KING ARTHUR'S KNIGHTS:
The Tales Re-Told for Boys & Girls
With Illustrations in Color by Walter Crane
Thomas Nelson and Sons New York, Edinburgh, London Toronto, And Paris
In tholde dayes of the King Arthour, Of which that Britons speken great honour, All was this land fulfilled of faery.
The Canterbury Tales.
Printed in the United States of America
This book is an attempt to tell some of the stories of King Arthur and his Knights in a way which will be interesting to every boy and girl who loves adventures.
Although tales of these old British heroes have been published before in a form intended for young people, it is believed that they have never been related quite in the same spirit nor from the same point of view; and it is hoped that the book will fill a place hitherto vacant in the hearts of all boys and girls.
No doubt many of you, my young readers, have at some time or another taken down the Morte D'Arthur from your father's bookshelves and read a few pages of it here and there. But I doubt if any of you have ever gone very far in the volume. You found generally, I think, that it was written in a puzzling, old-fashioned language, that though it spoke of many interesting things, and seemed that it ought to be well worth reading, yet somehow it was tedious and dry.
In the tales as I have retold them for you, I hope you will not find any of these faults. Besides writing them in simple language, I have chosen only those episodes which I know would appeal to you. I have added or altered here and there, for in places it struck me that there was just wanting a word or two to make you feel the magic that was everywhere abroad in those days. It seemed to me that some mysterious adventure might easily be waiting in the ruined and deserted Roman town on the desolate moor, or even just round the mossy trunk of the next oak in the forest-drive, through which the knight was riding; or that any fair lady or questing dog which he might meet could turn out to be a wizard seeking to work woe upon him. Nevertheless, I was always sure that in those bright days when the world was young, whatever evil power might get the mastery for a little while, the knight's courage, humility, and faith would win through every peril at the end.
In this book, besides reading of wonderful adventures and brave fighting, you will learn just what sort of man a perfect knight was required to be in the chivalrous times when men wore armour and rode on errantry. The duties of a 'good and faithful knight' were quite simple, but they were often very hard to perform. They were—to protect the distressed, to speak the truth, to keep his word to all, to be courteous and gentle to women, to defend right against might, and to do or say nothing that should sully the fair name of Christian knighthood.
Although, therefore, these stories of King Arthur and his men treat of knights and their ladies, of magical trolls and wonder-working wizards, and it might seem for that reason that they can have little or nothing in common with life of the present day, it will be seen that the spirit in which they are told conveys something which every boy can learn.
Indeed, the great and simple lesson of chivalry which the tales of King Arthur teach is, in a few words, to merit 'the fine old name of gentleman.'
The history of King Arthur and his Knights is contained in two books, one being the Morte D'Arthur, written by Sir Thomas Malory, the other being the Mabinogion, a collection of old Welsh stories, first translated by Lady Charlotte Guest in 1838. I have selected thirteen tales from the number which these two books contain; but there are many more, equally as interesting, which remain.
Little is known about Sir Thomas Malory, who lived in the fifteenth century. We only learn that he was a Welshman, a man of heroic mind who, as an old writer relates, 'from his youth, greatly shone in the gifts of mind and body.' Though much busied with cares of state, his favourite recreation was said to be the reading of history, and in this pursuit 'he made selections from various authors concerning the valour and the victories of the most renowned King Arthur of the Britons.' We know, further, that these selections or tales were translated mostly from poems about Arthur written by old French poets in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and that Sir Thomas Malory finished his translation in the ninth year of King Edward the Fourth (1469). This, of course, was before printing was introduced into England, but no doubt many written copies were made of the book, so as to enable the stories to be read to the lords and ladies and other rich people who would desire to hear about the flower of kings and chivalry, the great King Arthur. When, in 1477, Caxton set up his printing press at Westminster, the Morte D'Arthur was one of the books which then saw the light of day.
The Mabinogion, which contains other tales about King Arthur, is a collection of old Welsh romances. Though our earliest collection of them is to be found in a manuscript written in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, some of them are probably as old as the time when Welshmen clothed themselves in the skins of the beaver and the bear, and used stone for their tools and weapons.
It may be that, when you get older, you will go back to the two books I have mentioned, and you will find them so fascinating that you will be impatient of any other book which pretends to tell you the same tales. But until that time arrives, I hope you will find the stories as I have told them quite interesting and exciting.
I. HOW ARTHUR WAS MADE KING AND WON HIS KINGDOM 1
II. SIR BALIN AND THE STROKE DOLOROUS 32
III. HOW LANCELOT WAS MADE A KNIGHT. THE FOUR WITCH QUEENS, AND THE ADVENTURES AT THE CHAPEL PERILOUS 52
IV. THE KNIGHT OF THE KITCHEN 72
V. HOW SIR TRISTRAM KEPT HIS WORD 101
VI. THE DEEDS OF SIR GERAINT 131
VII. HOW SIR PERCEVAL WAS TAUGHT CHIVALRY, AND ENDED THE EVIL WROUGHT BY SIR BALIN'S DOLOROUS STROKE 164
VIII. HOW SIR OWEN WON THE EARLDOM OF THE FOUNTAIN 194
IX. OF SIR LANCELOT AND THE FAIR MAID OF ASTOLAT 229
X. HOW THE THREE GOOD KNIGHTS ACHIEVED THE HOLY GRAAL 250
XI. OF THE PLOTS OF SIR MORDRED; AND HOW SIR LANCELOT SAVED THE QUEEN 278
XII. OF SIR GAWAINE'S HATRED, AND THE WAR WITH SIR LANCELOT 307
XIII. OF THE REBELLION OF MORDRED AND THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR 333
KING ARTHUR'S KNIGHTS
HOW ARTHUR WAS MADE KING AND WON HIS KINGDOM
In the hall of his Roman palace at London, King Uther, Pendragon of the Island of Britain, lay dying. He had been long sick with a wasting disease, and forced to lie in his bed, gnawing his beard with wrath at his weakness, while the pagan Saxons ravened up and down the fair broad lands, leaving in their tracks the smoking ruin of broken towns and desolated villages, where mothers lay dead beside their children on the hearths, fair churches stood pillaged and desecrated, and priests and nuns wandered in the wilds.
At length, when the pagans, bold and insolent, had ventured near London, the king had been able to bear his shame and anguish no longer. He had put himself, in a litter, at the head of his army, and meeting the fierce, brave pagans at Verulam (now called St. Albans) he had, in a battle day-long and stubborn, forced them at length to fly with heavy slaughter.
That was three days ago, and since then he had lain in his bed as still as if he were dead; and beside him sat the wise wizard Merlin, white with great age, and in his eyes the calmness of deep learning.
It was the third night when the king suddenly awoke from his stupor and clutched the hand of Merlin.
'I have dreamed!' he said in a low shaken voice. 'I have seen two dragons fighting—one white, the other red. First the white dragon got the mastery, and clawed with iron talons the red one's crest, and drove him hither and thither into holes and crannies of the rocks. And then the red one took heart, and with a fury that was marvellous to see, he drove and tore the white dragon full terribly, and anon the white one crawled away sore wounded. And the red dragon walked up and down in the place of his triumph, and grew proud, and fought smaller red dragons and conquered. Thus for a long time he stayed, and was secure and boastful. Then I saw the white dragon return with a rage that was very terrible, and the red dragon fought with him; but his pride had softened him, so he drew off. Then other red dragons came upon him in his wounds and beat him sore, which seeing, the white dragon dashed upon them all—and I awoke. Merlin, tell me what this may mean, for my mind is sore distraught with the vision.'
Then Merlin looked at the trembling king, wasted with disease, and in his wise heart was great pity.
'It means, lord,' he said in slow grave tones, 'that thy people shall conquer—that a red dragon shall rise from thy kin, who shall drive out the loathsome pagan and shall conquer far and wide, and his fame shall go into all lands and for all time.'
'I thank thee, Merlin, for thy comfort,' sighed the wearied king. 'I have feared me these last years that the pagan will at the last drive my people into the western sea, and that the name of Christ shall die out of this fair land, and the foul pagan possess it. But thy words give me great heart.'
'Nay, sir,' said Merlin, 'take comfort. Great power will come to this people in a near time, and they shall conquer all their enemies.'
Anon the king slept, and lay thus for three further days, neither speaking nor moving. Many great lords and barons came craving to speak with Merlin, asking if the king were not better. But, looking into their crafty eyes, and seeing there the pride and ambitions of their hearts, Merlin knew that they wished the king were already dead; for all thought that King Uther had no son to take the kingdom after him, and each great baron, strong in men, plotted to win the overlordship when the king should be gone.
'If he dieth and sayeth not which he shall name to succeed him,' some asked, 'say, Merlin, what's to be done?'
'I shall tell you,' said Merlin. 'Come ye all into this chamber to-morrow's morn, and, if God so wills, I will make the king speak.'
Next morn, therefore, came all the great barons and lords into the high hall of the palace, and many were the proud and haughty glances passing among them. There was King Lot of Orkney, small and slim, with his dark narrow face and crafty eyes under pent eyebrows; King Uriens of Reged, tall and well-seeming, with grim eyes war-wise, fresh from the long harrying of the fleeing pagans; King Mark of Tintagel, burly of form, crafty and mean of look; King Nentres of Garlot, ruddy of face, blusterous of manner, who tried to hide cunning under a guise of honesty; and many others, as Duke Cambenet of Loidis, King Brandegoris of Stranggore, King Morkant of Strathclyde, King Clariance of Northumberland, King Kador of Cornwall, and King Idres of Silura.
Now, when all these were assembled about the bed of Uther, Merlin went to the side of the sleeping king, and looked long and earnestly upon his closed eyes. Anon he passed his hands above the face of the king, and Uther instantly awoke, and looked about him as if startled.
'Lord,' said Merlin, 'God's hand is drawing you to Him, and these your lords desire you to name your successor ere you pass from life. Is it not your desire that your son Arthur shall take the kingdom after you, with your blessing?'
Those who craned towards the bed started and looked darkly at Merlin and then at each other; for none had heard of the son whom the wizard named Arthur. Then in the deep silence the dying king raised his hand in the sign of blessing, and in a hollow whisper said:
'Such is my desire. With God's blessing I wish my son Arthur to take this kingdom after me, and all that love me must follow him.'
His eyes closed, a shiver passed down the tall frame as it lay beneath the clothes, and with a sigh the soul of Uther sped.
