Stories of King Arthur and His Knights/Chapter 34
|←Chapter XXXIII. Sir Launcelot and the Fair Maid of Astolat||Stories of King Arthur and His Knights by
Chapter XXXIV. Of the Great Tournament on Candlemas Day
|Chapter XXXV. Queen Guenever's May-Day Ride and What Came of It→|
At Christmas time many knights were together at the court, and every day there was a joust made. Sir Lavaine jousted there all that Christmas passing well, and was praised best, for there were but few that did so well. Wherefore all knights thought that Sir Lavaine should be made knight of the Round Table at the next feast of Pentecost.
But Sir Launcelot would joust only when a great tournament was held. So after Christmas King Arthur had many knights called unto him, and there they agreed together to make a party and a great tournament near Westminster on Candlemas Day. Of this many knights were glad, and made themselves ready to be at these jousts in the freshest manner. The Queen Guenever sent for Sir Launcelot, and said: "At these jousts that shall be ye shall bear upon your helmet the sleeve of gold that ye shall have of me, and I pray you, for my sake exert yourself there so that men may speak of your honour."
"Madam," said Sir Launcelot, "it shall be done."
And when Sir Launcelot saw his time, he told Sir Bors that he would depart, and have no others with him than Sir Lavaine, unto the good hermit that dwelt in the forest of Windsor, — his name was Sir Brastias, — and there he intended to take all the repose he might, because he wished to be fresh on the day of the jousts.
So Sir Launcelot with Sir Lavaine departed so quietly that no creature except the noble men of his own kin knew what had become of him. And when he had come to the hermitage, you may be sure he had good cheer. Daily he would go to a spring hard by the hermitage, and there he would lie down and watch the spring bubble, and sometimes he slept there.
At that time a lady dwelt in the forest, who was a great huntress. Every day she used to hunt, and no men ever went with her, but always women. They were all shooters, and could well kill a deer both under cover and in the open. They always carried bows and arrows, horns and wood-knives, and many good dogs they had.
Now it happened that this lady, the huntress, was one day chasing a deer, keeping the direction by the noise of the hounds. The deer, hard pressed, came down to the spring where Sir Launcelot was sleeping, and there sank down exhausted, and lay there a great while. At length the dogs came fast after, and beat about, for they had lost the very perfect track of the deer. Just then there came that lady, the huntress, who knew by the sounds of the dogs that the deer must be at the spring. So she came swiftly and found the deer. She put a broad arrow in her bow, and shot at it, but aimed too high, and so by misfortune the arrow smote Sir Launcelot deep in the thick of the thigh. When Sir Launcelot felt himself so hurt, he jumped up madly, and saw the lady that had smitten him. And when he saw it was a woman, he said thus; "Lady or damsel, whatever thou be, in an evil time ye bare a bow; the devil made you a shooter."
"Now mercy, fair sir," said the lady; "I am a gentlewoman that am wont to hunt here in this forest, and truly I saw you not; there was the deer by the spring, and I believed I was doing well to shoot, but my hand swerved."
"Alas," said Sir Launcelot, "ye have done mischief to me."
And so the lady departed, and Sir Launcelot, as well as he might, pulled out the arrow, but the head remained still in his thigh; and so he went feebly to the hermitage, ever bleeding as he went. And when Sir Lavaine and the hermit spied that Sir Launcelot was hurt, wit ye well they were passing sorry; but neither Sir Lavaine nor the hermit knew how he was hurt, or by whom. Then with great pain the hermit gat the arrow's head out of Sir Launcelot's thigh, but much of his blood was shed, and the wound was passing sore.
"Ah, mercy," said Sir Launcelot, "I call myself the most unhappy man that liveth; for ever when I would most gladly have honour there befalleth me some unhappy thing. Now, so heaven help me, I shall be in the field upon Candlemas Day at the jousts, whatsoever come of it."
So all that might heal Sir Launcelot was gotten, and, when the day came, he and Sir Lavaine had themselves and their horses arrayed, and so departed and came nigh to the field. Many proved good knights with their retainers were there ready to joust, and King Arthur himself came into the field with two hundred knights, the most part noble knights of the Table Round. And there were old knights set in scaffolds, for to judge with the Queen who did best.
