The Knight and the Lion

"Lunette at the Stake"

Noon was already past and there was no sign of Yvain. The fire on which they meant to burn Lunette was piled high with wood and already lit in front of the chapel. The girl had been dragged from there ready to be thrown into the flames. When Yvain saw this he was full of rage.

'Let her go, you wicked people!' he cried. The crowd drew back in surprise, and Yvain caught sight of Laudine and had to hold back his heart like a bucking horse. All the ladies of the court were weeping for Lunette, for she had done many kind things for them.

'Where are your accusers?' Yvain asked Lunette.

'Here,' cried the Steward, 'but we are three and you are one. I suggest you think better of your plan and leave at once.'

'Only those who are afraid run away. I am not. Take back your lies about this girl - she is innocent.'

'Everyone knows she betrayed her lady, persuading her to marry a worthless man. If you say otherwise, you have to fight all three of us.'

'Those who stand for justice stand with God, for God is perfect justice. So with God and Justice by my side I have two better companions than you', Yvain told him.

'Whatever you say', the Steward replied, putting on his helmet. 'Just keep that wild beast out of the way.'

So Yvain sent the lion to one side, and the accusers made ready to charge, pointing their lances. They come at a gallop, but Yvain makes his horse do no more than walk, so they all break their lances in the first clash.

Yvain goes for the Steward first, dealing him such a blow that he falls down in a daze. Then the other two are on him and giving him hefty blows, but he lands still better ones on them - each of his blows is worth two of theirs. Soon, though, the man lying on the ground rises up and goes at him again, and as time goes on the strength of three-against-one begins to tell. The ladies in the crowd call on God to assist Yvain, for they see his strength begin to fail. The lion grows restless and decides to help his master himself. He leaps furiously at the Steward, scattering his mail with his claws and teeth as if it had been straw in the wind, and dragging him down. The man soon lies dying, for the lion has ripped the flesh all along his side.

The lion then turns to the other two - though Yvain shouts at him and tries to drive him off. The lion can tell his master is not really angry that he is helping him. He flings itself on the two men who hack at him with their swords, wounding him badly. When Yvain sees the lion hurt, his rage and strength return, and he attacks with such a frenzy of blows that his enemies do not know where to turn. Unable to defend themselves, they soon surrender.

Was burning at the stake a common punishment in the Middle Ages?