'As for your threats, Madam, I pay them no heed,' returned Sir Meliagraunce; 'I have loved you many a year, and never could I get you at such an advantage as I do now, and therefore I will take you as I find you.' Then all the Knights spoke together saying, 'Sir Meliagraunce, bethink yourself that in attacking men who are unarmed you put not only our lives in peril but your own honour. Rather than allow the Queen to be shamed we will each one fight to the death, and if we did aught else we should dishonour our knighthood for ever.'
'Fight as well as you can,' answered Sir Meliagraunce, 'and keep the Queen if you may.' So the Knights of the Round Table drew their swords, and the men of Sir Meliagraunce ran at them with spears; but the Knights stood fast, and clove the spears in two before they touched them. Then both sides fought with swords, and Sir Kay and five other Knights were felled to the ground with wounds all over their bodies. The other four fought long, and slew forty of the men and archers of Sir Meliagraunce; but in the end they too were overcome. When the Queen saw that she cried out for pity and sorrow, 'Sir Meliagraunce, spare my noble Knights and I will go with you quietly on this condition, that their lives be saved, and that wherever you may carry me they shall follow. For I give you warning that I would rather slay myself than go with you without my Knights, whose duty it is to guard me.'
'Madam,' replied Sir Meliagraunce, 'for your sake they shall be led with you into my own castle, if you will consent to ride with me.' So the Queen prayed the four Knights to fight no more, and she and they would not part, and to this, though their hearts were heavy, they agreed.
The fight being ended the wounded Knights were placed on horseback, some sitting, some lying across the saddle, according as they were hurt, and Sir Meliagraunce forbade anyone to leave the castle (which had been a gift to him from King Arthur), for sore he dreaded the vengeance of Sir Lancelot if this thing should reach his ears. But the Queen knew well what was passing in his mind, and she called a little page who served her in her chamber and desired him to take her ring and hasten with all speed to Sir Lancelot, 'and pray him, if he loves me, to rescue me. Spare not your horse, neither for water nor for land.' And the boy bided his time, then mounted his horse, and rode away as fast as he might. Sir Meliagraunce spied him as he flew, and knew whither he went, and who had sent him; and he commanded his best archers to ride after him and shoot him ere he reached Sir Lancelot. But the boy escaped their arrows, and vanished from their sight. Then Sir Meliagraunce said to the Queen, 'You seek to betray me, Madam; but Sir Lancelot shall not so lightly come at you.' And he bade his men follow him to the castle in haste, and left an ambush of thirty archers in the road, charging them that if a Knight mounted on a white horse came along that way they were to slay the horse but to leave the man alone, as he was hard to overcome. After Sir Meliagraunce had given these orders his company galloped fast to the castle; but the Queen would listen to nothing that he said, demanding always that her Knights and ladies should be lodged with her, and Sir Meliagraunce was forced to let her have her will.
The castle of Sir Meliagraunce was distant seven miles from Westminster, so it did not take long for the boy to find Sir Lancelot, and to give him the Queen's ring and her message. 'I am shamed for ever,' said Sir Lancelot, 'unless I can rescue that noble lady,' and while he put on his armour, he called to the boy to tell him the whole adventure. When he was armed and mounted, he begged the page to warn Sir Lavaine where he had gone, and for what cause. 'And pray him, as he loves me, that he follow me to the castle of Sir Meliagraunce, for if I am a living man, he will find me there.'
Sir Lancelot put his horse into the water at Westminster, and he swam straight over to Lambeth, and soon after he landed he found traces of the fight. He rode along the track till he came to the wood, where the archers were lying waiting for him, and when they saw him, they bade him on peril of his life to go no further along that path.
'Why should I, who am a Knight of the Round Table, turn out of any path that pleases me?' asked Sir Lancelot.
'Either you will leave this path or your horse will be slain,' answered the archers.
'You may slay my horse if you will,' said Sir Lancelot, 'but when my horse is slain I shall fight you on foot, and so would I do, if there were five hundred more of you.' With that they smote the horse with their arrows, but Sir Lancelot jumped off, and ran into the wood, and they could not catch him. He went on some way, but the ground was rough, and his armour was heavy, and sore he dreaded the treason of Sir Meliagraunce. His heart was near to fail him, when there passed by a cart with two carters that came to fetch wood. 'Tell me, carter,' asked Sir Lancelot, 'what will you take to suffer me to go in your cart till we are within two miles of the castle of Sir Meliagraunce?'
'I cannot take you at all,' answered the carter, 'for I am come to fetch wood for my lord Sir Meliagraunce.'
'It is with him that I would speak.'
'You shall not go with me,' said the carter, but hardly had he uttered the words when Sir Lancelot leapt up into the cart, and gave him such a buffet that he fell dead on the ground. At this sight the other carter cried that he would take the Knight where he would if he would only spare his life. 'Then I charge you,' said Sir Lancelot, 'that you bring me to the castle gate.' So the carter drove at a great gallop, and Sir Lancelot's horse, who had espied his master, followed the cart, though more than fifty arrows were standing in his body. In an hour and a half they reached the castle gate, and were seen of Guenevere and her ladies, who were standing in a window. 'Look, Madam,' cried one of her ladies, 'in that cart yonder is a goodly armed Knight. I suppose he is going to his hanging.'
'Where?' asked the Queen, and as she spoke she espied that it was Sir Lancelot, and that his horse was following riderless. 'Well is he that has a trusty friend,' said she, 'for a noble Knight is hard pressed when he rides in a cart,' and she rebuked the lady who had declared he was going to his hanging. 'It was foul talking, to liken the noblest Knight in the world to one going to a shameful death.' By this Sir Lancelot had come to the gate of the castle, and he got down and called till the castle rang with his voice. 'Where is that false traitor Sir Meliagraunce, Knight of the Round Table? Come forth, you and your company, for I, Sir Lancelot du Lake, am here to do battle with you.' Then he burst the gate open wide, and smote the porter who tried to hold it against him. When Sir Meliagraunce heard Sir Lancelot's voice, he ran into Queen Guenevere's chamber, and fell on his knees before her: 'Mercy, Madam, mercy! I throw myself upon your grace.'
'What ails you now?' said she; 'of a truth I might well expect some good Knight to avenge me, though my lord Arthur knew not of your work.'
'Madam, I will make such amends as you yourself may desire,' pleaded Sir Meliagraunce, 'and I trust wholly to your grace.'
'What would you have me do?' asked the Queen.
'Rule in this castle as if it were your own, and give Sir Lancelot cheer till to-morrow, and then you shall all return to Westminster.'
'You say well,' answered the Queen. 'Peace is ever better than war, and I take no pleasure in fighting.' So she went down with her ladies to Sir Lancelot, who still stood full of rage in the inner court, calling as before, 'Traitor Knight, come forth!'
'Sir Lancelot,' asked the Queen, 'what is the cause of all this wrath?'
'Madam,' replied Sir Lancelot, 'does such a question come from you? Methinks your wrath should be greater than mine, for all the hurt and the dishonour have fallen upon you. My own hurt is but little, but the shame is worse than any hurt.'
'You say truly,' replied the Queen, 'but you must come in with me peaceably, as all is put into my hand, and the Knight repents bitterly of his adventure.'
'Madam,' said Sir Lancelot, 'since you have made agreement with him, it is not my part to say nay, although Sir Meliagraunce has borne himself both shamefully and cowardly towards me. But had I known you would have pardoned him so soon, I should not have made such haste to come to you.'
'Why do you say that?' asked the Queen; 'do you repent yourself of your good deeds? I only made peace with him to have done with all this noise of slanderous talk, and for the sake of my Knights.'
'Madam,' answered Sir Lancelot, 'you understand full well that I was never glad of slander nor noise, but there is neither King, Queen nor Knight alive, save yourself, Madam, and my lord Arthur, that should hinder me from giving Sir Meliagraunce a cold heart before I departed hence.'
'That I know well,' said the Queen, 'but what would you have more? Everything shall be ordered as you will.'
'Madam,' replied Sir Lancelot, 'as long as you are pleased, that is all I care for,' so the Queen led Sir Lancelot into her chamber, and commanded him to take off his armour, and then took him to where her ten Knights were lying sore wounded. And their souls leapt with joy when they saw him, and he told them how falsely Sir Meliagraunce had dealt with him, and had set archers to slay his horse, so that he was fain to place himself in a cart. Thus they complained each to the other, and would have avenged themselves on Sir Meliagraunce but for the peace made by the Queen. And in the evening came Sir Lavaine, riding in great haste, and Sir Lancelot was glad that he was come.
Now Sir Lancelot was right when he feared to trust Sir Meliagraunce, for that Knight only sought to work ill both to him and to the Queen, for all his fair words. And first he began to speak evil of the Queen to Sir Lancelot, who dared him to prove his foul words, and it was settled between them that a combat should take place in eight days in the field, near Westminster. 'And now,' said Sir Meliagraunce, 'since it is decided that we must fight together, I beseech you, as you are a noble Knight, do me no treason nor villainy in the meantime.'
'Any Knight will bear me witness,' answered Sir Lancelot, 'that never have I broken faith with any man, nor borne fellowship with those that have done so.' 'Then let us go to dinner,' said Sir Meliagraunce, 'and afterwards you may all ride to Westminster. Meanwhile would it please you to see the inside of this castle?' 'That I will gladly,' said Sir Lancelot, and they went from chamber to chamber, till they reached the floor of the castle, and as he went Sir Lancelot trod on a trap, and the board rolled, and he fell down in a cave which was filled with straw, and Sir Meliagraunce departed and no man knew where Sir Lancelot might be. The Queen bethought herself that he was wont to disappear suddenly, and as Sir Meliagraunce had first removed Sir Lavaine's horse from the place where it had been tethered, the Knights agreed with her. So time passed till dinner had been eaten, and then Sir Lavaine demanded litters for the wounded Knights, that they might be carried to Westminster with as little hurt as might be. And the Queen and her ladies followed. When they arrived, the Knights told of their adventure, and how Sir Meliagraunce had accused the Queen of treason, and how he and Sir Lancelot were to fight for her good name in eight days.