In a few days the king was buried in all solemnity with the dead of his kindred in the Roman temple that had been made a church, where now stands St. Paul's. Thereafter men waited and wondered, for the land was without a king, and none knew who was rightfully heir to the throne.
As the days went by, men gathered in groups in the market-place of London, whispering the rumours that mysteriously began to fly from mouth to mouth,—how King Lot of Orkney and Lothian was gathering his knights and men-at-arms; and King Uriens and Duke Cambenet of Loidis had got together a great host, although the remnant of the pagans had fled the country. The faces of the citizens went gloomy as they thought of the griefs of civil war, of the terrors of the sack of cities, the ruin of homes, the death of dear ones, and the loss of riches. Nevertheless, some were already wagering which of the great lords would conquer the others, and take to himself the crown of Britain and the title of Pendragon.
As it neared the feast of Christmas, men heard that the Archbishop of London, who was then chief ruler of the Church, had sent his letters to each and all the great nobles, bidding them come to a great council to be holden at the church of St. Paul at Christmas.
When men heard that this was done by the advice of Merlin, faces lightened and looked more joyful.
'Now shall things go right,' said they, 'for the old, old Merlin hath the deepest wisdom of all the earth.'
On Christmas Eve the city throbbed with the clank of arms and the tramp of the great retinues of princes, kings and powerful lords who had come at the archbishop's summons, and by day and night the narrow ways were crowded with armed men. Long ere the dawn of Christmas Day, the lords and the common people betook themselves along the wide road which led across to the church, which then stood in a wide space amid fields, and all knelt therein to mass.
While it was yet dark a great strange cry rang out in the churchyard. Some ran forth, and there by the wall behind the high altar they saw a vast stone, four-square, that had not been there before, and in the middle thereof was stuck a great wedge of steel, and sticking therefrom by the point was a rich sword. On the blade were written words in Latin, which a clerk read forth, which said, 'Whoso pulleth this sword out of this stone and wedge of steel is rightwise born King of all Britain.'
The clerk ran into the church and told the archbishop, and men were all amazed and would have gone instantly to see this marvel, but the archbishop bade them stay.
'Finish your prayers to God,' he said, 'for no man may touch this strange thing till high mass be done.'
When mass was finished, all poured forth from the church and thronged about the stone, and marvelled at the words on the sword. First King Lot, with a light laugh, took hold of the handle and essayed to pull out the point of the sword, but he could not, and his face went hot and angry. Then King Nentres of Garlot took his place with a jest, but though he heaved at the sword with all his burly strength, till it seemed like to snap, he could not move it, and so let go at last with an angry oath. All the others essayed in like manner, but by none was it moved a jot, and all stood about discomfited, looking with black looks at one another and the stone.
'He that is rightwise born ruler of Britain is not here,' said the archbishop at length, 'but doubt not he shall come in God's good time. Meanwhile, let a tent be raised over the stone, and do ye lords appoint ten of your number to watch over it, and we will essay the sword again after New Year's Day.'
So that the kings and lords should be kept together, the archbishop appointed a great tournament to be held on New Year's Day on the waste land north of the city, which men now call Smithfield.
Now when the day was come, a certain lord, Sir Ector de Morven, who had great lands about the isle of Thorney, rode towards the jousts with his son, Sir Kay, and young Arthur, who was Sir Kay's foster-brother. When they had got nearly to the place, suddenly Sir Kay bethought him that he had left his sword at home.
'Do you ride back, young Arthur,' he said, 'and fetch me my sword, for if I do not have it I may not fight.'
Willingly Arthur turned his horse and rode back swiftly. But when he had arrived at the house, he found it shut up and none was within, for all had gone to the jousts. Then was he a little wroth, and rode back wondering how he should obtain a sword for his foster-brother.
Suddenly, as he saw the tower of St. Paul's church through the trees, he bethought him of the sword in the stone, about which many men had spoken in his hearing.
'I will ride thither,' said he, 'and see if I may get that sword for my brother, for he shall not be without a sword this day.'
When he came to the churchyard, he tied his horse to the stile, and went through the grave-mounds to the tent wherein was the sword. He found the place unwatched, and the flashing sword was sticking by the point in the stone.
Lightly he grasped the handle of the sword with one hand, and it came forth straightway!
Then, glad that his brother should not be without a sword, he swiftly gat upon his horse and rode on, and delivered the sword to Sir Kay, and thought no more of aught but the splendid knights and richly garbed lords that were at the jousts.
But Sir Kay looked at the sword, and the writing, and knew it was the sword of the stone, and marvelled how young Arthur had possessed himself thereof; and being of a covetous and sour mind he thought how he might make advantage for himself. He went to his father, Sir Ector, and said:
'Lo, father, this is the sword of the stone, and surely am I rightful king.'
Sir Ector knew the sword and marvelled, but his look was stern as he gazed into the crafty eyes of his son.
'Come ye with me,' he said, and all three rode to the church, and alit from their horses and went in.
Sir Ector strode up the aisle to the altar, and turning to his son, said sternly:
'Now, swear on God's book and the holy relics how thou didst get this sword.'
Sir Kay's heart went weak, and he stammered out the truth.
'How gat you this sword?' asked Sir Ector of Arthur.
'Sir, I will tell you,' said Arthur, and so told him all as it had happened.
Sir Ector marvelled what this should mean; for Arthur had been given to him to nourish and rear as a week-old child by Merlin, but the wizard had only told him that the babe was a son of a dead lady, whose lord had been slain by the pagans.
Then Sir Ector went to the stone and bade Arthur put back the sword into the wedge of steel, which the young man did easily.
Thereupon Sir Ector strove with all his strength to draw the sword forth again, but though he pulled till he sweated, he could not stir the sword.
'Now you essay it,' he said to his son. But naught that Sir Kay could do availed.
'Now do you try,' he bade Arthur.
Arthur lightly grasped the handle with one hand, and the sword came out without hindrance.
Therewith Sir Ector sank to his knees, and Sir Kay also. And they bared their heads.
'Alas,' said Arthur, 'my own dear father and brother, why kneel ye so to me?'
'Nay, nay, my lord Arthur, it is not so,' said Sir Ector, 'for I was never your father. I wot well ye are of higher blood than I weened. For Merlin delivered you to me while yet ye were a babe.'
The tears came into Arthur's eyes when he knew that Sir Ector was not his father, for the young man had loved him as if he were of his own blood.
'Sir,' said Ector unto Arthur, 'will ye be my good and kind lord when ye are king?'
'Ah, if this be true as ye say,' cried Arthur, 'ye shall desire of me whatsoever ye may, and I shall give it you. For both you and my good lady and dear mother your wife have kept and loved me as your own.'
'Sir,' said Sir Ector, 'I crave a boon of you, that while you live, your foster-brother, Sir Kay, shall be high seneschal of all your lands.'
'That shall be done, and never man shall have that office but him, while he and I live,' replied Arthur.
Then hastily Sir Ector rode to the archbishop, and told him how and by whom the sword had been achieved from the stone. Thereupon the archbishop let call a great meeting on Twelfth Day of all the kings and barons.
So on the day appointed, all men gathered in the churchyard of St. Paul's, and the tent was removed from about the stone. From day dawn to the evening the kings and princes and lords strove each in his turn to draw the sword from the stone. But none of them availed to move it.
While they stood about, dark of look, gnawing their lips with rage and disappointment, the archbishop turned privily to Sir Ector and bade him bring Arthur.
The young man came, quietly clad in a tunic of brown samite, of medium height, with curly hair above a fair face of noble, though mild mien. As he came among the richly clad nobles, they looked haughtily at him, and wondered who he was and why he came, for as yet none had been told that the sword had been drawn by him.
The archbishop, tall, white-haired and reverend, called Arthur to him and said in grave tones:
'My son, I have heard a strange tale of thee, and whether it be true or false, God shall decide. Now, therefore, do ye take hold upon this sword and essay to draw it from the stone.'
The proud barons, some with looks amazed and others with sneering laughter, pressed about the young man as he stepped towards the stone. Arthur took the handle of the sword with his right hand, and the sword seemed to fall into his grasp.
Thereat arose great cries of rage, and angry looks flashed forth, and many a hand went to dagger haft.
'Ho, archbishop!' cried King Lot, fiercely striding towards the tall ecclesiastic, 'what wizard's brat are you foisting upon us here to draw the sword by magic?'
''Tis a trick!' cried Nentres of Garlot, his bluff manner falling from him, and all the savage anger gleaming from his eyes. 'A trick that shall not blind men such as we!'
'Who is this beggar's boy that is put forth to shame us kings and nobles?' said King Mark, and his hand sought his dagger as he disappeared among the crowd and wormed his way towards where stood young Arthur. But Sir Ector and Sir Kay, seeing the threatening looks of all, had quickly ranged themselves beside young Arthur, and with them went Sir Bedevere, Sir Baudwin and Sir Ulfius, three noble lords who had loved King Uther well.
'Peace, lords!' said the old archbishop, calmly meeting the raging looks about him. 'Ye know what words are about the sword, and this youth hath drawn the sword. I know naught of tricks or wizardry, but I think high Heaven hath chosen this way of showing who shall be lord of this land, and I think this young man is rightful King of us all.'
''Tis some base-born churl's son that the wizard Merlin would foist upon us!' cried the barons. 'We will have none of him!'
'A shame and dishonour it is, so to try to overrule us, kings and lords of high lineage, with an unknown youth,' cried others.
'We will have the sword put back and set a watch over it,' cried King Uriens, 'and we will meet here again at Candlemas, and essay the sword. And at that time, my lord archbishop, thou shalt do the proper rites to exorcise all evil powers, and then we will try the sword once more.'
So was it agreed by all, and ten knights watched day and night about the stone and the sword.
But it befell at Candlemas as it had befallen at Twelfth Day, that for all their strength and might, none of the kings or barons could draw forth the sword; but into the hand of the unknown Arthur the weapon seemed to fall.
Whereat they were all sore aggrieved and rageful, and resolved that they would have yet another trial at Easter. It befell at the feast of Easter as it had befallen before, and this time the kings and lords for angry spite would have fallen upon Arthur and slain him, but the archbishop threatened them with the most dreadful ban of Holy Church. They forbore, therefore, and went aside, and declared that it was their will to essay the sword again at the high feast of Pentecost.
