The Legends Of King Arthur And His Knights
Part 5 out of 5
When he awoke he obeyed the vision, and rode till he came to the
sea-shore, and found there a ship without sails or oars, and as soon as he
was in it he smelt the sweetest savour he had ever known, and seemed
filled with all things he could think of or desire. And looking round he
saw a fair bed, and thereon a gentlewoman lying dead, who was Sir
Percival's sister. And as Sir Lancelot looked on her he spied the writing
in her right hand, and, taking it, he read therein her story. And more
than a month thereafter he abode in that ship and was nourished by the
grace of Heaven, as Israel was fed with manna in the desert.
And on a certain night he went ashore to pass the time, for he was
somewhat weary, and, listening, he heard a horse come towards him, from
which a knight alighted and went up into the ship; who, when he saw Sir
Lancelot, said, "Fair sir, ye be right welcome to mine eyes, for I am thy
son Galahad, and long time I have sought for thee." With that he kneeled
and asked his blessing, and took off his helm and kissed him, and the
great joy there was between them no tongue can tell.
Then for half a year they dwelt together in the ship, and served God night
and day with all their powers, and went to many unknown islands, where none
but wild beasts haunted, and there found many strange and perilous
And upon a time they came to the edge of a forest, before a cross of
stone, and saw a knight armed all in white, leading a white horse. Then
the knight saluted them, and said to Galahad, "Ye have been long time
enough with your father; now, therefore, leave him and ride this horse
till ye achieve the Holy Quest."
Then went Sir Galahad to his father and kissed him full courteously, and
said, "Fair father, I know not when I shall see thee again."
And as he took his horse a voice spake in their hearing, "Ye shall meet no
more in this life."
"Now, my son, Sir Galahad," said Sir Lancelot, "since we must so part and
see each other never more, I pray the High Father of Heaven to preserve
both you and me."
Then they bade farewell, and Sir Galahad entered the forest, and Sir
Lancelot returned to the ship, and the wind rose and drove him more than a
month through the sea, whereby he slept but little, yet ever prayed that
he might see the Sangreal.
So it befell upon a certain midnight, the moon shining clear, he came
before a fair and rich castle, whereof the postern gate was open towards
the sea, having no keeper save two lions in the entry.
Anon Sir Lancelot heard a voice: "Leave now thy ship and go within the
castle, and thou shalt see a part of thy desire."
Then he armed and went towards the gate, and coming to the lions he drew
out his sword, but suddenly a dwarf rushed out and smote him on the arm,
so that he dropt his sword, and heard again the voice, "Oh, man of evil
faith, and poor belief, wherefore trustest thou thine arms above thy
Maker?" Then he put up his sword and signed the cross upon his forehead,
and so passed by the lions without hurt.
And going in, he found a chamber with the door shut, which in vain he
tried to open. And listening thereat he heard a voice within, which sang
so sweetly that it seemed no earthly thing, "Joy and honour be to the
Father of Heaven!" Then he kneeled down at the door, for he knew well the
Sangreal was there within.
Anon the door was opened without hands, and forthwith came thereout so
great a splendour as if all the torches of the world had been alight
together. But when he would have entered in, a voice forbad him; wherefore
he drew back, and looked, standing upon the threshold of the door. And
there he saw a table of silver, and the holy vessel covered with red
samite, and many angels round it holding burning candles and a cross and
all the ornaments of the altar.
Then a priest stood up and offered mass, and when he took the vessel up,
he seemed to sink beneath that burden. At that Sir Lancelot cried, "O
Father, take it not for sin that I go in to help the priest, who hath much
need thereof." So saying, he went in, but when he came towards the table
he felt a breath of fire which issued out therefrom and smote him to the
ground, so that he had no power to rise.
Then felt he many hands about him, which took him up and laid him down
outside the chapel door. There lay he in a swoon all through that night,
and on the morrow certain people found him senseless, and bore him to an
inner chamber and laid him on a bed. And there he rested, living, but
moving no limbs, twenty-four days and nights.
On the twenty-fifth day he opened his eyes and saw those standing round,
and said, "Why have ye waked me? for I have seen marvels that no tongue
can tell, and more than any heart can think."
Then he asked where he was, and they told him, "In the Castle of
"Tell your lord, King Pelles," said he, "that I am Sir Lancelot."
At that they marvelled greatly, and told their lord it was Sir Lancelot
who had lain there so long.
Then was King Pelles wondrous glad and went to see him, and prayed him to
abide there for a season. But Sir Lancelot said, "I know well that I have
now seen as much as mine eyes may behold of the Sangreal; wherefore I will
return to my own country." So he took leave of King Pelles, and departed
Now after Sir Galahad had parted from Sir Lancelot, he rode many days,
till he came to the monastery where the blind King Evelake lay, whom Sir
Percival had seen. And on the morrow, when he had heard mass, Sir Galahad
desired to see the king, who cried out, "Welcome, Sir Galahad, servant of
the Lord! long have I abided thy coming. Take me now in thine arms, that I
may die in peace."
At that Sir Galahad embraced him; and when he had so done the king's eyes
were opened, and he said, "Fair Lord Jesus, suffer me now to come to
Thee;" and anon his soul departed.
Then they buried him royally, as a king should be; and Sir Galahad went on
Within a while he came to a chapel in a forest, in the crypt whereof he
saw a tomb which always blazed and burnt. And asking the brethren what
that might mean, they told him, "Joseph of Arimathea's son did found this
monastery, and one who wronged him hath lain here these three hundred and
fifty years and burneth evermore, until that perfect knight who shall
achieve the Sangreal doth quench the fire."
Then said he, "I pray ye bring me to the tomb."
And when he touched the place immediately the fire was quenched, and a
voice came from the grave and cried, "Thanks be to God, who now hath
purged me of my sin, and draweth me from earthly pains into the joys of
Then Sir Galahad took the body in his arms and bore it to the abbey, and
on the morrow put it in the earth before the high altar.
Anon he departed from thence and rode five days in a great forest; and
after that he met Sir Percival, and a little further on Sir Bors. When
they had told each other their adventures, they rode together to the
Castle of Carbonek: and there King Pelles gave them hearty welcome, for he
knew they should achieve the Holy Quest.
As soon as they were come into the castle, a voice cried in the midst of
the chamber, "Let them who ought not now to sit at the table of the Lord
rise and depart hence!" Then all, save those three knights, departed.
Anon they saw other knights come in with haste at the hall doors and take
their harness off, who said to Sir Galahad, "Sir, we have tried sore to be
with you at this table."
"Ye be welcome," said he, "but whence are ye?"
So three of them said they were from Gaul; and three from Ireland; and
three from Denmark.
Then came forth the likeness of a bishop, with a cross in his hand, and
four angels stood by him, and a table of silver was before them, whereon
was set the vessel of the Sangreal. Then came forth other angels also--two
bearing burning candles, and the third a towel, and the fourth a spear
which bled marvellously, the drops wherefrom fell into a box he held in
his left hand. Anon the bishop took the wafer up to consecrate it, and at
the lifting up, they saw the figure of a Child, whose visage was as bright
as any fire, which smote itself into the midst of the wafer and vanished,
so that all saw the flesh made bread.
Thereat the bishop went to Galahad and kissed him, and bade him go and
kiss his fellows; and said, "Now, servants of the Lord, prepare for food
such as none ever yet were fed with since the world began."
With that he vanished, and the knights were filled with a great dread and
Then saw they come forth from the holy vessel the vision of a man bleeding
all openly, whom they knew well by the tokens of His passion for the Lord
Himself. At that they fell upon their faces and were dumb. Anon he brought
the Holy Grale to them and spake high words of comfort, and, when they
drank therefrom, the taste thereof was sweeter than any tongue could tell
or heart desire. Then a voice said to Galahad, "Son, with this blood which
drippeth from the spear anoint thou the maimed king and heal him. And when
thou hast this done, depart hence with thy brethren in a ship that ye
shall find, and go to the city of Sarras. And bear with thee the holy
vessel, for it shall no more be seen in the realm of Logris."
At that Sir Galahad walked to the bleeding spear, and therefrom anointing
his fingers went out straightway to the maimed King Pelles, and touched
his wound. Then suddenly he uprose from his bed as whole a man as ever he
was, and praised God passing thankfully with all his heart.
