Part 2 out of 5
sword, or else the damsel's head who brought it, or else both; for the
knight slew my brother, and the lady caused my father's death."
"Truly," said King Arthur, "I cannot grant thee this desire; it were
against my nature and against my name; but ask whatever else thou wilt,
and I will do it."
"I will demand no other thing," said she.
And as she spake came Balin, on his way to leave the court, and saw her
where she stood, and knew her straightway for his mother's murderess, whom
he had sought in vain three years. And when they told him that she had
asked King Arthur for his head, he went up straight to her and said, "May
evil have thee! Thou desirest my head, therefore shalt thou lose thine;"
and with his sword he lightly smote her head off, in the presence of the
king and all the court.
"Alas, for shame!" cried out King Arthur, rising up in wrath; "why hast
thou done this, shaming both me and my court? I am beholden greatly to
this lady, and under my safe conduct came she here; thy deed is passing
shameful; never shall I forgive thy villainy."
"Lord," cried Sir Balin, "hear me; this lady was the falsest living, and
by her witchcraft hath destroyed many, and caused my mother also to be
burnt to death by her false arts and treachery."
"What cause soever thou mightest have had," said the king, "thou shouldst
have forborne her in my presence. Deceive not thyself, thou shalt repent
this sin, for such a shame was never brought upon my court; depart now
from my face with all the haste thou mayest."
Then Balin took up the head of the lady and carried it to his lodgings,
and rode forth with his squire from out the town. Then said he, "Now must
we part; take ye this head and bear it to my friends in Northumberland,
and tell them how I speed, and that our worst foe is dead; also tell them
that I am free from prison, and of the adventure of my sword."
"Alas!" said the squire, "ye are greatly to blame to have so displeased
"As for that," said Sir Balin, "I go now to find King Ryence, and destroy
him or lose my life; for should I take him prisoner, and lead him to the
court, perchance King Arthur would forgive me, and become my good and
"Where shall I meet thee again?" said the squire.
"In King Arthur's court," said Balin.
_Sir Balin Smites the Dolorous Stroke, and Fights with his Brother, Sir
Now there was a knight at the court more envious than the others of Sir
Balin, for he counted himself one of the best knights in Britain. His name
was Lancear; and going to the king, he begged leave to follow after Sir
Balin and avenge the insult he had put upon the court. "Do thy best,"
replied the king, "for I am passing wroth with Balin."
In the meantime came Merlin, and was told of this adventure of the sword
and lady of the lake.
"Now hear me," said he, "when I tell ye that this lady who hath brought
the sword is the falsest damsel living."
"Say not so," they answered, "for she hath a brother a good knight, who
slew another knight this damsel loved; so she, to be revenged upon her
brother, went to the Lady Lile, of Avilion, and besought her help. Then
Lady Lile gave her the sword, and told her that no man should draw it
forth but one, a valiant knight and strong, who should avenge her on her
brother. This, therefore, was the reason why the damsel came here." "I
know it all as well as ye do," answered Merlin; "and would to God she had
never come hither, for never came she into any company but to do harm; and
that good knight who hath achieved the sword shall be himself slain by it,
which shall be great harm and loss, for a better knight there liveth not;
and he shall do unto my lord the king great honour and service."
Then Sir Lancear, having armed himself at all points, mounted, and rode
after Sir Balin, as fast as he could go, and overtaking him, he cried
aloud, "Abide, Sir knight! wait yet awhile, or I shall make thee do so."
Hearing him cry, Sir Balin fiercely turned his horse, and said, "Fair
knight, what wilt thou with me? wilt thou joust?"
"Yea," said Sir Lancear, "it is for that I have pursued thee."
"Peradventure," answered Balin, "thou hadst best have staid at home, for
many a man who thinketh himself already victor, endeth by his own
downfall. Of what court art thou?"
"Of King Arthur's court," cried Lancear, "and I am come to revenge the
insult thou hast put on it this day."
"Well," said Sir Balin, "I see that I must fight thee, and I repent to be
obliged to grieve King Arthur or his knights; and thy quarrel seemeth full
foolish to me, for the damsel that is dead worked endless evils through
the land, or else I had been loath as any knight that liveth to have slain
"Make thee ready," shouted Lancear, "for one of us shall rest for ever in
But at their first encounter Sir Lancear's spear flew into splinters from
Sir Balin's shield, and Sir Balin's lance pierced with such might through
Sir Lancear's shield that it rove the hauberk also, and passed through the
knight's body and the horse's crupper. And Sir Balin turning fiercely
round again, drew out his sword, and knew not that he had already slain
him; and then he saw him lie a corpse upon the ground.
At that same moment came a damsel riding towards him as fast as her horse
could gallop, who, when she saw Sir Lancear dead, wept and sorrowed out of
measure, crying, "O, Sir Balin, two bodies hast thou slain, and one heart;
and two hearts in one body; and two souls also hast thou lost."
Therewith she took the sword from her dead lover's side--for she was Sir
Lancear's lady-love--and setting the pommel of it on the ground, ran
herself through the body with the blade.
When Sir Balin saw her dead he was sorely hurt and grieved in spirit, and
repented the death of Lancear, which had also caused so fair a lady's
death. And being unable to look on their bodies for sorrow, he turned
aside into a forest, where presently as he rode, he saw the arms of his
brother, Sir Balan. And when they were met they put off their helms, and
embraced each other, kissing, and weeping for joy and pity. Then Sir Balin
told Sir Balan all his late adventures, and that he was on his way to King
Ryence, who at that time was besieging Castle Terrabil. "I will be with
thee," answered Sir Balan, "and we will help each other, as brethren ought
Anon by chance, as they were talking, came King Mark, of Cornwall, by that
way, and when he saw the two dead bodies of Sir Lancear and his lady lying
there, and heard the story of their death, he vowed to build a tomb to
them before he left that place. So pitching his pavilion there, he sought
through all the country round to find a monument, and found at last a rich
and fair one in a church, which he took and raised above the dead knight
and his damsel, writing on it--"Here lieth Lancear, son of the King of
Ireland, who, at his own request, was slain by Balin; and here beside him
also lieth his lady Colombe, who slew herself with her lover's sword for
grief and sorrow."
Then as Sir Balin and Sir Balan rode away, Merlin met with them, and said
to Balin, "Thou hast done thyself great harm not to have saved that lady's
life who slew herself; and because of it, thou shalt strike the most
Dolorous Stroke that ever man struck, save he that smote our Lord. For
thou shalt smite the truest and most worshipful of living knights, who
shall not be recovered from his wounds for many years, and through that
stroke three kingdoms shall be overwhelmed in poverty and misery."
"If I believed," said Balin, "what thou sayest, I would slay myself to
make thee a liar."
At that Merlin vanished suddenly away; but afterwards he met them in
disguise towards night, and told them he could lead them to King Ryence,
whom they sought. "For this night he is to ride with sixty lances only
through a wood hard by."
So Sir Balin and Sir Balan hid themselves within the wood, and at midnight
came out from their ambush among the leaves by the highway, and waited for
the king, whom presently they heard approaching with his company. Then did
they suddenly leap forth and smote at him and overthrew him and laid him
on the ground, and turning on his company wounded and slew forty of them,
and put the rest to flight. And returning to King Ryence they would have
slain him there, but he craved mercy, and yielded to their grace, crying,
"Knights full of prowess, slay me not; for by my life ye may win
something--but my death can avail ye nought."
"Ye say truth," said the two knights, and put him in a horse-litter, and
went swiftly through all the night, till at cock-crow they came to King
Arthur's palace. There they delivered him to the warders and porters, to
be brought before the king, with this message--"That he was sent to King
Arthur by the knight of the two swords (for so was Balin known by name,
since his adventure with the damsel) and by his brother." And so they rode
away again ere sunrise.
Within a month or two thereafter, King Arthur being somewhat sick, went
forth outside the town, and had his pavilion pitched in a meadow, and
there abode, and laid him down on a pallet to sleep, but could get no
rest. And as he lay he heard the sound of a great horse, and looking out
of the tent door, saw a knight ride by, making great lamentation.
"Abide, fair sir," said King Arthur, "and tell me wherefore thou makest
"Ye may little amend it," said the knight, and so passed on.
Presently after Sir Balin, rode, by chance, past that meadow, and when he
saw the king he alighted and came to him on foot, and kneeled and saluted
"By my head," said King Arthur, "ye be welcome, Sir Balin;" and then he
thanked him heartily for revenging him upon King Ryence, and for sending
him so speedily a prisoner to his castle, and told him how King Nero,
Ryence's brother, had attacked him afterwards to deliver Ryence from
prison; and how he had defeated him and slain him, and also King Lot, of
Orkney who was joined with Nero, and whom King Pellinore had killed in the
battle. Then when they had thus talked, King Arthur told Sir Balin of the
sullen knight that had just passed his tent, and desired him to pursue him
and to bring him back.
So Sir Balin rode and overtook the knight in a forest with a damsel, and
said, "Sir knight, thou must come back with me unto my lord, King Arthur,
to tell him the cause of thy sorrow, which thou hast refused even now to
"That will I not," replied the knight, "for it would harm me much, and do
him no advantage."
"Sir," said Sir Balin, "I pray thee make ready, for thou must needs go
with me--or else I must fight with thee and take thee by force."
"Wilt thou be warrant for safe conduct, if I go with thee?" inquired the
"Yea, surely," answered Balin, "I will die else."
So the knight made ready to go with Sir Balin, and left the damsel in the
But as they went, there came one invisible, and smote the knight through
the body with a spear. "Alas," cried Sir Herleus (for so was he named), "I
am slain under thy guard and conduct, by that traitor knight called
Garlon, who through magic and witchcraft rideth invisibly. Take,
therefore, my horse, which is better than thine, and ride to the damsel
whom we left, and the quest I had in hand, as she will lead thee--and
revenge my death when thou best mayest."
"That will I do," said Sir Balin, "by my knighthood, and so I swear to
Then went Sir Balin to the damsel, and rode forth with her; she carrying
ever with her the truncheon of the spear wherewith Sir Herleus had been
slain. And as they went, a good knight, Perin de Mountbelgard, joined
their company, and vowed to take adventure with them wheresoever they
might go. But presently as they passed a hermitage fast by a churchyard,
came the knight Garlon, again invisible, and smote Sir Perin through the
body with a spear, and slew him as he had slain Sir Herleus. Whereat, Sir
Balin greatly raged, and swore to have Sir Garlon's life, whenever next he
might encounter and behold him in his bodily shape. Anon, he and the
hermit buried the good knight Sir Perin, and rode on with the damsel till
they came to a great castle, whereinto they were about to enter. But when
Sir Balin had passed through the gateway, the portcullis fell behind him
suddenly, leaving the damsel on the outer side, with men around her,
drawing their swords as if to slay her.
When he saw that, Sir Balin climbed with eager haste by wall and tower,
and leaped into the castle moat, and rushed towards the damsel and her
enemies, with his sword drawn, to fight and slay them. But they cried out,
"Put up thy sword, Sir knight, we will not fight thee in this quarrel, for
we do nothing but an ancient custom of this castle."
Then they told him that the lady of the castle was sick, and had lain ill
for many years, and might never more be cured, unless she had a silver
dish full of the blood of a pure maid and a king's daughter. Wherefore the
custom of the castle was, that never should a damsel pass that way but she
must give a dish full of her blood. Then Sir Balin suffered them to bleed
the damsel with her own consent, but her blood helped not the lady of the
castle. So on the morrow they departed, after right good cheer and rest.
