History of Literature






James Knowles


"THE LEGENDS OF KING ARTHUR


AND HIS KNIGHTS"



Illustrations by Lancelot Speed

 

"THE LEGENDS OF KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS"  (Part II)


Illustrations by Lancelot Speed




CHAPTER IV

King Arthur Conquers Ireland and Norway, Slays the Giant of St. Michael's
Mount, and Conquers Gaul--The Adventures of Sir Balin

The land of Britain being now in peace, and many great and valiant knights
therein ready to take part in whatsoever battles or adventures might
arise, King Arthur resolved to follow all his enemies to their own coasts.
Anon he fitted out a great fleet, and sailing first to Ireland, in one
battle he miserably routed the people of the country. The King of Ireland
also he took prisoner, and forced all earls and barons to pay him homage.

Having conquered Ireland, he went next to Iceland and subdued it also, and
the winter being then arrived, returned to Britain.

In the next year he set forth to Norway, whence many times the heathen had
descended on the British coasts; for he was determined to give so terrible
a lesson to those savages as should be told through all their tribes both
far and near, and make his name fearful to them.

As soon as he was come, Riculf, the king, with all the power of that
country, met and gave him battle; but, after mighty slaughter, the Britons
had at length the advantage, and slew Riculf and a countless multitude
besides.

Having thus defeated them, they set the cities on fire, dispersed the
country people, and pursued the victory till they had reduced all Norway,
as also Dacia, under the dominion of King Arthur.

Now, therefore, having thus chastised those pagans who so long had
harassed Britain, and put his yoke upon them, he voyaged on to Gaul, being
steadfastly set upon defeating the Roman governor of that province, and so
beginning to make good the threats which he had sent the emperor by his
ambassadors.

So soon as he was landed on the shores of Gaul, there came to him a
countryman who told him of a fearful giant in the land of Brittany, who
had slain, murdered, and devoured many people, and had lived for seven
years upon young children only, "insomuch," said the man, "that all the
children of the country are destroyed; and but the other day he seized
upon our duchess, as she rode out with her men, and took her away to his
lodging in a cave of a mountain, and though five hundred people followed
her, yet could they give her no help or rescue, but left her shrieking and
crying lamentably in the giant's hands; and, Lord, she is thy cousin
Hoel's wife, who is of thy near kindred; wherefore, as thou art a rightful
king, have pity on this lady; and as thou art a valiant conqueror, avenge
us and deliver us."

"Alas!" said King Arthur, "this is a great mischief that ye tell of. I had
rather than the best realm I have, that I had rescued that lady ere the
giant laid his hand on her; but tell me now, good fellow, canst thou bring
me where this giant haunteth?"

"Yea, Lord!" replied the man; "lo, yonder, where thou seest two great
fires, there shall thou find him, and more treasure also than is in all
Gaul besides."

Then the king returned to his tent, and, calling Sir Key and Sir Bedwin,
desired them to get horses ready for himself and them, for that after
evensong he would ride a pilgrimage with them alone to St. Michael's
Mount. So in the evening they departed, and rode as fast as they could
till they came near the mount, and there alighted; and the king commanded
the two knights to await him at the hill foot, while he went up alone.

Then he ascended the mountain till he came to a great fire. And there he
found a sorrowful widow wringing her hands and weeping miserably, sitting
by a new-made grave. And saluting her, King Arthur prayed her wherefore
she made such heavy lamentations.

"Sir knight," she said, "speak softly, for yonder is a devil, who, if he
hear thy voice, will come and straightway slay thee. Alas! what dost thou
here? Fifty such men as thou were powerless to resist him. Here lieth dead
my lady, Duchess of Brittany, wife to Sir Hoel, who was the fairest lady
in the world, foully and shamefully slaughtered by that fiend! Beware that
thou go not too nigh, for he hath overcome and vanquished fifteen kings,
and hath made himself a coat of precious stones, embroidered with their
beards; but if thou art hardy, and wilt speak with him, at yonder great
fire he is at supper."

"Well," said King Arthur, "I will accomplish mine errand, for all thy
fearful words;" and so went forth to the crest of the hill, and saw where
the giant sat at supper, gnawing on a limb of a man, and baking his huge
frame by the fire, while three damsels turned three spits whereon were
spitted, like larks, twelve young children lately born.

 

When King Arthur saw all that, his heart bled for sorrow, and he trembled
for rage and indignation; then lifting up his voice he cried aloud--"God,
that wieldeth all the world, give thee short life and shameful death, and
may the devil have thy soul! Why hast thou slain those children and that
fair lady? Wherefore arise, and prepare thee to perish, thou glutton and
fiend, for this day thou shalt die by my hands."

Then the giant, mad with fury at these words, started up, and seizing a
great club, smote the king, and struck his crown from off his head. But
King Arthur smote him with his sword so mightily in return, that all his
blood gushed forth in streams.

At that the giant, howling in great anguish, threw away his club of iron,
and caught the king in both his arms and strove to crush his ribs
together. But King Arthur struggled and writhed, and twisted him about, so
that the giant could not hold him tightly; and as they fiercely wrestled,
they both fell, and rolling over one another, tumbled--wrestling, and
struggling, and fighting frantically--from rock to rock, till they came to
the sea.

And as they tore and strove and tumbled, the king ever and anon smote at
the giant with his dagger, till his arms stiffened in death around King
Arthur's body, and groaning horribly, he died. So presently the two
knights came and found the king locked fast in the giant's arms, and very
faint and weary, and loosed him from their hold.

Then the king bade Sir Key to "smite off the giant's head and set it on
the truncheon of a spear, and bear it to Sir Hoel, and tell him that his
enemy is slain; and afterwards let it be fastened to the castle gate, that
all the people may behold it. And go ye two up on the mountain and fetch
me my shield and sword, and also the great club of iron ye will see there;
and as for the treasure, ye shall find there wealth beyond counting, but
take as much as ye will, for if I have his kirtle and the club, I desire
no more."

Then the knights fetched the club and kirtle, as the king had ordered, and
took the treasure to themselves, as much as they could carry, and returned
to the army. But when this deed was noised abroad, all the people came in
multitudes to thank the king, who told them "to give thanks to God, and to
divide the giant's spoils amongst them equally." And King Arthur desired
Sir Hoel to build a church upon the mount, and dedicate it to the
Archangel Michael.

On the morrow, all the host moved onwards into the country of Champagne,
and Flollo, the Roman tribune, retired before them into Paris. But while
he was preparing to collect more forces from the neighbouring countries,
King Arthur came upon him unawares, and besieged him in the town.

And when a month had passed, Flollo--full of grief at the starvation of
his people, who died in hundreds day by day--sent to King Arthur, and
desired that they two might fight together; for he was a man of mighty
stature and courage, and thought himself sure of the victory. This
challenge, King Arthur, full weary the siege, accepted with great joy, and
sent back word to Flollo that he would meet him whensoever he appointed.

And a truce being made on both sides, they met together the next day on
the island without the city, where all the people also were gathered to
see the issue. And as the king and Flollo rode up to the lists, each was
so nobly armed and horsed, and sat so mightily upon his saddle, that no
man could tell which way the battle would end.

When they had saluted one another, and presented themselves against each
other with their lances aloft, they put spurs to their horses and began a
fierce encounter. But King Arthur, carrying his spear more warily, struck
it on the upper part of Flollo's breast, and flung him from his saddle to
the earth. Then drawing his sword, he cried to him to rise, and rushed
upon him; but Flollo, starting up, met him with his spear couched, and
pierced the breast of King Arthur's horse, and overthrew both horse and
man.

The Britons, when they saw their king upon the ground, could scarcely keep
themselves from breaking up the truce and falling on the Gauls. But as
they were about to burst the barriers, and rush upon the lists, King
Arthur hastily arose, and, guarding himself with his shield, ran with
speed on Flollo. And now they renewed the assault with great rage, being
sorely bent upon each other's death.

At length, Flollo, seizing his advantage, gave King Arthur a huge stroke
upon the helm, which nigh overthrew him, and drew forth his blood in
streams.

But when King Arthur saw his armour and shield red with blood, he was
inflamed with fury, and lifting up Excalibur on high, with all his might,
he struck straight through the helmet into Flollo's head, and smote it
into halves; and Flollo falling backwards, and tearing up the ground with
his spurs, expired.

As soon as this news spread, the citizens all ran together, and, opening
the gates, surrendered the city to the conqueror.

And when he had overrun the whole province with his arms, and reduced it
everywhere to subjection, he returned again to Britain, and held his court
at Caerleon, with greater state than ever.

Anon he invited thereto all the kings, dukes, earls, and barons, who owed
him homage, that he might treat them royally, and reconcile them to each
other, and to his rule.

And never was there a city more fit and pleasant for such festivals. For
on one side it was washed by a noble river, so that the kings and princes
from the countries beyond sea might conveniently sail up to it; and on the
other side, the beauty of the groves and meadows, and the stateliness and
magnificence of the royal palaces, with lofty gilded roofs, made it even
rival the grandeur of Rome. It was famous also for two great and noble
churches, whereof one was built in honour of the martyr Julius, and
adorned with a choir of virgins who had devoted themselves wholly to the
service of God; and the other, founded in memory of St. Aaron, his
companion, maintained a convent of canons, and was the third metropolitan
church of Britain. Besides, there was a college of two hundred
philosophers, learned in astronomy, and all the other sciences and arts.

In this place, therefore, full of such delights, King Arthur held his
court, with many jousts and tournaments, and royal huntings, and rested
for a season after all his wars.

And on a certain day there came into the court a messenger from Ryence,
King of North Wales, bearing this message from his master: That King
Ryence had discomfited eleven kings, and had compelled each one of them to
cut off his beard; that he had trimmed a mantle with these beards, and
lacked but one more beard to finish it; and that he therefore now sent for
King Arthur's beard, which he required of him forthwith, or else he would
enter his lands and burn and slay, and never leave them till he had taken
by force not his beard only, but his head also.

