Unrepresented in Malory's "Morte d'Arthur"
MORIEN ARTHURIAN ROMANCES
UNREPRESENTED IN MALORY'S "MORTE D'ARTHUR"
I. SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT.
A Middle-English Romance retold in Modern Prose, with Introduction and Notes, by JESSIE L. WESTON. With Designs by M. M. CRAWFORD. 1898. 2s. net.
II. TRISTAN AND ISEULT.
Rendered into English from the German of Gottfried of Strassburg by JESSIE L. WESTON. With Designs by CAROLINE WATTS. Two vols. 1899. 4s. net.
III. GUINGAMOR, LANVAL, TYOLET, LE BISCLAVERET.
Four Lays rendered into English Prose from the French of Marie de France and others by JESSIE L. WESTON. With Designs by CAROLINE WATTS. 1900. 2s. net.
A Metrical Romance rendered into English prose from the Mediaeval Dutch by Jessie L. Weston, with designs by Caroline Watts. Preface
The metrical romance of which the following pages offer a prose translation is contained in the mediaeval Dutch version of the Lancelot, where it occupies upwards of five thousand lines, forming the conclusion of the first existing volume of that compilation. So far as our present knowledge extends, it is found nowhere else.
Nor do we know the date of the original poem, or the name of the author. The Dutch MS. is of the commencement of the fourteenth century, and appears to represent a compilation similar to that with which Sir Thomas Malory has made us familiar, i.e., a condensed rendering of a number of Arthurian romances which in their original form were independent of each other. Thus, in the Dutch Lancelot we have not only the latter portion of the Lancelot proper, the Queste, and the Morte Arthur, the ordinary component parts of the prose Lancelot in its most fully developed form, but also a portion of a Perceval romance, having for its basis a version near akin to, if not identical with, the poem of Chretien de Troyes, and a group of episodic romances, some of considerable length, the majority of which have not yet been discovered elsewhere. [Footnote: Cf. my Legend of Sir Lancelot du Lac; Grimm Library, vol. xii., chapter ix., where a brief summary of the contents of the Dutch Lancelot is given.]
Unfortunately, the first volume of this compilation, which was originally in four parts, has been lost; consequently we are without any of the indications, so often to be found in the opening lines of similar compositions, as to the personality of the compiler, or the material at his disposal; but judging from those sections in which comparison is possible, the Lancelot, Queste, and Morte Arthur, the entire work is a translation, and a very faithful translation, of a French original. It is quite clear that the Dutch compiler understood his text well, and though possibly somewhat hampered by the necessity of turning prose into verse (this version, contrary to the otherwise invariable rule of the later Lancelot romances, being rhymed), he renders it with remarkable fidelity. The natural inference, and that drawn by M. Gaston Paris, who, so far, appears to be the only scholar who has seriously occupied himself with this interesting version, is that those episodic romances, of which we possess no other copy, are also derived from a French source. Most probably, so far as these shorter romances are concerned, the originals would be metrical, not prose versions, as in the case of the Lancelot sections.
It is true that with regard to the romance here translated, Morien, the Dutch scholars responsible for the two editions in which it has appeared, MM. Jonckbloet and Te Winkel, the former the editor of the whole compilation, the latter of this section only, are both inclined to regard the poem as an original Dutch composition; but M. Gaston Paris, in his summary of the romance (Histoire Litteraire, vol. xxx. p. 247) rejects this theory as based on inadequate grounds. It must be admitted that an original Arthurian romance of the twelfth or thirteenth century, when at latest such a poem would be written, in a language other than French, is so far unknown to us; and although as a matter of fact the central motif of the poem, the representation of a Moor as near akin to the Grail Winner, Sir Perceval, has not been preserved in any known French text, while it does exist in a famous German version, I for one find no difficulty in believing that the tradition existed in French, and that the original version of our poem was a metrical romance in that tongue.
So far as the story of Morien is concerned, the form is probably later than the tradition it embodies. In its present shape it is certainly posterior to the appearance of the Galahad Queste, to which it contains several direct references; such are the hermit's allusion to the predicted circumstances of his death, which are related in full in the Queste; the prophecy that Perceval shall "aid" in the winning of the Holy Grail, a quest of which in the earlier version he is sole achiever; and the explicit statements of the closing lines as to Galahad's arrival at Court, his filling the Siege Perilous, and achieving the Adventures of the Round Table. As the romance now stands it is an introduction to the Queste, with which volume iii. (volume ii. of the extant version) of the Dutch Lancelot opens.
But the opening lines of the present version show clearly that in one important point, at least, the story has undergone a radical modification. Was it the Dutch translator or his source who substituted Agloval, Perceval's brother, for the tradition which made Perceval himself the father of the hero? M. Gaston Paris takes the former view; but I am inclined to think that the alteration was already in the French source. The Grail of Sir Agloval's vision is the Grail of Castle Corbenic and the Queste; unless we are to consider this vision as the addition of the Dutch compiler (who, when we are in a position to test his work does not interpolate such additions), we must, I think, admit that the romance in the form in which it reached him was already at a stage in which Perceval could not, without violence to the then existing conception of his character, be considered as the father, or the brother, of Morien. To reconstruct the original story it would be necessary not merely to eliminate all mention of Agloval, as suggested by M. Gaston Paris, but the Grail references would also require modification. As it stands, the poem is a curious mixture of conflicting traditions.
In this connection it appears to me that the evidence of the Parzival is of primary importance; the circumstances attending the birth of Feirefis are exactly parallel with those of Morien—in both a Christian knight wins the love of a Moorish princess; in both he leaves her before the birth of her son, in the one case with a direct, in the other with a conditional, promise to return, which promise is in neither instance kept; in both the lad, when grown to manhood, sets out to seek his father; in both he apparently makes a practice of fighting with every one whom he meets; in the one version he is brother, in the other son or nephew, to Perceval. The points of difference are that whereas Morien is black all over, save his teeth, Feirefis is parti-coloured, black and white—a curious conception, which seems to point to an earlier stage of thought; Morien is a Christian, Feirefis a heathen—the more probable version.
It is easy to understand why the hero ceased to be considered Perceval's son—the opening lines of the poem describe the situation perfectly; but I do not think it has been sufficiently realised that precisely the same causes which would operate to the suppression of this relationship would equally operate to the suppression of that of the Parzival. Perceval, the virgin winner of the Grail, could not have a liaison with a Moorish princess, but neither could Perceval's father, the direct descendant of Joseph of Arimathea, and hereditary holder of the Grail. The Early History of that talisman, as related by Robert de Borron, once generally accepted, the relationship of brother was as impossible as that of son.
It seems clear that if a genuine tradition of a Moor as near kinsman to Perceval really existed—and I see no reason to doubt that it did—it must have belonged to the Perceval story prior to the development of the Grail tradition, e.g., to such a stage as that hinted at by the chess-board adventure of the "Didot" Perceval and Gautier's poem, when the hero was as ready to take advantage of his bonnes fortunes as other heroes of popular folk tales.
Further, judging from these stories it would seem probable that the requisite modification began with the earlier generation, i.e., Perceval himself still retaining traces of his secular and folk-tale origin, while his father and mother have already been brought under the influence of the ecclesiasticised Grail tradition. That this would be the case appears only probable when we recall the vague and conflicting traditions as to the hero's parentage; it was Perceval himself, and not his father or his mother, who was the important factor in the tale; hence the change in his character was a matter of gradual evolution. Thus I am of opinion that the Moor as Perceval's brother is likely to be an earlier conception than the Moor as Perceval's son. It is, I think, noticeable that the romance containing this feature, the Parzival, also, contrary to the Early History versions, connects him with the Grail through his mother, instead of through his father.
The Morien is for me a welcome piece of evidence in support of the theory that sees in the poem of Wolfram von Eschenbach the survival of a genuine variant of the Perceval story, differing in important particulars from that preserved by Chretien de Troyes, and based upon a French original, now, unfortunately, lost.
For this, if for no other reason, the poem would, it seems to me, be worth introducing to a wider circle of readers than that to which in its present form it can appeal. The students of old Dutch are few in number, and the bewildering extent of the Lancelot compilation, amounting as it does, even in its incomplete state, to upwards of 90,000 lines, is sufficient in itself to deter many from its examination. Morien in its original form is, and can be, known to but few. But not only does it represent a tradition curious and interesting in itself, it has other claims to attention; even in a translation it is by no means ill written; it is simple, direct, and the adventures are not drawn out to wearisome length by the introduction of unnecessary details. The characterisation too, is good; the hero is well realised, and Gawain, in particular, appears in a most favourable light, one far more in accordance with the earlier than with the later stage of Arthurian tradition; the contrast between his courteous self-restraint and the impetuous ardour of the young savage is well conceived, and the manner in which he and Gareth contrive to check and manage the turbulent youth without giving him cause for offence is very cleverly indicated. Lancelot is a much more shadowy personage; if, as suggested above, the original story took shape at a period before he had attained to his full popularity, and references to his valour were added later we can understand this. It is noticeable that the adventure assigned to him is much less original in character, and told with far less detail than that ascribed to Gawain.
The romance as we have it presents, as remarked before, a curious mixture of earlier and later elements. None of the adventures it relates are preserved in any English text. Alike as a representative of a lost tradition, and for its own intrinsic merit it has seemed to me, though perhaps inferior in literary charm to the romances previously published in this series, to be yet not unworthy of inclusion among them.
