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    Chapter 6

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    Chapter 6
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    CHAPTER VI.
    LAUNCELOT OF THE LAKE.

    KING BAN, of Brittany, the faithful ally of Arthur, was attacked
    by his enemy Claudas, and, after a long war, saw himself reduced to
    the possession of a single fortress, where he was besieged by his
    enemy. In this extremity he determined to solicit the assistance of
    Arthur, and escaped in a dark night, with his wife Helen and his
    infant son Launcelot, leaving his castle in the hands of his
    seneschal, who immediately surrendered the place to Claudas. The
    flames of his burning citadel reached the eyes of the unfortunate
    monarch during his flight, and he expired with grief. The wretched
    Helen, leaving her child on the brink of a lake, flew to receive the
    last sighs of her husband, and on returning perceived the little
    Launcelot in the arms of a nymph, who, on the approach of the queen,
    threw herself into the lake with the child. This nymph was Viviane,
    mistress of the enchanter Merlin, better known by the name of the Lady
    of the Lake. Launcelot received his appellation from having been
    educated at the court of this enchantress, whose palace was situated
    in the midst, not of a real, but, like the appearance which deceives
    the African traveller, of an imaginary lake, whose deluding
    resemblance served as a barrier to her residence. Here she dwelt not
    alone, but in the midst of a numerous retinue, and a splendid court of
    knights and damsels.
    The queen, after her double loss, retired to a convent, where she
    was joined by the widow of Bohort, for this good king had died of
    grief on hearing of the death of his brother Ban. His two sons, Lionel
    and Bohort, were rescued by a faithful knight, and arrived in the
    shape of greyhounds at the palace of the lake, where, having resumed
    their natural form, they were educated along with their cousin
    Launcelot.
    The fairy, when her pupil had attained the age of eighteen, conveyed
    him to the court of Arthur, for the purpose of demanding his admission
    to the honor of knighthood; and at the first appearance of the
    youthful candidate the graces of his person, which were not inferior
    to his courage and skill in arms, made an instantaneous and
    indelible impression on the heart of Guenever, while her charms
    inspired him with an equally ardent and constant passion. The mutual
    attachment of these lovers exerted, from that time forth, an influence
    over the whole history of Arthur. For the sake of Guenever Launcelot
    achieved the conquest of Northumberland, defeated Gallehaut, King of
    the Marches, who afterwards become his most faithful friend and
    ally, exposed himself in numberless encounters, and brought hosts of
    prisoners to the feet of his sovereign.
    After King Arthur was come from Rome into England all the knights of
    the Table Round resorted unto him, and made him many jousts and
    tournaments. And in especial Sir Launcelot of the Lake, in all
    tournaments and jousts and deeds of arms, both for life and death,
    passed all other knights, and was never overcome, except it were by
    treason or enchantment; and he increased marvellously in worship,
    wherefore Queen Guenever had him in great favor, above all other
    knights. And for certain he loved the queen again above all other
    ladies; and for her he did many deeds of arms, and saved her from
    peril through his noble chivalry. Thus Sir Launcelot rested him long
    with play and game, and then he thought to prove himself in strange
    adventures; so he bade his nephew, Sir Lionel, to make him ready,-
    "for we two will seek adventures." So they mounted on their horses,
    armed at all sights, and rode into a forest, and so into a deep plain.
    And the weather was hot about noon, and Sir Launcelot had great desire
    to sleep. Then Sir Lionel espied a great apple-tree that stood by a
    hedge, and he said: "Brother, yonder is a fair shadow,- there may we
    rest us and our horses." "It is well said," replied Sir Launcelot.
    So they there alighted, and Sir Launcelot laid him down, and his
    helm under his head, and soon was asleep passing fast. And Sir
    Lionel waked while he slept. And presently there came three knights
    riding as fast as ever they might ride, and there followed them but
    one knight. And Sir Lionel thought he never saw so great a knight
    before. So within a while this great knight overtook one of those
    knights, and smote him so that he fell to the earth. Then he rode to
    the second knight and smote him, and so he did to the third knight.
    Then he alighted down, and bound all the three knights fast with their
    own bridles. When Sir Lionel saw him do thus he thought to assay
    him, and made him ready, silently, not to awake Sir Launcelot, and
    rode after the strong knight, and bade him turn. And the other smote
    Sir Lionel so hard that horse and man fell to the earth; and then he
    alighted down, and bound Sir Lionel, and threw him across his own
    horse; and so he served them all four, and rode with them away to
    his own castle. And when he came there, he put them in a deep
    prison, in which were many more knights in great distress.