Then they rode three or four days without adventure and came at last to
the abode of a rich man, who sumptuously lodged and fed them. And while
they sat at supper Sir Balin heard a voice of some one groaning
grievously. "What noise is this?" said he.
"Forsooth," said the host, "I will tell you. I was lately at a tournament,
and there I fought a knight who is brother to King Pelles, and overthrew
him twice, for which he swore to be revenged on me through my best friend,
and so he wounded my son, who cannot be recovered till I have that
knight's blood, but he rideth through witchcraft always invisibly, and I
know not his name."
"Ah," said Sir Balin, "but I know him; his name is Garlon, and he hath
slain two knights, companions of mine own, in the same fashion, and I
would rather than all the riches in this realm that I might meet him face
"Well," said his host, "let me now tell thee that King Pelles hath
proclaimed in all the country a great festival, to be held at Listeniss,
in twenty days from now, whereto no knight may come without a lady. At
that great feast we might perchance find out this Garlon, for many will be
there; and if it please thee we will set forth together."
So on the morrow they rode all three towards Listeniss, and travelled
fifteen days, and reached it on the day the feast began. Then they
alighted and stabled their horses, and went up to the castle, and Sir
Balin's host was denied entrance, having no lady with him. But Sir Balin
was right heartily received, and taken to a chamber, where they unarmed
him, and dressed him in rich robes, of any colour that he chose, and told
him he must lay aside his sword. This, however, he refused, and said, "It
is the custom of my country for a knight to keep his sword ever with him;
and if I may not keep it here, I will forthwith depart." Then they gave
him leave to wear his sword. So he went to the great hall, and was set
among knights of rank and worship, and his lady before him.
Soon he found means to ask one who sat near him, "Is there not here a
knight whose name is Garlon?"
"Yonder he goeth," said his neighbour, "he with that black face; he is the
most marvellous knight alive, for he rideth invisibly, and destroyeth whom
"Ah, well," said Balin, drawing a long breath, "is that indeed the man? I
have aforetime heard of him."
Then he mused long within himself, and thought, "If I shall slay him here
and now, I shall not escape myself; but if I leave him, peradventure I
shall never meet with him again at such advantage; and if he live, how
much more harm and mischief will he do!"
But while he deeply thought, and cast his eyes from time to time upon Sir
Garlon, that false knight saw that he watched him, and thinking that he
could at such a time escape revenge, he came and smote Sir Balin on the
face with the back of his hand, and said, "Knight, why dost thou so watch
me? be ashamed, and eat thy meat, and do that which thou camest for."
"Thou sayest well," cried Sir Balin, rising fiercely; "now will I
straightway do that which I came to do, as thou shalt find." With that he
whirled his sword aloft and struck him downright on the head, and clove
his skull asunder to the shoulder.
"Give me the truncheon," cried out Sir Balin to his lady, "wherewith he
slew thy knight." And when she gave it him--for she had always carried it
about with her, wherever she had gone--he smote him through the body with
it, and said, "With that truncheon didst thou treacherously murder a good
knight, and now it sticketh in thy felon body."
Then he called to the father of the wounded son, who had come with him to
Listeniss, and said, "Now take as much blood as thou wilt, to heal thy son
But now arose a terrible confusion, and all the knights leaped from the
table to slay Balin, King Pelles himself the foremost, who cried out,
"Knight, thou hast slain my brother at my board; die, therefore, die, for
thou shalt never leave this castle."
"Slay me, thyself, then," shouted Balin.
"Yea," said the king, "that will I! for no other man shall touch thee, for
the love I bear my brother."
Then King Pelles caught in his hand a grim weapon and smote eagerly at
Balin, but Balin put his sword between his head and the king's stroke, and
saved himself but lost his sword, which fell down smashed and shivered
into pieces by the blow. So being weaponless he ran to the next room to
find a sword, and so from room to room, with King Pelles after him, he in
vain ever eagerly casting his eyes round every place to find some weapon.
At last he ran into a chamber wondrous richly decked, where was a bed all
dressed with cloth of gold, the richest that could be thought of, and one
who lay quite still within the bed; and by the bedside stood a table of
pure gold borne on four silver pillars, and on the table stood a
marvellous spear, strangely wrought.
When Sir Balin saw the spear he seized it in his hand, and turned upon
King Pelles, and smote at him so fiercely and so sore that he dropped
swooning to the ground.
But at that Dolorous and awful Stroke the castle rocked and rove
throughout, and all the walls fell crashed and breaking to the earth, and
Balin himself fell also in their midst, struck as it were to stone, and
powerless to move a hand or foot. And so three days he lay amidst the
ruins, until Merlin came and raised him up and brought him a good horse,
and bade him ride out of that land as swiftly as he could.
[Illustration: The castle rocked and rove throughout, and all the walls
fell crashed and breaking to the earth.]
"May I not take the damsel with me I brought hither?" said Sir Balin.
"Lo! where she lieth dead," said Merlin. "Ah, little knowest thou, Sir
Balin, what thou hast done; for in this castle and that chamber which thou
didst defile, was the blood of our Lord Christ! and also that most holy
cup--the Sangreal--wherefrom the wine was drunk at the last supper of our
Lord. Joseph of Arimathea brought it to this land, when first he came here
to convert and save it. And on that bed of gold it was himself who lay,
and the strange spear beside him was the spear wherewith the soldier
Longus smote our Lord, which evermore had dripped with blood. King Pelles
is the nearest kin to Joseph in direct descent, wherefore he held these
holy things in trust; but now have they all gone at thy dolorous stroke,
no man knoweth whither; and great is the damage to this land, which until
now hath been the happiest of all lands, for by that stroke thou hast
slain thousands, and by the loss and parting of the Sangreal the safety of
this realm is put in peril, and its great happiness is gone for evermore."
Then Balin departed from Merlin, struck to his soul with grief and sorrow,
and said, "In this world shall we meet never more."
So he rode forth through the fair cities and the country, and found the
people lying dead on every side. And all the living cried out on him as he
passed, "O Balin, all this misery hast thou done! For the dolorous stroke
thou gavest King Pelles, three countries are destroyed, and doubt not but
revenge will fall on thee at last!"
When he had passed the boundary of those countries, he was somewhat
comforted, and rode eight days without adventure. Anon he came to a cross,
whereon was written in letters of gold, "It is not for a knight alone to
ride towards this castle." Looking up, he saw a hoary ancient man come
towards him, who said, "Sir Balin le Savage, thou passest thy bounds this
way; therefore turn back again, it will be best for thee;" and with these
words he vanished.
Then did he hear a horn blow as it were the deathnote of some hunted
beast. "That blast," said Balin, "is blown for me, for I am the prey;
though yet I be not dead." But as he spoke he saw a hundred ladies with a
great troop of knights come forth to meet him, with bright faces and
great welcome, who led him to the castle and made a great feast, with
dancing and minstrelsy and all manner of joy.
Then the chief lady of the castle said, "Knight with the two swords, thou
must encounter and fight with a knight hard by, who dwelleth on an island,
for no man may pass this way without encountering him."
"It is a grievous custom," answered Sir Balin.
"There is but one knight to defeat," replied the lady.
"Well," said Sir Balin, "be it as thou wilt. I am ready and quite willing,
and though my horse and my body be full weary, yet is my heart not weary,
save of life. And truly I were glad if I might meet my death."
"Sir," said one standing by, "methinketh your shield is not good; I will
lend you a bigger."
"I thank thee, sir," said Balin, and took the unknown shield and left his
own, and so rode forth, and put himself and horse into a boat and came to
As soon as he had landed, he saw come riding towards him, a knight dressed
all in red, upon a horse trapped in the same colour. When the red knight
saw Sir Balin, and the two swords he wore, he thought it must have been
his brother (for the red knight was Sir Balan), but when he saw the
strange arms on his shield, he forgot the thought, and came against him
fiercely. At the first course they overthrew each other, and both lay
swooning on the ground; but Sir Balin was the most hurt and bruised, for
he was weary and spent with travelling. So Sir Balan rose up first to his
feet and drew his sword, and Sir Balin painfully rose against him and
raised his shield.
Then Sir Balan smote him through the shield and brake his helmet; and Sir
Balin, in return, smote at him with his fated sword, and had wellnigh
slain his brother. So they fought till their breaths failed.
Then Sir Balin, looking up, saw all the castle towers stand full of
ladies. So they went again to battle, and wounded each other full sore,
and paused, and breathed again, and then again began the fight; and this
for many times they did, till all the ground was red with blood. And by
now, each had full grievously wounded the other with seven great wounds,
the least of which might have destroyed the mightiest giant in the world.
But still they rose against each other, although their hauberks now were
all unnailed, and they smiting at each other's naked bodies with their
sharp swords. At the last, Sir Balan, the younger brother, withdrew a
little space and laid him down.
Then said Sir Balin le Savage, "What knight art thou? for never before
have I found a knight to match me thus."
"My name," said he, all faintly, "is Balan, brother to the good knight Sir
"Ah, God!" cried Balin, "that ever I should see this day!" and therewith
fell down backwards in a swoon.
Then Sir Balan crept with pain upon his feet and hands, and put his
brother's helmet off his head, but could not know him by his face, it was
so hewed and bloody. But presently, when Sir Balin came to, he said, "Oh!
Balan, mine own brother, thou hast slain me, and I thee! All the wide
world saw never greater grief!"
"Alas!" said Sir Balan, "that I ever saw this day; and through mishap
alone I knew thee not, for when I saw thy two swords, if it had not been
for thy strange shield, I should have known thee for my brother."
"Alas!" said Balin, "all this sorrow lieth at the door of one unhappy
knight within the castle, who made me change my shield. If I might live, I
would destroy that castle and its evil customs."
"It were well done," said Balan, "for since I first came hither I have
never been able to depart, for here they made me fight with one who kept
this island, whom I slew, and by enchantment I might never quit it more;
nor couldst thou, brother, hadst thou slain me, and escaped with thine own
Anon came the lady of the castle, and when she heard their talk, and saw
their evil case, she wrung her hands and wept bitterly. So Sir Balan
prayed the lady of her gentleness that, for his true service, she would
bury them both together in that place. This she granted, weeping full
sore, and said it should be done right solemnly and richly, and in the
noblest manner possible. Then did they send for a priest, and received the
holy sacrament at his hands. And Balin said, "Write over us upon our tomb,
that here two brethren slew each other; then shall never good knight or
pilgrim pass this way but he will pray for both our souls." And anon Sir
Balan died, but Sir Balin died not till the midnight after; and then they
both were buried.
On the morrow of their death came Merlin, and took Sir Balin's sword and
fixed on it a new pommel, and set it in a mighty stone, which then, by
magic, he made float upon the water. And so, for many years, it floated to
and fro around the island, till it swam down the river to Camelot, where
young Sir Galahad achieved it, as shall be told hereafter.
_The Marriage of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, and the Founding of the
Round Table--The Adventure of the Hart and Hound_
It befell upon a certain day, that King Arthur said to Merlin, "My lords
and knights do daily pray me now to take a wife; but I will have none
without thy counsel, for thou hast ever helped me since I came first to
"It is well," said Merlin, "that thou shouldst take a wife, for no man of
bounteous and noble nature should live without one; but is there any lady
whom thou lovest better than another?"
"Yea," said King Arthur, "I love Guinevere, the daughter of King
Leodegrance, of Camelgard, who also holdeth in his house the Round Table
that he had from my father Uther; and as I think, that damsel is the
gentlest and the fairest lady living."
