Now King Estorause was a tyrant, and was come of a line of pagans. He took the three knights and put them in a deep hole. But as soon as they were there our Lord sent them the Holy Grail, through whose grace they were always satisfied while that they were in prison.
At the year's end it befell that this king lay sick, and felt that he should die. Then he sent for the three knights. They came afore him, and he cried them mercy of that he had done to them, and they forgave it him goodly, and he died anon.
When the king was dead, all the city was dismayed, and wist not who might be their king. Right so as they were in counsel, there came a voice among them, and bade them choose the youngest knight of them there to be their king, for he should well maintain them and all theirs. So they made Galahad king by all the assent of the whole city.
When he was come to behold the land, he let make about the table of silver a chest of gold and of precious stones that covered the holy vessel; and every day early the three fellows would come afore it and make their prayers.
Now at the year's end the three knights arose early and came to the palace, and saw before them the holy vessel, and a man kneeling, in likeness of a bishop, that had about him a great fellowship of angels. And he called Galahad and said to him, "Come forth, thou servant of Jesu Christ, and thou shalt see that thou hast much desired to see."
Then Galahad began to tremble right hard, when the deadly flesh began to behold the spiritual things. Then he held up his hands towards heaven, and said, "Lord, I thank Thee, for now I see what hath been my desire many a day. Now, blessed Lord, would I not longer live, if it might please thee, Lord."
Therewith the good man took the sacrament and proffered it to Galahad, and he received it right gladly and meekly.
"Now, wotest thou what I am?" said the good man; "I am Joseph of Arimathea, which our Lord hath sent here to thee to bear thee fellowship. And wotest thou wherefore He hath sent me more than any other? For thou hast resembled me in two things, in that thou hast seen the marvels of the Holy Grail, and in that thou hast been a clean and virtuous knight, as I have been and am."
When these words had been spoken, Galahad went to Percivale and to Bors and kissed them and commended them to God, and said, "Salute me to my lord Sir Launcelot, and bid him remember of this unstable world."
Therewith he kneeled down tofore the table and made his prayers, and then suddenly his soul departed to Jesu Christ, and a great multitude of angels bare his soul up to heaven, and the two fellows might well behold it. Also they saw come from heaven a hand, but they saw not the body; and it came right to the vessel, and took it, and bare it up to heaven. Since then was there never man so hard as to say that he had seen the Holy Grail.
When Percivale and Bors saw Galahad had died, they made as much sorrow as ever did two men; and if they had not been good men, they might lightly have fallen in despair. And the people of the country and of the city were right heavy. And then he was buried. And as soon as he was buried, Sir Percivale betook himself to a hermitage out of the city, where for a year and two months he lived a full holy life, and then passed out of this world.
When Bors saw that he was alone in so far countries, he departed from Sarras and came to the sea. There he entered into a ship, and so it befell that in good adventure he came into the realm of Logris. And he rode to Camelot, where King Arthur was, and then was there great joy made of him in the court, for they believed all that he was dead, forasmuch as he had been so long out of the country.
When they had eaten, the King made great clerks to come afore him, that they should chronicle of the high adventures of the good knights. When Bors had told of the adventures of the Holy Grail, such as had befallen him and his two fellows, that was Percivale and Galahad, then Launcelot told the adventures of the Holy Grail that he had seen. All this was made in great books, and put in chests at Salisbury.
 Rivage: bank; shore.
SIR LAUNCELOT AND THE FAIR MAID OF ASTOLAT
After the quest of the Holy Grail was fulfilled, and all knights that were left alive were come again unto the Table Round, then was there great joy in the court, and in especial King Arthur and Queen Guenever made great joy of the remnant that were come home. Passing glad were the King and the Queen of Sir Launcelot and of Sir Bors, for they had been long away in the quest of the Holy Grail.
Then, as the book saith, Sir Launcelot began to resort unto Queen Guenever again, and forgat the promise that he made in the quest. For, had he not been in his privy thoughts and in his mind so set inwardly to the Queen, as he was in seeming outward to God, there had no knight passed him in the quest of the Holy Grail. But ever his thoughts were privily on the Queen, more than toforehand, so that many in the court spake of it, and in especial Sir Agravaine, Sir Gawaine's brother, for he was ever open mouthed.
Thus it passed forth till on a day the King let cry great jousts and a tournament that should be at Camelot, that is Winchester, and thither came many knights. So King Arthur made him ready to depart to these jousts, and would have had the Queen with him, but she would not go, pretending to be sick. This grieved the King, for such a fellowship of knights had not been seen together since the Whitsuntide when Galahad departed from the court. And many deemed the Queen would not be there because of Sir Launcelot of the Lake, who would not ride with the King, for he said he was not whole of a wound.
So when the King was departed, the Queen called Sir Launcelot unto her, and told him he was greatly to blame, thus to hold himself behind his lord, and counselled him to take his way towards the tournament at Winchester. So upon the morn he took his leave of the Queen, and departed. He rode all that day, and at eventide he came to Astolat, that is Gilford, and was lodged at the place of an old baron, named Sir Bernard of Astolat. The old knight welcomed him in the best manner, but he knew not that he was Sir Launcelot.
"Fair sir," said Sir Launcelot to his host, "I would pray you to lend me a shield that is not openly known, for mine be well known, and I would go to the tournament in disguise."
"Sir," said his host, "ye shall have your desire, for me seemeth ye be one of the likeliest knights of the world, and I shall show you friendship. Sir, wit ye well I have two sons which were but late made knights. The eldest is called Sir Tirre, and he was hurt that same day that he was made knight, so that he may not ride. His shield ye shall have, for that is not known, I dare say, except in this place. And my youngest son is named Sir Lavaine, and if it please you, he shall ride with you unto the jousts, for he is of his age strong and brave. Much my heart leads me to believe that ye should be a noble knight; therefore I pray you tell me your name."
"As for that," said Sir Launcelot, "ye must hold me excused at his time, but if God give me grace to speed well at the jousts, I shall come again and tell you. But I pray you in any wise let me have your son Sir Lavaine with me, and his brother's shield."
"This shall be done," said Sir Bernard.
This old baron had a daughter, Elaine le Blank, that was called at that time the Fair Maid of Astolat. Ever she beheld Sir Launcelot admiringly, and, as the book saith, she cast such a love unto him that she could never withdraw her love, so she besought him to wear at the jousts a token of hers. "Fair damsel," said Sir Launcelot, "if I grant you that, ye may say I do more for your love than ever I did for lady or damsel."
Then he remembered that he would go to the jousts disguised; and because he had never afore that time borne any manner of token of any damsel, he bethought him that he would bear one of her, so that none of his blood thereby might know him. And then he said, "Fair maiden, I will grant you to wear a token of yours upon my helmet; therefore, show me what it is."
"Sir," she said, "it is a red sleeve of mine, of scarlet, well embroidered with great pearls."
So she brought it him, and Sir Launcelot received it, saying that he had never done so much for any damsel. Then he left his shield in the fair maiden's keeping, and prayed her to care for it until that he came again. So that night he had merry rest and great cheer, for ever the damsel Elaine was about Sir Launcelot, all the while she might be suffered.
On the morn Sir Launcelot and Sir Lavaine took their leave of Sir Bernard, the old baron, and of his daughter, the Fair Maiden of Astolat, and then they rode so long till they came to Camelot. There was great press of kings, dukes, earls, and barons, and many noble knights; but there Sir Launcelot was lodged privily, by the means of Sir Lavaine, with a rich burgess, so that no man in that town was ware what they were.
At the time appointed the jousts began, and Sir Launcelot made him ready in his best manner, and put the red sleeve upon his head, and fastened it fast. Then he with Sir Lavaine came in at the thickest of the press, and did marvellous deeds of arms, so that all wondered what knight he might be. Sir Gawaine said it might be Sir Launcelot by his riding and his buffets, but ever it seemed it should not be he, for he bore the red sleeve upon his head, and he never wist Sir Launcelot bear token of lady or gentleman at any jousts.
At the last by misfortune Sir Bors unhorsed Sir Launcelot, and smote him through the shield into the side; and the spear brake, and the head was left still in his side. But Sir Lavaine by great force took the horse from the King of Scots and brought it to his lord, Sir Launcelot, and in spite of them all he made him to mount upon that horse. Then Launcelot gat a spear in his hand, and then he smote Sir Bors horse and man to the earth. In the same wise served he other knights, and, as the book saith, he might have slain them, but his heart might not serve him thereto, and he left them there.
Then afterwards he hurled in the thickest press of them all, and did there the marvellousest deeds of arms that ever man saw or heard speak of; and ever Sir Lavaine, the good knight, was with him. And there Sir Launcelot with his sword smote and pulled down, as the French book maketh mention, more than thirty knights, and the most part were of the Table Round. And Sir Lavaine also did full well that day.