BOURNEMOUTH, July 1901 Morien Herein doth the adventure tell of a knight who was named Morien. Some of the books give us to wit that he was Perceval's son, and some say that he was son to Agloval, who was Perceval's brother, so that he was nephew unto that good knight. Now we find it written for a truth that Perceval and Galahad alike died virgin knights in the quest of the Holy Grail; and for that cause I say of Perceval that in sooth he was not Morien's father, but that rather was Morien his brother's son. And of a Moorish princess was he begotten at that time when Agloval sought far and wide for Lancelot, who was lost, as ye have read here afore.
I ween that he who made the tale of Lancelot and set it in rhyme forgot, and was heedless of, the fair adventure of Morien. I marvel much that they who were skilled in verse and the making of rhymes did not bring the story to its rightful ending. Now as at this time King Arthur abode in Britain, and held high court, that his fame might wax the greater; and as the noble folk sat at the board and ate, there came riding a knight; for 'twas the custom in Arthur's days that while the king held court no door, small nor great, should be shut, but all men were free to come and go as they willed.
Thus the knight came riding where the high folk sat, and would fain have dismounted, but so sorely was he wounded that he might not do so. In sooth he was in evil case, for he had more than ten wounds, and from the least of them a man might scarce recover; he came in such guise that his weapons and his vesture and his steed, which was fair and tall, were all dyed red with his own blood. The knight was sad at heart and sorely wounded, yet he greeted, as best he might, all the lords then in the hall; but more he might not speak, for the pain of his wounds.
Then my lord, Sir Gawain, who did full many a courtesy (for such was his wont all his life long), so soon as he saw the knight, sprang up with no delay, and lifted him from the saddle and set him upon the ground, but he might neither sit, nor walk, nor so much as stand upon his feet, but fell upon the earth.
Then Sir Gawain bade them carry him softly on a couch to the side of the hall in the sight of the chief guests, that they might hear his tale. But since he might scarce speak he made him to be disarmed, and stripped to the skin, and wrapped in warm coverings and gave him a sop steeped in clear wine.
Then Sir Gawain began to search his wounds, for in those days, so far as God suffered the sun to shine might no man find one so skilled in leech-craft, for that man whom he took in his care, were the life but left in him, would neither lack healing nor die of any wound.
Then spake the knight who lay there: "Woe is me, for I may neither eat nor drink; my heart beginneth to sink, mine eyes fail me, methinks I am about to die! Yet might I live, and would God grant to me that all ye who sit here beside me might hear my words, I had fain spoken with the king, whom I sought as best I might, in that I would not be forsworn; needs must I come hither!"
Then quoth Sir Gawain the good: "Sir Knight, have ye no dread of death as at this time, for I shall help you to a respite." He drew forth from his pouch a root that had this virtue, that it stayed the flow of blood and strengthened the feeble; he placed it in the knight's mouth, and bade him eat a little; therewith was his heart lightened, and he began to eat and to drink, and forgat somewhat of his pain.
Erst when the service was ended came King Arthur to the knight as he lay, and said: "God give ye good-day, dear Sir Knight; tell me who hath wounded ye so sorely, and how came ye by your hurt? Did the knight who wrought such harm depart from ye unscathed?"
Then spake the knight to the king, who stood before him: "That will I tell ye, for I am sworn and pledged thereto. 'Tis seven years past that I lost all my goods, and poverty pressed me so sorely that I knew not what I might do. Thus would I keep myself by robbery. My tithes had I sold, I had spent all my goods, and pledged all my heritage, so that of all that my father left when he departed from this world there remained to me nothing. Naught, not a straw, had I left. Yet had I given much in largesse, for I had frequented many a tourney and Table Round where I had scattered my goods; whosoever craved aught of me, whether for want or for reward, were he page, were he messenger, never did he depart empty-handed. Never did I fail any who besought aid of me. Thus I spent all my goods. Then must I fare through the land; and did I meet folk (though at first I shamed me) whomsoever I met, whether pilgrim or merchant, did he bear goods or money with him, so did I deal with him that I won it for myself. But little might escape me. I have done many an evil deed! Now is it three days past since, as I fared on my way, a knight met me, and I deemed his steed so good that I coveted it above all things, but when I laid hands upon the bridle and bade the knight dismount then was he ready with his sword and repaid me with such a blow that I forgot who I was and all that had befallen me; so fierce was the stroke he dealt me! And though I betook me to arms they profited me not a jot; his blows were so heavy, they weighed even as lead. He pierced through my harness, as ye may see in many places, smiting through flesh and bone. But from me did he receive no blow that might turn to his loss. Therefore must I yield myself to him, and swear by my troth, would I save my life, to come hither to ye as swiftly as I might, and delay no whit, but yield me your prisoner. And this have I now done, and I yield myself to your grace, Sir King, avowing my misdeeds that I have wrought in this world, whether in thought or deed."
Then quoth the king: "Wit ye well who he was, and how he was hight, who sent ye hither? Of what fashion was his steed, and what tokens did he bear?"
And the knight answered: "Of that ye would ask me may I tell ye naught, save only that the knight's steed and armour were red as blood, and he seemed to me of Wales by his speech, and by all I might discern of him. Thereto is he of such might that I ween his equal may scarce be found in Christendom; that may I also say in truth, since such ill chance befell me that I met with him when my intent was evil, and not good."
Then King Arthur cried aloud that all might hear him, that the knight was surely none other than Sir Perceval. He tore his hair, and demeaned himself as one sorely vexed, and spake: "Though I be lord of riches yet may I say that I am friendless! This may I say forsooth; since I lost Perceval, and the ill chance befell me that he had the will and the desire to seek the Grail and the spear (which he may not find) many a wounded knight hath he sent as captive to my court, whom, for their misdoing, he hath vanquished by his might. Ever shall he be thanked therefor. Now have I no knight so valiant of mind that for my sake will seek Perceval and bring him to court. Yet I and my court and my country alike are shamed and dishonoured in that we have so long lacked his presence, and for this am I above measure sorrowful."
Then spake Sir Kay the seneschal: "God-wot I shall fetch Perceval, whether he will or no, and bring hither to court him whom ye praise so highly, and believe me well, were he wrought of iron, by the God who made me I will bring him living or dead! Does this content ye, my lord king?"
Then stood Arthur and laughed aloud, and likewise did all the knights who heard Sir Kay speak. And the king said: "Sir Kay, let this talk be; ye should of right be shamed when ye hear the Welshman's name! Have ye altogether forgot how ye boasted yourself aforetime, even as ye have now done, and then how ye met Perceval, whom ye had scarce sought? There were ye ill-counselled; ye thought to bring him without his will, but the knight was not so feeble, he gave ye a blow that brake your collar-bone and thrust ye from your steed, feet upward, with little honour! Had he so willed he had slain ye. Idle boasting is great shame. An I hear ye make further boast of seeking knights I shall owe ye small thanks. Little would he heed your compelling! In such quest must another ride would I be comforted by the coming of this knight!"
Quoth Sir Gawain, "Ye mind me of an old saying, Sir Kay, how if some men grow old, and God should spare them even to an hundred years, then would they be but the more foolish—such an one, methinks, are ye! Now believe ye my tale; did ye once find Perceval, an ye thought to say to him other than he chose to hear, by the Lord above us ye dare not do it for the king's crown, who is lord of this land, he would put ye to such great shame! Of long time, and full well, do I know his ways! When he is well entreated, and men do naught to vex him, then is he gentle as a lamb, but an ye rouse him to wrath then is he the fiercest wight of God's making—in such wise is he fashioned. Gentle and courteous is he to all the world, rich and poor, so long as men do him no wrong, but let his temper be changed, and nowhere shall ye find his fellow!"
After this manner also spake Sir Lancelot, and all who were in the hall took up the word of Sir Gawain, and praised Perceval. But there were many in the court heavy at heart, and sore vexed with the king their lord for that he held them so cheap.
Quoth the Father of Adventure, "By the might of our Lord, and by His name, who ruleth in heaven, henceforth I will not rest in one place more than one night or two, but will ride ever till I have found Perceval, or learnt certain tidings of his doings; and I will bring him to court an he be minded to ride with me—further will I not vaunt myself."
Then spake Arthur, "God wot, here have I both joy and sorrow. Fain am I to behold Perceval, an such fortune befall me, and ill may I spare thee. Thus have I joy and sorrow. Yet, nephew, trow me well, I were loth to bid thee break thine oath; now, therefore, make ready as befits thee, and depart as swiftly as may be, and seek me Perceval."
With these words up sprang Sir Lancelot of the Lake, and stepped forward, and spake, and said he would adventure himself and take what fortune should send, and go seek Perceval hither and thither through all lands; "And may I but find that proud knight, an it lieth in my power, hither will I bring him! Now will I make me ready, and ride hence without longer tarrying; methinks, from the king's word, an he have Perceval he shall be freed from care—so will I ride hence for his honour."
Quoth Arthur the king: "Sir Lancelot, of this thing it behoves ye take better rede; lightly might it turn to my shame if all my knights rode forth, and I thereafter were beset with strife and warfare, as full oft hath chanced aforetime! So might it in sooth be mine undoing. It hath chanced afore this that I had lost crown and lands, save for my knights; by them have I been victorious!"