'Sir Meliagraunce has taken a great deal upon him,' said the King, 'but where is Sir Lancelot?'
'Sir,' answered they all, 'we know not, but we think he has ridden to some adventure.' 'Well, leave him alone,' said the King. 'He will be here when the day comes, unless some treason has befallen him.'
All this while Sir Lancelot was lying in great pain within the cave, and he would have died for lack of food had not one of the ladies in the castle found out the place where he was held captive, and brought him meat and drink, and hoped that he might be brought to love her. But he would not. 'Sir Lancelot,' said she, 'you are not wise, for without my help you will never get out of this prison, and if you do not appear on the day of battle, your lady, Queen Guenevere, will be burnt in default.' 'If I am not there,' replied Sir Lancelot, 'the King and the Queen and all men of worship will know that I am either dead or in prison. And sure I am that there is some good Knight who loves me or is of my kin, that will take my quarrel in hand, therefore you cannot frighten me by such words as these. If there was not another woman in the world, I could give you no different answer.' 'Then you will be shamed openly,' replied the lady, and left the dungeon. But on the day that the battle was to be fought she came again, and said, 'Sir Lancelot, if you will only kiss me once, I will deliver you, and give you the best horse in Sir Meliagraunce's stable.' 'Yes, I will kiss you,' answered Sir Lancelot, 'since I may do that honourably; but if I thought it were any shame to kiss you, I would not do it, whatever the cost.' So he kissed her, and she brought him his armour, and led him to a stable where twelve noble horses stood, and bade him choose the best. He chose a white courser, and bade the keepers put on the best saddle they had, and with his spear in his hand and his sword by his side, he rode away, thanking the lady for all she had done for him, which some day he would try to repay.
As the hours passed on and Sir Lancelot did not come, Sir Meliagraunce called ever on King Arthur to burn the Queen, or else bring forth Sir Lancelot, for he deemed full well that he had Sir Lancelot safe in his dungeon. The King and Queen were sore distressed that Sir Lancelot was missing, and knew not where to look for him, and what to do. Then stepped forth Sir Lavaine and said, 'My lord Arthur, you know well that some ill-fortune has happened to Sir Lancelot, and if he is not dead, he is either sick or in prison. Therefore I beseech you, let me do battle instead of my lord and master for my lady the Queen.'
'I thank you heartily, gentle Knight,' answered Arthur, 'for I am sure that Sir Meliagraunce accuses the Queen falsely, and there is not one of the ten Knights who would not fight for her were it not for his wounds. So do your best, for it is plain that some evil has been wrought on Sir Lancelot.' Sir Lavaine was filled with joy when the King gave him leave to do battle with Sir Meliagraunce, and rode swiftly to his place at the end of the lists. And just as the heralds were about to cry 'Lesses les aler!' Sir Lancelot dashed into the middle on his white horse. 'Hold and abide!' commanded the King, and Sir Lancelot rode up before him, and told before them all how Sir Meliagraunce had treated him. When the King and Queen and all the Lords heard Sir Lancelot's tale, their hearts stirred within them with anger, and the Queen took her seat by the King, in great trust of her champion. Sir Lancelot and Sir Meliagraunce prepared themselves for battle, and took their spears, and came together as thunder, and Sir Lancelot bore Sir Meliagraunce right over his horse. Then Sir Lancelot jumped down, and they fought on foot, till in the end Sir Meliagraunce was smitten to the ground by a blow on his head from his enemy. 'Most noble Knight, save my life,' cried he, 'for I yield myself unto you, and put myself into the King's hands and yours.' Sir Lancelot did not know what to answer, for he longed above anything in the world to have revenge upon him; so he looked at the Queen to see whether she would give him any sign of what she would have done. The Queen wagged her head in answer, and Sir Lancelot knew by that token that she would have him dead, and he understood, and bade Sir Meliagraunce get up, and continue the fight. 'Nay,' said Sir Meliagraunce, 'I will never rise till you accept my surrender.' 'Listen,' answered Sir Lancelot. 'I will leave my head and left side bare, and my left arm shall be bound behind me, and in this guise I will fight with you.' At this Sir Meliagraunce started to his feet, and cried, 'My lord Arthur, take heed to this offer, for I will take it, therefore let him be bound and unarmed as he has said.' So the Knights disarmed Sir Lancelot, first his head and then his side, and his left hand was bound behind his back, in such a manner that he could not use his shield, and full many a Knight and lady marvelled that Sir Lancelot would risk himself so. And Sir Meliagraunce lifted his sword on high and would have smitten Sir Lancelot on his bare head, had he not leapt lightly to one side, and, before Sir Meliagraunce could right himself, Sir Lancelot had struck him so hard upon his helmet that his skull split in two, and there was nothing left to do but to carry his dead body from the field. And because the Knights of the Round Table begged to have him honourably buried, the King agreed thereto, and on his tomb mention was made of how he came by his death, and who slew him. After this Sir Lancelot was more cherished by the King and Queen than ever he was before.
Among the many Knights at Arthur's Court who owned kings for their fathers were Sir Mordred and Sir Agrawaine, who had for brothers, Sir Gawaine, Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth. And their mother was Queen of Orkney, sister to King Arthur. Now Sir Agrawaine and Sir Mordred had evil natures, and loved both to invent slanders and to repeat them. And at this time they were full of envy of the noble deeds Sir Lancelot had done, and how men called him the bravest Knight of the Table Round, and said that he was the friend of the King, and the sworn defender of the Queen. So they cast about how they might ruin him, and found the way by putting jealous thoughts into the mind of Arthur.
As was told in the tale of the marriage of Arthur, Queen Guenevere's heart had gone out to Lancelot, on the journey to the Court, and ever she loved to have him with her. This was known well to Sir Mordred, who watched eagerly for a chance to work her ill.
It came one day when Arthur proclaimed a hunt, and Sir Mordred guessed that Sir Lancelot, who did not love hunting, would stay behind, and would spend the time holding talk with the Queen. Therefore he went to the King and began to speak evil of the Queen and Sir Lancelot. At first King Arthur would listen to nothing, but slowly his jealousy burned within him, and he let the ill words that accused the Queen of loving Sir Lancelot the best, sink into his mind, and told Sir Mordred and Sir Agrawaine that they might do their worst, and he would not meddle with them. But they let so many of their fellowship into the secret of their foul plot, that at last it came to the ears of Sir Bors, who begged Sir Lancelot not to go near the Queen that day, or harm would come of it. But Sir Lancelot answered that the Queen had sent for him, and that she was his liege lady, and never would he hold back when she summoned him to her presence. Therefore Sir Bors went heavily away. By ill fortune, Sir Lancelot only wore his sword under his great mantle, and scarcely had he passed inside the door when Sir Agrawaine and Sir Mordred, and twelve other Knights of the Table Round, all armed and ready for battle, cried loudly upon Sir Lancelot, that all the Court might hear.
'Madam,' said Sir Lancelot, 'is there any armour within your chamber that I might cover my body withal, for if I was armed as they are I would soon crush them?'
'Alas!' replied the Queen, 'I have neither sword nor spear nor armour, and how can you resist them? You will be slain and I shall be burnt. If you could only escape their hands, I know you would deliver me from danger.'
'It is grievous,' said Sir Lancelot, 'that I who was never conquered in all my life should be slain for lack of armour.'
'Traitor Knight,' cried Sir Mordred again, 'come out and fight us, for you are so sore beset that you cannot escape us.'
'Oh, mercy,' cried Sir Lancelot, 'I may not suffer longer this shame and noise! For better were death at once than to endure this pain.' Then he took the Queen in his arms and kissed her, and said, 'Most noble Christian Queen, I beseech you, as you have ever been my special good lady, and I at all times your true poor Knight, and as I never failed you in right or in wrong, since the first day that King Arthur made me Knight, that you will pray for my soul, if I be here slain. For I am well assured that Sir Bors, my nephew, and Sir Lavaine and many more, will rescue you from the fire, and therefore, mine own lady, comfort yourself whatever happens to me, and go with Sir Bors, my nephew, and you shall live like a Queen on my lands.'
'Nay, Lancelot,' said the Queen, 'I will never live after your days, but if you are slain I will take my death as meekly as ever did any Christian Queen.'
'Well, Madam,' answered Lancelot, 'since it is so I shall sell my life as dear as I may, and a thousandfold I am more heavy for you than for myself.'
Therewith Sir Lancelot wrapped his mantle thickly round his arm, and stood beside the door, which the Knights without were trying to break in by aid of a stout wooden form.
'Fair Lords,' said Sir Lancelot, 'leave this noise, and I will open the door, and you may do with me what you will.'
'Open it then,' answered they, 'for well you know you cannot escape us, and we will save your life and bring you before King Arthur.' So Sir Lancelot opened the door and held it with his left hand, so that but one man could come in at once. Then came forward a strong Knight, Sir Colgrevance of Gore, who struck fiercely at Lancelot with his sword. But Sir Lancelot stepped on one side, that the blow fell harmless, and with his arm he gave Sir Colgrevance a buffet on the head so that he fell dead. And Sir Lancelot drew him into the chamber, and barred the door.