By Merlin's advice the young Arthur went never about, unless the five friends of Uther were with him, that is to say, Sir Ector and his son Sir Kay, Sir Bedevere, Sir Baudwin and Sir Ulfius. And though at divers times men were found skulking or hiding in the horse-stall, the dark wood by the hall, or the bend in the lane, in places where Arthur might pass, no harm came to him by reason of the loving watch of those noble knights.
Again at the feast of Pentecost men gathered in the churchyard of St. Paul's, and the press of people was such that no man had ever seen the like. Once more the kings and princes and great barons, to the number of forty-nine, came forward, and each in turn pulled and drew at the sword in the stone until the sweat stood on their brows. Nevertheless, though the sword point was but the width of a palm in the stone, not the mightiest of them could move it by the breadth of a hair.
King Mark of Tintagel was the last of them who had to stand back at length, baffled and raging inwardly. Many were the evil looks that would have slain Arthur as he stood among his friends.
Then a cry came from among the common people, and so strong was it that the nobles looked as if they hated to hear it.
'Let Arthur draw the sword!' was the call from a thousand throats.
The venerable archbishop came and took Arthur by the hand, and led him towards the sword. Again the young man held the rich pommel with his single hand, and that which none of the forty-nine great men could do, he did as easily as if he but plucked a flower.
A fierce cry leaped from among the thousands of the common people.
'Arthur shall be our King!' they cried. 'Arthur is our King! We will no longer deny him!'
Many of the princes and barons cried out with the commons that this was their will also; but eleven of the most powerful and ambitious showed by their arrogant and angry gestures that they refused to own Arthur as their lord.
For a long time the uproar raged, the cries of the common folk becoming fiercer and more menacing against the counter cries of the eleven kings and their adherents.
At length from among the people there came the governor of London, who, in his rich robes of office, leaped upon the stone where but lately the sword had been.
'My lords, I speak the will of the commons,' he cried, and at his voice all were silent. 'We have taken counsel together, and we will have Arthur for our King. We will put him no more in delay, for we all see that it is God's will that he shall be our King, and who that holdeth against him, we will slay.'
With that he got down from the stone, kneeled before Arthur, put the keys of the city in his hands, and rendered homage unto him. The great multitude kneeled likewise, bowing their bare heads, and cried him mercy because they had denied him so long.
Because they feared the great multitude, the eleven kings kneeled with them, but in their hearts was rage and rebellion.
Then Arthur took the sword between his hands and, going into the church, he laid it on the high altar, and the archbishop blessed him. Then, since Arthur was as yet unknighted, King Kador of Cornwall, who was brother of King Uther, made him a knight.
Standing up in the sight of all the people, lords and commons, Arthur laid his left hand upon the holy relics; then, lifting up his right hand, he swore that he would be a true king, to stand forth as their ruler in justice and mercy, to keep them from oppression, to redress their wrongs, and to establish right throughout the length and breadth of his dominions.
Men went forth from the church in great joy, for now they had a king they loved, and they felt that the land was safe from civil strife and the griefs of war.
When Arthur in his palace at London had received the homage of all the lords and princes from the lands south of Humber, he appointed his officers. Sir Kay he made seneschal or steward, and Sir Baudwin was made constable, and Sir Ulfius he named chamberlain of his court. By the counsel of Merlin he made Sir Bedevere Warden of the Northern Marches, for the lands of the eleven kings lay mostly in the country north of Trent, and though those princes had yielded lip service to Arthur, Merlin knew that in their hearts they nurtured the seeds of conspiracy.
King Arthur made a progress through all his territories, staying at the halls of those who did service for the lands they held of him, and he commanded all those who had suffered evil or wrong to come to him, and many came. The king's wrath when he heard a tale of women and orphans wronged or robbed or evilly treated by proud or powerful lords and knights, was terrible to see. Many were the pale captives he released from their deep dungeons, many were the tears he wiped away, and hard and heavy was his punishment of evil lords who thought their power would for ever shield them from penalty for their cruelties and oppression.
When this was done, he caused a proclamation to be uttered, that he would hold his coronation at the city of Caerleon-upon-Usk, at the feast of Hallow-mass then following; and he commanded all his loyal subjects to attend. When the time came, all the countryside on the marches of Wales was filled with the trains of noblemen and their knights and servants gathering towards the city.
As Arthur looked from the window of the palace which the Romans had builded, and which looked far and wide over the crowded roads, word was brought to him that six of the kings who had resented his kingship had come to the city. At this Arthur was glad, for he was full gentle and kindly, and would liefer be friendly with a man than his enemy.
Thinking that these kings and knights had come for love of him, and to do him worship at his feast, King Arthur sent them many and rich presents. But his messengers returned, saying that the kings and knights had received them with insults, and had refused to take the gifts of a beardless boy who had come, they said, of low blood.
Whereat the king's eyes flashed grimly, but at that time he said no word.
In the joustings and knightly games that were part of the festival of the coronation, the six kings ever ranged themselves against King Arthur and his knights, and did him all the despite they could achieve. At that time they deemed themselves not strong enough to hurt the king, and therefore did no open act of revolt.
Now it happened, when the feasting was over and many of the kings and lords had departed home again, that Arthur stood in the door of his hall that looked into the street, and with his three best nobles, Sir Kay, Sir Bedevere and Sir Baudwin, he watched the rich cavalcades of his lords pass out of the town. Suddenly, as he stood there, a little page-boy, fair of face but for the pitiful sorrow and gauntness upon it, dashed from the throng of a lord's retinue which was passing and threw himself along the ground, his hands clutching the feet of the king.
'O King Arthur, save me!' the lad cried, spent of breath, 'or this evil lord will slay me as he hath slain my mother and my brothers.'
From the throng a tall black knight, leaping from his horse, strode towards the boy, and would have torn his hands from their hold upon the king's feet.
'Back, sir knight!' said the king. 'I will hear more of this. Who are you?'
The knight laughed insolently.
'I? Oh, I am one that the last king knew well to his sorrow. I am Turquine, brother to Sir Caradoc of the Dolorous Tower.'
'What is this boy to you?'
'He is Owen, the caitiff son of a brave father, who gave him to my care to train in knightly ways. But 'tis a puling fool, more fitting for the bowers of ladies.'
'Nay, king, he lies!' said the lad who kneeled before the king. 'I am his nephew. His hand slew my dear father treacherously, and he hath starved my mother to her death. For our lands are rich while his are poor, and my father warned me of him ere he died. This man hath kept me prisoner, used me evilly, starving me and wealing me with cruel blows daily. I think he hath my death in his heart.'
'I can speak of this thing,' said a knight, who came forth from the throng. 'I am Sir Miles of Bandon. I know this lad speaks truth, for his father was mine own dear cousin. This Sir Turquine is a felon knight.'
The brow of the king went dark. He looked from the cruel insolent face of the black knight to the wan beseeching face of the lad.
'Hark ye!' said Arthur to Turquine, and his voice was terrible, for all that it was very quiet, 'ye shall answer to me and my justice for any evil you have done this young boy or his people. When I send for thee, come at once, or it will be worse for thee. The boy stays with me. Now begone!'
The big knight looked with hatred and surprise in his eyes, and for a while said naught. Then, with an insolent laugh, he turned and vaulted on his horse.
'I may come when thou dost not expect me, sir king!' he said, mocking, and shot an evil look at the young page.
Thenceforward the young page Owen stayed in the court, doing his services deftly and quietly, with an eye ever on the king to do his bidding. One night, when a storm raged and the town lay dark and quiet, King Arthur sat in his hall. Sir Kay and Sir Bedevere told tales, or the king's bard sang songs to amuse him, while about them moved young Owen, noiseless of step, quick of eye, and as restless as an unquiet spirit.
Anon the lad would pass through the arras, creep to the great outer door, and look at the porter in his room beside it. Then he would stand at the wicket and listen to the rare footsteps pass down the road, and when the rising wind keened and shrilled through the crannies, he would glance about him with quick looks as if in fear of an enemy.
Once he went to Falk, the king's porter, and said:
''Tis a stormy night, Sir Falk. I doubt few are about the streets of Caerleon on such a night.'
'Few indeed,' said Falk.
'Yet methought but now I heard the rattle of a bridle in the distance, as if a steed stood in armour.'
'I heard naught,' said Falk. ''Twould be but the grinding of a chain beside a horseblock.'
Young Owen went away, and sat where the king and his knights listened to the marvellous tales of the wise Gildas, who told of most terrible witches and warlocks in the wizard woods of Brittany.
Again the lad approached the door and listened; then going to the porter he said:
'This drenching storm will tear the last poor leaves from the forest trees, I ween, Sir Falk.'
'Of a truth,' said the porter, ''tis overlate for leaves. They be stuck in the mire of the rides long ere this.'
'They could not be blown so far in this gushing storm,' said the page, 'and therefore I have deceived myself. But I thought I heard the rustle of leaves on the stones before the door but now.'
'It could not be,' said the porter; 'it was doubtless the gouts of water from the roof of the hall thou didst hear.'
Owen went away, but in a little while returned, and softly opened the wicket panel in the door a little way, and looked forth into the roaring darkness of rain and wind.
'Think you, Sir Falk,' he said, going to the porter, 'that the witches from the woods of Denn do send their baleful fires on such a night as this to lead poor houseless wretches into the marsh below the wall?'
The porter laughed.
'Thou'rt over-full of fancies to-night, young sir,' he said. 'Have no fear of witches. We're all safe and sound here till the blessed daylight comes, and none need stir out till then.'
'Methought I saw a flash in the dark but now,' said Owen, 'as if 'twas the gleam of a sword or a wandering marsh fire.'
'Not a doubt 'twas but a lightning flash,' returned the porter. 'Now go ye, for I hear the king moving towards bed. Sleep soundly, lad; no need to fear this night.'
In a little while the palace was sunk in darkness, and in silence save for the smothered cries of sleepers in their dreams. Outside, the rain still sobbed at the eaves, and the wind beat at the narrow casements. Time passed, and for all his weariness young Owen could not sleep.
His spirit had been heavy all the day, and vague and dreadful fears had haunted him. Something told him that the life of the beloved king, who had taken him from the foul and cruel power of Sir Turquine, was threatened. He rose in the dark from his pallet of straw in the hall where lay the other pages, and stole softly out. He would make his way to the king's door, and, wrapped in his cloak, would lie before it.
He felt his way softly along the corridor in the deep darkness. Suddenly he stopped. Something alive was near him in the dark. Even as he turned, a hand seized him by the throat, and a hateful voice which he knew growled in his ear:
'Lead us to the king's room, or this shall sink in thy heart!'