Quoth Sir Lancelot: "By the Lord who made me, and who shall be Doom's-man at the last day, come what may thereof, since Sir Gawain rideth hence 'tis not I will bide behind! Rather will I try what may chance, and adventure all that God hath given me, for he sought me with all his power when I was in secret case, and brought me once more to court—for that do I owe him faith and fellowship."
Then they all wept, wives and maidens, knights and squires, when they knew Sir Lancelot would ride thence.
Sir Gawain, who forgat not the wounded knight and his need of healing, went to him as he lay, and bound up his wounds, and so tended him at that time that he was healed ere long—needs must he be healed, even against his will, on whom Sir Gawain laid hands. All they of the court were sad and sorry at their departing; that eve they ate but little, for thinking of the knights who should ride forth with the morning.
But now will we be silent on their lamentations, and tell henceforth of Sir Gawain and Sir Lancelot, who rode both on their way.
* * * * *
The adventure doeth us to wit that in the morning, so soon as it was day, they rode forth together through many a waste land, over many a heath and high hill, adown many a valley to seek Sir Perceval, but little did it profit them, for of him might they learn naught. Thus were they sorely vexed.
On the ninth day there came riding towards them a knight on a goodly steed, and well armed withal. He was all black, even as I tell ye: his head, his body, and his hands were all black, saving only his teeth. His shield and his armour were even those of a Moor, and black as a raven. He rode his steed at full gallop, with many a forward bound. When he beheld the knights, and drew nigh to them, and the one had greeted the other, he cried aloud to Sir Lancelot: "Knight, now give me to wit of one thing which I desire, or guard ye against my spear. The truth will I know. I shall tell ye herewith my custom; what knight soever I may meet, were he stronger than five men, and I knew it well, yet would I not hold my hand for fear or favour, but he should answer me, or I should fight against him. Now, Sir Knight, give me answer, by your troth, so truly as ye know, to that which I shall ask ye, and delay not, otherwise may ye well rue it!"
Quoth Sir Lancelot: "I were liefer dead than that a knight should force me to do that to which I had no mind—so were the shame equal. Hold to your custom an ye will; I were more fain to fight than to let ye be, if but to fell your pride. I ask naught but peace, yet will I chastise your discourtesy, or die in that will!"
The Moor, who was wroth with Sir Lancelot, abode not still, but reined back his steed, and laid his spear in rest as one who was keen to fight. Sir Gawain drew on one side, since the twain would fight, and thought in himself, as was right and courteous, that it were folly, and the custom of no good knight, for twain to fall on one man, since life stood not at stake. 'Twere time enough for him to take hand therein, and stand by his comrade, did he see him hard pressed. Therefore stood Sir Gawain still, as one who had no mind to fight, nor to break the laws of courtesy. Nevertheless he deemed that this was a devil rather than a man whom they had come upon! Had they not heard him call upon God no man had dared face him, deeming that he was the devil or one of his fellows out of hell, for that his steed was so great, and he was taller even than Sir Lancelot, and black withal, as I said afore.
Thus came the two together, the Moor and Sir Lancelot; each had a great spear and brake it in two, as a reed, yet neither felled the other, but each abode upon his steed. Then each drew his sword from its sheath, and set to work therewith, and of a sooth, had not God Himself so willed it both had died there; so mighty were their strokes that by right no man should escape alive. Had it been midnight, and dark as night is wont to be, yet had ye seen the grass and the flowers by the light of the sparks that flew so thick from helmet and sword and fell upon the earth. The smith that wrought their weapons I say he wrought them not amiss, he merited a fairer reward than Arthur ever gave to any man for such desert.
The knight and Sir Lancelot, neither would yield to the other till Sir Gawain parted them by his prayer, and made them withdraw each from the other, for great pity he deemed it should either there be slain; yet so fell were the blows that they smote, and so great their wrath withal, that he saw well did the strife endure but short while longer they had received such wounds as should be the death of one, or it might well be of both.
When Sir Gawain had parted the twain, whom he saw to be weary enow, he spake to the Moor: "'Tis an ill custom this to which ye are given; ye shall here renounce it. Had ye but asked in courteous wise that which ye have a mind to know, this knight had hearkened, and had answered ye of right goodwill; he had not refused, that do I know well. Ye be both rash and foolish, and one of the twain, ye, or he, shall lose by it, and from that do I dissent, an ye show me not better reason therefore."
Quoth the Moor: "How come ye to speak thus to me? Wot ye that I be afraid to fight against the twain of ye; or that I have held my hand through fear of death? Were the one of ye Sir Lancelot, and the other King Arthur's sister's son (these twain are wont to be praised above all in Arthur's court as I have ofttimes heard, though never have I seen them), yet would I not yield a foot to them!"
Then thought Sir Gawain with himself, "We were foolish and unwise an we failed to show courtesy to one who praises us so highly."
But Sir Lancelot had great lust either to win the fight or to play it to a loss, and Sir Gawain, who was well ware of this, prayed him straitly, by the love he bare to him, and to King Arthur his lord, that for their honour he should hold his peace awhile, and let him say his will: "And this I charge ye, by the faith ye owe to my lady, my uncle's wife."
Sir Lancelot spake: "Of a sooth, an ye had not thus charged me I should have avenged myself or here been slain, in that this knight forced the strife upon me without cause, and loaded me with blows; but in that ye so conjure me, I am he that will harm no man for profit to myself save that he first attack me. And since it seemeth good to ye I will e'en lay the strife in respite. God grant me good counsel therein, since I do it not for cowardice, but for love of ye and for your prayer."
Thus stood the three in the open, and Sir Gawain spake to the Moor: "Ye be foolish in that ye do such things—now, neither we nor ye are harmed, yet might ye lightly do that which should cost ye your life. Tell me what ye seek, and I will give ye good counsel withal. If I may I shall tell ye that which ye should courteously have asked of this knight, who never yet was so hardly bestead by any man that he fell from his steed."
Quoth the Moor: "Ye say well. Now I pray ye by all who own the laws of knighthood, and by Sir Gawain afore all, since he is reckoned the best, he and Sir Lancelot, wherever it may be, in whatever need, far and wide throughout the world, of all men are these twain most praised (I myself know naught save that which I have heard tell), know ye aught of Sir Agloval, brother to Sir Perceval of Wales? Of him have I asked many, this long while past; I have ridden hither and thither this half year, and here and there have I sought him. For this have I dared many a peril, and here will I lie dead save that ye twain tell me, in friendship or in fight, if ye know aught of Sir Agloval. Now have we had enow of this talk; 'tis full time ye answer, or we take up our strife once again, and see the which of us hath the sooner his full."
Sir Gawain hearkened, and smiled at the black knight's speech, and spake soothfastly: "Now tell me what ye will of Sir Agloval that ye thus seek him, and thereafter will I tell ye that which I know."
And the Moor answered straightway: "So will I tell ye all. Sir Agloval is my father, 'twas he begat me. And more will I tell ye; it chanced aforetime as ye may now learn, when he came into the land of the Moors; there through his valiant deeds he won the heart of a maiden, she was my mother, by my troth. So far went the matter between them through their words and through his courtesy, and because he was so fair to look upon, that she gave him all his will—the which brought her small reward, and great sorrow. Each plighted their troth to the other ere she granted him her favours. Therein was she ill-counselled, for he forsook her thereafter—'tis more than fourteen years past; and when he parted from her she bare me, though he knew it not. He told her his quest, whereof he was sore troubled, and how it came about that he must needs leave her, and that will I now tell ye. My father was seeking a noble knight, who was lost as at that time, and who was hight Sir Lancelot. Still more may I tell ye; he told my mother that he and many of his fellows had sworn a great oath to seek Sir Lancelot, and their quest should endure two years or more an they found him not, or could learn no tidings of him. Nor should they tarry in any land more than one night or two. This vexed my father sorely, that for this cause, and to keep his oath, he must needs leave my mother. But ere he departed he sware to her that he would return when he had achieved his quest; but he kept not his oath. Thus have I sought him in many a court. All this did my lady mother tell me, and also of the troth-plight. Little good hath it done me that he be my father, and that he sware to my mother, ere he departed, that for her honour, and for her profit, he would return to her without fail. Doth he live, God send him mocking (this I pray in all humility), but an he be already dead, then may God forgive him his sins. I and my mother are disinherited, since that he hath deserted us, of great goods and of a fair heritage, that which fell to her from her father have we lost altogether. It hath been denied us by the law of the land. Thereto was I greatly shamed, for they called me fatherless, and I could shew naught against it, nor tell them who it was that begat me, since my father had thus fled. So did I cause myself to be dubbed knight, and sware a great oath (I were loth to break it) that never should I meet a knight but I would fight him, or he should tell me if he perchance knew any tidings of my father, that I might learn somewhat concerning him. Did I meet mine own brother, I would not break mine oath, nor my vow; and till now have I kept it well, nor broken it by my default. And here would I bid ye twain, if ye would part from me in friendship, that ye tell me what ye may know thereof, out and out, by your troth, and therewith end this talk. Otherwise let us end this matter even as we began it, for there liveth no knight under the sun for whom I would break mine oath, were it for my hurt, or for my profit."