When King Arthur heard these words he flushed all scarlet, and rising in
great anger said, "Well is it for thee that thou speakest another man's
words with thy lips, and not thine own. Thou hast said thy message, which
is the most insolent and villainous that ever man heard sent to any king:
now hear my reply. My beard is yet too young to trim that mantle of thy
master's with; yet, young although I be, I owe no homage either to him or
any man--nor will ever owe. But, young although I be, I will have thy
master's homage upon both his knees before this year be past, or else he
shall lose his head, by the faith of my body, for this message is the
shamefullest I ever heard speak of. I see well thy king hath never yet met
with a worshipful man; but tell that King Arthur will have his head or his
worship right soon."

Then the messenger departed, and Arthur, looking round upon his knights,
demanded of them if any there knew this King Ryence. "Yea," answered Sir
Noran, "I know him well, and there be few better or stronger knights upon
a field than he; and he is passing proud and haughty in his heart;
wherefore I doubt not, Lord, he will make war on thee with mighty power."

"Well," said King Arthur, "I shall be ready for him, and that shall he
find."

While the king thus spoke, there came into the hall a damsel having on a
mantle richly furred, which she let fall and showed herself to be girded
with a noble sword. The king being surprised at this, said, "Damsel,
wherefore art thou girt with that sword, for it beseemeth thee not?"
"Sir," said she, "I will tell thee. This sword wherewith I am thus girt
gives me great sorrow and encumbrance, for I may not be delivered from it
till I find a knight faithful and pure and true, strong of body and of
valiant deeds, without guile or treachery, who shall be able to draw it
from its scabbard, which no man else can do. And I have but just now come
from the court of King Ryence, for there they told me many great and good
knights were to be ever found; but he and all his knights have tried to
draw it forth in vain--for none of them can move it."

"This is a great marvel," said King Arthur; "I will myself try to draw
forth this sword, not thinking in my heart that I am the best knight, but
rather to begin and give example that all may try after me." Saying this,
he took the sword and pulled at it with all his might, but could not shake
or move it.

"Thou needest not strive so hard, Lord," said the damsel, "for whoever may
be able to pull it forth shall do so very easily." "Thou sayest well,"
replied the king, remembering how he had himself drawn forth the sword
from the stone before St. Paul's. "Now try ye, all my barons; but beware
ye be not stained with shame, or any treachery, or guile." And turning
away his face from them, King Arthur mused full heavily of sins within his
breast he knew of, and which his failure brought to mind right sadly.

Then all the barons present tried each after other, but could none of them
succeed; whereat the damsel greatly wept, and said, "Alas, alas! I thought
in this court to have found the best knight, without shame or treachery or
treason."

Now by chance there was at that time a poor knight with King Arthur, who
had been prisoner at his court for half a year and more, charged with
slaying unawares a knight who was a cousin of the king's. He was named
Balin le Savage, and had been by the good offices of the barons delivered
from prison, for he was of good and valiant address and gentle blood. He
being secretly present at the court saw this adventure, and felt his heart
rise high within him, and longed to try the sword as did the others; but
being poor and poorly clad, he was ashamed to come forward in the press of
knights and nobles. But in his heart he felt assured that he could do
better--if Heaven willed--than any knight among them all.

So as the damsel left the king, he called to her and said, "Damsel, I pray
thee of thy courtesy, suffer me to try the sword as well as all these
lords; for though I be but poorly clad, I feel assurance in my heart."

The damsel looking at him, saw in him a likely an honest man, but because
of his poor garments could not think him to be any knight of worship, and
said, "Sir, there is no need to put me to any more pain or labour; why
shouldst thou succeed where so many worthy ones have failed?"

"Ah, fair lady," answered Balin, "worthiness and brave deeds are not shown
by fair raiment, but manhood and truth lie hid within the heart. There be
many worshipful knights unknown to all the people."

"By my faith, thou sayest truth," replied the damsel; "try therefore, if
thou wilt, what thou canst do."

So Balin took the sword by the girdle and hilt, and drew it lightly out,
and looking on its workmanship and brightness, it pleased him greatly.

But the king and all the barons marvelled at Sir Balin's fortune, and many
knights were envious of him, for, "Truly," said the damsel, "this is a
passing good knight, and the best man I have ever found, and the most
worshipfully free from treason, treachery, or villainy, and many wonders
shall he achieve."

"Now, gentle and courteous knight," continued she, turning to Balin, "give
me the sword again."

"Nay," said Sir Balin, "save it be taken from me by force, I shall
preserve this sword for evermore."

"Thou art not wise," replied the damsel, "to keep it from me; for if thou
wilt do so, thou shalt slay with it the best friend thou hast, and the
sword shall be thine destruction also."

"I will take whatever adventure God may send," said Balin; "but the sword
will I keep, by the faith of my body."

"Thou will repent it shortly," said the damsel; "I would take the sword
for thy sake rather than for mine for I am passing grieved and heavy for
thy sake, who wilt not believe the peril I foretell thee." With that she
departed, making great lamentation.

Then Balin sent for his horse and armour, and took his leave of King
Arthur, who urged him to stay at his court. "For," said he, "I believe
that thou art displeased that I showed thee unkindness; blame me not
overmuch, for I was misinformed against thee, and knew not truly what a
knight of worship thou art. Abide in this court with my good knights, and
I will so advance thee that thou shalt be well pleased."

"God thank thee, Lord," said Balin, "for no man can reward thy bounty and
thy nobleness; but at this time I must needs depart, praying thee ever to
hold me in thy favour."

"Truly," said King Arthur, "I am grieved for thy departure; but tarry not
long, and thou shalt be right welcome to me and all my knights when thou
returnest, and I will repair my neglect and all that I have done amiss
against thee."

"God thank thee, Lord," again said Balin, and made ready to depart.

But meanwhile came into the court a lady upon horseback, full richly
dressed, and saluted King Arthur, and asked him for the gift that he had
promised her when she gave him his sword Excalibur, "for," said she, "I am
the lady of the lake."

"Ask what thou wilt," said the king, "and thou shalt have it, if I have
power to give."

"I ask," said she, "the head of that knight who hath just achieved the

sword, or else the damsel's head who brought it, or else both; for the
knight slew my brother, and the lady caused my father's death."

"Truly," said King Arthur, "I cannot grant thee this desire; it were
against my nature and against my name; but ask whatever else thou wilt,
and I will do it."

"I will demand no other thing," said she.

And as she spake came Balin, on his way to leave the court, and saw her
where she stood, and knew her straightway for his mother's murderess, whom
he had sought in vain three years. And when they told him that she had
asked King Arthur for his head, he went up straight to her and said, "May
evil have thee! Thou desirest my head, therefore shalt thou lose thine;"
and with his sword he lightly smote her head off, in the presence of the
king and all the court.

"Alas, for shame!" cried out King Arthur, rising up in wrath; "why hast
thou done this, shaming both me and my court? I am beholden greatly to
this lady, and under my safe conduct came she here; thy deed is passing
shameful; never shall I forgive thy villainy."

"Lord," cried Sir Balin, "hear me; this lady was the falsest living, and
by her witchcraft hath destroyed many, and caused my mother also to be
burnt to death by her false arts and treachery."

"What cause soever thou mightest have had," said the king, "thou shouldst
have forborne her in my presence. Deceive not thyself, thou shalt repent
this sin, for such a shame was never brought upon my court; depart now
from my face with all the haste thou mayest."

Then Balin took up the head of the lady and carried it to his lodgings,
and rode forth with his squire from out the town. Then said he, "Now must
we part; take ye this head and bear it to my friends in Northumberland,
and tell them how I speed, and that our worst foe is dead; also tell them
that I am free from prison, and of the adventure of my sword."

"Alas!" said the squire, "ye are greatly to blame to have so displeased
King Arthur."

"As for that," said Sir Balin, "I go now to find King Ryence, and destroy
him or lose my life; for should I take him prisoner, and lead him to the
court, perchance King Arthur would forgive me, and become my good and
gracious lord."

"Where shall I meet thee again?" said the squire.

"In King Arthur's court," said Balin.



CHAPTER V

Sir Balin Smites the Dolorous Stroke, and Fights with his Brother, Sir
Balan

Now there was a knight at the court more envious than the others of Sir
Balin, for he counted himself one of the best knights in Britain. His name
was Lancear; and going to the king, he begged leave to follow after Sir
Balin and avenge the insult he had put upon the court. "Do thy best,"
replied the king, "for I am passing wroth with Balin."

In the meantime came Merlin, and was told of this adventure of the sword
and lady of the lake.

"Now hear me," said he, "when I tell ye that this lady who hath brought
the sword is the falsest damsel living."

"Say not so," they answered, "for she hath a brother a good knight, who
slew another knight this damsel loved; so she, to be revenged upon her
brother, went to the Lady Lile, of Avilion, and besought her help. Then
Lady Lile gave her the sword, and told her that no man should draw it
forth but one, a valiant knight and strong, who should avenge her on her
brother. This, therefore, was the reason why the damsel came here." "I
know it all as well as ye do," answered Merlin; "and would to God she had
never come hither, for never came she into any company but to do harm; and
that good knight who hath achieved the sword shall be himself slain by it,
which shall be great harm and loss, for a better knight there liveth not;
and he shall do unto my lord the king great honour and service."

Then Sir Lancear, having armed himself at all points, mounted, and rode
after Sir Balin, as fast as he could go, and overtaking him, he cried
aloud, "Abide, Sir knight! wait yet awhile, or I shall make thee do so."

Hearing him cry, Sir Balin fiercely turned his horse, and said, "Fair
knight, what wilt thou with me? wilt thou joust?"

"Yea," said Sir Lancear, "it is for that I have pursued thee."

"Peradventure," answered Balin, "thou hadst best have staid at home, for
many a man who thinketh himself already victor, endeth by his own
downfall. Of what court art thou?"

"Of King Arthur's court," cried Lancear, "and I am come to revenge the
insult thou hast put on it this day."

"Well," said Sir Balin, "I see that I must fight thee, and I repent to be
obliged to grieve King Arthur or his knights; and thy quarrel seemeth full
foolish to me, for the damsel that is dead worked endless evils through
the land, or else I had been loath as any knight that liveth to have slain
a lady."

"Make thee ready," shouted Lancear, "for one of us shall rest for ever in
this field."

But at their first encounter Sir Lancear's spear flew into splinters from
Sir Balin's shield, and Sir Balin's lance pierced with such might through
Sir Lancear's shield that it rove the hauberk also, and passed through the
knight's body and the horse's crupper. And Sir Balin turning fiercely
round again, drew out his sword, and knew not that he had already slain
him; and then he saw him lie a corpse upon the ground.

