Stories of King Arthur and His Knights/Chapter 38
|←Chapter XXXVII. How Sir Launcelot Departed from the King and from Joyous Gard||Stories of King Arthur and His Knights by
Chapter XXXVIII. How King Arthur and Sir Gawaine Invaded Sir Launcelot's Realm
|Chapter XXXIX. Of Sir Mordred's Treason→|
When Sir Launcelot came again to Joyous Gard from Carlisle, he called his fellowship unto him, and asked them what they would do. Then they answered all wholly together with one voice, they would as he would do.
"My fair fellows," said he: "I must depart out of this most noble realm. And now I am to depart, it grieveth me sore, for I shall depart with no honour. A banished man departed never out of any realm with honour; and that is my heaviness, for ever I fear that after my days they will chronicle upon me that I was banished out of this land."
Then spake many noble knights: "Sir, we will never fail. Since it liked us to take a part with you in your distress and heaviness in this realm, wit ye well it shall like us as well to go in other countries with you, and there to take such part as ye do."
"My fair lords," said Sir Launcelot, "I well understand you, and, as I can, thank you. And ye shall understand, such livelihood and lands as I am born unto I shall freely share among you, and I myself will have as little as any of you, for if I have sufficient for my personal needs, I will ask none other rich array; and I trust to God to maintain you on my lands as well as ever were maintained any knights."
Then spake all the knights at once: "He have shame that will leave you. We all understand in this realm will be now no quiet, but ever strife and debate, now the fellowship of the Round Table is broken; for by the noble fellowship of the Round Table was King Arthur upborne, and by their nobleness the King and all his realm was in quiet and in rest. And a great part," they said all, "was because of your nobleness."
So, to make short tale, they packed up, and paid all that would ask them, and wholly an hundred knights departed with Sir Launcelot at once, and made avows they would never leave him for weal nor for woe. They shipped at Cardiff, and sailed unto Benwick. But to say the sooth, Sir Launcelot and his nephews were lords of all France, and of all the lands that belong unto France through Sir Launcelot's noble prowess. When he had established all these countries, he shortly called a parliament, and appointed officers for his realm. Thus Sir Launcelot rewarded his noble knights and many more, that me seemeth it were too long to rehearse.
Now leave we Sir Launcelot in his lands, and his noble knights with him, and return we again unto King Arthur and to Sir Gawaine, that made a great host ready, to the number of three-score thousand. All things were made ready for their shipping to pass over the sea, and so they shipped at Cardiff. And there King Arthur made Sir Mordred chief ruler of all England, and also he put Queen Guenever under his governance.
So King Arthur passed over the sea, and landed upon Sir Launcelot's lands, and there burned and wasted, through the vengeance of Sir Gawaine, all that they might overrun.
When this word came to Sir Launcelot, that King Arthur and Sir Gawaine were landed upon his lands, and made a full destruction and waste, then said Sir Lionel, that was ware and wise: "My Lord, Sir Launcelot, I will give you this counsel: Let us keep our strong walled towns until they have hunger and cold, and blow upon their nails, and then let us freshly set upon them, and shred them down as sheep in a field, that aliens may take ensample for ever how they set foot upon our lands."
Then said Sir Galihud unto Sir Launcelot, "Sir, here be knights come of king's blood that will not long droop; therefore give us leave, like as we be knights, to meet them in the field, and we shall slay them, that they shall curse the time that ever they came into this country."
Then spake all at once seven brethren of North Wales, — and they were seven noble knights, a man might seek in seven lands ere he might find such seven knights: "Sir Launcelot, let us ride out with Sir Galihud, for we be never wont to cower in castle, or in noble towns."
But then spake Sir Launcelot, that was master and governor of them all: "My fair lords, wit ye well I am full loath to ride out with my knights, for shedding of Christian blood; and yet my lands I understand to be full bare to sustain any host a while, for the mighty wars that whilom made King Claudas upon this country, upon my father King Ban and on mine uncle King Bors. Howbeit we will at this time keep our strong walls, and I shall send a messenger unto my lord Arthur, a treaty for to take, for better is peace than always war."
So he sent forth a damsel, and a dwarf with her, requiring King Arthur to leave his warring upon his lands. When she came to the pavilion of King Arthur there met her a gentle knight, Sir Lucan the butler, and when he knew that she was a messenger from Sir Launcelot to the King he said: "I pray God, damsel, ye may speed well. My Lord Arthur would love Launcelot, but Sir Gawaine will not suffer him."
So Lucan led the damsel unto the King, and when she had told her tale, all the lords were full glad to advise him to be accorded with Sir Launcelot, save only Sir Gawaine, who would not turn again, now that they were past thus far upon the journey.
"Wit ye well, Sir Gawaine," said Arthur, "I will do as ye will advise me; and yet me seemeth his fair proffers were not good to be refused."
Then Sir Gawaine sent the damsel away with the answer that it was now too late for peace. And so the war went on. Sir Launcelot was never so loath to do battle, but he must needs defend himself; and when King Arthur's host besieged Benwick round about, and fast began to set up ladders, then Sir Launcelot beat them from the walls mightily.
Then upon a day it befell that Sir Gawaine came before the gates fully armed on a noble horse, with a great spear in his hand, and cried with a loud voice: "Where art thou now, thou false traitor, Launcelot? Why hidest thou thyself within holes and walls like a coward? Look out now, thou false traitor knight, and here I shall revenge upon thy body the death of my three brethren."
All this language heard Sir Launcelot, and he wist well that he must defend himself, or else be recreant. So he armed himself at all points, and mounted upon his horse, and gat a great spear in his hand, and rode out at the gate. And both the hosts were assembled, of them without and of them within, and stood in array full manly. And both parties were charged to hold them still, to see and behold the battle of these two noble knights.
Then they laid their spears in their rests, and came together as thunder. Sir Gawaine brake his spear upon Sir Launcelot in an hundred pieces unto his hand, and Sir Launcelot smote him with a greater might, so that Sir Gawaine's horse's feet raised, and the horse and he fell to the earth. Then they dressed their shields and fought with swords on foot, giving many sad strokes, so that all men on both parties had thereof passing great wonder. But Sir Launcelot withheld his courage and his wind, and kept himself wonderly covert of his might. Under his shield he traced and traversed here and there, to break Sir Gawaine's strokes and his courage, and Sir Gawaine enforced himself with all his might to destroy Sir Launcelot.
At the first ever Sir Gawaine's power increased, and right so his wind and his evil will. For a time Sir Launcelot had great pain to defend himself, but when three hours were passed, and Sir Launcelot felt that Sir Gawaine was come to his full strength, then Sir Launcelot said, "I feel that ye have done your mighty deeds; now wit you well I must do my deeds."
So he doubled his strokes, and soon smote such a buffet upon Sir Gawaine's helm that he sank down upon his side in a swoon. Anon as he did awake, he waved at Sir Launcelot as he lay, and said, "Traitor knight, wit thou well I am not yet slain; come thou near me, and perform this battle unto the uttermost."
"I will no more do than I have done," said Sir Launcelot. "When I see you on foot I will do battle upon you all the while I see you stand on your feet; but to smite a wounded man, that may not stand, God defend me from such a shame."
Then he turned and went his way towards the city, and Sir Gawaine, evermore calling him traitor knight, said, "Wit thou well, Sir Launcelot, when I am whole, I shall do battle with thee again; for I shall never leave thee till one of us be slain."
Thus this siege endured. Sir Gawaine lay sick near a month, and when he was well recovered, and ready within three days to do battle again with Sir Launcelot, right so came tidings unto Arthur from England, that made him and all his host to remove.