Then was there neither of the twain, Sir Gawain nor Sir Lancelot, but the tears fell from their eyes when they heard the knight's tale. Such pity had they for him, they waxed pale, and red, and discovered their faces, when they heard his plaint.
Quoth Sir Lancelot: "By my good days, nevermore will I be wrathful, nor bear rancour against ye for any lack of courtesy; ye need no longer stand on guard against me, my heart is not evil towards ye, and we will counsel ye well."
Then was the black knight blithe, and drew near to Sir Lancelot, and bared his head, which was black as pitch; that was the fashion of his land—Moors are black as burnt brands. But in all that men would praise in a knight was he fair; after his kind. Though he were black, what was he the worse? In him was naught unsightly; he was taller by half a foot than any knight who stood beside him, and as yet was he scarce more than a child! It pleased him so well when he heard them speak thus of Sir Agloval that he knelt him straightway on the earth; but Sir Gawain raised him up, and told him their tidings, how they were but as messengers, and belonged to the court of King Arthur, which was of high renown, and that they rode at that time seeking Sir Perceval and Sir Agloval, since the king desired them both. "And his mind is to see and speak with them; may we by any means persuade those noble knights we shall return straightway to the king's court, an it be so that they will ride with us (further will we not vaunt ourselves, 'tis of our good will, and their pleasure), thereby shall the king be the more honoured. They belong to the Round Table, and have done so of long time; both are of the king's court, and knights of high renown. Now an ye will work wisely, and shun your own harm, ye will mount, and ride to King Arthur's court, and delay not. I hope in God that Sir Agloval shall come thither within short space, or that ye shall hear tidings of him; for there come full oft tidings from afar. Go ye to court without tarrying, the king will receive ye well. Tell him, and give him to wit who ye be, and whence ye come, and the quest upon which ye ride; he will not let ye depart ere we come and bring with us your father, an God prosper us. Should ye ride thus through the land, and fight with every knight whom ye may meet, ye will need great good fortune to win every conflict without mischance or ill-hap! They who will be ever fighting, and ne'er avoid a combat, an they hold such custom for long, though at whiles they escape, yet shall they find their master, who will perforce change their mood! Now Sir Knight do our bidding, for your own honour's sake, and ride ye to court; grant us this grace, for ere ye have abode long time there I hope that ye shall behold your father or receive tidings of him. But till that time abide ye at the court, there shall ye be well at ease in many ways. Now promise us this; we shall seek your father, and may we find him, and God give us honour in our quest, then will we return as swiftly as may be, and rejoice ye and the king!"
When the Moor heard these words he laughed with heart and mouth (his teeth were white as chalk, otherwise was he altogether black), and he spake, "God our Father reward ye, noble knights, for the good will and the honour ye have done me, and also for the great comfort wherewith ye have lightened mine heart that long hath been all too heavy. An my steed fail me not I shall ride whither ye bid me to this king whom ye praise so highly."
With that he pledged to the knights hand and knighthood, and called God to witness that he would do their bidding, faithfully, and without dispute, so long as he might live.
Then quoth Sir Lancelot: "Knight, an ye be in any need, when ye come into Arthur's land,—I ween 'tis all unknown to ye,—speak but of us twain whom ye see here and men shall do ye naught but honour and courtesy, where'er ye come, in any place. And when ye come to the king, ere ye tell him aught beside, say that ye have seen and have spoken with us; and trow me, without fail, ye shall be well received!" The Moor spake: "'Tis well said—God reward ye for this courtesy; but were it your will and pleasing to ye that I knew the names of ye two then i'sooth were I the blither withal!"
Then straightway Sir Gawain did him to wit who they were, and how they were hight; and the Moor made no delay, but fell on his knees before them. Sir Gawain raised him up, but the Moor laid his hands together and spake, "God the Father of all, and Ruler of the World, grant that I may amend my misdoing to your honour. Sir Lancelot, very dear lord, I own myself right guilty, for I did evil, and naught else!"
Sir Gawain spake: "Take ye not to heart that which has here chanced, it shall be naught the worse for ye."
Sir Gawain and Sir Lancelot were both mounted upon their steeds. The Moor spake: "'Tis labour lost. Such good knights as ye be, since ye at this time fare to seek my father, by the power of our Lord I will not stay behind; 'twere shame an I did. I shall ride with ye twain!"
Quoth Sir Gawain: "Then must ye lay aside all outrageousness, and ride peaceably on your way, and whatever knight shall meet ye, and greet ye courteously, him shall ye greet and let pass on his way without strife or contention; and be his friend an he hath done ye no wrong—this do I counsel ye straitly. But he that is fierce and fell towards ye or towards another, on him shall ye prove your prowess, and humble his pride, if ye may. And honour all women, and keep them from shame, first and last, as best ye may. Be courteous and of gentle bearing to all ye meet who be well-mannered toward ye, and he who hath no love for virtue against him spare neither sword, nor spear, nor shield!"
The Moor spake: "Since that ye will it so, I will at your bidding forbear, otherwise might I rue it! May God be gracious to me."
So rode they all three together till they came to a parting of the ways where stood a fair cross, and thereon letters red as blood. Sir Gawain was learned in clerkly lore, he read the letters wherein was writ that here was the border of Arthur's land, and let any man who came to the cross, and who bare the name of knight, bethink him well, since he might not ride far without strife and conflict, and the finding of such adventures as might lightly turn to his harm, or even to his death—the land was of such customs.
This did Sir Gawain tell to the twain. Then they saw, by the parting of the ways, a hermit's cell, fairly builded, and the knights bethought them that they would turn them thither that they might hear and see, and know what the words boded.
There saw they the hermit, who seemed to them a right good man; and they dismounted at his little window, and asked his tidings, if perchance a knight in red armour had passed that way? And the good man answered and said 'twas but the other day, afore noon, that he had seen two knights who were wondrous like unto each other. "Of a truth it seemed to me, by their features and by their gestures, that they should be brothers. Their steeds seemed beyond measure weary. They came that self-same road that cometh from that land that men here call Britain; they were both in seeming men of might, and the one had steed and armour that were even red as blood. They dismounted, both of them, at the foot of that cross ye see there. There many a judgment is given. There did a knight lose his life, he and his wife with him; well did they deserve that their memory should be held in honour by the friends of our Lord, for they made a right good ending! They had sought the shrine of a saint, with them they had money and steeds, beside other goods, as befitted folk of high degree. Here did they fall in with a company of robbers, who slew the good knight, and took his steed and his money, and all that he had. Of this was his wife so sorrowful that for grief and woe her heart brake, and so did they die here, the twain of them, even at the cross roads, where ye see the fair cross, where now many a judgment is spoken. 'Twas made through the knight's will. Hither come folk stripped and bare-foot, doing penance for their sins; and they who pass ahorse or afoot have here had many a prayer granted. The knights of whom ye ask did there their orisons, as well became them, but I may not tell ye whither they went at their departing; in sooth I know naught, for I said my prayers here within and forgat them. But they were tall and strong, and the one wore red armour, and the other bare the badge of King Arthur."
Then were the knights sorely grieved, and kindled as a coal for sorrow, in that they might not know, by any craft, whitherward they rode. Then they asked the manner of the land, and whither led the roads which they saw before them.
Then answered the good hermit, "I will tell ye as best I may. The road by which ye came, that do ye know; and the road that runneth straight therefrom that will ye shun, an ye heed my counsel. 'Tis a land of ill-fame, where men follow evil customs; their best, 'tis but others' worst! He who will keep his horse, his weapons and his life will shun that road. And the right-hand way goeth to a wild waste land, wherein no man dwelleth; an I bethink me well 'tis over a year and a day since I saw man or woman come from thence. An it so befall that ye fare thitherward ye shall find such a marvel that would ye dare the venture, and amend the wrong it shall cost ye life and limb, that do I tell ye here. For there shall ye find the most fell beast ever man heard or read of; take ye good heed thereof, 'tis the Foul Fiend himself, that know I well, that roameth in the guise of a beast. Against him may no weapon serve, there was never spear so sharp nor sword so well tempered, as I know of a truth, that may harm that devil, but it will break or bend as hath full oft been proven in time past. Now hath the beast chosen his dwelling in a little forest, there will he abide all night, but the day he prowleth by straight and winding ways. He devoureth man and beast alike, nor may I tell ye the marvels I have heard concerning him. He hath laid waste a broad land, and driven thereout all the country-folk, so that none remain. Now have I told ye the truth concerning these two roads, and what may befall ye therein; for the third, it leadeth hereby to the sea coast; I know not what I may say more."
Quoth Sir Lancelot: "By the Lord who made me, Sir Gawain, we must needs depart from each other here and now, would we find these knights. And I will dare that which I deem the most perilous venture. Ye shall ride straightway whichever road ye will, otherwise shall we lose the knights who were lately here, they shall not have ridden far as yet. And if it be that ye find them, then I charge and conjure ye, by my will and your valour, that if ye may, ye shall bring them with ye and return hither to this place. Do this, Sir Knight, for my prayer. And do the hermit to wit how matters have gone with ye, that he may tell me the truth thereof if peradventure I too come hither, and the knight shall go with ye, and God keep ye both since we be now come to this point. Do him honour as a good man and true, in whatsoever place ye may be, this I pray ye of your valour."
Sir Gawain gave him answer: "Dear comrade, I am fain to do your bidding, and may God keep us in life and limb, and in worldly honour. Now choose ye first which road ye will take, for here will we abide no longer."