    Now while Sir Launcelot lay under the apple-tree sleeping there came
    by him four queens of great estate. And that the heat should not
    grieve them, there rode four knights about them, and bare a cloth of
    green silk, on four spears, betwixt them and the sun. And the queens
    rode on four white mules.
    Thus as they rode they heard by them a great horse grimly neigh.
    Then they were aware of a sleeping knight, that lay all armed under an
    apple-tree; and as the queens looked on his face they knew it was
    Sir Launcelot. Then they began to strive for that knight, and each one
    said she would have him for her love. "We will not strive," said
    Morgane le Fay, that was King Arthur's sister, "for I will put an
    enchantment upon him, that he shall not wake for six hours, and we
    will take him away to my castle; and then when he is surely within
    my hold I will take the enchantment from him, and then let him
    choose which of us he will have for his love." So the enchantment
    was cast upon Sir Launcelot. And then they laid him upon his shield,
    and bare him so on horseback between two knights, and brought him unto
    the castle and laid hint in a chamber, and at night they sent him
    his supper.
    And on the morning came early those four queens, richly dight, and
    bade him good morning, and he them again. "Sir knight," they said,
    "thou must understand that thou art our prisoner; and we know thee
    well, that thou art Sir Launcelot of the Lake, King Ban's son, and
    that thou art the noblest knight living. And we know well that there
    can no lady have thy love but one, and that is Queen Guenever; and now
    thou shalt lose her forever, and she thee; and therefore it
    behooveth thee now to choose one of us. I am the Queen Morgane le Fay,
    and here is the Queen of North Wales, and the Queen of Eastland, and
    the Queen of the Isles. Now choose one of us which thou wilt have, for
    if thou choose not in this prison thou shalt die." "This is a hard
    case," said Sir Launcelot, "that either I must die or else choose
    one of you; yet had I liever to die in this prison with worship than
    have to have one of you for my paramour, for ye be false
    enchantresses." "Well," said the queens, "is this your answer, that ye
    will refuse us?" "Yea, on my life it is," said Sir Launcelot. Then
    they departed, making great sorrow.
    Then at noon came a damsel unto him with his dinner, and asked
    him, "What cheer?" "Truly, fair damsel," said Sir Launcelot, "never so
    ill." "Sir," said she, "if you will be ruled by me, I will help you
    out of this distress. If ye will promise me to help my father on
    Tuesday next, who hath made a tournament betwixt him and the king of
    North Wales; for the last Tuesday my father lost the field." "Fair
    maiden," said Sir Launcelot, "tell me what is your father's name,
    and then will I give you an answer." "Sir knight," she said "my father
    is King Bagdemagus." "I know him well," said Sir Launcelot, "for a
    noble king and a good knight, and, by the faith of my body, I will
    be ready to do your father and you service at that day."
    So she departed, and came on the next morning early and found him
    ready, and brought him out of twelve locks, and brought him to his own
    horse, and lightly he saddled him, and so rode forth.
    And on the Tuesday next he came to a little wood where the
    tournament should be. And there were scaffolds and holds, that lords
    and ladies might look on, and give the prize. Then came into the field
    the king of North Wales, with eightscore helms, and King Bagdemagus
    came with fourscore helms. And then they couched their spears, and
    came together with a great dash, and there were overthrown at the
    first encounter twelve of King Bagdemagus's party and six of the
    king of North Wales's party, and King Bagdemagus's party had the
    worse.
    With that came Sir Launcelot of the Lake, and thrust in with his
    spear in the thickest of the press; and he smote down five knights ere
    he held his hand; and he smote down the king of North Wales, and he
    brake his thigh in that fall. And then the knights of the king of
    North Wales would joust no more; and so the gree was given to King
    Bagdemagus.