"Sir," answered Merlin, "as for her beauty, she is one of the fairest that
do live; but if ye had not loved her as ye do, I would fain have had ye
choose some other who was both fair and good. But where a man's heart is
set, he will be loath to leave." This Merlin said, knowing the misery
that should hereafter happen from this marriage.
Then King Arthur sent word to King Leodegrance that he mightily desired to
wed his daughter, and how that he had loved her since he saw her first,
when with Kings Ban and Bors he rescued Leodegrance from King Ryence of
When King Leodegrance heard the message, he cried out "These be the best
tidings I have heard in all my life--so great and worshipful a prince to
seek my daughter for his wife! I would fain give him half my lands with
her straightway, but that he needeth none--and better will it please him
that I send him the Round Table of King Uther, his father, with a hundred
good knights towards the furnishing of it with guests, for he will soon
find means to gather more, and make the table full."
Then King Leodegrance delivered his daughter Guinevere to the messengers
of King Arthur, and also the Round Table with the hundred knights.
So they rode royally and freshly, sometimes by water and sometimes by
land, towards Camelot. And as they rode along in the spring weather, they
made full many sports and pastimes. And, in all those sports and games, a
young knight lately come to Arthur's court, Sir Lancelot by name, was
passing strong, and won praise from all, being full of grace and
hardihood; and Guinevere also ever looked on him with joy. And always in
the eventide, when the tents were set beside some stream or forest, many
minstrels came and sang before the knights and ladies as they sat in the
tent-doors, and many knights would tell adventures; and still Sir Lancelot
was foremost, and told the knightliest tales, and sang the goodliest
songs, of all the company.
And when they came to Camelot, King Arthur made great joy, and all the
city with him; and riding forth with a great retinue he met Guinevere and
her company, and led her through the streets all filled with people, and
in the midst of all their shoutings and the ringing of church bells, to a
palace hard by his own.
Then, in all haste, the king commanded to prepare the marriage and the
coronation with the stateliest and most honourable pomp that could be
made. And when the day was come, the archbishops led the king to the
cathedral, whereto he walked, clad in his royal robes, and having four
kings, bearing four golden swords, before him; a choir of passing sweet
music going also with him.
In another part, was the queen dressed in her richest ornaments, and led
by archbishops and bishops to the Chapel of the Virgins, the four queens
also of the four kings last mentioned walked before her, bearing four
white doves, according to ancient custom; and after her there followed
many damsels, singing and making every sign of joy.
And when the two processions were come to the churches, so wondrous was
the music and the singing, that all the knights and barons who were there
pressed on each other, as in the crowd of battle, to hear and see the most
When the king was crowned, he called together all the knights that came
with the Round Table from Camelgard, and twenty-eight others, great and
valiant men, chosen by Merlin out of all the realm, towards making up the
full number of the table. Then the Archbishop of Canterbury blessed the
seats of all the knights, and when they rose again therefrom to pay their
homage to King Arthur there was found upon the back of each knight's seat
his name, written in letters of gold. But upon one seat was found written,
"This is the Siege Perilous, wherein if any man shall sit save him whom
Heaven hath chosen, he shall be devoured by fire."
Anon came young Gawain, the king's nephew, praying to be made a knight,
whom the king knighted then and there. Soon after came a poor man, leading
with him a tall fair lad of eighteen years of age, riding on a lean mare.
And falling at the king's feet, the poor man said, "Lord, it was told me,
that at this time of thy marriage thou wouldst give to any man the gift he
asked for, so it were not unreasonable."
"That is the truth," replied King Arthur, "and I will make it good."
"Thou sayest graciously and nobly," said the poor man. "Lord, I ask
nothing else but that thou wilt make my son here a knight."
"It is a great thing that thou askest," said the king. "What is thy name?"
"Aries, the cowherd," answered he.
"Cometh this prayer from thee or from thy son?" inquired King Arthur.
"Nay, lord, not from myself," said he, "but from him only, for I have
thirteen other sons, and all of them will fall to any labour that I put
them to. But this one will do no such work for anything that I or my wife
may do, but is for ever shooting or fighting, and running to see knights
and joustings, and torments me both night and day that he be made a
"What is thy name?" said the king to the young man.
"My name is Tor," said he.
Then the king, looking at him steadfastly, was well pleased with his face
and figure, and with his look of nobleness and strength.
"Fetch all thy other sons before me," said the king to Aries. But when he
brought them, none of them resembled Tor in size or shape or feature.
Then the king knighted Tor, saying, "Be thou to thy life's end a good
knight and a true, as I pray God thou mayest be; and if thou provest
worthy, and of prowess, one day thou shall be counted in the Round Table."
Then turning to Merlin, Arthur said, "Prophesy now, O Merlin, shall Sir
Tor become a worthy knight, or not?"
"Yea, lord," said Merlin, "so he ought to be, for he is the son of that
King Pellinore whom thou hast met, and proved to be one of the best
knights living. He is no cowherd's son."
Presently after came in King Pellinore, and when he saw Sir Tor he knew
him for his son, and was more pleased than words can tell to find him
knighted by the king. And Pellinore did homage to King Arthur, and was
gladly and graciously accepted of the king; and then was led by Merlin to
a high seat at the Table Round, near to the Perilous Seat.
But Sir Gawain was full of anger at the honour done King Pellinore, and
said to his brother Gaheris, "He slew our father, King Lot, therefore will
I slay him."
"Do it not yet," said he; "wait till I also be a knight, then will I help
ye in it: it is best ye suffer him to go at this time, and not trouble
this high feast with bloodshed."
"As ye will, be it," said Sir Gawain.
Then rose the king and spake to all the Table Round, and charged them to
be ever true and noble knights, to do neither outrage nor murder, nor any
unjust violence, and always to flee treason; also by no means ever to be
cruel, but give mercy unto him that asked for mercy, upon pain of
forfeiting the liberty of his court for evermore. Moreover, at all times,
on pain of death, to give all succour unto ladies and young damsels; and
lastly, never to take part in any wrongful quarrel, for reward or payment.
And to all this he swore them knight by knight.
Then he ordained that, every year at Pentecost, they should all come
before him, wheresoever he might appoint a place, and give account of all
their doings and adventures of the past twelvemonth. And so, with prayer
and blessing, and high words of cheer, he instituted the most noble order
of the Round Table, whereto the best and bravest knights in all the world
sought afterwards to find admission.
Then was the high feast made ready, and the king and queen sat side by
side, before the whole assembly; and great and royal was the banquet and
And as they sat, each man in his place, Merlin went round and said, "Sit
still awhile, for ye shall see a strange and marvellous adventure."
So as they sat, there suddenly came running through the hall, a white
hart, with a white hound next after him, and thirty couple of black
running hounds, making full cry; and the hart made circuit of the Table
Round, and past the other tables; and suddenly the white hound flew upon
him and bit him fiercely, and tore out a piece from his haunch. Whereat
the hart sprang suddenly with a great leap, and overthrew a knight sitting
at the table, who rose forthwith, and, taking up the hound, mounted, and
rode fast away.
But no sooner had he left, than there came in a lady, mounted on a white
palfrey, who cried out to the king, "Lord, suffer me not to have this
injury!--the hound is mine which that knight taketh." And as she spake, a
knight rode in all armed, on a great horse, and suddenly took up the lady
and rode away with her by force, although she greatly cried and moaned.
Then the king desired Sir Gawain, Sir Tor, and King Pellinore to mount and
follow this adventure to the uttermost; and told Sir Gawain to bring back
the hart, Sir Tor the hound and knight, and King Pellinore the knight and
So Sir Gawain rode forth at a swift pace, and with him Gaheris, his
brother, for a squire. And as they went, they saw two knights fighting on
horseback, and when they reached them they divided them and asked the
reason of their quarrel. "We fight for a foolish matter," one replied,
"for we be brethren; but there came by a white hart this way, chased by
many hounds, and thinking it was an adventure for the high feast of King
Arthur, I would have followed it to have gained worship; whereat my
younger brother here declared he was the better knight and would go after
it instead, and so we fight to prove which of us be the better knight."
"This is a foolish thing," said Sir Gawain. "Fight with all strangers, if
ye will, but not brother with brother. Take my advice, set on against me,
and if ye yield to me, as I shall do my best to make ye, ye shall go to
King Arthur and yield ye to his grace."
"Sir knight," replied the brothers, "we are weary, and will do thy wish
without encountering thee; but by whom shall we tell the king that we were
"By the knight that followeth the quest of the white hart," said Sir
Gawain. "And now tell me your names, and let us part."
"Sorlous and Brian of the Forest," they replied; and so they went their
way to the king's court.
Then Sir Gawain, still following his quest by the distant baying of the
hounds, came to a great river, and saw the hart swimming over and near to
the further bank. And as he was about to plunge in and swim after, he saw
a knight upon the other side, who cried, "Come not over here, Sir knight,
after that hart, save thou wilt joust with me."
"I will not fail for that," said Sir Gawain; and swam his horse across the
Anon they got their spears, and ran against each other fiercely; and Sir
Gawain smote the stranger off his horse, and turning, bade him yield.
"Nay," replied he, "not so; for though ye have the better of me on
horseback, I pray thee, valiant knight, alight, and let us match together
with our swords on foot."
"What is thy name?" quoth Gawain.
"Allardin of the Isles," replied the stranger.
Then they fell on each other; but soon Sir Gawain struck him through the
helm, so deeply and so hard, that all his brains were scattered, and Sir
Allardin fell dead. "Ah," said Gaheris, "that was a mighty stroke for a
Then did they turn again to follow the white hart, and let slip three
couple of greyhounds after him; and at the last they chased him to a
castle, and there they overtook and slew him, in the chief courtyard.
At that there rushed a knight forth from a chamber, with a drawn sword in
his hand, and slew two of the hounds before their eyes, and chased the
others from the castle, crying, "Oh, my white hart! alas, that thou art
dead! for thee my sovereign lady gave to me, and evil have I kept thee;
but if I live, thy death shall be dear bought." Anon he went within and
armed, and came out fiercely, and met Sir Gawain face to face.
"Why have ye slain my hounds?" said Sir Gawain; "they did but after their
nature: and ye had better have taken vengeance on me than on the poor dumb
"I will avenge me on thee, also," said the other, "ere thou depart this
Then did they fight with each other savagely and madly, till the blood ran
down to their feet. But at last Sir Gawain had the better, and felled the
knight of the castle to the ground. Then he cried out for mercy, and
yielded to Sir Gawain, and besought him as he was a knight and gentleman
to save his life. "Thou shalt die," said Sir Gawain, "for slaying my
"I will make thee all amends within my power," replied the knight.
But Sir Gawain would have no mercy, and unlaced his helm to strike his
head off; and so blind was he with rage, that he saw not where a lady ran
out from her chamber and fell down upon his enemy. And making a fierce
blow at him, he smote off by mischance the lady's head.
"Alas!" cried Gaheris, "foully and shamefully have ye done--the shame
shall never leave ye! Why give ye not your mercy unto them that ask it? a
knight without mercy is without worship also."
Then Sir Gawain was sore amazed at that fair lady's death, and knew not
what to do, and said to the fallen knight, "Arise, for I will give thee
"Nay, nay," said he, "I care not for thy mercy now, for thou hast slain my
lady and my love--that of all earthly things I loved the best."
"I repent me sorely of it," said Sir Gawain, "for I meant to have struck
thee: but now shalt thou go to King Arthur and tell him this adventure,
and how thou hast been overcome by the knight that followeth the quest of
the white hart."
"I care not whether I live or die, or where I go," replied the knight.