Then Sir Galahad, Sir Bors, and Sir Percival departed as they had been
told; and when they had ridden three days they came to the sea-shore, and
found the ship awaiting them. Therein they entered, and saw in the midst
the silver table and the vessel of the Sangreal, covered with red samite.
Then were they passing glad, and made great reverence thereto. And Sir
Galahad prayed that now he might leave the world and pass to God. And
presently, the while he prayed, a voice said to him, "Galahad, thy prayer
is heard, and when thou asketh the death of the body thou shalt have it,
and find the life of thy soul."
But while they prayed and slept the ship sailed on, and when they woke
they saw the city of Sarras before them, and the other ship wherein was
Sir Percival's sister. Then the three knights took up the holy table and
the Sangreal and went into the city; and there, in a chapel, they buried
Sir Percival's sister right solemnly.
Now at the gate of the town they saw an old cripple sitting, whom Sir
Galahad called to help them bear their weight.
"Truly," said the old man, "it is ten years since I have gone a step
without these crutches."
"Care ye not," said Sir Galahad; "rise now and show goodwill."
So he assayed to move, and found his limbs as strong as any man's might
be, and running to the table helped to carry it.
Anon there rose a rumour in the city that a cripple had been healed by
certain marvellous strange knights.
But the king, named Estouranse, who was a heathen tyrant, when he heard
thereof took Sir Galahad and his fellows, and put them in prison in a deep
hole. Therein they abode a great while, but ever the Sangreal was with
them and fed them with marvellous sweet food, so that they fainted not,
but had all joy and comfort they could wish.
At the year's end the king fell sick and felt that he should die. Then
sent he for the three knights, and when they came before him prayed their
mercy for his trespasses against them. So they forgave him gladly, and
anon he died.
Then the chief men of the city took counsel together who should be king in
his stead, and as they talked, a voice cried in their midst, "Choose ye
the youngest of the three knights King Estouranse cast into prison for
your king." At that they sought Sir Galahad and made him king with the
assent of all the city, and else they would have slain him.
But within a twelvemonth came to him, upon a certain day, as he prayed
before the Sangreal, a man in likeness of a bishop, with a great company
of angels round about him, who offered mass, and afterwards called to Sir
Galahad, "Come forth, thou servant of the Lord, for the time hath come
thou hast desired so long."
Then Sir Galahad lifted up his hands and prayed, "Now, blessed Lord! would
I no longer live if it might please Thee."
Anon the bishop gave him the sacrament, and when he had received it with
unspeakable gladness, he said, "Who art thou, father?"
"I am Joseph of Arimathea," answered he, "whom our Lord hath sent to bear
When he heard that, Sir Galahad went to Sir Percival and Sir Bors and
kissed them and commended them to God, saying, "Salute for me Sir
Lancelot, my father, and bid him remember this unstable world."
Therewith he kneeled down and prayed, and suddenly his soul departed, and
a multitude of angels bare it up to heaven. Then came a hand from heaven
and took the vessel and the spear and bare them out of sight.
Since then was never man so hardy as to say that he had seen the Sangreal.
And after all these things, Sir Percival put off his armour and betook him
to an hermitage, and within a little while passed out of this world. And
Sir Bors, when he had buried him beside his sister, returned, weeping sore
for the loss of his two brethren, to King Arthur, at Camelot.
_Sir Lancelot and the Fair Maid of Astolat_
Now after the quest of the Sangreal was fulfilled and all the knights who
were left alive were come again to the Round Table, there was great joy in
the court. And passing glad were King Arthur and Queen Guinevere to see
Sir Lancelot and Sir Bors, for they had been long absent in that quest.
And so greatly was Sir Lancelot's fame now spread abroad that many ladies
and damsels daily resorted to him and besought him for their champion; and
all right quarrels did he gladly undertake for the pleasure of our Lord
Christ. And always as much as he might he withdrew him from the queen.
Wherefore Queen Guinevere, who counted him for her own knight, grew wroth
with him, and on a certain day she called him to her chamber, and said
thus: "Sir Lancelot, I daily see thy loyalty to me doth slack, for ever
thou art absent from this court, and takest other ladies' quarrels on thee
more than ever thou wert wont. Now do I understand thee, false knight, and
therefore shall I never trust thee more. Depart now from my sight, and
come no more within this court upon pain of thy head." With that she
turned from him and would hear no excuses.
So Sir Lancelot departed in heaviness of heart, and calling Sir Bors, Sir
Ector, and Sir Lionel, he told them how the queen had dealt with him.
"Fair sir," replied Sir Bors, "remember what honour ye have in this
country, and how ye are called the noblest knight in the world; wherefore
go not, for women are hasty, and do often what they sore repent of
afterwards. Be ruled by my advice. Take horse and ride to the hermitage
beside Windsor, and there abide till I send ye better tidings."
To that Sir Lancelot consented, and departed with a sorrowful countenance.
Now when the queen heard of his leaving she was inwardly sorry, but made
no show of grief, bearing a proud visage outwardly. And on a certain day
she made a costly banquet to all the knights of the Round Table, to show
she had as great joy in all others as in Sir Lancelot. And at the banquet
were Sir Gawain, and his brothers Sir Agravaine, Sir Gaheris, and Sir
Gareth; also Sir Modred, Sir Bors, Sir Blamor, Sir Bleoberis, Sir Ector,
Sir Lionel, Sir Palomedes, Sir Mador de la Port, and his cousin Sir
Patrice--a knight of Ireland, Sir Pinell le Savage, and many more.
Now Sir Pinell hated Sir Gawain because he had slain one of his kinsmen by
treason; and Sir Gawain had a great love for all kinds of fruit, which,
when Sir Pinell knew, he poisoned certain apples that were set upon the
table, with intent to slay him. And so it chanced as they ate and made
merry, Sir Patrice, who sat next to Sir Gawain, took one of the poisoned
apples and eat it, and when he had eaten he suddenly swelled up and fell
At that every knight leapt from the board ashamed and enraged nigh out of
their wits, for they knew not what to say, yet seeing that the queen had
made the banquet they all had suspicion of her.
"My lady the queen," said Sir Gawain, "I wit well this fruit was meant for
me, for all men know my love for it, and now had I been nearly slain;
wherefore, I fear me, ye will be ashamed."
"This shall not end so," cried Sir Mador de la Port; "now have I lost a
noble knight of my own blood, and for this despite and shame I will be
revenged to the uttermost."
Then he challenged Queen Guinevere concerning the death of his cousin, but
she stood still, sore abashed, and anon with her sorrow and dread, she
At the noise and sudden cry came in King Arthur, and to him appealed Sir
Mador, and impeached the queen.
"Fair lords," said he, "full sorely am I troubled at this matter, for I
must be rightful judge, and therein it repenteth me I may not do battle
for my wife, for, as I deem, this deed was none of hers. But I suppose she
will not lack a champion, and some good knight surely will put his body in
jeopardy to save her."
But all who had been bidden to the banquet said they could not hold the
queen excused, or be her champions, for she had made the feast, and either
by herself or servants must it have come.
"Alas!" said the queen, "I made this dinner for a good intent, and no
evil, so God help me in my need."
"My lord the king," said Sir Mador, "I require you heartily as you be a
righteous king give me a day when I may have justice."
"Well," said the king, "I give ye this day fifteen days, when ye shall be
ready and armed in the meadow beside Westminster, and if there be a
knight to fight with you, God speed the right, and if not, then must my
queen be burnt."
When the king and queen were alone together he asked her how this case
"I wot not how or in what manner," answered she.
"Where is Sir Lancelot?" said King Arthur, "for he would not grudge to do
battle for thee."
"Sir," said she, "I cannot tell you, but all his kinsmen deem he is not in
"These be sad tidings," said the king; "I counsel ye to find Sir Bors, and
pray him for Sir Lancelot's sake to do this battle for you."
So the queen departed and sent for Sir Bors to her chamber, and besought
"Madam," said he, "what would you have me do? for I may not with my honour
take this matter on me, for I was at that same dinner, and all the other
knights would have me ever in suspicion. Now do ye miss Sir Lancelot, for
he would not have failed you in right nor yet in wrong, as ye have often
proved, but now ye have driven him from the country."