    And Sir Launcelot rode forth with King Bagdemagus unto his castle;
    and there he had passing good cheer, both with the king and with his
    daughter. And on the morn he took his leave, and told the king he
    would go and seek his brother, Sir Lionel, that went from him when
    he slept. So he departed, and by adventure he came to the same
    forest where he was taken sleeping. And in the highway be met a damsel
    riding on a white palfrey, and they saluted each other. "Fair damsel,"
    said Sir Launcelot, "know ye in this country any adventures?" "Sir
    Knight," said the damsel, "here are adventures near at hand, if thou
    durst pursue them." "Why should I not prove adventures?" said Sir
    Launcelot, "since for that came I hither." "Sir," said she, "hereby
    dwelleth a knight that will not be overmatched for any man I know,
    except thou overmatch him. His name is Sir Turquine, and, as I
    understand, he is a deadly enemy of King Arthur, and he has in his
    prison good knights of Arthur's court three score and more, that he
    hath won with his own hands." "Damsel," said Launcelot, "I pray you
    bring me unto this knight." So she told him, "Hereby, within this
    mile, is his castle, and by it on the left hand is a ford for horses
    to drink of, and over that ford there groweth a fair tree, and on that
    tree hang many shields that good knights wielded aforetime, that are
    now prisoners: and on the tree hangeth a basin of copper and latten,
    and if thou strike upon that basin thou shalt hear tidings." And Sir
    Launcelot departed, and rode as the damsel had shown him, and
    shortly he came to the ford, and the tree where hung the shields and
    basin. And among the shields he saw Sir Lionel's and Sir Hector's
    shield, besides many others of knights that he knew.
    Then Sir Launcelot struck on the basin with the butt of his spear;
    and long he did so, but he saw no man. And at length he was ware of
    a great knight that drove a horse before him, and across the horse
    there lay an armed knight bounden. And as they came near Sir Launcelot
    thought he should know the captive knight. Then Sir Launcelot saw that
    it was Sir Gaheris, Sir Gawain's brother, a knight of the Table Round.
    "Now, fair knight," said Sir Launcelot, "put that wounded knight off
    the horse, and let him rest awhile, and let us two prove our strength.
    For, as it is told me, thou hast done great despite and shame unto
    knights of the Round Table, therefore now defend thee." "If thou be of
    the Table Round," said Sir Turquine, "I defy thee and all thy
    fellowship." "That is overmuch said," said Sir Launcelot.
    Then they put their spears in the rests, and came together with
    their horses as fast as they might run. And each smote the other in
    the middle of their shields, so that their horses fell under them, and
    the knights were both staggered; and as soon as they could clear their
    horses, they drew out their swords and came together eagerly, and each
    gave the other many strong strokes, for neither shield nor harness
    might withstand their strokes. So within a while both had grimly
    wounds, and bled grievously. Then at the last they were breathless
    both, and stood leaning upon their swords. "Now, fellow," said Sir
    Turquine, "thou art the stoutest man that ever I met with, and best
    breathed; and so be it thou be not the knight that I hate above all
    other knights, the knight that slew my brother, Sir Caradoc, I will
    gladly accord with thee; and for thy love I will deliver all the
    prisoners that I have."
    "What knight is he that thou hatest so above others?" "Truly,"
    said Sir Turquine, "his name is Sir Launcelot of the Lake." "I am
    Sir Launcelot of the Lake, King Ban's son of Benwick, and very
    knight of the Table Round; and now I defy thee do thy best." "Ah" said
    Sir Turquine, "Launcelot, thou art to me the most welcome that ever
    was knight; for we shall never part till the one of us be dead." And
    then they hurtled together like two wild bulls, rashing and lashing
    with their swords and shields, so that sometimes they fell, as it
    were, headlong. Thus they fought two hours and more, till the ground
    where they fought was all bepurpled with blood.
    Then at the last Sir Turquine waxed sore faint, and gave somewhat
    aback, and bare his shield full low for weariness. That spied Sir
    Launcelot, and leapt then upon him fiercely as a lion, and took him by
    the beaver of his helmet, and drew him down on his knees. And he rased
    off his helm, and smote his neck in sunder.
    And Sir Gaheris, when he saw Sir Turquine slain, said, "Fair lord, I
    pray you tell me your name, for this day I say ye are the best
    knight in the world, for ye have slain this day in my sight the
    mightiest man and the best knight except you that ever I saw." "Sir,
    my name is Sir Launcelot du Lac, that ought to help you of right for
    King Arthur's sake, and in especial for Sir Gawain's sake, your own
    dear brother. Now I pray you, that ye go into yonder castle, and set
    free all the prisoners ye find there, for I am sure ye shall find
    there many knights of the Table Round, and especially my brother Sir
    Lionel. I pray you greet them all from me, and tell them I bid them
    take there such stuff as they find; and tell my brother to go unto the
    court and abide me there, for by the feast of Pentecost I think to
    be there; but at this time I may not stop, for I have adventures on
    hand." So he departed, and Sir Gaheris rode into the castle, and
    took the keys from the porter, and hastily opened the prison door
    and let out all the prisoners. There was Sir Kay, Sir Brandeles, and
    Sir Galynde, Sir Bryan and Sir Alyduke, Sir Hector de Marys and Sir
    Lionel, and many more. And when they saw Sir Gaheris, they all thanked
    him, for they thought, because he was wounded, that he had slain Sir
    Turquine. "Not so," said Sir Gaheris; "it was Sir Launcelot that
    slew him, right worshipfully; I saw it with mine eyes."