At the last the King blew unto lodging, and the prize was given by heralds unto the knight with the white shield, that bare the red sleeve. But Sir Launcelot was sore hurt, and cared not for honour; and groaning piteously, he rode at a great gallop away-ward from all the knights, until he came under a wood's side. When he saw that he was from the field nigh a mile, so that he was sure he might not be seen, he besought Sir Lavaine as he loved him to draw the truncheon out of his side. This Sir Lavaine dreaded sore to do, lest Sir Launcelot should be in peril of death from loss of blood, if the truncheon were drawn out. Yet he did as his lord would have him do, and Sir Launcelot gave a great shriek, and so swooned pale and deadly.
Thereupon Sir Lavaine took him to a hermitage fast by within two miles, where dwelt a gentle hermit, that sometime was a full noble knight and a great lord of possessions. For great goodness he had taken himself to wilful poverty, and forsaken many lands. He was a full noble surgeon, and anon he stanched Sir Launcelot's blood, and made him to drink good wine, so that he was well refreshed, and came to himself.
Meanwhile King Arthur let seek the knight that bare the red sleeve, that he might have his laud and honour, and the prize, as was right. But he could not be found, and the King and all the knights feared he was sore hurt in the battle. Then Sir Gawaine took a squire with him and drove all about Camelot within six or seven miles, but could hear no word of him.
Then within two days King Arthur and all the fellowship returned unto London again, and so, as they rode by the way, it happened that Sir Gawaine was lodged at Astolat with Sir Bernard. There by the means of the shield left in Elaine's care he learned that the knight who won such honour at the tournament was none other than Sir Launcelot himself, and the Fair Maid of Astolat learned on how valiant a knight she had fixed her love.
When Elaine heard also that Sir Launcelot was grievously wounded and that the knights knew not where he lay, she said to Sir Bernard, her father: "Now I request you give me leave to ride and to seek him, or else I wot well I shall go out of my mind, for I shall never stop till that I find him and my brother, Sir Lavaine."
"Do as it liketh you," said her father, "for I am right sore grieved of the hurt of that noble knight."
Right so the maid made herself ready, and Sir Gawaine rode on to London, where he openly disclosed to all the court that it was Sir Launcelot that bore the red sleeve, and that jousted best. And when Sir Bors heard that, wit ye well he was a heavy man, and so were all his kinsmen, for it was he who had given Sir Launcelot, that was his own cousin, the grievous wound in the tournament. But when Queen Guenever wist that Sir Launcelot bare the red sleeve of the Fair Maid of Astolat, she was nigh out of her mind for wrath, and called him false traitor, because he had worn the token of any lady but herself.
As fair Elaine came to Winchester, she sought there all about, and by fortune Sir Lavaine had ridden out to refresh himself and to exercise his horse. Anon as Elaine saw him she knew him, and then she cried aloud unto him. When he heard her, anon he came hither, and then she asked her brother how Sir Launcelot did.
"Who told you, sister," said he, "that my lord's name is Sir Launcelot?"
Then she told him how Sir Gawaine knew him by his shield, and so they rode together till they came to the hermitage. Anon she alighted, and Sir Lavaine brought her in to Sir Launcelot. So this maiden, Elaine, never went from Sir Launcelot, but watched him day and night, and did such attendance to him that the French book saith there was never woman did kindlier for man than she.
After a long while he was healed of his wounds, and so upon a morn they took their horses, and Elaine le Blank with them, and departed from the hermit. And when they came to Astolat, there they were well lodged, and had great cheer of Sir Bernard the old baron, and of Sir Tirre his son.
When Sir Launcelot should depart from Astolat for to return to King Arthur's court, fair Elaine seemed like to die for love of him and for sorrow at his going. But Sir Launcelot loved only Queen Guenever, and thought never to be wedded man, and could only grieve at her great sorrow; and for her good will and great kindness he promised that, whensoever she should set her heart upon some good knight that would wed her, he would give her a thousand pounds yearly, and always while he lived be her own true knight.
Then Sir Launcelot took his leave, and with Sir Lavaine he came unto Winchester. And when Arthur wist that Sir Launcelot was come whole and sound, he made great joy of him, and so did all the knights of the Round Table except Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred.
Now speak we of the Fair Maiden of Astolat, that made such sorrow day and night that she never slept, ate, or drank, and ever she made her lament for Sir Launcelot. When she had thus endured a ten days, and weakened so that she must needs pass out of this world, she prepared for death, but ever she mourned for Sir Launcelot.
Then her priest bade her leave such thoughts; but she said, "Why should I leave such thoughts? Am I not an earthly woman? And all the while the breath is in my body I may lament, for I do none offence, though I love an earthly man, and I take God to my record I never loved any but Sir Launcelot of the Lake, and as I am a pure maiden I never shall. And since it is the sufferance of God that I shall die for the love of so noble a knight, I beseech the High Father of Heaven to have mercy upon my soul; and sweet Lord Jesu, I take Thee to record, I was never great offender against Thy laws, but that I loved this noble knight Sir Launcelot out of measure, and of myself, good Lord, I might not withstand the fervent love wherefore I have my death."
Then she called her father Sir Bernard and her brother Sir Tirre, and heartily she prayed her father that her brother might write a letter like as she did endite it, and so her father granted her. And when the letter was written word by word as she devised, then she prayed her father that after her death she might be put in a barge in all her richest clothes, the letter fast in her right hand, and that the barge, covered over and over with black samite, might be steered by one boatman only down the Thames to Westminster.
So she died, and all was done as she desired. Now by fortune King Arthur and Queen Guenever were speaking together at a window of the palace, and as they looked they espied this black barge, and had marvel what it meant. And the King sent three knights thither to bring him ready word what was there. Then these three knights came to the barge, and found therein the fairest corpse lying in a rich bed, and a poor man sitting at the barge's end, and no word would he speak. Then the King took the Queen by the hand and went thither, and there they saw the fair woman in all the rich clothing lying as though she smiled. And the Queen espied the letter in her right hand, and a clerk read it in the presence of many knights.
This was the intent of the letter: "Most noble knight Sir Launcelot, now hath death made us two at debate for your love. I was your lover, that men called the Fair Maiden of Astolat; therefore unto all ladies I make my moan; yet pray for my soul, and bury me at the least, and offer my mass-penny. This is my last request. And a clean maiden I died, I take God to witness. Pray for my soul, Sir Launcelot, as thou art peerless."
When the letter was read, the King, the Queen, and all the knights wept for pity at the doleful lament. Then was Sir Launcelot sent for, and when he heard the letter word by word, he said: "My lord Arthur, wit ye well I am right heavy of the death of this fair damsel, but God knoweth I was never cause of her death by my willing. I will not say but that she was both fair and good, and much I was beholden unto her, but she loved me out of measure."
Then said the King unto Sir Launcelot, "It will be your honour that ye oversee that she be interred honourably."
"Sir," said Sir Launcelot, "that shall be done as I can best devise."
So upon the morn she was interred richly, and Sir Launcelot offered her mass-penny, and all the knights of the Table Round that were there at that time offered with Sir Launcelot.
And the Queen sent for Sir Launcelot, and prayed him of mercy, because she had been wroth with him causeless, and he willingly forgave her.
So it passed on all that winter with all manner of hunting and hawking, and jousts and tourneys were many betwixt the great lords; and ever in all places Sir Lavaine gat great honour, so that he was nobly renowned among many knights of the Table Round.
OF THE GREAT TOURNAMENT ON CANDLEMAS DAY
At Christmas time many knights were together at the court, and every day there was a joust made. Sir Lavaine jousted there all that Christmas passing well, and was praised best, for there were but few that did so well. Wherefore all knights thought that Sir Lavaine should be made knight of the Round Table at the next feast of Pentecost.
But Sir Launcelot would joust only when a great tournament was held. So after Christmas King Arthur had many knights called unto him, and there they agreed together to make a party and a great tournament near Westminster on Candlemas Day. Of this many knights were glad, and made themselves ready to be at these jousts in the freshest manner. The Queen Guenever sent for Sir Launcelot, and said: "At these jousts that shall be ye shall bear upon your helmet the sleeve of gold that ye shall have of me, and I pray you, for my sake exert yourself there so that men may speak of your honour."
"Madam," said Sir Launcelot, "it shall be done."
And when Sir Launcelot saw his time, he told Sir Bors that he would depart, and have no others with him than Sir Lavaine, unto the good hermit that dwelt in the forest of Windsor,—his name was Sir Brastias,—and there he intended to take all the repose he might, because he wished to be fresh on the day of the jousts.
So Sir Launcelot with Sir Lavaine departed so quietly that no creature except the noble men of his own kin knew what had become of him. And when he had come to the hermitage, you may be sure he had good cheer. Daily he would go to a spring hard by the hermitage, and there he would lie down and watch the spring bubble, and sometimes he slept there.
At that time a lady dwelt in the forest, who was a great huntress. Every day she used to hunt, and no men ever went with her, but always women. They were all shooters, and could well kill a deer both under cover and in the open. They always carried bows and arrows, horns and wood-knives, and many good dogs they had.
Now it happened that this lady, the huntress, was one day chasing a deer, keeping the direction by the noise of the hounds. The deer, hard pressed, came down to the spring where Sir Launcelot was sleeping, and there sank down exhausted, and lay there a great while. At length the dogs came fast after, and beat about, for they had lost the very perfect track of the deer. Just then there came that lady, the huntress, who knew by the sounds of the dogs that the deer must be at the spring. So she came swiftly and found the deer. She put a broad arrow in her bow, and shot at it, but aimed too high, and so by misfortune the arrow smote Sir Launcelot deep in the thick of the thigh. When Sir Launcelot felt himself so hurt, he jumped up madly, and saw the lady that had smitten him. And when he saw it was a woman, he said thus; "Lady or damsel, whatever thou be, in an evil time ye bare a bow; the devil made you a shooter."
"Now mercy, fair sir," said the lady; "I am a gentlewoman that am wont to hunt here in this forest, and truly I saw you not; there was the deer by the spring, and I believed I was doing well to shoot, but my hand swerved."
"Alas," said Sir Launcelot, "ye have done mischief to me."
And so the lady departed, and Sir Launcelot, as well as he might, pulled out the arrow, but the head remained still in his thigh; and so he went feebly to the hermitage, ever bleeding as he went. And when Sir Lavaine and the hermit spied that Sir Launcelot was hurt, wit ye well they were passing sorry; but neither Sir Lavaine nor the hermit knew how he was hurt, or by whom. Then with great pain the hermit gat the arrow's head out of Sir Launcelot's thigh, but much of his blood was shed, and the wound was passing sore.
"Ah, mercy," said Sir Launcelot, "I call myself the most unhappy man that liveth; for ever when I would most gladly have honour there befalleth me some unhappy thing. Now, so heaven help me, I shall be in the field upon Candlemas Day at the jousts, whatsoever come of it."
So all that might heal Sir Launcelot was gotten, and, when the day came, he and Sir Lavaine had themselves and their horses arrayed, and so departed and came nigh to the field. Many proved good knights with their retainers were there ready to joust, and King Arthur himself came into the field with two hundred knights, the most part noble knights of the Table Round. And there were old knights set in scaffolds, for to judge with the Queen who did best.
Then they blew to the field, and the knights met in the battle, furiously smiting down one and another in the rush of the tournament. King Arthur himself ran into the lists with a hundred followers, smiting to the earth four knights, one after the other, and even when his spear was broken he did passing well. And so knight after knight came in,—Sir Gawaine, and Sir Gaheris, and Sir Agravaine, and Sir Mordred, and many others; all pressed their opponents hard, some being discomfited and others gaining great honour by their mighty prowess.
All this doing Sir Launcelot saw, and then he came into the field with Sir Lavaine, as if it had been thunder. He encountered with Sir Gawaine, and by force smote him and his horse to the earth, and then one knight after another all with one spear. And Sir Lavaine encountered with Sir Palamides, and either met other so hard and so fiercely that both their horses fell to the earth. But they were horsed again, and then Sir Launcelot met with Sir Palamides, and there Sir Palamides had a fall. And so Sir Launcelot, as fast as he could get spears, smote down thirty knights, and the most part of them were knights of the Table Round. And then King Arthur was wroth when he saw Sir Launcelot do such deeds, and with nine chosen knights made ready to set upon Sir Launcelot and Sir Lavaine.
All this espied Sir Gareth, and he said to Sir Bors, "I will ride unto my lord Sir Launcelot for to help him, fall of it what may, for he is the same man that made me knight."
"Ye shall not so," said Sir Bors, "by my counsel, unless ye be disguised."
"Ye shall see me disguised," said Sir Gareth.
So he rode to a Welsh knight who lay to repose himself, for he was sore hurt afore by Sir Gawaine, and Sir Gareth prayed him of his knighthood to lend him his green shield for his.
"I will well," said the Welsh knight.
So Sir Gareth came driving to Sir Launcelot with all his might, and bore him fellowship for old love he had shown him. And so the King and his nine knights encountered with Sir Launcelot and Sir Lavaine and Sir Gareth. And Sir Gareth did such deeds of arms that all men wondered what knight he was with the green shield; for he smote down that day and pulled down more than thirty knights. Also Sir Launcelot knew not Sir Gareth, and marvelled, when he beheld him do such deeds, what knight he might be.
So this tournament and this joust lasted long, till it was near evening, for the knights of the Round Table ever came to the relief of King Arthur, who was wroth out of measure that he and his knights could not prevail that day over Sir Launcelot and the knights who were with him.
So when they had long dealt one another great strokes and neither might prevail, King Arthur said to Sir Gawaine, "Tell me now, nephew, what is your best counsel?"
"Sir," said Sir Gawaine, "ye shall have my counsel. Have sounded the call unto lodging, for, trust me, truly it will be of no avail to strive with Sir Launcelot of the Lake and my brother, Sir Gareth,—for he it is with the green shield,—helped as they are by that good young knight, Sir Lavaine, unless we should fall ten or twelve upon one knight, and that would be no honour, but shame."
"Ye say truth," said the King, "and it were shame to us, so many as we are, to set upon them any more."
So then they blew unto lodging, and King Arthur rode after Sir Launcelot and prayed him and other of the knights to supper.
So they went unto Arthur's lodging all together, and there was a great feast and great revel, and the prize was given unto Sir Launcelot. Then Sir Launcelot told the King and the Queen how the lady huntress shot him in the forest of Windsor in the thigh with a broad arrow. Also Arthur blamed Sir Gareth, because he left his fellowship and held with Sir Launcelot.
"My lord," said Sir Gareth, "he made me a knight, and when I saw him so hard bestead, me thought it was my honour to help him, for I saw him do so much, and I was ashamed to see so many noble knights against him alone."
"Truly," said King Arthur unto Sir Gareth, "ye say well, and honourably have ye done, and all the days of my life be sure I shall love you and trust you the more for the great honour ye have done to yourself. For ever it is an honourable knight's duty to help another honourable knight when he seeth him in a great danger, for ever an honourable man will be loath to see an honourable man put to shame. He that is of no honour, and fareth with cowardice, will never show gentleness nor any manner of goodness where he seeth a man in any danger, for never will a coward show any mercy, and always a good man will do to another man as he would be done to himself."
So then there were great feasts unto kings and dukes; and revel, game, and play, and all manner of nobleness was used; and he that was courteous, true, and faithful to his friend was at that time cherished.
QUEEN GUENEVER'S MAY-DAY RIDE AND WHAT CAME OF IT
Thus it passed on from Candlemas until after Easter, and soon the month of May was come, when every manly heart begins to blossom and to bring forth fruit. For as herbs and trees flourish in May, likewise every lusty heart springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds, for more than any other month May giveth unto all men renewed courage, and calleth again to their mind old gentleness and old service, and many kind deeds that were forgotten by negligence. Therefore, as the month of May flowereth and flourisheth in many gardens, so let every man of honour bring forth fruit in his heart, first unto God, and next unto the joy of them to whom he has promised his faith.
So it befell in the month of May that Queen Guenever called unto her ten knights of the Table Round, and she bade them ride with her a-Maying on the morrow into the woods and fields near Westminster. And "I bid you," said she, "that ye all be well horsed, and that ye all be clothed in green, either silk or woollen, and I shall bring with me ten ladies, and every knight shall have a lady behind him, and every knight shall have a squire and two yeomen."
So they made themselves ready in the freshest manner, and in the morning rode with the Queen a-Maying in woods and meadows as it pleased them in great joy and delight. The Queen purposed to be again with King Arthur at the furthest by ten of the clock.
Now there was a knight called Meliagrance, who had at that time a castle, the gift of King Arthur, within seven miles of Westminster. He had long lain in wait to steal away the Queen, but had feared to do the base deed when Sir Launcelot was in her company. It was her custom at that time never to ride without a great fellowship of men of arms about her, for the most part young men eager for honour, and called the Queen's knights. But this knight, Sir Meliagrance, had espied the Queen well and her purpose on this May morning, and had seen how Sir Launcelot was not with her, and how she had for this once no men of arms with her but the ten noble knights all arrayed in green for Maying. Then he provided him twenty men of arms and a hundred archers, to destroy the Queen's knights, for he thought that time was the best season to take the Queen prisoner.
So while the Queen and all her knights were gathering herbs and mosses and flowers in the best manner and freshest, just then there came out of a wood Sir Meliagrance with eight-score men, well armed, and bade the Queen and her knights to stand.
"Traitor knight," said Queen Guenever, "what intendest thou to do? Wilt thou shame thyself? Bethink thee how thou art a king's son, and knight of the Table Round, and thou art about to dishonour the noble king that made thee knight; thou shamest all knighthood and thyself; but me, I let thee wit, thou shalt never shame, for I had rather cut my throat in twain than that thou shouldst dishonour me."
"As for all this language," said Sir Meliagrance, "be it as it may, never before could I get you at such advantage as I do now, and therefore I will take you as I find you."
All the ten noble knights sought to dissuade him from dishonouring himself and from forcing them to jeopard their lives, unarmed as they were, in defending the Queen. But Sir Meliagrance would not yield, and the ten knights of the Table Round drew their swords and stood manly against the spears and swords of the others. But Sir Meliagrance had them at great advantage, and anon six of them were smitten to the earth with grimly wounds. The other four fought long, but at last they also were sore wounded.
When the Queen saw that her knights needs must be slain at the last, she for pity and sorrow agreed to go with Sir Meliagrance to his castle upon this covenant, that he suffer not her knights to be more hurt, and that they be led wheresoever she was taken. "For," said she, "I will rather slay myself than go with thee, unless these my noble knights may be in my presence."
Meliagrance consented, and by the Queen's commandment they left battle. The wounded knights were placed on horseback, some sitting, some across the horses' backs in a pitiful manner, and all rode in haste to the castle. Then Sir Meliagrance charged the Queen and all her knights that no one should depart from her, for full sore he dreaded Sir Launcelot, lest he should have any knowledging.
But the Queen privily called unto her a page who could ride swiftly, gave him her ring, and told him to bear it, when he saw a chance to slip away quietly, unto Sir Launcelot of the Lake, and pray him to rescue her. "And spare thou not thy horse," said she, "neither for water nor for land."
So the page espied his time, and lightly he touched his horse with the spurs, and departed as fast as he might. Sir Meliagrance saw him so flee, and understood that it was to warn Sir Launcelot. Then they that were best horsed chased him and shot at him, but he escaped them all, and anon found Sir Launcelot. And when he had told his message, and delivered him the Queen's ring, "Alas," said Sir Launcelot, "now am I shamed forever, unless that I may rescue that noble lady from dishonour."
Then he eagerly called for his armour, and ever the page told him how the ten knights had fought marvellously, till at last the Queen made appointment to go with Sir Meliagrance for to save their lives.
"Alas," said Sir Launcelot, "that most noble lady, that she should be so destroyed! I would give all France to have been there well armed."
So when Sir Launcelot was armed and upon his horse, he sent the Queen's page to tell Sir Lavaine how suddenly he had departed, and for what cause, and to pray him to come anon to the castle where Sir Meliagrance abideth.
Sir Launcelot, it is said, took to the water at Westminster bridge and made his horse swim over the Thames to Lambeth; and then he rode as fast as he might, until within a while he came to the place where the ten knights had fought with Sir Meliagrance. He then followed the path until he came to a straight way through the wood. Here he was stopped by thirty archers that Sir Meliagrance had sent out to slay Sir Launcelot's horse, but in no wise to have ado with him bodily, "for," he had said, "he is overhard to overcome." These archers bade Sir Launcelot to turn again and follow no longer that track, and when Sir Launcelot gave right naught for them, then they shot his horse, and smote him with many arrows. Sir Launcelot now set out on foot, but there were so many ditches and hedges betwixt the archers and him that he could not meddle with any one of them.
He went on a while, but was much cumbered by his armour, his shield, and his spear. Wit ye well he was sore annoyed at his slow progress, but was loath to leave anything that belonged unto him, for he dreaded sore the treason of Sir Meliagrance.
Just then by chance there came by a cart, that was sent thither to fetch wood. "Tell me, carter," said Sir Launcelot, "what shall I give thee to take me in thy cart unto a castle within two miles of here?"
"Thou shalt not set foot in my cart," said the man, "for I am sent to fetch wood for my lord Sir Meliagrance."
Then Sir Launcelot jumped upon him and gave the man such a blow that he fell to the earth stark dead. Then the other carter, his fellow, was afraid of going the same way, and cried out, "Fair lord, save my life and I will bring you where ye will."
Sir Launcelot leaped into the cart, and the carter drove at a great gallop, Sir Launcelot's horse following after with more than forty arrows in him.
More than an hour and a half later, Queen Guenever was in a bay window of the castle with her ladies, and espied an armed knight approaching, standing in a cart.
"See, madam," said a lady to her, "there rideth in a cart a goodly armed knight; I suppose he rideth to hanging."
Then the Queen espied by his shield that Sir Launcelot of the Lake himself was there. "Alas," said the Queen; "now I see that well is it with him who hath a trusty friend. Ah, most noble knight, I see well thou are hard bestead, when thou ridest in a cart."
By this time Sir Launcelot had come to the gates of that castle, and there he descended from the cart, and cried so that all the castle rang: "Where art thou, false traitor Sir Meliagrance, and knight of the Table Round? Now come forth here, thou traitor knight, thou and thy fellowship with thee, for here I am, Sir Launcelot of the Lake, that shall fight with thee."
With these words he burst the gate wide open upon the porter, and smote him under his ear with his gauntlet so that he staggered back like a dead man. When Sir Meliagrance heard that Sir Launcelot was there, he ran unto Queen Guenever and fell upon his knees, putting himself wholly at her mercy, and begging her to control the wrath of Sir Launcelot.
"Better is peace than ever war," said the Queen, "and the less noise the more is my honour."
So she and her ladies went down to Sir Launcelot, thanked him for all his trouble in her behalf, told him of Meliagrance's repentance, and bade him come in peaceably with her.
"Madam," said Sir Launcelot, "if ye are accorded with him, I am not inclined to be against peace, howbeit Sir Meliagrance hath done full shamefully to me, and cowardly. Ah, madam, had I known ye would be so soon accorded with him, I would not have made such haste unto you."
"What," said the Queen, "do ye repent of your good deeds? Wit ye well I never made peace with him for labour or love that I had unto him, but to suppress all shameful noise."
"Madam," said Sir Launcelot, "ye understand full well I was never glad of shameful slander nor noise; and there is neither king, queen, nor knight alive except my lord King Arthur and you, madam, that should hinder me from making Sir Meliagrance's heart full cold or ever I departed from hence."
Then the Queen and Sir Launcelot went in together, and she commanded him to be unarmed. Then he asked where the ten knights were that were wounded sore. So she led Sir Launcelot to them, and they made great joy of his coming, and he made great dole of their hurts, and bewailed them greatly. And then Sir Launcelot told them how he had been obliged to put himself into a cart. Thus they complained each to other, and full gladly would they have been revenged, but they restrained themselves because of the Queen. So Sir Launcelot was called for many a day thereafter the Chevalier of the Cart, and he did many deeds, and great adventures he had. And so we leave this tale of the Knight of the Cart, and turn to others.
OF THE PLOT AGAINST SIR LAUNCELOT
In this same month of May when every lusty heart flourisheth and bourgeoneth, there befell in King Arthur's realm a great anger and ill fortune that stinted not till the flower of chivalry of all the world was destroyed. And all was due to two evil knights, the which were named Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred, that were nephews unto King Arthur and brethren unto Sir Gawaine. For this Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred had ever a privy hate unto the Queen, Dame Guenever, and to Sir Launcelot, and daily and nightly they ever watched upon him.
So it mishapped that Sir Agravaine on a day said openly, so that many knights might hear, that the friendship between Sir Launcelot and the Queen was a disgrace to knighthood and a shame to so noble a king as Arthur. But Sir Gawaine would not hear any of these tales nor be of Agravaine's counsel; moreover he charged his brother to move no such matters afore him, for he wist well what mischief would come, should war arise betwixt Sir Launcelot and the King, and he remembered how ofttimes Sir Launcelot had proved his goodness and loyalty by knightly deeds. Also Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth, two other brethren, would know nothing of Agravaine's base accusation.
But Sir Mordred, the fifth of the brethren, sons of the Queen of Orkney, the which had mocked the good Percivale when first he came to the court, and who had ever been jealous and ready to think evil of another, joined with Sir Agravaine. Therewithal they three, Sir Gawaine, Sir Gaheris, and Sir Gareth departed, making great dole over the mischief that threatened the destruction of the realm and the dispersion of the noble fellowship of the Round Table.
So Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred came before King Arthur, and told him they might no longer suffer Sir Launcelot's deeds, for he was a traitor to his kingly person. But the King would believe nothing unless he might have proofs of it, for, as the French book saith, he was full loath to hear ill of a knight who had done so much for him and for the Queen so many times that, as was fully known, he loved him passingly well.
Then these two brethren made a plot for taking Sir Launcelot when in the Queen's presence, and bringing him dead or quick to King Arthur. So on the morn Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred gat to them twelve knights and hid themselves in a chamber in the castle of Carlisle, where Queen Guenever was; thus they plotted to take Sir Launcelot by force, if she should have speech with him. Sir Launcelot was no coward, and cared not what liars said about him, since he wist his own good will and loyalty. So when the Queen sent for him to speak with her, he went as true knight to the castle, and fell into the trap that was set for him. In the battle that followed he was hard bestead, but slew Sir Agravaine at the first buffet, and within a little while he laid the twelve chosen knights cold to the earth. Also he wounded Sir Mordred, who, when he escaped from the noble Sir Launcelot, anon gat his horse and rode unto King Arthur, sore wounded and all bleeding.
Then he told the King how it was, and how they were all slain save himself only. So the King believed Sir Mordred's evil accusation true, and he said: "Alas, me sore repenteth that ever Sir Launcelot should be against me. Now am I sure the noble fellowship of the Round Table is broken for ever, for with him will many a noble knight hold. And now it is fallen so that I may not keep my honour unless the Queen suffer the death."
So then there was made great ordinance that the Queen must be judged to the death, for the law was such in those days that whatsoever they were, of what estate or degree, if they were found guilty of treason, there should be none other remedy but death. Right so it was ordained for Queen Guenever, and she was commanded to the fire, there to be burned.
