What was the Holy Graal? In the stories it is the holy vessel used by our Lord, and brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea. But in the older heathen Irish stories there is a mysterious vessel of a magical sort, full of miraculous food, and probably the French writers of the romances confused this with the sacred vessel brought from the Holy Land. On account of the sins of men this relic was made invisible, but now and then it appeared, borne by angels or floating in a heavenly light. The Knights, against King Arthur's wish, made a vow to find it, and gave up their duties of redressing wrongs and keeping order, to pursue the beautiful vision. But most of them, for their sins, were unsuccessful, like Sir Lancelot, and the Round Table was scattered and the kingdom was weakened by the neglect of ordinary duties in the search for what could never be gained by mortal men. This appears to be the moral of the story, if it has any moral. But the stories are confused almost like a dream, though it is a beautiful dream.
HOW THE KING WENT ON PILGRIMAGE, AND HIS
SQUIRE WAS SLAIN IN A DREAM
Now the King was minded to go on a pilgrimage, and he agreed with the Queen that he would set forth to seek the holy chapel of St. Augustine, which is in the White Forest, and may only be found by adventure. Much he wished to undertake the quest alone, but this the Queen would not suffer, and to do her pleasure he consented that a youth, tall and strong of limb, should ride with him as his squire. Chaus was the youth's name, and he was son to Gwain li Aoutres. 'Lie within to-night,' commanded the King, 'and take heed that my horse be saddled at break of day, and my arms ready.' 'At your pleasure, Sir,' answered the youth, whose heart rejoiced because he was going alone with the King.
As night came on, all the Knights quitted the hall, but Chaus the squire stayed where he was, and would not take off his clothes or his shoes, lest sleep should fall on him and he might not be ready when the King called him. So he sat himself down by the great fire, but in spite of his will sleep fell heavily on him, and he dreamed a strange dream.
In his dream it seemed that the King had ridden away to the quest, and had left his squire behind him, which filled the young man with fear. And in his dream he set the saddle and bridle on his horse, and fastened his spurs, and girt on his sword, and galloped out of the castle after the King. He rode on a long space, till he entered a thick forest, and there before him lay traces of the King's horse, and he followed till the marks of the hoofs ceased suddenly at some open ground and he thought that the King had alighted there. On the right stood a chapel, and about it was a graveyard, and in the graveyard many coffins, and in his dream it seemed as if the King had entered the chapel, so the young man entered also. But no man did he behold save a Knight that lay dead upon a bier in the midst of the chapel, covered with a pall of rich silk, and four tapers in golden candlesticks were burning round him. The squire marvelled to see the body lying there so lonely, with no one near it, and likewise that the King was nowhere to be seen. Then he took out one of the tall tapers, and hid the candlestick under his cloak, and rode away until he should find the King.
On his journey through the forest he was stopped by a man black and ill-favoured, holding a large knife in his hand.
'Ho! you that stand there, have you seen King Arthur?' asked the squire.
'No, but I have met you, and I am glad thereof, for you have under your cloak one of the candlesticks of gold that was placed in honour of the Knight who lies dead in the chapel. Give it to me, and I will carry it back; and if you do not this of your own will, I will make you.'
'By my faith!' cried the squire, 'I will never yield it to you! Rather, will I carry it off and make a present of it to King Arthur.'
'You will pay for it dearly,' answered the man, 'if you yield it not up forthwith.'
To this the squire did not make answer, but dashed forward, thinking to pass him by; but the man thrust at him with his knife, and it entered his body up to the hilt. And when the squire dreamed this, he cried, 'Help! help! for I am a dead man!'
As soon as the King and the Queen heard that cry they awoke from their sleep, and the Chamberlain said, 'Sir, you must be moving, for it is day'; and the King rose and dressed himself, and put on his shoes. Then the cry came again: 'Fetch me a priest, for I die!' and the King ran at great speed into the hall, while the Queen and the Chamberlain followed him with torches and candles. 'What aileth you?' asked the King of his squire, and the squire told him of all that he had dreamed. 'Ha,' said the King, 'is it, then, a dream?' 'Yes, Sir,' answered the squire, 'but it is a right foul dream for me, for right foully it hath come true,' and he lifted his left arm, and said, 'Sir, look you here! Lo, here is the knife that was struck in my side up to the haft.' After that, he drew forth the candlestick, and showed it to the King. 'Sir, for this candlestick that I present to you was I wounded to the death!' The King took the candlestick in his hands and looked at it, and none so rich had he seen before, and he bade the Queen look also. 'Sir,' said the squire again, 'draw not forth the knife out of my body till I be shriven of the priest.' So the King commanded that a priest should be sent for, and when the squire had confessed his sins, the King drew the knife out of the body and the soul departed forthwith. Then the King grieved that the young man had come to his death in such strange wise, and ordered him a fair burial, and desired that the golden candlestick should be sent to the Church of Saint Paul in London, which at that time was newly built.
After this King Arthur would have none to go with him on his quest, and many strange adventures he achieved before he reached the chapel of St. Augustine, which was in the midst of the White Forest. There he alighted from his horse, and sought to enter, but though there was neither door nor bar he might not pass the threshold. But from without he heard wondrous voices singing, and saw a light shining brighter than any that he had seen before, and visions such as he scarcely dared to look upon. And he resolved greatly to amend his sins, and to bring peace and order into his kingdom. So he set forth, strengthened and comforted, and after divers more adventures returned to his Court.
THE COMING OF THE HOLY GRAAL
It was on the eve of Pentecost that all the Knights of the Table Round met together at Camelot, and a great feast was made ready for them. And as they sat at supper they heard a loud noise, as of the crashing of thunder, and it seemed as if the roof would fall on them. Then, in the midst of the thunder, there entered a sunbeam, brighter by seven times than the brightest day, and its brightness was not of this world. The Knights held their peace, but every man looked at his neighbour, and his countenance shone fairer than ever it had done before. As they sat dumb, for their tongues felt as if they could speak nothing, there floated in the hall the Holy Graal, and over it a veil of white samite, so that none might see it nor who bare it. But sweet odours filled the place, and every Knight had set before him the food he loved best; and after that the Holy Vessel departed suddenly, they wist not where. When it had gone their tongues were loosened, and the King gave thanks for the wonders that they had been permitted to see. After that he had finished, Sir Gawaine stood up and vowed to depart the next morning in quest of the Holy Graal, and not to return until he had seen it. 'But if after a year and a day I may not speed in my quest,' said he, 'I shall come again, for I shall know that the sight of it is not for me.' And many of the Knights there sitting swore a like vow.
But King Arthur, when he heard this, was sore displeased. 'Alas!' cried he unto Sir Gawaine, 'you have undone me by your vow. For through you is broken up the fairest fellowship, and the truest of knighthood, that ever the world saw, and when they have once departed they shall meet no more at the Table Round, for many shall die in the quest. It grieves me sore, for I have loved them as well as my own life.' So he spoke, and paused, and tears came into his eyes. 'Ah, Gawaine, Gawaine! you have set me in great sorrow.'
'Comfort yourself,' said Sir Lancelot, 'for we shall win for ourselves great honour, and much more than if we had died in any other wise, since die we must.' But the King would not be comforted, and the Queen and all the Court were troubled also for the love which they had to these Knights. Then the Queen came to Sir Galahad, who was sitting among those Knights though younger he was than any of them, and asked him whence he came, and of what country, and if he was son to Sir Lancelot. And King Arthur did him great honour, and he rested him in his own bed. And next morning the King and Queen went into the Minster, and the Knights followed them, dressed all in armour, save only their shields and their helmets. When the service was finished the King would know how many of the fellowship had sworn to undertake the quest of the Graal, and they were counted, and found to number a hundred and fifty. They bade farewell, and mounted their horses, and rode through the streets of Camelot, and there was weeping of both rich and poor, and the King could not speak for weeping. And at sunrise they all parted company with each other, and every Knight took the way he best liked.
THE ADVENTURE OF SIR GALAHAD
Now Sir Galahad had as yet no shield, and he rode four days without meeting any adventure, till at last he came to a White Abbey, where he dismounted and asked if he might sleep there that night. The brethren received him with great reverence, and led him to a chamber, where he took off his armour, and then saw that he was in the presence of two Knights. 'Sirs,' said Sir Galahad, 'what adventure brought you hither?' 'Sir,' replied they, 'we heard that within this Abbey is a shield that no man may hang round his neck without being dead within three days, or some mischief befalling him. And if we fail in the adventure, you shall take it upon you.' 'Sirs,' replied Sir Galahad, 'I agree well thereto, for as yet I have no shield.'
So on the morn they arose and heard Mass, and then a monk led them behind an altar where hung a shield white as snow, with a red cross in the middle of it. 'Sirs,' said the monk, 'this shield cannot be hung round no Knight's neck, unless he be the worthiest Knight in the world, and therefore I counsel you to be well advised.'
'Well,' answered one of the Knights, whose name was King Bagdemagus, 'I know truly that I am not the best Knight in the world, but yet shall I try to bear it,' and he bare it out of the Abbey. Then he said to Sir Galahad, 'I pray you abide here still, till you know how I shall speed,' and he rode away, taking with him a squire to send tidings back to Sir Galahad.
After King Bagdemagus had ridden two miles he entered a fair valley, and there met him a goodly Knight seated on a white horse and clad in white armour. And they came together with their spears, and Sir Bagdemagus was borne from his horse, for the shield covered him not at all. Therewith the strange Knight alighted and took the white shield from him, and gave it to the squire, saying, 'Bear this shield to the good Knight Sir Galahad that thou hast left in the Abbey, and greet him well from me.'
'Sir,' said the squire, 'what is your name?'
'Take thou no heed of my name,' answered the Knight, 'for it is not for thee to know, nor for any earthly man.'
'Now, fair Sir,' said the squire, 'tell me for what cause this shield may not be borne lest ill befalls him who bears it.'
'Since you have asked me,' answered the Knight, 'know that no man shall bear this shield, save Sir Galahad only.'
