Daughters of the Lord of Noire Espine

Lord of the Black Thorn

Chrétien gives the cause of this lord’s demise as losing an argument with Death. His only survivors seem to be a pair of daughters. The elder tries to seize the entire inheritance for herself alone, at which the younger rather naively declares her intention to appeal to King Arthur. The elder secretly beats her to court and somehow inlists Gawaine as her own champion, although, as if already suspecting his maiden to be in the wrong, he makes anonymity his condition. The younger sister arrives and tries in her turn to enlist Gawaine.

On his polite refusal, she can think of no other champion than the Knight with the Lion, news of whose prowess have just been brought to court by Gawaine’s nephews and niece, rescued from Harpin of the Mountain. Granted the customary forty days to find her chosen champion and bring him back, the damsel falls sick on the way, leaving a friend whom Phyllis Ann Karr call “Secunda” to finish the search. “Secunda” proving successful, the younger damsel of Noire Espine brings Ywaine, still shrouding himself beneath his new soubriquet, back to court in the nick of time.

The battle between the two such obviously worthy, if unknown, champions causes all onlookers to plead with the elder daughter to yield her sister enough of the inheritance to live on, but she refuses. When Gawaine and Ywaine at last learn each other’s identity and begin determinedly declaring each other the victor, Arthur shrewdly tricks the elder sister by asking, “Where is she who wishes cruelly to disinherit and beggar her sister”, and pronouncing her “Here I am” a confession of guilt. Thus, Solomon-like, Arthur settles the dispute, ordering the older daughter to give the younger a fair portion and cherish her as a liege-woman.

Throughout the account, the elder sister is so consistently tagged “malevolent” and the younger shown a such a sweet thing as to make me wonder if we might have here the kind of sibling relationship Shakespeare was to repeat with Kate and Bianca.