He knew at once that all his fears of the day and the night had been true. He had indeed heard the stealthy footsteps before the door of the hall, and had seen the dull gleam of a sword in the hand of one of those who lay in wait to murder the king.
'Speak!' said the voice again. 'Is the king's room backward or forward?'
'I will not tell thee!' he gasped, and heard a low mocking laugh.
''Tis thee, my caitiff boy!' sneered Sir Turquine, for he it was. 'Then this for thee!'
With the words he thrust his dagger into the body of the struggling boy, who swooned and dropped to the floor.
In a few moments Owen stirred, for his struggles had caused his enemy's dagger to swerve, and though weak from loss of blood, the young page knew that he must act at once to save his hero from the murderous knives.
He heard the stealthy footsteps of the murderers going backwards to the hall, and, filled with joy, he pressed forward. His head was dizzy, he felt as if every moment he must sink in a swoon; but at length he reached the door, turned the handle and fell in.
'The king!' he cried. 'Save the king! Turquine has broken in and seeks his life.'
At his shrill cry there was the rush of men and torches along the corridors and into the room. Sir Bedevere was at the head of them, and in a moment he, with twenty half-dressed knights behind him, was scattering through the palace seeking the murderers, while the king ordered his leech or doctor to attend instantly to Owen's wound.
This was soon found not to be severe, and the lad was laid at the foot of the king's bed, glad and proud to hear the king's words of praise.
Then Sir Bedevere entered, saying that the murderers had fled as soon as they found they were discovered.
'But, my lord king,' he said, 'this is no murderous attempt by one insolent lord. It means, my king, that thou wilt have to fight for thy kingdom. It is civil war!'
'What mean you, Sir Bedevere?'
'Sir Turquine is but one of them, my king,' replied Bedevere. 'He is but the tool of the six kings who have put such great despite upon you. For with them also in this midnight murder-raid I saw King Nentres of Garlot and Duke Cambenet.'
Suddenly, as he spoke, the tall grey form of Merlin took shape before them, for so great and marvellous was the power of this wizard, that he could come and go unseen, except when he willed that men should see him.
'Sir,' said Merlin, 'ye owe your life to this brave lad here, and he shall be a passing good man when he shall have attained his full strength, and he doth deserve your high and gracious favour.'
'That shall he have,' said the king, and smiled at young Owen, and the smile made the lad forget all the burning of his wound for very pride and gladness.
'And now,' said Merlin, 'if ye will gather your men I will lead you to the hold of those murderous kings by a secret way, and ye should give them such a sudden blow as will discomfit them.'
In a little while all was ready, and then, silently, with muffled arms, the men of Arthur were marching forth down the narrow dark lanes of the town to where the place was ruinous with old houses left forsaken by their Roman masters when they had gone from Britain fifty years before.
Merlin led them to a great squat tower which stood beside the wall, wherein a single light gleamed at a high window. Causing some to surround this place, Merlin led others to a broken door, and there they entered in. Then was there a sudden uproar and fierce fighting in the rooms and up the narrow stairs.
In the darkness King Lot, with a hundred knights, burst out through a rear door, and thought to escape; but King Arthur with his knights waylaid them, and slew on the right and on the left, doing such deeds that all took pride in his bravery and might of arms. Fiercely did King Lot press forward, and to his aid came Sir Caradoc, who set upon King Arthur in the rear.
Arthur drew from his side the sword he had so marvellously taken from the stone, and in the darkness it flashed as if it were thirty torches, and it dazzled his enemies' eyes, so that they gave way.
By this time the common people of Caerleon had heard the great outcry and the clang of swords on armour. Learning of the jeopardy of their beloved king from midnight murderers, they ran to the tower, and with clubs and staves and bills they slew many of the men of the evil kings, putting the rest to flight. But the six kings were still unharmed, and with the remnant of their knights fled and departed in the darkness.
A few days later King Arthur journeyed back to London, and on an evening when, in the twilight, he stood upon the roof of the palace overlooking the broad Thames, he was aware of a shadow beside him where no shadow had been before. Before he could cross himself against the evil powers of wizardry and glamour, the steel-blue eyes of Merlin looked out from the cloud, and the magician's voice spoke to him as if from a great distance.
'I stand beneath the shaggy brows of the Hill of Tanyshane,' said the voice, 'and I look down into the courtyard of the castle of King Lot. There I see the gathering of men, the flash of torches on their hauberks, the glitter of helms, and the blue gleams of swords. I have passed through these northern lands, from the windswept ways of Alclwyd to the quaking marshes of the Humber. Eleven castles have I seen, and each is filled with the clang of beating iron, the glow of smiths' fires and the hissing of new-tempered steel. Call thy council, and abide my return, for now you must fight for your kingdom, O king, and for your very life.'
The voice ceased, and the shadow and the vivid eyes it half concealed died away with it.
Into the council-chamber three days later, while men waited for they knew not what, Merlin entered.
'What news do you bring, Merlin?' they cried.
'Of civil war!' he said. 'I warn you all that the six kings ye gave a check to at Caerleon have taken to themselves four others and a mighty duke. They will to thrust Arthur, whom they call base-born, out of his life. Mark you, they are passing strong and as good fighting men as any alive—pity it is that great Uriens is with them, the wisest and noblest fighter of them all!—and unless Arthur have more men of arms and chivalry with him than he can get within this realm, he will be overcome!'
'Oh, but we be big enough!' cried some.
'That ye are not!' said Merlin. 'Which of ye have single-handed beaten back the pagan hordes from your lands? Which of ye can match King Lot for subtlety and craft, or the great Uriens of Reged for wisdom in war?'
'What is to do, then? Tell us your counsel,' said they all.
'This is my advice,' replied the wizard. 'Ye must send an embassy to King Ban of Brittany and King Bors of Gaul, promising to aid them when King Claudas, their common enemy, shall fight them again, if they will come and aid our king in this his fight for life and kingdom.'
In a few weeks this was done. King Ban of Brittany and his brother, King Bors, crossed into Britain with five thousand good knights, sworn to aid Arthur in this great conflict.
With King Ban came his son, young Lancelot, who was later to make more fame and more dole than any knight of Arthur's court.
On a day in early spring, the hosts of Arthur and his two allies were encamped in Sherwood Forest, and the fore-riders or scouts, which Merlin had sent out, came hastening in to say that the host of the eleven kings was but a few miles to the north of Trent water. By secret ways, throughout that night, Merlin led the army of Arthur until they came near where the enemy lay. Then did he order an ambush to be made by some part of their men, with King Ban and King Bors, by hiding in a hollow filled with trees.
In the morning, when either host saw the other, the northern host was well comforted, for they thought King Arthur's force was but small.
With the pealing of trumpets and the shouts of the knights, King Arthur ordered his men to advance, and in their midst was the great silken banner with the fierce red dragon ramping in its folds. This had been blessed by the Archbishop of London at a solemn service held before the host left London.
All day the battle raged. Knight hurled and hurtled against knight, bowmen shot their short Welsh arrows, and men-at-arms thrust and maimed and slashed with the great billhooks and spears.
King Arthur, with his bodyguard of four—Sir Kay, Sir Baudwin, Sir Ulfius, and Sir Bedevere—did feats of arms that it was marvel to see. Often the eleven kings did essay to give deadly strokes upon the king, but the press of fighting kept some of them from him, and others withdrew sore wounded from the attack upon him and his faithful four.
Once the five held strong medley against six of the rebel kings, and these were King Lot, King Nentres, King Brandegoris, King Idres, King Uriens, and King Agwisance; and so fiercely did they attack them that three drew off sore wounded, whilst King Lot, King Uriens and King Nentres were unhorsed, and all but slain by the men-at-arms.
At length it appeared to Arthur that his host was yielding before the weight of numbers of the enemy, and then he bethought him of a strategy. He took counsel of his nobles, and they approved; he sent a trusty messenger to the Kings Ban and Bors, who still lay in ambush; and then, commanding his trumpets to sound, he ordered a retreat.
As had been agreed on, the knights on Arthur's side made their retreat in a confusion that seemed full of fear; and the enemy, joyfully shouting their cries of triumph, pursued them headlong.
King Lot's host, led onward thus unthinking, were sure of victory. But their cries of triumph were short and quickly turned to woe; for when they had passed the place of ambush, they heard cries of terror in their rear, and turning, they found a great host pouring forth from the hollow combe, thick as angry bees from a hive.
Then, indeed, taken in the rear and in the front, there was little hope of victory, and King Lot's men fought for dear life.
Seeing King Bors, where he hewed terribly in the press of battle, King Lot, who knew him well, cried out:
'Ah, Mary, now defend us from death and from horrible maims, for I see well we be in fear of quick death! Yonder is King Bors, one of the most worshipful and best knights in the world; and there is his twin brother, King Ban, as terrible as he. How came they and their host into Britain, and we not know it, alas?'
'By the arts of that wizard Merlin, I doubt not,' said King Uriens. 'And I doubt not we shall all be sped. Look you, Lot,' he went on, 'whoever that Arthur may be, I'll swear by my head he is not of low-born breeding, but a very man and a marvellous fighter.'
'If you lose heart now, why, go and swear fealty to him!' sneered King Lot.
'Keep your sneers,' said Uriens sternly. 'I'll pay the price of rebellion to my last breath, as I have vowed.'
By now the great mass of King Lot's host was either slain or run away, and the evening drew on; but the eleven kings, wounded, spent, and full of anguish at defeat, drew together with a few hundred of their knights, and vowed to die fighting. When they looked to see where they stood, they found that Arthur had penned them upon a little bluff of land that ended steeply over a deep river, and that no way was open for them to escape from the death of swords, unless they chose to leap on the rocks below the cliff.
'See!' said Uriens, with a laugh, 'while we fought like wild boars, and thought of nothing but the killing, this base-born king kept his wits and moved us like pawns on a chessboard, we all unwitting. First, he drew us into ambush, and now he thrusts us into a chasm. We war-wise fighters, grown grey in battle, checkmated by a boy!'
Nevertheless, though wearied, full of dread and shame, and looking death in the eyes, the little band of men withdrew backwards, waiting until Arthur should command his lines of glittering knights to dash upon the remnant of the rebel kings.
'The proud evil men!' said Arthur in anger, looking upon them. 'Though they know death is upon them, they will not crave mercy of me, a base-born king, as they name me!'
