Perhaps, like Ludmillah, she is of mystical origins but not directly mystical.], and some of the countryside, the Lady Ludmillah had kept her vows of truth and piety with diligence even in the absence of Brother Westley's fine blue eyes and well-turned legs, going in secret to the greenwood to get potions to cloud the mind of Lord Holland when she served him wines and ales and let him kiss her upon the neck and lips and call him his bonny sweetheart, the mother of his son, for she had begun to swell not long after the absence of Brother Westley, which some servants found most troubling and worthy of ill words slipt to neighbor and friend that her swelling was not by Lord Holland, whose bed she did not share, but by that long-missing priest.
And indeed, Ludmillah, who spent her days now with her needle and her crucifix [Ed. note: one of the favorite images of the artists devoted to the Westley and Ludmillah lay, particularly those who would have the crucifix cry blood tears while Ludmillah wept and sewed, though since the feminist interest in Ludmillah, the delight in a sewing, passive Ludmillah has waned], abiding and plotting the day that Brother Westley would return to the countryside and she could cast aside her needle and her endless weeping sore to cast down stronger words and stronger deeds upon her tormentor, that Lord Holland of previous memory.
'Holy Jesus, author of my salvation,' she would pray at the small hours of the morning when the bells rang for matins at the monastery and she dreamt of how John Nathan, that good small brother, had been so kind to her, 'Forgive me my sins and bring back my Westley to me, for I am weak and afraid without him.' And thus prayed she for threescore-and-eight days, 'til upon the sixty-ninth day [Ed. note: the possible bawdiness of this number has haunted medievalists for nearly a century, with some translations emending it to a different number of days because they claim this is merely a scribal error. One suspects it is more likely that it was to preserve order in the classroom, as versions not intending for primary schooling usually maintain the original number of days.] Lord Holland brought her a gown of green velvet trimmed in fur and cast it upon the bed.
'My lady,' quod he, clasping her about the waist and gifting her a pair of reeking kisses upon the bosom. 'Garb thyself in that, for I go to show the town of Wyndham my lady and the mother of my heir.' [Ed. note: fascinating how very early the pregnancy has been acknowledged; either Ludmillah 'quickened' earlier than most medieval ladies or the author was unaware of exactly how many days usually elapsed between conception and quickening, which at least two scholars have used to claim the author of the lay is undeniably male and of the priestly class.]
Then he left and Ludmillah gazed upon the gown, which was trimmed in black and gold, as well as the snowiest white lace upon the girdle. She quickly dressed herself in it, wondering at how before her conversion it would have given her truest joy and delight, but now this gown and girdle was little more than ash and gild in the cage of the manor where she and her heart were trapped and dwindling like a falcon ill-treated by its master and not allowed wing.
'Oh, God,' she whispered, gazing out the window as she plaited her hair and put it in its casing. 'How much longer must I endure?'
Thus it was a subdued but most beautiful lady who walked beside her lawful husband through Wyndham Town, where the folk did watch and wonder at the demeanor of the lady, who had been so merry and laughing when last they saw her and was now meek and demure as though the life had been taken from her when upon a grey palfrey rode in Brother Westley and his new friend, Winifred of the woodland, the faerie maid so light of foot that when she dismounted, 'twould look as though she floated.
'That was fine journey!' cried Winifred as Brother Westley put his feet upon the solid ground. 'Thou art the finest of men for a priest, and most gentlemanly!'
Then, for she was as impish and silly as those of her kind, Winifred kissed Brother Westley upon his cheek in full view of the town, one upon his left cheek and the other upon his right, laughing and embracing him as she did, swearing that he was her friend and had saved her time and time over in their gallop.
'Ay me,' quod Lady Ludmillah awkwardly, her hand upon her belly, for she did believe herself betrayed and left alone by the elf-touched gaze in Brother Westley's eye, for indeed he had been beguiled by the light dancing ways of that Winifred Faerie-Maid until he cast his gaze across the way to see the pale countenance of Ludmillah, who in her green gown was so beautiful that he forgot all about the fairy maid and the danger of Lord Holland.
'My lady and my pupil!' quod Brother Westley, going down upon his knee. 'How goes it with thee, madam?'
And Lady Ludmillah's cheeks grew scarlet, for she was of the quickest of tempers and shamed by this so public affection between Westley and Winifred and Westley's gallant and foolish gesture that was inflaming the temper of old Lord Holland, their deadliest foe, and friend to the devil.
'With me?' she said, her hand upon her stomach. 'I fear that since thou last have left me, thou hast changed much, and that thy fair eyes have found another sight to see.'
'How now, madam!' quod Brother Westley, much alarmed. 'What slander is this? I am thy true confessor, as ever I have been. Thou art the lady of the manor, and I am faithful to thy lady's virtue.'
At this Ludmillah laughed, and Lord Holland heard in the laughter the sound of cuckoldry, as though it had been a red sheet waved before him to make him aware of the horns he wore. 'My virtue is at thy command, as ever, good sir,' quod she, unaware that Lord Holland knew her secret meanings. 'But indeed, I see thy friend awaits, so I will not trouble thee with my virtue, which is, as ever, for my husband's pleasure. Good day, Brother Westley.'