Then the squire turned to Bagdemagus, and asked him whether he were wounded or not. 'Yes, truly,' said he, 'and I shall hardly escape from death'; and scarcely could he climb on to his horse's back when the squire brought it near him. But the squire led him to a monastery that lay in the valley, and there he was treated of his wounds, and after long lying came back to life. After the squire had given the Knight into the care of the monks, he rode back to the Abbey, bearing with him the shield. 'Sir Galahad,' said he, alighting before him, 'the Knight that wounded Bagdemagus sends you greeting, and bids you bear this shield, which shall bring you many adventures.'
'Now blessed be God and fortune,' answered Sir Galahad, and called for his arms, and mounted his horse, hanging the shield about his neck. Then, followed by the squire, he set out. They rode straight to the hermitage, where they saw the White Knight who had sent the shield to Sir Galahad. The two Knights saluted each other courteously, and then the White Knight told Sir Galahad the story of the shield, and how it had been given into his charge. Afterwards they parted, and Sir Galahad and his squire returned unto the Abbey whence they came.
The monks made great joy at seeing Sir Galahad again, for they feared he was gone for ever; and as soon as he was alighted from his horse they brought him unto a tomb in the churchyard where there was night and day such a noise that any man who heard it should be driven nigh mad, or else lose his strength. 'Sir,' they said, 'we deem it a fiend.' Sir Galahad drew near, all armed save his helmet, and stood by the tomb. 'Lift up the stone,' said a monk, and Galahad lifted it, and a voice cried, 'Come thou not nigh me, Sir Galahad, for thou shalt make me go again where I have been so long.' But Galahad took no heed of him, and lifted the stone yet higher, and there rushed from the tomb a foul smoke, and in the midst of it leaped out the foulest figure that ever was seen in the likeness of a man. 'Galahad,' said the figure, 'I see about thee so many angels that my power dare not touch thee.' Then Galahad, stooping down, looked into the tomb, and he saw a body all armed lying there, with a sword by his side. 'Fair brother,' said Galahad, 'let us remove this body, for he is not worthy to be in this churchyard, being a false Christian man.'
This being done they all departed and returned unto the monastery, where they lay that night, and the next morning Sir Galahad knighted Melias his squire, as he had promised him aforetime. So Sir Galahad and Sir Melias departed thence, in quest of the Holy Graal, but they soon went their different ways and fell upon different adventures. In his first encounter Sir Melias was sore wounded, and Sir Galahad came to his help, and left him to an old monk who said that he would heal him of his wounds in the space of seven weeks, and that he was thus wounded because he had not come clean to the quest of the Graal, as Sir Galahad had done. Sir Galahad left him there, and rode on till he came to the Castle of Maidens, which he alone might enter who was free from sin. There he chased away the Knights who had seized the castle seven years agone, and restored all to the Duke's daughter, who owned it of right. Besides this he set free the maidens who were kept in prison, and summoned all those Knights in the country round who had held their lands of the Duke, bidding them do homage to his daughter. And in the morning one came to him and told him that as the seven Knights fled from the Castle of Maidens they fell upon the path of Sir Gawaine, Sir Gareth, and Sir Lewaine, who were seeking Sir Galahad, and they gave battle; and the seven Knights were slain by the three Knights. 'It is well,' said Galahad, and he took his armour and his horse and rode away.
So when Sir Galahad left the Castle of Maidens he rode till he came to a waste forest, and there he met with Sir Lancelot and Sir Percivale; but they knew him not, for he was now disguised. And they fought together, and the two Knights were smitten down out of the saddle. 'God be with thee, thou best Knight in the world,' cried a nun who dwelt in a hermitage close by; and she said it in a loud voice, so that Lancelot and Percivale might hear. But Sir Galahad feared that she would make known who he was, so he spurred his horse and struck deep into the forest before Sir Lancelot and Sir Percivale could mount again. They knew not which path he had taken, so Sir Percivale turned back to ask advice of the nun, and Sir Lancelot pressed forward.
HOW SIR LANCELOT SAW A VISION, AND REPENTED
OF HIS SINS
He halted when he came to a stone cross, which had by it a block of marble, while nigh at hand stood an old chapel. He tied his horse to a tree, and hung his shield on a branch, and looked into the chapel, for the door was waste and broken. And he saw there a fair altar covered with a silken cloth, and a candlestick which had six branches, all of shining silver. A great light streamed from it, and at this sight Sir Lancelot would fain have entered in, but he could not. So he turned back sorrowful and dismayed, and took the saddle and bridle off his horse, and let him pasture where he would, while he himself unlaced his helm, and ungirded his sword, and lay down to sleep upon his shield, at the foot of the cross.
As he lay there, half waking and half sleeping, he saw two white palfreys come by, drawing a litter, wherein lay a sick Knight. When they reached the cross they paused, and Sir Lancelot heard the Knight say, 'O sweet Lord, when shall this sorrow leave me, and when shall the Holy Vessel come by me, through which I shall be blessed? For I have endured long, though my ill deeds were few.' Thus he spoke, and Sir Lancelot heard it, and of a sudden the great candlestick stood before the cross, though no man had brought it. And with it was a table of silver and the Holy Vessel of the Graal, which Lancelot had seen aforetime. Then the Knight rose up, and on his hands and knees he approached the Holy Vessel, and prayed, and was made whole of his sickness. After that the Graal went back into the chapel, and the light and the candlestick also, and Sir Lancelot would fain have followed, but could not, so heavy was the weight of his sins upon him. And the sick Knight arose and kissed the cross, and saw Sir Lancelot lying at the foot with his eyes shut. 'I marvel greatly at this sleeping Knight,' he said to his squire, 'that he had no power to wake when the Holy Vessel was brought hither.' 'I dare right well say,' answered the squire, 'that he dwelleth in some deadly sin, whereof he was never confessed.' 'By my faith,' said the Knight, 'he is unhappy, whoever he is, for he is of the fellowship of the Round Table, which have undertaken the quest of the Graal.' 'Sir,' replied the squire, 'you have all your arms here, save only your sword and your helm. Take therefore those of this strange Knight, who has just put them off.' And the Knight did as his squire said, and took Sir Lancelot's horse also, for it was better than his own.
After they had gone Sir Lancelot waked up wholly, and thought of what he had seen, wondering if he were in a dream or not. Suddenly a voice spoke to him, and it said, 'Sir Lancelot, more hard than is the stone, more bitter than is the wood, more naked and barren than is the leaf of the fig tree, art thou; therefore go from hence and withdraw thee from this holy place.' When Sir Lancelot heard this, his heart was passing heavy, and he wept, cursing the day when he had been born. But his helm and sword had gone from the spot where he had lain them at the foot of the cross, and his horse was gone also. And he smote himself and cried, 'My sin and my wickedness have done me this dishonour; for when I sought worldly adventures for worldly desires I ever achieved them and had the better in every place, and never was I discomfited in any quarrel, were it right or wrong. And now I take upon me the adventures of holy things, I see and understand that my old sin hinders me, so that I could not move nor speak when the Holy Graal passed by.' Thus he sorrowed till it was day, and he heard the birds sing, and at that he felt comforted. And as his horse was gone also, he departed on foot with a heavy heart.
THE ADVENTURE OF SIR PERCIVALE
All this while Sir Percivale had pursued adventures of his own, and came nigh unto losing his life, but he was saved from his enemies by the good Knight, Sir Galahad, whom he did not know, although he was seeking him, for Sir Galahad now bore a red shield, and not a white one. And at last the foes fled deep into the forest, and Sir Galahad followed; but Sir Percivale had no horse and was forced to stay behind. Then his eyes were opened, and he knew it was Sir Galahad who had come to his help, and he sat down under a tree and grieved sore.
While he was sitting there a Knight passed by riding a black horse, and when he was out of sight a yeoman came pricking after as fast as he might, and, seeing Sir Percivale, asked if he had seen a Knight mounted on a black horse. 'Yes, Sir, forsooth,' answered Sir Percivale, 'why do you want to know?' 'Ah, Sir, that is my steed which he has taken from me, and wherever my lord shall find me, he is sure to slay me.' 'Well,' said Sir Percivale, 'thou seest that I am on foot, but had I a good horse I would soon come up with him.' 'Take my hackney,' said the yeoman, 'and do the best you can, and I shall follow you on foot to watch how you speed.' So Sir Percivale rode as fast as he might, and at last he saw that Knight, and he hailed him. The Knight turned and set his spear against Sir Percivale, and smote the hackney in the breast, so that he fell dead to the earth, and Sir Percivale fell with him; then the Knight rode away. But Sir Percivale was mad with wrath, and cried to the Knight to return and fight with him on foot, and the Knight answered not and went on his way. When Sir Percivale saw that he would not turn, he threw himself on the ground, and cast away his helm and sword, and bemoaned himself for the most unhappy of all Knights; and there he abode the whole day, and, being faint and weary, slept till it was midnight. And at midnight he waked and saw before him a woman, who said to him right fiercely, 'Sir Percivale, what doest thou here?' 'Neither good nor great ill,' answered he. 'If thou wilt promise to do my will when I call upon you,' said she, 'I will lend you my own horse, and he shall bear thee whither thou shalt choose.' This Sir Percivale promised gladly, and the woman went and returned with a black horse, so large and well-apparelled that Sir Percivale marvelled. But he mounted him gladly, and drove in his spurs, and within an hour and less the horse bare him four days' journey hence, and would have borne him into a rough water that roared, had not Sir Percivale pulled at his bridle. The Knight stood doubting, for the water made a great noise, and he feared lest his horse could not get through it. Still, wishing greatly to pass over, he made himself ready, and signed the sign of the cross upon his forehead.