    Sir Launcelot rode till at nightfall he came to a fair castle, and
    therein he found an old gentlewoman, who lodged him with goodwill, and
    there he had good cheer for him and his horse. And when time was,
    his host brought him to a fair chamber over the gate to his bed.
    Then Sir Launcelot unarmed him, and set his harness by him, and went
    to bed, and anon he fell asleep. And soon after, there came one on
    horseback and knocked at the gate in great haste; and when Sir
    Launcelot heard this, he arose and looked out of the window, and saw
    by the moonlight three knights riding after that one man, and all
    three lashed on him with their swords, and that one knight turned on
    them knightly again and defended himself. "Truly," said Sir Launcelot,
    "yonder one knight will I help, for it is shame to see three knights
    on one." Then he took his harness and went out at the window by a
    sheet down to the four knights; and he said aloud, "Turn you knights
    unto me, and leave your fighting with that knight." Then the knights
    left Sir Kay, for it was he they were upon, and turned unto Sir
    Launcelot, and struck many great strokes at Sir Launcelot, and
    assailed him on every side. Then Sir Kay addressed him to help Sir
    Launcelot, but he said, "Nay, sir, I will none of your help; let me
    alone with them." So Sir Kay suffered him to do his will, and stood
    one side. And within six strokes, Sir Launcelot had stricken them
    down.
    Then they all cried, "Sir knight, we yield us unto you." "As to
    that," said Sir Launcelot, "I will not take your yielding unto me.
    If so be ye will yield you unto Sir Kay the seneschal, I will save
    your lives, but else not." "Fair knight," then they said, "we will
    do as thou commandest us." "Then shall ye," said Sir Launcelot, "on
    Whitsunday next, go unto the court of King Arthur, and there shall
    ye yield you unto Queen Guenever, and say that Sir Kay sent you
    thither to be her prisoners." "Sir," they said, "It shall be done,
    by the faith of our bodies;" and then they swore, every knight upon
    his sword. And so Sir Launcelot suffered them to depart.
    On the morn Sir Launcelot rose early and left Sir Kay sleeping;
    and Sir Launcelot took Sir Kay's armor and his shield, and armed
    him, and went to the stable and took his horse, and so he departed.
    Then soon after arose Sir Kay and missed Sir Launcelot. And then be
    espied that he had taken his armor and his horse. "Now, by my faith, I
    know well," said Sir Kay, "that he will grieve some of King Arthur's
    knights, for they will deem that it is I, and will be bold to meet
    him. But by cause of his armor I am sure I shall ride in peace."
    Then Sir Kay thanked his host and departed.
    Sir Launcelot rode in a deep forest, and there he saw four knights
    under an oak, and they were of Arthur's court. There was Sir Sagramour
    le Desirus and Hector de Marys, and Sir Gawain and Sir Uwaine. As they
    spied Sir Launcelot, they judged by his arms it had been Sir Kay.
    "Now, by my faith," said Sir Sagramour, "I will prove Sir Kay's
    might;" and got his spear in his hand, and came toward Sir
    Launcelot. Therewith Sir Launcelot couched his spear against him,
    and smote Sir Sagramour so sore that horse and man fell both to the
    earth. Then said Sir Hector, "Now shall ye see what I may do with
    him." But he fared worse than Sir Sagramour, for Sir Launcelot's spear
    went through his shoulder and bare him from his horse to the ground,
    "By my faith," said Sir Uwaine, "yonder is a strong knight, and I fear
    he hath slain Sir Kay, and taken his armor." And therewith Sir
    Uwaine took his spear in hand, and rode toward Sir Launcelot; and
    Sir Launcelot met him on the plain and gave him such a buffet that
    he was staggered, and wist not where he was. "Now see I well," said
    Sir Gawain, "that I must encounter with that knight." Then he adjusted
    his shield, and took a good spear in his hand, and Sir Launcelot
    knew him well. Then they let run their horses with all their mights,
    and each knight smote the other in the middle of his shield. But Sir
    Gawain's spear broke, and Sir Launcelot charged so sore upon him
    that his horse fell over backward. Then Sir Launcelot rode away
    smiling with himself, and he said "Good luck be with him that made
    this spear, for never came a better into my hand." Then the four
    knights went each to the other and comforted one another. "What say ye
    to this adventure," said Sir Gawain, "that one spear hath felled us
    all four?" "I dare lay my head it is Sir Launcelot," said Sir
    Hector; "I know it by his riding."