So Sir Gawain sent him to the court to Camelot, making him bear one dead
greyhound before and one behind him on his horse. "Tell me thy name before
we part," said he.
"My name is Athmore of the Marsh," he answered.
Then went Sir Gawain into the castle, and prepared to sleep there and
began to unarm; but Gaheris upbraided him, saying, "Will ye disarm in this
strange country? bethink ye, ye must needs have many enemies about."
No sooner had he spoken than there came out suddenly four knights, well
armed, and assailed them hard, saying to Sir Gawain, "Thou new-made
knight, how hast thou shamed thy knighthood! a knight without mercy is
dishonoured! Slayer of fair ladies, shame to thee evermore! Doubt not thou
shalt thyself have need of mercy ere we leave thee."
Then were the brothers in great jeopardy, and feared for their lives, for
they were but two to four, and weary with travelling; and one of the four
knights shot Sir Gawain with a bolt, and hit him through the arm, so that
he could fight no more. But when there was nothing left for them but
death, there came four ladies forth and prayed the four knights' mercy for
the strangers. So they gave Sir Gawain and Gaheris their lives, and made
them yield themselves prisoners.
On the morrow, came one of the ladies to Sir Gawain, and talked with him,
saying, "Sir knight, what cheer?"
"Not good," said he.
"It is your own default, sir," said the lady, "for ye have done a passing
foul deed in slaying that fair damsel yesterday--and ever shall it be
great shame to you. But ye be not of King Arthur's kin."
"Yea, truly am I," said he; "my name is Gawain, son of King Lot of Orkney,
whom King Pellinore slew--and my mother, Belisent, is half-sister to the
When the lady heard that, she went and presently got leave for him to quit
the castle; and they gave him the head of the white hart to take with him,
because it was in his quest; but made him also carry the dead lady with
him--her head hung round his neck and her body lay before him on his
So in that fashion he rode back to Camelot; and when the king and queen
saw him, and heard tell of his adventures, they were heavily displeased,
and, by the order of the queen, he was put upon his trial before a court
of ladies--who judged him to be evermore, for all his life, the knight of
ladies' quarrels, and to fight always on their side, and never against
any, except he fought for one lady and his adversary for another; also
they charged him never to refuse mercy to him that asked it, and swore him
to it on the Holy Gospels. Thus ended the adventure of the white hart.
Meanwhile, Sir Tor had made him ready, and followed the knight who rode
away with the hound. And as he went, there suddenly met him in the road a
dwarf, who struck his horse so viciously upon the head with a great staff,
that he leaped backwards a spear's length.
"Wherefore so smitest thou my horse, foul dwarf?" shouted Sir Tor.
"Because thou shall not pass this way," replied the dwarf, "unless thou
fight for it with yonder knights in those pavilions," pointing to two
tents, where two great spears stood out, and two shields hung upon two
trees hard by.
"I may not tarry, for I am on a quest I needs must follow," said Sir Tor.
"Thou shalt not pass," replied the dwarf, and therewith blew his horn.
Then rode out quickly at Sir Tor one armed on horseback, but Sir Tor was
quick as he, and riding at him bore him from his horse, and made him
yield. Directly after came another still more fiercely, but with a few
great strokes and buffets Sir Tor unhorsed him also, and sent them both to
Camelot to King Arthur. Then came the dwarf and begged Sir Tor to take
him in his service, "for," said he, "I will serve no more recreant
"Take then a horse, and come with me," said Tor.
"Ride ye after the knight with the white hound?" said the dwarf; "I can
soon bring ye where he is."
So they rode through the forest till they came to two more tents. And Sir
Tor alighting, went into the first, and saw three damsels lie there,
sleeping. Then went he to the other, and found another lady also sleeping,
and at her feet the white hound he sought for, which instantly began to
bay and bark so loudly, that the lady woke. But Sir Tor had seized the
hound and given it to the dwarfs charge.
"What will ye do, Sir knight?" cried out the lady; "will ye take away my
hound from me by force?"
"Yea, lady," said Sir Tor; "for so I must, having the king's command; and
I have followed it from King Arthur's court, at Camelot, to this place."
"Well" said the lady, "ye will not go far before ye be ill handled, and
will repent ye of the quest."
"I shall cheerfully abide whatsoever adventure cometh, by the grace of
God," said Sir Tor; and so mounted his horse and began to ride back on his
way. But night coming on, he turned aside to a hermitage that was in the
forest, and there abode till the next day, making but sorrowful cheer of
such poor food as the hermit had to give him, and hearing a Mass devoutly
before he left on the morrow.
And in the early morning, as he rode forth with the dwarf towards Camelot,
he heard a knight call loudly after him, "Turn, turn! Abide, Sir knight,
and yield me up the hound thou tookest from my lady." At which he turned,
and saw a great and strong knight, armed full splendidly, riding down upon
him fiercely through a glade of the forest.
Now Sir Tor was very ill provided, for he had but an old courser, which
was as weak as himself, because of the hermit's scanty fare. He waited,
nevertheless, for the strange knight to come, and at the first onset with
their spears, each unhorsed the other, and then fell to with their swords
like two mad lions. Then did they smite through one another's shields and
helmets till the fragments flew on all sides, and their blood ran out in
streams; but yet they carved and rove through the thick armour of the
hauberks, and gave each other great and ghastly wounds. But in the end,
Sir Tor, finding the strange knight faint, doubled his strokes until he
beat him to the earth. Then did he bid him yield to his mercy.
"That will I not," replied Abellius, "while my life lasteth and my soul is
in my body, unless thou give me first the hound."
"I cannot," said Sir Tor, "and will not, for it was my quest to bring
again that hound and thee unto King Arthur, or otherwise to slay thee."
With that there came a damsel riding on a palfrey, as fast as she could
drive, and cried out to Sir Tor with a loud voice, "I pray thee, for King
Arthur's love, give me a gift."
"Ask," said Sir Tor, "and I will give thee."
"Grammercy," said the lady, "I ask the head of this false knight Abellius,
the most outrageous murderer that liveth."
"I repent me of the gift I promised," said Sir Tor. "Let him make thee
amends for all his trespasses against thee."
"He cannot make amends," replied the damsel, "for he hath slain my
brother, a far better knight than he, and scorned to give him mercy,
though I kneeled for half an hour before him in the mire, to beg it, and
though it was but by a chance they fought, and for no former injury or
quarrel. I require my gift of thee as a true knight, or else will I shame
thee in King Arthur's court; for this Abellius is the falsest knight
alive, and a murderer of many."
When Abellius heard this, he trembled greatly, and was sore afraid, and
yielded to Sir Tor, and prayed his mercy.
"I cannot now, Sir knight," said he, "lest I be false to my promise. Ye
would not take my mercy when I offered it; and now it is too late."
Therewith he unlaced his helmet, and took it off; but Abellius, in dismal
fear, struggled to his feet, and fled, until Sir Tor overtook him, and
smote off his head entirely with one blow.
"Now, sir," said the damsel, "it is near night, I pray ye come and lodge
at my castle hard by."
"I will, with a good will," said he, for both his horse and he had fared
but poorly since they left Camelot.
So he went to the lady's castle and fared sumptuously, and saw her
husband, an old knight, who greatly thanked him for his service, and urged
him oftentimes to come again.
On the morrow he departed, and reached Camelot by noon, where the king and
queen rejoiced to see him, and the king made him Earl; and Merlin
prophesied that these adventures were but little to the things he should
Now while Sir Gawain and Sir Tor had fulfilled their quests, King
Pellinore pursued the lady whom the knight had seized away from the
wedding-feast. And as he rode through the woods, he saw in a valley a fair
young damsel sitting by a well-side, and a wounded knight lying in her
arms, and King Pellinore saluted her as he passed by.
As soon as she perceived him she cried out, "Help, help me, knight, for
our Lord's sake!" But Pellinore was far too eager in his quest to stay or
turn, although she cried a hundred times to him for help; at which she
prayed to heaven he might have such sore need before he died as she had
now. And presently thereafter her knight died in her arms; and she, for
grief and love slew herself with his sword.
But King Pellinore rode on till he met a poor man and asked him had he
seen a knight pass by that way leading by force a lady with him.
"Yea, surely," said the man, "and greatly did she moan and cry; but even
now another knight is fighting with him to deliver the lady; ride on and
thou shalt find them fighting still."
At that King Pellinore rode swiftly on, and came to where he saw the two
knights fighting, hard by where two pavilions stood. And when he looked in
one of them he saw the lady that was his quest, and with her the two
squires of the two knights who fought.
"Fair lady," said he, "ye must come with me unto Arthur's court."
"Sir knight," said the two squires, "yonder be two knights fighting for
this lady; go part them, and get their consent to take her, ere thou touch
"Ye say well," said King Pellinore, and rode between the combatants, and
asked them why they fought.
"Sir knight," said the one, "yon lady is my cousin, mine aunt's daughter,
whom I met borne away against her will, by this knight here, with whom I
therefore fight to free her."
"Sir knight," replied the other, whose name was Hantzlake of Wentland,
"this lady got I, by my arms and prowess, at King Arthur's court to-day."
"That is false," said King Pellinore; "ye stole the lady suddenly, and
fled away with her, before any knight could arm to stay thee. But it is my
service to take her back again. Neither of ye shall therefore have her;
but if ye will fight for her, fight with me now and here."
"Well," said the knights, "make ready, and we will assail thee with all
Then Sir Hantzlake ran King Pellinore's horse through with his sword, so
that they might be all alike on foot. But King Pellinore at that was
passing wroth, and ran upon Sir Hantzlake, with a cry, "Keep well thy
head!" and gave him such a stroke upon the helm as clove him to the chin,
so that he fell dead to the ground. When he saw that, the other knight
refused to fight, and kneeling down said, "Take my cousin the lady with
thee, as thy quest is; but as thou art a true knight, suffer her to come
to neither shame nor harm."
So the next day King Pellinore departed for Camelot, and took the lady
with him; and as they rode in a valley full of rough stones, the damsel's
horse stumbled and threw her, so that her arms were sorely bruised and
hurt. And as they rested in the forest for the pain to lessen, night came
on, and there they were compelled to make their lodging. A little before
midnight they heard the trotting of a horse. "Be ye still," said King
Pellinore, "for now we may hear of some adventure," and therewith he armed
him. Then he heard two knights meet and salute each other, in the dark;
one riding from Camelot, the other from the north.
"What tidings at Camelot?" said one.
"By my head," said the other, "I have but just left there, and have espied
King Arthur's court, and such a fellowship is there as never may be broke
or overcome; for wellnigh all the chivalry of the world is there, and all
full loyal to the king, and now I ride back homewards to the north to tell
our chiefs, that they waste not their strength in wars against him."
"As for all that," replied the other knight, "I am but now from the north,
and bear with me a remedy, the deadliest poison that ever was heard tell
of, and to Camelot will I with it; for there we have a friend close to the
king, and greatly cherished of him, who hath received gifts from us to
poison him, as he hath promised soon to do."
"Beware," said the first knight, "of Merlin, for he knoweth all things, by
the devil's craft."
"I will not fear for that," replied the other, and so rode on his way.
Anon King Pellinore and the lady passed on again; and when they came to
the well at which the lady with the wounded knight had sat, they found
both knight and Damsel utterly devoured by lions and wild beasts, all save
the lady's head.
When King Pellinore saw that, he wept bitterly, saying, "Alas! I might
have saved her life had I but tarried a few moments in my quest."
"Wherefore make so much sorrow now?" said the lady.