At that same moment came a damsel riding towards him as fast as her horse
could gallop, who, when she saw Sir Lancear dead, wept and sorrowed out of
measure, crying, "O, Sir Balin, two bodies hast thou slain, and one heart;
and two hearts in one body; and two souls also hast thou lost."

Therewith she took the sword from her dead lover's side--for she was Sir
Lancear's lady-love--and setting the pommel of it on the ground, ran
herself through the body with the blade.

When Sir Balin saw her dead he was sorely hurt and grieved in spirit, and
repented the death of Lancear, which had also caused so fair a lady's
death. And being unable to look on their bodies for sorrow, he turned
aside into a forest, where presently as he rode, he saw the arms of his
brother, Sir Balan. And when they were met they put off their helms, and
embraced each other, kissing, and weeping for joy and pity. Then Sir Balin
told Sir Balan all his late adventures, and that he was on his way to King
Ryence, who at that time was besieging Castle Terrabil. "I will be with
thee," answered Sir Balan, "and we will help each other, as brethren ought
to do."

Anon by chance, as they were talking, came King Mark, of Cornwall, by that
way, and when he saw the two dead bodies of Sir Lancear and his lady lying
there, and heard the story of their death, he vowed to build a tomb to
them before he left that place. So pitching his pavilion there, he sought
through all the country round to find a monument, and found at last a rich
and fair one in a church, which he took and raised above the dead knight
and his damsel, writing on it--"Here lieth Lancear, son of the King of
Ireland, who, at his own request, was slain by Balin; and here beside him
also lieth his lady Colombe, who slew herself with her lover's sword for
grief and sorrow."

Then as Sir Balin and Sir Balan rode away, Merlin met with them, and said
to Balin, "Thou hast done thyself great harm not to have saved that lady's
life who slew herself; and because of it, thou shalt strike the most
Dolorous Stroke that ever man struck, save he that smote our Lord. For
thou shalt smite the truest and most worshipful of living knights, who
shall not be recovered from his wounds for many years, and through that
stroke three kingdoms shall be overwhelmed in poverty and misery."

"If I believed," said Balin, "what thou sayest, I would slay myself to
make thee a liar."

At that Merlin vanished suddenly away; but afterwards he met them in
disguise towards night, and told them he could lead them to King Ryence,
whom they sought. "For this night he is to ride with sixty lances only
through a wood hard by."

So Sir Balin and Sir Balan hid themselves within the wood, and at midnight
came out from their ambush among the leaves by the highway, and waited for
the king, whom presently they heard approaching with his company. Then did
they suddenly leap forth and smote at him and overthrew him and laid him
on the ground, and turning on his company wounded and slew forty of them,
and put the rest to flight. And returning to King Ryence they would have
slain him there, but he craved mercy, and yielded to their grace, crying,
"Knights full of prowess, slay me not; for by my life ye may win
something--but my death can avail ye nought."

"Ye say truth," said the two knights, and put him in a horse-litter, and
went swiftly through all the night, till at cock-crow they came to King
Arthur's palace. There they delivered him to the warders and porters, to
be brought before the king, with this message--"That he was sent to King
Arthur by the knight of the two swords (for so was Balin known by name,
since his adventure with the damsel) and by his brother." And so they rode
away again ere sunrise.

Within a month or two thereafter, King Arthur being somewhat sick, went
forth outside the town, and had his pavilion pitched in a meadow, and
there abode, and laid him down on a pallet to sleep, but could get no
rest. And as he lay he heard the sound of a great horse, and looking out
of the tent door, saw a knight ride by, making great lamentation.

"Abide, fair sir," said King Arthur, "and tell me wherefore thou makest
this sorrow."

"Ye may little amend it," said the knight, and so passed on.

Presently after Sir Balin, rode, by chance, past that meadow, and when he
saw the king he alighted and came to him on foot, and kneeled and saluted
him.

"By my head," said King Arthur, "ye be welcome, Sir Balin;" and then he
thanked him heartily for revenging him upon King Ryence, and for sending
him so speedily a prisoner to his castle, and told him how King Nero,
Ryence's brother, had attacked him afterwards to deliver Ryence from
prison; and how he had defeated him and slain him, and also King Lot, of
Orkney who was joined with Nero, and whom King Pellinore had killed in the
battle. Then when they had thus talked, King Arthur told Sir Balin of the
sullen knight that had just passed his tent, and desired him to pursue him
and to bring him back.

So Sir Balin rode and overtook the knight in a forest with a damsel, and
said, "Sir knight, thou must come back with me unto my lord, King Arthur,
to tell him the cause of thy sorrow, which thou hast refused even now to
do."

"That will I not," replied the knight, "for it would harm me much, and do
him no advantage."

"Sir," said Sir Balin, "I pray thee make ready, for thou must needs go
with me--or else I must fight with thee and take thee by force."

"Wilt thou be warrant for safe conduct, if I go with thee?" inquired the
knight.

"Yea, surely," answered Balin, "I will die else."

So the knight made ready to go with Sir Balin, and left the damsel in the
wood.

But as they went, there came one invisible, and smote the knight through
the body with a spear. "Alas," cried Sir Herleus (for so was he named), "I
am slain under thy guard and conduct, by that traitor knight called
Garlon, who through magic and witchcraft rideth invisibly. Take,
therefore, my horse, which is better than thine, and ride to the damsel
whom we left, and the quest I had in hand, as she will lead thee--and
revenge my death when thou best mayest."

"That will I do," said Sir Balin, "by my knighthood, and so I swear to
thee."

Then went Sir Balin to the damsel, and rode forth with her; she carrying
ever with her the truncheon of the spear wherewith Sir Herleus had been
slain. And as they went, a good knight, Perin de Mountbelgard, joined
their company, and vowed to take adventure with them wheresoever they
might go. But presently as they passed a hermitage fast by a churchyard,
came the knight Garlon, again invisible, and smote Sir Perin through the
body with a spear, and slew him as he had slain Sir Herleus. Whereat, Sir
Balin greatly raged, and swore to have Sir Garlon's life, whenever next he
might encounter and behold him in his bodily shape. Anon, he and the
hermit buried the good knight Sir Perin, and rode on with the damsel till
they came to a great castle, whereinto they were about to enter. But when
Sir Balin had passed through the gateway, the portcullis fell behind him
suddenly, leaving the damsel on the outer side, with men around her,
drawing their swords as if to slay her.

When he saw that, Sir Balin climbed with eager haste by wall and tower,
and leaped into the castle moat, and rushed towards the damsel and her
enemies, with his sword drawn, to fight and slay them. But they cried out,
"Put up thy sword, Sir knight, we will not fight thee in this quarrel, for
we do nothing but an ancient custom of this castle."

Then they told him that the lady of the castle was sick, and had lain ill
for many years, and might never more be cured, unless she had a silver
dish full of the blood of a pure maid and a king's daughter. Wherefore the
custom of the castle was, that never should a damsel pass that way but she
must give a dish full of her blood. Then Sir Balin suffered them to bleed
the damsel with her own consent, but her blood helped not the lady of the
castle. So on the morrow they departed, after right good cheer and rest.

Then they rode three or four days without adventure and came at last to
the abode of a rich man, who sumptuously lodged and fed them. And while
they sat at supper Sir Balin heard a voice of some one groaning
grievously. "What noise is this?" said he.

"Forsooth," said the host, "I will tell you. I was lately at a tournament,
and there I fought a knight who is brother to King Pelles, and overthrew
him twice, for which he swore to be revenged on me through my best friend,
and so he wounded my son, who cannot be recovered till I have that
knight's blood, but he rideth through witchcraft always invisibly, and I
know not his name."

"Ah," said Sir Balin, "but I know him; his name is Garlon, and he hath
slain two knights, companions of mine own, in the same fashion, and I
would rather than all the riches in this realm that I might meet him face
to face."

"Well," said his host, "let me now tell thee that King Pelles hath
proclaimed in all the country a great festival, to be held at Listeniss,
in twenty days from now, whereto no knight may come without a lady. At
that great feast we might perchance find out this Garlon, for many will be
there; and if it please thee we will set forth together."

So on the morrow they rode all three towards Listeniss, and travelled
fifteen days, and reached it on the day the feast began. Then they
alighted and stabled their horses, and went up to the castle, and Sir
Balin's host was denied entrance, having no lady with him. But Sir Balin
was right heartily received, and taken to a chamber, where they unarmed
him, and dressed him in rich robes, of any colour that he chose, and told
him he must lay aside his sword. This, however, he refused, and said, "It
is the custom of my country for a knight to keep his sword ever with him;
and if I may not keep it here, I will forthwith depart." Then they gave
him leave to wear his sword. So he went to the great hall, and was set
among knights of rank and worship, and his lady before him.

Soon he found means to ask one who sat near him, "Is there not here a
knight whose name is Garlon?"

"Yonder he goeth," said his neighbour, "he with that black face; he is the
most marvellous knight alive, for he rideth invisibly, and destroyeth whom
he will."

"Ah, well," said Balin, drawing a long breath, "is that indeed the man? I
have aforetime heard of him."

Then he mused long within himself, and thought, "If I shall slay him here
and now, I shall not escape myself; but if I leave him, peradventure I
shall never meet with him again at such advantage; and if he live, how
much more harm and mischief will he do!"

But while he deeply thought, and cast his eyes from time to time upon Sir
Garlon, that false knight saw that he watched him, and thinking that he
could at such a time escape revenge, he came and smote Sir Balin on the
face with the back of his hand, and said, "Knight, why dost thou so watch
me? be ashamed, and eat thy meat, and do that which thou camest for."

"Thou sayest well," cried Sir Balin, rising fiercely; "now will I
straightway do that which I came to do, as thou shalt find." With that he
whirled his sword aloft and struck him downright on the head, and clove
his skull asunder to the shoulder.

"Give me the truncheon," cried out Sir Balin to his lady, "wherewith he
slew thy knight." And when she gave it him--for she had always carried it
about with her, wherever she had gone--he smote him through the body with
it, and said, "With that truncheon didst thou treacherously murder a good
knight, and now it sticketh in thy felon body."