Then said Sir Lancelot: "I ween that 'tis the most pressing need to go fight against the beast whereof the good man telleth us; methinks 'twere well that I ride thither."
And the hermit answered: "Alas, Sir Knight, ye be so fair that I deem below the throne one might scarce find your equal, and will ye brave a venture which no man may achieve! The folk hath fled out of the land, none may withstand that beast, no shaft is so fell as the venom which he shooteth on all who near him; and the man whom it reacheth, and upon whom it shall light (I am he who lieth not), he dieth ere the third day be past, had he never a wound upon him. This hath been the worse for many. Then is the beast greater than a horse, and runneth more swiftly than any horse may. Ye are wise an ye shun the fiend. This do I tell ye beforehand. Had he not chosen his lair, and did he wander from the land, as well might be, by the Lord who made us he had laid the world waste! Ye would do well to turn back."
But 'twas labour lost; not for all the riches that belonged to King Arthur would he have taken back his word and his covenant, for any prayer that might be made him, nor have yielded aught through fear.
Then would the knights take leave of each other that they might depart. The Moor spake to the twain: "For what do ye take me? Am I a lesser or a weaker man than either of ye that Sir Gawain must needs ride with me? I will not have it so. There is no knight so bold but I dare well withstand him. I know well what is unfitting. Now say whither ye will betake ye, and send me what road ye will; I will dare the venture, be it never so perilous. By my knighthood, and by all who follow Christendom, I shall adventure alone, and take that which may chance."
Then said Sir Gawain: "It liketh me ill that ye sware such an oath, yet since such is your will, take ye the road that leadeth to the sea (this seemeth to me the best), ride swiftly and spare not, but seek your father. And do in all things after my counsel; if any man meet ye, when ye have given him courteous greeting, ask him if he saw riding, or otherwise met with, two knights, the one of whom ware red armour, and the other bare King Arthur's badge. This shall ye first beseech of them. When ye come to the crossing, pray that men tell ye the truth, and ask for the sea-coast withal, wherever ye come. And if so be that men understand ye not then return straightway to this place, and follow the road which I shall take, swiftly, and with no delay. We might lightly depart so far from each other that we met not again. But follow me soon, and not too late; and do according as I counsel ye, and I tell ye truly, no harm shall befall ye."
The Moor spake: "God reward ye." Then took they leave each of the other, and departed asunder. Now will I tell ye how it fared with Sir Gawain.
The adventure telleth us forthwith that when prime was now already past Sir Gawain came to a wide and deep river. 'Twas a great stream, and deep, and the current ran swift and strong. Then Sir Gawain marked well, and took heed, how on the further side, in a land of which he knew naught, there came a knight riding on a fair steed, and armed as if for combat. Before him he drave captive a maiden. Sir Gawain beheld how he smote her, many a time and oft, blow upon blow, with his fist that weighed heavily for the mailed gauntlet that he ware. Pain enough did he make her bear for that she desired not to ride with him. He smote her many a time and oft with his shield as he would revenge himself upon her in unseemly fashion. The maiden ware a robe of green silk, that was rent in many places, 'twas the cruel knight had wrought the mischief. She rode a sorry hack, bare backed, and her matchless hair, which was yellow as silk, hung even to the horse's croup—but in sooth she had lost well nigh the half thereof, which that fell knight had afore torn out. 'Twas past belief, the maiden's sorrow and shame; how she scarce might bear to be smitten by the cruel knight; she wept and wrung her hands.
This Sir Gawain beheld, and he deemed 'twere shame an he avenged not her wrong. He looked before and behind and saw no bridge, great or small, by which he might cross over, nor saw he living soul of whom he might ask, then did he delay no longer, but turned his bridle, and set his horse toward the river bank; he struck his spurs sharply and sprang into the midst of the stream. The good steed breasted the current, swimming as best it might and brought its master to the further side. 'Twas great marvel that they were not drowned, horse and man, for the river was deep, and the stream ran swiftly.
When Sir Gawain came to the other side of the river, which was both wide and deep, then saw he a great company of folk riding after the knight who bare away the maiden by force, and thus misused her, but he wist not if it was to aid the knight that they thus followed him, or to wreak vengeance on him. He saw many men clad in hauberks, but they were as yet a good mile distant. Sir Gawain rode swiftly after the maiden who went afore, whom the knight thus mishandled, to avenge her wrong; and as he drew near so that she might see him, she smote her hands together more than before, and cried to Gawain, "Noble knight, for the honour of womanhood, save me! This knight doeth me undeserved shame. Did there come hither any friend of God who would help me in this my need, an he had slain his own father it should be forgiven him!"
Her prayers and entreaties, her tears and lamentations, would have stirred any man to pity; she cried upon Sir Gawain as he came riding into the plain, to come to her aid and fell the knight's pride. As Sir Gawain heard her his heart was rent with sorrow and compassion and he spake to that evil knight: "Sir Knight, 'tis folly and discourtesy that which ye do to this maiden; were ye wise ye would forbear; even had the maiden wronged ye, ye should deal courteously; he hath small honour who thus smiteth a maiden."
Then said the cruel knight: "For ye, fool and meddler, whether ye be knight or no, will I not stay my hand, nay, rather for your shame, will I chastise her the more; and should ye but speak another word to her I shall thrust ye straightway from your steed with my spear!"
Quoth Sir Gawain: "Then were I but afoot Sir Knight! Natheless I counsel ye, an ye be wise, that ye spare the maiden. Ye will find me not so craven this day as to let ye harm her; I shall defend her and avenge her wrong if my life be risked upon it. But, Sir Knight, hearken to my prayer, for God and for your honour, and the sake of knighthood!"
But that evil knight answered and said he would in no wise do this: "An ye get not hence, and fly, by heaven it shall be your doomsday! I have no need of your sermons."
Quoth Sir Gawain: "An ye be so bold, lay but your hand again upon her, and I shall take so stern a pledge as, wist ye, shall dismay your heart, an it cost me my life. Let the maiden go in peace, or be on your guard against my spear, for I defy ye!"
The other was high and scornful that Sir Gawain so threatened him. He thought to quell his pride, and rode against him straightway, and Sir Gawain, on his side, did even the same. They came together so keenly that both spears brake, and the crash might be heard afar; they came together so swiftly that the knight was thrust from his saddle, and fell to the ground, and he fell so heavily that he felt the smart in every limb, and lay in anguish from the fall—so stayed he prone upon the ground.
Sir Gawain took the horse whereon the knight had ridden. He forgat not his courtesy, but gave it into the hand of the maiden, and drew forth his good sword. Therewith was the knight come to himself, and had taken his sword, and stood up as best he might. Evil was his thought, and he cried: "Vassal, how were ye so bold as to do me this hurt and this shame? My father is lord of this land, and after him shall it be mine. Think not to escape, 'tis folly that which ye do. Even to day shall ye be repaid by those who follow me, and chastised in such wise as ye would not have for all the riches King Arthur holds or ne'er may hold! My men will be here anon and ye shall not escape, for in this land hath no man power or might to withstand me."
Sir Gawain spake: "That may I well believe, and therefore are ye so cruel and so outrageous. That one who is noble of birth, and rich withal, should be false of heart, by my troth, 'tis great pity and bringeth many to shame. Now ye are not yet at such a pass but that I may teach ye moderation ere ye part from me. Methinks that to-day ye shall rue the evil ye have done. I counsel ye, an ye be wise, that ye make known to me wherein this lady hath wronged ye. Hath she indeed deserved that ye be thus cruel, then 'tis a matter 'twixt ye twain, I meddle no further. But hath the maiden not deserved this, then hold your hand, and make peace with me, otherwise is your life forfeit were ye never so highly born. I take the maiden with me when I ride hence." The knight would not hearken, and the maiden spake: "Noble knight I will tell ye wherefore he doeth me this wrong. He would have me for his love, why should I deny the truth? 'Tis many a day since he first spake to me, but I would not hearken to him, other sorrows vexed me; poverty grieveth me sore; thereto have I griefs that I may not lightly tell. My father was a knight, and a good man, and of high birth in this land. Dear Sir Knight, I will tell thee openly, though it be shame. My father hath lain sick, seven year long, and hath lost his goods, and now lieth in sore straits; he may neither ride nor walk nor stand upon his feet, he suffereth much. Now have I nursed and tended and otherwise served my father—friends hath he few save myself, and I had fain stayed by him and kept him all my life, doing for him all that within me lay. To-day came this knight within our hold, which is sore broken down and ruined, and hath done me sore wrong. He took me thence by force, ere I was well aware, nor stayed his hand for God or man. Thus did he carry me away, and now he doeth me this shame. He hath left his folk behind that they may hinder my friends, lest they follow him to his hurt. I fear lest they be here anon. And should they find ye here ye may scarce escape. Would ye save your life, then, Sir Knight, make a swift end of this combat. I fear it dureth over long an ye will aid me, by our Lord's grace. So bethink ye, Sir Knight, what ye may do."
Quoth Sir Gawain: "An ye be wise, Sir Knight, ye will now speak; here will I tarry no longer. Will ye right this maiden of the wrong ye have done her, or fight with me? The one or the other must ye do. An ye will, I will alight and meet ye afoot, or ye may mount your steed again, by covenant that ye flee not, nor escape, but abide your fortune."
The knight made answer: "Now do ye hold me over feeble, an ye think I shall thus yield. Ye will do well to dismount straightway, an ye have lust to fight." He covered himself with his shield, and drew forth his sword from the scabbard. Sir Gawain dismounted, whether he liked it well or ill, and let his horse that men call the Gringalet, stand beside him; never a foot would that steed stir till its lord came, and once more laid hand on it. Forthwith they betook them to fight, and dealt each other fierce thrusts, with mighty and strong strokes, so that one saw their blood stream out through the mails of their hauberk, and the sparks sprang out when the helmets were smitten till they seemed to glow even as doth hot iron when it be thrust into the furnace, and waxeth red from the fire; so fierce were the blows which each dealt to the other. That which most sorely vexed Sir Gawain was that his sword scarce seemed worth a groat, the knight's armour was so good that Sir Gawain's weapon was stayed upon it. Though one saw the blood well through, yet had the hauberk never a score. This Sir Gawain deemed a great marvel. He fetched a mighty blow upward and smote the knight above the hauberk, in the neck, to the very middle of the throat. Therewith was the matter ended for him; his head fell forward upon his breast, and he fell dead beneath the blow.
His friends and kinsmen had beheld from afar and came therewith, sore distressed and very wrath when they saw their lord thus lying dead upon the field. Sir Gawain, the good and the valiant, was once more mounted upon Gringalet. There might he fear no foe; the steed was so strong and so great, and even as his lord had need would the horse watch and follow every sign that he might give.
Those who had come thither, and had, as it were, found Sir Gawain in the very act of slaying, were of one mind that they should beset him, behind and afore, on horse and afoot, and if it might be take his life. And Sir Gawain who saw that he was sore bestead, commended himself to the grace of God with a good heart and received his foes with drawn sword. With each blow that he smote he wounded one, or two, and wrought them much harm. None might withstand him, and he that wrought the most valiantly he abode there dead, or went hence so sorely wounded that he might never more find healing. Thus Gawain, the Father of Adventure, so daunted them with the blows that he smote that many drew aside and turned from the strife with deep wounds and wide. 'Twas a good cause for which Sir Gawain fought, and for which he desired vengeance, and for that did it fall to his profit. He brought many of them in sore stress, some of life, some of limb. With that there came riding a company of the maiden's folk, who were fain to avenge her shame. So soon as she beheld them, and they drew nigh, was she glad and blithe and drew aside from the strife where Sir Gawain did right manfully. The maiden turned to her own folk, and betook her with that company again to her father. They were right joyful that she was once more in their power, and they left Sir Gawain on the field where he was sore bestead—they durst not take part with him against their overlord, so greatly did they fear his kin.
But Sir Gawain, who marked this not, went smiting blow after blow on all that came nigh him, and so blinded and drave them backward with his strokes that he was left alone on the field. So weary and so weak were they that they lay all along the road, discomfited, prone on the earth, as those who have sore need of rest. But few of them were whole, for Sir Gawain had so wounded them that men may well tell the tale from now even unto Doomsday!
Then thought Sir Gawain within himself, since he had so long wielded his weapons and no man durst withstand him further he might find no better counsel than to fare on his way. He thanked God of true heart that he had thus won honour on this evil folk, and that he had escaped with his life, and free from mortal wound, he and his steed, and that God had thus protected them. Men say oft, and 'tis true, as was here well proven, that he who recks not of his ways, but doeth that which is displeasing alike to God and to the world, he was born in an evil hour.
Now when Sir Gawain had won the fight, and God had shown him favour by granting him good knighthood and the discomfiting of his foes, the day was well past nones, and Sir Gawain, the bold, had neither eaten nor drunk, nor done aught save fight that day and receive great blows. He rode on his way sore perplexed and unknowing where he might seek for lodging. So long did he ride that he was ware how it drew towards evening, and therewith did he behold a castle. Never was a man more oppressed with hunger and thirst and weariness; and he thought in his heart that he could do naught better than ride thither, and see if by hap he might find lodging for the night.
He found by the castle moat the lord of that burg and many of his folk with him; when he had dismounted on the turf he greeted them courteously, and the lord answered "God reward ye."
Quoth Sir Gawain, "Were it your command, and your will and pleasure, right gladly would I abide here within this night! I know not otherwise how I may win shelter. I have ridden all this day, and have seen naught save wilderness and waste land, and there found I no man with whom I might abide the night."
And the host spake, "So may good befall me in soul and body as I shall give to you in friendship, even to the uttermost, all that belongeth unto this even; lodging will I give ye, and food, ham and venison. My lodging is ever free, and ne'er refused to any knight who would fain be my guest. He hath safe conduct, good and sure, against all whom he may meet in this land, were it against mine own son, whom I love above all who own the laws of knighthood. My safe conduct is so well assured that whosoe'er should wrong my guest it should cost him his life and all that he had, had he not more than good fortune! This on my knighthood and by the Blessed Maid, Our Lady!"
But Sir Gawain, the Father of Adventure, who was wont to be received with honour, wist not that the knight whom he had slain was son to the lord of the castle. Now first shall ye hear of marvellous adventures whereof some be good and some evil.
Sir Gawain had come to that point that he deemed he was well assured of shelter for the night, nor was he on guard against his heavy mischance. The host, who would do his guest all honour, took the knight by the hand, and led him through three portals into a fair hall where he was received with courteous words. They disarmed him straightway, and stabled his steed right well. The host bade them take in ward Sir Gawain's armour and his sword; too far did they carry them! For that was he vexed and wrathful, and he would not it had so chanced for all his host's halls, were they of wroughten gold! For as they sat at table and ate and drank and had enow of all the earth might bear for the sustenance of man, and forgat thereby all sorrow, they heard sore wailing and lamentation, and the smiting together of hands, and knew not what it might mean. They heard folk who stood without the walls, at the master gate, who cried with loud voice, "Alas, alas! Undo and let us in!"
Then Sir Gawain's mood was changed, and his heart forbade him that sorrow and mischief drew near. He changed colour and grew red. The lord gave command from within that they should ask what company stood without, and what tidings they bare. Then they sprang to the gate, and opened it, even as their lord bade.
Then came they in, who stood without, bearing a bier, and making so great cry and lamentation that men heard it far and near through the open doorways. So came they into the hall, a great company of folk, and cried with a loud voice to the lord of the castle, "Alas, master, here lieth dead the best knight that one might find in the wide world, even your dear son. There liveth not his like on earth, so strong, so bold, so skilled in valiant deeds!"
Then was all the burg aghast; and the host, the father of the knight who lay dead upon the bier, felt his heart die within him. Scarce might he find words; and he cried, "Who hath robbed him of life, mine own dear son, whom I loved above all the world? How came he by his death? I fear me 'twas by his own deed, for well I know that he was fierce of heart, and spared neither foe nor friend. I fear lest he have merited his death. Now do I conjure ye all here present, by God, our Righteous Father (so spake the lord of the castle) that ye speak, and make known to me the whole truth; fain would I hear how he came by his death, my dear son, who lieth here, and for whom my heart doth sorely grieve."
Then said they all who brought the dead man thither, that forsooth 'twas a stranger knight who did this by his great valour; "Though we saw it not with our eyes, yet may we well bear witness to the death of many of our folk; and others are so sorely wounded that they may never more be healed. Man may scarce tell all the mischief wrought by that stranger knight who slew your son, the best knight on earth; nor may we tell who he might be." But Sir Gawain, who was there within, and knew well that he was guilty, saw that he might scarce escape either by will or by valour, since he had laid aside his weapons and stood all unarmed in his robes; thereof was he grieved at heart.
As they stood and spake thus, sudden they saw the blood of the knight who lay there dead, and which afore was stanched, leap forth afresh, and run crimson down the hall. With this were they ware of Sir Gawain, their lord's guest, and all they who were there present said, the one taking up the tale of the other, that forsooth he who had slain the knight was within that hall, as might be seen of men, for the blood had ceased to flow a little after midday, nor had any man seen the wounds bleed since. Now was it open and manifest to all that he was there who had done the deed. Herein were they all of one mind who were there present, and they drew together and looked upon Sir Gawain the Father of Adventure, with fierce and cruel eyes.
Sir Gawain saw many an unfriendly countenance turned towards him. They straitly prayed their lord that he would make the knight known to them; how he came thither; who he was, whence he came, and whither he went, and what might be his name?
Then spake the host: "He is my guest, and he hath my safe conduct, good and fast, the while he is within; and be ye sure of this, that if any wrong him by word or deed, he shall rue it in such wise that it shall cost him goods and life. Nor will I change for prayer of man or woman. My surety that I will hold to every guest standeth so fast that no word I have spoken shall be broken with my knowledge or my will. Have patience and hold ye still, on peril of your lives and goods. I know so good counsel withal that I may speedily be ware of him who hath wrought this deed."
Then he called together his folk to one side of the hall, and said that his oath and his safe conduct might in no wise be broken, for his son were thereby but ill-avenged, valiant knight though he was. He might well rue it if he slew his guest, for thereof should he have great shame wherever men told the tale. "I shall avenge him more discreetly, if I be well-assured of the truth that my guest hath indeed wrought this murder and this great outrage."
He spake further to his folk: "Now do ye all my bidding. Ye shall abide here within this hall; no man shall follow me a foot, but do ye even as I command. I will lead my guest without, and ye shall close the door behind us. Doth the dead man cease to bleed, then shall we all be well-assured that he hath done the deed; and thereafter shall I take counsel how I may avenge my son, fittingly, and without shame." Then all agreed to his counsel, and held their peace.
Thus came the host to where Sir Gawain stood, and spake: "Sir Knight, be not wroth that my folk entreat ye not better. We are in grief, as ye see, and therefore are ye the worse served. Now shall ye come with me, and I shall amend what hath here been lacking. My folk and my household make great lamentation, as ye see, and I with them. Now come with me, and tarry not; I will lead ye hence where ye may be at ease, and sleep softly till the daylight. Here would we make our moan."
Sir Gawain thought within himself he was sorely over-matched within those (to be bare of weapons 'tis a heavy blow at need), and he knew well that the folk looked on him with unfriendly eyes, and that none were on his side, that might be seen from their mien; and therefore he thought within himself that there was no better counsel save to put himself in his host's grace, and do that which he bade him. He had no weapon upon him, and there were within of his host's folk full five hundred men whom he saw to be armed. Thus he went his way with his host, whether the adventure should turn to his harm or to his helping. The lord of the castle led him through the doorway, and his men locked it as they went forth.
Then quoth the lord of those within: "Sir Knight and dear guest, I will that ye be right well entreated here within this night." He led him to a strong tower, wherein were fair beds. He bade them bear tapers before them, and all that he knew or could in any wise deem needful for Sir Gawain, his guest. The host, sorely mourning, bade them pour out clear wine, and make ready a fair couch whereon he might sleep even as he had the will thereto. He left with him squires enow, and turned him again to the castle.
Then did they bear the dead man from where he lay, his wounds were stanched, and bled no whit. Then said all who saw it it booted not to seek another man, they were well assured 'twas their guest had slain him. The word ran through the hall; and the host turned him again to where he had left his guest, as if he marked naught. He made no sign to his folk, but locked the door of the tower so fast that none might come therein to Sir Gawain to do him harm, nor overpower him, so safely was he in his keeping. Also, I tell ye, he himself kept the keys of the strong tower wherein he had locked his guest. He would bethink him what 'twere best to do ere he let him be slain or maimed; thus did he hold him within his fortress.
What might Sir Gawain do? He must even abide his fate; he had come thither as guest, and now was he locked in a strong tower, within many doors, and in a strange place withal. He was bare of arms, and had he revealed himself and demanded his weapons they had scarce given them to him; rather had they slain him, and drawn blood-guiltiness upon themselves had not God protected him.
Thus was Sir Gawain a captive, and knew not what he might do. 'Twixt constraint and ill-fortune the night seemed to him over long; though he feared him no whit yet he deemed his end was come. He knew well that the folk were evil-disposed and bare malice and rancour towards him for the sake of the dead man who lay there, in that they had seen his wounds bleed afresh, and had thereby known his slayer. Thus was his heart sorely troubled.
Now leave we speaking of Sir Gawain. The host was within the hall, with his folk until daylight; with sorrow and lamentation did they pass the night, bemoaning their bitter loss. For though the knight had well deserved his death yet had he there many friends who lamented the loss that they had thereby suffered. They were loth to own that he was evil and cruel of heart.
So soon as they saw the fair day light the host took counsel with his folk that they might advise him well by what means, and in what way, they might avenge themselves for their heavy loss. Said the host, their lord, did he let the guest, whom he held there captive, and who had smitten his son to death, depart in safety, "Men would say I were but a coward, and durst not avenge myself, and would speak scorn of me; so many have seen how the matter fell out that it may not well remain hidden. Yet should I slay my guest then from henceforward would they cry shame upon me in every land where the tale be told."
Thus was he of two minds, and thought in his heart that to save himself from shame 'twere best to let his guest depart so soon as he arose, armed in all points as he came thither, and harm him in no wise, but bring him, unhurt by any man, without the borders of his land and his safe conduct, and there bid him farewell and return hither; while that his friends, who would fain see him avenged, waylaid Sir Gawain, and wrought their will upon him, and, if they would, slew him. Or if they took him captive they might deal with him as they thought best, either by burning him in the fire, to cool their rage, or by breaking him upon the wheel—as might seem best to them at the time. "Thus shall I put the shame from me, that neither near nor afar, now or henceforward, men make scorn of me. This seemeth to me the wisest rede in this matter, howsoe'er it stand!"
This did he tell to his folk, and it pleased them well, and they spake with one mouth that he had found the best counsel. They made no further questioning, but armed themselves, and rode forth, as they who would waylay Sir Gawain, when his host had sent him on his way. Thus they went forth from thence a great company, and well armed. Very wrathful were they, and they went right willingly. The host who would follow them called to him his seneschal, who was cruel and cunning, and bade him carry his armour to their guest straightway, and deliver it to him as if he should ride thence as soon as he had arisen, and delay no whit.
Straightway the seneschal betook him to a fair chamber (hearken ye to an evil tale!) where he found Sir Gawain's weapons and his good armour. He stole from Sir Gawain his good sword, that which he placed in its sheath was not worth twopence; he cut the straps of the harness well nigh in twain in the midst, and made a great score in the stirrup leathers so cunningly that no man might see or know aught thereof beneath the covering of the harness. And the saddle-girths did the traitor so handle that Sir Gawain was sore grieved there-for ere he had ridden a mile; he would not that it had so chanced for all King Arthur's kingdom—that shall ye hear anon.
When the seneschal who had wrought this treason had brought Sir Gawain's weapons and his horse that had been well cared for that night—they deemed it should be theirs ere long, 'twas a strong steed and well standing, and since they thought to have their pleasure of it they gave it provender enow—the host bade them undo the door and hold Sir Gawain's steed there without. The harness was in place, whereof I have told ye that it was so traitorously handled; then came forth the knight, who had arisen, and clad himself in fair robes, and descended the stairway. Little thought had he of the treason which in short while befell him. The seneschal held in his hand the false sword, well hidden in its sheath, and the while Sir Gawain made him ready did he gird it at his side—for that was the knight thereafter unblithe.
The while they thus made ready came the lord of the castle to Sir Gawain, and said: "Ye are early astir Sir Knight; how comes it that ye be thus hurried at this time? Scarce have ye slept, and arisen, ere ye would ride hence. Have ye heard Mass, and broken your fast ere ye depart?"
Quoth Sir Gawain: "Dear mine host, I grieve that ye yet sorrow; so may God guard me and bring me to His grace when I die as I truly mourn for your mischance. I will it were yet to do!" Quoth Sir Gawain the bold: "Though 'twere hard and painful to me yet would I for seven years long wear haircloth next my body, wherever I fared, for this that ye have received me so well. Nevertheless be ye sure of a truth—I may not deny it this day for any man, how strong soever he might be, nor through fear of any that may hear me, foe or friend—but I must needs say in sooth your son had merited his death many a time and oft ere the day came that he died! Now may God have mercy upon him! And God reward ye for the great good, and the honour, that ye do to me, all ye here, in that I have been at your charges."
Then was the host sore vexed, and he said: "I will do ye no harm for aught that hath chanced by ye; nevertheless, there be here many a man who had fain fallen upon ye, but I tell ye I will not that aught befall ye here; nor that my peace be broken, nor vengeance taken upon ye. I shall go with ye as ye ride hence, and ride with ye so far that ye be not led astray by any who remain behind. I were loth that harm befell ye."
Sir Gawain spake: "For that may God, who ruleth over all, reward ye." He took the bridle in his hand and rode forth, the host nigh to him; and at his side went he who had betrayed him aforehand. Now cometh great sorrow upon Sir Gawain. He deemed that he had safe conduct, but he had lost from its sheath his sword, which had been stolen from him; and that which the seneschal had put in its place when he drew forth the good brand was more brittle than glass. Thereto had he cunningly handled the harness, girths and stirrup-leather, whereof Sir Gawain knew naught, and the lord of the castle had sent afore the strongest and most valiant of his folk, to waylay Sir Gawain, and to take his life, A man's heart might well fail him for doubt, and great fear, did he come in such a pass, and know no wile whereby he might escape.
Sir Gawain, who knew naught of these tricks and snares rode on his way, discoursing of many things with his host, until they drew nigh to the place where his foes lay, ambushed in the thicket, who would fain slay him. When he came nigh to the place the host took leave of the knight, and turned him again towards the castle. Sir Gawain sat upon his steed and deemed that he should ride thence without strife or combat. As he laid his hand on the saddle-bow, and thrust his feet into the stirrups and thought to rise in the saddle, the girths brake asunder, the saddle turned over the left stirrup beneath the horse, and left him standing. Then Sir Gawain saw a great company of folk spring forth and come towards him with all their might. Some came from the ditches where they had lain hidden, some out of bushes, some out of thickets, and some came forth from the hollow ways. God confound traitors, since He may not mend them!