Hastily he unbuckled the dead Knight's armour, and the Queen and her ladies put it on him, Sir Agrawaine and Sir Mordred ever calling to him the while, 'Traitor Knight, come out of that chamber!' But Sir Lancelot cried to them all to go away and he would appear next morning before the King, and they should accuse him of what they would, and he would answer them, and prove his words in battle. 'Fie on you, traitor,' said Sir Agrawaine, 'we have you in our power, to save or to slay, for King Arthur will listen to our words, and will believe what we tell him.'
'As you like,' answered Sir Lancelot, 'look to yourself,' and he flung open the chamber door, and strode in amongst them and killed Sir Agrawaine with his first blow, and in a few minutes the bodies of the other twelve Knights lay on the ground beside his, for no man ever withstood that buffet of Sir Lancelot's. He wounded Sir Mordred also, so that he fled away with all his might. When the clamour of the battle was still, Sir Lancelot turned back to the Queen and said, 'Alas, Madam, they will make King Arthur my foe, and yours also, but if you will come with me to my castle, I will save you from all dangers.'
'I will not go with you now,' answered the Queen, 'but if you see to-morrow that they will burn me to death, then you may deliver me as you shall think best.'
'While I live I will deliver you,' said Sir Lancelot, and he left her and went back to his lodging. When Sir Bors, who was awaiting him, saw Sir Lancelot, he was gladder than he ever had been in his whole life before. 'Mercy!' cried Sir Lancelot, 'why you are all armed!'
'Sir,' answered Sir Bors, 'after you had left us I and your friends and your kinsmen were so troubled that we felt some great strife was at hand, and that perchance some trap had been laid for you. So we put on armour that we might help you whatever need you were in.' 'Fair nephew,' said Lancelot, 'but now I have been more hardly beset than ever I was in my life, and yet I escaped,' and he told them all that had happened. 'I pray you, my fellows, that you will be of good courage and stand by me in my need, for war is come to us all.'
'Sir,' answered Sir Bors, 'all is welcome that God sends us, and we have had much good with you and much fame, so now we will take the bad as we have taken the good.' And so said they all.
'I thank you for your comfort in my great distress,' replied Sir Lancelot, 'and you, fair nephew, haste to the Knights which be in this place, and find who is with me and who is against me, for I would know my friends from my foes.'
'Sir,' said Sir Bors, 'before seven of the clock in the morning you shall know.'
By seven o'clock, as Sir Bors had promised, many noble Knights stood before Sir Lancelot, and were sworn to his cause. 'My lords,' said he, 'you know well that since I came into this country I have given faithful service unto my lord King Arthur and unto my lady Queen Guenevere. Last evening my lady, the Queen, sent for me to speak to her, and certain Knights that were lying in wait for me cried "Treason," and much ado I had to escape their blows. But I slew twelve of them, and Sir Agrawaine, who is Sir Gawaine's brother; and for this cause I am sure of mortal war, as these Knights were ordered by King Arthur to betray me, and therefore the Queen will be judged to the fire, and I may not suffer that she should be burnt for my sake.'
And Sir Bors answered Sir Lancelot that it was truly his part to rescue the Queen, as he had done so often before, and that if she was burned the shame would be his. Then they all took counsel together how the thing might best be done, and Sir Bors deemed it wise to carry her off to the Castle of Joyous Gard, and counselled that she should be kept there, a prisoner, till the King's anger was past and he would be willing to welcome her back again. To this the other Knights agreed, and by the advice of Sir Lancelot they hid themselves in a wood close by the town till they saw what King Arthur would do. Meanwhile Sir Mordred, who had managed to escape the sword of Sir Lancelot, rode, wounded and bleeding, unto King Arthur, and told the King all that had passed, and how, of the fourteen Knights, he only was left alive. The King grieved sore at his tale, which Sir Mordred had made to sound as ill as was possible; for, in spite of all, Arthur loved Sir Lancelot. 'It is a bitter blow,' he said, 'that Sir Lancelot must be against me, and the fellowship of the Table Round is broken for ever, as many a noble Knight will go with him. And as I am the judge, the Queen will have to die, as she is the cause of the death of these thirteen Knights.'
'My lord Arthur,' said Sir Gawaine, 'be not over-hasty; listen not to the foul tongue of Sir Mordred, who laid this trap for Sir Lancelot, that we all know to be the Queen's own Knight, who has done battle for her when none else would. As for Sir Lancelot, he will prove the right on the body of any Knight living that shall accuse him of wrong—either him, or my lady Guenevere.'
'That I believe well,' said King Arthur, 'for he trusts so much in his own might that he fears no man; and never more shall he fight for the Queen, for she must suffer death by the law. Put on, therefore, your best armour, and go with your brothers, Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth, and bring the Queen to the fire, there to have her judgment and suffer her death.'
'Nay, my lord, that I will never do,' cried Sir Gawaine; 'my heart will never serve me to see her die, and I will never stand by and see so noble a lady brought to a shameful end.'
'Then,' said the King, 'let your brothers Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth be there.'
'My lord,' replied Sir Gawaine, 'I know well how loth they will be, but they are young and unable to say you nay.'
At this Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth spoke to King Arthur: 'Sir, if you command us we will obey, but it will be sore against our will. And if we go we shall be dressed as men of peace, and wear no armour.'
'Make yourselves ready, then,' answered the King, 'for I would delay no longer in giving judgment.'
'Alas!' cried Sir Gawaine, 'that I should have lived to see this day'; and he turned and wept bitterly, and went into his chamber.
So the Queen was led outside the gates, and her rich dress was taken off, while her lords and ladies wrung their hands in grief, and few men wore armour, for in that day it was held that the presence of mail-clad Knights made death more shameful. Now among those present was one sent by Sir Lancelot, and when he saw the Queen's dress unclasped, and the priest step forth to listen to her confession, he rode to warn Sir Lancelot that the hour had come. And suddenly there was heard a sound as of rushing horses, and Sir Lancelot dashed up to the fire, and all the Knights that stood around were slain, for few men wore armour. Sir Lancelot looked not where he struck, and Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth were found in the thickest of the throng. At last he reached the Queen, and, throwing a mantle over her, he caught her on to his saddle and rode away with her. Right thankful was the Queen at being snatched from the fire, and her heart was grateful to Sir Lancelot, who took her to his Castle of Joyous Gard, and many noble Knights and Kings had fellowship with them.
After King Arthur had given judgment for the Queen to die he went back into his Palace of Westminster, where men came and told him how Sir Lancelot had delivered her, and of the death of his Knights, and in especial of Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth, and he swooned away from sorrow. 'Alas!' he cried, when he recovered from his swoon, 'alas! that a crown was ever on my head, for in these two days I have lost forty Knights and the fellowship of Sir Lancelot and his kinsmen, and never more will they be of my company. But I charge you that none tell Sir Gawaine of the death of his brothers, for I am sure that when he hears of Sir Gareth he will go out of his mind. Oh, why did Sir Lancelot slay them? for Sir Gareth loved Sir Lancelot more than any other man.'
'That is true,' answered some of the Knights, 'but Sir Lancelot saw not whom he smote, and therefore were they slain.'
'The death of those two,' said Arthur, 'will cause the greatest mortal war that ever was. I am sure that when Sir Gawaine knows Sir Gareth is slain he will never suffer me to rest till I have destroyed Sir Lancelot and all his kin, or till they have destroyed me. My heart was never so heavy as it is now, and far more grievous to me is the loss of my good Knights than of my Queen; for Queens I might have in plenty, but no man had ever such a company of Knights, and it hurts me sore that Sir Lancelot and I should be at war. It is the ill will borne by Sir Agrawaine and Sir Mordred to Sir Lancelot that has caused all this sorrow.' Then one came to Sir Gawaine and told him that Sir Lancelot had borne off the Queen, and that twenty-four Knights had been slain in the combat. 'I knew well he would deliver her,' said Sir Gawaine, 'and in that, he has but acted as a Knight should and as I would have done myself. But where are my brethren? I marvel they have not been to seek me.'
'Truly,' said the man, 'Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth are slain.'
'Heaven forbid any such thing,' returned Sir Gawaine. 'I would not for all the world that that had happened, especially to my brother Sir Gareth.'
'He is slain,' said the man, 'and it is grievous news.'
'Who slew him?' asked Sir Gawaine.
'Sir Lancelot slew them both,' answered the man.
'He cannot have slain Sir Gareth,' replied Sir Gawaine, 'for my brother Gareth loved him better than me and all his brethren, and King Arthur too. And had Sir Lancelot desired my brother to go with him, he would have turned his back on us all. Therefore I can never believe that Sir Lancelot slew my brother.'
'Sir, it is in everyone's mouth,' said the man. At this Sir Gawaine fell back in a swoon and lay long as if he were dead. Then he ran to the King, crying, 'O King Arthur, mine uncle, my good brother Sir Gareth is slain, and Sir Gaheris also,' and the King wept with him. At length Sir Gawaine said, 'Sir, I will go and see my brother Sir Gareth.'
'You cannot do that,' returned the King, 'for I have caused him to be buried with Sir Gaheris, as I knew well that the sight would cause you overmuch sorrow.'
'How came he, Sir Lancelot, to slay Sir Gareth?' asked Sir Gawaine; 'mine own good lord, I pray you tell me, for neither Sir Gareth nor Sir Gaheris bore arms against him.'
'It is said,' answered the King, 'that Sir Lancelot slew them in the thickest of the press and knew them not. Therefore let us think upon a plan to avenge their deaths.'
'My King, my lord and mine uncle,' said Sir Gawaine, 'I swear to you by my knighthood that from this day I will never rest until Sir Lancelot or I be slain. And I will go to the world's end till I find him.'
