Ywain, the jaded administrator of an unnamed medieval state, is so bored that he renounces his rights, turning over his lands and office to a younger brother. He becomes a pilgrim, setting out to follow his “desire,” a will-o’-the-wisp in the guise of a child. In the wilderness, he encounters a hermit who teaches him the joys of life. Eventually he leaves this solitary paradise and is directed toward the walled city of Paladore. There he encounters the beautiful Aithne, who begs him not to desert her.
The sounds of a nearby battle compel him to join the Eagles, who are attacking the besieged Tower, and he helps them to prevail. The battle is an age-old custom whereby the Eagles (the liberal forces for change) challenge the Tower (the bastion of conservative power). The warring parties converge at the end of the battle, and both sides honor Ywain as a hero and welcome him to the community. An interlude is begun with Aithne, whose powers enable her to travel to the magical city of Aladore, which Ywain is unable to see.
Still longing for fulfillment, Ywain joins a band of knights seeking the City of Saints. Ywain and his companion, Bartholomy, travel to the City, which is both lovely and unusual. It is governed by ringing bells. Both men succumb to the lure of the bells, which lull them into forgetfulness. Ywain stumbles into a garden and encounters Aithne, who asks him to follow her on a new pilgrimage. Suddenly, his memory returns, and he...
(The entire section is 597 words.)