"Alas! fair knight," said the queen, "I put me wholly at your mercy, and
all that is done amiss I will amend as ye will counsel me."
And therewith she kneeled down upon both her knees before Sir Bors, and
besought him to have mercy on her.
Anon came in King Arthur also, and prayed him of his courtesy to help her,
saying, "I require you for the love of Lancelot."
"My lord," said he, "ye require the greatest thing of me that any man can
ask, for if I do this battle for the queen I shall anger all my fellows of
the Table Round; nevertheless, for my lord Sir Lancelot's sake, and for
yours, I will that day be the queen's champion, unless there chance to
come a better knight than I am to do battle for her." And this he promised
on his faith.
Then were the king and queen passing glad, and thanked him heartily, and
But Sir Bors rode in secret to the hermitage where Sir Lancelot was, and
told him all these tidings.
"It has chanced as I would have it," said Sir Lancelot; "yet make ye ready
for the battle, but tarry till ye see me come."
"Sir," said Sir Bors, "doubt not but ye shall have your will."
But many of the knights were greatly wroth with him when they heard he was
to be the queen's champion, for there were few in the court but deemed her
Then said Sir Bors, "Wit ye well, fair lords, it were a shame to us all to
suffer so fair and noble a lady to be burnt for lack of a champion, for
ever hath she proved herself a lover of good knights; wherefore I doubt
not she is guiltless of this treason."
At that were some well pleased, but others rested passing wroth.
And when the day was come, the king and queen and all the knights went to
the meadow beside Westminster, where the battle should be fought. Then the
queen was put in ward, and a great fire was made round the iron stake,
where she must be burnt if Sir Mador won the day.
So when the heralds blew, Sir Mador rode forth, and took oath that Queen
Guinevere was guilty of Sir Patrice's death, and his oath he would prove
with his body against any who would say the contrary. Then came forth Sir
Bors, and said, "Queen Guinevere is in the right, and that will I prove
with my hands."
With that they both departed to their tents to make ready for the battle.
But Sir Bors tarried long, hoping Sir Lancelot would come, till Sir Mador
cried out to King Arthur, "Bid thy champion come forth, unless he dare
not." Then was Sir Bors ashamed, and took his horse and rode to the end of
But ere he could meet Sir Mador he was ware of a knight upon a white
horse, armed at all points, and with a strange shield, who rode to him and
said, "I pray you withdraw from this quarrel, for it is mine, and I have
ridden far to fight in it."
Thereat Sir Bors rode to King Arthur, and told him that another knight was
come who would do battle for the queen.
"Who is he?" said King Arthur.
"I may not tell you," said Sir Bors; "but he made a covenant with me to be
here to-day, wherefore I am discharged."
Then the king called that knight, and asked him if he would fight for the
"Therefore came I hither, Sir king," answered he; "but let us tarry no
longer, for anon I have other matters to do. But wit ye well," said he to
the Knights of the Round Table, "it is shame to ye for such a courteous
queen to suffer this dishonour."
And all men marvelled who this knight might be, for none knew him save Sir
Then Sir Mador and the knight rode to either end of the lists, and
couching their spears, ran one against the other with all their might; and
Sir Mador's spear broke short, but the strange knight bore both him and
his horse down to the ground. Then lightly they leaped from their saddles
and drew their swords, and so came eagerly to the battle, and either gave
the other many sad strokes and sore and deep wounds.
Thus they fought nigh an hour, for Sir Mador was a full strong and valiant
knight. But at last the strange knight smote him to the earth, and gave
him such a buffet on the helm as wellnigh killed him. Then did Sir Mador
yield, and prayed his life.
[Illustration: At last the strange knight smote him to the earth, and gave
him such a buffet on the helm as well-nigh killed him. ]
"I will but grant it thee," said the strange knight, "if thou wilt release
the queen from this quarrel for ever, and promise that no mention shall be
made upon Sir Patrice's tomb that ever she consented to that treason."
"All this shall be done," said Sir Mador.
Then the knights parters took up Sir Mador and led him to his tent, and
the other knight went straight to the stair foot of King Arthur's throne;
and by that time was the queen come to the king again, and kissed him
Then both the king and she stooped down, and thanked the knight, and
prayed him to put off his helm and rest him, and to take a cup of wine.
And when he put his helmet off to drink, all people saw it was Sir
Lancelot. But when the queen beheld him she sank almost to the ground
weeping for sorrow and for joy, that he had done her such great goodness
when she had showed him such unkindness.
Then the knights of his blood gathered round him, and there was great joy
and mirth in the court. And Sir Mador and Sir Lancelot were soon healed of
their wounds; and not long after came the Lady of the Lake to the court,
and told all there by her enchantments how Sir Pinell, and not the queen,
was guilty of Sir Patrice's death. Whereat the queen was held excused of
all men, and Sir Pinell fled the country.
So Sir Patrice was buried in the church of Winchester, and it was written
on his tomb that Sir Pinell slew him with a poisoned apple, in error for
Sir Gawain. Then, through Sir Lancelot's favour, the queen was reconciled
to Sir Mador, and all was forgiven.
Now fifteen days before the Feast of the Assumption of our Lady, the king
proclaimed a tourney to be held that feast-day at Camelot, whereat himself
and the King of Scotland would joust with all who should come against
them. So thither went the King of North Wales, and King Anguish of
Ireland, and Sir Galahaut the noble prince, and many other nobles of
And King Arthur made ready to go, and would have had the queen go with
him, but she said that she was sick. Sir Lancelot, also, made excuses,
saying he was not yet whole of his wounds.
At that the king was passing heavy and grieved, and so departed alone
towards Camelot. And by the way he lodged in a town called Astolat, and
lay that night in the castle.
As soon as he had gone, Sir Lancelot said to the queen, "This night I will
rest, and to-morrow betimes will I take my way to Camelot; for at these
jousts I will be against the king and his fellowship."
"Ye may do as ye list," said Queen Guinevere; "but by my counsel ye will
not be against the king, for in his company are many hardy knights, as ye
"Madam," said Sir Lancelot, "I pray ye be not displeased with me, for I
will take the adventure that God may send me."
And on the morrow he went to the church and heard mass, and took his leave
of the queen, and so departed.
Then he rode long till he came to Astolat, and there lodged at the castle
of an old baron called Sir Bernard of Astolat, which was near the castle
where King Arthur lodged. And as Sir Lancelot entered the king espied him,
and knew him. Then said he to the knights, "I have just seen a knight who
will fight full well at the joust toward which we go."
"Who is it?" asked they.
"As yet ye shall not know," he answered smiling.
When Sir Lancelot was in his chamber unarming, the old baron came to him
saluting him, though as yet he knew not who he was.
Now Sir Bernard had a daughter passing beautiful, called the Fair Maid of
Astolat, and when she saw Sir Lancelot she loved him from that instant
with her whole heart, and could not stay from gazing on him.
On the morrow, Sir Lancelot asked the old baron to lend him a strange
shield. "For," said he, "I would be unknown."
"Sir," said his host, "ye shall have your desire, for here is the shield
of my eldest son, Sir Torre, who was hurt the day he was made knight, so
that he cannot ride; and his shield, therefore, is not known. And, if it
please you, my youngest son, Sir Lavaine, shall ride with you to the
jousts, for he is of his age full strong and mighty; and I deem ye be a
noble knight, wherefore I pray ye tell me your name."
"As to that," said Sir Lancelot, "ye must hold me excused at this time,
but if I speed well at the jousts, I will come again and tell you; but in
anywise let me have your son, Sir Lavaine, with me, and lend me his
Then, ere they departed, came Elaine, the baron's daughter, and said to
Sir Lancelot, "I pray thee, gentle knight, to wear my token at to-morrow's
"If I should grant you that, fair damsel," said he, "ye might say that I
did more for you than ever I have done for lady or damsel."
Then he bethought him that if he granted her request he would be the more
disguised, for never before had he worn any lady's token. So anon he said,
"Fair damsel, I will wear thy token on my helmet if thou wilt show it me."
Thereat was she passing glad, and brought him a scarlet sleeve broidered
with pearls, which Sir Lancelot took, and put upon his helm. Then he
prayed her to keep his shield for him until he came again, and taking Sir
Torre's shield instead, rode forth with Sir Lavaine towards Camelot.
