Long ago England was divided into several kingdoms, each having a king. In a great battle the King of Northumbria was defeated and one of his lords, Gordian, lost all he owned. He and his wife Brunhilda journeyed forth to seek a new home and at last reached Warwick, where Gordian was made the steward of Lord Rohand.
Not long after Brunhilda and Gordian went to live in Warwick, their little son Guy was born. As he grew older he became a great favorite and was often invited to the castle.
Lord Rohand heard of Guy and asked him to a great dinner at Warwick Castle and afterwards to join in a tournament. To Guy was given a seat quite near the earl and opposite his lovely daughter Phyllis. She was the most beautiful lady in the kingdom and Guy longed to show her how well he could fight. Never did Guy fight so well; he conquered every one of the knights, and won the prize. Phyllis crowned him with roses and put the chain of gold around his neck.
After this Phyllis and Guy were much together and at last Guy said suddenly, "Phyllis, I love thee. I cannot help it." In great anger she sent him away. Guy grew very sad and Phyllis very lonely and at length she sent for Guy and said, "Go away and make thyself famous, then will I marry thee."
Guy rode gaily away and sailed over to Germany. There he heard of a great tournament. Whoever fought best was to marry the Emperor's daughter Blanche, which means white. Besides marrying the Princess, the bravest knight was to receive a pure white horse, two white hounds, and a white falcon. So it was called the White Tournament.
When Guy told the herald that he was the son of Lord Gordian he was admitted. All the lords and ladies looked at him scornfully because he wore plain black armor with nothing painted upon his shield. As he had not worn spurs, he was not yet a knight. Guy entered the lists and met and conquered Prince Philaner, the Emperor's son, Duke Otto, Duke Ranier, and Duke Louvain.
Guy took the prize offered with the exception of the hand of Blanche. "For my fair Phyllis alone I keep my love," he said.
Guy went back to England and heard that a terrible dun-colored cow had appeared in Warwickshire. It was twelve feet high and eighteen feet long. Its horns were thicker than an elephant's tusks curled and twisted. The King said that whoever would kill the Dun Cow should be made a knight and receive a great deal of land and money. Guy went out to meet him and after a fearful encounter was able to deal a deathblow with his battle-axe behind the beast's ear.
Then the King gave the new knight a pair of golden spurs, and Lady Phyllis fastened them on. In memory of Guy's deed one rib of the Dun Cow was hung up at the gate of Coventry and another in the Castle of Warwick.
Guy next went to France, where he was wounded at a tournament. His enemy, Duke Otto, bribed fifteen villains to lie in wait, take him and cast him into prison. With the help of his friend Heraud, Guy was able to slay them all, but one of the traitor men smote Heraud so hard that he fell to the ground as if dead.
One day news was brought to Guy that Ledgwin of Louvain was shut up in his city of Arrascoun sore beset by the Emperor. Gathering his soldiers and knights together he set out to help his friend and was overjoyed to find Heraud in the guise of a pilgrim sitting by the roadside. Heraud had been nursed back to health by a kind hermit. At once he put on armor and rode forth with Guy to the city of Arrascoun to release Ledgwin. There was a great battle but the Almains who surrounded the city were defeated and the Emperor yielded and forgave Ledgwin.
While in Greece, Guy went out hunting and came upon a most wonderful sight, a conflict between a lion and a dragon. Just when the dragon was about to crush the lion Guy drew his sword, and setting spurs to his horse, sprang upon the dragon. The fight was then between the dragon and Guy. It seemed at first that the dragon would be the victor, but, like a flash, Guy leaped from his horse and plunged his sword deep into the brute's side. For a moment his speckled crest quivered, then all was still.
Guy thought he would have to kill the lion too, but as it came near it licked Guy's feet and fawned upon him, purring softly like a great pussy-cat. When Guy rode back the lion trotted after him and lived with him every day.
Guy had an enemy at court, Morgadour, who hated the brave knight and said, "I cannot kill thee, Guy of Warwick, but I will grieve thee. I will kill thy lion." This he did in secret. The King was angry when the deed was discovered and told Guy to meet him in combat, which he did, and slew Morgadour.
Laden with riches, Guy reached home again, this time to marry the beautiful Phyllis. There was a great and splendid wedding. For fifteen days the feasting and merriment lasted.