"I know not," answered he, "but my heart grieveth greatly for this poor
lady's death, so fair she was and young."
Then he required a hermit to bury the remains of the bodies, and bare the
lady's head with him to Camelot, to the court.
When he was arrived, he was sworn to tell the truth of his quest before
the King and Queen, and when he had entered the Queen somewhat upbraided
him, saying, "Ye were much to blame that ye saved not that lady's life."
"Madam," said he, "I shall repent it all my life."
"Ay, king," quoth Merlin, who suddenly came in, "and so ye ought to do,
for that lady was your daughter, not seen since infancy by thee. And she
was on her way to court, with a right good young knight, who would have
been her husband, but was slain by treachery of a felon knight, Lorraine
le Savage, as they came; and because thou wouldst not abide and help her,
thy best friend shall fail thee in thine hour of greatest need, for such
is the penance ordained thee for that deed."
Then did King Pellinore tell Merlin secretly of the treason he had heard
in the forest, and Merlin by his craft so ordered that the knight who bare
the poison was himself soon after slain by it, and so King Arthur's life
_King Arthur and Sir Accolon of Gaul_
Being now happily married, King Arthur for a season took his pleasure,
with great tournaments, and jousts, and huntings. So once upon a time the
king and many of his knights rode hunting in a forest, and Arthur, King
Urience, and Sir Accolon of Gaul, followed after a great hart, and being
all three well mounted, they chased so fast that they outsped their
company, and left them many miles behind; but riding still as rapidly as
they could go, at length their horses fell dead under them. Then being all
three on foot, and seeing the stag not far before them, very weary and
nigh spent--"What shall we do," said King Arthur, "for we are hard
bested?" "Let us go on afoot," said King Urience, "till we can find some
lodging." At that they saw the stag lying upon the bank of a great lake,
with a hound springing at his throat, and many other hounds trooping
towards him. So, running forward, Arthur blew the death-note on his horn,
and slew the hart. Then lifting up his eyes he saw before him on the lake
a barge, all draped down to the water's edge, with silken folds and
curtains, which swiftly came towards him, and touched upon the sands; but
when he went up close and looked in, he saw no earthly creature. Then he
cried out to his companions, "Sirs, come ye hither, and let us see what
there is in this ship." So they all three went in, and found it everywhere
throughout furnished, and hung with rich draperies of silk and gold.
By this time eventide had come, when suddenly a hundred torches were set
up on all sides of the barge, and gave a dazzling light, and at the same
time came forth twelve fair damsels, and saluted King Arthur by his name,
kneeling on their knees, and telling him that he was welcome, and should
have their noblest cheer, for which the king thanked them courteously.
Then did they lead him and his fellows to a splendid chamber, where was a
table spread with all the richest furniture, and costliest wines and
viands; and there they served them with all kinds of wines and meats, till
Arthur wondered at the splendour of the feast, declaring he had never in
his life supped better, or more royally. After supper they led him to
another chamber, than which he had never beheld a richer, where he was
left to rest. King Urience, also, and Sir Accolon were each conducted into
rooms of like magnificence. And so they all three fell asleep, and being
very weary slept deeply all that night.
[Illustration: Came forth twelve fair damsels, and saluted King Arthur by
But when the morning broke, King Urience found himself in his own house in
Camelot, he knew not how; and Arthur awaking found himself in a dark
dungeon, and heard around him nothing but the groans of woful knights,
prisoners like himself. Then said King Arthur, "Who are ye, thus groaning
and complaining?" And some one answered him, "Alas, we be all prisoners,
even twenty good knights, and some of us have lain here seven years--some
more--nor seen the light of day for all that time." "For what cause?" said
King Arthur. "Know ye not then yourself?" they answered--"we will soon
tell you. The lord of this strong castle is Sir Damas, and is the falsest
and most traitorous knight that liveth; and he hath a younger brother, a
good and noble knight, whose name is Outzlake. This traitor Damas,
although passing rich, will give his brother nothing of his wealth, and
save what Outzlake keepeth to himself by force, he hath no share of the
inheritance. He owneth, nevertheless, one fair rich manor, whereupon he
liveth, loved of all men far and near. But Damas is as altogether hated as
his brother is beloved, for he is merciless and cowardly: and now for many
years there hath been war between these brothers, and Sir Outzlake
evermore defieth Damas to come forth and fight with him, body to body, for
the inheritance; and if he be too cowardly, to find some champion knight
that will fight for him. And Damas hath agreed to find some champion, but
never yet hath found a knight to take his evil cause in hand, or wager
battle for him. So with a strong band of men-at-arms he lieth ever in
ambush, and taketh captive every passing knight who may unwarily go near,
and bringeth him into this castle, and desireth him either to fight Sir
Outzlake, or to lie for evermore in durance. And thus hath he dealt with
all of us, for we all scorned to take up such a cause for such a false
foul knight--but rather one by one came here, where many a good knight
hath died of hunger and disease. But if one of us would fight, Sir Damas
would deliver all the rest."
"God of his mercy send you deliverance," said King Arthur, and sat
turning in his mind how all these things should end, and how he might
himself gain freedom for so many noble hearts.
Anon there came a damsel to the king, saying, "Sir if thou wilt fight for
my lord thou shalt be delivered out of prison, but else nevermore shalt
thou escape with thy life." "Nay," said King Arthur, "that is but a hard
choice, yet had I rather fight than die in prison, and if I may deliver
not myself alone, but all these others, I will do the battle." "Yea," said
the damsel, "it shall be even so." "Then," said King Arthur, "I am ready
now, if but I had a horse and armour." "Fear not," said she, "that shalt
thou have presently, and shalt lack nothing proper for the fight." "Have I
not seen thee," said the king, "at King Arthur's court? for it seemeth
that thy face is known to me." "Nay," said the damsel, "I was never there;
I am Sir Damas' daughter, and have never been but a day's journey from
this castle." But she spoke falsely, for she was one of the damsels of
Morgan le Fay, the great enchantress, who was King Arthur's half-sister.
When Sir Damas knew that there had been at length a knight found who would
fight for him, he sent for Arthur, and finding him a man so tall and
strong, and straight of limb, he was passingly well pleased, and made a
covenant with him, that he should fight unto the uttermost for his cause,
and that all the other knights should be delivered. And when they were
sworn to each other on the holy gospels, all those imprisoned knights were
straightway led forth and delivered, but abode there one and all to see
In the meanwhile there had happened to Sir Accolon of Gaul a strange
adventure; for when he awoke from his deep sleep upon the silken barge, he
found himself upon the edge of a deep well, and in instant peril of
falling thereinto. Whereat, leaping up in great affright, he crossed
himself and cried aloud, "May God preserve my lord King Arthur and King
Urience, for those damsels in the ship have betrayed us, and were
doubtless devils and no women; and if I may escape this misadventure, I
will certainly destroy them wheresoever I may find them." With that there
came to him a dwarf with a great mouth, and a flat nose, and saluted him,
saying that he came from Queen Morgan le Fay. "And she greeteth you well,"
said he, "and biddeth you be strong of heart, for to-morrow you shall do
battle with a strange knight, and therefore she hath sent you here
Excalibur, King Arthur's sword, and the scabbard likewise. And she
desireth you as you do love her to fight this battle to the uttermost, and
without any mercy, as you have promised her you would fight when she
should require it of you; and she will make a rich queen for ever of any
damsel that shall bring her that knight's head with whom you are to
"Well," said Sir Accolon, "tell you my lady Queen Morgan, that I shall
hold to that I promised her, now that I have this sword--and," said he, "I
suppose it was to bring about this battle that she made all these
enchantments by her craft." "You have guessed rightly," said the dwarf,
and therewithal he left him.
Then came a knight and lady, and six squires, to Sir Accolon, and took him
to a manor house hard by, and gave him noble cheer; and the house belonged
to Sir Outzlake, the brother of Sir Damas, for so had Morgan le Fay
contrived with her enchantments. Now Sir Outzlake himself was at that time
sorely wounded and disabled, having been pierced through both his thighs
by a spear-thrust. When, therefore, Sir Damas sent down messengers to his
brother, bidding him make ready by to-morrow morning, and be in the field
to fight with a good knight, for that he had found a champion ready to do
battle at all points, Sir Outzlake was sorely annoyed and distressed, for
he knew he had small chance of victory, while yet he was disabled by his
wounds; notwithstanding, he determined to take the battle in hand,
although he was so weak that he must needs be lifted to his saddle. But
when Sir Accolon of Gaul heard this, he sent a message to Sir Outzlake
offering to take the battle in his stead, which cheered Sir Outzlake
mightily, who thanked Sir Accolon with all his heart, and joyfully
So, on the morrow, King Arthur was armed and well horsed, and asked Sir
Damas, "When shall we go to the field?" "Sir," said Sir Damas, "you shall
first hear mass." And when mass was done, there came a squire on a great
horse, and asked Sir Damas if his knight were ready, "for our knight is
already in the field." Then King Arthur mounted on horseback, and there
around were all the knights, and barons, and people of the country; and
twelve of them were chosen to wait upon the two knights who were about to
fight. And as King Arthur sat on horseback, there came a damsel from
Morgan le Fay, and brought to him a sword, made like Excalibur, and a
scabbard also, and said to him, "Morgan le Fay sendeth you here your sword
for her great love's sake." And the king thanked her, and believed it to
be as she said; but she traitorously deceived him, for both sword and
scabbard were counterfeit, brittle, and false, and the true sword
Excalibur was in the hands of Sir Accolon. Then, at the sound of a
trumpet, the champions set themselves on opposite sides of the field, and
giving rein and spur to their horses urged them to so great a speed that
each smiting the other in the middle of the shield, rolled his opponent to
the ground, both horse and man. Then starting up immediately, both drew
their swords and rushed swiftly together. And so they fell to eagerly, and
gave each other many great and mighty strokes.
And as they were thus fighting, the damsel Vivien, lady of the lake, who
loved King Arthur, came upon the ground, for she knew by her enchantments
how Morgan le Fay had craftily devised to have King Arthur slain by his
own sword that day, and therefore came to save his life. And Arthur and
Sir Accolon were now grown hot against each other, and spared not strength
nor fury in their fierce assaults; but the king's sword gave way
continually before Sir Accolon's, so that at every stroke he was sore
wounded, and his blood ran from him so fast that it was a marvel he could
stand. When King Arthur saw the ground so sore be-blooded, he bethought
him in dismay that there was magic treason worked upon him, and that his
own true sword was changed, for it seemed to him that the sword in Sir
Accolon's hand was Excalibur, for fearfully it drew his blood at every
blow, while what he held himself kept no sharp edge, nor fell with any
force upon his foe.