'Nay, tarry a moment,' said Brother Westley, aware that there were too many about. 'I have been given a gift for thee that I would now give thee as a token of my affection.'
And thus he gave her the rood, which was bright and lovely as summer or a brook on a bright day. Ludmillah took it and her anger fell away, born as it was of hurt pride. Now she knew that her lover had indeed stayed faithful, for he would not have given her this token had he strayed with the faerie-maid, who was fluttering like a butterfly in bright and cheap clothes, the country-lass she truly was.
'Nay, give me nothing,' said Ludmillah loudly, too aware now that Lord Holland was watching as she took the cross into her hand. 'Thou art a beguiler, a false speaker, and I will none of thee! Begone and take thy maiden with thee!'
Brother Westley cast his head down and walked toward Winifred, who was much surprised at the shoutings between the priest and his lady, who had been the topic of most of the words Brother Westley had spoken on the ride through the woods and by their fire, where Winifred had told a lusty tale of her dear mothers of the green lands.
'Come, let us go,' he said, taking her by the hand. 'The lady will have none of me, and I will not endanger her before her lord.'
Winifred looked sadly as the Lord Holland took Lady Ludmillah by the arm and led her away, up toward the keep of the manor. 'We must hurry, then, for I think perhaps thy lady's glib tongue might at last have met its match,' quod she.
And indeed, Lady Ludmillah was discovering that Lord Holland, once freed from all her veiling and speaking fair words that meant so little in the name of truth.
'So you would make merry of me before your priest?' he asked, her arm still in his cruel grip and spittle flecking the corners of his mouth. 'This is ill-met, wench, and I will make thee pay for it.'
And Ludmillah, not yet so despairing, and still proud, wrenched herself away. 'Thou shalt not, foul devil!' quod she. 'Do not speak to me this way, for I am the daughter of Eve, the daughter of Sophia, and my blood runs strong. For the sake of my child and thine, thou shalt NOT threaten me as thou hast done for a foolishness.'
Now at this, Lord Holland struck Ludmillah, and she went tumbling upon the rushes, crying out at the hurt he did her.
'Behold!' said Lord Holland, for he was red with rage, and black-eyed from the deals he had made so recently with the devils of Hell. 'Thou wilt come with me tonight, wanton slut, for I have need of thee, child- full belly and all. I will have thee as a handmaiden, kneeling as thou ought, or I will slit thy throat from ear to ear where you stand, foul adultering slattern!'
Alarmed, Ludmillah clasped her arms about her, securing the cross that the Hospitaler knights had given her lover within her bodice with a whispered paternoster to protect its holiness in that profane place. 'My Lord, what mean you?'
'The child is not mine,' said the manor's lord in deadly tone, and Lady Ludmillah knew well she would gain no time by denying this truth. 'Twill be no worthy sacrifice to my masters now. I must me find a virgin in my dungeon to sacrifice instead...and mark me well, Ludmillah, tonight I will give thy adultered soul as a token of my affections to those who give me my power, and wil thee, nil thee, it shall be on the blackest midnight.'
'If't is God's will, by the rood, shall it be!' quod she bravely, for truly Lady Ludmillah was sore frightened by the demon upon her lord and troubled by Brother Westley's affection for the wan and small Dame Winifred, which she did take to be adulterous, for she was not best convinced that a man like her priest was best loving of a lady such as herself.
Poor lass! For she had no need to worry for her lover's faithfulness, as Brother Westley upon his steed had just delivered Dame Winifred, the apothecary and weaver, at her cottage in the woods near the dale dappled by sun, where she was most gladly greeted by her companion, a woman with hair as red as the tongue of a flame with a fine tunic of embroidered greencloth.
'Thou hast saved my dear Winifred,' quod she, crowned in flowers though it were a November day. [Ed. note: both the identity of the redhaired woman, who has been claimed as part of Faerie mythography and Irish tradition, and her relationship to Dame Winifred is deliberately left murky by the poet; for a thorough investigation of the options, I would suggest my essay, 'Nature Goddesses: Dame Winifred and the Red Lady' in Wedonus: Big Trouble in Little England.] 'My thanks, Brother Westley.'
'Glad to help,' said Brother Westley vaguely, for truly he was troubled by fear that his lady was alone and defenceless in the castle dungeons of that foul lord Holland, and that he had no Hospitaler nor Templar to storm that keep of darkest sin. And indeed, he wondered if the Lady Ludmillah had indeed conceived, or if she had deceived him to her own ends.
'He is troubled,' said Dame Winifred to her companion of the reddest hair. 'He loves the lady of the manor, and she him, but the devil would separate them and cast them both to Hell to burn in hottest fires.'
'He ought be troubled,' said the lady with red hair. 'For Lord Holland will sacrifice her this very night if he dost not make haste. Fear not, Brother Westley. We shall send the knights of St. John after thee, and their strength will not fail if thou faithfully defend thy passionate lady.'
At this tiding, Brother Westley mounted his steed and thundered toward the manor keep, his heart pounding with terror that he would be too late and that his lady's blood would be spilled upon the ground of those foul black dungeons where he and she had pledged their love and slain the demon who thirsted for their blood and dissembled fairly to them.
