|Statue of Les Quatre Frères Aymon (one hiding!) and Bayart the magical horse.|
It is not surprising then, that a large monument dedicated to the heroic deeds of the four brothers Aymon and their magical steed, Bayart should be found in the heart of this region, high above the town of Bogny-sur-Meuse, overlooking the sinuous river and the forests beyond. The legend, with its story of defiance, determination and the strength of blood ties seems to symbolize the lands itself, frequently at the heart of strategic manoeuvres in power struggles and warfare. The sculptor, Albert Poncin, received the Médaille d’Or at the Salon des Artistes Français in Paris, 1929 for his statue, Les Quatres Fils Aymon. Whilst it was hoped that the piece would honour its ‘rightful’ lands – placed either in Charleville, Monthermé or Château-Regnault along the Meuse – lack of resources meant that it was nearly erected in Lyon instead. Sufficient funds were eventually raised, but the monument that we see today was only inaugurated in 1950.
Although the statue initially met disapproval due to the stoic aspect of the valiant protagonists of the legend, it seems most appropriate today, as it stands proud and imposing, high above the meandering river. Each character has a particular stance and expression whilst Bayart, with eyes rolling, ears back and teeth bared, seems ready to defend his masters in their fight.
In the legend, the treacherous adversary of the four brothers Aymon is none other than Charlemagne himself; King of the Francs and Emperor. Duke Aymon of Dordonne, vassal to Charlemagne, brings his sons Renaud, Allard, Richard and Guichard to the court so that may serve the king honorably and become knights. Almost immediately, Renaud is granted this honour and given a noble steed to mount, thus inciting the jealousy of the King’s nephew, Bertolais. A fight ensues during a game of chess, ultimately resulting in Bertolais’ death. To escape the subsequent wrath of Charlemagne, Renaud feels, quite accurately, that he must flee the court and hide away until calm is restored. Strong sibling loyalty, and the canny feeling that Charlemagne might somehow stop at nothing to avenge himself of Bertolais’ death, the three brothers accompany Renaud on his flight from Paris. Into the story enters Bayart, the trusty beast, however it must be remarked that this is no ordinary horse.
|Overcast skies: Bogny-sur-Meuse - site of the monument.|
As the offspring of a dragon and a snake, Bayart is naturally doted with extraordinary physical force along with a conveniently wide range of supernatural powers. Not only is he large enough to bear the four brothers on his back, Bayart is also able to cross valleys and rivers in one leap and swiftly carries them away to the mysterious forests of the Ardennes region. Any attempt by the enemy to pursue the brothers is quickly thwarted by Bayart, and the Aymons soon find refuge in these obscure lands. Here, with the help of Maugis the magician, the brothers build the fortress of Montessor which dominates the Meuse and live safely therein for a period of seven years until the grudge-bearing Charlemagne learns of their whereabouts. Through treacherous acts of cunning, the fortress of Montessor is stormed by enemy troups but all five heroes - Bayard being a key player in the action – escape via a tunnel to seek refuge in the deep forest, yet again. Seeing the fortress burning behind them, Renaud swears that henceforth the edifice shall be known as 'Le Chastel Regnault'.
|Canadian geese along the cycle paths of the Meuse...|
|Fallow herd next to the path...|
Indeed, pretending to propose a truce, Charlemagne attempts to trick the four brothers who resolutely refuse to pledge their allegiance to their king. With King Yvon’s help, Charlemagne ambushes the brothers in the castle of Vaucouleurs, but fails to kill Maugis who is therefore able to save them in extremis. Returning to the castle of Montauban, the injured brothers are finally besieged by the enemy troops and almost die of hunger. Although they eat all other beasts, the brothers draw the line at slaughtering Bayart, and decide to merely drink his blood. All appears to be lost, when suddenly Renaud miraculously discovers yet another tunnel and off they go on one more adventure.
However the prospect of yet another bout of cat-and-mouse pursuit proves to be just too much for all concerned. And so it is that when Charlemagne eventually sets out the two conditions in his offer of peace, Renaud accepts. The knight must not only go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he must also hand over Bayart back to the king. Thus after years of loyal service to the Aymon brothers, the heroic beast is quietly given to Charlemagne who then promptly orders him to be weighed down with a millstone and thrown in the river Meuse to drown! Surely realizing a little late in the day that the ingratitude and cruelty of humans towards fellow creatures knows no bounds, Bayart kicks off these shackles and leaps from the waters.
|One of the weirest tree trunks I've ever seen...|
|Grand Horloge of the Institut International de la Marionnette.|
To get to Bogny-sur-Meuse from Charleville-Mézières, there are cycle paths along the river Meuse that winds its way through the wooded lands. No sign of Bayart, of course, but the landscape is spectacular and there are touches of the magic to be found in Nature; namely the herd of fallow deer and the light that suddenly floods through heavy skies...