'Ah, sir king,' said King Ban, 'blame them not, for they do as brave men ought to do, and they are the best fighting men and the knights of most prowess that ever I saw. And if they were belonging unto you, there would be no king under heaven to compare with you for power and fame and majesty.'
'I cannot love them,' said Arthur sadly, 'for they would destroy me.'
'Now, this is my counsel,' said King Lot to his ten fellows, as he looked over the field strewn with the dead: 'that we stand together in a circle and swear to die together—we and our few knights. We have aimed at a kingdom and a crown, and we have failed. But we will die like kings and warriors. When they press upon us at the last, let no one of us break away. If any see another dress him to flee or to yield, let him slay him. How say ye?'
'It is good!' said they all.
Then, for all their aching wounds, they mended their broken harness hurriedly, and righted their shields, took new spears from the hands of their squires, and set them upright on their thighs, and thus, with the low red light of the westering sun behind them, they stood still and grim, like a clump of tall leafless trees.
Arthur gave the order to advance, and his knights leaped forward over the heap of the slain. But just then Sir Kay came to the king, bringing a knight from the north who had just been captured, bearing messages to the eleven kings, and Arthur asked him who he was and why he came.
'Sir king,' said the man, 'I am Sir Eliot of the March Tower, and I have ill tidings for my master, King Uriens, and his friends, but it seems my news is no worse than their fate. If my great lord is to die, I would lief die with him. Therefore, lord, despatch me now, or let me go stand beside my lord in the last rally.'
'What is thy news?' asked King Arthur.
'It is that the pagans, the savage Saxons, have landed in three places beyond Humber, and all the lands of my lord and his ten fellows shall suffer fire and sword again.'
'But if I slay your master and his fellow-rebels, whose lands are those the pagans overrun?'
'Yours, lord, of a truth, if you can dash the pagans from them.'
'If I and my host have swept these rebel kings from before me, think you I cannot sweep the Saxons from the land?'
'I trow you could, sir king, for on my way hither I have heard of the marvellous deeds this day of yourself and your knights. But, lord, I see the press of knights about my dear lord. Ah, that I might strike a blow for him before I die!'
'Thou shalt strike a-many yet,' said Arthur, and Sir Eliot marvelled.
Arthur commanded his trumpets to blow the retreat, and the knights, wondering and half unbelieving, withdrew them from about the eleven kings.
Then, surrounded by his chief lords, Arthur rode to the group of wearied kings, who, with dented and broken harness, from which the blood oozed in many places, still kept their seats with undaunted mien.
At King Arthur's command Sir Eliot told his news to King Uriens.
'Now this I have to say to ye,' said Arthur, lifting his vizor and showing a stern countenance. 'Ye are in my hands, to slay or spare as I choose. But ye have fought like brave men, and I would that, for your prowess, ye were my friends rather than mine enemies. Now this I have to offer ye. Swear here and now to be my lieges, as ye were to King Uther before me, and I will aid thee to thrust the pagans from your land, and thenceforth we will aid and cherish each other as true subjects and true lords should do. But if ye refuse, then your folly be on your own heads, for then I take your lives and your lands both.'
With that King Uriens threw down his sword and put up his vizor, and turning to the others, said:
'Fellow-rebels, we should be mad to refuse gifts so kingly and kindly offered. We have tried a throw with this young king, and we have been worsted. Better now to own ourselves lesser men than this wise lad here, and try to live in peace with him henceforth.'
The other kings agreed, but King Lot, mean and revengeful, and the Kings Nentres and Brandegoris, suspicious that, as had been too often with themselves, fair words had covered foul intent, held back a little, until the others swore to leave them to the penalty of their folly. Whereupon they all knelt down upon the stricken field, and each put his hands between the hands of King Arthur, and swore upon the honour of their knighthood to be his true and faithful men while they lived.
As they rose from rendering their homage, Merlin came riding on a great black horse.
'Ye have done wisely well, my king,' he said. 'For by this kingly deed you shall rivet the hearts of the good men among these former rebels closer to your own than with rivets of steel. Thus well and wisely have ye won your kingdom and the fealty of these brave men.'
'Now,' he went on to the eleven kings, 'ye doubted whether Arthur was of noble birth, and rightful king. Know ye that he is the son of the noble King Uther, who by my counsel hid him away on his birth. Ye will remember how Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, hated Uther for taking Igraine for wife, whom Gorlois had captured and sworn to wed for her beauty and her wealth. And how all the turbulent lords did cling to Gorlois, and how for years King Uther had much ado to keep those rebels from dismembering the kingdom. Gorlois had vowed to slay by poison or treachery any son of Uther's, and so I took young Arthur into safe keeping. None knew of him until King Uther named him as his rightful heir upon his deathbed in the presence of you all. So, therefore, ye do well to give your homage to this your king, for Arthur is the son right worshipful of the great Pendragon, and the lovely lady, Igraine of Lyonesse.'
All that stood by marvelled, and most of the eleven kings were glad that they had a king so noble in birth and doing as Arthur, the son of Uther Pendragon.
SIR BALIN AND THE STROKE DOLOROUS
It happened that on a day King Arthur, wandering from his court, had fought and vanquished a valiant knight, but he himself had been sore wounded. Merlin, coming to his aid, had taken him to a hermit's cave, and there with many marvellous salves had searched his wounds, so that in three days the king was whole again.
Riding forth together, Merlin led the king deeper and deeper into a wild and desolate country where he had never been before, and where there were no pathways. Arthur looked to and fro over the waste, but saw no sign of man or beast, and no bird flitted or piped. Great gaunt stones stood upright on the hillsides, solitary or in long lines as if they marched, or else they leaned together as if conspiring; while great heaps or cairns of stone rose here and there from the lichen-covered and rocky soil, in which the grass grew weakly in small crevices.
The mists now rose and drifted before them as they rode, the light was low and sallow, and the wind began to whisper shrilly among the great stones, and in the crannies of the cairns.
The king crossed himself, and looked at the white, old, and wrinkled face of Merlin; but the wizard seemed sunk in thought. Then Arthur bethought him that, in case some fiend-shape or wizard-knight should assail him in that desolate waste, he could not defend himself, inasmuch as his sword—the sword he had drawn from the stone—had snapped when he fought the knight, and he had no other weapon with him.
'Merlin,' he said, 'this is a place of ancient death and terror, and if aught should assail us of evil, I have no sword.'
'For that reason I bring thee here,' replied Merlin, and would not utter another word.
Then, through the mists, which writhed and twisted as if they were fell shapes that would tear down the passing riders, Arthur became aware that their way was leading downwards, and soon the smell of water rose up to him.
He heard the beat and suck of waves upon a shore, and in a little while the mists cleared as if at a word, and there before him Arthur saw a lonely lake or sea, hedged round with salt-rimed reeds and sedges, and stretching out its waters, dull and leaden-hued, to so great a distance that his eye could see no end.
'What is this place?' he asked of Merlin.
'It is the Lake of the Endless Waters,' said the wizard.
'Why bring ye me to this desolate lake in the wilderness?'
'You shall visit it once more—ere you die!' replied Merlin. 'But look you there in the midmost of the lake.'
Looking to where the wizard pointed, Arthur saw a great hand, clothed in white samite, stretched above the lapsing waves, and in its grasp was a long two-handed sword in a rich scabbard.
With that they saw a barge riding over the water, and it came without oars or any sail, and in the prow sat a woman, tall and comely, with a face lovely but sad. A frontlet of gold and pearls was bound about her rich red hair, and her robes, of green samite, fell about her as if they were reeds of the shore.
'What lady is that?' said the king.
'It is the Lady of the Lake,' said Merlin, 'and she comes to you. Now, therefore, speak fair to her, and ask that she will give you that sword.'
Then the barge rasped among the reeds where Arthur sat on his horse, and the lady said:
'Greeting to you, O king!'
'Greeting, fair damsel!' replied Arthur. 'What sword is that which the arm holdeth above the water? I would it were mine, for I have none.'
'Sir king,' said the lady, 'that sword is mine; but if ye will give me a gift when I ask it of you, and will swear an oath to give me back the sword when ye shall be dying, then shall ye have it.'
'By my faith, I will give ye the gift when ye shall desire, and when I am dying I will truly give back the sword.'
'Then do you step into this barge and row yourself unto the hand and take from it the sword. And know ye that the name of that sword is Excalibur, and while you keep the scabbard by your side, ye shall lose no blood, be ye never so sore wounded.'
So King Arthur and Merlin alighted, tied their horses to two stunted trees, and went into the barge. The king turned to look to where the tall green lady had stood but a moment before, and marvelled to see that she had vanished.
When they came to the sword which the hand held, King Arthur saw that the water where the hand rose forth was all troubled, and he could see naught. He took the sword by the handle, and the great fingers of the hand opened and then sank. So they came afterwards to the land, and rode on their way to Camelot, and reached it after many days.
When King Arthur entered his hall, and had been welcomed by his knights, the seneschal brought forth a messenger, who had come from King Rience of North Wales, and the man with insolent looks uttered this message:
'My lord, King Rience, hath but now discomfited and overwhelmed seven kings, and each hath done him homage, and given him for a sign of their subjection their beard clean cut from their chins. And my lord hath caused a rich mantle to be hemmed with these kings' beards, and there yet lacketh one place. Wherefore my lord hath sent me to demand that ye give him homage and send him thy beard also. Or else he will enter thy lands, and burn and slay and lay waste, and will not cease until he hath thy head as well as thy beard.'
'Now this is the most shameful message that any man sent to a king!' said Arthur, 'and thy king shall rue his villainous words.' Then he laughed a little grimly. 'Thou seest, fellow, that my beard is full young yet to make a hem. So take this message back to thy master. If he will have it, he must wait until I grow older; but yet he shall not wait long before he sees me, and then shall he lose his head, by the faith of my body, unless he do homage to me.'
So the messenger departed, and King Arthur set about the ordering of his army to invade the land of Rience.
Later, on a day when the king sat in council with his barons and knights, there came a damsel into the hall, richly beseen and of a fair countenance. She knelt at the feet of the king, and said humbly:
'O king, I crave a boon of ye, and by your promise ye shall grant it me.'
'Who are ye, damsel?' asked the king.
'My lord, my lady mother hath sent me, and she is the Lady of the Lake.'
'I remember me,' said Arthur, 'and thou shalt have thy boon.'
Whereat the damsel rose and let her mantle fall, that was richly furred, and then they saw that she was girded about the waist with a great sword.