On the morrow the trumpets blew for the tourney, and there was a great
press of dukes and earls and barons and many noble knights; and King
Arthur sat in a gallery to behold who did the best. So the King of
Scotland and his knights, and King Anguish of Ireland rode forth on King
Arthur's side; and against them came the King of North Wales, the King of
a Hundred Knights, the King of Northumberland, and the noble prince Sir
But Sir Lancelot and Sir Lavaine rode into a little wood behind the party
which was against King Arthur, to watch which side should prove the
Then was there a strong fight between the two parties, for the King of a
Hundred Knights smote down the King of Scotland; and Sir Palomedes, who
was on King Arthur's side, overthrew Sir Galahaut. Then came fifteen
Knights of the Round Table and beat back the Kings of Northumberland and
North Wales with their knights.
"Now," said Sir Lancelot to Sir Lavaine, "if ye will help me, ye shall
see yonder fellowship go back as fast as they came."
"Sir," said Sir Lavaine, "I will do what I can."
Then they rode together into the thickest of the press, and there, with
one spear, Sir Lancelot smote down five Knights of the Round Table, one
after other, and Sir Lavaine overthrew two. And taking another spear, for
his own was broken, Sir Lancelot smote down four more knights, and Sir
Lavaine a fifth. Then, drawing his sword, Sir Lancelot fought fiercely on
the right hand and the left, and unhorsed Sir Safire, Sir Epinogris, and
Sir Galleron. At that the Knights of the Round Table withdrew themselves
as well as they were able.
"Now, mercy," said Sir Gawain, who sat by King Arthur; "what knight is
that who doth such marvellous deeds of arms? I should deem him by his
force to be Sir Lancelot, but that he wears a lady's token on his helm as
never Lancelot doth."
"Let him be," said King Arthur; "he will be better known, and do more ere
Thus the party against King Arthur prospered at this time, and his knights
were sore ashamed. Then Sir Bors, Sir Ector, and Sir Lionel called
together the knights of their blood, nine in number, and agreed to join
together in one band against the two strange knights. So they encountered
Sir Lancelot all at once, and by main force smote his horse to the ground;
and by misfortune Sir Bors struck Sir Lancelot through the shield into the
side, and the spear broke off and left the head in the wound.
When Sir Lavaine saw that, he ran to the King of Scotland and struck him
off his horse, and brought it to Sir Lancelot, and helped him to mount.
Then Sir Lancelot bore Sir Bors and his horse to the ground, and in like
manner served Sir Ector and Sir Lionel; and turning upon three other
knights he smote them down also; while Sir Lavaine did many gallant deeds.
But feeling himself now sorely wounded Sir Lancelot drew his sword, and
proffered to fight with Sir Bors, who, by this time, was mounted anew. And
as they met, Sir Ector and Sir Lionel came also, and the swords of all
three drave fiercely against him. When he felt their buffets, and his
wound that was so grievous, he determined to do all his best while he
could yet endure, and smote Sir Bors a blow that bent his head down nearly
to the ground and razed his helmet off and pulled him from his horse.
Then rushing at Sir Ector and Sir Lionel, he smote them down, and might
have slain all three, but when he saw their faces his heart forbade him.
Leaving them, therefore, on the field, he hurled into the thickest of the
press, and did such feats of arms as never were beheld before.
And Sir Lavaine was with him through it all, and overthrew ten knights;
but Sir Lancelot smote down more than thirty, and most of them Knights of
the Round Table.
Then the king ordered the trumpets to blow for the end of the tourney, and
the prize to be given by the heralds to the knight with the white shield
who bore the red sleeve.
But ere Sir Lancelot was found by the heralds, came the King of the
Hundred Knights, the King of North Wales, the King of Northumberland, and
Sir Galahaut, and said to him, "Fair knight, God bless thee, for much have
ye done this day for us; wherefore we pray ye come with us and receive
the honour and the prize as ye have worshipfully deserved it."
"My fair lords," said Sir Lancelot, "wit ye well if I have deserved
thanks, I have sore bought them, for I am like never to escape with my
life; therefore I pray ye let me depart, for I am sore hurt. I take no
thought of honour, for I had rather rest me than be lord of all the
world." And therewith he groaned piteously, and rode a great gallop away
And Sir Lavaine rode after him, sad at heart, for the broken spear still
stuck fast in Sir Lancelot's side, and the blood streamed sorely from the
wound. Anon they came near a wood more than a mile from the lists, where
he knew he could be hidden.
Then said he to Sir Lavaine, "O gentle knight, help me to pull out this
spear-head from my side, for the pain thereof nigh killeth me."
"Dear lord," said he, "I fain would help ye; but I dread to draw it forth,
lest ye should die for loss of blood."
"I charge you as you love me," said Sir Lancelot, "draw it out."
So they dismounted, and with a mighty wrench Sir Lavaine drew the spear
forth from Sir Lancelot's side; whereat he gave a marvellous great shriek
and ghastly groan, and all his blood leaped forth in a full stream. Then
he sank swooning to the earth, with a visage pale as death.
"Alas!" cried Sir Lavaine, "what shall I do now?"
And then he turned his master's face towards the wind, and sat by him nigh
half an hour while he lay quiet as one dead. But at the last he lifted up
his eyes, and said, "I pray ye bear me on my horse again, and lead me to a
hermit who dwelleth within two miles hence, for he was formerly a knight
of Arthur's court, and now hath mighty skill in medicine and herbs."
So with great pain Sir Lavaine got him to his horse, and led him to the
hermitage within the wood, beside a stream. Then knocked he with his spear
upon the door, and prayed to enter. At that a child came out, to whom he
said, "Fair child, pray the good man thy master to come hither and let in
a knight who is sore wounded."
Anon came out the knight-hermit, whose name was Sir Baldwin, and asked,
"Who is this wounded knight?"
"I know not," said Sir Lavaine, "save that he is the noblest knight I ever
met with, and hath done this day such marvellous deeds of arms against
King Arthur that he hath won the prize of the tourney."
Then the hermit gazed long on Sir Lancelot, and hardly knew him, so pale
he was with bleeding, yet said he at the last, "Who art thou, lord?"
Sir Lancelot answered feebly, "I am a stranger knight adventurous, who
laboureth through many realms to win worship."
"Why hidest thou thy name, dear lord, from me?" cried Sir Baldwin; "for in
sooth I know thee now to be the noblest knight in all the world--my lord
Sir Lancelot du Lake, with whom I long had fellowship at the Round Table."
"Since ye know me, fair sir," said he, "I pray ye, for Christ's sake, to
help me if ye may."
"Doubt not," replied he, "that ye shall live and fare right well."
Then he staunched his wound, and gave him strong medicines and cordials
till he was refreshed from his faintness and came to himself again.
Now after the jousting was done King Arthur held a feast, and asked to see
the knight with the red sleeve that he might take the prize. So they told
him how that knight had ridden from the field wounded nigh to death.
"These be the worst tidings I have heard for many years," cried out the
king; "I would not for my kingdom he were slain."
Then all men asked, "Know ye him, lord?"
"I may not tell ye at this time," said he; "but would to God we had good
tidings of him."
Then Sir Gawain prayed leave to go and seek that knight, which the king
gladly gave him. So forthwith he mounted and rode many leagues round
Camelot, but could hear no tidings.
Within two days thereafter King Arthur and his knights returned from
Camelot, and Sir Gawain chanced to lodge at Astolat, in the house of Sir
Bernard. And there came in the fair Elaine to him, and prayed him news of
the tournament, and who won the prize. "A knight with a white shield,"
said he, "who bare a red sleeve in his helm, smote down all comers and won
At that the visage of Elaine changed suddenly from white to red, and
heartily she thanked our Lady.
Then said Sir Gawain, "Know ye that knight?" and urged her till she told
him that it was her sleeve he wore. So Sir Gawain knew it was for love
that she had given it; and when he heard she kept his proper shield he
prayed to see it.
As soon as it was brought he saw Sir Lancelot's arms thereon, and cried,
"Alas! now am I heavier of heart than ever yet."
"Wherefore?" said fair Elaine.
"Fair damsel," answered he, "know ye not that the knight ye love is of
all knights the noblest in the world, Sir Lancelot du Lake? With all my
heart I pray ye may have joy of each other, but hardly dare I think that
ye shall see him in this world again, for he is so sore wounded he may
scarcely live, and is gone out of sight where none can find him."
Then was Elaine nigh mad with grief and sorrow, and with piteous words she
prayed her father that she might go seek Sir Lancelot and her brother. So
in the end her father gave her leave, and she departed.
And on the morrow came Sir Gawain to the court, and told how he had found
Sir Lancelot's shield in Elaine's keeping, and how it was her sleeve which
he had worn; whereat all marvelled, for Sir Lancelot had done for her more
than he had ever done for any woman.
But when Queen Guinevere heard it she was beside herself with wrath, and
sending privily for Sir Bors, who sorrowed sorely that through him Sir
Lancelot had been hurt--"Have ye now heard," said she, "how falsely Sir
Lancelot hath betrayed me?"
"I beseech thee, madam," said he, "speak not so, for else I may not hear
"Shall I not call him traitor," cried she, "who hath worn another lady's
token at the jousting?"
"Be sure he did it, madam, for no ill intent," replied Sir Bors, "but that
he might be better hidden, for never did he in that wise before."
"Now shame on him, and thee who wouldest help him," cried the queen.
"Madam, say what ye will," said he; "but I must haste to seek him, and God
send me soon good tidings of him."
So with that he departed to find Sir Lancelot.
Now Elaine had ridden with full haste from Astolat, and come to Camelot,
and there she sought throughout the country for any news of Lancelot. And
so it chanced that Sir Lavaine was riding near the hermitage to exercise
his horse, and when she saw him she ran up and cried aloud, "How doth my
lord Sir Lancelot fare?"
Then said Sir Lavaine, marvelling greatly, "How know ye my lord's name,
So she told him how Sir Gawain had lodged with Sir Bernard, and knew Sir
Then prayed she to see his lord forthwith, and when she came to the
hermitage and found him lying there sore sick and bleeding, she swooned
for sorrow. Anon, as she revived, Sir Lancelot kissed her, and said, "Fair
maid, I pray ye take comfort, for, by God's grace, I shall be shortly
whole of this wound, and if ye be come to tend me, I am heartily bounden
to your great kindness." Yet was he sore vexed to hear Sir Gawain had
discovered him, for he knew Queen Guinevere would be full wroth because of
the red sleeve.
So Elaine rested in the hermitage, and ever night and day she watched and
waited on Sir Lancelot, and would let none other tend him. And as she saw
him more, the more she set her love upon him, and could by no means
withdraw it. Then said Sir Lancelot to Sir Lavaine, "I pray thee set some
to watch for the good knight Sir Bors, for as he hurt me, so will he
surely seek for me."
Now Sir Bors by this time had come to Camelot, and was seeking for Sir
Lancelot everywhere, so Sir Lavaine soon found him, and brought him to the
And when he saw Sir Lancelot pale and feeble, he wept for pity and sorrow
that he had given him that grievous wound. "God send thee a right speedy
cure, dear lord," said he; "for I am of all men most unhappy to have
wounded thee, who art our leader, and the noblest knight in all the
"Fair cousin," said Sir Lancelot, "be comforted, for I have but gained
what I sought, and it was through pride that I was hurt, for had I warned
ye of my coming it had not been; wherefore let us speak of other things."
So they talked long together, and Sir Bors told him of the queen's anger.
Then he asked Sir Lancelot, "Was it from this maid who tendeth you so
lovingly ye had the token?"
"Yea," said Sir Lancelot; "and would I could persuade her to withdraw her
love from me."
"Why should ye do so?" said Sir Bors; "for she is passing fair and loving.
I would to heaven ye could love her."
"That may not be," replied he; "but it repenteth me in sooth to grieve
Then they talked of other matters, and of the great jousting at
Allhallowtide next coming, between King Arthur and the King of North
"Abide with me till then," said Sir Lancelot, "for by that time I trust to
be all whole again, and we will go together."
So Elaine daily and nightly tending him, within a month he felt so strong
he deemed himself full cured. Then on a day, when Sir Bors and Sir Lavaine
were from the hermitage, and the knight-hermit also was gone forth, Sir
Lancelot prayed Elaine to bring him some herbs from the forest.
When she was gone he rose and made haste to arm himself, and try if he
were whole enough to joust, and mounted on his horse, which was fresh with
lack of labour for so long a time. But when he set his spear in the rest
and tried his armour, the horse bounded and leapt beneath him, so that Sir
Lancelot strained to keep him back. And therewith his wound, which was not
wholly healed, burst forth again, and with a mighty groan he sank down
swooning on the ground.
At that came fair Elaine and wept and piteously moaned to see him lying
so. And when Sir Bors and Sir Lavaine came back, she called them traitors
to let him rise, or to know any rumour of the tournament. Anon the hermit
returned and was wroth to see Sir Lancelot risen, but within a while he
recovered him from his swoon and staunched the wound. Then Sir Lancelot
told him how he had risen of his own will to assay his strength for the
tournament. But the hermit bad him rest and let Sir Bors go alone, for
else would he sorely peril his life. And Elaine, with tears, prayed him in
the same wise, so that Sir Lancelot in the end consented.
So Sir Bors departed to the tournament, and there he did such feats of
arms that the prize was given between him and Sir Gawain, who did like
And when all was over he came back and told Sir Lancelot, and found him so
nigh well that he could rise and walk. And within a while thereafter he
departed from the hermitage and went with Sir Bors, Sir Lavaine, and fair
Elaine to Astolat, where Sir Bernard joyfully received them.
But after they had lodged there a few days Sir Lancelot and Sir Bors must
needs depart and return to King Arthur's court.
So when Elaine knew Sir Lancelot must go, she came to him and said, "Have
mercy on me, fair knight, and let me not die for your love."
Then said Sir Lancelot, very sad at heart, "Fair maid, what would ye that
I should do for you?"
"If I may not be your wife, dear lord," she answered, "I must die."
"Alas!" said he, "I pray heaven that may not be; for in sooth I may not be
your husband. But fain would I show ye what thankfulness I can for all
your love and kindness to me. And ever will I be your knight, fair maiden;
and if it chance that ye shall ever wed some noble knight, right heartily
will I give ye such a dower as half my lands will bring."
"Alas! what shall that aid me?" answered she; "for I must die," and
therewith she fell to the earth in a deep swoon.
Then was Sir Lancelot passing heavy of heart, and said to Sir Bernard and
Sir Lavaine, "What shall I do for her?"
"Alas!" said Sir Bernard, "I know well that she will die for your sake."
And Sir Lavaine said, "I marvel not that she so sorely mourneth your
departure, for truly I do as she doth, and since I once have seen you,
lord, I cannot leave you."
So anon, with a full sorrowful heart, Sir Lancelot took his leave, and Sir
Lavaine rode with him to the court. And King Arthur and the Knights of the
Round Table joyed greatly to see him whole of his wound, but Queen
Guinevere was sorely wroth, and neither spake with him nor greeted him.
Now when Sir Lancelot had departed, the Maid of Astolat could neither eat,
nor drink, not sleep for sorrow; and having thus endured ten days, she
felt within herself that she must die.
Then sent she for a holy man, and was shriven and received the sacrament.
But when he told her she must leave her earthly thoughts, she answered,
"Am I not an earthly woman? What sin is it to love the noblest knight of
all the world? And, by my truth, I am not able to withstand the love
whereof I die; wherefore, I pray the High Father of Heaven to have mercy
on my soul."
Then she besought Sir Bernard to indite a letter as she should devise, and
said, "When I am dead put this within my hand, and dress me in my fairest
clothes, and lay me in a barge all covered with black samite, and steer it
down the river till it reach the court. Thus, father, I beseech thee let
Then, full of grief, he promised her it should be so. And anon she died,
and all the household made a bitter lamentation over her.
Then did they as she had desired, and laid her body, richly dressed, upon
a bed within the barge, and a trusty servant steered it down the river
towards the court.
Now King Arthur and Queen Guinevere sat at a window of the palace, and saw
the barge come floating with the tide, and marvelled what was laid
therein, and sent a messenger to see, who, soon returning, prayed them to
When they came to the shore they marvelled greatly, and the king asked of
the serving-men who steered the barge what this might mean. But he made
signs that he was dumb, and pointed to the letter in the damsel's hands.