Brother Westley prayed his lady held her cross, for few weapons could they wield, being a man of God and a woman, as he leapt from his horse and made his way to the dungeons of the keep with full care and dissembling, creeping past the poor prisoners and the wicked monsters in silence as he made his way to the hidden room that he had revealed in his travailing with the Lady Ludmillah previous.
And alack, what sight met his eyes when at last he entered that hidden chamber, all attired in black and scarlet cloth, embroidered with nettles and gold!
Upon the altar, wrought of black basalt and cold as the very ice of the further north, beyond where the reindeer walk, lay the naked form of the seer-girl who called herself Cordula, the sea's daughter, screaming and praying for help from the Virgin and all the saints. [Ed. note: indeed, while we have met Cordula before in the dramatic sequence where Brother Westley tests the Bright-Faced Angel and finds him to be a devil and thus stakes him dead, her name is surprising and rare, and the reference to her being the sea's daughter is utterly confusing.] Black was her hair, as wine-dark as the sea her mother, and in terror she tore at her bonds, all i' vain!
Above her stood the manor-lord, clad in night-black cloak embroidered with silver markings that called to his master, the devil, with naught beneath, not even breeches, as is proper to evil ritual. He held in both hands a foul dagger dug deep with sorcerous markings in glowing red, but this horrid sight did not weaken the resolve of Brother Westley in his holy bravery, alas! Twas the sight of his lady and his love, kneeling beneath the altar, for in truth he did not know of her stratagems and most desperate fear for him and herself.
In her hands clasped she a chalice of base metal, stones deep-placed in its based, and a stinking bezoar held in the cup, for indeed, there were hopes of creating a philosopher's stone with this foul rite, for indeed, the lord of demons would reward his minion so, with red gold unfairly made! Gowned she was in darkest crimson, all inlaid with gold, finery that not even the queen herself might dream of, but it lay as a chain about the Lady Ludmillah's neck, for she was sad and sore afraid.
'Ah!' called Lord Holland, amused. 'It is the gallant lover, come to save his faithless whore!' [Ed. note: in the original, it's 'untrue swiving wench', which more or less comes out faithless whore in the translation.]
And she would not speak, though her cheeks were red with shame, for Lord Holland had put a binding upon her tongue for he feared her curses against him, as she was the daughter of a witch of the Saracens.
'Lady, thou hast betrayed me,' quod Brother Westley angrily, full certain that she willingly aided her lord in his black rites.
'Have I?' she asked dully, casting her eyes downward. 'If I have, it is only as I have been betrayed by thy faithless self and thy secrets.'
As the Lady Ludmillah never spoke honestly when she could speak in riddles, Brother Westley looked at his feet and his heart leapt up. That wise and bravest of ladies, undeserving of his wroth! At her feet lay that fine and shining rood given him by Sir Riley the Finn, the leader of those church knights who rode even now to defeat this unholy sorceror and his menagerie of unfortunate monsters. Brother Westley rejoiced in the depths of his soul, and prayed that his lady would forgive him the slander he was forced to speak next.
'I? It was thee, most wicked strumpet, who took me to her bed, claiming that thou must have my child or die! I have betrayed thee not by aiding that gentle dame with whom thou accuse me of falsity!' cried he. 'Because of ye, I have committed adultery and betrayed my holy vows.'
'And so thou did,' said she, turning from the altar to raise her chin imperially pale. 'But do not blame me, lover, for thou hast loved me since first thou looked upon me, thy honeyed tones and gentle caresses more fit a common troubadour than a faithful confessor of the holiest church. I am but a sinful woman, as taught by my mother Eve. Thy duty was to temper thy lust to bridle mine!'
'Be ye done with this nonsense!' cried Lord Holland, full tired of their talk. [Ed. note: one suspects that Lord Holland has eavesdropped on more than a few of the Westley and Ludmillah back-and-forths and doesn't need to hear yet another one] 'Both of ye will be dead by my hand this night, and the unholy child you have conceived in grossest sin, and I will be most favored by the Wolf, Ram, and Hart, lords of Hell, for thy sacrificing!'
The child? Westley looked at Ludmila in great amazement, and she barely inclined her head to say him aye.
'As thou sayest, it is well past time for nonsense,' said Lady Ludmillah, rising from her knees with the wildness of her mothers of the Rus and her fathers of the Saracens all about her eyes, casting off her foul pentacle chalice and rings. 'My Lord.'
'What means my sluttish lady?' asked Lord Holland, full amazed. 'She speaks now like a Scotswoman, and again like a French whore!' [Ed. note: because, of course, one notes the Westley-poet couldn't get through a key scene without slamming the French, and for no particular reason.]
'I speak as wisdom's daughter, the daughter of the gentle Virgin and her army,' said Ludmillah, drawing from her gown the rosary the maid had given her, as well as a knife given her by her mother's mother, the famed Sophia [Ed. note: one suspects that in Arabic, this is Sufiya, which gives the name double resonance yet again...a trick of the Westley-poet.] had worn to the caliph's palaces in far Damascus to dance and steal his sweet waters. 'The Lord Christ protect his handmaid! For I will none of thy acts nor thee, manor-lord.'
'Thy knife shall not save thee,' laughed Lord Holland, for truly did he find the lady's antic of great amusement in its uselessness.