'You need not seek him so far,' answered the King, 'for I am told that Sir Lancelot will await me and you in the Castle of Joyous Gard, and many people are flocking to him. But call your friends together, and I will call mine,' and the King ordered letters to be sent throughout all England summoning his Knights and vassals to the siege of Joyous Gard. The Castle of Joyous Gard was strong, and after fifteen weeks had passed no breach had been made in its walls. And one day, at the time of harvest, Sir Lancelot came forth on a truce, and the King and Sir Gawaine challenged him to do battle.
'Nay,' answered Sir Lancelot, 'with yourself I will never strive, and I grieve sorely that I have slain your Knights. But I was forced to it, for the saving of my life and that of my lady the Queen. And except yourself, my lord, and Sir Gawaine, there is no man that shall call me traitor but he shall pay for it with his body. As to Queen Guenevere, oft times, my lord, you have consented in the heat of your passion that she should be burnt and destroyed, and it fell to me to do battle for her, and her enemies confessed their untruth, and acknowledged her innocent. And at such times, my lord Arthur, you loved me and thanked me when I saved your Queen from the fire, and promised ever to be my good lord, for I have fought for her many times in other quarrels than my own. Therefore, my gracious lord, take your Queen back into your grace again.'
To these words of Sir Lancelot's, King Arthur answered nothing, but in his heart he would fain have made peace with Sir Lancelot, but Sir Gawaine would not let him. He reproached Sir Lancelot bitterly for the deaths of his brothers and kinsmen, and called Sir Lancelot a craven and other ill names that he would not fight with King Arthur. So at the last Sir Lancelot's patience and courtesy failed him, and he told them that the next morning he would give them battle.
The heart of Sir Gawaine leaped with joy when he heard these words of Sir Lancelot, and he summoned all his friends and his kinsfolk, and bade them watch well Sir Lancelot, and to slay him if a chance offered. But he knew not that Sir Lancelot had bidden the Knights of his following in no wise to touch King Arthur or Sir Gawaine. And when the dawn broke a great host marched out of the Castle of Joyous Gard, with Sir Lancelot at the head, and Sir Bors and Sir Lionel commanding on either side. All that day they fought, and sometimes one army seemed to be gaining, and sometimes the other. Many times King Arthur drew near Sir Lancelot, and would have slain him, and Sir Lancelot suffered him, and would not strike again. But the King was unhorsed by Sir Bors, and would have been slain but for Sir Lancelot, who stayed his hand. 'My lord Arthur,' he said, 'for God's love stop this strife. I cannot strike you, so you will gain no fame by it, though your friends never cease from trying to slay me. My lord, remember what I have done in many places and how evil is now my reward.' Then when King Arthur was on his horse again he looked on Sir Lancelot, and tears burst from his eyes, thinking of the great courtesy that was in Sir Lancelot more than in any other man. He sighed to himself, saying softly, 'Alas! that ever this war began,' and rode away, while the battle ended for that time and the dead were buried.
But Sir Gawaine would not suffer the King to make peace, and they fought on, now in one place, and now in another, till the Pope heard of the strife and sent a noble clerk, the Bishop of Rochester, to charge the King to make peace with Sir Lancelot, and to take back unto him his Queen, the Lady Guenevere. Now the King, as has been said, would fain have followed the Pope's counsel and have accorded with Sir Lancelot, but Sir Gawaine would not suffer him. However, as to the Queen Sir Gawaine said nothing; and King Arthur gave audience to the Bishop, and swore on his great seal that he would take back the Queen as the Pope desired, and that if Sir Lancelot brought her he should come safe and go safe. So the Bishop rode to Joyous Gard and showed Sir Lancelot what the Pope had written and King Arthur had answered, and told him of the perils which would befall him if he withheld the Queen. 'It was never in my thought,' answered Sir Lancelot, 'to withhold the Queen from King Arthur, but as she would have been dead for my sake it was my part to save her life, and to keep her from danger till better times came. And I thank God that the Pope has made peace, and I shall be a thousand times gladder to bring her back than I was to take her away. Therefore ride to the King, and say that in eight days I myself will bring the Lady Guenevere unto him.' So the Bishop departed, and came to the King at Carlisle, and told him what Sir Lancelot had answered, and tears burst from the King's eyes once more.
A goodly host of a hundred Knights rode eight days later from the Castle of Joyous Gard; every Knight was clothed in green velvet, and held in his hand a branch of olive, and bestrode a horse with trappings down to his heels. And behind the Queen were four and twenty gentlewomen clad in green likewise, while twelve esquires attended on Sir Lancelot. He and the Queen wore dresses of white and gold tissue, and their horses were clothed in housings of the same, set with precious stones and pearls; and no man had ever gazed on such a noble pair, as they rode from Joyous Gard to Carlisle. When they reached the castle, Sir Lancelot sprang from his horse and helped the Queen from hers, and led her to where King Arthur sat, with Sir Gawaine and many lords around him. He kneeled down, and the Queen kneeled with him, and many Knights wept as though it had been their own kin. But Arthur sat still and said nothing. At that Sir Lancelot rose, and the Queen likewise, and, looking straight at the King, he spoke:
'Most noble King, I have brought to you my lady the Queen, as right requires; and time hath been, my lord Arthur, that you have been greatly pleased with me when I did battle for my lady your Queen. And full well you know that she has been put to great wrong ere this, and it seems to me I had more cause to deliver her from this fire, seeing she would have been burnt for my sake.'
'Well, well, Sir Lancelot,' said the King, 'I have given you no cause to do to me as you have done, for I have held you dearer than any of my Knights.' But Sir Gawaine would not suffer the King to listen to anything Sir Lancelot said, and told him roughly that while one of them lived peace could never be made, and desired on behalf of the King that in fifteen days he should be gone out of the country. And still King Arthur said nothing, but suffered Sir Gawaine to talk as he would; and Sir Lancelot took farewell of him and of the Queen, and rode, grieving sorely, out of the Court, and sailed to his lands beyond the sea.
Though the Queen was returned again, and Sir Lancelot was beyond the sea, the hate of Sir Gawaine towards him was in no way set at rest, but he raised a great host and persuaded the King to follow him. And after many sieges and long fighting Sir Gawaine did battle with Sir Lancelot once more, and was worsted, and Sir Lancelot might have slain him, but would not. While he lay wounded tidings came to King Arthur from England that caused the King to give up his war with Sir Lancelot and return in all haste to his own country.
THE END OF IT ALL
Now when King Arthur left England to fight with Sir Lancelot he ordered his nephew Sir Mordred to govern the land, which that false Knight did gladly. And as soon as he thought he might safely do so he caused some letters to be written saying that King Arthur had been slain in battle, and he had himself crowned King at Canterbury, where he made a great feast which lasted fifteen days. After it was over, he went to Winchester and summoned Queen Guenevere, and told her that on a certain day he would wed her and that she should make herself ready. Queen Guenevere's soul grew cold and heavy as she heard these words of Sir Mordred's, for she hated him with all her might, as he hated her; but she dared show nothing, and answered softly that she would do his bidding, only she desired that first she might go to London to buy all manner of things for her wedding. Sir Mordred trusted her because of her fair speech, and let her go. Then the Queen rode to London with all speed, and went straight to the Tower, which she filled in haste with food, and called her men-at-arms round her. When Sir Mordred knew how she had beguiled him he was wroth out of measure, and besieged the Tower, and assaulted it many times with battering rams and great engines, but could prevail nothing, for the Queen would never, for fair speech nor for foul, give herself into his hands again.
The Bishop of Canterbury hastened unto Sir Mordred, and rebuked him for wishing to marry his uncle's wife. 'Leave such desires,' said the Bishop, 'or else I shall curse you with bell, book, and candle. Also, you noise abroad that my lord Arthur is slain, and that is not so, and therefore you will make ill work in the land.' At this Sir Mordred waxed very wroth, and would have killed the Bishop had he not fled to Glastonbury, where he became a hermit, and lived in poverty and prayed all day long for the realm, for he knew that a fierce war was at hand. Soon word came to Sir Mordred that King Arthur was hurrying home across the seas, to be avenged on his nephew, who had proved traitor. Wherefore Sir Mordred sent letters to all the people throughout the kingdom, and many followed after him, for he had cunningly sown among them that with him was great joy and softness of life, while King Arthur would bring war and strife with him. So Sir Mordred drew with a great host to Dover, and waited for the King. Before King Arthur and his men could land from the boats and ships that had brought them over the sea Sir Mordred set upon them, and there was heavy slaughter. But in the end he and his men were driven back, and he fled, and his people with him. After the fight was over the King ordered the dead to be buried; and there came a man and told him that he had found Sir Gawaine lying in a boat, and that he was sore wounded. And the King went to him and made moan over him: 'You were ever the man in the world that I loved most,' said he, 'you and Sir Lancelot.' 'Mine uncle King Arthur,' answered Sir Gawaine, 'my death day has come, and all through my own fault. Had Sir Lancelot been with you as he used to be this unhappy war had never begun, and of that I am the cause, for I would not accord with him. And therefore, I pray you, give me paper, pen, and ink that I may write to him.' So paper and ink were brought, and Sir Gawaine was held up by King Arthur, and a letter was writ wherein Sir Gawaine confessed that he was dying of an old wound given him by Sir Lancelot in the siege of one of the cities across the sea, and thus was fulfilled the prophecy of Merlin. 'Of a more noble man might I not be slain,' said he. 'Also, Sir Lancelot, make no tarrying, but come in haste to King Arthur, for sore bested is he with my brother Sir Mordred, who has taken the crown, and would have wedded my lady Queen Guenevere had she not sought safety in the Tower of London. Pray for my soul, I beseech you, and visit my tomb.' And after writing this letter, at the hour of noon, Sir Gawaine gave up his spirit, and was buried by the King in the chapel within Dover Castle. Then was it told King Arthur that Sir Mordred had pitched a new field upon Barham Down, and the next morning the King rode hither to him, and there was a fierce battle between them, and many on both sides were slain. But at the last King Arthur's party stood best, and Sir Mordred and his men fled to Canterbury.