Marvelling, the king asked, 'Damsel, for what cause are ye girded with that sword?'
'My lord,' said the damsel, in distress and sadness, 'this sword that I am girded withal, doth me great sorrow and remembrance. For it was the sword of him I loved most tenderly in all the world, and he hath been slain by falsest treachery by a foul knight, Sir Garlon, and nevermore shall I be joyful. But I would that my dear love be avenged by his own good sword, which my lady mother hath endowed with great enchantment. And the knight of thine that shall draw this sword shall be he who shall avenge my dead love. But he must be a clean knight, a good man of his hands and of his deeds, and without guile or treachery. If I may find such a knight, he shall deliver me of this sword, out of the scabbard, and with it do vengeance for me.'
'This is a great marvel,' said King Arthur, 'and while I presume not to be such a knight as thou sayest, yet for ensample to my knights will I essay to draw the sword.'
Therewith the king took the scabbard and drew at the sword with all his strength, but in no wise could he make it come forth.
'Sir,' said the damsel, 'ye need not draw half so hard, for lightly shall it come into the hands of him who shall draw it.'
Then the king bade all his knights to attempt this feat, and all tried their best, but it was of no avail.
'Alas!' said the damsel in great sadness. 'And shall my dear love go unavenged, because there is no knight here who shall achieve this sword?'
She turned away through the crowd of knights who stood abashed about her, and went towards the door.
It happened that there was a poor knight in the court of King Arthur, who had been a prisoner for a year and a day, by reason of his having slain a kinsman of the king's. His name was Sir Balin the Hardy, and he was a good man of his hands, though needy. He had been but lately released from durance, and was standing privily in the hall and saw the adventure of the damsel with the sword. Whereat his heart rose, both to do the deed for the sorrowing maid and because of her beauty and sadness. Yet, being poor and meanly arrayed, he pushed not forward in the press.
But as the damsel went towards the door, she passed him, and he said:
'Damsel, I pray you of your courtesy to suffer me as well to essay as these knights, for though I be poorly clothed, my heart seemeth fully assured that I may draw the sword, and thy sorrow moveth me.'
The damsel lifted her large sad eyes to him, and she saw he was goodly of form and noble of look, and her heart was stirred.
'Though ye be poor, worthiness and manhood are not in a man's rich raiment, and therefore,' she said with a sorrowful smile, 'do you essay the sword also, good knight, and God speed you.'
Balin took the sword by the scabbard, and drew it out easily, and when he looked upon the sword it pleased him well.
Then had the king and barons great marvel, but some of the knights had great spite against Balin.
'Truly,' said the damsel, 'this is a passing good knight, and the best man of ye all, and many marvels shall he achieve. But now, gentle and courteous knight,' she said, 'give me the sword again.'
'Nay, this sword will I keep,' said Balin.
'Ye are not wise,' said the maiden sorrowfully. 'My lady mother sent the sword to find which was the knight the most worthy to rid the world of an evil knight that doeth his foul treacheries and murders by wizardry, but if ye keep the sword it shall work great bane on you and on one you love most in this world.'
'I shall take the adventure God shall ordain for me,' said Balin, 'be it good or ill.'
The damsel looked sadly into his eyes and wept.
'I am passing heavy for your sake,' she said. 'I repent that I have brought this to you, for I see you lying wounded unto death, and I shall not be near to comfort you.'
With that the damsel departed in great sorrow.
Anon Balin sent for his horse and armour, and took his leave of King Arthur, who was almost wroth that he should depart upon a quest that promised but misfortune. He would have him stay with him in his court, but Balin would not, and so departed.
For many days, by lonely ways and through forest drives, Sir Balin fared, seeking for the felon knight Sir Garlon, but nowhere could he get word of him. At length one night, as he made his way to a hermitage by the edge of a thick wood, he saw the arms of his younger brother, Sir Balan, hung upon a thorn before the holy man's door. Just then Sir Balan came out and saw him, and when he looked on Balin's shield, which had two crossed swords, he recognised his brother's device, and ran to him, and they met and kissed each other, and that night they were happy together, for it had been long since that they had parted; and each told the other his adventures.
'It seemeth, then, that this King Arthur is a right worshipful lord,' said Balan, when his brother had told him the adventure of the damsel and the sword, 'but I doubt me he will not withstand King Rience and his host. Already that king hath come into this land and is harrying and burning.'
'That were great pity,' said Balin, 'and I would that I could do some deed to stay the power of Rience, who is evil-minded and of an arrogant nature. I would put my life in any danger to win the love of the great Arthur, and to punish King Rience for his shameful message.'
'Let us go then to-morrow,' said Balan, 'and try our prowess. King Rience lieth at the siege of the castle Terabil, within ten leagues of this place.'
'I will well,' said Balin, 'and if we slay King Rience, his people will go astray and King Arthur shall easily make them yield.'
Next morning early they rode away through the gay woods, drenched with dew, which sparkled where the sunlight lit upon it. Long and lonely was the way, until towards the evening they met with a poor old man on foot, ragged, lame, and dirty, and bearing a great burden. It was in a narrow ride of the forest, and there was but room for one person to pass, and though the brothers were making great speed, since they doubted they had lost their way, they would not ride down the poor man, as many knights would do.
But Balin, with a cheery call, said: 'Old man, give me thy pack, and do thou climb up and sit behind me. For it is late and lonely that such poor old bones as thine should be abroad.'
The old man, either from fear of the two great knights in their black armour, or from suspicion, mumbled out a few words and refused the offer, while yet he would not budge from the narrow path.
'Well, then, tell us thy name, old man,' said Balin, laughing at his obstinacy.
'At this time I will not tell you,' croaked the old fellow, stumbling under his pack.
'I doubt that great pack hath many rich things that never owned thee master,' said Balan with a laugh.
'It is full evil seen,' said Balin, 'that thou art a true honest man, when thou wilt not tell thy name.'
'Be that as it may,' snarled the old man, 'but I know your name, my lordlings, and why you ride this way.'
'By the faith of my body, but ye are some wizard if ye know that,' said Balan mockingly.
'And who may we be?' asked Balin. 'And whither do we ride?'
'Ye are brothers, my Lords Balin and Balan,' answered the old man. 'And ye ride to pull King Rience's beard. But that ye shall not do, unless ye take my counsel.'
'Ah!' cried Balin, 'I know thee, Merlin! We would fain be ruled by thy counsel, old magician.'
So it came about, with Merlin's aid, that Balin and Balan came upon King Rience that night with but a small band of his knights, and with a sudden attack out of the dark wood the two brothers seized the king and slew many of his men that tried to save him. And when they had ridden some way towards Camelot with the king, wounded and bound, between them, Merlin vanished from beside them.
Then they rode to Camelot at the dawning, and delivered Rience to the porter at the gate, to be led to King Arthur when he should sit in hall, and the two knights rode away. So, by the capture of King Rience, his host was put to naught, and the king paid his homage to King Arthur, and swore on the sacred relics of the Abbey of Camelot to be his true man while he should live.
At that time Balin could not meet with the felon knight, Sir Garlon, who wrought evil by wizardry, and he and his brother went their different ways seeking adventure. Sir Balin returned to King Arthur and became one of his most valiant knights.
It happened on a day that King Arthur journeyed with his knights from Camelot to London, and he lay in his pavilion in the heat of the day. As he rested he heard the noise of a horse, and looking out of the flap of his tent, he saw a strange knight passing, making great complaint and sorrowing, and with him was a damsel.
'Abide, fair sir,' said Arthur, 'and tell me wherefore you are troubled.'
'Ye may little amend it,' answered the knight, and passed on.
Later came Sir Balin and saluted the king, who told him of the strange knight sorrowing as he rode, and the king bade him follow and bring back the knight to him, 'for,' said he, 'the sorrows of that knight were so piercing that I would fain know his grief.'
Sir Balin took horse and lance and rode many miles through the forest, and by evening he came upon the knight and the lady.
'Sir knight,' said Balin, 'ye must come with me unto my lord, King Arthur, for to tell him the cause of your sorrow.'
'That will I not,' answered the knight, 'for it would do me none avail.'
'Sir, make ready,' replied Balin, 'for ye must needs go with me, or else I will fight with you and take you by force.'
'No heart have I to fight, for all joy of life is dead with me,' said the knight, 'but I am on a fierce quest, and ye must be my warrant if I go with you that I be not kept from my quest.'
'I will gladly warrant you,' said Balin, and together with the lady they turned back.
'I fear not to tell you my sorrow,' said the knight as they rode. 'I but lately returned from fighting the pagans in the north, and when I came to my father's hall, men told me that the lady that I loved most tenderly had been robbed away by a villain knight. And as I sorrowed and went forth to seek the knight to slay him, lo, there I saw my lady, who had escaped unscathed from his evil hold. And much joy we made of each other, for we loved each other tenderly. But even as we kissed, there came an arrow through the air and pierced my dear lady to the heart, so that she fell dead in my arms. And there was none to see who shot the arrow, but men said it was the felon knight who had taken my lady, and he had killed her by black magic. So now with this damsel, my dear sister, who was her friend, do I go through the world seeking the invisible knight. And when I find him, with God's help I will surely slay him.'
The good knight Balin was much moved by the sad story.
'Ah!' said he, 'it is the same fell knight whose death I seek by this good sword. And we will fare together, you and I, and take his evil life when God leads us to him.'
Even as Sir Balin spoke, out of a dark glade by their side came a lance hurtling, as if held in rest by an invisible rider, and while they turned their heads at the sound of its hissing through the air, it pierced the side of the sorrowing knight and stood deep in the wound.
'Alas!' cried the knight, falling from his horse, 'I am slain by the traitorous and wizard knight. His punishment is not for me, sir knight, but I charge you, seek him out and slay him for my sake, and for the sake of my dead lady.'
'That will I do,' said Balin, sorrowing, 'and thereof I make a vow to you and this damsel by my knighthood.'
When Balin had told all to his lord, King Arthur, the king made the knight to be buried in a rich tomb, and on it engraved his sad story, together with his name, Sir Herlew, and that of his lady love, Gwenellen.
Balin and the damsel rode forward the next day and for many days, and ever the lady bore the truncheon of the spear with her by which Sir Herlew had been slain.
Then on a day they lodged at the house of a rich knight named Sir Gwydion, an old grey gentleman, of a sad aspect. When night came, Sir Balin lay sleeping in the hall beside the fire, and suddenly he awoke at the sound of one sorrowing quietly near him. He rose up and went to the pallet and saw it was his host, and he asked him why he mourned in the dark.