So King Arthur took the letter from the hand of the corpse, and found
thereon written, "To the noble knight, Sir Lancelot du Lake."
Then was Sir Lancelot sent for, and the letter read aloud by a clerk, and
thus it was written:--
[Illustration: Then was Sir Lancelot sent for, and the letter read aloud
by a clerk.]
"Most noble knight, my lord Sir Lancelot, now hath death for ever parted
us. I, whom men call the Maid of Astolat, set my love upon you, and have
died for your sake. This is my last request, that ye pray for my soul and
give me burial. Grant me this, Sir Lancelot, as thou art a peerless
At these words the queen and all the knights wept sore for pity.
Then said Sir Lancelot, "My lord, I am right heavy for the death of this
fair damsel; and God knoweth that right unwillingly I caused it, for she
was good as she was fair, and much was I beholden to her; but she loved me
beyond measure, and asked me that I could not give her."
"Ye might have shown her gentleness enough to save her life," answered the
"Madam," said he, "she would but be repaid by my taking her to wife, and
that I could not grant her, for love cometh of the heart and not by
"That is true," said the king; "for love is free."
"I pray you," said Sir Lancelot, "let me now grant her last asking, to be
buried by me."
So on the morrow, he caused her body to be buried richly and solemnly, and
ordained masses for her soul, and made great sorrow over her.
Then the queen sent for Sir Lancelot, and prayed his pardon for her wrath
against him without cause. "This is not the first time it hath been so,"
answered he; "yet must I ever bear with ye, and so do I now forgive you."
So Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot were made friends again; but anon such
favour did she show him, as in the end brought many evils on them both and
all the realm.
_The War between King Arthur and Sir Lancelot and the Death of King
Within a while thereafter was a jousting at the court, wherein Sir
Lancelot won the prize. And two of those he smote down were Sir Agravaine,
the brother of Sir Gawain, and Sir Modred, his false brother--King
Arthur's son by Belisent. And because of his victory they hated Sir
Lancelot, and sought how they might injure him.
So on a night, when King Arthur was hunting in the forest, and the queen
sent for Sir Lancelot to her chamber, they two espied him; and thinking
now to make a scandal and a quarrel between Lancelot and the king, they
found twelve others, and said Sir Lancelot was ever now in the queen's
chamber, and King Arthur was dishonoured.
Then, all armed, they came suddenly round the queen's door, and cried,
"Traitor! now art thou taken."
"Madam, we be betrayed," said Sir Lancelot; "yet shall my life cost these
Then did the queen weep sore, and dismally she cried, "Alas! there is no
armour here whereby ye might withstand so many; wherefore ye will be
slain, and I be burnt for the dread crime they will charge on me."
But while she spake the shouting of the knights was heard without,
"Traitor, come forth, for now thou art snared!"
"Better were twenty deaths at once than this vile outcry," said Sir
Then he kissed her and said, "Most noble lady, I beseech ye, as I have
ever been your own true knight, take courage; pray for my soul if I be now
slain, and trust my faithful friends, Sir Bors and Sir Lavaine, to save
you from the fire."
But ever bitterly she wept and moaned, and cried, "Would God that they
would take and slay me, and that thou couldest escape."
"That shall never be," said he. And wrapping his mantle round his arm he
unbarred the door a little space, so that but one could enter.
Then first rushed in Sir Chalaunce, a full strong knight, and lifted up
his sword to smite Sir Lancelot; but lightly he avoided him, and struck
Sir Chalaunce, with his hand, such a sore buffet on the head as felled him
dead upon the floor.
Then Sir Lancelot pulled in his body and barred the door again, and
dressed himself in his armour, and took his drawn sword in his hand.
But still the knights cried mightily without the door, "Traitor, come
[Illustration: But still the knights cried mightily without the door,
"Traitor, come forth!"]
"Be silent and depart," replied Sir Lancelot; "for be ye sure ye will not
take me, and to-morrow will I meet ye face to face before the king."
"Ye shall have no such grace," they cried; "but we will slay thee, or take
thee as we list."
"Then save yourselves who may," he thundered, and therewith suddenly
unbarred the door and rushed forth at them. And at the first blow he slew
Sir Agravaine, and after him twelve other knights, with twelve more mighty
buffets. And none of all escaped him save Sir Modred, who, sorely wounded,
fled away for life.
Then returned he to the queen, and said, "Now, madam, will I depart, and
if ye be in any danger I pray ye come to me."
"Surely will I stay here, for I am queen," she answered; "yet if to-morrow
any harm come to me I trust to thee for rescue."
"Have ye no doubt of me," said he, "for ever while I live am I your own
Therewith he took his leave, and went and told Sir Bors and all his
kindred of this adventure. "We will be with thee in this quarrel," said
they all; "and if the queen be sentenced to the fire, we certainly will
Meanwhile Sir Modred, in great fear and pain, fled from the court, and
rode until he found King Arthur, and told him all that had befallen. But
the king would scarce believe him till he came and saw the bodies of Sir
Agravaine and all the other knights.
Then felt he in himself that all was true, and with his passing grief his
heart nigh broke. "Alas!" cried he, "now is the fellowship of the Round
Table for ever broken: yea, woe is me! I may not with my honour spare my
Anon it was ordained that Queen Guinevere should be burned to death,
because she had dishonoured King Arthur.
But when Sir Gawain heard thereof, he came before the king, and said, "My
lord, I counsel thee be not too hasty in this matter, but stay the
judgment of the queen a season, for it may well be that Sir Lancelot was
in her chamber for no evil, seeing she is greatly beholden to him for so
many deeds done for her sake, and peradventure she had sent to him to
thank him, and did it secretly that she might avoid slander."
But King Arthur answered, full of grief, "Alas! I may not help her; she is
judged as any other woman."
Then he required Sir Gawain and his brethren, Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth,
to be ready to bear the queen to-morrow to the place of execution.
"Nay, noble lord," replied Sir Gawain, "that can I never do; for neither
will my heart suffer me to see the queen die, nor shall men ever say I was
of your counsel in this matter."
Then said his brothers, "Ye may command us to be there, but since it is
against our will, we will be without arms, that we may do no battle
So on the morrow was Queen Guinevere led forth to die by fire, and a
mighty crowd was there, of knights and nobles, armed and unarmed. And all
the lords and ladies wept sore at that piteous sight. Then was she shriven
by a priest, and the men came nigh to bind her to the stake and light the
At that Sir Lancelot's spies rode hastily and told him and his kindred,
who lay hidden in a wood hard by; and suddenly, with twenty knights, he
rushed into the midst of all the throng to rescue her.
But certain of King Arthur's knights rose up and fought with them, and
there was a full great battle and confusion. And Sir Lancelot drave
fiercely here and there among the press, and smote on every side, and at
every blow struck down a knight, so that many were slain by him and his
Then was the queen set free, and caught up on Sir Lancelot's saddle and
fled away with him and all his company to the Castle of La Joyous Garde.
Now so it chanced that, in the turmoil of the fighting, Sir Lancelot had
unawares struck down and slain the two good knights Sir Gareth and Sir
Gaheris, knowing it not, for he fought wildly, and saw not that they were
When King Arthur heard thereof, and of all that battle, and the rescue of
the queen, he sorrowed heavily for those good knights, and was passing
wroth with Lancelot and the queen.
But when Sir Gawain heard of his brethren's death he swooned for sorrow
and wrath, for he wist that Sir Lancelot had killed them in malice. And as
soon as he recovered he ran in to the king, and said, "Lord king and
uncle, hear this oath which now I swear, that from this day I will not
fail Sir Lancelot till one of us hath slain the other. And now, unless ye
haste to war with him, that we may be avenged, will I myself alone go
Then the king, full of wrath and grief, agreed thereto, and sent letters
throughout the realm to summon all his knights, and went with a vast army
to besiege the Castle of La Joyous Garde. And Sir Lancelot, with his
knights, mightily defended it; but never would he suffer any to go forth
and attack one of the king's army, for he was right loth to fight against
So when fifteen weeks were passed, and King Arthur's army wasted itself in
vain against the castle, for it was passing strong, it chanced upon a day
Sir Lancelot was looking from the walls and espied King Arthur and Sir
Gawain close beside.
"Come forth, Sir Lancelot," said King Arthur right fiercely, "and let us
two meet in the midst of the field."
"God forbid that I should encounter with thee, lord, for thou didst make
me a knight," replied Sir Lancelot.
Then cried Sir Gawain, "Shame on thee, traitor and false knight, yet be ye
well assured we will regain the queen and slay thee and thy company; yea,
double shame on ye to slay my brother Gaheris unarmed, Sir Gareth also,
who loved ye so well. For that treachery, be sure I am thine enemy till
"Alas!" cried Sir Lancelot, "that I hear such tidings, for I knew not I
had slain those noble knights, and right sorely now do I repent it with a
heavy heart. Yet abate thy wrath, Sir Gawain, for ye know full well I did
it by mischance, for I loved them ever as my own brothers."
"Thou liest, false recreant," cried Sir Gawain, fiercely.
At that Sir Lancelot was wroth, and said, "I well see thou art now mine
enemy, and that there can be no more peace with thee, or with my lord the
king, else would I gladly give back the queen."
Then the king would fain have listened to Sir Lancelot, for more than all
his own wrong did he grieve at the sore waste and damage of the realm, but
Sir Gawain persuaded him against it, and ever cried out foully on Sir
When Sir Bors and the other knights of Lancelot's party heard the fierce
words of Sir Gawain, they were passing wroth, and prayed to ride forth and
be avenged on him, for they were weary of so long waiting to no good. And
in the end Sir Lancelot, with a heavy heart, consented.
So on the morrow the hosts on either side met in the field, and there was
a great battle. And Sir Gawain prayed his knights chiefly to set upon Sir
Lancelot; but Sir Lancelot commanded his company to forbear King Arthur
and Sir Gawain.
So the two armies jousted together right fiercely, and Sir Gawain
proffered to encounter with Sir Lionel, and overthrew him. But Sir Bors,
and Sir Blamor, and Sir Palomedes, who were on Sir Lancelot's side, did
great feats of arms, and overthrew many of King Arthur's knights.
Then the king came forth against Sir Lancelot, but Sir Lancelot forbore
him and would not strike again.
At that Sir Bors rode up against the king and smote him down. But Sir
Lancelot cried, "Touch him not on pain of thy head," and going to King
Arthur he alighted and gave him his own horse, saying, "My lord, I pray
thee forbear this strife, for it can bring to neither of us any honour."
And when King Arthur looked on him the tears came to his eyes as he
thought of his noble courtesy, and he said within himself, "Alas! that
ever this war began."
But on the morrow Sir Gawain led forth the army again, and Sir Bors
commanded on Sir Lancelot's side. And they two struck together so fiercely
that both fell to the ground sorely wounded; and all the day they fought
till night fell, and many were slain on both sides, yet in the end neither
gained the victory.
But by now the fame of this fierce war spread through all Christendom, and
when the Pope heard thereof he sent a Bull, and charged King Arthur to
make peace with Lancelot, and receive back Queen Guinevere; and for the
offence imputed to her absolution should be given by the Pope.
Thereto would King Arthur straightway have obeyed, but Sir Gawain ever
urged him to refuse.
When Sir Lancelot heard thereof, he wrote thus to the king: "It was never
in my thought, lord, to withhold thy queen from thee; but since she was
condemned for my sake to death, I deemed it but a just and knightly part
to rescue her therefrom; wherefore I recommend me to your grace, and
within eight days will I come to thee and bring the queen in safety."
Then, within eight days, as he had said, Sir Lancelot rode from out the
castle with Queen Guinevere, and a hundred knights for company, each
carrying an olive branch, in sign of peace. And so they came to the court,
and found King Arthur sitting on his throne, with Sir Gawain and many
other knights around him. And when Sir Lancelot entered with the queen,
they both kneeled down before the king.
Anon Sir Lancelot rose and said, "My lord, I have brought hither my lady
the queen again, as right requireth, and by commandment of the Pope and
you. I pray ye take her to your heart again and forget the past. For
myself I may ask nothing, and for my sin I shall have sorrow and sore
punishment; yet I would to heaven I might have your grace."
But ere the king could answer, for he was moved with pity at his words,
Sir Gawain cried aloud, "Let the king do as he will, but be sure, Sir
Lancelot, thou and I shall never be accorded while we live, for thou has
slain my brethren traitorously and unarmed."
"As heaven is my help," replied Sir Lancelot, "I did it ignorantly, for I
loved them well, and while I live I shall bewail their death; but to make
war with me were no avail, for I must needs fight with thee if thou
assailest, and peradventure I might kill thee also, which I were right
loth to do."
"I will forgive thee never," cried Sir Gawain, "and if the king accordeth
with thee he shall lose my service."
Then the knights who stood near tried to reconcile Sir Gawain to Sir
Lancelot, but he would not hear them. So, at the last, Sir Lancelot said,
"Since peace is vain, I will depart, lest I bring more evil on my
And as he turned to go, the tears fell from him, and he said, "Alas, most
noble Christian realm, which I have loved above all others, now shall I
see thee never more!" Then said he to the queen, "Madam, now must I leave
ye and this noble fellowship for ever. And, I beseech ye, pray for me, and
if ye ever be defamed of any, let me hear thereof, and as I have been ever
thy true knight in right and wrong, so will I be again."
With that he kneeled and kissed King Arthur's hands, and departed on his
way. And there was none in all that court, save Sir Gawain alone, but wept
to see him go.
So he returned with all his knights to the Castle of La Joyous Garde, and,
for his sorrow's sake, he named it Dolorous Garde thenceforth.
Anon he left the realm, and went with many of his fellowship beyond the
sea to France, and there divided all his lands among them equally, he
sharing but as the rest.
And from that time forward peace had been between him and King Arthur, but
for Sir Gawain, who left the king no rest, but constantly persuaded him
that Lancelot was raising mighty hosts against him.
So in the end his malice overcame the king, who left the government in
charge of Modred, and made him guardian of the queen, and went with a
great army to invade Sir Lancelot's lands.
Yet Sir Lancelot would make no war upon the king, and sent a message to
gain peace on any terms King Arthur chose. But Sir Gawain met the herald
ere he reached the king, and sent him back with taunting and bitter words.
Whereat Sir Lancelot sorrowfully called his knights together and fortified
the Castle of Benwicke, and there was shortly besieged by the army of King
And every day Sir Gawain rode up to the walls, and cried out foully on Sir
Lancelot, till, upon a time, Sir Lancelot answered him that he would meet
him in the field and put his boasting to the proof. So it was agreed on
both sides that there should none come nigh them or separate them till one
had fallen or yielded; and they two rode forth.
Then did they wheel their horses apart, and turning, came together as it
had been thunder, so that both horses fell, and both their lances broke.
At that they drew their swords and set upon each other fiercely, with
passing grievous strokes.
Now Sir Gawain had through magic a marvellous great gift. For every day,
from morning till noon, his strength waxed to the might of seven men, but
after that waned to his natural force. Therefore till noon he gave Sir
Lancelot many mighty buffets, which scarcely he endured. Yet greatly he
forbore Sir Gawain, for he was aware of his enchantment, and smote him
slightly till his own knights marvelled. But after noon Sir Gawain's
strength sank fast, and then, with one full blow, Sir Lancelot laid him on
the earth. Then Sir Gawain cried out, "Turn not away, thou traitor knight,
but slay me if thou wilt, or else I will arise and fight with thee again
some other time."
"Sir knight," replied Sir Lancelot, "I never yet smote a fallen man."
At that they bore Sir Gawain sorely wounded to his tent, and King Arthur
withdrew his men, for he was loth to shed the blood of so many knights of
his own fellowship.
But now came tidings to King Arthur from across the sea, which caused him
to return in haste. For thus the news ran, that no sooner was Sir Modred
set up in his regency, than he had forged false tidings from abroad that
the king had fallen in a battle with Sir Lancelot. Whereat he had
proclaimed himself the king, and had been crowned at Canterbury, where he
had held a coronation feast for fifteen days. Then he had gone to
Winchester, where Queen Guinevere abode, and had commanded her to be his
wife; whereto, for fear and sore perplexity, she had feigned consent, but,
under pretext of preparing for the marriage, had fled in haste to London
and taken shelter in the Tower, fortifying it and providing it with all
manner of victuals, and defending it against Sir Modred, and answering to
all his threats that she would rather slay herself than be his queen.