King Arthur prayed Sir Gawaine to make himself ready in his best armour, with his brethren Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth, to bring the Queen to the fire, there to have her judgment, and receive the death. But Sir Gawaine ever believed Dame Guenever guiltless of the treason charged against her, and he would never have it said that he had any part in her shameful end. Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth also were loath to be there present, but they were young, and full unable to say him nay. "If we be there by your straight commandment," said they, "ye shall plainly hold us excused though we go in peaceable wise, and bear none harness of war upon us."
So the Queen was led forth without Carlisle, and she prepared herself for death. There was weeping and wailing and wringing of hands of many lords and ladies, and few in comparison there present would bear any armour for to keep order.
Anon as the fire was to be lighted, there was spurring and plucking up of horses, and right so Sir Launcelot and his followers came hither, and whoever stood against them was slain. And so in this rushing and hurling, as Sir Launcelot pressed here and there, it mishapped him to slay Gaheris and Gareth, the noble knights, for they were unarmed and unaware. In truth Sir Launcelot saw them not, and so were they found dead among the thickest of the press.
Then when Sir Launcelot had thus done, and had slain or put to flight all that would withstand him, he rode straight unto Dame Guenever, and made her to be set behind him on his horse, and prayed her to be of good cheer. Wit ye well the Queen was glad that she was escaped from the death, and then she thanked God and Sir Launcelot.
And so he rode his way with the Queen, as the French book saith, unto Joyous Gard, his own castle, where Sir Tristram had taken the Fair Isoud after her flight from Cornwall. There Sir Launcelot kept Guenever as a noble knight should do, and many great lords and some kings sent him many good knights, and many noble knights drew unto Sir Launcelot.
When it was known openly that King Arthur and Sir Launcelot were at debate, many were full heavy of heart, and the King himself swooned for pure sorrow, as it was told him how and in what wise the Queen was taken away from the fire, and as he heard of the death of his noble knights, in especial that of Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth. And when he awoke of his swoon, he said: "Alas that ever I bare crown upon my head, for now have I lost the fairest fellowship of noble knights that ever Christian king held together. Alas that ever this war began. The death of these two brethren will cause the greatest mortal war that ever was, for I am sure, wist Sir Gawaine that Sir Gareth were slain, I should never have rest of him till I had destroyed Sir Launcelot's kin and himself, or else he had destroyed me. Ah, Agravaine, Agravaine, Jesu forgive it thy soul, for the evil will thou and thy brother Sir Mordred haddest unto Sir Launcelot hath caused all this sorrow."
HOW SIR LAUNCELOT DEPARTED FROM THE KING AND FROM JOYOUS GARD
There came one unto Sir Gawaine, and told him how the Queen was led away by Sir Launcelot, and nigh a twenty-four knights slain.
"Full well wist I," said then Sir Gawaine, "that Sir Launcelot would rescue her, or else he would die in that field. To say the truth, had he not rescued the Queen he would not have been a man of honour, inasmuch as she was to have been burned for his sake. He hath done but knightly, and as I would have done myself, had I stood in like case. But where are my brethren? I marvel I hear not of them."
Then the man told him that Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris were slain, both by the hand of Launcelot. "That may I not believe," said Sir Gawaine, "that he slew my brother Sir Gareth, for I dare say Gareth loved him better than me and all his brethren, and the King also. Sir Launcelot made him knight, and had he desired my brother Sir Gareth with him, he would have been with him against the King and us all. Therefore I may never believe that Sir Launcelot slew my brother."
When at the last he knew in truth that Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris had died by Sir Launcelot's hand, all his joy was gone. He fell down in a swoon, and long he lay there as he had been dead. When he arose of his swoon he ran to the King crying, and weeping, and said: "O King Arthur, my lord and mine uncle, wit ye well, from this day I shall never fail Sir Launcelot, until the one of us have slain the other. Therefore dress you to the war, for wit ye well I will be revenged upon him."
Unto King Arthur now drew many knights, dukes, and earls, so that he had a great host. Then they made them ready to lay siege about Sir Launcelot, where he lay within Joyous Gard. Thereof heard Sir Launcelot, and he gathered together his followers, for with him held many good knights, some for his own sake, and some for the Queen's sake. Thus they were on both sides well furnished and provided with all manner of things that belonged to the war.
But Sir Launcelot was full loath to do battle against the King, and so he withdrew into his strong castle with all manner of victual and as many noble men as might suffice, and for a long time would in no wise ride out, neither would he allow any of his good knights to issue out, though King Arthur with Sir Gawaine came and laid a siege all about Joyous Gard, both at the town and at the castle.
Then it befell upon a day in harvest time, Sir Launcelot looked over the walls, and spake on high unto King Arthur and Sir Gawaine: "My lords both, wit ye well all is in vain that ye make at this siege; here win ye no honour, for if I list to come out with my good knights, I should full soon make an end of this war. But God defend me, that ever I should encounter with the most noble King that made me knight."
"Fie upon thy fair language," said the King; "come forth, if thou darest. Wit thou well, I am thy mortal foe, and ever shall be to my death day, for thou hast slain my good knights and full noble men of my blood, and like a traitor hast taken my Queen from me by force."
"My most noble lord and king," answered Sir Launcelot, "ye may say what ye will, for ye wot well with yourself I will not strive. I wot well that I have slain your good knights, and that me sore repenteth; but I was forced to do battle with them in saving of my life, or else I must have suffered them to slay me. And as for my lady, Queen Guenever, except your highness and my lord Sir Gawaine, there is no knight under heaven that dare make it good upon me, that ever I was traitor unto your person, and I will prove it upon any knight alive, except you and Sir Gawaine, that my lady Queen Guenever is as true and loyal unto you as any living unto her lord. Howbeit, it hath pleased her good grace to have me in charity, and to cherish me more than any other knight, and unto my power I in return have deserved her love; for ofttimes, my lord, it fortuned me to do battle for her, and ye thanked me when I saved her life. Now me thinketh ye reward me full ill for my good service, and me seemeth I had lost a great part of my honour in my knighthood, had I suffered my lady your queen to be burned, inasmuch as she was to be burned for my sake. For, since I have done battle for your queen in other quarrels than in mine own, me seemeth now I had more right to do battle for her in right quarrel. Therefore, my good and gracious lord, take your queen unto your good grace, for she is both fair, true, and good."
"Fie on thy proud words," said Sir Gawaine; "as for my lady the Queen, I will never say of her shame, but thou false and recreant knight, what cause hadst thou to slay my good brother Sir Gareth, that loved thee more than all my kin? Alas, thou madest him knight with thine own hands; why slewest thou him that loved thee so well?"
"For to excuse myself," said Sir Launcelot, "it helpeth me not, but by the faith I owe to the high order of knighthood, I should with as good will have slain my nephew Sir Bors of Ganis. Alas, that ever I was so unhappy that I had not seen Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris."
But Sir Gawaine was mischievously set, and it helped not Sir Launcelot to seek accordment. King Arthur must needs unto battle because of his nephew's great anger, and on the morn he was ready in the field with three great hosts. Then Sir Launcelot's fellowship came out at three gates in a full good array, in order and rule as noble knights. And always Sir Launcelot charged all his knights in any wise to save King Arthur and Sir Gawaine.
Then began a great battle, and much people was slain. Ever Sir Launcelot did what he might to save the people on King Arthur's side, and ever King Arthur was nigh about Sir Launcelot to slay him. Sir Launcelot suffered him, and would not strike again; but at the last Sir Bors encountered with King Arthur, and with a spear smote him down. He alighted and drew his sword to slay him, and then he said to Sir Launcelot, "Shall I make an end of this war?"
"Not so hardy," said Sir Launcelot, "upon pain of thy head, touch him no further, for I will never see that most noble king, that made me knight, either slain or shamed."
Therewithal Sir Launcelot alighted oft his horse and took up the King, and horsed him again, and said thus: "My lord Arthur, for God's love stint this strife, for ye get here no honour, if I will to do mine uttermost; always I forbear you, but neither you nor any of yours forbeareth me. My lord, remember what I have done in many places, and now I am evil rewarded."
When King Arthur was again on horseback, he looked upon Sir Launcelot, and then the tears burst out of his eyes, thinking on the great courtesy that was in Sir Launcelot, more than in any other man. Therewith the King might no longer behold him, and he rode his way, saying, "Alas that ever this war began."
And then both sides withdrew to repose themselves, to bury the dead, and to lay soft salves on the wounded. Thus they passed the night, but on the morn they made ready again to do battle. At the end of this day also Sir Launcelot and his party stood better, but for pity he withheld his knights, and suffered King Arthur's party to withdraw one side, and Sir Launcelot again returned into his castle.
So the war went on day after day. It was noised through all Christendom, and at the last it was noised afore the Pope. He, considering the great goodness of King Arthur and of Sir Launcelot, that were called the noblest knights of the world, called unto him a noble clerk, that at that time was there present,—the French book saith it was the Bishop of Rochester,—and gave him bulls unto King Arthur of England, charging him upon pain of interdicting of all England, that he take his queen, Dame Guenever, unto him again, and accord with Sir Launcelot.