'I will tell you,' said the old sad knight, 'and the telling will comfort me. I was but late at a jousting, and there I jousted with a knight that is brother to good King Pellam. And a full evil kinsman is this knight of so good a king. I smote the evil man from his horse twice, and he was full of rage that I, an old man, should overcome him. Therefore by treachery he assailed my son, a young and untried knight, and slew him. And I cannot avenge my dear son, for the evil man goeth invisible. But I pray that I may meet him in a little while.'
'Is not his name Garlon?' asked Balin.
'Ye say right,' said Sir Gwydion.
'Ah, I know him,' replied Balin, 'and I had rather meet with him than have all the gold of this realm.'
'That shall we both do,' said his host. 'For King Pellam, his brother, king of the land of Holy Hallows, hath made a cry in all this country, of a great feast that shall be in twenty days, and that evil knight, your enemy and mine, shall we see there.'
On the morrow they rode all three towards the town of King Pellam, and when they came within the country of Holy Hallows, Sir Balin saw how fair and happy was the land and its joyful people. Their meadows were rich with grass, the cattle were thriving and sleek, the trees were loaded with fruit and the cornfields full with rich ripe corn.
'Why doth it seem,' asked Balin, 'that this country is the fairest and happiest that ever I saw?'
'It is for this,' said Sir Gwydion, 'that in the Castle of Holy Hallows, whither we wend, King Pellam hath some holy relics of a passing marvellous power, and while he keepeth these his land is rich and happy, and plagues cannot enter it nor murrain, nor can pestilence waste the people.'
When they reached the castle they found a great throng of lords and ladies, and because Sir Gwydion had no lady with him he could not sit at the feast. But Balin was well received and brought to a chamber, and they unarmed him. The squires brought him a festal robe to his pleasure, but he would not suffer them to take his sword.
'Nay,' said he, 'it is my vow that never shall I and my sword be parted, and that vow will I keep or depart as I came.'
So they suffered him to wear it under his robe, and he was set in the hall with his lady beside him. Anon, when the meal was ended and the mead horns were set, Sir Balin asked his neighbour whether there was a knight at that court named Garlon.
'Yonder he goeth,' said the knight; 'he with that dark face and piercing eye. He is the most marvellous knight that is now living, and though King Pellam loveth him dearly, because he is his brother, yet he suffers bitterly the evil magic of Sir Garlon. For that knight rideth invisible, and slays so that none may know how they get their death.'
Sir Balin's heart rose at these words, and he trembled with his great anger.
'Ah, well,' said the good knight. 'And that is he?'
He considered long within himself what he should do.
'If I slay him here in this crowded hall,' he said, 'I shall surely not escape, and if I leave him now, peradventure I shall never meet with him again, and much evil will he do if he be let to live.'
He could not remove his eyes from Sir Garlon where he walked between the tables, proudly talking and laughing with those he knew, and making soft speeches to ladies, though many showed fear of him, and crossed their fingers while he spoke to them, to fend off the evil of his eyes. Very soon Sir Garlon noticed the fixed, stern look of Sir Balin, and came across to him and flicked his gauntlet across his face.
'This shall make thee remember me when next thou seest me, knight,' he said. 'But thou hadst better do what thou camest for, and fill thyself with mead.'
'Thou sayest sooth,' said Balin, and clutched the sword under his robe. 'Too long hast thou done evil and despite, and now will I do that for which I came.'
Rising, he drew his sword fiercely and swiftly, and cleaved the head of Garlon to the shoulders.
'Give me the truncheon wherewith he slew thy brother!' said Balin to the damsel beside him.
From beneath her robe the lady brought forth the broken truncheon, and striding to the slain man, Sir Balin thrust it fiercely into his body.
'Now,' cried he aloud, 'with this lance thou didst treacherously slay a good knight, and for that and all thy other cruel murders have I slain thee.'
With that arose a great outcry, and men ran from the tables towards Sir Balin to slay him, and the foremost of them was King Pellam, who rushed towards him, crying:
'Thou hast slain my brother when he bore no sword, and thou shalt surely die.'
'Well,' said Balin, 'come and do it thyself.'
'I shall do it,' said Pellam, 'and no man shall touch thee but me, for the love of my brother.'
Pellam snatched an axe from the hands of one standing by, and smote eagerly at Balin; but Balin put his sword between his head and the stroke, and the sword was struck from his hand.
Then, weaponless, Balin dashed through the circle of guests towards a door, looking for a weapon while he ran, but none could he find. King Pellam followed closely behind him, and so they ran from chamber to chamber, and up the narrow stair within the wall, until at the last Balin found that he was near the top of the tower, and thought that now he must surely be slain, for no weapon had he found.
Suddenly he came upon a door, and bursting it open he found himself in a large room marvellously bright and richly dight, and with a bed arrayed with cloth of gold, and one old and white and reverend lying therein. And by the side of the bed was a table of virgin gold on pillars of pure silver, and on it stood a spear, strangely wrought.
Balin seized the spear, and turned upon King Pellam, who stood still in the doorway with terror in his eyes. But, marking naught of this, Balin thrust at him with the spear, and struck it in his side, and King Pellam with a great cry fell to the ground.
With that stroke the walls of the castle drove together and fell in ruins to the ground, and a great cry of lamentation beat to and fro from far and near, and Balin lay under the stones as one dead.
After three days Merlin came and drew out Balin from the ruins, and nourished and healed him. He also recovered his sword and got him a good horse, for his own was slain. Then he bade him ride out of that country without delay.
'And never more shall you have ease,' said Merlin. 'For by the stroke of that spear with intent to slay King Pellam thou hast done such a dolorous deed that not for many years shall its evil cease to work.'
'What have I done?' said Balin.
'Thou wouldst have slain a man with the very spear that Longius the Roman thrust into the side of our Lord Jesus when He suffered on the Rood; and by that thou hast defiled it, and caused such ill that never shall its tale be ended until a stainless knight shall come, one of those who shall achieve the Holy Graal.'
'It repents me,' said Balin heavily, 'but the adventure was forced upon me.'
As he rode through the land, he saw how it seemed that a dire pestilence had swept over it; for where he had seen the golden corn waving in miles of smiling fields, he saw it now blackened along the ground; the trees were stripped of their leaves and fruit, the cattle lay dead in the meads, and the fish rotted in the streams, while in the villages lay the people dead or dying in shattered or roofless cottages.
As he passed, those that were alive cursed him, and called down upon him the wrath of Heaven.
'See, see,' they cried, 'thou murderous knight, how the evil stroke thou gavest to King Pellam by that hallowed spear hath destroyed this happy land! Go! thou foul knight, and may the vengeance strike thee soon!'
Balin went on, heavy of mind, for he knew not why he had been caused to do this evil.
For many days he passed through the saddened land, and he felt that in a little while death would meet him.
Then suddenly one day he came upon a castle in a wood, and he heard a horn blow, as it had been at the death of a beast.
'Here,' said Balin, 'shall I meet my death-wound, for that blast was blown for me.'
As he came on the green before the castle, many ladies and knights met him and welcomed him with fair semblance, and gave him good cheer.
'Now,' said the lady of the castle, when he had eaten, 'ye must do a joust for me with a knight hereby who hath won from me a fair island in a stream, and he hath overcome every knight that hath essayed to win it back for me.'
'Well, as you claim it for your good cheer,' said Balin, 'I will e'en joust, though both I and my horse are spent with travelling, and my heart is heavy. Nevertheless, show me the place.'
'But, sir,' said a knight, 'thou shouldst change thy shield for a bigger. For the strange knight is a strong one and a hardy.'
Balin cared not, and so took the shield with a device upon it that was not his own. Then he and his horse were led to a great barge, and so they were poled across the wide stream to an island.
When Balin had landed and mounted his horse, he rode a little way towards a stout tower, and from it a knight issued, his armour all in red, and the trappings of his horse of the same colour. They couched their lances and came marvellously fast together, and smote each other in the midmost of their shields; and the shock of their spears was so great that it bore down both horses and men, and for a little while the knights were dazed.
The stranger rose up first, for Balin was much bruised and wearied; and the red knight drew his sword and came towards Balin, who thereupon got upon his feet, and they fought most fiercely together. So they fought till their breaths failed.
Many were the bouts they fought, and they rested oftentimes, and then to battle again, so that in a little while the grass of the sward where they struggled was red with the blood of their wounds.
But the more wearied they were the fiercer they fought to vanquish each the other, so that their hauberks were in tatters, their helms were broken, and their shields were rived and cracked. At the last the red knight could not lift his shield for weakness, and then he went back a little and fell down.
Balin also sank to the ground, faint with his wounds, and as he lay he cried out:
'What knight art thou? for ere now I never found a knight that matched me.'
The other answered him faintly:
'My name is Balan, brother to the good knight Balin!'
'Alas!' said Balin, 'that ever I should see the day!' And therewith he fell back in a swoon.
Then Balan crawled on all fours, feet and hands, and put off the helm of his brother, and might hardly know him by his face, so hewn and stained it was. Balan wept and kissed his face, and with that Balin awoke.
'O Balan, my brother, thou hast slain me and I thee!'
'Alas!' said Balan, 'but I knew thee not, my brother. Hadst thou had thine own shield, I would have known thy device of the two swords.'
'Ah, 'twas part of the evil hap that hath followed me,' cried Balin. 'I know not why.'
Then they both swooned, and the lady of the castle came and would have had them taken to a chamber. But Balan awoke and said:
'Let be! let be! No leech can mend us. And I would not live more, for I have slain my dear brother and he me!'
Balin woke up therewith, and put his hand forth, and his brother clasped it in his, very eagerly.
'Little brother,' said Balin, 'I cannot come to thee—kiss me!' When they had kissed, they swooned again, and in a little while Balin died, but Balan did not pass until midnight.
'Alas! alas!' cried the lady, weeping for very pity, 'that ever this should be. Two brothers that have played together about their mother's knees to slay each other unwittingly!'
On the morrow came Merlin, and made them be buried richly in the green place where they had fought, and on their tomb he caused to be written in letters of gold, deep and thick, these words: 'Here lie Sir Balin and his brother Sir Balan, who, unwittingly, did most pitifully slay each other: and this Sir Balin was, moreover, he that smote the dolorous stroke. Whereof the end is not yet.'