Thus was it written to King Arthur. Then, in passing great wrath and
haste, he came with all his army swiftly back from France and sailed to
England. But when Sir Modred heard thereof, he left the Tower and marched
with all his host to meet the king at Dover.
Then fled Queen Guinevere to Amesbury to a nunnery, and there she clothed
herself in sackcloth, and spent her time in praying for the king and in
good deeds and fasting. And in that nunnery evermore she lived, sorely
repenting and mourning for her sin, and for the ruin she had brought on
all the realm. And there anon she died.
And when Sir Lancelot heard thereof, he put his knightly armour off, and
bade farewell to all his kin, and went a mighty pilgrimage for many years,
and after lived a hermit till his death.
When Sir Modred came to Dover, he found King Arthur and his army but just
landed; and there they fought a fierce and bloody battle, and many great
and noble knights fell on both sides.
But the king's side had the victory, for he was beyond himself with might
and passion, and all his knights so fiercely followed him, that, in spite
of all their multitude, they drove Sir Modred's army back with fearful
wounds and slaughter, and slept that night upon the battle-field.
But Sir Gawain was smitten by an arrow in the wound Sir Lancelot gave him,
and wounded to the death. Then was he borne to the king's tent, and King
Arthur sorrowed over him as it had been his own son. "Alas!" said he; "in
Sir Lancelot and in you I had my greatest earthly joy, and now is all gone
And Sir Gawain answered, with a feeble voice, "My lord and king, I know
well my death is come, and through my own wilfulness, for I am smitten in
the wound Sir Lancelot gave me. Alas! that I have been the cause of all
this war, for but for me thou hadst been now at peace with Lancelot, and
then had Modred never done this treason. I pray ye, therefore, my dear
lord, be now agreed with Lancelot, and tell him, that although he gave me
my death-wound, it was through my own seeking; wherefore I beseech him to
come back to England, and here to visit my tomb, and pray for my soul."
When he had thus spoken, Sir Gawain gave up his ghost, and the king
grievously mourned for him.
Then they told him that the enemy had camped on Barham Downs, whereat,
with all his hosts, he straightway marched there, and fought again a
bloody battle, and overthrew Sir Modred utterly. Howbeit, he raised yet
another army, and retreating ever from before the king, increased his
numbers as he went, till at the farthest west in Lyonesse, he once more
made a stand.
Now, on the night of Trinity Sunday, being the eve of the battle, King
Arthur had a vision, and saw Sir Gawain in a dream, who warned him not to
fight with Modred on the morrow, else he would be surely slain; and prayed
him to delay till Lancelot and his knights should come to aid him.
So when King Arthur woke he told his lords and knights that vision, and
all agreed to wait the coming of Sir Lancelot. Then a herald was sent with
a message of truce to Sir Modred, and a treaty was made that neither army
should assail the other.
But when the treaty was agreed upon, and the heralds returned, King Arthur
said to his knights, "Beware, lest Sir Modred deceive us, for I in no wise
trust him, and if swords be drawn be ready to encounter!" And Sir Modred
likewise gave an order, that if any man of the king's army drew his sword,
they should begin to fight.
And as it chanced, a knight of the king's side was bitten by an adder in
the foot, and hastily drew forth his sword to slay it. That saw Sir
Modred, and forthwith commanded all his army to assail the king's.
So both sides rushed to battle, and fought passing fiercely. And when the
king saw there was no hope to stay them, he did right mightily and nobly
as a king should do, and ever, like a lion, raged in the thickest of the
press, and slew on the right hand and on the left, till his horse went
fetlock deep in blood. So all day long they fought, and stinted not till
many a noble knight was slain.
But the king was passing sorrowful to see his trusty knights lie dead on
every side. And at the last but two remained beside him, Sir Lucan, and
his brother, Sir Bedivere, and both were sorely wounded.
"Now am I come to mine end," said King Arthur; "but, lo! that traitor
Modred liveth yet, and I may not die till I have slain him. Now, give me
my spear, Sir Lucan."
"Lord, let him be," replied Sir Lucan; "for if ye pass through this
unhappy day, ye shall be right well revenged upon him. My good lord,
remember well your dream, and what the spirit of Sir Gawain did forewarn
"Betide me life, betide me death," said the king; "now I see him yonder
alone, he shall never escape my hands, for at a better vantage shall I
never have him."
"God speed you well," said Sir Bedivere.
Then King Arthur got his spear in both his hands, and ran towards Sir
Modred, crying, "Traitor, now is thy death-day come!" And when Sir Modred
heard his words, and saw him come, he drew his sword and stood to meet
him. Then King Arthur smote Sir Modred through the body more than a
fathom. And when Sir Modred felt he had his death wound, he thrust himself
with all his might up to the end of King Arthur's spear, and smote his
father, Arthur, with his sword upon the head, so that it pierced both helm
And therewith Sir Modred fell down stark dead to the earth, and King
Arthur fell down also in a swoon, and swooned many times.
Then Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere came and bare him away to a little chapel
by the sea-shore. And there Sir Lucan sank down with the bleeding of his
own wounds, and fell dead.
And King Arthur lay long in a swoon, and when he came to himself, he found
Sir Lucan lying dead beside him, and Sir Bedivere weeping over the body of
Then said the king to Sir Bedivere, "Weeping will avail no longer, else
would I grieve for evermore. Alas! now is the fellowship of the Round
Table dissolved for ever, and all my realm I have so loved is wasted with
war. But my time hieth fast, wherefore take thou Excalibur, my good sword,
and go therewith to yonder water-side and throw it in, and bring me word
what thing thou seest."
So Sir Bedivere departed; but as he went he looked upon the sword, the
hilt whereof was all inlaid with precious stones exceeding rich. And
presently he said within himself, "If I now throw this sword into the
water, what good should come of it?" So he hid the sword among the reeds,
and came again to the king.
"What sawest thou?" said he to Sir Bedivere.
"Lord," said he, "I saw nothing else but wind and waves."
"Thou hast untruly spoken," said the king; "wherefore go lightly back and
throw it in, and spare not."
Then Sir Bedivere returned again, and took the sword up in his hand; but
when he looked on it, he thought it sin and shame to throw away a thing so
noble. Wherefore he hid it yet again, and went back to the king.
"What saw ye?" said King Arthur.
"Lord," answered he, "I saw nothing but the water ebbing and flowing."
"Oh, traitor and untrue!" cried out the king; "twice hast thou now
betrayed me. Art thou called of men a noble knight, and wouldest betray me
for a jewelled sword? Now, therefore, go again for the last time, for thy
tarrying hath put me in sore peril of my life, and I fear my wound hath
taken cold; and if thou do it not this time, by my faith I will arise and
slay thee with my hands."
Then Sir Bedivere ran quickly and took up the sword, and went down to the
water's edge, and bound the girdle round the hilt and threw it far into
the water. And lo! an arm and hand came forth above the water, and caught
the sword, and brandished it three times, and vanished.
So Sir Bedivere came again to the king and told him what he had seen.
"Help me from hence," said King Arthur; "for I dread me I have tarried
Then Sir Bedivere took the king up in his arms, and bore him to the
water's edge. And by the shore they saw a barge with three fair queens
therein, all dressed in black, and when they saw King Arthur they wept and
"Now put me in the barge," said he to Sir Bedivere, and tenderly he did
Then the three queens received him, and he laid his head upon the lap of
one of them, who cried, "Alas! dear brother, why have ye tarried so long,
for your wound hath taken cold?"
With that the barge put from the land, and when Sir Bedivere saw it
departing, he cried with a bitter cry, "Alas! my lord King Arthur, what
shall become of me now ye have gone from me?"
"Comfort ye," said King Arthur, "and be strong, for I may no more help ye.
I go to the Vale of Avilion to heal me of my grievous wound, and if ye see
me no more, pray for my soul."
Then the three queens kneeled down around the king and sorely wept and
wailed, and the barge went forth to sea, and departed slowly out of Sir
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