Then he called to the father of the wounded son, who had come with him to
Listeniss, and said, "Now take as much blood as thou wilt, to heal thy son
withal."

But now arose a terrible confusion, and all the knights leaped from the
table to slay Balin, King Pelles himself the foremost, who cried out,
"Knight, thou hast slain my brother at my board; die, therefore, die, for
thou shalt never leave this castle."

"Slay me, thyself, then," shouted Balin.

"Yea," said the king, "that will I! for no other man shall touch thee, for
the love I bear my brother."

Then King Pelles caught in his hand a grim weapon and smote eagerly at
Balin, but Balin put his sword between his head and the king's stroke, and
saved himself but lost his sword, which fell down smashed and shivered
into pieces by the blow. So being weaponless he ran to the next room to
find a sword, and so from room to room, with King Pelles after him, he in
vain ever eagerly casting his eyes round every place to find some weapon.

At last he ran into a chamber wondrous richly decked, where was a bed all
dressed with cloth of gold, the richest that could be thought of, and one
who lay quite still within the bed; and by the bedside stood a table of
pure gold borne on four silver pillars, and on the table stood a
marvellous spear, strangely wrought.

When Sir Balin saw the spear he seized it in his hand, and turned upon
King Pelles, and smote at him so fiercely and so sore that he dropped
swooning to the ground.

But at that Dolorous and awful Stroke the castle rocked and rove
throughout, and all the walls fell crashed and breaking to the earth, and
Balin himself fell also in their midst, struck as it were to stone, and
powerless to move a hand or foot. And so three days he lay amidst the
ruins, until Merlin came and raised him up and brought him a good horse,
and bade him ride out of that land as swiftly as he could.

"May I not take the damsel with me I brought hither?" said Sir Balin.

"Lo! where she lieth dead," said Merlin. "Ah, little knowest thou, Sir
Balin, what thou hast done; for in this castle and that chamber which thou
didst defile, was the blood of our Lord Christ! and also that most holy
cup--the Sangreal--wherefrom the wine was drunk at the last supper of our
Lord. Joseph of Arimathea brought it to this land, when first he came here
to convert and save it. And on that bed of gold it was himself who lay,
and the strange spear beside him was the spear wherewith the soldier
Longus smote our Lord, which evermore had dripped with blood. King Pelles
is the nearest kin to Joseph in direct descent, wherefore he held these
holy things in trust; but now have they all gone at thy dolorous stroke,
no man knoweth whither; and great is the damage to this land, which until
now hath been the happiest of all lands, for by that stroke thou hast
slain thousands, and by the loss and parting of the Sangreal the safety of
this realm is put in peril, and its great happiness is gone for evermore."

Then Balin departed from Merlin, struck to his soul with grief and sorrow,
and said, "In this world shall we meet never more."

So he rode forth through the fair cities and the country, and found the
people lying dead on every side. And all the living cried out on him as he
passed, "O Balin, all this misery hast thou done! For the dolorous stroke
thou gavest King Pelles, three countries are destroyed, and doubt not but
revenge will fall on thee at last!"

When he had passed the boundary of those countries, he was somewhat
comforted, and rode eight days without adventure. Anon he came to a cross,
whereon was written in letters of gold, "It is not for a knight alone to
ride towards this castle." Looking up, he saw a hoary ancient man come
towards him, who said, "Sir Balin le Savage, thou passest thy bounds this
way; therefore turn back again, it will be best for thee;" and with these
words he vanished.

Then did he hear a horn blow as it were the deathnote of some hunted
beast. "That blast," said Balin, "is blown for me, for I am the prey;
though yet I be not dead." But as he spoke he saw a hundred ladies with a
great troop of knights come forth to meet him, with bright faces and
great welcome, who led him to the castle and made a great feast, with
dancing and minstrelsy and all manner of joy.

Then the chief lady of the castle said, "Knight with the two swords, thou
must encounter and fight with a knight hard by, who dwelleth on an island,
for no man may pass this way without encountering him."

"It is a grievous custom," answered Sir Balin.

"There is but one knight to defeat," replied the lady.

"Well," said Sir Balin, "be it as thou wilt. I am ready and quite willing,
and though my horse and my body be full weary, yet is my heart not weary,
save of life. And truly I were glad if I might meet my death."

"Sir," said one standing by, "methinketh your shield is not good; I will
lend you a bigger."

"I thank thee, sir," said Balin, and took the unknown shield and left his
own, and so rode forth, and put himself and horse into a boat and came to
the island.

As soon as he had landed, he saw come riding towards him, a knight dressed
all in red, upon a horse trapped in the same colour. When the red knight
saw Sir Balin, and the two swords he wore, he thought it must have been
his brother (for the red knight was Sir Balan), but when he saw the
strange arms on his shield, he forgot the thought, and came against him
fiercely. At the first course they overthrew each other, and both lay
swooning on the ground; but Sir Balin was the most hurt and bruised, for
he was weary and spent with travelling. So Sir Balan rose up first to his
feet and drew his sword, and Sir Balin painfully rose against him and
raised his shield.

Then Sir Balan smote him through the shield and brake his helmet; and Sir
Balin, in return, smote at him with his fated sword, and had wellnigh
slain his brother. So they fought till their breaths failed.

Then Sir Balin, looking up, saw all the castle towers stand full of
ladies. So they went again to battle, and wounded each other full sore,
and paused, and breathed again, and then again began the fight; and this
for many times they did, till all the ground was red with blood. And by
now, each had full grievously wounded the other with seven great wounds,
the least of which might have destroyed the mightiest giant in the world.
But still they rose against each other, although their hauberks now were
all unnailed, and they smiting at each other's naked bodies with their
sharp swords. At the last, Sir Balan, the younger brother, withdrew a
little space and laid him down.

Then said Sir Balin le Savage, "What knight art thou? for never before
have I found a knight to match me thus."

"My name," said he, all faintly, "is Balan, brother to the good knight Sir
Balin."

"Ah, God!" cried Balin, "that ever I should see this day!" and therewith
fell down backwards in a swoon.

Then Sir Balan crept with pain upon his feet and hands, and put his
brother's helmet off his head, but could not know him by his face, it was
so hewed and bloody. But presently, when Sir Balin came to, he said, "Oh!
Balan, mine own brother, thou hast slain me, and I thee! All the wide
world saw never greater grief!"

"Alas!" said Sir Balan, "that I ever saw this day; and through mishap
alone I knew thee not, for when I saw thy two swords, if it had not been
for thy strange shield, I should have known thee for my brother."

"Alas!" said Balin, "all this sorrow lieth at the door of one unhappy
knight within the castle, who made me change my shield. If I might live, I
would destroy that castle and its evil customs."

"It were well done," said Balan, "for since I first came hither I have
never been able to depart, for here they made me fight with one who kept
this island, whom I slew, and by enchantment I might never quit it more;
nor couldst thou, brother, hadst thou slain me, and escaped with thine own
life."

Anon came the lady of the castle, and when she heard their talk, and saw
their evil case, she wrung her hands and wept bitterly. So Sir Balan
prayed the lady of her gentleness that, for his true service, she would
bury them both together in that place. This she granted, weeping full
sore, and said it should be done right solemnly and richly, and in the
noblest manner possible. Then did they send for a priest, and received the
holy sacrament at his hands. And Balin said, "Write over us upon our tomb,
that here two brethren slew each other; then shall never good knight or
pilgrim pass this way but he will pray for both our souls." And anon Sir
Balan died, but Sir Balin died not till the midnight after; and then they
both were buried.

On the morrow of their death came Merlin, and took Sir Balin's sword and
fixed on it a new pommel, and set it in a mighty stone, which then, by
magic, he made float upon the water. And so, for many years, it floated to
and fro around the island, till it swam down the river to Camelot, where
young Sir Galahad achieved it, as shall be told hereafter.



CHAPTER VI

The Marriage of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, and the Founding of the
Round Table--The Adventure of the Hart and Hound

It befell upon a certain day, that King Arthur said to Merlin, "My lords
and knights do daily pray me now to take a wife; but I will have none
without thy counsel, for thou hast ever helped me since I came first to
this crown."

"It is well," said Merlin, "that thou shouldst take a wife, for no man of
bounteous and noble nature should live without one; but is there any lady
whom thou lovest better than another?"

"Yea," said King Arthur, "I love Guinevere, the daughter of King
Leodegrance, of Camelgard, who also holdeth in his house the Round Table
that he had from my father Uther; and as I think, that damsel is the
gentlest and the fairest lady living."

"Sir," answered Merlin, "as for her beauty, she is one of the fairest that
do live; but if ye had not loved her as ye do, I would fain have had ye
choose some other who was both fair and good. But where a man's heart is
set, he will be loath to leave." This Merlin said, knowing the misery
that should hereafter happen from this marriage.

Then King Arthur sent word to King Leodegrance that he mightily desired to
wed his daughter, and how that he had loved her since he saw her first,
when with Kings Ban and Bors he rescued Leodegrance from King Ryence of
North Wales.

When King Leodegrance heard the message, he cried out "These be the best
tidings I have heard in all my life--so great and worshipful a prince to
seek my daughter for his wife! I would fain give him half my lands with
her straightway, but that he needeth none--and better will it please him
that I send him the Round Table of King Uther, his father, with a hundred
good knights towards the furnishing of it with guests, for he will soon
find means to gather more, and make the table full."

Then King Leodegrance delivered his daughter Guinevere to the messengers
of King Arthur, and also the Round Table with the hundred knights.

So they rode royally and freshly, sometimes by water and sometimes by
land, towards Camelot. And as they rode along in the spring weather, they
made full many sports and pastimes. And, in all those sports and games, a
young knight lately come to Arthur's court, Sir Lancelot by name, was
passing strong, and won praise from all, being full of grace and
hardihood; and Guinevere also ever looked on him with joy. And always in
the eventide, when the tents were set beside some stream or forest, many
minstrels came and sang before the knights and ladies as they sat in the
tent-doors, and many knights would tell adventures; and still Sir Lancelot
was foremost, and told the knightliest tales, and sang the goodliest
songs, of all the company.