'But she it may,' quod Ludmillah with cunning smile, and thus cut she free Cordula, who wailed and wept and fled, ne'er to be seen nor heard more in Wyndham Town. 'Art thou wroth, my Lord, by which I mean my unholy husband? Hast I done thee ill, by Saint Foy?'
And indeed, it was true that the manor-lord, that foulest Holland, was most wroth, and as the lady Ludmillah did send the cross to her love with one kick of her foot, he pinned her to the altar with his two large hands about her white throat, hissing and spitting as a mad cat as she struggled against him, still clutching the knife in her little hand as her blood began to flow free from its sharp blade.
'By Saint Foy and thy God, too, I wilt see thee dead tonight,' quod he. 'Thee and the babe, both, faithless thing! Call on thy Virgin now, if thou can with these hands fast about thee.'
'God's wounds, I would not say these things,' called Brother Westley, his hands about the ensorcelled cross, holiest of things. 'My lady is not faithless, nor shall she die. God's protection is upon her, and I will not hear thy foul tongue speak another slander against her.'
Lord Holland laughed again, for indeed his merriment was devilish. 'And how wilt a simple monk who has vowed not to lift a sword stop me? For I am a warrior yet, and my Lord Satan has strengthened my hand. See how thy lady slows her struggle? She shall soon be dead.'
Westley beheld and despaired, but lifted his cross and cried bravely, 'Demon, look upon this sigil of Christ and be afeared! Thou shalt do my lady no harm!'
And indeed, the Lord Holland, manor-lord of Wyndham, looked him up to gaze upon the cross, but he feared it not. 'What will your God do to me?'
'Why, nothing that his handmaiden cannot do,' cried Lady Ludmillah, suddenly alive again enough to stick her knife into the Lord Holland's belly and twist his guts around it, for it was fair sharp and enchanted. Screamed he then in pain, releasing the courageous Ludmilla from his grasp. Brother Westley, astonished again by his lovely lady's cunning, snatched her from the altar and dragged her across the room where Lord Holland could not reach her again to attempt to murder her.
'Let free! Let free!' cried she, her hand bleeding full from its cut. 'I will not flee this fight.'
'What fight?" quod Lord Holland, struggling to his feet. 'Thou has no weapon, neither knife nor sword nor staff, and I have the armies of Hell to command and come forth, to take that soul of thine and that of thine corrupted love, down to the deepest pits to feast. Fight them, if thou canst.' -- And indeed, both Westley and Ludmillah [Ed. note: who are remarkably pragmatic for a pair who've just freed a captive virgin and themselves from a crazy lord who traffics with the devil] feared as the pit of hell opened from the altar where indeed the lady's blood had fallen and fire spewed forth.
'Shall we fight this?" asked Brother Westley to his lady, who was pale and tense but for the fiery marks upon her white throat. 'We have but a cross.'
'God's will be done,' quod she with no great faith that she or her love would see morning.
'And indeed, my lady Ludmillah, it shall be,' said a voice, booming and loud, as the sound of horse hooves echoed in the dark chamber.
For behold, it was the Hospitaler knights, and a mighty army of men bearing arms i' the name of God to save Brother Westley and his Lady Ludmillah, as had been agreed to by the Pope and Thomas of Canterbury, that holy saint to be. Before them, Lord Holland shrieked in agony, as the devil abandoned him to fire and arms. Beware bargains with Satan! For he will abandon a man when things begin to go wrong, as ever he has. Indeed, his wounds given by that knife that the Lady Ludmila stuck into his mortal belly soon carried him off, and when he was dead, the Moor, Sir Carlos struck off his head and then the Lord Holland turned to black powder, as devil's kin he truly was.
[Ed.: A redundant description of the valor of Sir Raleigh the Finn, Sir Carlos the Moor and Sir William the Poet follows...Sir Graham the Bold being oddly forgotten, though he is overrepresented in the art of the Hospitaler Knights, with loving attention paid to the blow-by-blow of the attack against the demons. Sir Carlos comes off best in this; he slays thirty-and-five demons and at least two of the guards. William the Poet comes off rather less well, having to chase two minor demons called Glepe and Gloup around and around the Dark Chamber for his shield until Raleigh the Finn dispatches Glepe by running him through with a lance.]
'Alack!' quod Sir William, 'My shield is fair ruint by Glepe-juice!'
'Indeed, Sir William, 'tis the price we pay for being knights of God,' said Sir Raleigh in gentle comfort, for he did know his brother knight's fondness for that particular shield. 'Now let us slay more of these pestilent gleeps and gloops, for thus is the glory of God our Father and his ladye mother Mary fair!'
Now in the midst of melee between the knights of God and the demons of Hell, Brother Westley took great care to embrace his lady and remove them from the fray, fearing greatly for her health as the demons taunted her about her soul's damnation and the contract that the Wolf, Ram, and Hart would have upon her, leaving her neither dead nor alive for a thousand thousand years, 'til she alone wailed the barren earth, unable to reach heaven with her mad cries.
And indeed, the demons taunted her even as they were slain, which did most strenuously fright good Brother Westley, and indeed, the knights of God, who watched as the fair Lady Ludmillah grew more and more pale at the wicked slander upon her soul.
'Do they speak truth?' asked Sir Carlos the Moor. 'For indeed, I find myself bewitched by the lady, though i'truth I know her to be the forsworn of Brother Westley, and indeed, of the lord fallen to blackest ash.'