Then they blew to the field, and the knights met in the battle, furiously smiting down one and another in the rush of the tournament. King Arthur himself ran into the lists with a hundred followers, smiting to the earth four knights, one after the other, and even when his spear was broken he did passing well. And so knight after knight came in, — Sir Gawaine, and Sir Gaheris, and Sir Agravaine, and Sir Mordred, and many others; all pressed their opponents hard, some being discomfited and others gaining great honour by their mighty prowess.
All this doing Sir Launcelot saw, and then he came into the field with Sir Lavaine, as if it had been thunder. He encountered with Sir Gawaine, and by force smote him and his horse to the earth, and then one knight after another all with one spear. And Sir Lavaine encountered with Sir Palamides, and either met other so hard and so fiercely that both their horses fell to the earth. But they were horsed again, and then Sir Launcelot met with Sir Palamides, and there Sir Palamides had a fall. And so Sir Launcelot, as fast as he could get spears, smote down thirty knights, and the most part of them were knights of the Table Round. And then King Arthur was wroth when he saw Sir Launcelot do such deeds, and with nine chosen knights made ready to set upon Sir Launcelot and Sir Lavaine.
All this espied Sir Gareth, and he said to Sir Bors, "I will ride unto my lord Sir Launcelot for to help him, fall of it what may, for he is the same man that made me knight."
"Ye shall not so," said Sir Bors, "by my counsel, unless ye be disguised."
"Ye shall see me disguised," said Sir Gareth.
So he rode to a Welsh knight who lay to repose himself, for he was sore hurt afore by Sir Gawaine, and Sir Gareth prayed him of his knighthood to lend him his green shield for his.
"I will well," said the Welsh knight.
So Sir Gareth came driving to Sir Launcelot with all his might, and bore him fellowship for old love he had shown him. And so the King and his nine knights encountered with Sir Launcelot and Sir Lavaine and Sir Gareth. And Sir Gareth did such deeds of arms that all men wondered what knight he was with the green shield; for he smote down that day and pulled down more than thirty knights. Also Sir Launcelot knew not Sir Gareth, and marvelled, when he beheld him do such deeds, what knight he might be.
So this tournament and this joust lasted long, till it was near evening, for the knights of the Round Table ever came to the relief of King Arthur, who was wroth out of measure that he and his knights could not prevail that day over Sir Launcelot and the knights who were with him.
So when they had long dealt one another great strokes and neither might prevail, King Arthur said to Sir Gawaine, "Tell me now, nephew, what is your best counsel?"
"Sir," said Sir Gawaine, "ye shall have my counsel. Have sounded the call unto lodging, for, trust me, truly it will be of no avail to strive with Sir Launcelot of the Lake and my brother, Sir Gareth, — for he it is with the green shield, — helped as they are by that good young knight, Sir Lavaine, unless we should fall ten or twelve upon one knight, and that would be no honour, but shame."
"Ye say truth," said the King, "and it were shame to us, so many as we are, to set upon them any more."
So then they blew unto lodging, and King Arthur rode after Sir Launcelot and prayed him and other of the knights to supper.
So they went unto Arthur's lodging all together, and there was a great feast and great revel, and the prize was given unto Sir Launcelot. Then Sir Launcelot told the King and the Queen how the lady huntress shot him in the forest of Windsor in the thigh with a broad arrow. Also Arthur blamed Sir Gareth, because he left his fellowship and held with Sir Launcelot.
"My lord," said Sir Gareth, "he made me a knight, and when I saw him so hard bestead, me thought it was my honour to help him, for I saw him do so much, and I was ashamed to see so many noble knights against him alone."
"Truly," said King Arthur unto Sir Gareth, "ye say well, and honourably have ye done, and all the days of my life be sure I shall love you and trust you the more for the great honour ye have done to yourself. For ever it is an honourable knight's duty to help another honourable knight when he seeth him in a great danger, for ever an honourable man will be loath to see an honourable man put to shame. He that is of no honour, and fareth with cowardice, will never show gentleness nor any manner of goodness where he seeth a man in any danger, for never will a coward show any mercy, and always a good man will do to another man as he would be done to himself."
So then there were great feasts unto kings and dukes; and revel, game, and play, and all manner of nobleness was used; and he that was courteous, true, and faithful to his friend was at that time cherished.