For some time Guy and Phyllis lived happily together. Then one sad day Earl Rohand died and Guy became Earl of Warwick.
As the new earl was one day thinking of his past life, it seemed to him that he had caused much bloodshed. Thereupon he decided to go to the Holy Land, and there, at the Sepulcher of our Lord, do penance for his sins. Phyllis begged him to stay; but Guy said, "I must go." So, dressed in pilgrim robes, with staff in hand he set out on his long journey.
One day as he walked he came upon an old man who was sad because the giant Ameraunt was keeping his daughter and fifteen sons in a strong castle. "I am Earl Jonas of Durras," he said, "and I seek Guy of Warwick to help me."
Guy said if the earl would give him meat and drink, weapons and armor, he would see what he could do.
A splendid coat of mail was brought with shield and sword. Guy called to the giant to come forth. "That will I," replied the giant, "and make short work with thee."
Ameraunt stalked forth and the fight began. All day it lasted before Guy with his sword cut the giant's head off.
Taking the keys of the castle, which lay on the ground, he immediately released Earl of Jonas's children and other noble knights and brave ladies.
Putting off his armor, he dressed himself once more in his pilgrim's robe, and with his staff in his hand set out again upon his journey.
For some time after Guy went away Phyllis was very sorrowful. She wept and mourned, and was so sad that she longed to die. At times she even thought of killing herself. She would draw out Guy's great sword, which he had left behind, and think how easy it would be to run it through her heart. But she remembered that the good fairies had promised to send her a little son, and so she made up her mind to live until he came. When the good fairies brought the baby she called him Reinbroun, and he was so pretty and so dear that Phyllis was comforted.
Then, because her lord was far away, and could not attend to his great lands nor to the ruling of his many servants, Phyllis did so for him. She ruled and ordered her household well; she made new roads and rebuilt bridges which had been broken down. She journeyed through all the land, seeing that wrong was made right and evildoers punished. She fed the poor, tended the sick, and comforted those in sorrow, and, besides all this, she built great churches and abbeys.
So year after year passed, but still Guy did not return. All day Phyllis was busy and had no time for grief, but when evening came she would go to pace up and down the path (which to this day is called "Fair Phyllis's Walk") where she and Guy had often walked together. Now as she wandered there alone, the hot, slow tears would come, and she would feel miserable and forsaken.
At last, after many years full of adventures and travel, Guy reached England once more. He was now an old man. His beard was long, his hair had grown white, and in the weather-beaten pilgrim none could recognize the gallant knight and earl, Guy of Warwick.
When Guy landed in England he found the whole country in sore dread. For Anlaf, King of Denmark, had invaded England with a great army. With fire and sword he had wasted the land, sparing neither tower nor town, man, woman, nor child, but destroying all that came in his path. Fight how they might, the English could not drive out the Danes.
Now they were in deep despair, for the enemy lay before the King's city of Winchester. With them was a terrible giant called Colbrand, and Anlaf had sent a message to King Athelstane, as the King who now reigned over all England was called, demanding that he should either find a champion to fight with Colbrand or deliver over his kingdom.
So the King had sent messengers north, south, east, and west, but in all the land no knight could be found who was brave enough to face the awful giant. And now within the great church of Winchester the King with his priests and people knelt, praying God to send a champion.
"Where, then, is Heraud?" asked Guy of the man who told this tale. "Where is Heraud, who never yet forsook man in need?"
"Alas! he has gone far beyond the seas," replied the man, "and so has Guy of Warwick. We know not where they are."
Then Guy took his staff and turned his steps toward Winchester. Coming there, he found the King sitting among his wise men. "I bid you," he was saying to them, "give me some counsel how I may defend my country against the Danes. Is there any knight among you who will fight this giant? Half my kingdom he shall have, and that gladly, if he conquer."
But all the wise men, knights and nobles, stood silent and looked upon the ground.
"Oh, we is me!" then cried the King, "that I rule over such cowards. To what have my English come that I may not find one knight among them bold enough to do battle for his King and country? Oh that Guy of Warwick were here!"
Then through the bright crowd of steel-clad nobles there came a tall old man, dressed in a worn, dark, pilgrim's robe, with bare feet and head, and a staff in his hand.
"My Lord King," he said, "I will fight for thee."