So when this bishop was come to Carlisle he showed the King the bulls, and by their means peace was made between King Arthur and Sir Launcelot. With great pomp and ceremony Sir Launcelot rode with the Queen from Joyous Gard to Carlisle, and they knelt before King Arthur, that was full gladly accorded with them both. But Sir Gawaine would never be at peace with the knight that had slain his brethren.
"The King may take his Queen again, if he will," said Sir Gawaine to Sir Launcelot, "and may be accorded with thee, but thou and I are past pardon. Thou shalt go from Carlisle safe, as thou camest, but in this land thou shalt not abide past fifteen days, such summons I give thee;—so the King and I were consented and accorded ere thou camest hither, and else, wit thou well, thou shouldest not have come here except without thy head. If it were not for the Pope's commandment, I should do battle with mine own body against thy body, and prove it upon thee that thou hast been both false unto mine uncle and to me, and that shall I prove upon thy body when thou art departed from hence, wheresoever I find thee."
Then Sir Launcelot sighed, and therewith the tears fell on his cheeks, and he said: "Alas, most noble Christian realm, that I have loved above all others, in thee have I gotten a great part of my honour, and now I shall depart in this wise. Truly me repenteth that ever I came in this realm that I should be thus shamefully banished, undeserved, and causeless. But fortune is so variant, and the wheel so movable, there is no constant abiding. Wit ye well, Sir Gawaine, I may live upon my lands as well as any knight that here is. And if ye, most redoubted King, will come upon my lands with Sir Gawaine, to war upon me, I must endure you as well as I may. But as to you, Sir Gawaine, if that ye come there, I pray you charge me not with treason or felony, for if ye do, I must answer you."
Then Sir Launcelot said unto Guenever, in hearing of the King and them all, "Madam, now I must depart from you and this noble fellowship for ever; and since it is so, I beseech you to pray for me, and say me well; and if ye be hard bestead by any false tongues lightly, my lady, let send me word, and if any knight's hands may deliver you by battle, I shall deliver you."
Therewithal Sir Launcelot kissed the Queen, and then he said all openly: "Now let see what he be in this place, that dare say the Queen is not true unto my lord Arthur; let see who will speak, if he dare."
Then he brought her to the King, and so took his leave and departed. And there was neither king, duke nor earl, baron nor knight, lady nor gentlewoman, but all they wept as people out of their mind, except Sir Gawaine; and when the noble Sir Launcelot took his horse, to ride out of Carlisle, there was sobbing and weeping for pure dole of his departing. So he took his way unto Joyous Gard, that ever after he called Dolorous Gard, and thus left the court for ever.
HOW KING ARTHUR AND SIR GAWAINE INVADED SIR LAUNCELOT'S REALM
When Sir Launcelot came again to Joyous Gard from Carlisle, he called his fellowship unto him, and asked them what they would do. Then they answered all wholly together with one voice, they would as he would do.
"My fair fellows," said he: "I must depart out of this most noble realm. And now I am to depart, it grieveth me sore, for I shall depart with no honour. A banished man departed never out of any realm with honour; and that is my heaviness, for ever I fear that after my days they will chronicle upon me that I was banished out of this land."
Then spake many noble knights: "Sir, we will never fail. Since it liked us to take a part with you in your distress and heaviness in this realm, wit ye well it shall like us as well to go in other countries with you, and there to take such part as ye do."
"My fair lords," said Sir Launcelot, "I well understand you, and, as I can, thank you. And ye shall understand, such livelihood and lands as I am born unto I shall freely share among you, and I myself will have as little as any of you, for if I have sufficient for my personal needs, I will ask none other rich array; and I trust to God to maintain you on my lands as well as ever were maintained any knights."
Then spake all the knights at once: "He have shame that will leave you. We all understand in this realm will be now no quiet, but ever strife and debate, now the fellowship of the Round Table is broken; for by the noble fellowship of the Round Table was King Arthur upborne, and by their nobleness the King and all his realm was in quiet and in rest. And a great part," they said all, "was because of your nobleness."
So, to make short tale, they packed up, and paid all that would ask them, and wholly an hundred knights departed with Sir Launcelot at once, and made avows they would never leave him for weal nor for woe. They shipped at Cardiff, and sailed unto Benwick. But to say the sooth, Sir Launcelot and his nephews were lords of all France, and of all the lands that belong unto France through Sir Launcelot's noble prowess. When he had established all these countries, he shortly called a parliament, and appointed officers for his realm. Thus Sir Launcelot rewarded his noble knights and many more, that me seemeth it were too long to rehearse.
Now leave we Sir Launcelot in his lands, and his noble knights with him, and return we again unto King Arthur and to Sir Gawaine, that made a great host ready, to the number of three-score thousand. All things were made ready for their shipping to pass over the sea, and so they shipped at Cardiff. And there King Arthur made Sir Mordred chief ruler of all England, and also he put Queen Guenever under his governance.
So King Arthur passed over the sea, and landed upon Sir Launcelot's lands, and there burned and wasted, through the vengeance of Sir Gawaine, all that they might overrun.
When this word came to Sir Launcelot, that King Arthur and Sir Gawaine were landed upon his lands, and made a full destruction and waste, then said Sir Lionel, that was ware and wise: "My Lord, Sir Launcelot, I will give you this counsel: Let us keep our strong walled towns until they have hunger and cold, and blow upon their nails, and then let us freshly set upon them, and shred them down as sheep in a field, that aliens may take ensample for ever how they set foot upon our lands."
Then said Sir Galihud unto Sir Launcelot, "Sir, here be knights come of king's blood that will not long droop; therefore give us leave, like as we be knights, to meet them in the field, and we shall slay them, that they shall curse the time that ever they came into this country."
Then spake all at once seven brethren of North Wales,—and they were seven noble knights, a man might seek in seven lands ere he might find such seven knights: "Sir Launcelot, let us ride out with Sir Galihud, for we be never wont to cower in castle, or in noble towns."
But then spake Sir Launcelot, that was master and governor of them all: "My fair lords, wit ye well I am full loath to ride out with my knights, for shedding of Christian blood; and yet my lands I understand to be full bare to sustain any host a while, for the mighty wars that whilom made King Claudas upon this country, upon my father King Ban and on mine uncle King Bors. Howbeit we will at this time keep our strong walls, and I shall send a messenger unto my lord Arthur, a treaty for to take, for better is peace than always war."
So he sent forth a damsel, and a dwarf with her, requiring King Arthur to leave his warring upon his lands. When she came to the pavilion of King Arthur there met her a gentle knight, Sir Lucan the butler, and when he knew that she was a messenger from Sir Launcelot to the King he said: "I pray God, damsel, ye may speed well. My Lord Arthur would love Launcelot, but Sir Gawaine will not suffer him."
So Lucan led the damsel unto the King, and when she had told her tale, all the lords were full glad to advise him to be accorded with Sir Launcelot, save only Sir Gawaine, who would not turn again, now that they were past thus far upon the journey.
"Wit ye well, Sir Gawaine," said Arthur, "I will do as ye will advise me; and yet me seemeth his fair proffers were not good to be refused."
Then Sir Gawaine sent the damsel away with the answer that it was now too late for peace. And so the war went on. Sir Launcelot was never so loath to do battle, but he must needs defend himself; and when King Arthur's host besieged Benwick round about, and fast began to set up ladders, then Sir Launcelot beat them from the walls mightily.
Then upon a day it befell that Sir Gawaine came before the gates fully armed on a noble horse, with a great spear in his hand, and cried with a loud voice: "Where art thou now, thou false traitor, Launcelot? Why hidest thou thyself within holes and walls like a coward? Look out now, thou false traitor knight, and here I shall revenge upon thy body the death of my three brethren."
All this language heard Sir Launcelot, and he wist well that he must defend himself, or else be recreant. So he armed himself at all points, and mounted upon his horse, and gat a great spear in his hand, and rode out at the gate. And both the hosts were assembled, of them without and of them within, and stood in array full manly. And both parties were charged to hold them still, to see and behold the battle of these two noble knights.
Then they laid their spears in their rests, and came together as thunder. Sir Gawaine brake his spear upon Sir Launcelot in an hundred pieces unto his hand, and Sir Launcelot smote him with a greater might, so that Sir Gawaine's horse's feet raised, and the horse and he fell to the earth. Then they dressed their shields and fought with swords on foot, giving many sad strokes, so that all men on both parties had thereof passing great wonder. But Sir Launcelot withheld his courage and his wind, and kept himself wonderly covert of his might. Under his shield he traced and traversed here and there, to break Sir Gawaine's strokes and his courage, and Sir Gawaine enforced himself with all his might to destroy Sir Launcelot.
At the first ever Sir Gawaine's power increased, and right so his wind and his evil will. For a time Sir Launcelot had great pain to defend himself, but when three hours were passed, and Sir Launcelot felt that Sir Gawaine was come to his full strength, then Sir Launcelot said, "I feel that ye have done your mighty deeds; now wit you well I must do my deeds."