After the Knights which were dead had been buried, and those that were wounded tended with healing salves, King Arthur drew westwards towards Salisbury, and many of Sir Mordred's men followed after him, but they that loved Sir Lancelot went unto Sir Mordred. And a day was fixed between the King and Sir Mordred that they should meet upon a down near Salisbury, and give battle once more. But the night before the battle Sir Gawaine appeared unto the King in a vision, and warned him not to fight next day, which was Trinity Sunday, as he would be slain and many of his Knights also; but to make a truce for a month, and at the end of that time Sir Lancelot would arrive, and would slay Sir Mordred, and all his Knights with him. As soon as he awoke the King called the Bishops and the wisest men of his army, and told them of his vision, and took counsel what should be done. And it was agreed that the King should send an embassage of two Knights and two Bishops unto Sir Mordred, and offer him as much goods and lands as they thought best if he would engage to make a treaty for a month with King Arthur.
So they departed, and came to Sir Mordred, where he had a grim host of an hundred thousand men. For a long time he would not suffer himself to be entreated, but at the last he agreed to have Cornwall and Kent in King Arthur's days, and after all England. Furthermore, it was decided that King Arthur and Sir Mordred should meet in the plain between their hosts, each with fourteen persons. 'I am glad of this,' said King Arthur, when he heard what had been done; but he warned his men that if they were to see a sword drawn they were to come-on swiftly and slay that traitor, Sir Mordred, 'for I in no wise trust him.' And in like wise spake Sir Mordred unto his host. Then they two met, and agreed on the truce, and wine was fetched and they drank, and all was well. But while they were drinking an adder crept out of a bush, and stung one of the fourteen Knights on his foot, and he drew his sword to slay the adder, not thinking of anything but his pain. And when the men of both armies beheld that drawn sword, they blew trumpets and horns and shouted grimly, and made them ready for battle. So King Arthur leaped on his horse, and Sir Mordred on his, and they went back to their own armies, and thus began the fight, and never was there seen one more doleful in any Christian land. For all day long there was rushing and riding, spearing and striking, and many a grim word was there spoken, and many a deadly stroke given. And at the end full an hundred thousand dead men lay upon the down, and King Arthur had but two Knights left living, Sir Lucan and his brother Sir Bedivere. 'Alas! that I should have lived to see this day,' cried the King, 'for now I am come to mine end; but would to God that I knew where were that traitor Sir Mordred that hath caused all this mischief.' Then suddenly he saw Sir Mordred leaning on his sword among a great heap of dead men.
'Give me my spear,' said King Arthur unto Sir Lucan.
'Sir, let him be,' answered Sir Lucan. 'Remember your dream, and leave off by this. For, blessed be God, you have won the field, and we three be alive, and of the others none is alive save Sir Mordred himself. If you leave off now, the day of destiny is past.'
'Tide me death, tide me life,' said the King, 'he shall not escape my hands, for a better chance I shall never have,' and he took his spear in both hands and ran towards Sir Mordred, crying 'Traitor! now is your death day come,' and smote him under the shield, so that the spear went through his body. And when Sir Mordred felt he had his death wound, he raised himself up and struck King Arthur such a blow that the sword clave his helmet, and then fell stark dead on the earth again. When Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere saw that sight they carried the King to a little chapel, but they hoped not to leave him there long, for Sir Lucan had noted that many people were stealing out to rob the slain of the ornaments on their armour. And those that were not dead already they slew.
'Would that I could quit this place to go to some large town,' said the King, when he had heard this, 'but I cannot stand, my head works so. Ah, Lancelot, sorely have I missed thee.' At that Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere tried to lift him, but Sir Lucan had been grievously wounded in the fight, and the blood burst forth again as he lifted Arthur, and he died and fell at the feet of the King.
'Alas!' said the King, 'he has died for my sake, and he had more need of help than I. But he would not complain, his heart was so set to help me. And I should sorrow yet more if I were still to live long, but my time flieth fast. Therefore, Sir Bedivere, cease moaning and weeping, and take Excalibur, my good sword, and go with it to yonder water side, and when thou comest there, I charge thee, throw my sword in that water, and come again and tell me what thou hast seen.'
'My lord,' answered Sir Bedivere, 'your commandment shall be done,' and he departed. But when he looked at that noble sword, and beheld the jewels and gold that covered the pommel and hilt, he said to himself, 'If I throw this rich sword into the water no good will come of it, but only harm and loss'; so he hid Excalibur under a tree, and returned unto the King and told him his bidding was done. 'What did you see there?' asked the King.
'Sir,' answered Sir Bedivere, 'I saw nothing but the winds and the waves.'
'You have not dealt truly with me,' said the King. 'Go back, and do my command; spare not, but throw it in.' But again Sir Bedivere's heart failed him, and he hid the sword, and returned to tell the King he had seen nothing but the wan water.
'Ah, traitor!' cried King Arthur, 'this is twice you have betrayed me. If you do not now fulfil my bidding, with mine own hands will I slay you, for you would gladly see me dead for the sake of my sword.' Then Sir Bedivere was shamed at having disobeyed the King, and drew forth the sword from its hiding place, and carried it to the water side, and with a mighty swing threw it far into the water. And as it flew through the air, an arm and hand lifted itself out of the water, and caught the hilt, and brandished the sword thrice, and vanished with it beneath the water. So Sir Bedivere came again unto the King, and told him what he saw.
'Alas!' said the King, 'help me hence, for I have tarried overlong,' and Sir Bedivere took him on his back, and bare him to the water side. And when they stood by the bank, a little barge containing many fair ladies and a Queen, all in black hoods, drew near, and they wept and shrieked when they beheld King Arthur.
'Now put me into the barge,' said the King, and Sir Bedivere laid him softly down, and the ladies made great mourning and the barge rowed from the land.
'Ah, my lord Arthur!' cried Sir Bedivere, 'what shall become of me now you go from me, and I am left here alone with my enemies?'
'Comfort yourself,' replied the King, 'and do as well as you may, for I go unto the valley of Avilion, to be healed of my grievous wound. And if you never more hear of me, pray for my soul.' But Sir Bedivere watched the barge till it was beyond his sight, then he rode all night till he came to a hermitage. Now when Queen Guenevere heard of the battle, and how that King Arthur was slain and Sir Mordred and all their Knights, she stole away, and five ladies with her, and rode to Amesbury; and there she put on clothes of black and white, and became a nun, and did great penance, and many alms deeds, and people marvelled at her and at her godly life. And ever she wept and moaned over the years that were past, and for King Arthur.
As soon as the messenger whom the King had sent with Sir Gawaine's letter reached Sir Lancelot, and he learned that Sir Mordred had taken for himself the crown of England, he rose up in wrath, and, calling Sir Bors, bid him collect their host, that they should pass at once over the sea to avenge themselves on that false Knight. A fair wind blew them to Dover, and there Sir Lancelot asked tidings of King Arthur. Then the people told him that the King was slain, and Sir Mordred, and an hundred thousand men besides, and that the King had buried Sir Gawaine in the chapel at Dover Castle. 'Fair Sirs,' said Sir Lancelot, 'show me that tomb'; and they showed it to him, and Sir Lancelot kneeled before it, and wept and prayed, and this he did for two days. And on the third morning he summoned before him all the great lords and leaders of his host, and said to them, 'Fair lords, I thank you all for coming here with me, but we come too late, and that will be bitter grief to me as long as I shall live. But since it is so, I will myself ride and seek my lady Guenevere in the west country, where they say she has gone, and tarry you here, I entreat you, for fifteen days, and if I should not return take your ships and depart into your own country.'
Sir Bors strove to reason with him that the quest was fruitless, and that in the west country he would find few friends; but his words availed nothing. For seven days Sir Lancelot rode, and at last he came to a nunnery, where Queen Guenevere was looking out from her lattice, and was ware of his presence as he walked in the cloister. And when she saw him she swooned, and her ladies and gentlewomen tended her. When she was recovered, she spoke to them and said, 'You will marvel, fair ladies, why I should swoon. It was caused by the sight of yonder Knight who stands there, and I pray you bring him to me.' As soon as Sir Lancelot was brought she said to her ladies, 'Through me and this man has this war been wrought, for which I repent me night and day. Therefore, Sir Lancelot, I require and pray you never to see my face again, but go back to your own land, and govern it and protect it; and take to yourself a wife, and pray that my soul may be made clean of its ill doing.'
'Nay, Madam,' answered Sir Lancelot, 'that shall I never do; but the same life that you have taken upon you, will I take upon me likewise.'
'If you will do so,' said the Queen, 'it is well; but I may never believe but that you will turn to the world again.'
'Well, Madam,' answered he, 'you speak as it pleases you, but you never knew me false to my promise, and I will forsake the world as you have done. For if in the quest of the Sangreal I had forsaken its vanities with all my heart and will, I had passed all Knights in the quest, except Sir Galahad my son. And therefore, lady, since you have taken you to perfection, I must do so also, and if I may find a hermit that will receive me I will pray and do penance while my life lasts. Wherefore, Madam, I beseech you to kiss me once again.'
'No,' said the Queen, 'that I may not do,' and Sir Lancelot took his horse and departed in great sorrow. All that day and the next night he rode through the forest till he beheld a hermitage and a chapel between two cliffs, and heard a little bell ring to Mass. And he that sang Mass was the Bishop of Canterbury, and Sir Bedivere was with him. After Mass Sir Bedivere told Sir Lancelot how King Arthur had thrown away his sword and had sailed to the valley of Avilion, and Sir Lancelot's heart almost burst for grief. Then he kneeled down and besought the Bishop that he might be his brother. 'That I will, gladly,' said the Bishop, and put a robe upon him.
After the fifteen days were ended, and still Sir Lancelot did not return, Sir Bors made the great host go back across the sea, while he and some of Sir Lancelot's kin set forth to seek all over England till they found Sir Lancelot. They rode different ways, and by fortune Sir Bors came one day to the chapel where Sir Lancelot was. And he prayed that he might stay and be one of their fellowship, and in six months six other Knights were joined to them, and their horses went where they would, for the Knights spent their lives in fasting and prayer, and kept no riches for themselves.
In this wise six years passed, and one night a vision came to Sir Lancelot in his sleep charging him to hasten unto Amesbury. 'By the time that thou come there,' said the vision, 'thou shalt find Queen Guenevere dead; therefore take thy fellows with thee and fetch her corpse, and bury it by the side of her husband, the noble King Arthur.'
Then Sir Lancelot rose up and told the hermit, and the hermit ordered him to make ready and to do all as the vision had commanded. And Sir Lancelot and seven of the other Knights went on foot from Glastonbury to Amesbury, and it took them two days to compass the distance, for it was far and they were weak with fasting. When they reached the nunnery Queen Guenevere had been dead but half an hour, and she had first summoned her ladies to her, and told them that Sir Lancelot had been a priest for near a twelvemonth. 'And hither he cometh as fast as he may,' she said, 'to fetch my corpse, and beside my lord King Arthur he shall bury me. And I beseech Almighty God that I may never have power to see Sir Lancelot with my bodily eyes.' 'Thus,' said the ladies, 'she prayed for two days till she was dead.' Then Sir Lancelot looked upon her face and sighed, but wept little, and next day he sang Mass. After that the Queen was laid on a bier drawn by horses, and an hundred torches were carried round her, and Sir Lancelot and his fellows walked behind her singing holy chants, and at times one would come forward and throw incense on the dead. So they came to Glastonbury, and the Bishop of Canterbury sang a Requiem Mass over the Queen, and she was wrapped in cloth, and placed first in a web of lead, and then in a coffin of marble, and when she was put into the earth Sir Lancelot swooned away.
'You are to blame,' said the hermit, when he awaked from his swoon, 'you ought not make such manner of sorrow.'
'Truly,' answered Sir Lancelot, 'I trust I do not displease God, but when I remember her beauty, and her nobleness, and that of the King, and when I saw his corpse and her corpse lie together, my heart would not bear up my body. And I remembered, too, that it was through me and my pride that they both came to their end.'
From that day Sir Lancelot ate so little food that he dwined away, and for the most part was found kneeling by the tomb of King Arthur and Queen Guenevere. None could comfort him, and after six weeks he was too weak to rise from his bed. Then he sent for the hermit and to his fellows, and asked in a weary voice that they would give him the last rites of the Church; and begged that when he was dead his body might be taken to Joyous Gard, which some say is Alnwick and others Bamborough. That night the hermit had a vision that he saw Sir Lancelot being carried up to heaven by the angels, and he waked Sir Bors and bade him go and see if anything ailed Sir Lancelot. So Sir Bors went and Sir Lancelot lay on his bed, stark dead, and he smiled as he lay there. Then was there great weeping and wringing of hands, more than had been made for any man; but they placed him on the horse bier that had carried Queen Guenevere, and lit a hundred torches, and in fifteen days they reached Joyous Gard. There his body was laid in the choir, with his face uncovered, and many prayers were said over him. And there, in the midst of their praying, came Sir Ector de Maris, who for seven years had sought Sir Lancelot through all the land.
'Ah, Lancelot,' he said, when he stood looking beside his dead body, 'thou wert head of all Christian Knights. Thou wert the courtliest Knight that ever drew sword, and the faithfulest friend that ever bestrode a horse. Thou wert the goodliest Knight that ever man has seen, and the truest lover that ever loved a woman.'
THE BATTLE OF RONCEVALLES
THE BATTLE OF RONCEVALLES
About twelve hundred years ago there lived an Emperor of the West whose name was Charles the Great, or, as some called him, Charlemagne, which means Carolus Magnus. When he was not making war he ruled well and wisely at Aix-la-Chapelle, but at the time that this story begins he had been for seven years in Spain, fighting against the Saracens. The whole country had fallen before him, except only Saragossa, a famous town on the river Ebro, not far from the outskirts of the Pyrenees, which was held by the Moorish King Marsile, with a great host.
One hot day Marsile was lying on a cool slab of blue marble which was shaded by overhanging fruit trees, and his nobles were sitting all round him. Suddenly the King sat up, and, turning to his followers, he said:
'Listen to me, my Lords, for I have something of note to say unto you. Evil days are upon us, for the Emperor of fair France will never rest until he has driven us out of our country, and I have no army wherewith to meet him. Then counsel me, my wise men, how to escape both death and shame.'
At the King's speech there was silence, for none knew how to reply, till Blancandrin, Lord of Val-Fonde, stood up.
'Fear nothing,' he said to the King, 'but send a messenger to this proud Charles, promising to do him faithful service and asking for his friendship. And let there go with the messenger presents to soften his heart, bears and lions, and dogs to hunt them; seven hundred camels and four hundred mules, loaded with gold and silver, so that he shall have money to pay his soldiers. The messenger shall tell him that on the Feast of St. Michael you yourself will appear before him, and suffer yourself to be converted to the faith of Christ, and that you will be his man and do homage to him. If he asks for hostages, well! send ten or twenty, so as to gain his confidence; the sons of our wives. I myself will offer up my own son, even if it leads to his death. Better they should all die, than that we should lose our country and our lands, and be forced to beg till the end of our lives.' And the nobles answered, 'He has spoken well.'
King Marsile broke up his Council, and chose out those who were to go on the embassy. 'My lords,' he said, 'you will start at once on your mission to King Charles, and be sure you take olive branches in your hands, and beg him to have pity on me. Tell him that before a month has passed over his head I will follow you with a thousand of my servants, to receive baptism and do him homage. If, besides, he asks for hostages, they shall be sent.' 'It is well,' said Blancandrin, 'the treaty is good.'
The Emperor Charles was happier than he had ever been in his life. He had taken Cordova, and thrown down the walls; his war machines had laid low the towers, and the rich city had been plundered, while every Saracen who refused to be baptized had been slain. Now he felt he might rest, and sought the cool of an orchard, where were already gathered his nephew Roland, with Oliver his comrade, Geoffrey of Anjou his standard bearer, and many other famous Knights. They lay about on white carpets doing what they best liked—some played games, chess or draughts, but these were mostly the old men who were glad to be still: the young ones fenced and tilted. Under a pine tree, close to a sweet-briar, a seat of massive gold was placed, and on it sat the Emperor of the fair country of France, a strong man, with his beard white as snow. But his rest was short. Soon came the messengers of the Saracen King, and, descending from their mules, they bowed low before him.
It was Blancandrin who first spoke, showing with his hands the presents he had brought with him, and offering that the King would receive baptism, and do homage for his lands, if only the Emperor Charles would return with his army into France, 'for,' said Blancandrin, 'you have been too long in this country.'
When Blancandrin had spoken, the Emperor sat silent with his head bent, thinking of the words of the Saracen, for never was it his custom to be hasty in his speech. At length he looked up, and a proud look was on his face.
'You have said well,' he answered, 'yet King Marsile is my deadly enemy, and how do I know that I can put my trust in your offers?'
'You will have hostages,' replied the Saracen, 'sons of the highest nobles, and my own son will be among them. And when you have gone back to your own palace, my master will follow you on the Feast of St. Michael, and will be made a Christian in the waters of Aix.'
'If he does this,' said Charles, 'his soul may still be saved,' and he bade hospitality to be shown to his guests.
Before sunrise next morning the Emperor left his bed, and heard Mass said and Matins sung. Then he seated himself under a pine, and called his Barons to council. Many there were whose names men still remember: Ogier the Dane, and Archbishop Turpin of Rheims, and the brave Count of Gascony, Count Roland, nephew of Charles, and his friend the valiant Oliver. Ganelon was there too, by whom the wrong was to be wrought. As soon as they were all seated, the Emperor spoke and told them afresh what the messengers had said. 'But Marsile makes one condition,' continued Charles, 'which is that I must return to France, where he will come to me as my vassal. Now, does he swear falsely, or can I trust his oath?' 'Let us be very careful how we answer him,' cried the nobles with one voice.
At that Roland sprang to his feet. 'It is madness to put faith in Marsile,' said he; 'seven years have we been in Spain, and many towns have I conquered for you, but Marsile we have always proved a traitor. Once before he sent us an embassy of Unbelievers each one bearing an olive branch, and they made you the same promises. Once before you called a meeting of your barons who counselled you to do the thing they knew you wished, and you sent to the Court of the Unbelievers the noble Counts Basil and Bazan. And how did Marsile treat them? He commanded that they should be led into the mountains and that their heads should be cut off, which was done. No! Go on with the war, as you have begun it; march on Saragossa and lay siege to the town, though it should last to the end of your life, and avenge those whom Marsile put to death.'
With bent head the Emperor listened to Roland, twisting all the while his fingers in his moustache. He kept silent, turning over in his mind the things Roland had said, and the nobles kept silence, too, all except Ganelon. For Ganelon rose and stood before Charles and began to speak. 'Believe none of us,' he said; 'think of nothing but your own advantage when Marsile offers to become your vassal, and to do homage for the whole of Spain, and to receive baptism besides; he who wishes you to reject such offers cares nothing for the deaths the rest of us may die. Pay no attention to such madness, but listen to your wise men.'