And when they came to Camelot, King Arthur made great joy, and all the
city with him; and riding forth with a great retinue he met Guinevere and
her company, and led her through the streets all filled with people, and
in the midst of all their shoutings and the ringing of church bells, to a
palace hard by his own.

Then, in all haste, the king commanded to prepare the marriage and the
coronation with the stateliest and most honourable pomp that could be
made. And when the day was come, the archbishops led the king to the
cathedral, whereto he walked, clad in his royal robes, and having four
kings, bearing four golden swords, before him; a choir of passing sweet
music going also with him.

In another part, was the queen dressed in her richest ornaments, and led
by archbishops and bishops to the Chapel of the Virgins, the four queens
also of the four kings last mentioned walked before her, bearing four
white doves, according to ancient custom; and after her there followed
many damsels, singing and making every sign of joy.

And when the two processions were come to the churches, so wondrous was
the music and the singing, that all the knights and barons who were there
pressed on each other, as in the crowd of battle, to hear and see the most
they might.

When the king was crowned, he called together all the knights that came
with the Round Table from Camelgard, and twenty-eight others, great and
valiant men, chosen by Merlin out of all the realm, towards making up the
full number of the table. Then the Archbishop of Canterbury blessed the
seats of all the knights, and when they rose again therefrom to pay their
homage to King Arthur there was found upon the back of each knight's seat
his name, written in letters of gold. But upon one seat was found written,
"This is the Siege Perilous, wherein if any man shall sit save him whom
Heaven hath chosen, he shall be devoured by fire."

Anon came young Gawain, the king's nephew, praying to be made a knight,
whom the king knighted then and there. Soon after came a poor man, leading
with him a tall fair lad of eighteen years of age, riding on a lean mare.
And falling at the king's feet, the poor man said, "Lord, it was told me,
that at this time of thy marriage thou wouldst give to any man the gift he
asked for, so it were not unreasonable."

"That is the truth," replied King Arthur, "and I will make it good."

"Thou sayest graciously and nobly," said the poor man. "Lord, I ask
nothing else but that thou wilt make my son here a knight."

"It is a great thing that thou askest," said the king. "What is thy name?"

"Aries, the cowherd," answered he.

"Cometh this prayer from thee or from thy son?" inquired King Arthur.

"Nay, lord, not from myself," said he, "but from him only, for I have
thirteen other sons, and all of them will fall to any labour that I put
them to. But this one will do no such work for anything that I or my wife
may do, but is for ever shooting or fighting, and running to see knights
and joustings, and torments me both night and day that he be made a
knight."

"What is thy name?" said the king to the young man.

"My name is Tor," said he.

Then the king, looking at him steadfastly, was well pleased with his face
and figure, and with his look of nobleness and strength.

"Fetch all thy other sons before me," said the king to Aries. But when he
brought them, none of them resembled Tor in size or shape or feature.

Then the king knighted Tor, saying, "Be thou to thy life's end a good
knight and a true, as I pray God thou mayest be; and if thou provest
worthy, and of prowess, one day thou shall be counted in the Round Table."
Then turning to Merlin, Arthur said, "Prophesy now, O Merlin, shall Sir
Tor become a worthy knight, or not?"

"Yea, lord," said Merlin, "so he ought to be, for he is the son of that
King Pellinore whom thou hast met, and proved to be one of the best
knights living. He is no cowherd's son."

Presently after came in King Pellinore, and when he saw Sir Tor he knew
him for his son, and was more pleased than words can tell to find him
knighted by the king. And Pellinore did homage to King Arthur, and was
gladly and graciously accepted of the king; and then was led by Merlin to
a high seat at the Table Round, near to the Perilous Seat.

But Sir Gawain was full of anger at the honour done King Pellinore, and
said to his brother Gaheris, "He slew our father, King Lot, therefore will
I slay him."

"Do it not yet," said he; "wait till I also be a knight, then will I help
ye in it: it is best ye suffer him to go at this time, and not trouble
this high feast with bloodshed."

"As ye will, be it," said Sir Gawain.

Then rose the king and spake to all the Table Round, and charged them to
be ever true and noble knights, to do neither outrage nor murder, nor any
unjust violence, and always to flee treason; also by no means ever to be
cruel, but give mercy unto him that asked for mercy, upon pain of
forfeiting the liberty of his court for evermore. Moreover, at all times,
on pain of death, to give all succour unto ladies and young damsels; and
lastly, never to take part in any wrongful quarrel, for reward or payment.
And to all this he swore them knight by knight.

Then he ordained that, every year at Pentecost, they should all come
before him, wheresoever he might appoint a place, and give account of all
their doings and adventures of the past twelvemonth. And so, with prayer
and blessing, and high words of cheer, he instituted the most noble order
of the Round Table, whereto the best and bravest knights in all the world
sought afterwards to find admission.

Then was the high feast made ready, and the king and queen sat side by
side, before the whole assembly; and great and royal was the banquet and
the pomp.

And as they sat, each man in his place, Merlin went round and said, "Sit
still awhile, for ye shall see a strange and marvellous adventure."

So as they sat, there suddenly came running through the hall, a white
hart, with a white hound next after him, and thirty couple of black
running hounds, making full cry; and the hart made circuit of the Table
Round, and past the other tables; and suddenly the white hound flew upon
him and bit him fiercely, and tore out a piece from his haunch. Whereat
the hart sprang suddenly with a great leap, and overthrew a knight sitting
at the table, who rose forthwith, and, taking up the hound, mounted, and
rode fast away.

But no sooner had he left, than there came in a lady, mounted on a white
palfrey, who cried out to the king, "Lord, suffer me not to have this
injury!--the hound is mine which that knight taketh." And as she spake, a
knight rode in all armed, on a great horse, and suddenly took up the lady
and rode away with her by force, although she greatly cried and moaned.

Then the king desired Sir Gawain, Sir Tor, and King Pellinore to mount and
follow this adventure to the uttermost; and told Sir Gawain to bring back
the hart, Sir Tor the hound and knight, and King Pellinore the knight and
the lady.

So Sir Gawain rode forth at a swift pace, and with him Gaheris, his
brother, for a squire. And as they went, they saw two knights fighting on
horseback, and when they reached them they divided them and asked the
reason of their quarrel. "We fight for a foolish matter," one replied,
"for we be brethren; but there came by a white hart this way, chased by
many hounds, and thinking it was an adventure for the high feast of King
Arthur, I would have followed it to have gained worship; whereat my
younger brother here declared he was the better knight and would go after
it instead, and so we fight to prove which of us be the better knight."

"This is a foolish thing," said Sir Gawain. "Fight with all strangers, if
ye will, but not brother with brother. Take my advice, set on against me,
and if ye yield to me, as I shall do my best to make ye, ye shall go to
King Arthur and yield ye to his grace."

"Sir knight," replied the brothers, "we are weary, and will do thy wish
without encountering thee; but by whom shall we tell the king that we were
sent?"

"By the knight that followeth the quest of the white hart," said Sir
Gawain. "And now tell me your names, and let us part."

"Sorlous and Brian of the Forest," they replied; and so they went their
way to the king's court.

Then Sir Gawain, still following his quest by the distant baying of the
hounds, came to a great river, and saw the hart swimming over and near to
the further bank. And as he was about to plunge in and swim after, he saw
a knight upon the other side, who cried, "Come not over here, Sir knight,
after that hart, save thou wilt joust with me."

"I will not fail for that," said Sir Gawain; and swam his horse across the
stream.

Anon they got their spears, and ran against each other fiercely; and Sir
Gawain smote the stranger off his horse, and turning, bade him yield.

"Nay," replied he, "not so; for though ye have the better of me on
horseback, I pray thee, valiant knight, alight, and let us match together
with our swords on foot."

"What is thy name?" quoth Gawain.

"Allardin of the Isles," replied the stranger.

Then they fell on each other; but soon Sir Gawain struck him through the
helm, so deeply and so hard, that all his brains were scattered, and Sir
Allardin fell dead. "Ah," said Gaheris, "that was a mighty stroke for a
young knight!"

Then did they turn again to follow the white hart, and let slip three
couple of greyhounds after him; and at the last they chased him to a
castle, and there they overtook and slew him, in the chief courtyard.

At that there rushed a knight forth from a chamber, with a drawn sword in
his hand, and slew two of the hounds before their eyes, and chased the
others from the castle, crying, "Oh, my white hart! alas, that thou art
dead! for thee my sovereign lady gave to me, and evil have I kept thee;
but if I live, thy death shall be dear bought." Anon he went within and
armed, and came out fiercely, and met Sir Gawain face to face.

"Why have ye slain my hounds?" said Sir Gawain; "they did but after their
nature: and ye had better have taken vengeance on me than on the poor dumb
beasts."

"I will avenge me on thee, also," said the other, "ere thou depart this
place."

Then did they fight with each other savagely and madly, till the blood ran
down to their feet. But at last Sir Gawain had the better, and felled the
knight of the castle to the ground. Then he cried out for mercy, and
yielded to Sir Gawain, and besought him as he was a knight and gentleman
to save his life. "Thou shalt die," said Sir Gawain, "for slaying my
hounds."

"I will make thee all amends within my power," replied the knight.

But Sir Gawain would have no mercy, and unlaced his helm to strike his
head off; and so blind was he with rage, that he saw not where a lady ran
out from her chamber and fell down upon his enemy. And making a fierce
blow at him, he smote off by mischance the lady's head.

"Alas!" cried Gaheris, "foully and shamefully have ye done--the shame
shall never leave ye! Why give ye not your mercy unto them that ask it? a
knight without mercy is without worship also."

Then Sir Gawain was sore amazed at that fair lady's death, and knew not
what to do, and said to the fallen knight, "Arise, for I will give thee
mercy."

"Nay, nay," said he, "I care not for thy mercy now, for thou hast slain my
lady and my love--that of all earthly things I loved the best."

"I repent me sorely of it," said Sir Gawain, "for I meant to have struck
thee: but now shalt thou go to King Arthur and tell him this adventure,
and how thou hast been overcome by the knight that followeth the quest of
the white hart."

"I care not whether I live or die, or where I go," replied the knight.

So Sir Gawain sent him to the court to Camelot, making him bear one dead
greyhound before and one behind him on his horse. "Tell me thy name before
we part," said he.

"My name is Athmore of the Marsh," he answered.