At this, Lady Ludmillah drew herself up, the courage of the saints ablaze in her troubled soul.
'Enough!' quod she, wroth with these vexations at last. 'I have signed no contract with thee, wil thee or nil thee, and in the name of Mary, my lady and patroness, I abjure thee from my presence.'
And thus, at Ludmillah's too-potent curse vanished they, to the perplexity of the holy knights, who thus knelt to Lady Ludmillah and her priestly love, who kept her in his close embrace and would not let go until bid most strenuously by the lady to do so.
'Nicely done, delight of my eyes,' he said fondly at this. 'Thou shalt make a Christian lady yet.' [Ed note: for more about the rather brutally humorous courtship between Westley and Ludmillah, who have a more than glancing resemblance to the Wife of Bath's tale in their way, see Peter Roth's masterful, 'The Beginnings of Modern Love: Lady Ludmillah and the Wyf of Bath.']
'An't please me that it pleaseth thee,' said Ludmillah full sharp, for she was a lady of high good humor when not castigated sore by demons and wicked men. 'May I know my gentle rescuers at the last of it, so I might give them thanks?'
'Indeed,' said Sir Raleigh. 'I am Sir Raleigh, known to all as the Finn. This on my right is he who is yclept William the Poet--' that same knight who did at that same moment struggle with his sword, which needed much cleaning from the foul and exotic blood of demons -- 'And this mighty knight is Carlos the Moor of the kingdom of Spain, born in Cordoba and trained in Mohammedan wisdom 'til he came to Christ.'
'Why, then, he and I are alike in our conversion,' said she merrily, for as has been told, the lady was most acute in wit and had a fine eye toward a fine-shaped man, which Sir Carlos most keenly was. 'My most honest thanks, sir knights. God bless thee for thy aid for me and my confessor!' -- Then went the lady, the priest, and her rescuing knights to the grand banquet hall to feast, for indeed the Lord Holland, ere he died, had intended to eat heavily of the flesh of mutton, swine, and eel, as well as the fine cattle, the finest flour, and mulled wine and ale in greatest quantity.
'Lady Ludmillah,' cried the reeve, a Scotsman called Macdonald. Near-dwarf was he, and the knights looked upon him with great delight as he nimbly went about on tip-toe with a jug of wine upon a silver platter. 'Where is Lord Holland, thy husband and our lord?'
'I fear he has gone all to dust, as all men must look forward to,' said the boisterous Sir William. 'Attend us; thy master is dead and thy lady bid her guests join her at her table.'
[Feasting and merriment follow, including a very explicit description of the beautiful silverware that Lady Ludmillah brought as part of her dowry from Kiev, and a mention of Muscovy and the furs that trim the lady's boots. We pick up in the middle of Sir William the Poet's bawdy humor about Alex the Knave and his search for the Golden Dawn with the resultant comic results when he finds himself confronted with his double.]
'And Alex the Knave, that silly lad, he cried, 'if thou canst not unite us, well then, murder us both!' and both Alex the Knave and Alex the Adventurer laughed and laughed with greatest merriment. And the sorcerer did shake his head, for the two were no less foolish than the one, and lifting his staff he said, let the spell be ended and so it was, to great relief of all!' said Sir William the Poet, ending at last his interminable tale. 'God rest the company, for I find Alex the Knave to be of greatest amusement.'
At this, Lady Ludmillah lifted her hand. 'Enough! My delight at this bawdry doth outrun my capacity to hear it,' quod she. [Ed. Note: Apparently, Ludmillah does not find Alex the Knave as delightful as Sir William.] 'What will your sir knights have us do now? There will be inquiries to Lord Holland's death, and to the child if Brother Westley stays at the manor to protect me.'
There was then silence, for the knights had dreaded this moment for what news they had to bear the lovers. Awkwardly, the valorous Sir Carlos stood, producing a letter from th'archbishop and indeed, the agent of the pope. 'Brother Westley and Lady Ludmillah,' said the Moor, shifting on his feet like a schoolboy. 'Thy willingness to put thyself at most real risk of hellfire has not gone unnoted, and we bear you both pardon from the holy archbishop, and orders from thy masters.'
The words said, Lady Ludmillah snatched the parchment away like a Russian cottage-woman, unrolling it with nimblest fingers to read the words thereupon. 'It says we have been forgiven and given indulgence for the acts we committed,' she said with a tremulous voice. 'The child is hence legitimized by both king and church [Ed. note: an important distinction, for while the church could indeed legitimize a mantle- child, and tended to do this in situations similar to Westley and Ludmillah's, to inherit Wyndham, the king would indeed have to also agree the child's legitimacy -- no small feat considering that Ludmillah's child is indeed a bastard], and that I must...'
Her voice died away as the wind at the end of the storm. 'What does it say?' asked Brother Westley, taking the letter and reading on. 'What! Indeed, good sirs, what perfidy is this?'
Sir Raleigh stood then, for he was the highest-ranked of the knights, of a good house in Lincoln, and knew that his words would be gall to the despondent Brother Westley and his ladylove. 'Brother, we mean thee no offense, but 'tis true thy lady was born of witchcraft, and 'til this month, was little more than the devil's dam,' he said. 'We must test her most closely, and she shall do less harm in far Spain than in Wyndham Manor, to rule the manor and make mockery of our holy priests by taking one to wed and bed so soon after the death of Lord Holland.'