He sat down in his place, and then the Duke Naimes took up his words. 'You have heard,' he said to Charles, 'the words of Ganelon. Wise counsel, if we only follow it! Marsile knows that he is conquered at last. You have won his towns, and vanquished him in battle, and he is reduced to beg for your pity. It would be shameful to ask for anything further, and the more so as you have hostages as pledges of his good faith. It is time that the war ended; therefore send him one of your barons to speak with him face to face.' And the nobles answered, 'The Duke has spoken well.'
'Noble lords, what envoy shall we send to King Marsile at Saragossa?' 'I will go, if it is your pleasure,' said Duke Naimes. 'Give me your glove and the wand of office.' 'No,' replied Charles, 'your wisdom is great, and I cannot spare you from my side. Remain where you are, I command you.'
'Let me go,' cried Roland. 'No, no,' answered Count Oliver; 'you are too hasty and too imprudent. You would only fall into some trap. With the King's good leave I will go instead.'
'Hold your peace,' said Charles, shaking his head; 'you will neither of you go. None of my twelve peers shall be chosen.'
Then Turpin of Rheims left his seat and spoke to Charles with his loud and ringing voice. 'Fair King, give your Franks a little peace. For seven years you have been in Spain, and your barons have all that time been fighting and suffering. It is now, sire, that the glove and the wand of office should be given. I will go and visit this Unbeliever, and will tell him in what scorn I hold him.' But the Emperor, full of rage, cried out, 'By my beard, you will stop with me. Go to your place on the white carpet, and give me none of your advice unless I ask for it.'
'Good Frankish Knights,' said Charles, 'choose me a baron from my own land, who shall be envoy to King Marsile, and who, at need, can fight well.'
'Ah,' cried Roland, 'let it be Ganelon, my stepfather; you will not find a better man.' 'Yes,' said the Franks, 'he is the man; let him go if the King pleases.'
'Ganelon,' commanded the King, 'come here and I will give you the glove and the wand of office. It is the voice of the barons that has chosen you.'
'No,' replied Ganelon, 'it is Roland's doing, and to the end of my life I will bear him hatred for it. Oliver also will I hate, since Oliver is his friend. And never more will I love the twelve peers, for they love him. Under your own eyes, sire, I throw down my challenge.'
'You are angry about nothing,' said the King, 'and as I have commanded you, you will go.'
'I can go, but it will be my death, as it was the death of Basil and of his brother Bazan. Who goes there, returns not. But, sire, do not forget that your sister is my wife and that I have a son Baldwin, who, if he lives, will be the bravest of the brave. To him I leave all my lands. Guard him well, for I shall see him no more.'
'Your heart is too tender,' said Charles, 'but there is no help for it, you must go.'
At the words of the King, Ganelon flung his fur mantle to the ground in fury. 'It is to you,' he cried, turning to Roland, 'that I owe this peril. I am your stepfather, and that is reason enough that you send me to lose my head at the Court of King Marsile. Let it be so; but if ever I return I will bring on you such trouble that it will only end with your life.'
'You talk like a madman,' said Roland. 'All men know that I care nothing for threats. But it needs a wise man to go on such a mission, and if the King pleases, I will go in your place.'
'You will not go in my place,' answered Ganelon. 'I am not your vassal, to do as you bid me. Charles has commanded me to go to Saragossa, therefore to Saragossa I go. But beware of what I do when I get there.'
At this Roland began to laugh, and when Ganelon saw him laughing, it seemed as if his heart would burst with anger. 'I hate you,' he muttered to Roland. 'I should never have been chosen but for you. Great Emperor,' he said aloud to Charles, 'behold me ready to obey your orders.'
'Listen, fair Count,' replied Charles, 'for this is the message I would have you bear to King Marsile. If he agrees to become my vassal, and to receive Holy Baptism, I will give him half of Spain as a fief. The other half will be held by Roland, my nephew. If these terms do not please King Marsile, I will myself besiege Saragossa, and will take him and bind him in chains. Then he shall be brought to Aix, where he shall be put to a shameful death. So take this letter which is sealed with my seal, and give it into the hand of the Infidel.' When Ganelon had put the letter in safety, the King held out to him his glove, but the Count was not quick to seize it, and it fell to the ground. 'Heavens,' cried the Franks who were standing round, 'how dreadful an omen! This message will be the cause of dire misfortunes.' 'I will send you news of them,' Ganelon answered. And he said to Charles, 'Let me depart, sire, as I must go. I wish to lose no time.'
'Go then,' replied the King, making over him the sign of the cross and giving him the wand of office. And Ganelon went.
It was not long before he overtook the Saracens, who had lingered, hoping he might join them, and Blancandrin began to sing the praises of Charles and his conquests. 'He is a wonderful man,' answered Ganelon, 'and of such a strong will that no man may strive against it.'
'How brave are these Franks,' went on Blancandrin; 'but your nobles were ill-advised in the counsel they gave the King upon this matter. It bodes evil to Charles and to many beside him.'
'None of them merit this blame,' said Ganelon, 'save Roland only, and the shame will be on his head. His pride is so great that he thinks no sword can touch him, but until he is really dead peace we can never have.' Here the Saracen glanced at Ganelon beside him. 'He is a fine man,' thought he, 'but there is cunning in his eye,' and then Blancandrin spoke. 'Let us understand each other plainly,' he said; 'is it your wish to be avenged of Roland? Then, by the beard of Mahomet, deliver him into our hands. King Marsile is a generous master, and knows how to repay those who serve him.' Ganelon heard his words, and bent his head in silence.
But the silence did not last long: before they had arrived at Saragossa, Ganelon had made an agreement with Blancandrin, that they would find some means of causing Roland to perish. This decided, they rode through the gates of the town, and dismounted from their horses. In the shadow of a pine, a throne was placed covered with soft silk from Alexandria, and on it sat he who was once the master of the whole of Spain. Twenty thousand Saracens stood around him, but not a sound was made, so eager they were to hear Charles's answer. Blancandrin advanced to the King's throne, leading Ganelon by the wrist. 'Greeting, great King,' said he; 'we delivered your message to Charles, and he raised his two hands to heaven, and answered nothing. But he has sent you one of his great lords, and he will tell you if it is peace or no peace.'
'Let him speak,' replied Marsile, 'and we will listen.'
Ganelon waited a little before he spoke, for he knew that one careless word might prove his own ruin. 'Greeting,' he said, when at last he had made ready his speech. 'This is the message sent you by Charlemagne. You must receive Holy Baptism, and Charles will allow you to do homage for half of Spain. The other half he gives to Roland, his nephew, and a proud neighbour you will find him. If these terms do not please you, he will lay siege to Saragossa, and will seize your person, and carry you to Aix, the capital of the Empire, where you will die a shameful death.' When he heard this, Marsile trembled with rage, and drawing a dart he would have thrown it at Ganelon had not someone held him from behind. Ganelon looked on, his hand on his sword, which he drew a little from its scabbard. 'Sword,' said he, 'you are sharp and bright. While I wear you at the Court of this King, the Emperor can never say that I have died alone in a foreign land. But before I die you shall drink the blood of the best in his army.'
The Infidels who were standing by prayed Marsile to go back to his seat in order that the matter might be decided, 'You put yourself in the wrong,' said the old Caliph, 'when you wish to strike this Frank.'
'Sire,' answered Ganelon, 'I will suffer this insult patiently, but not all the treasure of your kingdom should hinder my delivering the message of my master.' With that he threw from his shoulders his mantle of zibeline, but kept light hold of his sword. 'See,' said the Saracens, 'did you ever behold a prouder warrior?' Ganelon drew near the King and repeated the message that Charles had given him. When he had finished he held out the letter, and Marsile, who had studied in the best schools of learning, broke the seal and read it to himself. 'Listen to this, my lords,' he cried, 'and say if ever you heard such madness! Charles bids me think of Basil and Bazan, whose heads I cut off, up there in the mountains. And if I wish my own life to be spared, I am to send him my uncle, the Caliph, to deal with as he thinks fit.' The Saracens heard the message in grim silence, which was broken by the voice of the King's son. 'Ganelon must be mad indeed to give such a message as that,' said he, 'and he deserves death for his boldness. Deliver him to me, and I will do justice on him.' Ganelon understood his words but said nothing, only he quietly placed his back against a pine tree, and played with the hilt of his sword.
King Marsile rose and went into his orchard, followed by his best councillors, Jorfalon his son, his uncle the Caliph, and others whom he most trusted. 'Summon the Frank also,' Blancandrin whispered in his ear, 'for he has promised to throw in his lot with us.' 'Bring him,' answered the King, and Blancandrin brought him into the orchard, where the web of treason was woven.
'Noble Ganelon,' said Marsile, 'I acted foolishly towards you just now, when, in my anger, I sought to strike you. Let me offer you the mantle of marten fur in amends. It has just arrived from a far country, and is worth five hundred pounds in gold.' 'I accept it gladly,' replied Ganelon as the King hung the cloak round his neck, 'and may you be rewarded in as splendid a gift!'
'Ganelon,' continued the King, 'I wish you to be my friend, though it will not be wise to show you openly my goodwill. Tell me about Charlemagne, and whether what I have heard of him is really the truth. They say he is very old, nearly two hundred years, and that he has wandered from one country to another and been in the thick of every fight, and has made the most powerful Kings beggars. When will he grow tired of all these wars? It is time that he rested himself at Aix.'