HOW LANCELOT WAS MADE A KNIGHT. THE FOUR WITCH QUEENS, AND THE ADVENTURES AT THE CHAPEL PERILOUS
When King Arthur was arrived at the age of twenty-five, his knights and barons counselled that he should take a queen, and his choice fell upon Gwenevere, the daughter of King Leodegrance, of the land of Cameliard. This damsel was the most beautiful and the most gracious in all the realm of Britain.
When the marriage was arranged between her father and Merlin, King Leodegrance said that, for her dowry, instead of broad lands, of which King Arthur had many, he would give to Arthur the Table Round, which Uther Pendragon had in friendship given to him many years before. For, as King Arthur was already famous for his prowess and nobleness and his love of knightly men and brave deeds, Leodegrance knew that this would be a gift beloved of Arthur.
With the table were to go the knights who were its company. It seated one hundred and fifty when it was complete, but many had been slain, and now they numbered but a hundred.
When King Arthur heard from Merlin of the coming of Gwenevere, with the hundred knights bearing the Round Table with them, he was very glad, 'for,' said he, 'their noble company pleaseth me more than great riches.' He charged Merlin to go and espy through all the land of Britain for another fifty knights, so that the tale of the noble company of the Round Table should be complete.
Now, it chanced that while Arthur sat in the hall of his palace at London, waiting for Gwenevere to come to him, and for Merlin to return from his quest, King Ban, who had aided him in his fierce battle against the eleven kings, sent his young son Lancelot to Arthur's court, to learn knightly deeds and noble prowess.
None knew who he was but Arthur, who kept the matter secret. Many had smiled at the huge limbs of Lancelot, until his great strength had caused them to respect him; and being but a young man he had not yet got all the courtly bearing and noble manners for which in later time he was famous throughout all Christendom. So that many knights and ladies smiled sourly upon him, but others saw that he would shortly prove a fine man of his hands, full courteous and gentle, and of a noble nature and great presence.
At the court was also young Gawaine, son of King Lot, and nephew of the king. Both Lancelot and Gawaine were as yet not knighted, but together they tilted at each other in the lists beyond the walls, and spent their days in sword-play and all knightly exercises. Lancelot was the stronger and the better fighter; and though Gawaine never overcame him, yet did they twain love each other passing well.
Now Gawaine went to the king one day, and asked of him a gift, and King Arthur said he would grant it.
'Sir,' said Gawaine, while Lancelot stood a little way off, fondling the hounds that licked at his hand, 'I ask that ye will make me knight the same day that ye shall wed fair Gwenevere.'
'I will do it with a good will,' said the king. 'And Lancelot,' he said, calling to the young man, 'have ye no boon to ask of me?'
'Not at this time, sir,' replied Lancelot, 'but in a little while I may.'
Into the hall next day, as the king sat at dinner, came an old woman, bent and feeble, but with reverend white hair and gentle face, and she kneeled at the king's feet.
'What is it, dame?' said Arthur. 'What is't you crave?'
'Justice, lord king,' she said in a weak voice, while the tears gushed from her eyes. 'Or else I die beside the gate where you do give the justice that all men praise.'
'Who hath done evil to you?' said the king.
'Sir Caradoc of the Dolorous Tower in the Marsh,' replied the old woman. 'I and my son, lord, did build a little hut of wattle on a little plot which we banked from the marsh, near the great wall of the rich baron, deeming it safe to rest within the shadow of the strong lord, and though his hard rule was hateful to those whom he oppressed, we were so humble that we thought he would not notice us. And meagrely we reared our living from the ground, and sold our poor herbs to Sir Caradoc his steward, or to the people in the villages in the marsh about us. But soon the Lord Caradoc desired the land on which our little hut was standing, to make his lands the broader. He tore our poor home down, and scattered all, and thrust us out to wander in the marshes; and when my poor son pleaded with the lord, he had him whipped, and he was brought and cast half dead at my feet as I waited outside the hall. Now if thou givest us not justice, we shall surely die.'
'Doth any know Sir Caradoc?' asked the king of his knights.
'Yea, sir,' said one, 'and he is a great man of his hands, fierce and bold, of strong family, and his brother is Sir Turquine of Camber, who tried to slay thee at Caerleon, and was with the eleven kings in battle. Sir Caradoc liveth in a strong tower beyond the marshes to the south of the river, and he slayeth all that desire to pass them, unless they pay him all he demands.'
'What!' said the king with fierce anger, 'within a few miles of this my justice-seat doth such tyranny rule unchecked, and ye tell me naught of it? Are ye then more fearful of this marsh robber than of me your king?'
The knights hung their heads abashed, and were silent.
Then Lancelot came and stood before the king.
'Let me, sir king, go and summon this tyrant to your presence,' he said, 'so that this poor dame may have justice, and that ye may punish him for his oppression.'
'I fear me, Lancelot, thou art over young for so fierce a knight,' said Arthur.
'I shall but bear thy words, sir,' said Lancelot, and he will not harm thy messenger.'
'Take two stout men-at-arms with you, then,' said Arthur, 'and say to this Sir Caradoc that if he come not back with thee to answer unto me, I will come and take his life and burn his evil tower to the ground.'
Many of the younger men that had despite against Lancelot for his greater prowess at the sword and the lance thought that now, indeed, they would be ridded of him, for they deemed Sir Caradoc would slay him.
Two days later came young Lancelot back with his two men-at-arms, and with them, bound upon a great horse, was a full fierce and raging knight, red of face, large of body, his clothes all tossed and torn, and his mouth full of dire threatenings against Lancelot. Men made way for them marvelling, and together Lancelot and his captive rode up the hall to the king.
'Here, lord, is Sir Caradoc of the Dolorous Tower in the Marsh,' said Lancelot. 'He would not come when I gave him your message, so I bided my time until he was sunk in wine, and was sleeping alone, and I have brought him secretly from his hold. Now, lord king, I think Sir Caradoc would joust with me, if you will give me knighthood.'
'Joust with thee, thou smooth-faced boy!' cried Sir Caradoc, straining at his bonds. 'I will spit thee on my lance if I may get at thee, and when thou art slain I will fight with this little king of thine—and his death shall wipe out this insult thou hast put upon me!'
At his rage and fierce bearing men marvelled and many were afeared, seeing that Sir Caradoc was great in lands and kinsmen, and big of his body.
'Thou art full young, Lancelot,' said Arthur, 'to joust with so strong a knight. Let an older man have ado with him.'
'Sir king,' cried Lancelot eagerly, 'I claim the first battle with this strong tyrant. He is my captive, and I claim it.'
'Have it as ye will,' said Arthur, 'and God speed you. But I misdoubt me much 'twill end in your sorrow.'
'Ay, and thine too, thou gentle lady's knight!' sneered Sir Caradoc.
'Peace, man, peace,' said the king sternly. 'I think God will fight in this battle, for I have inquired far, and the tale of thy evil deeds is over-full.'
Therewith King Arthur made young Lancelot knight, and men eagerly rushed away to the tilting-ground to see the battle between the virgin knight, Sir Lancelot, and the old robber knight, Sir Caradoc. And when Sir Caradoc was released and armed, he laughed and shook his lance, so sure was he of revenge right speedily.
Then they hurtled together most fiercely, and young Sir Lancelot was thrust from his horse by Sir Caradoc. Quickly he rose from the ground, and dressed his shield and drew his sword, and cried, 'Alight, Sir Caradoc, for I will fight thee on foot.' But Sir Caradoc, being traitorous, rode at Sir Lancelot with his spear, as if he would pin him to the earth, and the young knight had much ado to avoid him. All the knights cried out upon Sir Caradoc for a foul knight, and for shame he threw down his lance and alighted, and rushed at Sir Lancelot full fiercely, in order to slay him instantly.
But that was not easily to be done, for however wise Sir Caradoc was in sword-play, he was mad with wrath, and therefore thought of naught but to slay his enemy instantly. He raged like a wild boar, and gave Sir Lancelot many evil strokes, yet never did he beat down the young knight's guard. Soon men perceived that Sir Caradoc's great fierceness was causing him to make blind strokes, and then Sir Lancelot seemed the more wary. Suddenly they saw the young knight leap forward, and beat so heavily upon the other's helm that it cracked. Sir Caradoc strove to guard himself, but Sir Lancelot was so wroth, and so mighty of his blows, that he could not. At last Sir Lancelot beat him to his knees, and then thrust him grovelling to the ground. Sir Lancelot bade him yield, but he would not, and still sought to thrust at the other. Then the young knight struck at him between the neck and the head and slew him.
Both the knights and the common people shouted with joy, and acclaimed Sir Lancelot as a noble and mighty knight. But the young man was full modest, and withdrew from the press. King Arthur gave unto him the Dolorous Tower and the lands which had belonged to Sir Caradoc, and Lancelot caused the old dame and her son to be given a fair piece of land and a hut, and many other wrongs and evil customs that had been done by Sir Caradoc, Sir Lancelot caused to be righted.
The kinsmen of Sir Caradoc went apart and conspired to have Sir Lancelot slain, but for a long time they could not come at him.
Then, when the queen came unto King Arthur, there was great feasting and joustings and merry games, and Sir Lancelot, for his knightly prowess in the lists, and for his gentle courtesy and noble manners to all, both poor and rich, high and low, was sought by many, and for some time rested himself in knightly games and play.
Then, on a day in June, when a sudden wind from a lattice blew upon his face as he laughed and jested with ladies and knights in silks and rich garments, he bethought him of the fair green woods and the wide lands through which lonely roads were winding. And departing from the hall forthwith, he bade his horse and arms be brought to him, and rode into a deep forest, and thought to prove himself in strange adventures.
Thus faring, he rode for two days and met with naught. On the third day the weather was hot about noon, and Sir Lancelot had great list to sleep. He espied a great apple-tree full of white blossoms, and a fair shadow was beneath it, and he alighted and tied his horse unto a thorn, and laid his helmet under his head and slept.
While he thus lay, there rode by him on white mules four ladies of great estate, with four knights about them, who bore a canopy of green silk on four spears, so that the high sun should not touch the faces of the ladies. Then, as they rode by, they heard a war-horse grimly neigh, and looking aside, they were aware of Sir Lancelot all armed, and asleep under the apple-tree.
The ladies came nigh him, and of them there was Queen Morgan le Fay, who was wife of King Lot, and an evil witch; the Queen of Northgales, a haughty lady; the Lady of the Out-Isles; and the Lady of the Marshes. And when the Lady of the Marshes saw the knight she cried: