THE STORY OF THE CHAMPIONS OF THE ROUND TABLE
Written and Illustrated by
In 1902 the distinguished American artist Howard Pyle undertook to retell and illustrate the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. His four-volume work has long been considered one of the outstanding interpretations of the Arthur cycle.
The Story of the Champions of the Round Table, the second of Pyle's volumes, was originally published in 1905. Reissued now, identical in format to the original volume, with Pyle's superb illustrations and decorations, it is destined to reach new generations of readers. The Story of the Champions of the Round Table recounts the full and moving saga of three of Arthur's famous knights: Percival, Tristram, and Launcelot of the Lake.
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"The period in which Howard Pyle did his work frequently has been spoken of as that Golden Age in children's literature that was to last for the decade to follow. It is difficult to do justice to his contribution to the shining quality of that era. The magnitude and diversity of his work eludes definition. Creative artist and born storyteller, each aspect of his twofold genius enriched and interpreted the other."
—Elizabeth Nesbitt, in A Critical History of Children's Literature
In a book which was written by me aforetime, and which was set forth in print, I therein told much of the history of King Arthur; of how he manifested his royalty in the achievement of that wonderful magic sword which he drew forth out of the anvil; of how he established his royalty; of how he found a splendid sword yclept Excalibur in a miraculously wonderful manner; of how he won the most beautiful lady in the world for his queen; and of how he established the famous Round Table of noble worthy knights, the like of whose prowess the world hath never seen, and will not be likely ever to behold again.
Also I told in that book the adventures of certain worthy knights and likewise how the magician Merlin was betrayed to his undoing by a sorceress hight Vivien.
Now, if you took any joy in reading that book, I have great hope that that which follows may be every whit as pleasing to you; for I shall hereinafter have to do with the adventures of certain other worthies with whom you may have already become acquainted through my book and otherwise; and likewise of the adventures of certain other worthies, of whom you have not yet been told by me.
More especially, I believe, you will find entertainment in what I shall have to tell you of the adventures of that great knight who was altogether the most noble of spirit, and the most beautiful, and the bravest of heart, of any knight who ever lived—excepting only his own son, Galahad, who was the crowning glory of his house and of his name and of the reign of King Arthur.
However, if Sir Launcelot of the Lake failed now and then in his behavior, who is there in the world shall say, "I never fell into error"? And if he more than once offended, who is there shall have hardihood to say, "I never committed offence"?
Yea, that which maketh Launcelot so singularly dear to all the world, is that he was not different from other men, but like other men, both in his virtues and his shortcomings; only that he was more strong and more brave and more untiring than those of us who are his brethren, both in our endeavors and in our failures.
The Story of Launcelot
How Sir Launcelot Came Forth From the Enchanted Castle of the Lake and Entered Into the World Again, and How King Arthur Made Him Knight
How Sir Launcelot and Sir Lionel Rode Forth Errant Together and How Sir Lionel Met Sir Turquine to His Great Dole. Also How Sir Ector Grieved for the Departure of His Brother Launcelot and So, Following Him, Fell into a Very Sorry Adventure
How Sir Launcelot was Found in a Sleep by Queen Morgana le Fay and Three Other Queens who were with Her, and How He was Taken to a Castle of Queen Morgana's and of What Befell Him There
How Sir Launcelot Sought Sir Lionel and How a Young Damsel Brought Him to the Greatest Battle that Ever He Had in All His Life
How Sir Launcelot Went Upon an Adventure with the Damsel Croisette as Companion, and How He Overcame Sir Peris of the Forest Sauvage
How Sir Launcelot Took Part in the Tournament Between King Bagdemagus and the King of North Wales, and How He Won that Battle for King Bagdemagus
How Sir Launcelot Fell Into the Greatest Peril that Ever He Encountered in all His Life. Also How He Freed a Misfortunate Castle and Town From the Giants Who Held Them, and How He Released the Lord Thereof From a Dungeon
How Sir Launcelot Rescued Sir Kay From a Perilous Pass Also How He Changed Armor with Sir Kay and what Befell
The Book of Sir Tristram
THE STORY OF SIR TRISTRAM AND THE LADY BELLE ISOULT
How the new Queen of Lyonesse sought Tristram's life; how he went to France, and how he Returned again to Lyonesse and was Received With Love at that Place
How Sir Tristram was made Knight by the King of Cornwall, and how he Fought a Battle with a Famous Champion
How Sir Tristram went to Ireland to be healed of his Wound by the King's Daughter of Ireland, and of how he came to love the Lady Belle Isoult. Also concerning Sir Palamydes and the Lady Belle Isoult
How Sir Tristram encountered Sir Palamydes at the Tournament and of what befell. Also how Sir Tristram was Forced to leave the Kingdom of Ireland
How Sir Tristram was sent by Command of King Mark to go to Ireland to Bring the Lady the Belle Isoult from Ireland to Cornwall and how it fared with him
How Sir Tristram had to do in Battle with Three Knights of the Round Table. Also how he had Speech with King Arthur
How Sir Tristram had Speech with King Angus of Ireland; how he Undertook to Champion the Cause of King Angus and of what Happened Thereafter
THE STORY OF SIR TRISTRAM AND SIR LAMORACK
How Sir Lamorack of Gales came to Tintagel and how he and Sir Tristram Sware Friendship Together in the Forest
How Sir Tristram Started to go to Camelot, and how he Stayed by the Way to do Battle with Sir Nabon le Noir
How Sir Tristram did justice in the island, and Thereby Released Sir Lamorack from Captivity. Also how Sir Tristram and Sir Lamorack Renewed their Great Tenderness Toward one another
THE MADNESS OF SIR TRISTRAM
How Sir Tristram was Discovered with the Lady Belle Isoult; how he Assaulted King Mark, and how he Escaped from Tintagel into the Forest
How Sir Tristram got him a Sword from Sir Kay, and how he Slew Therewith a Huge Knight in the Forest and Rescued a Lady in very Great Distress. Also how Sir Launcelot found Sir Tristram in the Forest and Brought him Thence to Tintagel again
How Sir Tristram was Discovered at Tintagel and of what Befell Thereby
How Sir Tristram and the Lady Belle Isoult Returned to Cornwall, and how they Ended their Days Together
The Book of Sir Percival
How Percival Departed into the World and how he Found a Fair Damsel in a Pavilion; likewise how he came before Queen Guinevere and how he Undertook his First Adventure
How Sir Percival was made Knight by King Arthur; how he rode Forth with Sir Lamorack and how he Left Sir Lamorack in quest of Adventure upon his own Account; likewise how a Great Knight Taught him craft in Arms
How Sir Percival met two Strange People in the Forest, and how he Succored a Knight who was in very Great Sorrow and Dole
How Sir Percival Undertook the Adventure of the Castle of Beaurepaire and how he Fared Therein after Several Excellent Adventures
How Sir Percival Repaid Sir Kay the Buffet he one time gave Yelande the Dumb Maiden, and how, Thereafter, he went Forth to Seek his own Lady of Love
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Head Piece—Table of Contents Tail Piece—Table of Contents Head Piece—List of Illustrations Tail Piece—List of Illustrations
The Lady Nymue beareth away Launcelot into the Lake Head Piece—Prologue Tail Piece—Prologue Sir Launcelot greets Queen Guinevere Head Piece—The Story of Launcelot Sir Lionel of Britain Queen Morgana appears unto Sir Launcelot Sir Launcelot doeth battle with Sir Turquine Sir Launcelot sits with Sir Hilaire and Croisette Sir Launcelot and Elouise the Fair Sir Launcelot climbs to catch the lady's falcon Sir Launcelot takes the armor of Sir Kay Tail Piece—The Story of Launcelot
Sir Tristram of Lyonesse Head Piece—Prologue Tail Piece—Prologue Tristram succors the Lady Moeya Head Piece—The Story of Sir Tristram and the Lady Belle Isoult King Mark of Cornwall The Lady Belle Isoult The Queen of Ireland seeks to slay Sir Tristram Sir Tristram harpeth before King Mark Sir Tristram sits with Sir Launcelot Tail Piece Belle Isoult and Sir Tristram drink the love draught Tail Piece—The Story of Sir Tristram and the Lady Belle Isoult Sir Lamorack of Gales Head Piece—The Story of Sir Tristram and Sir Lamorack Sir Tristram cometh to ye castle of Sir Nabon Sir Lamorack herds the swine of Sir Nabon Tail Piece—The Story of Sir Tristram and Sir Lamorack Sir Tristram assaults King Mark Head Piece—The Madness of Sir Tristram Sir Kay and the Forest Madman Sir Tristram leaps into ye Sea King Mark broods mischief Tail Piece—The Madness of Sir Tristram
Sir Percival of Gales Head Piece—Prologue The Lady Yvette the Fair Sir Percival and Sir Lamorack ride together Sir Percival overcometh ye Enchantress Vivien The Demoiselle Blanchefleur Sir Kay interrupts ye meditations of Sir Percival Tail Piece—The Book of Sir Percival
It hath already been set forth in print in a volume written by me concerning the adventures of King Arthur when he first became king, how there were certain lesser kings who favored him and were friendly allies with him, and how there were certain others of the same sort who were his enemies.
Among those who were his friends was King Ban of Benwick, who was an exceedingly noble lord of high estate and great honor, and who was of a lineage so exalted that it is not likely that there was anyone in the world who was of a higher strain.
[Sidenote: Of King Ban and his misfortunes] Now, upon a certain time, King Ban of Benwick fell into great trouble; for there came against him a very powerful enemy, to wit, King Claudas of Scotland. King Claudas brought unto Benwick a huge army of knights and lords, and these sat down before the Castle of Trible with intent to take that strong fortress and destroy it.
This noble Castle of Trible was the chiefest and the strongest place of defence in all King Ban's dominions, wherefore he had intrenched himself there with all of his knights and with his Queen, hight Helen, and his youngest son, hight Launcelot.
Now this child, Launcelot, was dearer to Queen Helen than all the world besides, for he was not only large of limb but so extraordinarily beautiful of face that I do not believe an angel from Paradise could have been more beautiful than he. He had been born with a singular birth-mark upon his shoulder, which birth-mark had the appearance as of a golden star enstamped upon the skin; wherefore, because of this, the Queen would say: "Launcelot, by reason of that star upon thy shoulder I believe that thou shalt be the star of our house and that thou shalt shine with such remarkable glory that all the world shall behold thy lustre and shall marvel thereat for all time to come." So the Queen took extraordinary delight in Launcelot and loved him to the very core of her heart—albeit she knew not, at the time she spake, how that prophecy of hers concerning the star was to fall so perfectly true.
Now, though King Ban thought himself very well defended at his Castle of Trible, yet King Claudas brought so terribly big an army against that place that it covered the entire plain. A great many battles were fought under the walls of the castle, but ever King Claudas waxed greater and stronger, and King Ban's party grew weaker and more fearful.
[Sidenote: King Ban bethinks him of King Arthur] So by and by things came to such a pass that King Ban bethought him of King Arthur, and he said to himself: "I will go to my lord the King and beseech help and aid from him, for he will certainly give it me. Nor will I trust any messenger in this affair other than myself; for I myself will go to King Arthur and will speak to him with my own lips."
Having thus bethought him, he sent for Queen Helen to come into his privy closet and he said to her: "My dear love, nothing remaineth for me but to go unto the court of King Arthur and beseech him to lend his powerful aid in this extremity of our misfortunes; nor will I trust any messenger in this affair but myself. Now, this castle is no place for thee, when I am away, therefore, when I go upon this business, I will take thee and Launcelot with me, and I will leave you both in safety at King Arthur's court with our other son, Sir Ector, until this war be ended and done." And to these Queen Helen lent her assent.
So King Ban summoned to him the seneschal of the castle, who was named Sir Malydor le Brun, and said to him: "Messire, I go hence to-night by a secret pass, with intent to betake me unto King Arthur, and to beseech his aid in this extremity. Moreover, I shall take with me my lady and the young child Launcelot, to place them within the care of King Arthur during these dolorous wars. But besides these, I will take no other one with me but only my favorite esquire, Foliot. Now I charge thee, sir, to hold this castle in my behalf with all thy might and main, and yield it not to our enemies upon any extremity; for I believe I shall in a little while return with sufficient aid from King Arthur to compass the relief of this place."
[Sidenote: King Ban with Queen Helen and Launcelot escape from Trible] So when night had fallen very dark and still, King Ban, and Queen Helen, and the young child Launcelot, and the esquire Foliot left the town privily by means of a postern gate. Thence they went by a secret path, known only to a very few, that led down a steep declivity of rocks, with walls of rock upon either side that were very high indeed, and so they came out in safety beyond the army of King Claudas and into the forest of the valley below. And the forest lay very still and solemn and dark in the silence of the nighttime.
Having thus come out in safety into the forest, that small party journeyed on with all celerity that they were able to achieve until, some little time before dawn, they came to where was a lake of water in an open meadow of the forest. Here they rested for a little while, for Queen Helen had fallen very weary with the rough and hasty journey which they had traveled.
[Sidenote: Foliot seeth a light] Now whilst they sat there resting, Foliot spake of a sudden, saying unto King Ban: "Lord, what is that light that maketh the sky so bright yonder-ways?" Then King Ban looked a little and presently said: "Methinks it must be the dawn that is breaking." "Lord," quoth Foliot, "that cannot very well be; for that light in the sky lieth in the south, whence we have come, and not in the east, where the sun should arise."
Then King Ban's heart misgave him, and his soul was shaken with a great trouble. "Foliot," he said, "I believe that you speak sooth and that that light bodes very ill for us all." Then he said: "Stay here for a little and I will go and discover what that light may be." Therewith he mounted his horse and rode away in the darkness.
[Sidenote: King Ban beholdeth the burning of Trible] Now there was a very high hill near-by where they were, and upon the top of the hill was an open platform of rock whence a man could see a great way off in every direction. So King Ban went to this place, and, when he had come there, he cast his eyes in the direction of the light and he straightway beheld with a manner of terror that the light came from Trible; and then, with that terror still growing greater at his heart, he beheld that the town and the castle were all in one great flame of fire.
When King Ban saw this he sat for a while upon his horse like one turned into a stone. Then, after a while, he cried out in a great voice: "Woe! Woe! Woe is me!" And then he cried out still in a very loud voice, "Certes, God hath deserted me entirely."
[Sidenote: The death of King Ban] Therewith a great passion of grief took hold upon him and shook him like to a leaf, and immediately after that he felt that something brake within him with a very sharp and bitter pain, and he wist that it was his heart that had broken. So being all alone there upon the hilltop, and in the perfect stillness of the night, he cried out, "My heart! My heart!" And therewith, the shadows of death coming upon him, he could not sit any longer upon his horse, but fell down upon the ground. And he knew very well that death was nigh him, so, having no cross to pray upon, he took two blades of grass and twisted them into that holy sign, and he kissed it and prayed unto it that God would forgive him his sins. So he died all alone upon that hilltop.
Meanwhile, Queen Helen and Foliot sat together waiting for him to return and presently they heard the sound of his horse's hoofs coming down that rocky path. Then Queen Helen said: "Foliot, methinks my lord cometh." So in a little came the horse with the empty saddle. When Foliot beheld that he said: "Lady, here meseems is great trouble come to us, for methinks something hath befallen my lord, and that he is in sore travail, for here is his horse without him."
Then it seemed to Queen Helen as though the spirit of life suddenly went away from her, for she foresaw what had befallen. So she arose like one in a dream, and, speaking very quietly, she said: "Foliot, take me whither my lord went awhile since!" To this Foliot said: "Lady, wait until the morning, which is near at hand, for it is too dark for you to go thitherward at this present." Whereunto the Lady Helen replied: "Foliot, I cannot wait, for if I stay here and wait I believe I shall go mad." Upon this, Foliot did not try to persuade her any more but made ready to take her whither she would go.
Now the young child Launcelot was then asleep upon the Queen's knees, wherefore she took her cloak and wrapped the child in it and laid him very gently upon the ground, so that he did not wake. Then she mounted upon her palfrey and Foliot led the palfrey up the hill whither King Ban had gone a short time since.
[Sidenote: The Lady Helen findeth the King] When they came to that place of open rocks above told of, they found King Ban lying very quiet and still upon the ground and with a countenance of great peace. For I believe of a surety that God had forgiven him all his sins, and he would now suffer no more because of the cares and the troubles of this life. Thus Queen Helen found him, and finding him she made no moan or outcry of any kind, only she looked for a long while into his dead face, which she could see very plainly now, because that the dawn had already broken. And by and by she said: "Dear Lord, thou art at this time in a happier case than I." And by and by she said to Foliot: "Go and bring his horse to this place, that we may bear him hence." "Lady," said Foliot, "it is not good for you to be left here alone." "Foliot," said the Queen, "thou dost not know how much alone I am; thy leaving me here cannot make me more alone." Therewith she fell to weeping with great passion.
Then Foliot wept also in great measure and, still weeping like rain, he went away and left her. When he came again with King Ban's horse the sun had risen and all the birds were singing with great jubilation and everything was so blithe and gay that no one could have believed that care and trouble could dwell in a world that was so beautiful.
[Sidenote: The Lady Helen bringeth her dead down from the Mountain] So Queen Helen and Foliot lifted the dead king to his horse and then the Queen said: "Come thou, Foliot, at thine own gait, and I will go ahead and seek my child, for I have yet Launcelot to be my joy. Haply he will be needing me at this moment." So the Queen made haste down the steep hill ahead of Foliot and by and by she came to the margin of that little lake where they had rested awhile since.
By now the sun had risen very strong and warm so that all the lake, and the meadows circumadjacent, and the forest that stood around about that meadow were illumined with the glory of his effulgence.
Now as Queen Helen entered that meadow she beheld that a very wonderful lady was there, and this lady bare the child Launcelot in her arms. And the lady sang to Launcelot, and the young child looked up into her face and laughed and set his hand against her cheek. All this Queen Helen beheld; and she likewise beheld that the lady was of a very extraordinary appearance, being clad altogether in green that glistered and shone with a wonderful brightness. And she beheld that around the neck of the lady was a necklace of gold, inset with opal stones and emeralds; and she perceived that the lady's face was like ivory—very white and clear—and that her eyes, which were very bright, shone like jewels set into ivory. And she saw that the lady was very wonderfully beautiful, so that the beholder, looking upon her, felt a manner of fear—for that lady was Fay.
(And that lady was the Lady of the Lake, spoken of aforetime in the Book of King Arthur, wherein it is told how she aided King Arthur to obtain that wonderful, famous sword yclept Excalibur, and how she aided Sir Pellias, the Gentle Knight, in the time of his extremity, and took him into the lake with her. Also divers other things concerning her are told of therein.)
Then the Queen came near to where the lady was, and she said to her,
"Lady, I pray you give me my child again!" Upon this the Lady of the Lake smiled very strangely and said: "Thou shalt have thy child again, lady, but not now; after a little thou shalt have him again." Then Queen Helen cried out with great agony of passion: "Lady, would you take my child from me? Give him to me again, for he is all I have left in the world. Lo, I have lost house and lands and husband, and all the other joys that life has me to give, wherefore, I beseech you, take not my child from me." To this the Lady of the Lake said: "Thou must endure thy sorrow a while longer; for it is so ordained that I must take thy child; for I take him only that I may give him to thee again, reared in such a wise that he shall make the glory of thy house to be the glory of the world. For he shall become the greatest knight in the world, and from his loins shall spring a greater still than he, so that the glory of the House of King Ban shall be spoken of as long as mankind shall last." But Queen Helen cried out all the more in a great despair: "What care I for all this? I care only that I shall have my little child again! Give him to me!"
[Sidenote: The Lady of the Lake taketh Launcelot into the Lake] Therewith she would have laid hold of the garments of the Lady of the Lake in supplication, but the Lady of the Lake drew herself away from Queen Helen's hand and said: "Touch me not, for I am not mortal, but Fay." And thereupon she and Launcelot vanished from before Queen Helen's eyes as the breath vanishes from the face of a mirror.
For when you breathe upon a mirror the breath will obscure that which lieth behind; but presently the breath will disappear and vanish, and then you shall behold all things entirely clear and bright to the sight again. So the Lady of the Lake vanished away, and everything behind her where she had stood was clear and bright, and she was gone.
Then Queen Helen fell down in a swoon, and lay beside the lake of the meadow like one that is dead; and when Foliot came he found her so and wist not what to do for her. There was his lord who was dead and his lady who was so like to death that he knew not whether she was dead or no. So he knew not what to do but sat down and made great lamentation for a long while.
[Sidenote: The Lady Helen taketh to a Nunnery] What time he sat thus there came that way three nuns who dwelt in an abbey of nuns which was not a great distance away from that place. These made great pity over that sorrowful sight, and they took away from there the dead King and the woeful Queen, and the King they buried in holy ground, and the Queen they let live with them and she was thereafter known as the "Sister of Sorrows."
[Sidenote: How Launcelot dwelt in the lake] Now Launcelot dwelt for nigh seventeen years with the Lady Nymue of the Lake in that wonderful, beautiful valley covered over with the appearance of such a magical lake as hath been aforetime described in the Book of King Arthur.
And that land of the lake was of this sort that shall here be described:—
Unto anyone who could enter into the magic water of that lake (and there were very few of those who were mortal who were allowed to come to those meadows of Faery that were there concealed beneath those enchanted waters) he would behold before him a wide and radiant field of extraordinary beauty. And he would behold that that field was covered all over with such a multitude of exquisite and beautiful flowers that the heart of the beholder would be elated with pure joy to find himself in the midst of that waving sea of multitudinous and fragrant blossoms. And he would behold many fair and shady groves of trees that here and there grew up from that valley, each glade overshadowing a fountain of water as clear as crystal. And he would perhaps behold, at such pleasant places beneath the shade of those trees, some party of the fair and gentle folk of that country; and he would see them playing in sport, or he would hear them chanting to the music of shining golden harps. And he would behold in the midst of that beautiful plain a wonderful castle with towers and roofs uplifted high into the sky, and all shining in the peculiar radiance of that land, like to castles and battlements of pure gold.
Such was the land unto which Launcelot was brought, and from what I have told you you may see what a wonderful, beautiful place it was.
And the mystery of that place entered into the soul of Launcelot, so that thereafter, when he came out thence, he was never like other folk, but always appeared to be in a manner remote and distant from other of his fellow-mortals with whom he dwelt.
For though he smiled a great deal, it was not often that he laughed; and if he did laugh, it was never in scorn, but always in loving-kindness.
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It was here in this land that Sir Pellias had now dwelt for several years, with great peace and content. (For it hath been told in the Book of King Arthur how, when he was upon the edge of death, the Lady Nymue of the Lake brought him back to life again, and how, after that time, he was half fay and half mortal.)
And the reason why Launcelot was brought to that place was that Sir Pellias might teach him and train him in all the arts of chivalry. For no one in all the world was more skilful in arms than Sir Pellias, and no one could so well teach Launcelot the duties of chivalry as he.
So Sir Pellias taught Launcelot all that was best of knighthood, both as to conduct of manner, and as to the worthiness and skill at arms, wherefore it was that when Launcelot was completely taught, there was no knight in all the world who was his peer in strength of arms or in courtesy of behavior, until his own son, Sir Galahad, appeared in the courts of chivalry as shall by and by be told of.
So when Launcelot came forth into the world again he became the greatest knight in all the history of chivalry, wherefore that prophecy of his mother was fulfilled as to his being like to a bright star of exceeding lustre.
Accordingly, I have herein told you with great particularity all these circumstances of his early history so that you may know exactly how it was that he was taken away into the lake, and why it was that he was afterward known as Sir Launcelot, surnamed of the Lake.
As to how he came into the world to achieve that greatness unto which he had been preordained, and as to how King Arthur made him knight, and as to many very excellent adventures that befell him, you shall immediately read in what followeth.
The Story of Launcelot
_Here beginneth the story of Sir Launcelot, surnamed of the Lake, who was held by all men to be the most excellent, noble, perfect knight-champion who was ever seen in the world from the very beginning of chivalry unto the time when his son, Sir Galahad, appeared like a bright star of extraordinary splendor shining in the sky of chivalry.
In this Book it shall be told how he was taken into a magic lake, how he came out thence to be made knight by King Arthur, and of how he undertook several of those adventures that made him at once the wonder and the admiration of all men, and the chiefest glory of the Round Table of Arthur-Pendragon._
How Sir Launcelot Came Forth From the Enchanted Castle of the Lake and Entered Into the World Again, and How King Arthur Made Him Knight.
[Sidenote: Of the springtime of long ago] I know not any time of the year that is more full of joyfulness than the early summer season; for that time the sun is wonderfully lusty and strong, yet not so very hot; that time the trees and shrubs are very full of life and very abundant of shade and yet have not grown dry with the heats and droughts of later days; that time the grass is young and lush and green, so that when you walk athwart the meadow-lands it is as though you walked through a fair billowy lake of magical verdure, sprinkled over with a great multitude of little flowers; that time the roses are everywhere a-bloom, both the white rose and the red, and the eglantine is abundant; that time the nests are brimful of well-fledged nestlings, and the little hearts of the small parent fowls are so exalted with gladness that they sing with all their mights and mains, so that the early daytime is filled full of the sweet jargon and the jubilant medley of their voices. Yea; that is a goodly season of the year, for though, haply, the spirit may not be so hilarious as in the young and golden springtime, yet doth the soul take to itself so great a content in the fulness of the beauty of the world, that the heart is elated with a great and abundant joy that it is not apt to feel at another season.
[Sidenote: King Arthur and two knights ride a-hunting] Now it chanced upon the day before Saint John's day in the fulness of a summer-time such as this, that King Arthur looked forth from his chamber very early in the morning and beheld how exceedingly fair and very lusty was the world out-of-doors—all in the freshness of the young daylight. For the sun had not yet risen, though he was about to rise, and the sky was like to pure gold for brightness; all the grass and leaves and flowers were drenched with sweet and fragrant dew, and the birds were singing so vehemently that the heart of any man could not but rejoice in the fulness of life that lay all around about him.
There were two knights with King Arthur at that time, one was Sir Ewain, the son of Morgana le Fay (and he was King Arthur's nephew), and the other was Sir Ector de Maris, the son of King Ban of Benwick and of Queen Helen—this latter a very noble, youthful knight, and the youngest of all the Knights of the Round Table who were at that time elected. These stood by King Arthur and looked forth out of the window with him and they also took joy with him in the sweetness of the summer season. Unto them, after a while, King Arthur spake, saying: "Messires, meseems this is too fair a day to stay within doors. For, certes, it is a shame that I who am a king should be prisoner within mine own castle, whilst any ploughman may be free of the wold and the green woods and the bright sun and the blue sky and the wind that blows over hill and dale. Now, I too would fain go forth out of doors and enjoy these things; wherefore I ordain that we shall go a-hunting this day and that ye and I shall start before any others of the lords and the ladies that dwell herein are awake. So let us take our horses and our hounds and let us take certain foresters and huntsmen, and let us go forth a-hunting into the green forest; for this day shall be holiday for me and for you and we shall leave care behind us, and for a while we shall disport ourselves in pleasant places."
So they all did as King Arthur bade; they made them each man ready with his own hands, and they bade the huntsmen and the foresters to attend thereupon as the King had ordained. Then they rode forth from the castle and out into the wide world that lay beyond, and it was yet so early in the morning that none of the castle folk were astir to know of their departure.
All that day they hunted in the forest with much joy and with great sport, nor did they turn their faces toward home again until the day was so far spent that the sun had sunk behind the tops of the tall leafy trees. Then, at that time, King Arthur gave command that they should bend their ways toward Camelot once more.
[Sidenote: King Arthur and his companions find a strange damsel and a dwarf] Now this time, being the Eve of Saint John, fairies and those folk who are fay come forth, as is very well known, into the world from which they dwell apart at other times. So when King Arthur and those two knights and their several foresters and huntsmen came to a certain outlying part of the forest, they were suddenly aware of a damsel and a dwarf waiting where the road upon which they were travelling crossed another road, and they perceived, from her very remarkable appearance, that the damsel was very likely Fay. For both she and her dwarf sat each upon a milk-white horse, very strangely still, close to where was a shrine by a hedge of hawthorne; and the damsel was so wonderfully fair of face that it was a marvel to behold her. Moreover, she was clad all in white samite from top to toe and her garments were embroidered with silver; and the trappings and garniture of her horse were of white samite studded with bright silver bosses, wherefore, because of this silver, she glistered with a sudden lustre whensoever she moved a little. When King Arthur and the two knights who were with him drew nigh this damsel, much marvelling at her appearance, she hailed him in a voice that was both high and clear, crying: "Welcome, King Arthur! Welcome, King Arthur! Welcome, King Arthur!" saying three words three times; and "Welcome, Sir Ewain!" "Welcome, Sir Ector de Maris!" addressing each of those lords by his name.
"Damsel," quoth King Arthur, "it is very singular that you should know who we are and that we should not know you. Now, will you not tell us your name and whence you come and whither you go? For of a surety I believe you are Fay."
"Lord," said the damsel, "it matters not who I am, saving that I am of the court of a wonderful lady who is your very good friend. She hath sent me here to meet you and to beseech you to come with me whither I shall lead you, and I shall lead you unto her."
"Damsel," said King Arthur, "I shall be right glad to go with you as you desire me to do. So, if you will lead me to your lady, I and my knights will gladly follow you thitherway to pay our court unto her."
[Sidenote: King Arthur and his knights follow the damsel] Upon this the damsel waved her hand, and drawing her bridle-rein she led the way, accompanied by the dwarf, and King Arthur and the two knights followed her, and all their party of foresters and huntsmen and hounds and beagles followed them.
By this time the sun had set and the moon had risen very fair and round and as yellow as gold, making a great light above the silent tree-tops. Everything now was embalmed in the twilight, and all the world was enshrouded in the mystery of the midsummer eve. Yet though the sun had gone the light was wonderfully bright, wherefore all that the eye could see stood sharp-cut and very clear to the vision.
So the damsel and the dwarf led the way for somewhat of a distance, though not for so very far, until they came of a sudden to where was an open meadow in the forest, hedged all around with the trees of the woodland. And here the King and his knights were aware of a great bustle of many people, some working very busily in setting up several pavilions of white samite, and others preparing a table as for a feast, and others upon this business and others upon that; and there were various sumpter-mules and pack-horses and palfreys all about, as though belonging to a party of considerable estate.
Then King Arthur and those who were with him beheld that, at some distance away upon the other side of the meadow, there were three people sitting under a crab-apple tree upon a couch especially prepared for them, and they were aware that these people were the chief of all that company.
[Sidenote: King Arthur and his companions are brought to speak with strange folk] The first party of the three was a knight of very haughty and noble appearance, clad all in armor as white as silver; and his jupon was white embroidered with silver, and the scabbard of the sword and the sword-belt were white, and his shield hung in the crab-tree above him and that, too, was all white as of silver. This knight still wore his helmet, so that his countenance was not to be seen. The second party of the three was a lady clad all in white raiment. Her face was covered by her wimple so that her countenance also was not to be seen very clearly, but her garments were of wonderful sort, being of white sarcenet embroidered over with silver in the pattern of lily flowers. Also she wore around her breast and throat a chain of shining silver studded with bright and sparkling gems of divers sorts. The third party of the three was a youth of eighteen years, so beautiful of face that it seemed to King Arthur that he had never beheld so noble a being. For his countenance was white and shining, and his hair was as soft as silk and as black as it was possible to be, and curled down upon his shoulders; and his eyes were large and bright and extraordinarily black, and his eyebrows arched so smoothly that if they had been painted they could not have been marked upon his forehead more evenly than they were; and his lips, which pouted a little, though not very much, were as red as coral, and his upper lip was shaded with a soft down of black. Moreover, this youth was clad altogether in white cloth of satin with no ornaments whatsoever saving only a fine chain of shining silver set with opal-stones and emeralds that hung about his neck.
Then when King Arthur approached near enough he perceived by certain signs that the lady was the chiefest of those three, wherefore he paid his court to her especially, saying to her: "Lady, it seems that I have been brought hitherward unto you and that you were aware of my name and estate when you sent for me. Now I should be exceedingly glad if you would enlighten me in the same manner as to yourself."
"Sir," she said, "that I shall be glad to do; for if I have known you aforetime, you have also seen me afore time and have known me as your friend." Therewith the lady lowered the wimple from her face and King Arthur perceived that it was the Lady of the Lake.
[Sidenote: King Arthur findeth Sir Pellias again] Upon this he kneeled down upon one knee and took her hand and set it to his lips. "Lady," quoth he, "I have indeed cause to know you very well, for you have, as you affirm, been a friend to me and to my friends upon many several occasions." Then King Arthur turned to that knight who was with that Lady of the Lake, and he said unto him: "Messire, if I mistake not, I should know you also; and I doubt not, if you will lift the umbril of your helmet, we shall all three know your face." Upon this the knight without more ado lifted his umbril as King Arthur had desired him to do and the three beheld that it was Sir Pellias, the Gentle Knight.
Now it hath already been very fully told about Sir Pellias in the Book of King Arthur, and those of you who read of him therein will remember, no doubt, how sorely he was wounded in a combat with Sir Gawaine, who was his best friend, and of how the Lady of the Lake took him to dwell with her in that wonderful city that was hidden by the appearance as of an enchanted lake, and of how it was Sir Gawaine who last beheld him upon that occasion. But if Sir Gawaine was the dearest friend that Sir Pellias had at that time, then Sir Ewain was only less dear to him. Therefore, when Sir Ewain beheld that the strange knight was Sir Pellias, he wist not what to think for pure wonder; for no mortal eyes had ever beheld Sir Pellias since he had gone into the lake with the Lady of the Lake that time as foretold, and it was not thought that anyone would ever see him again.
So when Sir Ewain beheld that the knight was Sir Pellias he emitted a great cry of joy and ran to him and catched him in his arms, and Sir Pellias forbade him not. For though at most times those who are of Faery do not suffer themselves to be touched by mortal hands, yet, upon the Eve of Saint John's Day, fairies and mortals may commune as though they were of the same flesh and blood. Wherefore Sir Pellias did not forbid Sir Ewain, and they embraced, as one-time brethren-in-arms should embrace. And each kissed the other upon the face, and each made great joy the one over the other. Yea, so great was their joy that all those who stood about were moved with pure happiness at beholding them.
Then Sir Pellias came to King Arthur and kneeled down before him and kissed his hand, as is the bounden duty of every knight unto his lord.
"Ha, Messire," quoth King Arthur, "methought when I beheld this lady, that you would not be very far distant from her." Then he said unto the Lady of the Lake: "Lady, I prithee tell me, who is this fair youth who is with you. For methinks I never beheld before so noble and so beautiful a countenance as his. Maybe you will make us acquainted with him also."
"Lord," said the Lady Nymue, "who he is, and of what quality, shall, I hope, be made manifest in due time; just now I would not wish that he should be known even unto you. But touching him, I may say that it was for his sake that I sent my damsel to meet you at the cross-roads awhile ago. But of that, more anon; for see! the feast is now spread which we have prepared for your entertainment. So let us first eat and drink and make merry together, and then we shall speak further of this matter."
[Sidenote: The Lady of the Lake prepareth a feast for King Arthur] So they all six went and sat down to the table that had been spread for them in the open meadow-land. For the night was very pleasant and warm and a wonderful full moon shone down upon them with a marvellous lustre, and there was a pleasant air, soft and warm, from the forest, and, what with the scores of bright waxen tapers that stood in silver candlesticks upon the table (each taper sparkling as bright as any star), the night was made all illuminate like to some singular mid-day. There was set before them a plenty of divers savory meats and of several excellent wines, some as yellow as gold, and some as red as carbuncle, and they ate and they drank and they made merry in the soft moonlight with talk and laughter. Somewhiles they told Sir Pellias and the lady of all that was toward at court at Camelot; otherwhiles Sir Pellias and the lady told them such marvellous things concerning the land in which they two dwelt that it would be hard to believe that the courts of Heaven could be fairer than the courts of Fairyland whence they had come.
Then, after the feast was ended, the Lady of the Lake said to King Arthur, "Sir, an I have won your favor in any way, there is a certain thing I would ask of you." To the which King Arthur made reply: "Ask it, Lady, and it shall be granted thee, no matter what it may be." "Sir," said the Lady of the Lake, "this is what I would ask of you. I would ask you to look upon this youth who sits beside me. He is so dear to me that I cannot very well make you know how dear he is. I have brought him hither from our dwelling-place for one certain reason; to wit, that you should make him knight. That is the great favor I would ask of you. To this intent I have brought armor and all the appurtenances of knighthood; for he is of such noble lineage that no armor in the world could be too good for him."
"Lady," quoth King Arthur, "I will do what you ask with much pleasure and gladness. But, touching that armor of which you speak, it is my custom to provide anyone whom I make a knight with armor of mine own choosing."
To this the Lady of the Lake smiled very kindly, saying, "Lord, I pray you, let be in this case, for I daresay that the armor which hath been provided for this youth shall be so altogether worthy of your nobility and of his future credit that you will be entirely contented with it." And with that, King Arthur was altogether satisfied.
[Sidenote: Of the armor, etc., of Sir Launcelot] And, touching that armor, the ancient history that speaketh of these matters saith that it was of such a sort as this that followeth, and that it was brought from that enchanted court of the lake in this wise; to wit, in the front came two youths, leading two white mules, and the mules bore two chests studded with silver bosses. In one chest was the hauberk of that armor and in the other were the iron boots. These were bright like to silver and were inlaid with cunningly devised figures, all of pure gold. Next to them came two esquires, clad in white robes and mounted upon white horses, bearing the one a silver shield and the other a shining helmet, as of silver—it likewise being very wonderfully inlaid with figures of pure gold. After these came two other esquires, the one bearing a sword in a white sheath embossed with studs of silver (the belt whereof was of silver with facets of gold) and the other leading a white charger, whose coat was as soft and as shining as silk. And all the gear and furniture of this horse was of silver and of white samite embellished with silver. So from this you can see how nobly that young acolyte was provided with all that beseemed his future greatness. For, as you may have guessed, this youth was Launcelot, King Ban's son of Benwick, who shortly became the greatest knight in the world.
[Sidenote: Launcelot guards his armor at night] Now there was in that part of the forest border a small abbey of monks, and in the chapel of that abbey Launcelot watched his armor for that night and Sir Ewain was with him for all that time. Meantime King Arthur and Sir Ector de Maris slept each in a silken pavilion provided for them by the Lady of the Lake.
In the morning Sir Ewain took Launcelot to the bath and bathed him, for such was the custom of those who were being prepared for knighthood.
Now, whilst Sir Ewain was bathing the youth, he beheld that on his shoulder was a mark in the likeness of a golden star and he marvelled very much thereat; but he made no mention of it at that time, but held his peace concerning what he saw; only he marvelled very greatly thereat.
[Sidenote: King Arthur creates Sir Launcelot a Knight-Royal] Then, after Sir Ewain had bathed Launcelot, he clothed him in raiment fitted for that ceremony unto which he was ordained, and when the youth was so clothed, Sir Ewain brought him to King Arthur, and King Arthur knighted Launcelot with great ceremony, and buckled the belt around him with his own hands. After he had done this Sir Ewain and Sir Ector de Maris set the golden spurs to his heels, and Sir Ector wist not that he was performing such office for his own brother.
So Sir Launcelot was made knight with great estate and ceremony, whereof I have told you all, unto every particular. For it is fitting that all things should be so told concerning that most great and famous knight.
After King Arthur had so dubbed Sir Launcelot knight, it was time that those two parties should part company—to wit, the party of the Lady of the Lake and the party of King Arthur. But when they were about to leave one another the Lady of the Lake took Sir Launcelot aside, and she spake to him after this manner:
[Sidenote: The Lady of the Lake gives Sir Launcelot good advice] "Launcelot, forget not that you are a king's son, and that your lineage is as noble as that of anyone upon earth—for so I have often told you aforetime. Wherefore, see to it that your worthiness shall be as great as your beauty, and that your courtesy and gentleness shall be as great as your prowess. To-day you shall go unto Camelot with King Arthur to make yourself known unto that famous Court of Chivalry. But do not tarry there, but, ere the night cometh, depart and go forth into the world to prove your knighthood as worthily as God shall give you grace to do. For I would not have you declare yourself to the world until you have proved your worthiness by your deeds. Wherefore, do not yourself proclaim your name, but wait until the world proclaimeth it; for it is better for the world to proclaim the worthiness of a man than that the man should proclaim his own worthiness. So hold yourself ready to undertake any adventure whatsoever that God sendeth to you to do, but never let any other man complete a task unto which you yourself have set your hand." Then, after the Lady of the Lake had so advised Sir Launcelot, she kissed him upon the face, and therewith gave him a ring curiously wrought and set with a wonderful purple stone, which ring had such power that it would dissolve every enchantment. Then she said: "Launcelot, wear this ring and never let it be from off your finger." And Launcelot said: "I will do so." So Sir Launcelot set the ring upon his finger and it was so that it never left his finger whilst he drew the breath of life.
Then King Arthur and Sir Ewain and Sir Ector de Maris and the young Sir Launcelot laid their ways toward Camelot. And, as they journeyed so together, Sir Ewain communicated privily to Sir Ector de Maris how that the youth had a mark as of a golden star upon the skin of his shoulder, and upon this news Sir Ector fell very silent. For Sir Ector knew that that sign was upon his own brother's shoulder, and he did not know how it could be upon the shoulder of any other man. Wherefore, he wist not what to think that it should be upon the shoulder of this youth. But he said naught of these thoughts to Sir Ewain, but held his peace.
[Sidenote: Sir Launcelot cometh to Camelot] So they reached Camelot whilst it was still quite early in the morning and all they who were there made great joy at the coming of so wonderfully fair and noble a young knight as Sir Launcelot appeared to be. Wherefore, there was great sound of rejoicing at his coming.
Then, after a while, King Arthur said: "Let us go and see if, haply, this youth's name is marked upon any of the seats of the Round Table, for I think it should be there." So all they of the court went to that pavilion afore described, where the Round Table was established, and they looked; and lo! upon the seat that King Pellinore had one time occupied was this name:
THE KNIGHT OF THE LAKE
So the name stood at first, nor did it change until the name of Sir Launcelot of the Lake became so famous in all the world. Then it became changed to this:
SIR LAUNCELOT OF THE LAKE.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Sir Launcelot becometh knight of the Round Table] So Sir Launcelot remained at Camelot for that entire day and was made acquainted with a great many of the lords and ladies and knights and dames of King Arthur's court. And all that while he was like one that walked in a dream, for he had never before beheld anything of the world of mankind since he had been carried away into the lake, wherefore he wist not very well whether what he saw was real or whether he beheld it in a vision of enchantment. For it was all very new and wonderful to him and he took great delight in it because that he was a man and because this world was the world of mankind. Wherefore, though that Castle of the Lake was so beautiful, yet he felt his heart go forth to this other and less beautiful land as it did not go forth to that, because he was human and this was human.
Nevertheless, though that was so joyful a day for him, yet Sir Launcelot did not forget what the Lady of the Lake had said concerning the time he was to abide there! Wherefore, when it drew toward evening he besought leave of King Arthur to depart from that place in search of adventures, and King Arthur gave him leave to do as he desired.
So Sir Launcelot prepared to depart, and whilst he was in his chamber making ready there came in unto him Sir Ector de Maris. And Sir Ector said unto him: "Sir, I prithee tell me—is it true that you bear upon your right shoulder a mark like unto a golden star?" And Sir Launcelot made reply: "Yea, that is true." Then Sir Ector said: "I beseech you to tell me if your name is Launcelot." And Sir Launcelot said: "Yea, that is my name."
[Sidenote: Of the brotherhood of Sir Ector and Sir Launcelot] Upon this Sir Ector broke out into great weeping and he catched Sir Launcelot in his arms and he cried out: "Launcelot, thou art mine own brother! For thy father was my father, and my mother was thy mother! For we are both sons unto King Ban of Benwick, and Queen Helen was our mother." Therewith he kissed Sir Launcelot with great passion upon the face. And Sir Launcelot upon his part kissed Sir Ector with a great passion of joy that he had found a brother in this strange world into which he had so newly come. But Sir Launcelot charged Sir Ector that he should say nothing of this to any man; and Sir Ector pledged his knightly word to that effect. (Nor did he ever tell anyone who Sir Launcelot was until Sir Launcelot had performed such deeds that all the world spake his name.)
For when Sir Launcelot went out into the world in that wise he undertook several very weighty achievements and brought them all to a successful issue, so that his name very quickly became known in every court of chivalry.
[Sidenote: Of sundry adventures of Sir Launcelot] First he removed an enchantment that overhung a castle, hight Dolorous Gard; and he freed that castle and liberated all the sad, sorry captives that lay therein. (And this castle he held for his own and changed the name from Dolorous Gard to Joyous Gard and the castle became very famous afterward as his best-loved possession. For this was the first of all his possessions that he won by the prowess of his arms and he loved it best of all and considered it always his home.) After that Sir Launcelot, at the bidding of Queen Guinevere, took the part of the Lady of Nohan against the King of Northumberland, and he overcame the King of Northumberland and made him subject unto King Arthur. Then he overcame Sir Gallehaut, King of the Marches, and sent him captive to the court of King Arthur (and afterward Sir Gallehaut and Sir Launcelot became great friends for aye). So in a little while all the world spoke of Sir Launcelot, for it was said of him, and truly, that he had never been overcome by any other knight, whether upon horseback or upon foot, and that he always succeeded in every adventure which he undertook, whether that adventure were great or whether it were small. So it was as the Lady of the Lake desired it to be, for Sir Launcelot's name became famous, not because he was his father's son, but because of the deeds which he performed upon his own account.
So Sir Launcelot performed all these famous adventures, and after that he returned again to the court of King Arthur crowned with the glory of his successful knighthood, and there he was received with joy and acclaim and was duly installed in that seat of the Round Table that was his. And in that court he was held in the greatest honor and esteem of all the knights who were there. For King Arthur spake many times concerning him to this effect: that he knew not any honor or glory that could belong to a king greater than having such a knight for to serve him as was Sir Launcelot of the Lake. For a knight like Sir Launcelot came hardly ever into the world, and when he did come his glory must needs illuminate with its effulgence the entire reign of that king whose servant he was.
So it was that Sir Launcelot was greatly honored by everybody at the court of King Arthur, and he thereafter abided at that court for the most part of his life.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Of Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere] And now I must needs make mention of that friendship that existed betwixt Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere, for after he thus returned to the court of the king, they two became such friends that no two people could be greater friends than they were.
Now I am aware that there have been many scandalous things said concerning that friendship, but I do not choose to believe any such evil sayings. For there are always those who love to think and say evil things of others. Yet though it is not to be denied that Sir Launcelot never had for his lady any other dame than the Lady Guinevere, still no one hath ever said with truth that she regarded Sir Launcelot otherwise than as her very dear friend. For Sir Launcelot always avouched with his knightly word, unto the last day of his life, that the Lady Guinevere was noble and worthy in all ways, wherefore I choose to believe his knightly word and to hold that what he said was true. For did not he become an hermit, and did not she become a nun in their latter days, and were they not both broken of heart when King Arthur departed from this life in so singular a manner as he did? Wherefore I choose to believe good of such noble souls as they, and not evil of them.
[Sidenote: How Sir Launcelot dwelt at Camelot] Yet, though Sir Launcelot thus abided at the court of the King, he ever loved the open world and a life of adventure above all things else. For he had lived so long in the Lake that these things of the sturdy life of out-of-doors never lost their charm for him. So, though he found, for a while, great joy in being at the court of the King (for there were many jousts held in his honor, and, whithersoever he rode forth, men would say to one another: "Yonder goeth that great knight, Sir Launcelot, who is the greatest knight in the world"), yet he longed ever to be abroad in the wide world again. So one day he besought King Arthur for leave to depart thence and to go forth for a while in search of adventures; and King Arthur gave him leave to do as he desired.
So now shall be told of several excellent adventures that Sir Launcelot undertook, and which he carried through with entire success, and to the great glory and renown of the Round Table, of which he was the foremost knight.
How Sir Launcelot and Sir Lionel Rode Forth Errant Together and How Sir Lionel Met Sir Turquine to His Great Dole. Also How Sir Ector Grieved for the Departure of His Brother Launcelot and So, Following Him, Fell into a Very Sorry Adventure.
Now after King Arthur had thus given Sir Launcelot leave to go errant and whilst Sir Launcelot was making himself ready to depart there came to him Sir Lionel, who was his cousin germain, and Sir Lionel besought leave to go with him as his knight-companion, and Sir Launcelot gave him that leave.
[Sidenote: Sir Launcelot and Sir Lionel depart in search of adventure] So when King Arthur confirmed Sir Launcelot's permission Sir Lionel also made himself ready very joyfully, and early of the morning of the next day they two took their leave of the court and rode away together; the day being very fair and gracious and all the air full of the joy of that season—which was in the flower of the spring-time.
So, about noon-tide, they came to a certain place where a great apple-tree stood by a hedge, and by that time they had grown an-hungered. So they tied their horses near-by in a cool and shady place and straightway sat them down under the apple-tree in the soft tall grass, which was yet fresh with the coolness of the morning.
[Sidenote: Sir Launcelot sleepeth beneath an apple-tree] Then when they had ended their meal Sir Launcelot said: "Brother, I have a great lust to sleep for a little space, for I find myself so drowsy that mine eyelids are like scales of lead." Unto which Sir Lionel made reply: "Very well; sleep thou for a while, and I will keep watch, and after that thou shalt watch, and I will sleep for a little space." So Sir Launcelot put his helmet beneath his head and turned upon his side, and in a little had fallen into a sleep which had neither dream nor thought of any kind, but which was deep and pure like to a clear well of water in the forest.
And, whilst he slept thus, Sir Lionel kept watch, walking up and down in the shade of a hedge near-by.
[Sidenote: Sir Lionel perceives how one knight pursues three knights] Where they were was upon the side of a hill, and beneath them was a little valley; and a road ran through the valley, very white and shining in the sunlight, like a silken ribbon, and the road lay between growing fields of corn and pasture-land. Now as Sir Lionel walked beside the hedge he beheld three knights come riding into that valley and along that road with very great speed and in several clouds of dust; and behind them came a fourth knight, who was very huge of frame and who was clad altogether in black armor. Moreover, this knight rode upon a black horse and his shield was black and his spear was black and the furniture of his horse was black, so that everything appertaining to that knight was as black as any raven.
And Sir Lionel beheld that this one knight pursued those other three knights and that his horse went with greater speed than theirs, so that by and by he overtook the hindermost knight. And Sir Lionel beheld that the sable knight smote the fleeing knight a great buffet with his sword, so that that knight fell headlong from his horse and rolled over two or three times upon the ground and then lay as though he were dead. Then the black knight catched the second of the three, and served him as he had served his fellow. Then the third of the three, finding that there was no escape for him, turned as if to defend himself; but the black knight drave at him, and smote him so terrible a blow that I believe had a thunderbolt smitten him he would not have fallen from his horse more suddenly than he did. For, though that combat was full three furlongs away, yet Sir Lionel heard the sound of that blow as clearly as though it had been close by.
Then after the black knight had thus struck down those three knights he went to each in turn and tied his hands behind his back. Then, lifting each man with extraordinary ease, he laid him across the saddle of that horse from which he had fallen, as though he were a sack of grain. And all this Sir Lionel beheld with very great wonder, marvelling much at the strength and prowess of that black knight. "Ha," quoth he to himself, "I will go and inquire into this business, for it may haply be that yonder black knight shall not find it to be so easy to deal with a knight of the Round Table as with those other three knights."
So, with this, Sir Lionel loosed his horse very quietly and went his way so softly that Sir Launcelot was not awakened. And after he had gone some way, he mounted his steed and rode off at a fast gallop down into that valley.
[Sidenote: Sir Lionel addresses the sable knight] When Sir Lionel had come to that place where the knight was, he found that he had just bound the last of the three knights upon the saddle of his horse as aforetold. So Sir Lionel spoke to the sable knight in this wise: "Sir, I pray you tell me your name and degree and why you treat those knights in so shameful a fashion as I behold you to do."
"Messire," said the black knight very fiercely, "this matter concerns you not at all; yet I may tell you that those knights whom I have overthrown are knights of King Arthur's court, and so I serve all such as come into this place. So will I serve you, too, if you be a knight of King Arthur's."
"Well," said Sir Lionel, "that is a very ungracious thing for you to say. And as for that, I too am a knight of King Arthur's court, but I do not believe that you will serve me as you have served those three. Instead of that, I have great hope that I shall serve you in such a fashion that I shall be able to set these knights free from your hands."
[Sidenote: The sable knight overcomes Sir Lionel] Thereupon, without more ado, he made him ready with spear and shield, and the black knight, perceiving his design, also made him ready. Then they rode a little distance apart so as to have a fair course for a tilt upon the roadway. Then each set spur to his horse and the two drave together with such violence that the earth shook beneath them. So they met fair in the middle of the course, but lo! in that encounter the spear of Sir Lionel broke into as many as thirty or forty pieces, but the spear of the black knight held, so that Sir Lionel was lifted clean out from his saddle and over the crupper of his horse with such violence that when he smote the ground he rolled three times over ere he ceased to fall. And because of that fierce, terrible blow he swooned away entirely, and all was black before his eyes, and he knew nothing.
Therewith the black knight dismounted and tied Sir Lionel's arms behind his back and he laid him across the saddle of his horse as he had laid those others across the saddles of their horses; and he tied him there very securely with strong cords so that Sir Lionel could not move.
And all this while Sir Launcelot slept beneath the apple-tree upon the hillside, for he was greatly soothed by the melodious humming of the bees in the blossoms above where he lay.
[Sidenote: Of Sir Turquine the sable knight] Now you are to know that he who had thus taken Sir Lionel and those three knights prisoner was one Sir Turquine, a very cruel, haughty knight, who had a great and strong castle out beyond the mouth of that valley in which these knights took combat as aforetold. Moreover, it was the custom of Sir Turquine to make prisoner all the knights and ladies who came that way; and all the knights and ladies who were not of King Arthur's court he set free when they had paid a sufficient ransom unto him; but the knights who were of King Arthur's court, and especially those who were of the Round Table, he held prisoner for aye within his castle. The dungeon of that castle was a very cold, dismal, and unlovely place, and it was to this prison that he proposed to take those four knights whom he had overcome, with intent to hold them prisoner as aforetold.
And now turn we to King Arthur's court and consider what befell there after Sir Launcelot and Sir Lionel had left it in search of adventures.
[Sidenote: Sir Ector follows Sir Launcelot and Sir Lionel] When Sir Ector found that Sir Launcelot and Sir Lionel had gone away in that fashion he was very much grieved in spirit; wherefore he said to himself, "Meseems my brother might have taken me with him as well as our cousin." So he went to King Arthur and besought his leave to quit the court and to ride after those other two and to join in their adventures, and King Arthur very cheerfully gave him that leave. So Sir Ector made him ready with all despatch, and rode away at a great gait after Sir Launcelot and Sir Lionel. And ever as Sir Ector rode he made diligent inquiry and he found that those two knights had ridden before him, so he said to himself: "By and by I shall overtake them—if not to-day, at least by night, or by to-morrow day."
[Sidenote: Sir Ector seeks adventure] But after a while he came to a cross-roads, and there he took a way that Sir Launcelot and Sir Lionel had not taken; so that, after he had gone a distance, he found that he had missed them by taking that road. Nevertheless, he went on until about the prime of the day, what time he met a forester, to whom he said: "Sirrah, saw you two knights ride this way—one knight clad in white armor with a white shield upon which was depicted the figure of a lady, and the other knight clad in red armor with the figure of a red gryphon upon his shield?" "Nay," said the forester, "I saw not such folk." Then said Sir Ector, "Is there any adventure to be found hereabouts?" Upon this the forester fell to laughing in great measure. "Yea," he said, "there is an adventure to be found hard by and it is one that many have undertaken and not one yet hath ever fulfilled." Then Sir Ector said, "Tell me what that adventure is and I will undertake it."
"Sir," said the forester, "if you will follow along yonder road for a distance you will find a very large, strong castle surrounded by a broad moat. In front of that castle is a stream of water with a fair, shallow ford, where the roadway crosses the water. Upon this side of that ford there groweth a thorn-tree, very large and sturdy, and upon it hangs a basin of brass. Strike upon that basin with the butt of your spear, and you shall presently meet with that adventure concerning which I have just now spoken." "Fellow," said Sir Ector, "grammercy for your news." And, therewith, straightway he rode off in search of that adventure.
He rode a great distance at a very fast gait and by and by he came to the top of a hill and therewith he saw before him the mouth of a fair valley. Across from where he stood was another hill not very large or high, but exceedingly steep and rocky. Upon this farther hill was builded a tall, noble castle of gray stone with many towers and spires and tall chimneys and with several score of windows, all shining bright in the clear weather. A fair river ran down into the mouth of that valley and it was as bright and as smooth as silver, and on each side of it were smooth level meadow-lands—very green—and here and there shady groves of trees and plantations of fruit-trees. And Sir Ector perceived that the road upon which he travelled crossed the aforesaid river by a shallow ford, and he wist that this must be the ford whereof the forester had spoken. So he rode down unto that ford, and when he had come nigh he perceived the thorn-tree of which the forester had told him, and he saw that a great basin of brass hung to the thorn-tree, just as the forester had said.
[Sidenote: Sir Ector smites upon the brazen basin] Then Sir Ector rode to that thorn-tree and he smote upon that basin of brass with the butt of his spear, so that the basin rang with a noise like thunder; and he smote it again and again, several times over. But though he was aware of a great commotion within that fair castle, yet no adventure befell him, although he smote the brazen basin several times.
Now, his horse being athirst, Sir Ector drove him into the ford that he might drink, and whilst he was there he was suddenly aware where, on the other side of the stream, was a singular party coming along the roadway. For first of all there rode a knight entirely clad in black, riding upon a black horse, and all the harness and furniture of that horse entirely of black. Behind him, that knight led four horses as though they were pack-horses, and across each one of those four horses was a knight in full armor, bound fast to the saddle like to a sack of grain, whereat Sir Ector was very greatly astonished.
As soon as that sable knight approached the castle, several came running forth and relieved him of those horses he led and took them into the castle, and as soon as he had been thus relieved the sable knight rode very violently up to where Sir Ector was. As soon as he had come to the water's edge he cried out: "Sir Knight, come forth from out of that water and do me battle."
"Very well," said Sir Ector, "I will do so, though it will, I think, be to thy very great discomfort."
[Sidenote: Sir Ector essays battle with the sable knight] With that he came quickly out from the ford, the water whereof was all broken and churned into foam at his passing, and straightway he cast aside his spear and drew his sword and, driving against that sable knight, he smote him such a buffet that his horse turned twice about.
"Ha," said the black knight, "that is the best blow that ever I had struck me in all of my life." Therewith he rushed upon Sir Ector, and without using a weapon of any sort he catched him about the body, underneath the arms, and dragged him clean out of his saddle, and flung him across the horn of his own saddle. Thereupon, having accomplished this marvellous feat, and with Sir Ector still across his saddle-bow, he rode up unto his castle, nor stopped until he had reached the court-yard of the keep. There he set Sir Ector down upon the stone pavement. Then he said: "Messire, thou hast done to me this day what no other knight hath ever done to me before, wherefore, if thou wilt promise to be my man from henceforth, I will let thee go free and give thee great rewards for thy services as well."
But Sir Ector was filled very full of shame, wherefore he cried out fiercely, "Rather would I lie within a prison all my life than serve so catiff a knight as thou, who darest to treat other knights as thou hast just now treated me."
"Well," said the black knight very grimly, "thou shalt have thy choice." Therewith he gave certain orders, whereupon a great many fierce fellows set upon Sir Ector and stripped him of all his armor, and immediately haled him off, half-naked, to that dungeon aforementioned.
[Sidenote: The sable knight makes prisoner of Sir Ector] There he found many knights of King Arthur's court, and several of the Round Table, all of whom he knew, and when they beheld Sir Ector flung in unto them in that fashion they lifted up their voices in great lamentation that he should have been added to their number, instead of freeing them from their dolorous and pitiable case. "Alas," said they, "there is no knight alive may free us from this dungeon, unless it be Sir Launcelot. For this Sir Turquine is, certes, the greatest knight in all the world, unless it be Sir Launcelot."
How Sir Launcelot was Found in a Sleep by Queen Morgana le Fay and Three Other Queens who were with Her, and How He was Taken to a Castle of Queen Morgana's and of What Befell Him There.
[Sidenote: Four Queens and their courts pass by where Sir Launcelot lies sleeping] So Sir Launcelot lay in deep slumber under that apple-tree, and knew neither that Sir Lionel had left him nor what ill-fortune had befallen that good knight. Whilst he lay there sleeping in that wise there came by, along the road, and at a little distance from him, a very fair procession of lordly people, making a noble parade upon the highway. The chiefest of this company were four ladies, who were four queens. With them rode four knights, and, because the day was warm, the four knights bore a canopy of green silk by the four corners upon the points of their lances in such wise as to shelter those queens from the strong heat of the sun. And those four knights rode all armed cap-a-pie on four noble war-horses, and the four queens, bedight in great estate, rode on four white mules richly caparisoned with furniture of divers colors embroidered with gold. After these lordly folk there followed a very excellent court of esquires and demoiselles to the number of a score or more; some riding upon horses and some upon mules that ambled very easily.
