The Saga of the Bayard Steed and its four riders has its origins in a medieval chanson de geste told throughout the greater part of Europe. Wandering minstrels, folk tales and processions popularised such universal heroic epics. The original French version dates from the first half of the 13th century and is titled Renaud de Montauban. The story in particular deals with the problematic nature of feudalism, during the early Middle Ages and dates back to Charlemagne.
This is the version that is told in Dendermonde.
For years and years, Aymon, Lord of Dendermonde, has lived in disagreement with Charlemagne. To restore the peace between Lord and Vassal, Charlemagne agrees to the marriage of his cousin with Sir Aymon. From this marriage four sons are born: Richard, Guiscard, Alard and Reynout. When they are knighted by their father, they each get a horse. Reynaud is so strong that he kills his horse with one blow of the fist. He is offered a second horse, but on his first ride he breaks its back. But a knight has to have a horse and Lord Aymon knows what to do. He takes Reynaud to a castle where the frightful horse Bayard, that has never found a master, is locked up. Without any fear Reynout approaches the dangerous horse, but it hits him several times. After a long struggle he succeeds in taming it. From now on the steed obeys at the first sign of Reynout.
Due to a very serious quarrel at the court with his cousin Louis, Charlemagnes son, Reynaud gets so furious that he takes his sword and decapitates the mean Louis. On the back of the magical Bayard, the four Sons of Aymon escape from Charlemagnes fury.
From their castle, Montalbaen, the fair knights defend themselves continuously against Charlemagnes men. But the knights judge that the fight is unfair so Bayard takes them back to their hometown, Dendermonde. Their mother knows that soon her sons, just like her husband, will be taken to prison. She goes to her cousin and begs him to have mercy on her husband and sons. Charlemagne agrees to make peace again if they give him Bayard. At first Reynaud doesnt agree with this proposal, but concerned about his father and his brothers and because of his mother, Reynaud gives in and sacrifices his horse. With a broken heart he watches how they take it to the confluence of the rivers Dender and Scheldt. Heavy millstones are put around the horses neck and Bayard is thrown into the water. Twice the steed breaks the stones and swims to the shore, where Reynaud is standing.
Reynaud cant stand the scene any longer and turns away. In spite of the huge millstones, the steed comes to the surface for the third time longing for his master. Thinking that Reynaud doesnt want him anymore, Bayard gives a painful scream. If his master leaves him, the proud animal doesnt want to live anymore. And Bayard drowns ...
This touching end is one of the most beautiful pages of medieval literature and a tragic example of human ingratitude. But Bayard isnt dead. Although drowned 11 centuries ago, he s revived in the procession of the Bayard horse once a decade.