Stories of King Arthur and His Knights/Chapter 14

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Arthur was holding the high feast of Pentecost at a city and castle called in those days Kink-Kenadon, upon the sands nigh Wales, and he sat at meat with all the knights of the Round Table. Then came into the hall two men well beseen and richly, and upon their shoulders there leaned the goodliest young man and the fairest that ever any of the knights had seen. He was higher than the other two by a foot and a half, broad in the shoulders, well visaged, and the fairest and largest handed that ever man saw; but he acted as though he might not walk nor support himself unless he leaned upon their shoulders. They went with him right unto the high dais without saying of any words.

Then this much young man pulled himself away, and easily stretched up straight, saying: "King Arthur, God you bless and all your fair fellowship of the Round Table. For this cause I am come hither, to pray you to give me three gifts. They shall not be so unreasonable but that ye may honourably grant them me, and to you no great hurt nor loss. The first I will ask now, and the other two gifts I will ask this day twelvemonth wheresoever ye hold your high feast."

"Now ask," said Arthur, "and ye shall have your asking."

"Now, sir, this is my petition for this feast, that you will give me meat and drink sufficiently for this twelve-month, and at that day I will ask mine other two gifts."

"This is but a simple asking," said the King; "ye shall have meat and drink enough; I never refuse that to any, neither my friend nor my foe. But what is your name I would know?"

"I cannot tell you," said he.

The King marvelled at this answer, but took him to Sir Kay, the steward, and charged him that he should give the youth of all manner of meats and drinks of the best, and also that he should have all manner of finding as though he were a lord's son.

"That need not be," said Sir Kay, "to do such cost upon him; for I dare undertake he is a villain born, and never will make a man, for had he come of gentlemen he would have asked of you horse and armour; but such as he is, so he asketh. And since he hath no name, I shall give him the name Beaumains, that is Fair-hands, and into the kitchen I shall bring him, and there he shall have rich broth every day, so that he shall be as fat by the twelvemonth's end as a pork hog."

So the two men departed, and left him to Sir Kay, who scorned him and mocked him. Thereat was Sir Gawaine wroth, and especially Sir Launcelot bade Sir Kay leave off his mocking, "for," said he, "I dare wager he shall prove a man of great honour."

"It may not be by any reason," said Sir Kay, "for as he is, so hath he asked."

So Sir Kay ordered that a place be made for him, and Fair-hands went to the hall door, and sat down among boys and lads, and there he ate sadly. After meat Sir Launcelot bade him come to his chamber, where he should have meat and drink enough, and so did Sir Gawaine; but he refused them all; he would do none other but as Sir Kay commanded him. As touching Sir Gawaine, he had reason to proffer him lodging, meat, and drink, for he was nearer kin to him than he knew. But what Sir Launcelot did was of his great gentleness and courtesy.

Thus Fair-hands was put into the kitchen, and lay nightly as the boys of the kitchen did. And so he endured all that twelvemonth, and never displeased man nor child, but always he was meek and mild. But ever when there was any jousting of knights, that would he see if he could. And where were any masteries done, thereat would he be, and there might none cast bar nor stone to him by two yards. Then would Sir Kay say, "How like you my boy of the kitchen?"

So it passed on till the least of Whitsuntide, which at that time the King held at Carlion in the most royal wise that might be, as he did every year. As he again sat at meat, there came a damsel into the hall and saluted the King, and prayed him for succour. "For whom?" said the King; "what is the adventure?"

"Sir," she said, "I have a lady of great honour and renown, and she is besieged by a tyrant so that she may not out of her castle. And because your knights are called the noblest of the world, I come to you to pray you for succour."

"What is the name of your lady? and where dwelleth she? and who is he, and what is his name, that hath besieged her?"

"Sir King," she said, "as for my lady's name, that shall not ye know from me at this time, but I let you know she is a lady of great honour and of great lands. And as for the tyrant that besiegeth and destroyeth her lands, he is called the Red Knight of the Red Lawns."

"I know him not," said the King.

"Sir," said Sir Gawaine, "I know him well, for he is one of the most dangerous knights of the world. Men say that he hath seven men's strength, and from him I escaped once full hard with my life."