"Now, knight, look to thyself, and keep thee well from me," cried out Sir
Accolon. But King Arthur answered not, and gave him such a buffet on the
helm as made him stagger and nigh fall upon the ground. Then Sir Accolon
withdrew a little, and came on with Excalibur on high, and smote King
Arthur in return with such a mighty stroke as almost felled him; and both
being now in hottest wrath, they gave each other grievous and savage
blows. But Arthur all the time was losing so much blood that scarcely
could he keep upon his feet yet so full was he of knighthood, that
knightly he endured the pain, and still sustained himself, though now he
was so feeble that he thought himself about to die. Sir Accolon, as yet,
had lost no drop of blood, and being very bold and confident in Excalibur,
even grew more vigorous and hasty in his assaults. But all men who beheld
them said they never saw a knight fight half so well as did King Arthur;
and all the people were so grieved for him that they besought Sir Damas
and Sir Outzlake to make up their quarrel and so stay the fight; but they
So still the battle raged, till Arthur drew a little back for breath and a
few moments' rest; but Accolon came on after him, following fiercely and
crying loud, "It is no time for me to suffer thee to rest," and therewith
set upon him. Then Arthur, full of scorn and rage, lifted up his sword and
struck Sir Accolon upon the helm so mightily that he drove him to his
knees; but with the force of that great stroke his brittle, treacherous
sword broke short off at the hilt, and fell down in the grass among the
blood, leaving the pommel only in his hand. At that, King Arthur thought
within himself that all was over, and secretly prepared his mind for
death, yet kept himself so knightly sheltered by his shield that he lost
no ground, and made as though he yet had hope and cheer. Then said Sir
Accolon, "Sir knight, thou now art overcome and canst endure no longer,
seeing thou art weaponless, and hast lost already so much blood. Yet am I
fully loth to slay thee; yield, then, therefore, to me as recreant."
"Nay," said King Arthur, "that may I not, for I have promised to do battle
to the uttermost by the faith of my body while my life lasteth; and I had
rather die with honour than live with shame; and if it were possible for
me to die an hundred times, I had rather die as often than yield me to
thee, for though I lack weapons, I shall lack no worship, and it shall be
to thy shame to slay me weaponless." "Aha," shouted then Sir Accolon, "as
for the shame, I will not spare; look to thyself, sir knight, for thou art
even now but a dead man." Therewith he drove at him with pitiless force,
and struck him nearly down; but Arthur evermore waxing in valour as he
waned in blood, pressed on Sir Accolon with his shield, and hit at him so
fiercely with the pommel in his hand, as hurled him three strides
This, therefore, so confused Sir Accolon, that rushing up, all dizzy, to
deliver once again a furious blow, even as he struck, Excalibur, by
Vivien's magic, fell from out his hands upon the earth. Beholding which,
King Arthur lightly sprang to it, and grasped it, and forthwith felt it
was his own good sword, and said to it, "Thou hast been from me all too
long, and done me too much damage." Then spying the scabbard hanging by
Sir Accolon's side, he sprang and pulled it from him, and cast it away as
far as he could throw it; for so long as he had worn it, Arthur new his
life would have been kept secure. "Oh, knight!" then said the king, "thou
hast this day wrought me much damage by this sword, but now art thou come
to thy death, for I shall not warrant thee but that thou shalt suffer, ere
we part, somewhat of that thou hast made me suffer." And therewithal King
Arthur flew at him with all his might, and pulled him to the earth, and
then struck off his helm, and gave him on the head a fearful buffet, till
the blood leaped forth. "Now will I slay thee!" cried King Arthur; for his
heart was hardened, and his body all on fire with fever, till for a moment
he forgot his knightly mercy. "Slay me thou mayest," said Sir Accolon,
"for thou art the best knight I ever found, and I see well that God is
with thee; and I, as thou hast, have promised to fight this battle to the
uttermost, and never to be recreant while I live; therefore shall I never
yield me with my mouth, and God must do with my body what he will." And as
Sir Accolon spoke, King Arthur thought he knew his voice; and parting all
his blood-stained hair from out his eyes, and leaning down towards him,
saw, indeed, it was his friend and own true knight. Then said he--keeping
his own visor down--"I pray thee tell me of what country art thou, and
what court?" "Sir knight," he answered, "I am of King Arthur's court, and
my name is Sir Accolon of Gaul." Then said the king, "Oh, sir knight! I
pray thee tell me who gave thee this sword? and from whom thou hadst it?"
Then said Sir Accolon, "Woe worth this sword, for by it I have gotten my
death. This sword hath been in my keeping now for almost twelve months,
and yesterday Queen Morgan le Fay, wife of King Urience, sent it to me by
a dwarf, that therewith I might in some way slay her brother, King Arthur;
for thou must understand that King Arthur is the man she hateth most in
all the world, being full of envy and jealousy because he is of greater
worship and renown than any other of her blood. She loveth me also as much
as she doth hate him; and if she might contrive to slay King Arthur by her
craft and magic, then would she straightway kill her husband also, and
make me the king of all this land, and herself my queen, to reign with me;
but now," said he, "all that is over, for this day I am come to my death."
"It would have been sore treason of thee to destroy thy lord," said
Arthur. "Thou sayest truly," answered he; "but now that I have told thee,
and openly confessed to thee all that foul treason whereof I now do
bitterly repent, tell me, I pray thee, whence art thou, and of what
court?" "O, Sir Accolon!" said King Arthur, "learn that I am myself King
Arthur." When Sir Accolon heard this he cried aloud, "Alas, my gracious
lord! have mercy on me, for I knew thee not." "Thou shalt have mercy,"
said he, "for thou knewest not my person at this time; and though by thine
own confession thou art a traitor, yet do I blame thee less, because thou
hast been blinded by the false crafts of my sister Morgan le Fay, whom I
have trusted more than all others of my kin, and whom I now shall know
well how to punish." Then did Sir Accolon cry loudly, "O, lords, and all
good people! this noble knight that I have fought with is the noblest and
most worshipful in all the world; for it is King Arthur, our liege lord
and sovereign king; and full sorely I repent that I have ever lifted lance
against him, though in ignorance I did it."
Then all the people fell down on their knees and prayed the pardon of the
king for suffering him to come to such a strait. But he replied, "Pardon
ye cannot have, for, truly, ye have nothing sinned; but here ye see what
ill adventure may ofttimes befall knights-errant, for to my own hurt, and
his danger also, I have fought with one of my own knights."
Then the king commanded Sir Damas to surrender to his brother the whole
manor, Sir Outzlake only yielding him a palfrey every year; "for," said he
scornfully, "it would become thee better to ride on than a courser;" and
ordered Damas, upon pain of death, never again to touch or to distress
knights-errant riding on their adventures; and also to make full
compensation and satisfaction to the twenty knights whom he had held in
prison. "And if any of them," said the king, "come to my court complaining
that he hath not had full satisfaction of thee for his injuries, by my
head, thou shalt die therefor."
Afterwards, King Arthur asked Sir Outzlake to come with him to his court,
where he should become a knight of his, and, if his deeds were noble, be
advanced to all he might desire.
So then he took his leave of all the people and mounted upon horseback,
and Sir Accolon went with him to an abbey hard by, where both their wounds
were dressed. But Sir Accolon died within four days after. And when he was
dead, the king sent his body to Queen Morgan, to Camelot, saying that he
sent her a present in return for the sword Excalibur which she had sent
him by the damsel.
So, on the morrow, there came a damsel from Queen Morgan to the king, and
brought with her the richest mantle that ever was seen, for it was set as
full of precious stones as they could stand against each other, and they
were the richest stones that ever the king saw. And the damsel said, "Your
sister sendeth you this mantle, and prayeth you to take her gift, and in
whatsoever thing she hath offended you, she will amend it at your
pleasure." To this the king replied not, although the mantle pleased him
much. With that came in the lady of the lake, and said, "Sir, put not on
this mantle till thou hast seen more; and in nowise let it be put upon
thee, or any of thy knights, till ye have made the bringer of it first put
it on her." "It shall be done as thou dost counsel," said the king. Then
said he to the damsel that came from his sister, "Damsel, I would see this
mantle ye have brought me upon yourself." "Sir," said she, "it will not
beseem me to wear a knight's garment." "By my head," said King Arthur,
"thou shall wear it ere it go on any other person's back!" And so they put
it on her by force, and forthwith the garment burst into a flame and
burned the damsel into cinders. When the king saw that, he hated that
false witch Morgan le Fay with all his heart, and evermore was deadly
quarrel between her and Arthur to their lives' end.
_King Arthur conquers Rome, and is crowned Emperor_
And now again the second time there came ambassadors from Lucius Tiberius,
Emperor of Rome, demanding, under pain of war, tribute and homage from
King Arthur, and the restoration of all Gaul, which he had conquered from
the tribune Flollo.
When they had delivered their message, the king bade them withdraw while
he consulted with his knights and barons what reply to send. Then some of
the younger knights would have slain the ambassadors, saying that their
speech was a rebuke to all who heard the king insulted by it. But when
King Arthur heard that, he ordered none to touch them upon pain of death;
and sending officers, he had them taken to a noble lodging, and there
entertained with the best cheer. "And," said he, "let no dainty be spared,
for the Romans are great lords; and though their message please me not,
yet must I remember mine honour."
Then the lords and knights of the Round Table were called on to declare
their counsel--what should be done upon this matter; and Sir Cador of
Cornwall speaking first, said, "Sir, this message is the best news I have
heard for a long time, for we have been now idle and at rest for many
days, and I trust that thou wilt make sharp war upon the Romans, wherein,
I doubt not, we shall all gain honour."
"I believe well," said Arthur, "that thou art pleased, Sir Cador; but that
is scarce an answer to the Emperor of Rome, and his demand doth grieve me
sorely, for truly I will never pay him tribute; wherefore, lords, I pray
ye counsel me. Now, I have understood that Belinus and Brennius, knights
of Britain, held the Roman Empire in their hands for many days, and also
Constantine, the son of Helen, which is open evidence, not only that we
owe Rome no tribute, but that I, being descended from them, may, of right,
myself claim the empire."
Then said King Anguish of Scotland, "Sir, thou oughtest of right to be
above all other kings, for in all Christendom is there not thine equal;
and I counsel thee never to obey the Romans. For when they reigned here
they grievously distressed us, and put the land to great and heavy
burdens; and here, for my part, I swear to avenge me on them when I may,
and will furnish thee with twenty thousand men-at-arms, whom I will pay
and keep, and who shall wait on thee with me, when it shall please thee."
Then the King of Little Britain rose and promised King Arthur thirty
thousand men; and likewise many other kings, and dukes, and barons,
promised aid--as the lord of West Wales thirty thousand men, Sir Ewaine
and his cousin thirty thousand men, and so forth; Sir Lancelot also, and
every other knight of the Round Table, promised each man a great host.
So the king, passing joyful at their courage and good will, thanked them
all heartily, and sent for the ambassadors again, to hear his answer. "I
will," said he, "that ye now go back straightway unto the Emperor your
master and tell him that I give no heed to his words, for I have conquered
all my kingdoms by the will of God and by my own right arm, and I am
strong enough to keep them, without paying tribute to any earthly
creature. But, on the other hand, I claim both tribute and submission from
himself, and also claim the sovereignty of all his empire, whereto I am
entitled by the right of my own ancestors--sometime kings of this land.
And say to him that I will shortly come to Rome, and by God's grace will
take possession of my empire and subdue all rebels. Wherefore, lastly, I
command him and all the lords of Rome that they forthwith pay me their
homage, under pain of my chastisement and wrath."
Then he commanded his treasurers to give the ambassadors great gifts, and
defray all their charges, and appointed Sir Cador to convey them
worshipfully out of the land.
So when they returned to Rome and came before Lucius, he was sore angry at
their words, and said, "I thought this Arthur would have instantly obeyed
my orders and have served me as humbly as any other king; but because of
his fortune in Gaul, he hath grown insolent."
"Ah, lord," said one of the ambassadors, "refrain from such vain words,
for truly I and all with me were fearful at his royal majesty and angry
countenance. I fear me thou hast made a rod for thee more sharp than thou
hast counted on. He meaneth to be master of this empire; and is another
kind of man than thou supposest, and holdeth the most noble court of all
the world. We saw him on the new year's day, served at his table by nine
kings, and the noblest company of other princes, lords, and knights that
ever was in all the world; and in his person he is the most manly-seeming
man that liveth, and looketh like to conquer all the earth."