At that the fiend which had taken the shape of a horse shook off Sir Percivale and dashed into the water, crying and making great sorrow; and it seemed to him that the water burned. Then Sir Percivale knew that it was not a horse but a fiend, which would have brought him to perdition, and he gave thanks and prayed all that night long. As soon as it was day he looked about him, and saw he was in a wild mountain, girt round with the sea and filled with wild beasts. Then he rose and went into a valley, and there he saw a young serpent bring a young lion by the neck, and after that there passed a great lion, crying and roaring after the serpent, and a fierce battle began between them. Sir Percivale thought to help the lion, as he was the more natural beast of the twain, and he drew his sword and set his shield before him, and gave the serpent a deadly buffet. When the lion saw that, he made him all the cheer that a beast might make a man, and fawned about him like a spaniel, and stroked him with his paws. And about noon the lion took his little whelp, and placed him on his back, and bare him home again, and Sir Percivale, being left alone, prayed till he was comforted. But at eventide the lion returned, and couched down at his feet, and all night long he and the lion slept together.
AN ADVENTURE OF SIR LANCELOT
As Lancelot went his way through the forest he met with many hermits who dwelled therein, and had adventure with the Knight who stole his horse and his helm, and got them back again. And he learned from one of the hermits that Sir Galahad was his son, and that it was he who at the Feast of Pentecost had sat in the Siege Perilous, which it was ordained by Merlin that none should sit in save the best Knight in the world. All that night Sir Lancelot abode with the hermit and laid him to rest, a hair shirt always on his body, and it pricked him sorely, but he bore it meekly and suffered the pain. When the day dawned he bade the hermit farewell. As he rode he came to a fair plain, in which was a great castle set about with tents and pavilions of divers hues. Here were full five hundred Knights riding on horseback, and those near the castle were mounted on black horses with black trappings, and they that were without were on white horses and their trappings white. And the two sides fought together, and Sir Lancelot looked on.
At last it seemed to him that the black Knights nearest the castle fared the worst, so, as he ever took the part of the weaker, he rode to their help and smote many of the white Knights to the earth and did marvellous deeds of arms. But always the white Knights held round Sir Lancelot to tire him out. And as no man may endure for ever, in the end Sir Lancelot waxed so faint of fighting that his arms would not lift themselves to deal a stroke; then they took him, and led him away into the forest and made him alight from his horse and rest, and when he was taken the fellowship of the castle were overcome for want of him. 'Never ere now was I at tournament or jousts but I had the best,' moaned Sir Lancelot to himself, as soon as the Knights had left him and he was alone. 'But now am I shamed, and I am persuaded that I am more sinful than ever I was.' Sorrowfully he rode on till he passed a chapel, where stood a nun, who called to him and asked him his name and what he was seeking.
So he told her who he was, and what had befallen him at the tournament, and the vision that had come to him in his sleep. 'Ah, Lancelot,' said she, 'as long as you were a knight of earthly knighthood you were the most wonderful man in the world and the most adventurous. But now, since you are set among Knights of heavenly adventures, if you were worsted at that tournament it is no marvel. For the tournament was meant for a sign, and the earthly Knights were they who were clothed in black in token of the sins of which they were not yet purged. And the white Knights were they who had chosen the way of holiness, and in them the quest has already begun. Thus you beheld both the sinners and the good men, and when you saw the sinners overcome you went to their help, as they were your fellows in boasting and pride of the world, and all that must be left in that quest. And that caused your misadventure. Now that I have warned you of your vain-glory and your pride, beware of everlasting pain, for of all earthly Knights I have pity of you, for I know well that among earthly sinful Knights you are without peer.'
AN ADVENTURE OF SIR GAWAINE
Sir Gawaine rode long without meeting any adventure, and from Pentecost to Michaelmas found none that pleased him. But at Michaelmas he met Sir Ector de Maris and rejoiced greatly.
As they sat talking there appeared before them a hand showing unto the elbow covered with red samite, and holding a great candle that burned right clear; and the hand passed into the chapel and vanished, they knew not where. Then they heard a voice which said, 'Knights full of evil faith and poor belief, these two things have failed you, and therefore you may not come to the adventure of the Holy Graal.' And this same told them a holy man to whom they confessed their sins, 'for,' said he, 'you have failed in three things, charity, fasting, and truth, and have been great murderers. But sinful as Sir Lancelot was, since he went into the quest he never slew man, nor shall, till he come into Camelot again. For he has taken upon him to forsake sin. And were he not so unstable, he should be the next to achieve it, after Galahad his son. Yet shall he die an holy man, and in earthly sinful men he has no fellow.'
'Sir,' said Gawaine, 'by your words it seems that our sins will not let us labour in that quest?' 'Truly,' answered the hermit, 'there be an hundred such as you to whom it will bring naught but shame.' So Gawaine departed and followed Sir Ector, who had ridden on before.
THE ADVENTURE OF SIR BORS
When Sir Bors left Camelot on his quest he met a holy man riding on an ass, and Sir Bors saluted him. Then the good man knew him to be one of the Knights who were in quest of the Holy Graal. 'What are you?' said he, and Sir Bors answered, 'I am a Knight that fain would be counselled in the quest of the Graal, for he shall have much earthly worship that brings it to an end.' 'That is true,' said the good man, 'for he will be the best Knight in the world, but know well that there shall none attain it but by holiness and by confession of sin.' So they rode together till they came to the hermitage, and the good man led Sir Bors into the chapel, where he made confession of his sins, and they ate bread and drank water together. 'Now,' said the hermit, 'I pray you that you eat none other till you sit at the table where the Holy Graal shall be.' 'Sir,' answered Sir Bors, 'I agree thereto, but how know you that I shall sit there?' 'That know I,' said the holy man, 'but there will be but few of your fellows with you. Also instead of a shirt you shall wear this garment until you have achieved your quest,' and Sir Bors took off his clothes, and put on instead a scarlet coat. Then the good man questioned him, and marvelled to find him pure in life, and he armed him and bade him go. After this Sir Bors rode through many lands, and had many adventures, and was often sore tempted, but remembered the words of the holy man and kept his life clean of wrong. And once he had by mischance almost slain his own brother, but a voice cried, 'Flee, Bors, and touch him not,' and he hearkened and stayed his hand. And there fell between them a fiery cloud, which burned up both their shields, and they two fell to the earth in a great swoon; but when they awakened out of it Bors saw that his brother had no harm. With that the voice spoke to him saying, 'Bors, go hence and bear your brother fellowship no longer; but take your way to the sea, where Sir Percivale abides till you come.' Then Sir Bors prayed his brother to forgive him all he had unknowingly done, and rode straight to the sea. On the shore he found a vessel covered with white samite, and as soon as he stepped in the vessel it set sail so fast it might have been flying, and Sir Bors lay down and slept till it was day. When he waked he saw a Knight lying in the midst of the ship, all armed save for his helm, and he knew him for Sir Percivale, and welcomed him with great joy; and they told each other of their adventures and of their temptations, and had great happiness in each other's company. 'We lack nothing but Galahad, the good Knight,' Sir Percivale said.
ADVENTURE OF SIR GALAHAD
Sir Galahad rested one evening at a hermitage. And while he was resting, there came a gentlewoman and asked leave of the hermit to speak with Sir Galahad, and would not be denied, though she was told he was weary and asleep. Then the hermit waked Sir Galahad and bade him rise, as a gentlewoman had great need of him, so Sir Galahad rose and asked her what she wished. 'Galahad,' said she, 'I will that you arm yourself, and mount your horse and follow me, and I will show you the highest adventure that ever any Knight saw.' And Sir Galahad bade her go, and he would follow wherever she led. In three days they reached the sea, where they found the ship where Sir Bors and Sir Percivale were lying. And the lady bade him leave his horse behind and said she would leave hers also, but their saddles and bridles they would take on board the ship. This they did, and were received with great joy by the two Knights; then the sails were spread, and the ship was driven before the wind at a marvellous pace till they reached the land of Logris, the entrance to which lies between two great rocks with a whirlpool in the middle.
Their own ship might not get safely through; but they left it and went into another ship that lay there, which had neither man nor woman in it. At the end of the ship was written these words: 'Thou man which shalt enter this ship beware thou be in steadfast belief; if thou fail, I shall not help thee.' Then the gentlewoman turned and said, 'Percivale, do you know who I am?' 'No, truly,' answered he. 'I am your sister, and therefore you are the man in the world that I most love. If you are without faith, or have any hidden sin, beware how you enter, else you will perish.' 'Fair sister,' answered he, 'I shall enter therein, for if I am an untrue Knight then shall I perish.' So they entered the ship, and it was rich and well adorned, that they all marvelled.
In the midst of it was a fair bed, and Sir Galahad went thereto and found on it a crown of silk, and a sword drawn out of its sheath half a foot and more. The sword was of divers fashions, and the pommel of stone, wrought about with colours, and every colour with its own virtue, and the handle was of the ribs of two beasts. The one was the bone of a serpent, and no hand that handles it shall ever become weary or hurt; and the other is a bone of a fish that swims in Euphrates, and whoso handles it shall not think on joy or sorrow that he has had, but only on that which he beholds before him. And no man shall grip this sword but one that is better than other men. So first Sir Percivale stepped forward and set his hand to the sword, but he might not grasp it. Next Sir Bors tried to seize it, but he also failed. When Sir Galahad beheld the sword, he saw that there was written on it, in letters of blood, that he who tried to draw it should never fail of shame in his body or be wounded to the death. 'By my faith,' said Galahad, 'I would draw this sword out of its sheath, but the offending is so great I shall not lay my hand thereto.' 'Sir,' answered the gentlewoman, 'know that no man can draw this sword save you alone'; and she told him many tales of the Knights who had set their hands to it, and of the evil things that had befallen them. And they all begged Sir Galahad to grip the sword, as it was ordained that he should. 'I will grip it,' said Galahad, 'to give you courage, but it belongs no more to me than it does to you.' Then he gripped it tight with his fingers, and the gentlewoman girt him about the middle with the sword, and after that they left that ship and went into another, which brought them to land, where they fell upon many strange adventures. And when they had wrought many great deeds, they departed from each other. But first Sir Percivale's sister died, being bled to death, so that another lady might live, and she prayed them to lay her body in a boat and leave the boat to go as the winds and waves carried it. And so it was done, and Sir Percivale wrote a letter telling how she had helped them in all their adventures; and he put it in her right hand, and laid her in a barge, and covered it with black silk. And the wind arose and drove it from their sight.