"Thou," said the King in astonishment, "thou seemest more fit to pray than to fight for us."
"Believe me, my Lord King," said Guy, for of course it was he, "this hand has often held a sword, and never yet have I been worsted in fight."
"Then since there is none other," said the King, "fight, and God strengthen thee."
Now Guy was very tall, and no armor could be found anywhere to fit him. "Send to the Countess of Warwick," said Guy at last. "Ask her to lend the earl's weapons and armor for the saving of England."
"That is well thought of," said the King.
So a swift messenger was sent to Warwick Castle, and he presently returned with Guy's armor. He at once put it on, and the people marveled that it should fit him so well, for none knew, or guessed, that the pilgrim was Guy himself.
Guy went then out to meet the giant, and all the people crowded to the walls of Winchester to watch their champion fight.
Colbrand came forth. He was so huge that no horse could carry him, and he wore a whole wagon-load of weapons. His armor was pitch-black except his shield, which was blood-red and had a white owl painted upon it. He was a fearsome sight to look upon, and as he strode along shaking his spear every one trembled for Guy.
It was a terrible and unequal fight. Tall though Guy was, he could reach no higher than the giant's shoulder with his spear, but yet he wounded him again and again.
"I have never fought with any like thee," cried Colbrand. "Yield, and I will ask King Anlaf to make thee a general in the Danish army. Castle and tower shalt thou have, and everything that thou canst desire, if thou but do as I counsel thee."
"Better death than that," replied Guy, and still fought on. At last, taking his battle-axe in both hands, he gave Colbrand such a blow that his sword dropped to the ground. As the giant reeled under the stroke, Guy raised his battle-axe once more.
"His good axe he reared on high
With both hands full mightily;
He smote him in the neck so well,
That the head flew that very deal.
The giant dead on the earth lay;
The Danes made great sorrow that day."
Seeing their champion fall, the Danes fled to their ships. England was saved.
Then out of the city came all the people with the priests and King in great procession, and singing hymns of praise as they went, they led Guy back.
The King brought Guy to his palace and offered him splendid robes and great rewards, even to the half of the kingdom. But Guy would have none of them. "Give me my pilgrim's dress again," he said. And, in spite of all the King could say, he put off his fine armor and dressed himself again in his dark pilgrim's robe.
"Tell me at least thy name," said the King, "so that the minstrels may sing of thy great deeds, and that in years to come the people may remember and bless thee."
"Bless God, not me," replied Guy. "He it was gave me strength and power against the giant."
"Then if thou wilt not that the people know," said the King, "tell thy name to me alone."
"So be it," said Guy. "Walk with me half a mile out of the city, thou and I alone. Then will I tell thee my name."
So the King in his royal robes, and the pilgrim in his dull, dark gown, passed together out of the city gate. When they had gone half a mile, Guy stood still. "Sire," he said, "thou wouldst know my name. I am Guy of Warwick, thine own knight. Once thou didst love me well, now I am as thou dost see me."
At first the King could hardly believe that this poor man was really the great Earl of Warwick, but when he became sure of it he threw his arms round Guy and kissed him. "Dear friend, we have long mourned for thee as dead," he cried. "Now thou wilt come with me and help me to rule, and I will honor thee above all men."
But Guy would not go back. He made the King promise to tell no man who he was. This he did for the sake of the oath which he had sworn, that he would never again fight for glory but only for a righteous cause. Then once more they kissed, and each turned his own way, the King going sadly back to Winchester.
As he entered the gates the people crowded round him, eager to know who the pilgrim was. But King Athelstane held up his hand. "Peace," he said, "I indeed know, but I may not tell you. Go to your homes, thank God for your deliverance, and pray for him who overcame the giant."
After Guy left the King, he journeyed on towards Warwick. And when he came to the town over which he was lord and master no one knew him. So he mixed with the poor men who came every morning to the castle gates to receive food from the countess.
Guy listened to what those round him said. He heard them praise and bless Phyllis, calling her the best woman that had ever lived, and his heart was glad.
Pale and trembling, Guy bent before his wife, to receive food from her hands. He was so changed that even she did not know him, but she felt very sorry for the poor man who seemed so thin and worn, so she spoke kindly to him and gave him more food than the others, and told him to come every day as long as he lived.