So he doubled his strokes, and soon smote such a buffet upon Sir Gawaine's helm that he sank down upon his side in a swoon. Anon as he did awake, he waved at Sir Launcelot as he lay, and said, "Traitor knight, wit thou well I am not yet slain; come thou near me, and perform this battle unto the uttermost."
"I will no more do than I have done," said Sir Launcelot. "When I see you on foot I will do battle upon you all the while I see you stand on your feet; but to smite a wounded man, that may not stand, God defend me from such a shame."
Then he turned and went his way towards the city, and Sir Gawaine, evermore calling him traitor knight, said, "Wit thou well, Sir Launcelot, when I am whole, I shall do battle with thee again; for I shall never leave thee till one of us be slain."
Thus this siege endured. Sir Gawaine lay sick near a month, and when he was well recovered, and ready within three days to do battle again with Sir Launcelot, right so came tidings unto Arthur from England, that made him and all his host to remove.
OF SIR MORDRED'S TREASON
As Sir Mordred was ruler of all England he did make letters as though they came from beyond the sea, and the letters specified that King Arthur was slain in battle with Sir Launcelot. Wherefore Sir Mordred made a Parliament, and called the lords together, and there he made them to choose him king. So was he crowned at Canterbury, and held a feast there fifteen days. Afterwards he drew unto Winchester, and there he took the Queen, Guenever, and said plainly that he would wed her which was his uncle's wife.
So he made ready for the feast, and a day was prefixed when they should be wedded. Wherefore Queen Guenever was passing heavy, but she durst not discover her heart, and spake fair, and agreed to Sir Mordred's will. Then she desired of him for to go to London, to buy all manner of things that longed unto the wedding, and because of her fair speech Sir Mordred trusted her well enough, and gave her leave to go. When she came to London, she took the Tower of London, and suddenly, in all haste possible, she stuffed it with all manner of victual, and well garnished it with men, and so kept it.
Then when Sir Mordred wist and understood how he was beguiled, he was passing wroth out of measure. And, a short tale for to make, he went and laid a mighty siege about the Tower of London, and made many great assaults thereat, and threw many great engines unto them, and shot great guns. But all might not prevail Sir Mordred, because Queen Guenever, for fair speech nor for foul, would never trust to come in his hands again.
Then came the Bishop of Canterbury, the which was a noble clerk and an holy man, and thus he said to Sir Mordred: "Sir, what will ye do? Will ye first displease God, and then shame yourself and all knighthood? Leave this matter, or else I shall curse you with book and bell and candle."
"Do thou thy worst," said Sir Mordred; "wit thou well I shall defy thee."
"Sir," said the Bishop, "and wit ye well I shall not fear me to do that I ought to do. Also, when ye noise that my lord Arthur is slain, that is not so, and therefore ye will make a foul work in this land."
"Peace, thou false priest," said Sir Mordred, "for, if thou chafe me any more, I shall make strike off thy head."
So the Bishop departed, and did the curse in the haughtiest wise that might be done. Then Sir Mordred sought the Bishop of Canterbury for to slay him, and he fled, and, taking part of his goods with him, went nigh unto Glastonbury, and there lived in poverty and in holy prayers as priest-hermit in a chapel, for well he understood that mischievous war was at hand.
Then came word to Sir Mordred that King Arthur had raised the siege from Sir Launcelot, and was coming homeward with a great host, to be avenged upon Sir Mordred. Wherefore Sir Mordred made write writs to all the barony of this land, and much people drew to him, for then was the common voice among them, that with Arthur was none other life but war and strife, and with Sir Mordred was great joy and bliss. Thus was Sir Arthur depraved and evil said of, and many there were that King Arthur had made up of naught, and had given lands to, who might not then say of him a good word.
Lo all ye Englishmen, see ye not what a mischief here was, for Arthur was the most king and knight of the world, and most loved the fellowship of noble knights, and by him they were all upholden. Now might not these Englishmen hold us content with him. Lo, thus was the old custom and usage of this land, and men say, that we of this land have not yet lost nor forgotten that custom and usage. Alas, this is a great fault of all Englishmen, for there may no thing please us. And so fared the people at that time; they were better pleased with Sir Mordred than they were with King Arthur, and much people drew unto Sir Mordred, and said they would abide with him for better and for worse.
So Sir Mordred drew with a great host to Dover, for there he heard say that Sir Arthur would arrive, and so he thought to beat his own uncle from his lands. And the most part of all England held with Sir Mordred, the people were so new-fangle.
As Sir Mordred was at Dover with his host, there came King Arthur with a great navy of ships, galleys, and carracks. And there was Sir Mordred ready awaiting upon his landage, to keep his own uncle from landing in the country that he was king over. Then there was launching of great boats and small, full of noble men of arms, and there was much slaughter of gentle knights, and many a bold baron was laid full low on both sides. But King Arthur was so courageous that there might no manner of knights prevent him from landing, and his knights fiercely followed him.
So they landed in spite of Sir Mordred and all his power, and they put him aback, so that he fled and all his people. When this battle was done, King Arthur let bury his dead, and then was the noble knight Sir Gawaine found in a great boat lying more than half dead. When Sir Arthur wist that Sir Gawaine was laid so low, he went unto him and made sorrow out of measure, for this sister's son was the man in the world that he most loved. Sir Gawaine felt that he must die, for he was smitten upon the old wound that Sir Launcelot had given him afore the city of Benwick. He now knew that he was the cause of this unhappy war, for had Sir Launcelot remained with the King, it would never have been, and now King Arthur would sore miss his brave knights of the Round Table.
Then he prayed his uncle that he might have paper, pen, and ink, and when they were brought, he with his own hand wrote thus, as the French book maketh mention: "Unto Sir Launcelot, flower of all noble knights that ever I heard of, or saw by my days, I, Sir Gawaine, King Lot's son of Orkney, sister's son unto the noble King Arthur, send thee greeting, and let thee have knowledge, that this tenth day of May, through the same wound that thou gavest me I am come to my death. And I will that all the world wit that I, Sir Gawaine, knight of the Table Round, sought my death; it came not through thy deserving, but it was mine own seeking. Wherefore I beseech thee, Sir Launcelot, to return again unto this realm, and see my tomb, and pray some prayer, more or less, for my soul. For all the love that ever was betwixt us, make no tarrying, but come over the sea in all haste, that thou mayest with thy noble knights rescue that noble king that made thee knight, that is my lord Arthur, for he is full straitly bestead with a false traitor, my half-brother, Sir Mordred. We all landed upon him and his host at Dover, and there put him to flight, and there it misfortuned me to be stricken in the same wound the which I had of thy hand, Sir Launcelot. Of a nobler man might I not be slain. This letter was written but two hours and an half afore my death, with mine own hand, and so subscribed with part of my heart's blood."
Then Sir Gawaine wept, and King Arthur wept, and then they swooned both. When they awaked both, the King made Sir Gawaine to receive the sacrament, and then Sir Gawaine prayed the King to send for Sir Launcelot, and to cherish him above all other knights. And so at the hour of noon, Sir Gawaine yielded up the spirit, and the King let inter him in a chapel within Dover Castle.
Then was it told King Arthur that Sir Mordred had pitched a new field upon Barham Down. Upon the morn the King rode thither to him, and there was a great battle betwixt them, and much people were slain on both parties. But at the last Sir Arthur's party stood best, and Sir Mordred and his party fled to Canterbury. Upon this much people drew unto King Arthur, and he went with his host down by the seaside, westward towards Salisbury, and there was a day assigned between him and Sir Mordred when they should meet in battle upon a down beside Salisbury, not far from the sea.
In the night before the battle King Arthur dreamed a wonderful dream, and it seemed to him verily that there came Sir Gawaine unto him, and said; "God giveth me leave to come hither for to warn you that, if ye fight to-morn with Sir Mordred, as ye both have assigned, doubt ye not ye must be slain, and the most part of your people on both parties. For the great grace and goodness that Almighty Jesu hath unto you, and for pity of you and many other good men that there shall be slain, God hath sent me to you, of His special grace, to give you warning, that in no wise ye do battle to-morn, but that ye take a treaty for a month; and proffer ye largely, so as to-morn to be put in delay, for within a month shall come Sir Launcelot, with all his noble knights, and rescue you honourably, and slay Sir Mordred and all that ever will hold with him."
Then Sir Gawaine vanished, and anon the King commanded Sir Lucan and his brother, Sir Bedivere, with two bishops with them, and charged them to take a treaty for a month with Sir Mordred in any wise they might. So then they departed, and came to Sir Mordred, where he had a grim host of an hundred thousand men. There they entreated Sir Mordred long time, and at the last he was agreed to have Cornwall and Kent by King Arthur's days, and after the days of King Arthur all England.
OF ARTHUR'S LAST GREAT BATTLE IN THE WEST
Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere were agreed with Sir Mordred that King Arthur and he should meet betwixt both their hosts, for to conclude the treaty they had made, and every each of them should bring fourteen persons. And they came with this word unto King Arthur. Then said he, "I am glad that this is done."