Then Lucius sent messengers to all the subject countries of Rome, and
brought together a mighty army, and assembled sixteen kings, and many
dukes, princes, lords, and admirals, and a wondrous great multitude of
people. Fifty giants also, born of fiends, were set around him for a
body-guard. With all that host he straightway went from Rome, and passed
beyond the mountains into Gaul, and burned the towns and ravaged all the
country of that province, in rage for its submission to King Arthur. Then
he moved on towards Little Britain.
Meanwhile, King Arthur having held a parliament at York, left the realm in
charge of Sir Badewine and Sir Constantine, and crossed the sea from
Sandwich to meet Lucius. And so soon as he was landed, he sent Sir Gawain,
Sir Bors, Sir Lionel, and Sir Bedivere to the Emperor, commanding him "to
move swiftly and in haste out of his land, and, if not, to make himself
ready for battle, and not continue ravaging the country and slaying
harmless people." Anon, those noble knights attired themselves and set
forth on horseback to where they saw, in a meadow, many silken tents of
divers colours, and the Emperor's pavilion in the midst, with a golden
eagle set above it.
Then Sir Gawain and Sir Bors rode forward, leaving the other two behind
in ambush, and gave King Arthur's message. To which the Emperor replied,
"Return, and tell your lord that I am come to conquer him and all his
At this, Sir Gawain burned with anger, and cried out, "I had rather than
all France that I might fight with thee alone!"
"And I also," said Sir Bors.
Then a knight named Ganius, a near cousin of the Emperor, laughed out
aloud, and said, "Lo! how these Britons boast and are full of pride,
bragging as though they bare up all the world!"
At these words, Sir Gawain could refrain no longer, but drew forth his
sword and with one blow shore oft Ganius' head; then with Sir Bors, he
turned his horse and rode over waters and through woods, back to the
ambush, where Sir Lionel and Sir Bedivere were waiting. The Romans
followed fast behind them till the knights turned and stood, and then Sir
Bors smote the foremost of them through the body with a spear, and slew
him on the spot. Then came on Calibere, a huge Pavian, but Sir Bors
overthrew him also. And then the company of Sir Lionel and Sir Bedivere
brake from their ambush and fell on the Romans, and slew and hewed them
down, and forced them to return and flee, chasing them to their tents.
But as they neared the camp, a great host more rushed forth, and turned
the battle backwards, and in the turmoil, Sir Bors and Sir Berel fell into
the Romans' hands. When Sir Gawain saw that, he drew his good sword
Galotine, and swore to see King Arthur's face no more if those two knights
were not delivered; and then, with good Sir Idrus, made so sore an
onslaught that the Romans fled and left Sir Bors and Sir Berel to their
friends. So the Britons returned in triumph to King Arthur, having slain
more than ten thousand Romans, and lost no man of worship from amongst
When the Emperor Lucius heard of that discomfiture he arose, with all his
army, to crush King Arthur, and met him in the vale of Soissons. Then
speaking to all his host, he said, "Sirs, I admonish you that this day ye
fight and acquit yourselves as men; and remembering how Rome is chief of
all the earth, and mistress of the universal world, suffer not these
barbarous and savage Britons to abide our onset." At that, the trumpets
blew so loud, that the ground trembled and shook.
Then did the rival hosts draw near each other with great shoutings; and
when they closed, no tongue can tell the fury of their smiting, and the
sore struggling, wounds, and slaughter. Then King Arthur, with his
mightiest knights, rode down into the thickest of the fight, and drew
Excalibur, and slew as lightning slays for swiftness and for force. And in
the midmost crowd he met a giant, Galapas by name, and struck off both his
legs at the knee-joints; then saying, "Now art thou a better size to deal
with!" smote his head off at a second blow: and the body killed six men in
Anon, King Arthur spied where Lucius fought and worked great deeds of
prowess with his own hands. Forthwith he rode at him, and each attacked
the other passing fiercely; till at the last, Lucius struck King Arthur
with a fearful wound across the face, and Arthur, in return, lifting up
Excalibur on high, drove it with all his force upon the Emperor's head,
shivering his helmet, crashing his head in halves, and splitting his body
to the breast. And when the Romans saw their Emperor dead they fled in
hosts of thousands; and King Arthur and his knights, and all his army
followed them, and slew one hundred thousand men.
Then returning to the field, King Arthur rode to the place where Lucius
lay dead, and round him the kings of Egypt and Ethiopia, and seventeen
other kings, with sixty Roman senators, all noble men. All these he
ordered to be carefully embalmed with aromatic gums, and laid in leaden
coffins, covered with their shields and arms and banners. Then calling for
three senators who were taken prisoners, he said to them, "As the ransom
of your lives, I will that ye take these dead bodies and carry them to
Rome, and there present them for me, with these letters saying I will
myself be shortly there. And I suppose the Romans will beware how they
again ask tribute of me; for tell them, these dead bodies that I send them
are for the tribute they have dared to ask of me; and if they wish for
more, when I come I will pay them the rest."
So, with that charge, the three senators departed with the dead bodies,
and went to Rome; the body of the Emperor being carried in a chariot
blazoned with the arms of the empire, all alone, and the bodies of the
kings two and two in chariots following.
After the battle, King Arthur entered Lorraine, Brabant, and Flanders, and
thence, subduing all the countries as he went, passed into Germany, and so
beyond the mountains into Lombardy and Tuscany. At length he came before a
city which refused to obey him, wherefore he sat down before it to besiege
it. And after a long time thus spent, King Arthur called Sir Florence,
and told him they began to lack food for his hosts--"And not far from
hence," said he, "are great forests full of cattle belonging to my
enemies. Go then, and bring by force all that thou canst find; and take
with thee Sir Gawain, my nephew, and Sir Clegis, Sir Claremond the Captain
of Cardiff, and a strong band."
Anon, those knights made ready, and rode over holts and hills, and through
forests and woods, till they came to a great meadow full of fair flowers
and grass, and there they rested themselves and their horses that night.
And at the dawn of the next day, Sir Gawain took his horse and rode away
from his fellows to seek some adventure. Soon he saw an armed knight
walking his horse by a wood's side, with his shield laced to his shoulder,
and no attendant with him save a page, bearing a mighty spear; and on his
shield were blazoned three gold griffins. When Sir Gawain spied him, he
put his spear in rest, and riding straight to him, asked who he was. "A
Tuscan," said he; "and they mayest prove me when thou wilt, for thou shalt
be my prisoner ere we part."
Then said Sir Gawain, "Thou vauntest thee greatly, and speakest proud
words; yet I counsel thee, for all thy boastings, look to thyself the best
At that they took their spears and ran at each other with all the might
they had, and smote each other through their shields into their shoulders;
and then drawing swords smote with great strokes, till the fire sprang out
of their helms. Then was Sir Gawain enraged, and with his good sword
Galotine struck his enerny through shield and hauberk, and splintered into
pieces all the precious stones of it, and made so huge a wound that men
might see both lungs and liver. At that the Tuscan, groaning loudly,
rushed on to Sir Gawain, and gave him a deep slanting stroke, and made a
mighty wound and cut a great vein asunder, so that he bled fast. Then he
cried out, "Bind thy wound quickly up, Sir knight, for thou be-bloodest
all thy horse and thy fair armour, and all the surgeons of the world shall
never staunch thy blood; for so shall it be to whomsoever is hurt with
this good sword."
Then answered Sir Gawain, "It grieveth me but little, and thy boastful
words give me no fear, for thou shalt suffer greater grief and sorrow ere
we part; but tell me quickly who can staunch this blood."
"That can I do," said the strange knight, "and will, if thou wilt aid and
succour me to become christened, and to believe on God, which now I do
require of thee upon thy manhood."
"I am content," said Sir Gawain; "and may God help me to grant all thy
wishes. But tell mefirst, what soughtest thou thus here alone, and of what
land art thou?"
"Sir," said the knight, "my name is Prianius, and my father is a great
prince, who hath rebelled against Rome. He is descended from Alexander and
Hector, and of our lineage also were Joshua and Maccabaeus. I am of right
the king of Alexandria, and Africa, and all the outer isles, yet I would
believe in the Lord thou worshippest, and for thy labour I will give thee
treasure enough. I was so proud in heart that I thought none my equal, but
now have I encountered with thee, who hast given me my fill of fighting;
wherefore, I pray thee, Sir knight, tell me of thyself."
"I am no knight," said Sir Gawain; "I have been brought up many years in
the wardrobe of the noble prince King Arthur, to mind his armour and
"Ah," said Prianius, "if his varlets be so keen and fierce, his knights
must be passing good! Now, for the love of heaven, whether thou be knight
or knave, tell me thy name."
"By heaven!" said Gawain, "now will I tell thee the truth. My name is Sir
Gawain, and I am a knight of the Round Table."
"Now am I better pleased," said Prianius, "than if thou hadst given me all
the province of Paris the rich. I had rather have been torn by wild horses
than that any varlet should have won such victory over me as thou hast
done. But now, Sir knight, I warn thee that close by is the Duke of
Lorraine, with sixty thousand good men of war; and we had both best flee
at once, for he will find us else, and we be sorely wounded and never
likely to recover. And let my page be careful that he blow no horn, for
hard by are a hundred knights, my servants; and if they seize thee, no
ransom of gold or silver would acquit thee."
Then Sir Gawain rode over a river to save himself, and Sir Prianius after
him, and so they both fled till they came to his companions who were in
the meadow, where they spent the night. When Sir Whishard saw Sir Gawain
so hurt, he ran to him weeping, and asked him who it was had wounded him;
and Sir Gawain told him how he had fought with that man--pointing to
Prianius--who had salves to heal them both. "But I can tell ye other
tidings," said he--"that soon we must encounter many enemies, for a great
army is close to us in our front."
Then Prianius and Sir Gawain alighted and let their horses graze while
they unarmed, and when they took their armour and their clothing off, the
hot blood ran down freshly from their wounds till it was piteous to see.
But Prianius took from his page a vial filled from the four rivers that
flow out of Paradise, and anointed both their wounds with a certain balm,
and washed them with that water, and within an hour afterwards they were
both as sound and whole as ever they had been. Then, at the sound of a
trumpet, all the knights were assembled to council; and after much
talking, Prianius said, "Cease your words, for I warn you in yonder wood
ye shall find knights out of number, who will put out cattle for a decoy
to lead you on; and ye are not seven hundred!"
"Nevertheless," said Sir Gawain, "let us at once encounter them, and see
what they can do; and may the best have the victory."
Then they saw suddenly an earl named Sir Ethelwold, and the Duke of
Duchmen come leaping out of ambush of the woods in front, with many a
thousand after them, and all rode straight down to the battle. And Sir
Gawain, full of ardour and courage, comforted his knights, saying, "They
all are ours." Then the seven hundred knights, in one close company, set
spurs to their horses and began to gallop, and fiercely met their enemies.
And then were men and horses slain and overthrown on every side, and in
and out amidst them all, the knights of the Round Table pressed and
thrust, and smote down to the earth all who withstood them, till at length
the whole of them turned back and fled.
"By heaven!" said Sir Gawain, "this gladdeneth well my heart, for now
behold them as they flee! they are full seventy thousand less in number
than they were an hour ago!"
Thus was the battle quickly ended, and a great host of high lords and
knights of Lombardy and Saracens left dead upon the field. Then Sir Gawain
and his company collected a great plenty of cattle, and of gold and
silver, and all kind of treasure, and returned to King Arthur, where he
still kept the siege.