Sir Gawain abode not still; he saw well that he was betrayed, and over-matched. He drew forth from its sheath the sword, which was little worth to him, and deemed he would defend himself, as he oft had done aforetime, against those who would harm him. But ere he might smite three blows that sword brake, as it were tin—this was an ill beginning would a man defend his life. This Sir Gawain saw, and was dismayed, he wist well that he was betrayed. They who would harm him came upon him from every side, a great company and fierce, all thirsting for his life; there was a great clash of swords; they thrust at him with their spears. His sword protected him not a whit—he who gave it to him God give him woe! It brake in twain at the hilt, and fell into the sand. Sir Gawain stood empty-handed, small chance had he of escape, and they who beset him were chosen men, over-strong and over-fierce, as was there well proven. Like as a wild boar defends himself against the hounds that pursue him, even so did Sir Gawain defend himself, but it helped him naught. They harmed him most who stood afar, and thrust at him with spears to sate their rage. There was among them no sword so good but had Sir Gawain held it, and smote with it three such blows as he was oft wont to deal with his own, it had broken, or bent, and profited them no whit. But of those things which had stood him in good stead many a time before, when he was hard beset, his good steed, and his sword, the which was a very haven, of these was he now robbed.
Thus was Sir Gawain overcome, and me thinks 'twas little marvel! There lives no man so strong or so valiant but he may some time be vanquished by force, or by fraud. Sir Gawain must needs yield him; he was felled to the ground, yet were there some to whom it cost their life ere he was captive, and some it cost a limb, or twain, that might never more be healed; and he himself was so sore mis-handled that all he ware, whether it were armour or other clothing, was rent in many a place, so that the flesh might be seen. There lived on earth no man so wise that he might aid him in this stress, nor leech who might heal him; yet, an God will, he shall he healed of his smart and of his shame.
They bound Sir Gawain's hands, and set him on a sorry hack, and to anger him they led beside him Gringalet, his steed. This they did that he might be the more sorrowful when he beheld his horse, which he had now lost, and his own life withal! For of this would they deprive him, and make him to die a shameful death; burn him they would, or break him upon the wheel, that they might wreak their vengeance upon him. There were among them knights and squires, the richest, and the most nobly born after the lord of the land; and all had sworn an oath that they would lead Sir Gawain to the cross-roads, at the entering in of their land for the greater shaming of King Arthur's Court. To this had they pledged themselves, that they would there slay him without respite or delay; and were it not that 'twere shame to themselves, and too great dishonour to one who bare the name of knight, they had hung him by the neck, on the border of the two lands, to shame King Arthur; so that all his folk who were of the knightly order, and dwelt at his court, and sought for adventure, should shun their land when they heard the tidings of the vengeance wrought by them upon knights-errant who would prove their fate within those borders.
Thus it fell out that they brought Sir Gawain on the horse, sorely wounded and mishandled, within the nearness of half a mile, so that the knight knew he was nigh to the cell of the Hermit of whom at that self-same cross-road he had asked tidings of King Arthur's knights, and of that bad and evil land where many were brought to shame. And they who had brought him thither were of one mind that they should make a wheel, and break the knight upon it at the Cross by the parting of the ways whereof I have told ye afore.
Now shall I leave speaking of this matter till I come again thereto, and will forthwith tell ye how it fared with Morien when the three had parted asunder, as I told ye afore (Sir Gawain, Morien, and Sir Lancelot, he was the third), since they would fain make proof of that which the Hermit had told them. Now will I tell ye of Morien ere that I end the tale of Sir Gawain. Now doth the adventure tell that Morien, that bold knight, rode the seaward way, and came safely to the passage of the ford nigh unto the open sea. And all the day he met no man of whom he might ask concerning his father; 'twas labour wasted, for all who saw him fled from him. Little good might his asking do him, since none who might walk or ride would abide his coming. But he saw there the hoof-prints of horses, which lay before him and were but newly made; by this he deemed that his father had passed that way but a short while before.
Thus he followed the hoof-tracks to the passage of the sea. That night had he neither rest nor slumber, nor found he place where he might shelter, or where it seemed to him he might ask for food or lodging beneath a roof.
The morning early, even as it dawned and men might see clearly and well (which comforted him much), he came safely ahorse to where one might make the crossing, but he saw never a soul; no man dwelt thereabout, for the robbers had laid waste the land, and driven away the folk so that none remained. 'Twas all heath and sand, and no land beside; there grew neither barley nor wheat. He saw and heard no man, nor did folk come and go there, but he saw ships at anchor, and shipmen therein, who were wont to take over those folk who would cross into Ireland.
Morien came riding over the sea-sand, and cried with a loud voice shipward: "Ye who be within tell me that which I ask lest it be to your own loss, as also I would fain know for my own profit and rejoicing. Know ye if any within these few days past have carried a knight over the water?"
But all they who lay in the ships, when they beheld Morien who had doffed his helm, were so afeard for him that they might neither hear nor understand question nor answer. They were altogether in fear of him, since he was so tall, and black withal. Each man turned his boat seaward, and put off from the shore, for Morien was to look upon even as if he were come out of hell. They deemed they had seen the Foul Fiend himself, who would fain deceive them, so they departed as swiftly as they might and would in no wise abide his coming. Then must Morien turn him again, for none would hearken to his speech nor tell him that which he fain would know; all were of one mind that 'twas the Devil, and none else, who rode there upon the sand, so they fled with one consent from the shore.
Morien saw well that his labour was in vain, for would he make the crossing there was no man would abide his coming or receive him into his boat. Thus must he needs turn him back, and great lamentation did he make thereof. He saw the footprints where two horses had ridden afore him, and ever he hoped that 'twas his father who rode there, and that he had crossed the water, but he thought within himself: "What doth it profit a man to labour if he know it to be in vain? None will take me over the water since I am a Moor, and of other countenance than the dwellers in this land; this my journey is for naught. I may not do better than return to the Hermit, that good man, there where I parted from my comrades." He had neither eaten nor drunk since that he rode thence; his head was dazed with hunger and with grief. He looked behind and afore, and saw nowhere where food was in preparing, nor saw he man nor woman, nor creature that had life, upon the seashore.
Then he rode swiftly upon the backward trail till he came once more to the parting of the ways; there found he carpenter-folk hewing and shaping timber, whereof they had made a great wheel. He saw a knight sitting upon the ground, in sore distress, naked and covered with blood; he had been brought thither to be broken upon the wheel, so soon as it might be made ready. Well might his heart misgive him!
Morien who came thither saw the gleam of many a hauberk; there were armed folk enow! Others there were who were but in evil case, unarmed, and unclad, who were scarce whole. Their limbs were bandaged, some the arm, some the leg, some the head, and stained with blood. And Sir Gawain, who sat there sore mishandled, knew that well, and as Morien came nigh, he cried, so that all might hear: "Dear my comrade, ye be welcome. God give me joy of your coming hither! I am Gawain, your comrade; little did I foresee this mischance when we parted, you and I, at this cross-way! Have pity upon the sore stress in which ye see me. May God who hath power over us all strengthen ye well; would that He might here show forth His power!"
When Morien who was hard beset by them who stood there heard this, never might one hear in book or song that any man smote such fierce blows as he smote with the sword which he drew forth. Do what he might with that sword it suffered neither dint nor scar; he smote straight to the mid-ward; nor was their harness so good that it might withstand him. Thereto helped his great strength, that he fought so fiercely against them who withstood him, and smote such ghastly wounds that nevermore might they be healed, nor salved by the hand of any leech. He clave many to the teeth, through helm and coif, so that they fell to the ground. And ever as he cast his eyes around and they lighted upon Sir Gawain, who was in such evil case, his courage waxed so great that were the Devil himself against him he had slain him even as a man; might he die, he had there lost his life. Sir Gawain sat by the wayside in sorry plight, with his hands bound; but the good knight Morien so drave aback the folk who had brought him thither that they had little thought for him. He defended him so well with his mighty blows that none might come at him to harm him; he felled them by twos and by threes, some under their horses, some beside them. The space began to widen round Sir Gawain and Morien; for all there deemed that he came forth from hell, and was hight Devil, in that he so quelled them and felled them underfoot that many hereafter spake thereof. That men thrust and smote at him troubled him little, therein was he like to his father, the noble knight Sir Agloval; he held parley with no man, but smote ever, blow after blow, on all who came nigh him. His blows were so mighty; did a spear fly towards him, to harm him, it troubled him no whit, but he smote it in twain as it were a reed; naught might endure before him. He ware a hauberk that bold overstrong hero, wherewith he was none too heavy laden, yet none might harm him with any weapon they brought thither. Then might ye see the blood run red upon the ground for the good knight's sword spared neither horse nor man. There might ye see lying heads and hands, arms and legs; some hewn from the body, some smitten in twain. They who might escape death fared little better, for good fortune had departed from them—thus many chose their end. He who came betimes to the conflict, and fled without waiting to see what might chance further, he was blithe! Thus were they put to rout, and either slain or driven from the field, or helpless of limb; some who came thither ahorse had lost their steeds, and must rue their journey. They might no longer ride, but must go hence afoot.
Then Morien dismounted, and took Sir Gawain in his arms, and said full oft, "Alas, my comrade, how were ye thus betrayed? I fear physician may aid ye never more, ye have wounds so many and so sore."
With that he had unbound his hands; and Sir Gawain said: "Of physician have I no need." He thanked God and Morien a hundredfold, that he was thus delivered from peril, and comforted in his need; his heart was light within him, and he said he should speedily mend might he but have repose for two days, and neither walk nor ride; by the help of God, and by leechcraft and the aid of certain herbs the virtue of which he knew well, so might he regain all his strength.