SIR LANCELOT MEETS SIR GALAHAD, AND THEY PART
Now we must tell what happened to Sir Lancelot.
When he was come to a water called Mortoise he fell asleep, awaiting for the adventure that should be sent to him, and in his sleep a voice spoke to him, and bade him rise and take his armour, and enter the first ship he should find. So he started up and took his arms and made him ready, and on the strand he found a ship that was without sail or oar. As soon as he was within the ship, he felt himself wrapped round with a sweetness such as he had never known before, as if all that he could desire was fulfilled. And with this joy and peace about him he fell asleep. When he woke he found near him a fair bed, with a dead lady lying on it, whom he knew to be Sir Percivale's sister, and in her hand was the tale of her adventures, which Sir Lancelot took and read. For a month or more they dwelt in that ship together, and one day, when it had drifted near the shore, he heard a sound as of a horse; and when the steps came nearer he saw that a Knight was riding him. At the sight of the ship the Knight alighted and took the saddle and bridle, and entered the ship. 'You are welcome,' said Lancelot, and the Knight saluted him and said, 'What is your name? for my heart goeth out to you.'
'Truly,' answered he, 'my name is Sir Lancelot du Lake.'
'Sir,' said the new Knight, 'you are welcome, for you were the beginner of me in the world.'
'Ah,' cried Sir Lancelot, 'is it you, then, Galahad?'
'Yes, in sooth,' said he, and kneeled down and asked Lancelot's blessing, and then took off his helm and kissed him. And there was great joy between them, and they told each other all that had befallen them since they left King Arthur's Court. Then Galahad saw the gentlewoman dead on the bed, and he knew her, and said he held her in great worship, and that she was the best maid in the world, and how it was great pity that she had come to her death. But when Lancelot heard that Galahad had won the marvellous sword he prayed that he might see it, and kissed the pommel and the hilt, and the scabbard. 'In truth,' he said, 'never did I know of adventures so wonderful and strange.' So dwelled Lancelot and Galahad in that ship for half a year, and served God daily and nightly with all their power. And after six months had gone it befell that on a Monday they drifted to the edge of the forest, where they saw a Knight with white armour bestriding one horse and holding another all white, by the bridle. And he came to the ship, and saluted the two Knights and said, 'Galahad, you have been long enough with your father, therefore leave that ship and start upon this horse, and go on the quest of the Holy Graal.' So Galahad went to his father and kissed him, saying, 'Fair sweet father, I know not if I shall see you more till I have beheld the Holy Graal.' Then they heard a voice which said, 'The one shall never see the other till the day of doom.' 'Now, Galahad,' said Lancelot, 'since we are to bid farewell for ever now, I pray to the great Father to preserve me and you both.' 'Sir,' answered Galahad, 'no prayer availeth so much as yours.'
The next day Sir Lancelot made his way back to Camelot, where he found King Arthur and Guenevere; but many of the Knights of the Round Table were slain and destroyed, more than the half. All the Court was passing glad to see Sir Lancelot, and the King asked many tidings of his son Sir Galahad.
HOW SIR GALAHAD FOUND THE GRAAL AND DIED OF
Sir Galahad rode on till he met Sir Percivale and afterwards Sir Bors, whom they greeted most gladly, and they bare each other company. First they came to the Castle of Carbonek, where dwelled King Pelles, who welcomed them with joy, for he knew by their coming that they had fulfilled the quest of the Graal. They then departed on other adventures, and with the blood out of the Holy Lance Galahad anointed the maimed King and healed him. That same night at midnight a voice bade them arise and quit the castle, which they did, followed by three Knights of Gaul. Then Galahad prayed every one of them that if they reached King Arthur's Court they should salute Sir Lancelot his father, and those Knights of the Round Table that were present, and with that he left them, and Sir Bors and Sir Percivale with him. For three days they rode till they came to a shore, and found a ship awaiting them. And in the midst of it was the table of silver, and the Holy Graal which was covered with red samite. Then were their hearts right glad, and they made great reverence thereto, and Galahad prayed that at what time he asked, he might depart out of this world. So long he prayed that at length a voice said to him, 'Galahad, thou shalt have thy desire, and when thou askest the death of the body thou shalt have it, and shalt find the life of the soul.' Percivale likewise heard the voice, and besought Galahad to tell him why he asked such things. And Galahad answered, 'The other day when we saw a part of the adventures of the Holy Graal, I was in such a joy of heart that never did man feel before, and I knew well that when my body is dead my soul shall be in joy of which the other was but a shadow.'
Some time were the three Knights in that ship, till at length they saw before them the city of Sarras. Then they took from the ship the table of silver, and Sir Percivale and Sir Bors went first, and Sir Galahad followed after to the gate of the city, where sat an old man that was crooked. At the sight of the old man Sir Galahad called to him to help them carry the table, for it was heavy. 'Truly,' answered the old man, 'it is ten years since I have gone without crutches.' 'Care not for that,' said Galahad, 'but rise up and show your good will.' So he arose and found himself as whole as ever he was, and he ran to the table and held up the side next Galahad. And there was much noise in the city that a cripple was healed by three Knights newly entered in. This reached the ears of the King, who sent for the Knights and questioned them. And they told him the truth, and of the Holy Graal; but the King listened nothing to all they said, but put them into a deep hole in the prison. Even here they were not without comfort, for a vision of the Holy Graal sustained them. And at the end of a year the King lay sick and felt he should die, and he called the three Knights and asked forgiveness of the evil he had done to them, which they gave gladly. Then he died, and the whole city was afraid and knew not what to do, till while they were in counsel a voice came to them and bade them choose the youngest of the three strange Knights for their King. And they did so. After Galahad was proclaimed King, he ordered that a coffer of gold and precious stones should be made to encompass the table of silver, and every day he and the two Knights would kneel before it and make their prayers.
Now at the year's end, and on the selfsame day that Galahad had been crowned King, he arose up early and came with the two Knights to the Palace; and he saw a man in the likeness of a Bishop, encircled by a great crowd of angels, kneeling before the Holy Vessel. And he called to Galahad and said to him, 'Come forth, thou servant of Christ, and thou shalt see what thou hast much desired to see.' Then Galahad began to tremble right hard, when the flesh first beheld the things of the spirit, and he held up his hands to heaven and said, 'Lord, I thank thee, for now I see that which hath been my desire for many a day. Now, blessed Lord, I would no longer live, if it might please Thee.' Then Galahad went to Percivale and kissed him, and commended him to God; and he went to Sir Bors and kissed him, and commended him to God, and said, 'Fair lord, salute me to my lord Sir Lancelot, my father, and bid him remember this unstable world.' Therewith he kneeled down before the table and made his prayers, and while he was praying his soul suddenly left the body and was carried by angels up into heaven, which the two Knights right well beheld. Also they saw come from heaven a hand, but no body behind it, and it came unto the Vessel, and took it and the spear, and bare them back to heaven. And since then no man has dared to say that he has seen the Holy Graal.
When Percivale and Bors saw Galahad lying dead they made as much sorrow as ever two men did, and the people of the country and of the city were right heavy. And they buried him as befitted their King. As soon as Galahad was buried, Sir Percivale sought a hermitage outside the city, and put on the dress of a hermit, and Sir Bors was always with him, but kept the dress that he wore at Court. When a year and two months had passed Sir Percivale died also, and was buried by the side of Galahad; and Sir Bors left that land, and after long riding came to Camelot. Then was there great joy made of him in the Court, for they had held him as dead; and the King ordered great clerks to attend him, and to write down all his adventures and those of Sir Percivale and Sir Galahad. Next, Sir Lancelot told the adventures of the Graal which he had seen, and this likewise was written and placed with the other in almonries at Salisbury. And by and by Sir Bors said to Sir Lancelot, 'Galahad your son saluteth you by me, and after you King Arthur and all the Court, and so did Sir Percivale; for I buried them with mine own hands in the City of Sarras. Also, Sir Lancelot, Galahad prayeth you to remember of this uncertain world, as you promised when you were together!' 'That is true,' said Sir Lancelot, 'and I trust his prayer may avail me.' But the prayer but little availed Sir Lancelot, for he fell to his old sins again. And now the Knights were few that survived the search for the Graal, and the evil days of Arthur began.
THE FIGHT FOR THE QUEEN
So the quest of the Holy Graal had been fulfilled, and the few Knights that had been left alive returned to the Round Table, and there was great joy in the Court. To do them honour the Queen made them a dinner; and there were four and twenty Knights present, and among them Sir Patrise of Ireland, and Sir Gawaine and his brethren, the King's nephews, which were Sir Agrawaine, Sir Gaheris, Sir Gareth, and Sir Mordred. Now it was the custom of Sir Gawaine daily at dinner and supper to eat all manner of fruit, and especially pears and apples, and this the Queen knew, and set fruit of all sorts before him. And there was present at the dinner one Sir Pinel le Savage, who hated Sir Gawaine because he and his brethren had slain Sir Lamorak du Galis, cousin to Sir Pinel; so he put poison into some of the apples, hoping that Sir Gawaine would eat one and die. But by ill fortune it befell that the good Knight Sir Patrise took a poisoned apple, and in a few moments he lay dead and stark in his seat. At this sight all the Knights leapt to their feet, but said nothing, for they bethought them that Queen Guenevere had made them the dinner, and feared that she had poisoned the fruit.
'My lady, the Queen,' said Sir Gawaine, who was the first to speak, 'this fruit was brought for me, for all know how well I love it; therefore, Madam, the shame of this ill deed is yours.' The Queen stood still, pale and trembling, but kept silence, and next spoke Sir Mador de la Porte.