"Now God be thanked," cried he; "but who is he that standeth yonder by
himself, and seemeth not a prisoner?"
"Sir," said Sir Gawain, "he is a good man with his weapons, and hath
matched me; but cometh hither to be made a Christian. Had it not been for
his warnings, we none of us should have been here this day. I pray thee,
therefore, let him be baptized, for there can be few nobler men, or better
So Prianius was christened, and made a duke and knight of the Round Table.
[Illustration: Prianius was christened, and made a duke and knight of the
Presently afterwards, they made a last attack upon the city, and entered
by the walls on every side; and as the men were rushing to the pillage,
came the Duchess forth, with many ladies and damsels, and kneeled before
King Arthur; and besought him to receive their submission. To whom the
king made answer, with a noble countenance, "Madam, be well assured that
none shall harm ye, or your ladies; neither shall any that belong to thee
be hurt; but the Duke must abide my judgment." Then he commanded to stay
the assault and took the keys from the Duke's eldest son, who brought them
kneeling. Anon the Duke was sent a prisoner to Dover for his life, and
rents and taxes were assigned for dowry of the Duchess and her children.
Then went he on with all his hosts, winning all towns and castles, and
wasting them that refused obedience, till he came to Viterbo. From thence
he sent to Rome, to ask the senators whether they would receive him for
their lord and governor. In answer, came out to him all the Senate who
remained alive, and the Cardinals, with a majestic retinue and procession;
and laying great treasures at his feet, they prayed him to come in at once
to Rome, and there be peaceably crowned as Emperor. "At this next
Christmas," said King Arthur, "will I be crowned, and hold my Round Table
in your city."
Anon he entered Rome, in mighty pomp and state; and after him came all his
hosts, and his knights, and princes, and great lords, arrayed in gold and
jewels, such as never were beheld before. And then was he crowned Emperor
by the Pope's hands, with all the highest solemnity that could be made.
Then after his coronation, he abode in Rome for a season, settling his
lands and giving kingdoms to his knights and servants, to each one after
his deserving, and in such wise fashion that no man among them all
complained. Also he made many dukes and earls, and loaded all his
men-at-arms with riches and great treasures.
When all this was done, the lords and knights, and all the men of great
estate, came together before him, and said, "Noble Emperor! by the
blessing of Eternal God, thy mortal warfare is all finished, and thy
conquests all achieved; for now in all the world is none so great and
mighty as to dare make war with thee. Wherefore we beseech and heartily
pray thee of thy noble grace, to turn thee homeward, and to give us also
leave to see our wives and homes again, for now we have been from them a
long season, and all thy journey is completed with great honour and
"Ye say well," replied he, "and to tempt God is no wisdom; therefore make
ready in all haste, and turn we home to England."
So King Arthur returned with his knights and lords and armies, in great
triumph and joy, through all the countries he had conquered, and commanded
that no man, upon pain of death, should rob or do any violence by the way.
And crossing the sea, he came at length to Sandwich, where Queen Guinevere
received him, and made great joy at his arrival. And through all the realm
of Britain was there such rejoicing as no tongue can tell.
_The Adventures of Sir Lancelot du Lake_
Then, at the following Pentecost, was held a feast of the Round Table at
Caerleon, with high splendour; and all the knights thereof resorted to the
court, and held many games and jousts. And therein Sir Lancelot increased
in fame and worship above all men, for he overthrew all comers, and never
was unhorsed or worsted, save by treason and enchantment.
When Queen Guinevere had seen his wondrous feats, she held him in great
favour, and smiled more on him than on any other knight. And ever since he
first had gone to bring her to King Arthur, had Lancelot thought on her as
fairest of all ladies, and done his best to win her grace. So the queen
often sent for him, and bade him tell of his birth and strange adventures:
how he was only son of great King Ban of Brittany, and how, one night, his
father, with his mother Helen and himself, fled from his burning castle;
how his father, groaning deeply, fell to the ground and died of grief and
wounds, and how his mother, running to her husband, left himself alone;
how, as he thus lay wailing, came the lady of the lake, and took him in
her arms and went with him into the midst of the waters, where, with his
cousins Lionel and Bors he had been cherished all his childhood until he
came to King Arthur's court; and how this was the reason why men called
him Lancelot du Lake.
Anon it was ordained by King Arthur, that in every year at Pentecost there
should be held a festival of all the knights of the Round Table at
Caerleon, or such other place as he should choose. And at those festivals
should be told publicly the most famous adventures of any knight during
the past year.
So, when Sir Lancelot saw Queen Guinevere rejoiced to hear his wanderings
and adventures, he resolved to set forth yet again, and win more worship
still, that he might more increase her favour. Then he bade his cousin Sir
Lionel make ready, "for," said he, "we two will seek adventure." So they
mounted their horses--armed at all points--and rode into a vast forest;
and when they had passed through it, they came to a great plain, and the
weather being very hot about noontide, Sir Lancelot greatly longed to
sleep. Then Sir Lionel espied a great apple-tree standing by a hedge, and
said, "Brother, yonder is a fair shadow where we may rest ourselves and
"I am full glad of it," said Sir Lancelot, "for all these seven years I
have not been so sleepy."
So they alighted there, and tied their horses up to sundry trees; and Sir
Lionel waked and watched while Sir Lancelot fell asleep, and slept passing
In the meanwhile came three knights, riding as fast flying as ever they
could ride, and after them followed a single knight; but when Sir Lionel
looked at him, he thought he had never seen so great and strong a man, or
so well furnished and apparelled. Anon he saw him overtake the last of
those who fled, and smite him to the ground; then came he to the second,
and smote him such a stroke that horse and man went to the earth; then
rode he to the third, likewise, and struck him off his horse more than a
spear's length. With that he lighted from his horse, and bound all three
knights fast with the reins of their own bridles.
When Sir Lionel saw this he thought the time was come to prove himself
against him, so quietly and cautiously, lest he should wake Sir Lancelot,
he took his horse and mounted and rode after him. Presently overtaking
him, he cried aloud to him to turn, which instantly he did, and smote Sir
Lionel so hard that horse and man went down forthwith. Then took he up Sir
Lionel, and threw him bound over his own horse's back; and so he served
the three other knights, and rode them away to his own castle. There they
were disarmed, stripped naked, and beaten with thorns, and afterwards
thrust into a deep prison, where many more knights, also, made great moans
and lamentations, saying, "Alas, alas! there is no man can help us but Sir
Lancelot, for no other knight can match this tyrant Turquine, our
But all this while, Sir Lancelot lay sleeping soundly under the
apple-tree. And, as it chanced, there passed that way four queens, of high
estate, riding upon four white mules, under four canopies of green silk
borne on spears, to keep them from the sun. As they rode thus, they heard
a great horse grimly neigh, and, turning them about, soon saw a sleeping
knight that lay all armed under an apple-tree; and when they saw his
face, they knew it was Lancelot of the Lake.
Then they began to strive which of them should have the care of him. But
Queen Morgan le Fay, King Arthur's half sister, the great sorceress, was
one of them, and said "We need not strive for him, I have enchanted him,
so that for six hours more he shall not wake. Let us take him to my
castle, and, when he wakes, himself shall choose which one of us he would
rather serve." So Sir Lancelot was laid upon his shield and borne on
horseback between two knights, to the castle, and there laid in a cold
chamber, till the spell should pass.
Anon, they sent him a fair damsel, bearing his supper, who asked him,
"I cannot tell, fair damsel," said he, "for I know not how I came into
this castle, if it were not by enchantment."
"Sir," said she, "be of good heart, and to-morrow at the dawn of day, ye
shall know more."
And so she left him alone, and there he lay all night. In the morning
early came the four queens to him, passing richly dressed; and said, "Sir
knight, thou must understand that thou art our prisoner, and that we know
thee well for King Ban's son, Sir Lancelot du Lake. And though we know
full well there is one lady only in this world may have thy love, and she
Queen Guinevere--King Arthur's wife--yet now are we resolved to have thee
to serve one of us; choose, therefore, of us four which thou wilt serve. I
am Queen Morgan le Fay, Queen of the land of Gore, and here also is the
Queen of Northgales, and the Queen of Eastland, and the Queen of the Out
Isles. Choose, then, at once, for else shall thou abide here, in this
prison, till thy death."
"It is a hard case," said Sir Lancelot, "that either I must die, or choose
one of you for my mistress! Yet had I rather die in this prison than serve
any living creature against my will. So take this for my answer. I will
serve none of ye, for ye be false enchantresses. And as for my lady, Queen
Guinevere, whom lightly ye have spoken of, were I at liberty I would prove
it upon you or upon yours she is the truest lady living to her lord the
"Well," said the queen, "is this your answer, that ye refuse us all?"
"Yea, on my life," said Lancelot, "refused ye be of me."
So they departed from him in great wrath, and left him sorrowfully
grieving in his dungeon.
At noon the damsel came to him and brought his dinner, and asked him as
before, "What cheer?"
"Truly, fair damsel," said Sir Lancelot, "in all my life never so ill."
"Sir," replied she, "I grieve to see ye so, but if ye do as I advise, I
can help ye out of this distress, and will do so if you promise me a
"Fair damsel," said Sir Lancelot, "right willingly will I grant it thee,
for sorely do I dread these four witch-queens, who have destroyed and
slain many a good knight with their enchantments."
Then said the damsel, "Sir, wilt thou promise me to help my father on next
Tuesday, for he hath a tournament with the King of Northgales, and last
Tuesday lost the field through three knights of King Arthur's court, who
came against him. And if next Tuesday thou wilt aid him, to-morrow,
before daylight, by God's grace, I will deliver thee."
"Fair maiden," said Sir Lancelot, "tell me thy father's name and I will
"My father is King Bagdemagus," said she.
"I know him well," replied Sir Lancelot, "for a noble king and a good
knight; and by the faith of my body I will do him all the service I am
able on that day."
"Grammercy to thee, Sir knight," said the damsel.
"To-morrow, when thou art delivered from this place, ride ten miles hence
unto an abbey of white monks, and there abide until I bring my father to
"So be it," said Sir Lancelot, "as I am a true knight."
So she departed, and on the morrow, early, came again, and let him out of
twelve gates, differently locked, and brought him to his armour; and when
he was all armed, she brought him his horse also, and lightly he saddled
him, and took a great spear in his hand, and mounted and rode forth,
saying, as he went, "Fair damsel, I shall not fail thee, by the grace of
And all that day he rode in a great forest, and could find no highway, and
spent the night in the wood; but the next morning found his road, and came
to the abbey of white monks. And there he saw King Bagdemagus and his
daughter waiting for him. So when they were together in a chamber, Sir
Lancelot told the king how he had been betrayed by an enchantment, and how
his brother Lionel was gone he knew not where, and how the damsel had
delivered him from the castle of Queen Morgan le Fay. "Wherefore while I
live," said he, "I shall do service to herself and all her kindred."
"Then am I sure of thy aid," said the king, "on Tuesday now next coming?"
"Yea, sir, I shall not fail thee," said Sir Lancelot; "but what knights
were they who last week defeated thee, and took part with the King of
"Sir Mador de la Port, Sir Modred, and Sir Gahalatine," replied the king.
"Sir," said Sir Lancelot, "as I understand, the tournament shall take
place but three miles from this abbey; send then to me here, three knights
of thine, the best thou hast, and let them all have plain white shields,
such as I also will; then will we four come suddenly into the midst
between both parties, and fall upon thy enemies, and grieve them all we
can, and none will know us who we are."