'What madness is this?' asked Brother Westley. 'I am second son of Baron Roger, who is of good blood, and I have no need of thy intervention. I will take my leave of Father Rupert, who will grant it right quick, and the lady and I shall wed.' [Ed. note: an interesting proposition. One suspects it would have taken a great deal more than this, including several dispensations from the pope, who clearly was more interested in Ludmillah as an agent rather than the conversion of Ludmillah to Christianity.]
Sir Raleigh shook his head. 'Fie, Brother Westley, you forget yourself,' he said. 'If you do not agree to these terms, we must take you and the Lady Ludmillah to our keep and thus most heartily remove the devil from thee, for in truth we fear that she might have bewitched thee to slay her husband, good Lord Holland.'
And indeed, Brother Westley was thus vexed beyond the telling, and would have fought the Hospitaler knights, but Lady Ludmillah, who was sadly used to her fate as a witty lady who was of use to all but herself and her desires, rose and placed herself between Brother Westley and Sir Raleigh, who in truth was not a bad man, if doctrinaire in his interpretation of the word of the God of Love.
'My gentle lords,' quod she in sweetest tones, and hard it was to forget she wielded the sharp-edged knife that had slain Lord Holland all i'truth. 'To these terms I will agree if I must, but indeed, I must consult with my ghostly confessor, Brother Westley, in private, this very night about what must be. If this is not agreed to, then all ye knights I will curse with a most devilish curse, for my soul matters not to me but to aid and succor my love and my priestly lord.'
Sir Carlos the Moor and Sir Raleigh immediately consulted, for indeed, Sir Raleigh was dubious that the Lady Ludmillah would prove true, as she was of witch-blood and of a lover's demeanor, and well did Sir Raleigh know to the desperation lovers would go to plight their troth and defy all reason of God and man. But Sir William the Poet, being a great troubadour and a defender of lovers, with tears running down his sentimental cheeks, pled the case eloquently [Ed. note: apparently Sir William is much more eloquent when he speaks of love than when he speak of Alex the Knave!], for i'truth he would the lovers were not separated at all, and that the Lady Ludmillah would fall to the pleas of Brother Westley and flee under moonlight. [Ed. notes: in some commentaries, Sir William goes so far as to drug the wine of the guards and plead to Ludmillah, but there is no textual evidence of this.]
'My lady Ludmillah,' said Sir Raleigh when indeed this parley had ended. 'We grant thee and thy ghostly father this night to consult, but when dawn comes, you will come with us, or thy death I will see to myself.'
'We thank thee for thy mercy, Sir Raleigh,' said Brother Westley, for indeed he plotted to 'scape with the lady that night in great despite of his allies, the good knights. 'Now then, we'll away. Come, Ludmillah, for I have much to say to thee before the morning.'
Overcome with emotion, Sir William the Poet led the lady to her priestly love, and thus chided the heartless knights beside him to give them solitude, for pity's sake.
'For we have done an evil here in the name of God, by St. George!' he cried. 'I weep to see such fine love torn asunder. Give them leave, for pity's sake! Have mercy! I will tell fine tales and share my finest red, if only we may give that lady and her gentle lord their night.'
Thus the knights left and Brother Westley, heartsick and sore, led his lady to her chamber.
'How will you do this?' asked he, eyes full of reproach. 'Dost thou love me so little that thou wilt take all three knights and make a merry widow on thy way to Spain?'
'Wouldst thou make me widow twice in two days?' she reproved him. 'For Lord Holland might be my rightful husband, but since I first set eyes upon thee, thou hast been my only lord. I would not see thee die, my lord, even if I may never see thy gracious face again!'
Tears fell down in great rivulets down the face of Lady Ludmillah, she of cold eye and warm heart and greatest courage ever shown by a lady with a woman's heart. Brother Westley feared these cries, for never before had his lady cried, ere once, when she had pled him take her to his bed and save her immortal soul, the night she conceived the child that made her stomach swell between them e'en now.
'Tarry here but a year or two in thy labors,' said she. 'You will be abbot of Wyndham, and perhaps bishop by-and-by.'
'I would rather be my gracious lady's love, by the rood!' quod he, taking her slim white hand between his two hands. 'I would rather be her husband, even if it meant we found ourselves fugitives and villeins in furthest Russia, or the foulest cottage in the Low Countries in its sodden grey dullness.' [Ed note: one notes that this might just be the first Belgian joke in history, and given the distinctly pro-English slant of the Westley-poet, one finds oneself not surprised in the least.]
Eyes brimful of tears and sorrow, Ludmilla watched her Westley dear fall to his knees, to implore the softening of her broken heart.
'And well thou knowest it cannot and shall not be,' reproved him she. 'The Hospitalers bear me away to Carcassonne to bear the child, and then to Aragon. For the Reconquista [Ed note: clearly NOT the word used in the manuscript, but obviously what Ludmillah refers to, so for the sake of non-medievalists in the audience....] I must aid to earn my salvation for the great sin I tempted thee to, and thou must earn thy forgiveness in prayer.'
The sore heart of the monk leapt in his chest, and may God forgive his boldness, for that man was in love, and the sight of his lady's pale and sorrowing face that knew she must away to Carcassonne and the pitiful hospitality of France gave his love new ardor.
'Defy the knights and marry me,' he called, for she was too cold in her parting. 'Would thou damn me to a life of ash where I dream only of thee and thee of me?'
The words stung as harsh nettles to the Lady Ludmilla, who was in truth sore tempted to fly the castle with Brother Westley at her side. Closing her eyes, she prayed to Mary, asking her to share the strength she had at the foot of the holy cross, for she could not bear to deny her love without Christ's full love to lead her from this last temptation.
'Would it were not so,' quod she in trembling voice, stroking her love's head. 'I would we were to go a'London or far Jerusalem as man and wife in the eyes of the church, my love, my life! But they have told me they will burn me as a witch and you as an adulterer if we defy this word. Take mercy on me! I would rather you alive and the dream of my heart and the subject of all my prayers than dead of foolishness. Would it were not so, but so it must be.'
[Ed note: one notes the similarities to Abelard and Heloise, with whom the Westley-poet had to be familiar with just to attempt a lay of this style and not expect immediate derision, and perhaps an indicator of the lateness of this romance. In some ways the conversion of Lady Ludmillah, who has been so ambiguous in her Christianity, is almost disingenuous, but given the courtly expectations and the part where ending a poem like this with a good monk such as Brother Westley committing adulterous marriage with the so-recently-saved Lady Ludmillah would be impolitic requires Ludmillah's new-found devotion to Mary, which echoes her earlier devotion to the unknown Russian goddess Anyanka -- one of the touches of mastery the Westley-poet.]
'I will have thee yet,' quod he. Bold Westley! His lady dared not say him nay, though she knew she would leave him to his salvation.
'For a little while, God wot,' spake she, giving him kisses upon his cheek and mouth and truly, upon his neck with full passion. 'I have been given leave to stay until Prime is rung. And then thou must take comfort in this: thou hast most truly saved my soul, and thy child's, and if God be fair, he will welcome thee to Heaven his truest son for the fight thou has made for Christ and thy love.'
'Small comfort,' quod he, for indeed he would turn away from Christ if only to have his lady's hand. And truly, she felt the same, but for the strength of God's mother at work in her tempestuous soul.
'O, lover,' Lady Ludmillah said, laughter in her voice. 'Why, when first I tried tempt thee to my bed as an agent of my husband's sin, did you not tell me that chastity is the state we must abide in to find God? That a pure love needeth no carnal lust to sustain its bright flame? If truly thou love me as I love thee, then surely my soul's chastity will be a bright flame of comfort to us both?'
He could find no wrong in what she spoke, even as she embraced him close and began to work her most devious arts for the last of times. But still, he would not be appeased by her and her devouring kisses.
'I would I never taught thee a civil tongue,' said Westley petulantly. 'You speak sophistry and pretend it sweetness.'
'I'd rather it were solace,' said she, kissing him again upon his chest. 'Come. Tonight is to be a lover's paradise, for tomorrow I must leave thee.'
And so it was that at dawn, the Lady Ludmillah bade him farewell, all gowned in drab to travel to the warmth of the Spanish plains, in far- away Aragon to wed and bed another man, her tears all spilt as her love went to prayer, his soul in darkest melancholy, til truly, the light of God struck his heart and he was comforted, though he never could forget his love as fully as she would he did, not for good nor money, nor prestige, all of which Our Lord rewarded his faithful monk with for allowing the lady to leave him.
For indeed, Brother Westley grew old in Wyndham, steadfast in his duties, though indeed he began a magnificent correspondence with scholars in the Paris university of the arrows and pains of the fires of his lost love. And indeed, many a man well past the fires of youth read of Brother Westley and his departed lady and wept full sore that such wickedness had reft the pair apart, though well-praised was Lady Ludmillah for her temperance.
[Ed. note: As you're about to discover, the ending of the Lay is unique to a romance, which befits the oddness of the romance in general. Many critics of the time were quite disappointed, and at least one reader/commentator wrote in the margins that, 'twould be better if the lady had less temp'rance and wed the Brother Westley as she ought, and damn the knights!' So if you are among those wishing for Westley and Ludmillah to get a happy ending, one might examine 'Love's Reward: The Reunion of Westley and Ludmillah in Paradise' though it is a truly bad 14th century text written by a third-rate poet who also tried his hand at the Roman de la Rose...so unsuccessfully that Christine de Pizan did not even deign to mention him.]
And truly, thus it was for five-and-twenty years, as Brother Westley's sight grew dim and nearly faded, and if there was word of Lady Ludmillah and her child, it was not heard in the world of men, not from Cordoba to Cathay. Though many did indeed wonder at the lady's fate, which was believed to be death in childbed, the Hospitalers kept well their secret and hers. The Moor would oft visit Brother Westley as the years passed, and letters passed between them, though no word shared he of what became of the lady or the child.
Finally, though, as befits a good man, God granted Westley of Wyndham his dearest wish as he found himself in Canterbury to hear the latest of the intrigues between church and crown, walking up and down the streets in the very guise of a poor blind Franciscan [Ed note: don't ask why Franciscan. The Wedonus manuscript occasionally suffers severe historical dysphoria which has caused others to doubt its authenticity] for whom many had pity, not knowing he was good Westley of Wyndham, whose fame had spread the length and width of England.