'This shall not be ended so,' said he, 'for I have lost a noble Knight of my blood, and I will be avenged of the person who has wrought this evil.' And he turned to the Queen and said 'Madam, it is you who have brought about the death of my cousin Sir Patrise!' The Knights round listened in silence, for they too thought Sir Mador spake truth. And the Queen still said nothing, but fell to weeping bitterly, till King Arthur heard and came to look into the matter. And when they told him of their trouble his heart was heavy within him.
'Fair lords,' said the King at last, 'I grieve for this ill deed; but I cannot meddle therein, or do battle for my wife, for I have to judge justly. Sure I am that this deed is none of hers, therefore many a good Knight will stand her champion that she be not burned to death in a wrong quarrel. And, Sir Mador, hold not your head so high, but fix the day of battle, when you shall find a Knight to answer you, or else it were great shame to all my Court.'
'My gracious lord,' said Sir Mador, 'you must hold me excused. But though you are a King you are also a Knight, and must obey the laws of Knighthood. Therefore I beseech your forgiveness if I declare that none of the four and twenty Knights here present will fight that battle. What say you, my lords?' Then the Knights answered that they could not hold the Queen guiltless, for as the dinner was made by her either she or her servants must have done this thing.
'Alas!' said the Queen, 'no evil was in my heart when I prepared this feast, for never have I done such foul deeds.'
'My lord the King,' cried Sir Mador, 'I require of you, as you are a just King, to fix a day that I may get ready for the fight!'
'Well,' answered the King, 'on the fifteenth day from this come on horseback to the meadow that is by Westminster. And if it happens that there be a Knight to fight with you, strike as hard as you will, God will speed the right. But if no Knight is there, then must my Queen be burned, and a fire shall be made in the meadow.'
'I am answered,' said Sir Mador, and he and the rest of the Knights departed.
When the King and Queen were left alone he asked her what had brought all this about. 'God help me, that I know not,' said the Queen, 'nor how it was done.'
'Where is Sir Lancelot?' said King Arthur, looking round. 'If he were here he would not grudge to do battle for you.'
'Sir,' replied the Queen, 'I know not where he is, but his brother and his kinsmen think he is not in this realm.'
'I grieve for that,' said the King, 'for he would soon stop this strife. But I counsel you, ask Sir Bors, and he will not refuse you. For well I see that none of the four and twenty Knights who were with you at dinner will be your champion, and none will say well of you, but men will speak evil of you at the Court.'
'Alas!' sighed the Queen, 'I do indeed miss Sir Lancelot, for he would soon ease my heart.'
'What ails you?' asked the King, 'that you cannot keep Sir Lancelot at your side, for well you know that he who Sir Lancelot fights for has the best Knight in the world for his champion. Now go your way, and command Sir Bors to do battle with you for Sir Lancelot's sake.' So the Queen departed from the King, and sent for Sir Bors into her chamber, and when he came she besought his help.
'Madam,' said he, 'what can I do? for I may not meddle in this matter lest the Knights who were at the dinner have me in suspicion, for I was there also. It is now, Madam, that you miss Sir Lancelot, whom you have driven away, as he would have done battle for you were you right or wrong, and I wonder how for shame's sake you can ask me, knowing how I love and honour him.'
'Alas,' said the Queen, 'I throw myself on your grace,' and she went down on her knees and besought Sir Bors to have mercy on her, 'else I shall have a shameful death, and one I have never deserved.' At that King Arthur came in, and found her kneeling before Sir Bors. 'Madam! you do me great dishonour,' said Sir Bors, raising her up.
'Ah, gentle Knight,' cried the King, 'have mercy on my Queen, for I am sure that they speak falsely. And I require by the love of Sir Lancelot that you do battle for her instead of him.'
'My lord,' answered Sir Bors, 'you require of me the hardest thing that ever anyone asked of me, for well you know that if I fight for the Queen I shall anger all my companions of the Round Table; but I will not say nay, my lord, for Sir Lancelot's sake and for your sake! On that day I will be the Queen's champion, unless a better Knight is found to do battle for her.'
'Will you promise me this?' asked the King.
'Yes,' answered Sir Bors, 'I will not fail you nor her, unless there should come a better Knight than I, then he shall have the battle.' Then the King and Queen rejoiced greatly, and thanked Sir Bors with all their hearts.
So Sir Bors departed and rode unto Sir Lancelot, who was with the hermit Sir Brasias, and told him of this adventure. 'Ah,' said Sir Lancelot, 'this has befallen as I would have it, and therefore I pray you make ready to do battle, but delay the fight as long as you can that I may appear. For I am sure that Sir Mador is a hot Knight, and the longer he waits the more impatient he will be for the combat.'
'Sir,' answered Sir Bors, 'let me deal with him. Doubt not you shall have all your will.' And he rode away, and came again to the Court.
It was soon noised about that Sir Bors would be the Queen's champion, and many Knights were displeased with him; but there were a few who held the Queen to be innocent. Sir Bors spoke unto them all and said, 'It were shameful, my fair lords, if we suffered the most noble Queen in the world to be disgraced openly, not only for her sake, but for the King's.' But they answered him: 'As for our lord King Arthur, we love him and honour him as much as you; but as for Queen Guenevere, we love her not, for she is the destroyer of good Knights.'
'Fair lords,' said Sir Bors, 'you shall not speak such words, for never yet have I heard that she was the destroyer of good Knights. But at all times, as far as I ever knew, she maintained them and gave them many gifts. And therefore it were a shame to us all if we suffered our noble King's wife to be put to death, and I will not suffer it. So much I will say, that the Queen is not guilty of Sir Patrise's death; for she owed him no ill will, and bade him and us to the dinner for no evil purpose, which will be proved hereafter. And in any case there was foul dealing among us.'
'We may believe your words,' said some of the Knights, but others held that he spoke falsely.
The days passed quickly by until the evening before the battle, when the Queen sent for Sir Bors and asked him if he was ready to keep his promise.
'Truly, Madam,' answered he, 'I shall not fail you, unless a better Knight than I am come to do battle for you. Then, Madam, I am discharged of my promise.'
'Shall I tell this to my lord Arthur?' said the Queen.
'If it pleases you, Madam,' answered Sir Bors. So the Queen went to the King, and told him what Sir Bors had said, and the King bade her to be comforted, as Sir Bors was one of the best Knights of the Round Table.
The next morning the King and Queen, and all manner of Knights, rode into the meadow of Westminster, where the battle was to be; and the Queen was put into the Guard of the High Constable, and a stout iron stake was planted, and a great fire made about it, at which the Queen should be burned if Sir Mador de la Porte won the fight. For it was the custom in those days that neither fear nor favour, love nor kinship, should hinder right judgment. Then came Sir Mador de la Porte, and made oath before the King that the Queen had done to death his cousin Sir Patrise, and he would prove it on her Knight's body, let who would say the contrary. Sir Bors likewise made answer that Queen Guenevere had done no wrong, and that he would make good with his two hands. 'Then get you ready,' said Sir Mador. 'Sir Mador,' answered Sir Bors, 'I know you for a good Knight, but I trust to be able to withstand your malice; and I have promised King Arthur and my Lady the Queen that I will do battle for her to the uttermost, unless there come forth a better Knight than I am.'
'Is that all?' asked Sir Mador; 'but you must either fight now or own that you are beaten.'
'Take your horse,' said Sir Bors, 'for I shall not tarry long,' and Sir Mador forthwith rode into the field with his shield on his shoulder, and his spear in his hand, and he went up and down crying unto King Arthur, 'Bid your champion come forth if he dare.' At that Sir Bors was ashamed, and took his horse, and rode to the end of the lists. But from a wood hard by appeared a Knight riding fast on a white horse, bearing a shield full of strange devices. When he reached Sir Bors he drew rein and said, 'Fair Knight, be not displeased, but this battle must be to a better Knight than you. For I have come a great journey to fight this fight, as I promised when I spoke with you last, and I thank you heartily for your goodwill.' So Sir Bors went to King Arthur and told him that a Knight had come who wished to do battle for the Queen. 'What Knight is he?' asked the King.
'That I know not,' said Sir Bors; 'but he made a covenant with me to be here this day, and now I am discharged,' said Sir Bors.
Then the King called to that Knight and asked him if he would fight for the Queen. 'For that purpose I came hither,' replied he, 'and therefore, Sir King, delay me no longer, for as soon as I have ended this battle I must go hence, as I have many matters elsewhere. And I would have you know that it is a dishonour to all the Knights of the Round Table to let so noble a lady and so courteous a Queen as Queen Guenevere be shamed amongst you.'
The Knights who were standing round looked at each other at these words, and wondered much what man this was who took the battle upon him, for none knew him save Sir Bors.
'Sir,' said Sir Mador de la Porte unto the King, 'let me know the name of him with whom I have to do.' But the King answered nothing, and made a sign for the fight to begin. They rode to the end of the lists, and couched their spears and rushed together with all their force, and Sir Mador's spear broke in pieces. But the other Knight's spear held firm, and he pressed on Sir Mador's horse till it fell backward with a great fall. Sir Mador sprang from his horse, and, placing his shield before him, drew his sword, and bade his foe dismount from his horse also, and do battle with him on foot, which the unknown Knight did. For an hour they fought thus, as Sir Mador was a strong man, and had proved himself the victor in many combats. At last the Knight smote Sir Mador grovelling to his knees, and the Knight stepped forward to have struck him flat upon the ground. Therewith Sir Mador suddenly rose, and smote the Knight upon the thigh, so that the blood ran out fiercely. But when the Knight felt himself wounded, and saw his blood, he let Sir Mador rise to his feet, and then he gave him such a buffet on the helm that this time Sir Mador fell his length on the earth, and the Knight sprang to him, to unloose his helm. At this Sir Mador prayed for his life, acknowledging that he was overcome, and confessed that the Queen's innocence had been proved. 'I will only grant you your life,' said the Knight, 'if you will proclaim publicly that you have foully slandered the Queen, and that you make no mention, on the tomb of Sir Patrise, that ever Queen Guenevere consented to his murder.' 'All that will I do,' said Sir Mador, and some Knights took him up, and carried him away to heal his wounds. And the other Knight went straight to the foot of the steps where sat King Arthur, and there the Queen had just come, and the King and the Queen kissed each other before all the people. When King Arthur saw the Knight standing there he stooped down to him and thanked him, and so likewise did the Queen; and they prayed him to put off his helmet, and commanded wine to be brought, and when he unlaced his helmet to drink they knew him to be Sir Lancelot du Lake. Then Arthur took the Queen's hand and led her to Sir Lancelot and said, 'Sir, I give you the most heartfelt thanks of the great deed you have done this day for me and my Queen.'