    And Sir Launcelot rode through many strange countries, till, by
    fortune, he came to a fair castle; and as he passed beyond the castle,
    he thought he heard two bells ring. And then he perceived how a falcon
    came flying over his head toward a high elm; and she had long lunys*
    about her feet, and she flew unto the elm to take her perch, and the
    lunys got entangled in a bough; and when she would have taken her
    flight, she hung by the legs fast, and Sir Launcelot saw how she
    hung and beheld the fair falcon entangled, and he was sorry for her.
    Then came a lady out of the castle and cried aloud, "O Launcelot,
    Launcelot, as thou art the flower of all knights, help me to get my
    hawk; for if my hawk be lost, my lord will slay me, he is so hasty."
    "What is your lord's name?" said Sir Launcelot. "His name is Sir
    Phelot, a knight that belongeth to the king of North Wales." "Well,
    fair lady, since ye know my name, and require me of knighthood to help
    you, I will do what I may to get your hawk; and yet, in truth, I am an
    ill climber and the tree is passing high and few boughs to help me."
    And therewith Sir Launcelot alighted and tied his horse to a tree, and
    prayed the lady to unarm him. And when he was unarmed, he put off
    his jerkin, and with might and force he clomb up to the falcon, and
    tied the lunys to a rotten bough, and threw the hawk down with it; and
    the lady got the hawk in her hand. Then suddenly there came out of the
    castle her husband all armed, and with his naked sword in his hand,
    and said, "O Knight Launcelot, now have I got thee as I would;" and
    stood at the boll of the tree to slay him. "Ah, lady!" said Sir
    Launcelot, "why have ye betrayed me?" "She hath done," said Sir
    Phelot, "but as I commanded her; and therefore there is none other way
    but thine hour is come, and thou must die." "That were shame unto
    thee," said Sir Launcelot; "thou an armed knight to slay a naked man
    by treason." "Thou gettest none other grace," said Sir Phelot, "and
    therefore help thyself if thou canst." "Alas!" said Sir Launcelot,
    "that ever a knight should die weaponless!" And therewith he turned
    his eyes upward and downward; and over his head he saw a big bough
    leafless, and he brake it off from the trunk. And then he came
    lower, and watched how his own horse stood; and suddenly he leapt on
    the further side of his horse from the knight. Then Sir Phelot
    lashed at him eagerly, meaning to have slain him. But Sir Launcelot
    put away the stroke with the big bough, and smote Sir Phelot therewith
    on the side of the head, so that he fell down in a swoon to the
    ground. Then Sir Launcelot took his sword out of his hand and struck
    his head from the body. Then said the lady, "Alas! why hast thou slain
    my husband?" "I am not the cause," said Sir Launcelot, "for with
    falsehood ye would have slain me, and now it is fallen on yourselves."
    Thereupon Sir Launcelot got all his armor and put it upon him
    hastily for fear of more resort, for the knight's castle was so
    nigh. And as soon as he might, he took his horse and departed; and
    thanked God he had escaped that adventure.

    * Lunys, the string with which the falcon is held.

    And two days before the feast of Pentecost, Sir Launcelot came home;
    and the king and all the court were passing glad of his coming. And
    when Sir Gawain, Sir Uwaine, Sir Sagramour, and Sir Hector de Marys
    saw Sir Launcelot in Sir Kay's armor, then they wist well it was he
    that smote them down, all with one spear. Then there was laughing
    and merriment among them; and from time to time came all the knights
    that Sir Turquine had prisoners, and they all honored and worshipped
    Sir Launcelot. Then Sir Gaheris said, "I saw all the battle from the
    beginning to the end," and he told King Arthur all how it was. Then
    Sir Kay told the king how Sir Launcelot had rescued him, and how he
    "made the knights yield to me, and not to him." And there they were,
    all three, and confirmed it all. "And by my faith," said Sir Kay,
    "because Sir Launcelot took my harness and left me his, I rode in
    peace, and no man would have to do with me."
    And so at that time Sir Launcelot had the greatest name of any
    knight of the world, and most was he honored of high and low.

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