Guy thanked her, and turned slowly away. He remembered that a hermit lived in a cave not far off, and to him he went. But when he reached the cave he found it empty. The hermit had been dead many years.
Guy then made up his mind to live in the cave. Every morning he went to the castle to receive food from Phyllis. But he would only take the simplest things, often eating nothing but bread and drinking water from the spring which flowed near.
Every evening Guy could hear Phyllis as she paced to and fro, for her walk was not far from the hermit's cave. But still some strange enchantment, as it were, held him dumb, and although he still loved her, although he knew that she sorrowed and longed for him to return home, he could not say, "I am here."
At last one day Guy became very ill. He had no longer strength to go to the castle, so calling a passing countryman to him, he gave him a ring. It was the ring which Phyllis had given him, and which he had kept ever with him through all his pilgrimage. "Take this," he said to the countryman, "and carry it to Fair Phyllis, the Countess of Warwick."
But the countryman was afraid. "I have never spoken to a great lady, and I do not know how to address her," he said. "Besides she may be angry with me, and I shall get into trouble if I carry a ring to the earl's wife."
"Do not fear," said Guy, "the countess will not be angry; rather will she reward thee. Tell her to come hastily or I die."
So the countryman took the ring, and, coming to the countess fell upon his knees. "Lady," he said, "a pilgrim who lives yonder in the forest sends thee this ring."
Phyllis took the ring, and, as she looked at it, a strange light came into her eyes. Like one in a dream she passed her hand over her forehead. "It is mine own lord, Sir Guy," she cried, and fell senseless to the ground.
The countryman was much frightened, but her ladies ran to the countess and raised her, and soon she opened her eyes.
"Friend," she said to the countryman, "tell me where is he who gave thee this ring?"
"He is in the hermit's cave," replied the man, "and he bade me to say that thou must hasten ere he die."
Right glad was Phyllis at the thought of seeing Guy again, yet sorrowful lest she should find him dead. So, calling for her mule, she mounted and rode speedily towards the cave, the countryman running before to show the way.
And when they came to the cave Phyllis went in, and kneeling beside Guy, put her arms round him, crying bitterly. "Dear," he said, "weep not, for I go where sorrows end." Then
"He kissed her fair and courteously,
With that he died hastily."
There was sorrow through all the land when it was known that Guy, the great hero, was dead. He was buried with much pomp and ceremony, the King and Queen, and all the greatest nobles of the land, coming to the funeral. And Phyllis, not caring to live longer, now that she knew that Guy was indeed dead, died too, and they were both buried in the same grave.
Then minstrels sang of Guy's valiant deeds, and of how he had slain giants and dragons, and of how he might have been an emperor and a king over many lands, and how he was ever a gentle and courteous knight.
"Thus endeth the tale of Sir Guy:
God, on his soul have mercy,
And on ours when we be dead,
And grant us in heaven to have stead."
If you ever go to Warwick you will see, in the castle there, Guy's sword and armor. Wise people will tell you that they never belonged to Guy, but to some other men who lived much later. Well, perhaps they are right.
Then, when you are at Warwick, you must go to Guy's Cliff, which is about a mile and a half away. There, in the chapel, is a statue of Guy, very old and broken.
You will also see there Fair Phyllis's Walk, the spring from which Guy used to drink, still called Guy's Well, and the cave where he lived as a hermit, and where he died.
Upon the walls of the cave is some writing. You will not be able to read it, for it is Saxon, but it means, "Cast out, Thou Christ, from Thy servant this burden."
Did Guy, I wonder, or some other, in days of loneliness and despair, carve these words?
If you ask why Guy did these things—why, when he was happy and had everything he could desire, he threw away that happiness, and wandered out into the world to endure hunger, and weariness, and suffering—or why, when at last he came back and found his beautiful wife waiting and longing for his return, he did not go to her and be happy again, I cannot tell you certainly. But perhaps it may be explained in this way. In those far-off days there was nothing for great men to do but fight. What they had they had won by the sword, and they kept it by the sword. So they went swaggering over the world, fighting and shedding blood, and the more men a knight killed, the more blood he shed, the greater was his fame. It was impossible for a man to live in the world and be at peace with his fellows. So when he desired peace he had to cut himself off from the world and all who lived in it, and go to live like a hermit in some lonely cave, or wander as a pilgrim in desolate places. And so it was with Guy.