Then went Sir Gawain into the castle, and prepared to sleep there and
began to unarm; but Gaheris upbraided him, saying, "Will ye disarm in this
strange country? bethink ye, ye must needs have many enemies about."

No sooner had he spoken than there came out suddenly four knights, well
armed, and assailed them hard, saying to Sir Gawain, "Thou new-made
knight, how hast thou shamed thy knighthood! a knight without mercy is
dishonoured! Slayer of fair ladies, shame to thee evermore! Doubt not thou
shalt thyself have need of mercy ere we leave thee."

Then were the brothers in great jeopardy, and feared for their lives, for
they were but two to four, and weary with travelling; and one of the four
knights shot Sir Gawain with a bolt, and hit him through the arm, so that
he could fight no more. But when there was nothing left for them but
death, there came four ladies forth and prayed the four knights' mercy for
the strangers. So they gave Sir Gawain and Gaheris their lives, and made
them yield themselves prisoners.

On the morrow, came one of the ladies to Sir Gawain, and talked with him,
saying, "Sir knight, what cheer?"

"Not good," said he.

"It is your own default, sir," said the lady, "for ye have done a passing
foul deed in slaying that fair damsel yesterday--and ever shall it be
great shame to you. But ye be not of King Arthur's kin."

"Yea, truly am I," said he; "my name is Gawain, son of King Lot of Orkney,
whom King Pellinore slew--and my mother, Belisent, is half-sister to the
king."
 

When the lady heard that, she went and presently got leave for him to quit
the castle; and they gave him the head of the white hart to take with him,
because it was in his quest; but made him also carry the dead lady with
him--her head hung round his neck and her body lay before him on his
horse's neck.

So in that fashion he rode back to Camelot; and when the king and queen
saw him, and heard tell of his adventures, they were heavily displeased,
and, by the order of the queen, he was put upon his trial before a court
of ladies--who judged him to be evermore, for all his life, the knight of
ladies' quarrels, and to fight always on their side, and never against
any, except he fought for one lady and his adversary for another; also
they charged him never to refuse mercy to him that asked it, and swore him
to it on the Holy Gospels. Thus ended the adventure of the white hart.

Meanwhile, Sir Tor had made him ready, and followed the knight who rode
away with the hound. And as he went, there suddenly met him in the road a
dwarf, who struck his horse so viciously upon the head with a great staff,
that he leaped backwards a spear's length.

"Wherefore so smitest thou my horse, foul dwarf?" shouted Sir Tor.

"Because thou shall not pass this way," replied the dwarf, "unless thou
fight for it with yonder knights in those pavilions," pointing to two
tents, where two great spears stood out, and two shields hung upon two
trees hard by.

"I may not tarry, for I am on a quest I needs must follow," said Sir Tor.

"Thou shalt not pass," replied the dwarf, and therewith blew his horn.
Then rode out quickly at Sir Tor one armed on horseback, but Sir Tor was
quick as he, and riding at him bore him from his horse, and made him
yield. Directly after came another still more fiercely, but with a few
great strokes and buffets Sir Tor unhorsed him also, and sent them both to
Camelot to King Arthur. Then came the dwarf and begged Sir Tor to take
him in his service, "for," said he, "I will serve no more recreant
knights."

"Take then a horse, and come with me," said Tor.

"Ride ye after the knight with the white hound?" said the dwarf; "I can
soon bring ye where he is."

So they rode through the forest till they came to two more tents. And Sir
Tor alighting, went into the first, and saw three damsels lie there,
sleeping. Then went he to the other, and found another lady also sleeping,
and at her feet the white hound he sought for, which instantly began to
bay and bark so loudly, that the lady woke. But Sir Tor had seized the
hound and given it to the dwarfs charge.

"What will ye do, Sir knight?" cried out the lady; "will ye take away my
hound from me by force?"

"Yea, lady," said Sir Tor; "for so I must, having the king's command; and
I have followed it from King Arthur's court, at Camelot, to this place."

"Well" said the lady, "ye will not go far before ye be ill handled, and
will repent ye of the quest."

"I shall cheerfully abide whatsoever adventure cometh, by the grace of
God," said Sir Tor; and so mounted his horse and began to ride back on his
way. But night coming on, he turned aside to a hermitage that was in the
forest, and there abode till the next day, making but sorrowful cheer of
such poor food as the hermit had to give him, and hearing a Mass devoutly
before he left on the morrow.

And in the early morning, as he rode forth with the dwarf towards Camelot,
he heard a knight call loudly after him, "Turn, turn! Abide, Sir knight,
and yield me up the hound thou tookest from my lady." At which he turned,
and saw a great and strong knight, armed full splendidly, riding down upon
him fiercely through a glade of the forest.

Now Sir Tor was very ill provided, for he had but an old courser, which
was as weak as himself, because of the hermit's scanty fare. He waited,
nevertheless, for the strange knight to come, and at the first onset with
their spears, each unhorsed the other, and then fell to with their swords
like two mad lions. Then did they smite through one another's shields and
helmets till the fragments flew on all sides, and their blood ran out in
streams; but yet they carved and rove through the thick armour of the
hauberks, and gave each other great and ghastly wounds. But in the end,
Sir Tor, finding the strange knight faint, doubled his strokes until he
beat him to the earth. Then did he bid him yield to his mercy.

"That will I not," replied Abellius, "while my life lasteth and my soul is
in my body, unless thou give me first the hound."

"I cannot," said Sir Tor, "and will not, for it was my quest to bring
again that hound and thee unto King Arthur, or otherwise to slay thee."

With that there came a damsel riding on a palfrey, as fast as she could
drive, and cried out to Sir Tor with a loud voice, "I pray thee, for King
Arthur's love, give me a gift."

"Ask," said Sir Tor, "and I will give thee."

"Grammercy," said the lady, "I ask the head of this false knight Abellius,
the most outrageous murderer that liveth."

"I repent me of the gift I promised," said Sir Tor. "Let him make thee
amends for all his trespasses against thee."

"He cannot make amends," replied the damsel, "for he hath slain my
brother, a far better knight than he, and scorned to give him mercy,
though I kneeled for half an hour before him in the mire, to beg it, and
though it was but by a chance they fought, and for no former injury or
quarrel. I require my gift of thee as a true knight, or else will I shame
thee in King Arthur's court; for this Abellius is the falsest knight
alive, and a murderer of many."

When Abellius heard this, he trembled greatly, and was sore afraid, and
yielded to Sir Tor, and prayed his mercy.

"I cannot now, Sir knight," said he, "lest I be false to my promise. Ye
would not take my mercy when I offered it; and now it is too late."

Therewith he unlaced his helmet, and took it off; but Abellius, in dismal
fear, struggled to his feet, and fled, until Sir Tor overtook him, and
smote off his head entirely with one blow.

"Now, sir," said the damsel, "it is near night, I pray ye come and lodge
at my castle hard by."

"I will, with a good will," said he, for both his horse and he had fared
but poorly since they left Camelot.

So he went to the lady's castle and fared sumptuously, and saw her
husband, an old knight, who greatly thanked him for his service, and urged
him oftentimes to come again.

On the morrow he departed, and reached Camelot by noon, where the king and
queen rejoiced to see him, and the king made him Earl; and Merlin
prophesied that these adventures were but little to the things he should
achieve hereafter.

Now while Sir Gawain and Sir Tor had fulfilled their quests, King
Pellinore pursued the lady whom the knight had seized away from the
wedding-feast. And as he rode through the woods, he saw in a valley a fair
young damsel sitting by a well-side, and a wounded knight lying in her
arms, and King Pellinore saluted her as he passed by.

As soon as she perceived him she cried out, "Help, help me, knight, for
our Lord's sake!" But Pellinore was far too eager in his quest to stay or
turn, although she cried a hundred times to him for help; at which she
prayed to heaven he might have such sore need before he died as she had
now. And presently thereafter her knight died in her arms; and she, for
grief and love slew herself with his sword.

But King Pellinore rode on till he met a poor man and asked him had he
seen a knight pass by that way leading by force a lady with him.

"Yea, surely," said the man, "and greatly did she moan and cry; but even
now another knight is fighting with him to deliver the lady; ride on and
thou shalt find them fighting still."

At that King Pellinore rode swiftly on, and came to where he saw the two
knights fighting, hard by where two pavilions stood. And when he looked in
one of them he saw the lady that was his quest, and with her the two
squires of the two knights who fought.

"Fair lady," said he, "ye must come with me unto Arthur's court."

"Sir knight," said the two squires, "yonder be two knights fighting for
this lady; go part them, and get their consent to take her, ere thou touch
her."

"Ye say well," said King Pellinore, and rode between the combatants, and
asked them why they fought.

"Sir knight," said the one, "yon lady is my cousin, mine aunt's daughter,
whom I met borne away against her will, by this knight here, with whom I
therefore fight to free her."

"Sir knight," replied the other, whose name was Hantzlake of Wentland,
"this lady got I, by my arms and prowess, at King Arthur's court to-day."

"That is false," said King Pellinore; "ye stole the lady suddenly, and
fled away with her, before any knight could arm to stay thee. But it is my
service to take her back again. Neither of ye shall therefore have her;
but if ye will fight for her, fight with me now and here."

"Well," said the knights, "make ready, and we will assail thee with all
our might."

Then Sir Hantzlake ran King Pellinore's horse through with his sword, so
that they might be all alike on foot. But King Pellinore at that was
passing wroth, and ran upon Sir Hantzlake, with a cry, "Keep well thy
head!" and gave him such a stroke upon the helm as clove him to the chin,
so that he fell dead to the ground. When he saw that, the other knight
refused to fight, and kneeling down said, "Take my cousin the lady with
thee, as thy quest is; but as thou art a true knight, suffer her to come
to neither shame nor harm."

So the next day King Pellinore departed for Camelot, and took the lady
with him; and as they rode in a valley full of rough stones, the damsel's
horse stumbled and threw her, so that her arms were sorely bruised and
hurt. And as they rested in the forest for the pain to lessen, night came
on, and there they were compelled to make their lodging. A little before
midnight they heard the trotting of a horse. "Be ye still," said King
Pellinore, "for now we may hear of some adventure," and therewith he armed
him. Then he heard two knights meet and salute each other, in the dark;
one riding from Camelot, the other from the north.