'My lord,' answered Sir Lancelot, 'you know well that I ought of right ever to fight your battles, and those of my lady the Queen. For it was you who gave me the high honour of Knighthood, and that same day my lady the Queen did me a great service, else I should have been put to shame before all men. Because in my hastiness I lost my sword, and my lady the Queen found it and gave it to me when I had sore need of it. And therefore, my lord Arthur, I promised her that day that I would be her Knight in right or in wrong.'
'I owe you great thanks,' said the King, 'and some time I hope to repay you.' The Queen, beholding Sir Lancelot, wept tears of joy for her deliverance, and felt bowed to the ground with sorrow at the thought of what he had done for her, when she had sent him away with unkind words. Then all the Knights of the Round Table and his kinsmen drew near to him and welcomed him, and there was great mirth in the Court.
THE FAIR MAID OF ASTOLAT
Soon after this it befell that the damsel of the lake, called by some Nimue and by others Vivien, wedded Sir Pelleas, and came to the Court of King Arthur. And when she heard the talk of the death of Sir Patrise and how the Queen had been accused of it, she found out by means of her magic that the tale was false, and told it openly that the Queen was innocent and that it was Sir Pinel who had poisoned the apple. Then he fled into his own country, where none might lay hands on him. So Sir Patrise was buried in the Church of Westminster, and on his tomb was written, 'Here lieth Sir Patrise of Ireland, slain by Sir Pinel le Savage, that empoisoned apples to have slain Sir Gawaine, and by misfortune Sir Patrise ate one of those apples and then suddenly he burst.' Also there was put upon the tomb that Queen Guenevere was accused of the death of Sir Patrise by Sir Mador de la Porte, and how Sir Lancelot fought with him and overcame him in battle. All this was written on the tomb.
And daily Sir Mador prayed to have the Queen's grace once more, and by means of Sir Lancelot he was forgiven. It was now the middle of the summer, and King Arthur proclaimed that in fifteen days a great tourney should be held at Camelot, which is now called Winchester, and many Knights and Kings made ready to do themselves honour. But the Queen said she would stay behind, for she was sick, and did not care for the noise and bustle of a tourney. 'It grieves me you should say that,' said the King, for you will not have seen so noble a company gathered together this seven years past, save at the Whitsuntide when Galahad departed from the Court.'
'Truly,' answered the Queen, 'the sight will be grand. Nevertheless you must hold me excused, for I cannot be there.'
Sir Lancelot likewise declared that his wounds were not healed and that he could not bear himself in a tourney as he was wont to do. At this the King was wroth, that he might not have either his Queen or his best Knight with him, and he departed towards Winchester and by the way lodged in a town now called Guildford, but then Astolat. And when the King had set forth, the Queen sent for Sir Lancelot, and told him he was to blame for having excused himself from going with the King, who set such store by his company; and Sir Lancelot said he would be ruled by her, and would ride forth next morning on his way to Winchester; 'but I should have you know,' said he, 'that at the tourney I shall be against the King and his Knights.'
'You must do as you please,' replied the Queen, 'but if you will be ruled by my counsel, you will fight on his side.'
'Madam,' said Sir Lancelot, 'I pray you not to be displeased with me. I will take the adventure as it comes,' and early next morning he rode away till at eventide he reached Astolat. He went through the town till he stopped before the house of an old Baron, Sir Bernard of Astolat, and as he dismounted from his horse, the King spied him from the gardens of the castle. 'It is well,' he said smiling to the Knights that were beside him, 'I see one man who will play his part in the jousts, and I will undertake that he will do marvels.'
'Who is that?' asked they all. 'You must wait to know that,' replied the King, and went into the castle. Meantime Sir Lancelot had entered his lodging, and the old Baron bade him welcome, but he knew not it was Sir Lancelot. 'Fair Sir,' said Sir Lancelot, 'I pray you lend me, if you can, a shield with a device which no man knows, for mine they know well.'
'Sir,' answered Sir Bernard, 'you shall have your wish, for you seem one of the goodliest Knights in the world. And, Sir, I have two sons, both but lately knighted, Sir Tirre who was wounded on the day of his Knighthood, and his shield you shall have. My youngest son, Sir Lavaine, shall ride with you, if you will have his company, to the jousts. For my heart is much drawn to you, and tell me, I beseech you, what name I shall call you by.'
'You must hold me excused as to that, just now,' said Sir Lancelot, 'but if I speedwell at the jousts, I will come again and tell you. But let me have Sir Lavaine with me, and lend me, as you have offered, his brother's shield.' 'This shall be done,' replied Sir Bernard.
Besides these two sons, Sir Bernard had a daughter whom everyone called The Fair Maid of Astolat, though her real name was Elaine le Blanc. And when she looked on Sir Lancelot, her love went forth to him and she could never take it back, and in the end it killed her. As soon as her father told her that Sir Lancelot was going to the tourney she besought him to wear her token in the jousts, but he was not willing. 'Fair damsel,' he said, 'if I did that, I should have done more for your love than ever I did for lady or damsel.' But then he remembered that he was to go disguised to the tourney, and because he had before never worn any manner of token of any damsel, he bethought him that, if he should take one of hers, none would know him. So he said to her, 'Fair damsel, I will wear your token on my helmet, if you will show me what it is.'
'Sir,' she answered, 'it is a red sleeve, embroidered in great pearls,' and she brought it to him. 'Never have I done so much for any damsel,' said he, and gave his own shield into her keeping, till he came again. Sir Arthur had waited three days in Astolat for some Knights who were long on the road, and when they had arrived they all set forth, and were followed by Sir Lancelot and Sir Lavaine, both with white shields, and Sir Lancelot bore besides the red sleeve that was a token. Now Camelot was filled with a great number of Kings and Lords and Knights, but Sir Lavaine found means to lodge both himself and Sir Lancelot secretly with a rich burgess, and no man knew who they were or whence they came. And there they stayed till the day of the tourney. At earliest dawn the trumpets blew, and King Arthur took his seat upon a high scaffold, so that he might see who had done best; but he would not suffer Sir Gawaine to go from his side, for Sir Gawaine never won the prize when Sir Lancelot was in the field, and as King Arthur knew, Sir Lancelot oftentimes disguised himself.
Then the Knights formed into two parties and Sir Lancelot made him ready, and fastened the red sleeve upon his helmet, and he and Sir Lavaine rode into a little wood that lay behind the Knights who should fight against those of the Round Table. 'Sir,' said Sir Lancelot, 'yonder is a company of good Knights and they hold together as boars that are vexed with dogs.'
'That is truth,' said Sir Lavaine.
'Now,' said Sir Lancelot, 'if you will help me a little, you shall see King Arthur's side, which is winning, driven back as fast as they came.'
'Spare not, Sir,' answered Sir Lavaine, 'for I shall do what I may.' So they rode into the thickest of the press, and smote so hard both with spear and sword that the Knights of the Round Table fell back. 'O mercy!' cried Sir Gawaine, 'what Knight is that yonder who does such marvellous deeds?'
'I know well who it is,' said King Arthur, 'but I will not tell you yet.'
'Sir,' answered Sir Gawaine, 'I should say it was Sir Lancelot by the blows he deals and the manner that he rides, but it cannot be he, for this man has a red sleeve upon his helmet, and Sir Lancelot has never borne the token of any lady.'
'Let him be,' said Sir Arthur, 'you will find out his name, and see him do greater deeds yet, before he departs.' And the Knights that were fighting against the King's party took heart again, for before they feared they would be beaten. But when Sir Bors saw this, he called unto him the Knights that were of kin to Sir Lancelot, and they banded together to make a great charge, and threw Sir Lancelot's horse to the ground, and by misfortune the spear of Sir Bors broke, and its head was left in Sir Lancelot's side. When Sir Lavaine saw that, he unhorsed the King of Scots, and brought his horse to Sir Lancelot, and helped him mount thereon and gave him a spear, with which Sir Lancelot smote Sir Bors to the earth and Sir Ector de Maris, the foster-father of King Arthur, and buffeted sorely the Knights that were with them. Afterward he hurled himself into the thick melee of them all, and did the most wonderful deeds that ever were heard of. And Sir Lavaine likewise did well that day, for he smote down full two Knights of the Round Table. 'Mercy,' again cried Sir Gawaine to Arthur, 'I marvel what Knight that is with the red sleeve.'
'That you shall know soon,' said King Arthur, and commanded that the trumpets should be blown, and declared that the prize belonged to the Knight with the white shield, who bare the red sleeve, for he had unhorsed more than thirty Knights. And the Kings and Lords who were of his party came round him and thanked him for the help he had given them, by which means the honours of the day had been theirs.
'Fair Lords,' said Sir Lancelot, 'if I have deserved thanks, I have paid for them sorely, for I shall hardly escape with my life, therefore I pray you let me depart, for my hurt is grievous.' Then he groaned piteously, and galloped from them to a wood's side, followed by Sir Lavaine. 'Oh help me, Sir Lavaine,' said he, 'to get this spear's head out of my side, for it is killing me.' But Sir Lavaine feared to touch it, lest Sir Lancelot should bleed to death. 'I charge you,' said Sir Lancelot, 'if you love me draw out the head,' so Sir Lavaine drew it out. And Sir Lancelot gave a great shriek, and a marvellous grisly groan, and his blood flowed out so fast, that he fell into a swoon. 'Oh what shall I do?' cried Sir Lavaine, and he loosed Sir Lancelot's helm and coat of mail, and turned him so that the wind might blow on him, but for full half an hour he lay as if he had been dead. And at last Sir Lancelot opened his eyes, and said, 'O Lavaine, help me on my horse, for two miles from this place there lives a hermit who once was a Knight of the Round Table, and he can heal my wounds.' Then Sir Lavaine, with much ado, helped him on his horse, and brought him bleeding to the hermit. The hermit looked at him as he rode up, leaning piteously on his saddle-bow, and he thought that he should know him, but could not tell who he was for the paleness of his face, till he saw by a wound on his cheek that it was Sir Lancelot.
'You cannot hide your name from me,' said the hermit, 'for you are the noblest Knight in the world, and well I know you to be Sir Lancelot.'
'Since you know me, Sir,' said he, 'help me for God's sake, and for death or life put me out of this pain.'
'Fear nothing,' answered the hermit, 'your pain will soon be gone,' and he called his servants to take the armour off the Knight, and laid him in bed. After that he dressed the wound, and gave him good wine to drink, and Sir Lancelot slept and awoke free of his pain. So we will leave him to be healed of his wound, under the care of the hermit, and go back to King Arthur.
Now it was the custom in those days that after a tourney was finished, a great feast should be held at which both parties were assembled, so King Arthur sent to ask the King of Northgalis, where was the Knight with the red sleeve, who had fought on his side. 'Bring him before me,' he said, 'that he may have the prize he has won, which is his right.' Then answered the King with the hundred Knights, 'we fear the Knight must have been sore hurt, and that neither you nor we are ever like to see him again, which is grievous to think of.'
'Alas!' said King Arthur, 'is he then so badly wounded? What is his name?'
'Truly,' said they all, 'we know not his name, nor whence he came, nor whither he went.'
'As for me,' answered King Arthur, 'these tidings are the worst that I have heard these seven years, for I would give all the lands I hold that no harm had befallen this Knight.'
'Do you know him?' asked they all.
'Whether I know him or not,' said King Arthur, 'I shall not tell you, but may Heaven send me good news of him.' 'Amen,' answered they.
'By my head,' said Sir Gawaine, 'if this good Knight is really wounded unto death, it is a great evil for all this land, for he is one of the noblest that ever I saw for handling a sword or spear. And if he may be found, I shall find him, for I am sure he is not far from this town,' so he took his Squire with him, and they rode all round Camelot, six or seven miles on every side, but nothing could they hear of him. And he returned heavily to the Court of King Arthur.
Two days after the King and all his company set out for London, and by the way, it happened to Sir Gawaine to lodge with Sir Bernard at Astolat. And when he was in his chamber, Sir Bernard and his daughter Elaine came unto Sir Gawaine, to ask him tidings of the Court, and who did best in the tourney at Winchester.
'Truly,' said Sir Gawaine, 'there were two Knights that bare white shields, but one of them had a red sleeve upon his helm, and he was one of the best Knights that ever I saw joust in the field, for I dare say he smote down forty Knights of the Table Round.'
'Now blessed be God,' said the Maid of Astolat, 'that that Knight sped so well, for he is the man in the world that I loved first, and he will also be the last that ever I shall love.'
'Fair Maid,' asked Sir Gawaine, 'is that Knight your love?'
'Certainly he is my love,' said she.
'Then you know his name?' asked Sir Gawaine.
'Nay, truly,' answered the damsel, 'I know neither his name, nor whence he cometh, but I love him for all that.'
'How did you meet him first?' asked Sir Gawaine. At that she told him the whole story, and how her brother went with Sir Lancelot to do him service, and lent him the white shield of her brother Sir Tirre and left his own shield with her. 'Why did he do that?' asked Sir Gawaine.
'For this cause,' said the damsel, 'his shield was too well known among many noble Knights.'
'Ah, fair damsel,' said Sir Gawaine, 'I beg of you to let me have a sight of that shield.'
'Sir,' answered she, 'it is in my chamber covered with a case, and if you will come with me, you shall see it.'
'Not so,' said Sir Bernard, and sent his Squire for it. And when Sir Gawaine took off the case and beheld the shield, and saw the arms, he knew it to be Sir Lancelot's. 'Ah mercy,' cried he, 'my heart is heavier than ever it was before!'
'Why?' asked Elaine.
'I have great cause,' answered Sir Gawaine. 'Is that Knight who owns this shield your love?'
'Yes, truly,' said she; 'I would I were his love.'
'You are right, fair damsel,' replied Gawaine, 'for if you love him, you love the most honourable Knight in the world. I have known him for four-and-twenty years, and never did I or any other Knight see him wear a token of either lady or damsel at a tournament. Therefore, damsel, he has paid you great honour. But I fear that I may never behold him again upon earth, and that is grievous to think of.'
'Alas!' she said, 'how may this be? Is he slain?'
'I did not say that,' replied Sir Gawaine, 'but he is sorely wounded, and is more likely to be dead than alive. And, maiden, by this shield I know that he is Sir Lancelot.'
'How can this be?' said the Maid of Astolat, 'and what was his hurt?'
'Truly,' answered Sir Gawaine, 'it was the man that loved him best who hurt him so, and I am sure that if that man knew that it was Sir Lancelot whom he had wounded, he would think it was the darkest deed that ever he did.'
'Now, dear father,' said Elaine, 'give me leave to ride and to seek him, for I shall go out of my mind unless I find him and my brother.'
'Do as you will,' answered her father, 'for I am grieved to hear of the hurt of that noble Knight.' So the damsel made ready.
On the morn Sir Gawaine came to King Arthur and told him how he had found the shield in the keeping of the Maid of Astolat. 'All that I knew beforehand,' said the King, 'and that was why I would not suffer you to fight at the tourney, for I had espied him when he entered his lodging the night before. But this is the first time that ever I heard of his bearing the token of some lady, and much I marvel at it.'
'By my head,' answered Sir Gawaine, 'the Fair Maiden of Astolat loves him wondrous well. What it all means, or what will be the end, I cannot say, but she has ridden after him to seek him.' So the King and his company came to London, and everyone in the Court knew that it was Sir Lancelot who had jousted the best.
And when the tidings came to Sir Bors, his heart grew heavy, and also the hearts of his kinsmen. But when the Queen heard that Sir Lancelot bore the red sleeve of the Fair Maid of Astolat, she was nearly mad with wrath and summoned Sir Bors before her in haste.
'Ah, Sir Bors,' she cried when he was come, 'have the tidings reached you that Sir Lancelot has been a false Knight to me?'
'Madam,' answered Sir Bors, 'I pray you say not so, for I cannot hear such language of him.'
'Why, is he not false and a traitor when, after swearing that for right or wrong he would be my Knight and mine only, he bore the red sleeve upon his helm at the great jousts at Camelot?'
'Madam,' said Sir Bors, 'I grieve bitterly as to that sleeve-bearing, but I think he did it that none of his kin should know him. For no man before that had seen him bear the token of any lady, be she what she may.'
'Fie on him!' said the Queen, 'I myself heard Sir Gawaine tell my lord Arthur of the great love that is between the Fair Maiden of Astolat and him.'
'Madam,' answered Sir Bors, 'I cannot hinder Sir Gawaine from saying what he pleases, but as for Sir Lancelot, I am sure that he loves no one lady or maiden better than another. And therefore I will hasten to seek him wherever he be.'
Meanwhile fair Elaine came to Winchester to find Sir Lancelot, who lay in peril of his life in the hermit's dwelling. And when she was riding hither and thither, not knowing where she should turn, she fell on her brother Sir Lavaine, who was exercising his horse. 'How doth my lord Sir Lancelot?' asked she.
'Who told you, sister, that my lord's name was Sir Lancelot?' answered Sir Lavaine.
'Sir Gawaine, who came to my father's house to rest after the tourney, knew him by his shield,' said she, and they rode on till they reached the hermitage, and Sir Lavaine brought her to Sir Lancelot. And when she saw him so pale, and in such a plight, she fell to the earth in a swoon, but by-and-bye she opened her eyes and said, 'My lord Sir Lancelot, what has brought you to this?' and swooned again. When she came to herself and stood up, Sir Lancelot prayed her to be of good cheer, for if she had come to comfort him she was right welcome, and that his wound would soon heal. 'But I marvel,' said he, 'how you know my name.' Then the maiden told him how Sir Gawaine had been at Astolat and had seen his shield.
'Alas!' sighed Sir Lancelot, 'it grieves me that my name is known, for trouble will come of it.' For he knew full well that Sir Gawaine would tell Queen Guenevere, and that she would be wroth. And Elaine stayed and tended him, and Sir Lancelot begged Sir Lavaine to ride to Winchester and ask if Sir Bors was there, and said that he should know him by token of a wound which Sir Bors had on his forehead. 'For well I am sure,' said Sir Lancelot, 'that Sir Bors will seek me, as he is the same good Knight that hurt me.'
Therefore as Sir Lancelot commanded, Sir Lavaine rode to Winchester and inquired if Sir Bors had been seen there, so that when he entered the town Sir Lavaine readily found him. Sir Bors was overjoyed to hear good tidings of Sir Lancelot, and they rode back together to the hermitage. At the sight of Sir Lancelot lying in his bed, pale and thin, Sir Bors' heart gave way, and he wept long without speaking. 'Oh, my lord Sir Lancelot,' he said at last, 'God send you hasty recovery; great is my shame for having wounded you thus, you who are the noblest Knight in the world. I wonder that my arm would lift itself against you, and I ask your mercy.'
'Fair cousin,' answered Sir Lancelot, 'such words please me not at all, for it is the fault of my pride which would overcome you all, that I lie here to-day. We will not speak of it any more, for what is done cannot be undone, but let us find a cure so that I may soon be whole.' Then Sir Bors leaned upon his bed, and told him how the Queen was filled with anger against him, because he wore the red sleeve at the jousts.