Now all these folk of greater or lesser degree were entirely unaware that Sir Launcelot lay sleeping so nigh to them as they rode by chattering very gayly together in the spring-time weather, taking great pleasure in the warm air, and in growing things, and the green fields, and the bright sky; and they would have had no knowledge that the knight was there, had not Sir Launcelot's horse neighed very lustily. Thereupon, they were aware of the horse, and then they were aware of Sir Launcelot where he lay asleep under the apple-tree, with his head lying upon his helmet.
Now foremost of all those queens was Queen Morgana le Fay (who was King Arthur's sister, and a potent, wicked enchantress, of whom much hath been told in the Book of King Arthur), and besides Queen Morgana there was the Queen of North Wales, and the Queen of Eastland, and the Queen of the Outer Isles.
Now when this party of queens, knights, esquires, and ladies heard the war-horse neigh, and when they beheld Sir Launcelot where he lay, they drew rein and marvelled very greatly to see a knight sleeping so soundly at that place, maugre all the noise and tumult of their passing. So Queen Morgana called to her one of the esquires who followed after them, and she said to him: "Go softly and see if thou knowest who is yonder knight; but do not wake him."
[Sidenote: An esquire knoweth Sir Launcelot] So the esquire did as she commanded; he went unto that apple-tree and he looked into Sir Launcelot's face, and by hap he knew who it was because he had been to Camelot erstwhiles and he had seen Sir Launcelot at that place. So he hastened back to Queen Morgana and he said to her: "Lady, I believe that yonder knight is none other than the great Sir Launcelot of the Lake, concerning whom there is now such report; for he is reputed to be the most powerful of all the knights of King Arthur's Round Table, and the greatest knight in the world, so that King Arthur loves him and favors him above all other knights."
Now when Queen Morgana le Fay was aware that the knight who was asleep there was Sir Launcelot, it immediately entered her mind for to lay some powerful, malignant enchantment upon him to despite King Arthur. For she too knew how dear Sir Launcelot was to King Arthur, and so she had a mind to do him mischief for King Arthur's sake. So she went softly to where Sir Launcelot lay with intent to work some such spell upon him. But when she had come to Sir Launcelot she was aware that this purpose of mischief was not possible whilst he wore that ring upon his finger which the Lady of the Lake had given him; wherefore she had to put by her evil design for a while.
[Sidenote: Queen Morgana le Fay sets a mild enchantment upon Sir Launcelot] But though she was unable to work any malign spell upon him, she was able to cause it by her magic that that sleep in which he lay should remain unbroken for three or four hours. So she made certain movements of her hands above his face and by that means she wove the threads of his slumber so closely together that he could not break through them to awake.
After she had done this she called to her several of the esquires who were of her party, and these at her command fetched the shield of Sir Launcelot and laid him upon it. Then they lifted him and bore him away, carrying him in that manner to a certain castle in the forest that was no great distance away. And the name of that castle was Chateaubras and it was one of Queen Morgana's castles.
[Sidenote: Sir Launcelot awakens in a fair chamber] And all that while Sir Launcelot wist nothing, but lay in a profound sleep, so that when he awoke and looked about him he was so greatly astonished that he knew not whether he was in a vision or whether he was awake. For whilst he had gone asleep beneath that apple-tree, here he now lay in a fair chamber upon a couch spread with a coverlet of flame-colored linen.
Then he perceived that it was a very fair room in which he lay, for it was hung all about with tapestry hangings representing fair ladies at court and knights at battle. And there were woven carpets upon the floor, and the couch whereon he lay was of carved wood, richly gilt. There were two windows to that chamber, and when he looked forth he perceived that the chamber where he was was very high from the ground, being built so loftily upon the rugged rocks at its foot that the forest lay far away beneath him like a sea of green. And he perceived that there was but one door to this chamber and that the door was bound with iron and studded with great bosses of wrought iron, and when he tried that door he found that it was locked.
So Sir Launcelot was aware from these things that he was a prisoner—though not a prisoner in a hard case—and he wist not how he had come thither nor what had happened to him.
[Sidenote: A fair damsel beareth light and food unto Sir Launcelot] Now when the twilight of the evening had fallen, a porter, huge of frame and very forbidding of aspect, came and opened the door of the chamber where Sir Launcelot lay, and when he had done so there entered a fair damsel, bearing a very good supper upon a silver tray. Moreover, she bore upon the tray three tapers of perfumed wax set in three silver candlesticks, and these gave a fair light to the entire room. But, when Sir Launcelot saw the maiden coming thus with intent to serve him, he arose and took the tray from her and set it himself upon the table; and for this civility the damsel made acknowledgement to him. Then she said to him: "Sir Knight, what cheer do you have?" "Ha, damsel," said Sir Launcelot, "I do not know how to answer you that, for I wist not what cheer to have until I know whether I be with friends or with enemies. For though this chamber wherein I lie is very fair and well-bedight, yet meseems I must have been brought here by some enchantment, and that I am a prisoner in this place; wherefore I know not what cheer to take."
[Sidenote: The damsel has pity for Sir Launcelot] Then the damsel looked upon Sir Launcelot, and she was very sorry for him. "Sir," quoth she, "I take great pity to see you in this pass, for I hear tell you are the best knight in the world and, of a surety, you are of a very noble appearance. I must tell you that this castle wherein you lie is a castle of enchantment, and they who dwell here mean you no good; wherefore I would advise you to be upon your guard against them."
"Maiden," said Sir Launcelot, "I give you grammercy for your kind words, and I will be upon my guard as you advise me."
Then the damsel would have said more, but she durst not for fear that she should be overheard and that evil should befall her, for the porter was still without the door. So in a little she went away and Sir Launcelot was left alone.
But though the damsel bade Sir Launcelot have good cheer, yet he had no very good cheer for that night, as anyone may well suppose, for he wist not what was to befall him upon the morrow.
Now when the morning had come Sir Launcelot was aware of someone at his chamber door, and when that one entered it was Queen Morgana le Fay.
[Sidenote: How Queen Morgana cometh to Sir Launcelot] She was clad in all the glory at her command, and her appearance was so shining and radiant that when she came into that room Sir Launcelot knew not whether it was a vision his eyes beheld or whether she was a creature of flesh and blood. For she came with her golden crown upon her head, and her hair, which was as red as gold, was bound around with ribbons of gold; and she was clad all in cloth of gold; and she wore golden rings with jewels upon her fingers and golden bracelets upon her arms and a golden collar around her shoulders; wherefore, when she came into the room she shone with an extraordinary splendor, as if she were a marvellous statue made all of pure gold—only that her face was very soft and beautiful, and her eyes shone exceedingly bright, and her lips, which were as red as coral, smiled, and her countenance moved and changed with all the wiles of fascination that she could cause it to assume.
When Sir Launcelot beheld her come thus gloriously into his room he rose and greeted her with a very profound salutation, for he was astonished beyond measure at beholding that shining vision. Then Queen Morgana gave him her hand, and he kneeled, and took her jewelled fingers in his and set her hand to his lips. "Welcome, Sir Launcelot!" quoth she; "welcome to this place! For it is indeed a great honor to have here so noble and famous a knight as you!"
"Ha, Lady," said Sir Launcelot, "you are gracious to me beyond measure! But I pray you tell me how I came to this place and by what means? For when I fell asleep yesterday at noon I lay beneath an apple-tree upon a hillside; and when I awoke—lo! I found myself in this fair chamber."
[Sidenote: Queen Morgana seeks to beguile Sir Launcelot] To this Queen Morgana le Fay made smiling reply as follows: "Sir, I am Queen Morgana le Fay, of whom you may have heard tell, for I am the sister of King Arthur, whose particular knight you are. Yesterday, at noon, riding with certain other queens and a small court of knights, esquires, and demoiselles, we went by where you lay sleeping. Finding you lying so, alone and without any companion, I was able, by certain arts which I possess, to lay a gentle enchantment upon you so that the sleep wherein you lay should remain unbroken for three or four hours. So we brought you to this place in hopes that you would stay with us for two or three days or more, and give us the pleasure of your company. For your fame, which is very great, hath reached even as far as this place, wherefore we have made a gentle prisoner of you for this time being."
"Lady," said Sir Launcelot, "such constraint as that would be very pleasing to me at another time. But when I fell asleep I was with my cousin, Sir Lionel, and I know not what hath become of him, and haply he will not know what hath become of me should he seek me. Now I pray you let me go forth and find my cousin, and when I have done so I will return to you again at this place with an easy spirit."