So Arthur made ready to go into the field, and when he would depart, he warned all his hosts that if they saw any sword drawn, they should come on fiercely, and slay that traitor Sir Mordred, for he in no wise trusted him. In like manner Sir Mordred warned his host: "If ye see any sword drawn, look that ye come on fiercely, and so slay all that ever before you stand, for in no wise will I trust for this treaty. I know well mine uncle will be avenged upon me."
So they met as their appointment was, and they were agreed and accorded thoroughly; and wine was fetched, and they drank. Right so came an adder out of a little heath bush, and it stung a knight on the foot. When the knight felt himself stung, he looked down and saw the adder; then he drew his sword to slay the adder, and thought of none other harm. But when the hosts on both parties saw the sword drawn, then they blew trumpets, and horns, and shouted grimly. And so both hosts dressed them together.
King Arthur took his horse, and said, "Alas this unhappy day," and so rode to his party; and Sir Mordred did likewise. And never was there seen a dolefuller battle in any Christian land, for there was but rushing and riding, foining, and striking, and many a grim word was there spoken either to other, and there was given many a deadly stroke. Thus they fought all the long day, and never stinted, till the noble knights were laid to the cold ground. And ever they fought still, till it was near night, and by that time were there an hundred thousand laid dead upon the down.
Then the King looked about him, and was ware, that of all his host and of all his good knights were left no more alive but two knights, that was Sir Lucan the butler, and his brother Sir Bedivere, and even they were full sore wounded.
"Jesu, mercy," said the King, "where are all my noble knights become? Alas that ever I should see this doleful day. Now I am come to mine end. But would to God that I wist where is that traitor Sir Mordred, that hath caused all this mischief."
Then was King Arthur ware where Sir Mordred leaned upon his sword among a great heap of dead men. "Now give me my spear," said Arthur unto Sir Lucan, "for yonder I have espied the traitor that all this woe hath wrought."
"Sir, let him be," said Sir Lucan. "If ye pass this evil day, ye shall be right well revenged upon him. My lord remember ye of your night's dream, and what the spirit of Sir Gawaine told you last night. God of His great goodness hath preserved you hitherto. Therefore, for God's sake, my lord, leave off with this. For blessed be God, ye have won the field, for here we be three alive, and with Sir Mordred is none. If ye leave off now, this wicked day of destiny is past."
"Tide me death, betide me life," saith the King, "now I see him yonder alone, he shall never escape mine hands, for at a better avail shall I never have him." Then he gat his spear in both his hands, and ran towards Sir Mordred, crying, "Traitor, now is thy death day come."
When Sir Mordred heard Sir Arthur, he ran unto him with his sword drawn in his hand, and then King Arthur smote him under the shield with a foin of his spear throughout the body. When Sir Mordred felt that he had his death's wound, he thrust himself, with the might that he had, up to the bur of King Arthur's spear. And right so he smote his uncle Arthur with his sword holden in both his hands, on the side of the head so that the sword pierced the helmet and the brain-pan, and therewithal Sir Mordred fell stark dead to the earth.
And the noble Arthur fell in a swoon to the earth, and there he swooned ofttimes. And Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere ofttimes heaved him up, and so weakly they led him betwixt them both to a little chapel not far from the seaside.
OF THE PASSING OF KING ARTHUR
When the King was laid in the chapel he thought himself well eased. Then heard they people cry in the field, and Sir Lucan went out to wit what the noise betokened. As he went he saw and heard in the moonlight how the plunderers and robbers were come into the battlefield to pillage and rob many a full noble knight of rings and jewels; and who that were not dead all out, there they slew them for their harness and their riches.
When Sir Lucan understood this work, he came to the King as soon as he might, and told him all what he had heard and seen. "Therefore by my advice," said Sir Lucan, "it is best that we bring you to some town."
"I would it were so," said the King, "but I may not stand, my head works so. Ah, Sir Launcelot, this day have I sore missed thee. Alas, that ever I was against thee, for now have I my death, whereof Sir Gawaine me warned in my dream."
Then Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere took up the King, and in the lifting the King swooned, and Sir Lucan, that was grievously wounded in many places, also fell in a swoon with the lift, and therewith the noble knight died. When King Arthur came to himself again, he beheld Sir Lucan dead and Sir Bedivere weeping for his brother, and he said: "This is unto me a full heavy sight to see this noble duke so die for my sake, for he would have holpen me that had more need of help than I. Yet, Sir Bedivere, weeping and mourning will not avail me; for wit thou well, if I might live myself, the death of Sir Lucan would grieve me evermore. But my time hieth fast. Therefore, Sir Bedivere, take thou Excalibur, my good sword, and go with it to yonder waterside, and when thou comest there, I charge thee throw my sword in that water, and come again, and tell me what thou there seest."
"My lord," said Bedivere, "your commandment shall be done, and I will lightly bring you word again."
So Sir Bedivere departed, and by the way he beheld that noble sword, whose pommel and haft were all of precious stones, and then he said to himself, "If I throw this rich sword in the water, thereof shall never come good, but harm and loss."
Then Sir Bedivere hid Excalibur under a tree, and as soon as he might he came again unto the King, and said he had been at the water, and had thrown the sword into the water.
"What sawest thou there?" said the King.
"Sir," he said, "I saw nothing but waves and winds."
"That is untruly said of thee," said the King; "therefore go thou lightly again, and do my command as thou art to me lief and dear; spare not, but throw it."
Then Sir Bedivere returned again, and took the sword in his hand; and then him thought it sin and shame to throw away that noble sword. And so again he hid the sword, and returned, and told the King that he had been at the water, and done his commandment.
"What sawest thou there?" said the King.
"Sir," he said, "I saw nothing but the waters lap and the waves toss."
"Ah, traitor, untrue," said King Arthur, "now hast thou betrayed me twice. Who would have thought that thou that hast been to me so lief and dear, and that art named a noble knight, wouldest betray me for the riches of the sword. But now go again lightly, for thy long tarrying putteth me in great jeopardy of my life, for I have taken cold. And unless thou do now as I bid thee, if ever I may see thee, I shall slay thee with mine own hands, for thou wouldest for my rich sword see me dead."
Then Sir Bedivere departed, and went to the sword, and lightly took it up, and went to the waterside. There he bound the girdle about the hilts, and then he threw the sword as far into the water as he might. And there came an arm and an hand above the water, and met it, and caught it, and so shook it thrice and brandished, and then vanished away the hand with the sword in the water.
So Sir Bedivere came again to the King, and told him what he saw. "Alas," said the King, "help me thence, for I fear me I have tarried over long."
Then Sir Bedivere took the King upon his back, and so went with him to that waterside. And when they were at the waterside, even fast by the bank hove a little barge, with many fair ladies in it, and among them all was a queen, and all they had black hoods, and all they wept and shrieked when they saw King Arthur.
"Now put me into the barge," said the King; and so he did softly. And there received him three queens with great mourning, and so they set him down, and in one of their laps King Arthur laid his head, and then that queen said, "Ah, dear brother, why have ye tarried so long from me? Alas, this wound on your head hath caught over much cold."
And so then they rowed from the land, and Sir Bedivere beheld all these ladies go from him. Then he cried, "Ah, my lord Arthur, what shall become of me now ye go from me, and leave me here alone among mine enemies!"
"Comfort thyself," said the King, "and do as well as thou mayest, for in me is no trust for to trust in. For I will into the vale of Avilion, to heal me of my grievous wound. And if thou hear never more of me, pray for my soul."
Ever the queens and the ladies wept and shrieked, that it was pity to hear. And as soon as Sir Bedivere had lost the sight of the barge he wept and wailed, and so took the forest, and he went all that night; and in the morning he was ware betwixt two ancient cliffs of a chapel and an hermitage, and he was glad.
When he came into the chapel he saw a hermit praying by a tomb new graven. The hermit was the Bishop of Canterbury that Sir Mordred had banished, and Sir Bedivere asked him what man was there interred.
"Fair son," said the hermit, "I wot not verily, but this night, at midnight, here came a number of ladies, and brought hither a dead corpse, and prayed me to bury him; and here they offered an hundred tapers, and gave me an hundred besants."
Then Sir Bedivere knew that King Arthur lay buried in that chapel, and he prayed the hermit that he might abide with him still there. So there abode Sir Bedivere with the hermit, that was tofore Bishop of Canterbury, and there Sir Bedivere put on poor clothes, and served the hermit full lowly in fasting and in prayers.
Thus of Arthur I find never more written in books that be authorised, nor more of the certainty of his death heard I tell, but that he was thus led away in a ship wherein were three queens. The hermit that some time was Bishop of Canterbury bare witness that ladies brought a knight to his burial in the chapel, but the hermit knew not in certain that it was verily the body of King Arthur;—for this tale Sir Bedivere, knight of the Round Table, made to be written.
Some men still say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but tarried by the will of our Lord Jesu in another place. And men say that he shall come again, and shall win the holy cross. I will not say it shall be so, but rather I will say, here in this world he changed his life. But many men say that there is written upon his tomb these words: "Hic jacet Arthurus Rex quondam Rex que futurus": "Here lies Arthur, King that was and King that shall be."