'I am sorrowful at what you tell me,' replied Sir Lancelot, 'for all I did was to hinder my being known.'
'That I said to excuse you,' answered Sir Bors, 'though it was all in vain. But is this damsel that is so busy about you the Fair Maid of Astolat?'
'She it is, and she will not go from me!'
'Why should she go from you?' asked Sir Bors. 'She is a passing fair damsel, and of gentle breeding, and I would that you could love her, for it is easy to see by her bearing that she loves you entirely.'
'It grieves me to hear that,' said Sir Lancelot.
After this they talked of other things, till in a few days Sir Lancelot's wounds were whole again. When Sir Lancelot felt his strength return, Sir Bors made him ready, and departed for the Court of King Arthur, and told them how he had left Sir Lancelot. And there was on All Hallows a great tournament, and Sir Bors won the prize for the unhorsing of twenty Knights, and Sir Gareth did great deeds also, but vanished suddenly from the field, and no man knew where he had gone. After the tourney was over, Sir Bors rode to the hermitage to see Sir Lancelot, whom he found walking on his feet, and on the next morning they bade farewell to the hermit, taking with them Elaine le Blanc. They went first to Astolat, where they were well lodged in the house of Sir Bernard, but when the morrow came, and Sir Lancelot would have departed from them, Elaine called to her father and to her brothers Sir Tirre and Sir Lavaine, and thus she said:
'My lord Sir Lancelot, fair Knight, leave me not, I pray you, but have mercy upon me, and suffer me not to die of love of thee.'
'What do you wish me to do?' asked Sir Lancelot.
'I would have you for my husband,' answered she.
'Fair damsel, I thank you,' said Sir Lancelot, 'but truly I shall never have a wife. But in token and thanks of all your good will towards me, gladly will I give a thousand pounds yearly when you set your heart upon some other Knight.'
'Of such gifts I will have none,' answered Elaine, 'and I would have you know, Sir Lancelot, that if you refuse to wed me, my good days are done.'
'Fair damsel,' said Sir Lancelot, 'I cannot do the thing that you ask.'
At these words she fell down in a swoon, and her maids bore her to her chamber, where she made bitter sorrow. Sir Lancelot thought it would be well for him to depart before she came to her senses again, and he asked Sir Lavaine what he would do.
'What should I do?' asked Sir Lavaine, 'but follow you if you will have me.' Then Sir Bernard came and said to Sir Lancelot, 'I see well that my daughter Elaine will die for your sake.'
'I cannot marry her,' answered Sir Lancelot, 'and it grieves me sorely, for she is a good maiden, fair and gentle.'
'Father,' said Sir Lavaine, 'she is as pure and good as Sir Lancelot has said, and she is like me, for since first I saw him I can never leave him.' And after that they bade the old man farewell and came unto Winchester, where the King and all the Knights of the Round Table made great joy of him, save only Sir Agrawaine and Sir Mordred. But the Queen was angry and would not speak to him, though he tried by all means to make her. Now when the Fair Maid of Astolat knew he was gone, she would neither eat nor sleep, but cried after Sir Lancelot all the day long. And when she had spent ten days in this manner, she grew so weak that they thought her soul must quit this world, and the priest came to her, and bade her dwell no more on earthly things. She would not listen to him, but cried ever after Sir Lancelot, and how she had loved none other, no, nor ever would, and that her love would be her death. Then she called her father Sir Bernard, and her brother Sir Tirre, and begged her brother to write her a letter as she should tell him, and her father that he would have her watched till she was dead. 'And while my body is warm,' said she, 'let this letter be put in my right hand, and my hand bound fast with the letter until I be cold, and let me be dressed in my richest clothes and be lain on a fair bed, and driven in a chariot to the Thames. There let me be put on a barge, and a dumb man with me, to steer the barge, which shall be covered over with black samite. Thus, father, I beseech you, let it be done.' And her father promised her faithfully that so it should be done to her when she was dead. Next day she died, and her body was lain on the bed, and placed in a chariot, and driven to the Thames, where the man awaited her with the barge. When she was put on board, he steered the barge to Westminster and rowed a great while to and fro, before any espied it. At last King Arthur and Queen Guenevere withdrew into a window to speak together, and espied the black barge and wondered greatly what it meant. The King summoned Sir Kay, and bade him take Sir Brandiles and Sir Agrawaine, and find out who was lying there, and they ran down to the river side, and came and told the King. 'That fair corpse will I see,' returned the King, and he took the Queen's hand and led her thither. Then he ordered the barge to be made fast, and he entered it, and the Queen likewise, and certain Knights with them. And there he saw a fair woman on a rich bed, and her clothing was of cloth of gold, and she lay smiling. While they looked, all being silent, the Queen spied a letter in her right hand, and pointed it out to the King, who took it saying, 'Now I am sure this letter will tell us what she was, and why she came hither.' So leaving the barge in charge of a trusty man, they went into the King's chamber, followed by many Knights, for the King would have the letter read openly. He then broke the seal himself, and bade a clerk read it, and this was what it said:
'Most noble Knight Sir Lancelot, I was your lover, whom men called the Fair Maid of Astolat: therefore unto all ladies I make my moan; yet pray for my soul, and bury me. This is my last request. Pray for my soul, Sir Lancelot, as thou art peerless.'
This was all the letter, and the King and Queen and all the Knights wept when they heard it.
'Let Sir Lancelot be sent for,' presently said the King, and when Sir Lancelot came the letter was read to him also.
'My lord Arthur,' said he, after he had heard it all, 'I am right grieved at the death of this damsel. God knows I was not, of my own will, guilty of her death, and that I will call on her brother, Sir Lavaine, to witness. She was both fair and good, and much was I beholden to her, but she loved me out of measure.'
'You might have been a little gentle with her,' answered the Queen, 'and have found some way to save her life.'
'Madam,' said Sir Lancelot, 'she would have nothing but my love, and that I could not give her, though I offered her a thousand pounds yearly if she should set her heart on any other Knight. For, Madam, I love not to be forced to love; love must arise of itself, and not by command.'
'That is truth,' replied the King, 'love is free in himself, and never will be bounden; for where he is bounden he looseth himself. But, Sir Lancelot, be it your care to see that the damsel is buried as is fitting.'
LANCELOT AND GUENEVERE
Now we come to the sorrowful tale of Lancelot and Guenevere, and of the death of King Arthur. Already it has been told that King Arthur had wedded Guenevere, the daughter of Leodegrance, King of Cornwall, a damsel who seemed made of all the flowers, so fair was she, and slender, and brilliant to look upon. And the Knights in her father's Court bowed down before her, and smote their hardest in the jousts where Guenevere was present, but none dared ask her in marriage till Arthur came. Like the rest he saw and loved her, but, unlike them, he was a King, and might lift his eyes even unto Guenevere. The maiden herself scarcely saw or spoke to him, but did her father's bidding in all things, and when he desired her to make everything ready to go clothed as beseemed a Princess to King Arthur's Court, her heart beat with joy at the sight of rich stuffs and shining jewels. Then one day there rode up to the Castle a band of horsemen sent by the King to bring her to his Court, and at the head of them Sir Lancelot du Lake, friend of King Arthur, and winner of all the jousts and tournaments where Knights meet to gain honour. Day by day they rode together apart and he told her tales of gallant deeds done for love of beautiful ladies, and they passed under trees gay with the first green of spring, and over hyacinths covering the earth with sheets of blue, till at sunset they drew rein before the silken pavilion, with the banner of Uther Pendragon floating on the top. And Guenevere's heart went out to Lancelot before she knew. One evening she noted, far across the plain, towers and buildings shining in the sun, and an array of horsemen ride forth to meet her. One stopped before her dazzled eyes, and leaping from his horse bowed low. Arthur had come to welcome her, and do her honour, and to lead her home. But looking up at him, she thought him cold, and, timid and alone, her thoughts turned again to Lancelot. After that the days and years slipped by, and these two were ever nearest the King, and in every time of danger the King cried for Lancelot, and trusted his honour and the Queen's to him. Sir Lancelot spoke truly when he told Elaine that he had never worn the badge of lady or maiden, but for all that every one looked on Sir Lancelot as the Queen's Knight, who could do no worship to any other woman. The King likewise held Sir Lancelot bound to fight the Queen's battles, and if he was absent on adventures of his own, messengers hastened to bring him back, as in the fight with Sir Mador. So things went on for many years, and the King never guessed that the Queen loved Lancelot best.
It befell one spring, in the month of May, that Queen Guenevere bethought herself that she would like to go a-maying in the woods and fields that lay round the City of Westminster on both sides of the river. To this intent she called her own especial Knights, and bade them be ready the next morning clothed all in green, whether of silk or cloth, 'and,' said she, 'I shall bring with me ten ladies, and every Knight shall have a lady behind him, and be followed by a Squire and two yeomen, and I will that you shall all be well horsed.' Thus it was done, and the ten Knights, arrayed in fresh green, the emblem of the spring, rode with the Queen and her ladies in the early dawn, and smelt the sweet of the year, and gathered flowers which they stuck in their girdles and doublets. The Queen was as happy and light of heart as the youngest maiden, but she had promised to be with the King at the hour of ten, and gave the signal for departure unwillingly. The Knights were mounting their horses, when suddenly out of a wood on the other side rode Sir Meliagraunce, who for many years had loved the Queen, and had sought an occasion to carry her off, but found none so fair as this. Out of the forest he rode, with two score men in armour, and a hundred archers behind him, and bade the Queen and her followers stay where they were, or they would fare badly. 'Traitor,' cried the Queen, 'what evil deed would you do? You are a King's son and a Knight of the Round Table, yet you seek to shame the man who gave you knighthood. But I tell you that you may bring dishonour on yourself, but you will bring none on me, for rather would I cut my throat in twain.'