Flemish Legend Sir Halewyn by Charles de Coster Chapter 14

Of the great weakness of Sir Halewyn and of the days and nights which he spent in the forest

The Miserable, alone and somewhat comforted, rose to his feet, and was right glad to feel the sickle still at his belt; opened the door, listened to make sure that he could hear nothing, and that his brother was not there.

And when the night was fully dark, went down the stair slowly, sitting-wise.

For he was so weakened by the blows and wounds he had received that he could not hold himself upright by any means; and in this fashion he went on until he reached the bridge, and, finding that still down, crossed over it.

And very wearily he made his way to the forest.

But he could not, on account of his weakness, go so far as the cottages, which were a good two leagues distant to the northward.

So, lying down among the leaves, he sang.

But no maid came, for the song could not be heard from so far away.

And so passed the first day.

When night came again, cold rain began to fall, which sent him into a fever. But notwithstanding this he would not go back to his castle, for fear of his brother. Shivering, and with his teeth a-chatter, he dragged himself northward through the brake, and saw in a clearing a fair pretty maid, rosy-cheeked, fresh, slender, and neat, and he sang his song. But the girl did not come to him.

And so passed the second day.

That night the rain fell anew, and he could not move, so stiff was he from the cold, and he sang, but no maid came. At dawn the rain continued, and while he was lying there among the leaves a wolf came and sniffed at him, thinking him dead, but on seeing it draw near he cried out in a terrible fashion, and the wolf took fright and went off. Then he grew hungry, but could find himself nothing to eat. At vespers he sang anew, but no maid came.

And so passed the third day.

Towards midnight the sky cleared, and the wind grew warmer. But the Miserable, though he was suffering greatly from hunger, thirst, and weariness, dared not sleep. On the morning of the fourth day he saw a girl coming towards him who seemed to be a burgess’s daughter. The girl would have run away on seeing him, but he cried out loudly: “Help me! I am worn out with hunger and sickness.” Then she drew near to him and said: “I also am hungry.” “Art thou,” he said, “a maid? “ “Ah,” said she, “I have had to flee from Bruges, because the priests would have burnt me alive, on account of a brown mole which I have on my neck, of the size of a pea, coming, they say, from my having had fleshly commerce with the devil. But I have never seen the devil, and do not know what he is like.”

He, without listening to her, asked again if she were a virgin, and, as the girl said nothing, he sang his song.

But she did not move from where she stood, only saying: “You have a very sweet and strong voice for one so wasted with sickness and hunger.”

Then he said to her: “I am the lord Siewert Halewyn. Go to my castle and ask to be taken to my lady mother, and without speaking to any one else, whosoever he be, tell her that her son is hard put to it in the forest with hunger, fever, and weariness, and will die before long if none bring him help.”

The girl went off as he bid her, but coming out of the wood she saw in the Gallows-field the body of the maid hanging, and ran away in a fright. Passing into the territory of Sir Roel de Heurne she craved food and drink at the cottage of one of his peasants. And there she told how she had found Sir Halewyn dying of hunger. But she was told in reply that the said lord was crueller and more wicked than the devil himself, and should be left to be eaten by the wolves and other beasts of the forest.

And the Miserable waited, lying in the leaves in great anguish.

And so passed the fourth day.

And at dawn of the fifth, having seen no more of the girl, he supposed that she had been caught by the priests and taken back to Bruges to be burnt.

Quite disheartened, and chilled with the cold, and saying that he would soon die, he cursed the Prince of the Stones.

Nevertheless, at vespers he sang once more.

And he was then by the side of a forest way.

And he saw coming through the trees a fair maid, who fell on her knees before him.

And he did to her as he had done to the others.

Then rose full of fresh strength, vigour, and beauty, and with the heart resting against his own went off to the Gallows-field, carrying the body, and there hanged it by that of the first virgin.