"What tidings at Camelot?" said one.

"By my head," said the other, "I have but just left there, and have espied
King Arthur's court, and such a fellowship is there as never may be broke
or overcome; for wellnigh all the chivalry of the world is there, and all
full loyal to the king, and now I ride back homewards to the north to tell
our chiefs, that they waste not their strength in wars against him."

"As for all that," replied the other knight, "I am but now from the north,
and bear with me a remedy, the deadliest poison that ever was heard tell
of, and to Camelot will I with it; for there we have a friend close to the
king, and greatly cherished of him, who hath received gifts from us to
poison him, as he hath promised soon to do."

"Beware," said the first knight, "of Merlin, for he knoweth all things, by
the devil's craft."

"I will not fear for that," replied the other, and so rode on his way.

Anon King Pellinore and the lady passed on again; and when they came to
the well at which the lady with the wounded knight had sat, they found
both knight and Damsel utterly devoured by lions and wild beasts, all save
the lady's head.

When King Pellinore saw that, he wept bitterly, saying, "Alas! I might
have saved her life had I but tarried a few moments in my quest."

"Wherefore make so much sorrow now?" said the lady.

"I know not," answered he, "but my heart grieveth greatly for this poor
lady's death, so fair she was and young."

Then he required a hermit to bury the remains of the bodies, and bare the
lady's head with him to Camelot, to the court.

When he was arrived, he was sworn to tell the truth of his quest before
the King and Queen, and when he had entered the Queen somewhat upbraided
him, saying, "Ye were much to blame that ye saved not that lady's life."

"Madam," said he, "I shall repent it all my life."

"Ay, king," quoth Merlin, who suddenly came in, "and so ye ought to do,
for that lady was your daughter, not seen since infancy by thee. And she
was on her way to court, with a right good young knight, who would have
been her husband, but was slain by treachery of a felon knight, Lorraine
le Savage, as they came; and because thou wouldst not abide and help her,
thy best friend shall fail thee in thine hour of greatest need, for such
is the penance ordained thee for that deed."

Then did King Pellinore tell Merlin secretly of the treason he had heard
in the forest, and Merlin by his craft so ordered that the knight who bare
the poison was himself soon after slain by it, and so King Arthur's life
was saved.



CHAPTER VII

King Arthur and Sir Accolon of Gaul

Being now happily married, King Arthur for a season took his pleasure,
with great tournaments, and jousts, and huntings. So once upon a time the
king and many of his knights rode hunting in a forest, and Arthur, King
Urience, and Sir Accolon of Gaul, followed after a great hart, and being
all three well mounted, they chased so fast that they outsped their
company, and left them many miles behind; but riding still as rapidly as
they could go, at length their horses fell dead under them. Then being all
three on foot, and seeing the stag not far before them, very weary and
nigh spent--"What shall we do," said King Arthur, "for we are hard
bested?" "Let us go on afoot," said King Urience, "till we can find some
lodging." At that they saw the stag lying upon the bank of a great lake,
with a hound springing at his throat, and many other hounds trooping
towards him. So, running forward, Arthur blew the death-note on his horn,
and slew the hart. Then lifting up his eyes he saw before him on the lake
a barge, all draped down to the water's edge, with silken folds and
curtains, which swiftly came towards him, and touched upon the sands; but
when he went up close and looked in, he saw no earthly creature. Then he
cried out to his companions, "Sirs, come ye hither, and let us see what
there is in this ship." So they all three went in, and found it everywhere
throughout furnished, and hung with rich draperies of silk and gold.

By this time eventide had come, when suddenly a hundred torches were set
up on all sides of the barge, and gave a dazzling light, and at the same
time came forth twelve fair damsels, and saluted King Arthur by his name,
kneeling on their knees, and telling him that he was welcome, and should
have their noblest cheer, for which the king thanked them courteously.
Then did they lead him and his fellows to a splendid chamber, where was a
table spread with all the richest furniture, and costliest wines and
viands; and there they served them with all kinds of wines and meats, till
Arthur wondered at the splendour of the feast, declaring he had never in
his life supped better, or more royally. After supper they led him to
another chamber, than which he had never beheld a richer, where he was
left to rest. King Urience, also, and Sir Accolon were each conducted into
rooms of like magnificence. And so they all three fell asleep, and being
very weary slept deeply all that night.

But when the morning broke, King Urience found himself in his own house in
Camelot, he knew not how; and Arthur awaking found himself in a dark
dungeon, and heard around him nothing but the groans of woful knights,
prisoners like himself. Then said King Arthur, "Who are ye, thus groaning
and complaining?" And some one answered him, "Alas, we be all prisoners,
even twenty good knights, and some of us have lain here seven years--some
more--nor seen the light of day for all that time." "For what cause?" said
King Arthur. "Know ye not then yourself?" they answered--"we will soon
tell you. The lord of this strong castle is Sir Damas, and is the falsest
and most traitorous knight that liveth; and he hath a younger brother, a
good and noble knight, whose name is Outzlake. This traitor Damas,
although passing rich, will give his brother nothing of his wealth, and
save what Outzlake keepeth to himself by force, he hath no share of the
inheritance. He owneth, nevertheless, one fair rich manor, whereupon he
liveth, loved of all men far and near. But Damas is as altogether hated as
his brother is beloved, for he is merciless and cowardly: and now for many
years there hath been war between these brothers, and Sir Outzlake
evermore defieth Damas to come forth and fight with him, body to body, for
the inheritance; and if he be too cowardly, to find some champion knight
that will fight for him. And Damas hath agreed to find some champion, but
never yet hath found a knight to take his evil cause in hand, or wager
battle for him. So with a strong band of men-at-arms he lieth ever in
ambush, and taketh captive every passing knight who may unwarily go near,
and bringeth him into this castle, and desireth him either to fight Sir
Outzlake, or to lie for evermore in durance. And thus hath he dealt with
all of us, for we all scorned to take up such a cause for such a false
foul knight--but rather one by one came here, where many a good knight
hath died of hunger and disease. But if one of us would fight, Sir Damas
would deliver all the rest."

"God of his mercy send you deliverance," said King Arthur, and sat
turning in his mind how all these things should end, and how he might
himself gain freedom for so many noble hearts.

Anon there came a damsel to the king, saying, "Sir if thou wilt fight for
my lord thou shalt be delivered out of prison, but else nevermore shalt
thou escape with thy life." "Nay," said King Arthur, "that is but a hard
choice, yet had I rather fight than die in prison, and if I may deliver
not myself alone, but all these others, I will do the battle." "Yea," said
the damsel, "it shall be even so." "Then," said King Arthur, "I am ready
now, if but I had a horse and armour." "Fear not," said she, "that shalt
thou have presently, and shalt lack nothing proper for the fight." "Have I
not seen thee," said the king, "at King Arthur's court? for it seemeth
that thy face is known to me." "Nay," said the damsel, "I was never there;
I am Sir Damas' daughter, and have never been but a day's journey from
this castle." But she spoke falsely, for she was one of the damsels of
Morgan le Fay, the great enchantress, who was King Arthur's half-sister.

When Sir Damas knew that there had been at length a knight found who would
fight for him, he sent for Arthur, and finding him a man so tall and
strong, and straight of limb, he was passingly well pleased, and made a
covenant with him, that he should fight unto the uttermost for his cause,
and that all the other knights should be delivered. And when they were
sworn to each other on the holy gospels, all those imprisoned knights were
straightway led forth and delivered, but abode there one and all to see
the battle.

In the meanwhile there had happened to Sir Accolon of Gaul a strange
adventure; for when he awoke from his deep sleep upon the silken barge, he
found himself upon the edge of a deep well, and in instant peril of
falling thereinto. Whereat, leaping up in great affright, he crossed
himself and cried aloud, "May God preserve my lord King Arthur and King
Urience, for those damsels in the ship have betrayed us, and were
doubtless devils and no women; and if I may escape this misadventure, I
will certainly destroy them wheresoever I may find them." With that there
came to him a dwarf with a great mouth, and a flat nose, and saluted him,
saying that he came from Queen Morgan le Fay. "And she greeteth you well,"
said he, "and biddeth you be strong of heart, for to-morrow you shall do
battle with a strange knight, and therefore she hath sent you here
Excalibur, King Arthur's sword, and the scabbard likewise. And she
desireth you as you do love her to fight this battle to the uttermost, and
without any mercy, as you have promised her you would fight when she
should require it of you; and she will make a rich queen for ever of any
damsel that shall bring her that knight's head with whom you are to
fight."

"Well," said Sir Accolon, "tell you my lady Queen Morgan, that I shall
hold to that I promised her, now that I have this sword--and," said he, "I
suppose it was to bring about this battle that she made all these
enchantments by her craft." "You have guessed rightly," said the dwarf,
and therewithal he left him.

Then came a knight and lady, and six squires, to Sir Accolon, and took him
to a manor house hard by, and gave him noble cheer; and the house belonged
to Sir Outzlake, the brother of Sir Damas, for so had Morgan le Fay
contrived with her enchantments. Now Sir Outzlake himself was at that time
sorely wounded and disabled, having been pierced through both his thighs
by a spear-thrust. When, therefore, Sir Damas sent down messengers to his
brother, bidding him make ready by to-morrow morning, and be in the field
to fight with a good knight, for that he had found a champion ready to do
battle at all points, Sir Outzlake was sorely annoyed and distressed, for
he knew he had small chance of victory, while yet he was disabled by his
wounds; notwithstanding, he determined to take the battle in hand,
although he was so weak that he must needs be lifted to his saddle. But
when Sir Accolon of Gaul heard this, he sent a message to Sir Outzlake
offering to take the battle in his stead, which cheered Sir Outzlake
mightily, who thanked Sir Accolon with all his heart, and joyfully
accepted him.