"Fair damsel," said the King, "there be knights here would do their best to rescue your lady, but because ye will not tell her name, nor where she dwelleth, therefore none of my knights that be here now shall go with you by my will."

"Then must I speak further," said the damsel.

With these words Fair-hands came before the King, while the damsel was there, and thus he said: "Sir King, God reward you, I have been these twelve months in your kitchen, and have had my full sustenance, and now I will ask my two gifts that be behind."

"Ask upon my peril," said the King.

"Sir, these shall be my two gifts. First, that ye will grant me this adventure of the damsel, and second, that ye shall bid Launcelot of the Lake to make me knight, for of him I will be made knight, and else of none. I pray you let him ride after me, and make me knight when I request him."

"All this shall be done," said the King.

"Fie on thee," said the damsel, "shall I have none but one that is your kitchen-page?" Then was she wroth, and took her horse and departed.

Thereupon there came one to Fair-hands, and told him that his horse and armour was come for him, with all things that he needed in the richest manner. Thereat all the court had much marvel from whence came all that gear. When he was armed and came into the hall to take leave of King Arthur and Sir Gawaine and Sir Launcelot, there were but few so goodly knights as he was. He prayed Sir Launcelot that he would hie after him, and so departed and rode after the damsel.

Many people followed after Fair-hands to behold how well he was horsed and trapped in cloth of gold, but he had neither shield nor spear. Then Sir Kay said all openly in the hall, "I will ride after my boy of the kitchen, to see whether he will know me for his better."

Sir Launcelot and Sir Gawaine counselled him to abide at home; nevertheless he made ready and took his horse and his spear and rode off. Just as Fair-hands overtook the damsel, Sir Kay came up, and said, "Fair-hands, what sir, know ye not me?"

Then he turned his horse, and knew it was Sir Kay, that had done him all the despite, as we have heard afore. "Yea," said Fair-hands, "I know you for an ungentle knight of the court and therefore beware of me."

Therewith Sir Kay put his spear in its rest, and ran straight upon him, and Fair-hands came on just as fast with his sword in his hand. And so he put away his spear with his sword, and with a foin[1] thrust him through the side, so that Sir Kay fell down as if he were dead. Then Fair-hands alighted down and took Sir Kay's shield and his spear, had his dwarf mount upon Sir Kay's horse, and started upon his own horse and rode his way. All this Sir Launcelot saw, and so did the damsel.

By this time Sir Launcelot had come up, and Fair-hands offered to joust with him. So they rushed together like boars, and for upwards of an hour they had a hard fight, wherein Sir Launcelot had so much ado with Fair-hands that he feared himself to be shamed. At length he said, "Fair-hands, fight not so sore; your quarrel and mine is not so great but we may leave off."

"That is truth," said Fair-hands, "but it doth me good to feel your might, and yet, my lord, I showed not my uttermost."

"Well," said Sir Launcelot, "I promise you I had as much to do as I might to save myself from you unashamed; therefore ye need have no fear of any earthly knight."

"Hope ye then," said Fair-hands, "that I may anywhere stand as a proved knight?"

"Yea," said Launcelot, "do as ye have done, and I shall be your warrant."

"Then I pray you give me the order of knighthood," said Fair-hands.

"Then must ye tell me your name," said Launcelot, "and of what kin ye be born."

"Sir, if ye will not make me known, I will," said Fair-hands.

"That I promise you by the faith of my body, until it be openly known," said Sir Launcelot.

"Then, sir," he said, "my name is Gareth; I am own brother unto Sir Gawaine."

"Ah! sir," said Launcelot, "I am more glad of you than I was, for ever me thought ye should be of great blood, and that ye came not to the court either for meat or for drink."

Then Sir Launcelot gave him the order of knighthood, and Sir Gareth went his way.

Sir Launcelot now came to Sir Kay and had him carried home upon his shield. He was with difficulty healed of his wounds, and all men scorned him. In especial Sir Gawaine and Sir Launcelot said it was not for Sir Kay to rebuke the young man, for full little he knew of what birth he was and for what cause he came to this court.


  1. Foin: reach forth.