'No,' said Ganelon, 'those who told you that Charlemagne was like that did not speak truly. My tongue could never tell of his goodness and his honour towards all men. Who could ever paint what Charlemagne is? I would rather die than leave his service.'
'What you say is wonderful,' replied Marsile, 'but after all he has done, will repose never seem sweet to him?'
'Not while his nephew Roland lives,' said Ganelon. 'There is not such a fighter under heaven, and his comrade Oliver is famous also for his prowess. The twelve peers whom the Emperor so dearly loves, with twenty thousand picked men from the van of the army—truly Charlemagne may rest in peace, and fear no man.'
'Fair lord,' answered Marsile, 'my subjects are the finest you can see, and at any moment I can summon four hundred thousand men to give battle to Charlemagne.'
'You will not conquer him this time,' said Ganelon, 'and in a fight thousands of your soldiers would be killed. Hear my counsel. Send Charles yet more gold and silver, and offer twenty other hostages, on condition he returns himself to France, leaving his rear-guard behind him. This, being the post of danger, will be claimed by his nephew Roland, whose comrade Oliver is always by his side. It will be easy to manage that the two Counts shall meet their deaths, and Roland and Oliver once dead the King will have no more heart for war.'
'Fair lord,' replied Marsile, 'what shall I have to do in order to kill Roland?'
'That I can easily tell you,' answered Ganelon. 'When Charlemagne has passed safely through the mountains, with the most part of his soldiers, his baggage and his hostages, then have a hundred thousand of your Infidels ready to fall upon Roland and his rear-guard of twenty thousand men. The Franks will fight hard, but they cannot stand against such numbers, though of their foes many will be left upon the field. Then lose not a moment, but give them battle a second time. They will be too few and too weak to fight long, and for the rest of your life you will have peace. If you kill Roland, you will have cut off the Emperor's right arm. Farewell to the splendid armies of the Franks; never more will such forces be gathered together; never will Charles wear again his golden crown, but all Spain shall be in peace.'
Marsile heard the words of Ganelon, and stooped and kissed his neck, and ordered his costliest treasures to be brought before him. Then he said: 'There is no further need of speech between us; swear that I shall find him in the rear-guard, and I shall swear that you shall have your revenge.' And Ganelon swore. But Marsile was not content with the oath that Ganelon made. He commanded that a copy of the Koran should be brought, the sacred book of Mahomet, and placed it on a chair of ivory, which stood under an olive tree. With his hand on the book Marsile also took his oath, that if among the rear-guard of Charlemagne's army he found Roland, he would fall upon him with all his host and compass his death, and that of the twelve peers of France. So the bond of treachery was sealed. Then the Infidels crowded round, and one offered Ganelon his sword, and another his helmet, while the Queen brought bracelets of precious stones as gifts for his wife. Marsile asked his treasurer if he had made ready the presents that were to be sent to Charles, and pressing Ganelon in his arms, he declared that not a day should pass without his friend likewise receiving presents, if only he would give his help in the slaying of Roland. 'You keep me too long,' was Ganelon's answer, and he mounted his horse and went.
All this while the Emperor Charles was marching towards France, but he halted at a small town which long ago had been taken by Roland, waiting till he heard some tidings of Ganelon, and received the news that Marsile had agreed to do homage for Spain. At length, one morning at dawn, a messenger came to the King's tent telling him that Ganelon had arrived, and Charles hastened forth with Roland and Oliver, Duke Naimes and a thousand more, to meet Ganelon. 'Greeting,' said the traitor, bowing low; 'I bring you the keys of Saragossa, and twenty hostages, and great gifts. The noble King Marsile beseeches you not to blame him, because the Caliph, his uncle, has not come with me. I have seen—seen with my own eyes—three hundred thousand men all covered with armour sail away in ships with the Caliph for their leader, because they could neither defend their own faith nor forswear it. But hardly were they out of sight of land than a fierce tempest overtook them, and they were all lost. The Caliph must have died with the rest, or the King would have bade him come with me. As to the King himself, sire, before a month has passed he will be in France, ready to receive baptism in your presence. And he will become your vassal, and do homage for the kingdom of Spain.'
'You have done wisely,' said Charles, 'and your reward shall be great.' So trumpets were sounded and tents were struck, and the host marched with gaiety in their hearts to France the Fair.
'My war is finished,' said the King, as his army gladly turned their backs on Spain, and at nightfall spread their tents and slept till day began. But little he knew that four hundred thousand Unbelievers, with shields slung from their necks and swords in their hands, were riding silently through the mountain passes with the intent of hiding themselves in a wood till the moment came. There they were, and the Franks knew nothing of it, nor what would come.
Charles slept, and in his sleep he dreamed that Ganelon took his stout lance of ash wood from his hands and brandished it in the air, then broke it with his fists. After this dream came another. He was no longer shut fast in by the mountains, but was at home in France, standing in his chapel at Aix. Here a bear appeared before him and bit so deep into his arm that it reached the bone. Then from the other side, from the Ardennes, there sprang a leopard and would have torn him in pieces, had not a greyhound come to his aid, and attacked first the bear and then the leopard. 'A fight! a fight!' cried the Franks, but they knew not which would be victorious. And all the while Charles slept soundly. With the dawn a thousand horns awoke the sleepers, and the clamour of a camp began. 'My lords,' said Charles, calling all his barons together, 'you see these narrow defiles through which we must pass? To whom shall I give the command of the rear-guard which must protect the rest of my army?'
'To Roland, to Roland my stepson,' cried Ganelon. 'No Knight is so brave as he, and we may trust to him the safety of our host.' Charles listened and looked him in the face. 'You must be the devil himself,' he said, 'for you seem as if your body was shaken by some evil passion. If Roland goes to the rear, who then shall command the van?'
'Ogier, the Dane,' answered Ganelon. 'There is no better man.'
When Count Roland heard his name he pressed forward. 'Fair stepfather, I owe you much love for proposing me to lead the rear-guard of the army. Charles the King shall lose nothing through me; not a horse or a mule shall fall till his price is paid in blows received by the Infidels.' 'You speak well,' said Ganelon, 'and what you say is true.'
Then Roland turned to Charlemagne: 'Give me, O King, the bow which you hold in your hand. I will promise not to let it fall, as Ganelon did your glove.'
But the King sat silent, with his head bent, and tears ran down his cheeks. At last Naimes drew near and spoke to him, and among them all Charles had no more faithful friend. 'You have heard, sire, what Count Roland said. If he is to lead the rear-guard—and there is no man that can do it better—give him the bow that you have drawn, for which he asks.' So the King gave it to him, and Roland took it gladly. 'Fair nephew,' said the King, 'I wish to leave half of my army behind with you; keep it close to you, it will be your safeguard.'
'No,' answered the Count; 'to accept the half of your army would be to shame my race. Leave me twenty thousand Franks, and you will pass the defiles in safety. While I live you need fear no man.' Quickly Count Roland girded on his armour, girded on his sword Durendal, the comrade of many fights, and mounted his horse Veillantif, whom all men knew. 'We will follow you to death,' cried the Franks as they saw him. But Roland answered them nothing. The first to come to his side was Oliver, his old companion, then Turpin the Archbishop, the Count Gautier, and many more, and after that they chose twenty thousand men, the best that Charles had with him. Some of them he sent, under Count Gautier, to drive the Unbelievers from the hill-top, and that same day they fought a fierce battle. And while Charles and his army entered the pass of Roncevalles, Roland took up his ground and prepared for the fight, which he knew must come shortly. And Ganelon, the traitor, knew it too.
High were the mountains, and dark the valleys; terrible were the defiles amidst the black rocks. The army marched slowly and with great difficulty; fifteen miles away you could hear the sound of their tramping. But when they caught sight of Gascony, of France, where they had left their homes and their wives, there was not a man among them who did not weep for happiness. Charles alone shed tears of sorrow, for he thought of his nephew in the passes of Spain. 'Ganelon has betrayed us,' said he to Duke Naimes, 'and he has betrayed Roland too. It was he who caused him to stay behind with the rear-guard, and if I lose him—O God! I shall never find such another.'
The nephew of Marsile had craved a boon, that he and eleven of his comrades should measure themselves against the Twelve Peers of France, and that none but himself should strike the first blow at Roland. The noblest subjects of Marsile flocked at his call, and a gay show they made when ready for battle, and mounted on horses as eager for the fray as themselves. So great was the noise that the sound reached even to the French camp. 'I think, comrade, that it will not be long before we fight with the Saracens,' said Oliver.
'May it be as you say,' answered Roland; 'it is our duty to make a stand here for the King, as one should be ready to suffer all pains for one's liege lord. For him one must endure heat and cold, hunger and thirst, and strike hard blows with all one's might, and take heed that no evil song can be made on us after we are dead. The right is on the side of the Christians. Look to yourselves, for you will never see a bad example from me.'
Oliver had climbed a hill, from which he could see into the plains of Spain. 'Roland,' cried he, 'do you see those shining helmets and glittering swords? It is Ganelon who has done this, and it was he who had you left here.'
'Be silent, Oliver,' answered Roland. 'He is my stepfather. I will not hear him ill spoken of.' Then Oliver went down the hill and told his soldiers what he had seen. 'No battle will ever be like this one,' he said; 'you will need all your strength to keep your ground and not be driven back.' 'Cursed be he who runs away,' answered they. 'There is not one of us but knows how to die.'
'The Infidels are many,' said Oliver again, 'and our Franks are but few. Roland, blow your horn; Charles will hear it and come to our help.'
'You are mad to say that,' replied Roland, 'for in France I should lose all my glory. No; but my sword Durendal knows how to strike, and our Franks will fight hard, and with what joy! It was an ill day for the Unbelievers when they came here, for none, I tell you, none will escape.'