So, on the morrow, King Arthur was armed and well horsed, and asked Sir
Damas, "When shall we go to the field?" "Sir," said Sir Damas, "you shall
first hear mass." And when mass was done, there came a squire on a great
horse, and asked Sir Damas if his knight were ready, "for our knight is
already in the field." Then King Arthur mounted on horseback, and there
around were all the knights, and barons, and people of the country; and
twelve of them were chosen to wait upon the two knights who were about to
fight. And as King Arthur sat on horseback, there came a damsel from
Morgan le Fay, and brought to him a sword, made like Excalibur, and a
scabbard also, and said to him, "Morgan le Fay sendeth you here your sword
for her great love's sake." And the king thanked her, and believed it to
be as she said; but she traitorously deceived him, for both sword and
scabbard were counterfeit, brittle, and false, and the true sword
Excalibur was in the hands of Sir Accolon. Then, at the sound of a
trumpet, the champions set themselves on opposite sides of the field, and
giving rein and spur to their horses urged them to so great a speed that
each smiting the other in the middle of the shield, rolled his opponent to
the ground, both horse and man. Then starting up immediately, both drew
their swords and rushed swiftly together. And so they fell to eagerly, and
gave each other many great and mighty strokes.

And as they were thus fighting, the damsel Vivien, lady of the lake, who
loved King Arthur, came upon the ground, for she knew by her enchantments
how Morgan le Fay had craftily devised to have King Arthur slain by his
own sword that day, and therefore came to save his life. And Arthur and
Sir Accolon were now grown hot against each other, and spared not strength
nor fury in their fierce assaults; but the king's sword gave way
continually before Sir Accolon's, so that at every stroke he was sore
wounded, and his blood ran from him so fast that it was a marvel he could
stand. When King Arthur saw the ground so sore be-blooded, he bethought
him in dismay that there was magic treason worked upon him, and that his
own true sword was changed, for it seemed to him that the sword in Sir
Accolon's hand was Excalibur, for fearfully it drew his blood at every
blow, while what he held himself kept no sharp edge, nor fell with any
force upon his foe.

"Now, knight, look to thyself, and keep thee well from me," cried out Sir
Accolon. But King Arthur answered not, and gave him such a buffet on the
helm as made him stagger and nigh fall upon the ground. Then Sir Accolon
withdrew a little, and came on with Excalibur on high, and smote King
Arthur in return with such a mighty stroke as almost felled him; and both
being now in hottest wrath, they gave each other grievous and savage
blows. But Arthur all the time was losing so much blood that scarcely
could he keep upon his feet yet so full was he of knighthood, that
knightly he endured the pain, and still sustained himself, though now he
was so feeble that he thought himself about to die. Sir Accolon, as yet,
had lost no drop of blood, and being very bold and confident in Excalibur,
even grew more vigorous and hasty in his assaults. But all men who beheld
them said they never saw a knight fight half so well as did King Arthur;
and all the people were so grieved for him that they besought Sir Damas
and Sir Outzlake to make up their quarrel and so stay the fight; but they
would not.

So still the battle raged, till Arthur drew a little back for breath and a
few moments' rest; but Accolon came on after him, following fiercely and
crying loud, "It is no time for me to suffer thee to rest," and therewith
set upon him. Then Arthur, full of scorn and rage, lifted up his sword and
struck Sir Accolon upon the helm so mightily that he drove him to his
knees; but with the force of that great stroke his brittle, treacherous
sword broke short off at the hilt, and fell down in the grass among the
blood, leaving the pommel only in his hand. At that, King Arthur thought
within himself that all was over, and secretly prepared his mind for
death, yet kept himself so knightly sheltered by his shield that he lost
no ground, and made as though he yet had hope and cheer. Then said Sir
Accolon, "Sir knight, thou now art overcome and canst endure no longer,
seeing thou art weaponless, and hast lost already so much blood. Yet am I
fully loth to slay thee; yield, then, therefore, to me as recreant."
"Nay," said King Arthur, "that may I not, for I have promised to do battle
to the uttermost by the faith of my body while my life lasteth; and I had
rather die with honour than live with shame; and if it were possible for
me to die an hundred times, I had rather die as often than yield me to
thee, for though I lack weapons, I shall lack no worship, and it shall be
to thy shame to slay me weaponless." "Aha," shouted then Sir Accolon, "as
for the shame, I will not spare; look to thyself, sir knight, for thou art
even now but a dead man." Therewith he drove at him with pitiless force,
and struck him nearly down; but Arthur evermore waxing in valour as he
waned in blood, pressed on Sir Accolon with his shield, and hit at him so
fiercely with the pommel in his hand, as hurled him three strides
backwards.

This, therefore, so confused Sir Accolon, that rushing up, all dizzy, to
deliver once again a furious blow, even as he struck, Excalibur, by
Vivien's magic, fell from out his hands upon the earth. Beholding which,
King Arthur lightly sprang to it, and grasped it, and forthwith felt it
was his own good sword, and said to it, "Thou hast been from me all too
long, and done me too much damage." Then spying the scabbard hanging by
Sir Accolon's side, he sprang and pulled it from him, and cast it away as
far as he could throw it; for so long as he had worn it, Arthur new his
life would have been kept secure. "Oh, knight!" then said the king, "thou
hast this day wrought me much damage by this sword, but now art thou come
to thy death, for I shall not warrant thee but that thou shalt suffer, ere
we part, somewhat of that thou hast made me suffer." And therewithal King
Arthur flew at him with all his might, and pulled him to the earth, and
then struck off his helm, and gave him on the head a fearful buffet, till
the blood leaped forth. "Now will I slay thee!" cried King Arthur; for his
heart was hardened, and his body all on fire with fever, till for a moment
he forgot his knightly mercy. "Slay me thou mayest," said Sir Accolon,
"for thou art the best knight I ever found, and I see well that God is
with thee; and I, as thou hast, have promised to fight this battle to the
uttermost, and never to be recreant while I live; therefore shall I never
yield me with my mouth, and God must do with my body what he will." And as
Sir Accolon spoke, King Arthur thought he knew his voice; and parting all
his blood-stained hair from out his eyes, and leaning down towards him,
saw, indeed, it was his friend and own true knight. Then said he--keeping
his own visor down--"I pray thee tell me of what country art thou, and
what court?" "Sir knight," he answered, "I am of King Arthur's court, and
my name is Sir Accolon of Gaul." Then said the king, "Oh, sir knight! I
pray thee tell me who gave thee this sword? and from whom thou hadst it?"

Then said Sir Accolon, "Woe worth this sword, for by it I have gotten my
death. This sword hath been in my keeping now for almost twelve months,
and yesterday Queen Morgan le Fay, wife of King Urience, sent it to me by
a dwarf, that therewith I might in some way slay her brother, King Arthur;
for thou must understand that King Arthur is the man she hateth most in
all the world, being full of envy and jealousy because he is of greater
worship and renown than any other of her blood. She loveth me also as much
as she doth hate him; and if she might contrive to slay King Arthur by her
craft and magic, then would she straightway kill her husband also, and
make me the king of all this land, and herself my queen, to reign with me;
but now," said he, "all that is over, for this day I am come to my death."

"It would have been sore treason of thee to destroy thy lord," said
Arthur. "Thou sayest truly," answered he; "but now that I have told thee,
and openly confessed to thee all that foul treason whereof I now do
bitterly repent, tell me, I pray thee, whence art thou, and of what
court?" "O, Sir Accolon!" said King Arthur, "learn that I am myself King
Arthur." When Sir Accolon heard this he cried aloud, "Alas, my gracious
lord! have mercy on me, for I knew thee not." "Thou shalt have mercy,"
said he, "for thou knewest not my person at this time; and though by thine
own confession thou art a traitor, yet do I blame thee less, because thou
hast been blinded by the false crafts of my sister Morgan le Fay, whom I
have trusted more than all others of my kin, and whom I now shall know
well how to punish." Then did Sir Accolon cry loudly, "O, lords, and all
good people! this noble knight that I have fought with is the noblest and
most worshipful in all the world; for it is King Arthur, our liege lord
and sovereign king; and full sorely I repent that I have ever lifted lance
against him, though in ignorance I did it."

Then all the people fell down on their knees and prayed the pardon of the
king for suffering him to come to such a strait. But he replied, "Pardon
ye cannot have, for, truly, ye have nothing sinned; but here ye see what
ill adventure may ofttimes befall knights-errant, for to my own hurt, and
his danger also, I have fought with one of my own knights."

Then the king commanded Sir Damas to surrender to his brother the whole
manor, Sir Outzlake only yielding him a palfrey every year; "for," said he
scornfully, "it would become thee better to ride on than a courser;" and
ordered Damas, upon pain of death, never again to touch or to distress
knights-errant riding on their adventures; and also to make full
compensation and satisfaction to the twenty knights whom he had held in
prison. "And if any of them," said the king, "come to my court complaining
that he hath not had full satisfaction of thee for his injuries, by my
head, thou shalt die therefor."

Afterwards, King Arthur asked Sir Outzlake to come with him to his court,
where he should become a knight of his, and, if his deeds were noble, be
advanced to all he might desire.

So then he took his leave of all the people and mounted upon horseback,
and Sir Accolon went with him to an abbey hard by, where both their wounds
were dressed. But Sir Accolon died within four days after. And when he was
dead, the king sent his body to Queen Morgan, to Camelot, saying that he
sent her a present in return for the sword Excalibur which she had sent
him by the damsel.

So, on the morrow, there came a damsel from Queen Morgan to the king, and
brought with her the richest mantle that ever was seen, for it was set as
full of precious stones as they could stand against each other, and they
were the richest stones that ever the king saw. And the damsel said, "Your
sister sendeth you this mantle, and prayeth you to take her gift, and in
whatsoever thing she hath offended you, she will amend it at your
pleasure." To this the king replied not, although the mantle pleased him
much. With that came in the lady of the lake, and said, "Sir, put not on
this mantle till thou hast seen more; and in nowise let it be put upon
thee, or any of thy knights, till ye have made the bringer of it first put
it on her." "It shall be done as thou dost counsel," said the king. Then
said he to the damsel that came from his sister, "Damsel, I would see this
mantle ye have brought me upon yourself." "Sir," said she, "it will not
beseem me to wear a knight's garment." "By my head," said King Arthur,
"thou shall wear it ere it go on any other person's back!" And so they put
it on her by force, and forthwith the garment burst into a flame and
burned the damsel into cinders. When the king saw that, he hated that
false witch Morgan le Fay with all his heart, and evermore was deadly
quarrel between her and Arthur to their lives' end.


 

 
 
 
 
 

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