"Oy!" cried a girlish voice as Wesley was about to enter the cathedral. "Good sir! Are you not truly Father Wesley of Wyndham?"
"I am. Who art thou, child?" he asked, focusing on a green brocade gown that moved fuzzily before him, for indeed his eyes were very poor, though in his heart he knew that he knew the woman. "Do I know thee?"
"My name is Constancia, and I am Countess of Valencia, come to see the land of my mother" said the lady, whom Westley now knew. "For my mother was Lady Ludmillah of Wyndham, who bids me give you this, good father."
"My lady Constancia," Westley said graciously, unable to keep tears from his eyes as he accepted the letter. "Thou are truly as lovely as I had dreamt."
"Thou art truly too kind," Constancia said, tossing her head as proudly as her vain and imperious mother, who had long since become an abbess, to advise princes and lords wisely since her conversion to godly things. God rest her soul! "Walk with me, Father, and we shall discuss what we have missed o'er these too many years."
Constancia was quick-tongued for a Spaniard, and far too pale to pass as one. "My hair is honey-light and truly, my father says I am fairy- touched," she said cheerfully, thankfully free of the melancholy of both her parents. "Mother...before she joined the nunnery....laughed at this. Would you know why, ghostly father?"
"I fear I would not," quod he gravely, keeping his love's secret for the sake of their daughter, who in all innocence believed herself the daughter of her mother's husband. "Wilt thou read to me this letter, if thy mother hast not forbade thee? For as thou hast noticed, my eyes are dim and eld and I would hear more of thy voice, which is much as thy mother's."
Trembling, Constancia took the letter, which she had truly desired to read, as her mother had made her swear that she would give her life before she surrendered the very parchment to a living soul not Father Westley of Wyndham as the Abbess Ludmillah lay on her deathbed, a- dreaming of a youth long since past her as the former Aragonese princess and lady of Lord Holland's manor. What would her mother say to know she had kept her promises and not read nor touched the letter, but at Father Westley's command? Praise, ay, and pride, for even in her eld, the Lady Ludmilla was fair and proud as only a Saracen's grandchild might be. [Ed note: the original MSS has child, but obviously, given Ludmillah's story of her origins, we know this to be untrue, and the substitution of child is a function of the metrics.]
'My love, my spouse, my very soul,' quod Constancia in her mother's very voice. 'I write these words in my own hand, though indeed the pen wearies me, for these words are for thee and thee alone [Ed note: Many critics have believed the story ends with Constancia taking the letter, especially given Ludmillah's heretofore-unknown dramatics when it comes to prose. At the same time, one notes that after the histrionic greeting, Ludmillah's characteristic good sense returns, and this is twenty-five years after the parting, which gives the narrator plenty of reason to be passionate, as the audiences should be sniffling by now], my ghostly father.'
Tears upon his cheeks, Father Westley bade his child continue.
'I have missed thee much these five-and-twenty years, though I have taken comfort in our Constancia, the reward for all my sacrifice. No man has ever taken thy place in my heart, though I have been obliged to replace thee in my bed, however unsatisfactorily...' at this the maiden blushed, for truly the rumors of her mother's lustiness had reached even her ears. 'And verily, ev'ry Sunday, I say my rosary and give alms in thy memory, dear father. I have not wavered in my faith, though truly I miss thee, and hope thou hast not been stubborn in accepting the rewards thou truly deserve.'
'Have you?' asked Constancia, aware that perhaps she addressed her true father in this moment.
'Thy mother's happiness, and thine, is my reward,' said pious Father Westley. [Ed: in true Stoic mode. For more upon this, see Ulrich, "Various Religious Philosophies in 'The Lay of Westley of Wyndham'"] 'Prithee, lass, continue.'
Constancia did her father's bidding: 'When thou see'st these words, I fear I shall be dead, as I am ill of some foul disease of the lungs these accurst Spaniards have given me with their wine and stablehouses --how I miss both England and thee!-- but do not sorrow long, for I promise, as long as I have will to fight, I will stand before the very throne of God to intercede that I will meet thee when thou com'st to the heavenly realm, and we shall be united in Christ's love before his meek and mild Virgin Mother, or I am not the Lady Ludmillah of Wyndham who once thou loved enough to endanger thy immortal soul. I salute thee as my love and my brother in Christ. Fear me not, and pray for me, my love and my ghostly confessor.'
And though Constancia feared her father's health, his soul stayed strong at these words of greeting and parting from his lady, who had truly loved him until her heart could no longer beat.
'Come, lass, [Ed. note: it's actually 'wight,' but that seemed wrong, and too close to wench, so I translated it lass, which fits our Westley more properly] let us go up now to the altar of God and give thanskgiving,' quod he, 'For thy mother awaits me in heaven, and God and all his saints, and his mother Mary dear, shall not bar our meeting, for truly, love is the highest of all in the kingdom of heaven, and this is true from beginning to end!'
Rejoicing went they thus into the cathedral, and their lady in heaven as well, and thus comes to an end the lay, i'truth, for love for God shall win the day, and good is the man who realizes this. May God bless this gentle company!