Stories of King Arthur and His Knights/Chapter 30

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When Sir Bors was departed from Vagon, he met with a religious man riding on an ass, and Sir Bors saluted him. Anon the good man knew him to be one of the knights errant that was in the quest of the Holy Grail.

"What are ye?" said the good man.

"Sir," said he, "I am a knight that fain would be counselled in the quest of the Holy Grail, for he shall have much earthly honour that may bring it to an end."

"Verily," said the good man, "that is sooth, for he shall be the best knight of the world, and the fairest of all the fellowship. But wit ye well, there shall none attain it but by cleanness of heart and of life."

So rode they together till they came to a hermitage, and there he prayed Bors to dwell all that night with him. So he alighted and put away his armour, and prayed him that he might be confessed. So they went into the chapel, and there he was clean confessed; and they ate bread and drank water together.

"Now," said the good man, "I pray thee that thou eat none other, till that thou sit at the table where the Holy Grail shall be."

"Sir," said he, "I agree thereto; but how wit ye that I shall sit there?"

"Yes," said the good man, "that know I, but there shall be few of your fellowship with you."

"All is welcome," said Sir Bors, "that God sendeth me."

Also the good man in sign of chastisement put on him a scarlet coat, instead of his shirt, and found him in so vigorous a life, and so stable, that he marvelled, and felt that he was never corrupt in fleshly lusts. Then Sir Bors put on his armour, and took his leave, and so departed.

After he had ridden a day or two on his road, he met about the hour of noon at the parting of two ways two knights, that led Lionel, his brother, bound upon a strong hackney and his hands bound tofore his breast. Each of the two held in his hands thorns, wherewith they went beating him so sore that the blood trailed down more than in a hundred places of his body. But he said never a word, as he which was great of heart; he suffered all that ever they did to him as though he had felt none anguish.

Anon Sir Bors dressed him to rescue him that was his brother. Just then he chanced to look upon his other side, and saw a knight which brought a fair gentlewoman, and would have dragged her into the thickest part of the forest out of the way of them that sought to rescue her.

Anon she espied where Sir Bors came riding. She deemed him a knight of the Round Table, wherefore she hoped to have some comfort; and she conjured him by the faith that he owed unto him in whose service he had entered, and the fidelity he owed unto the high order of knighthood, and for the noble King Arthur's sake, to help her in her sore distress.

When Sir Bors heard her cry, he had so much sorrow he knew not what to do. "For," said he, "if I let my brother be in adventure he must be slain, and that would I not for all the earth. And if I help not the maid in her peril, I am shamed for ever." Then he lifted up his eyes, and said weeping, "Fair Lord Jesu Christ, whose liege man I am, keep Lionel my brother, that these knights slay him not; and for Mary's sake, I shall succour this maid."

Then dressed he him unto the knight the which had the gentlewoman, and cried, "Sir knight, let your hand off that maiden, or ye be but a dead man."

The knight set down the maiden, and drew out his sword, but Bors smote him so hard that he beat him down to the earth. Then came twelve knights seeking the gentlewoman, and anon she told them all how Bors had delivered her. They made great joy, and besought him to come to her father, a noble lord; but Bors had a great adventure in hand, and might not delay. So he commended them unto God, and departed.

Then Sir Bors rode after Lionel his brother by the trace of their horses. He sought a great while; and at the last he overtook a man clothed in religious clothing, that told him Lionel was dead, and showed him a slain body, lying in a thicket, that well seemed to him the body of Lionel. Then he made such a sorrow that he fell to the earth all in a swoon, and lay a great while there.

When he came to himself he said, "Fair brother, since the company of you and me is parted, shall I never have joy in my heart; and now He which I have taken as to my Master, He be my help."

When he had said thus, he took the body lightly in his arms and put it upon the bow of his saddle, and so rode to an old feeble chapel fast by, and put him into a tomb of marble.

Then went Sir Bors from thence, and rode all that day, and then turned to a hermitage, at the entry of a forest. There he found Lionel his brother, which sat all armed at the chapel door. For he was yet on life, and a fiend had deceived Bors with the body left in the chapel, for to put him in error so that he might not find the blessed adventure of the Holy Grail.

When Sir Bors saw his brother alive he had great joy of him, that it was marvel to tell of his joy. And then he alighted off his horse, and said, "Fair sweet brother, when came ye thither?"

Anon as Sir Lionel saw him he said, "Ah, Bors, ye may make no boast. For all you I might have been slain. When ye saw two knights leading me away, beating me, ye left me for to succour a gentlewoman, and suffered me to remain in peril of death. Never before did any brother to another so great an untruth. And for that misdeed now I ensure you but death, for well have ye deserved it. Therefore guard yourself from henceforward, and that shall ye find needful as soon as I am armed."

When Sir Bors understood his brother's wrath, he kneeled down to the earth and cried him mercy, holding up both his hands, and prayed him to forgive him his evil will; but Lionel would show no pity, and made his avow to God that he should have only death. Right so he went in and put on his harness; then he mounted upon his horse and came tofore him, and said, "Bors, keep thee from me, for I shall do to thee as I would to a felon or a traitor, for ye be the untruest knight that ever came out of so worthy a house as was that of our father, King Bors of Ganis."

When Sir Bors saw that he must fight with his brother or else die, he wist not what to do. Then his heart counselled him not to fight, inasmuch as Lionel was born before him, wherefore he ought to bear him reverence. Again kneeled he down afore Lionel's horse's feet, and said, "Fair sweet brother, have mercy upon me and slay me not, and have in remembrance the great love which ought to be between us twain."

What Sir Bors said Lionel recked not, for the fiend had brought him in such a will that he was determined to slay him. Then when Lionel saw he would none other, and that he would not rise to give him battle, he rushed over him, so that his horse's feet smote Bors to the earth, and hurt him so sore that he swooned of distress. When Lionel saw this, he alighted from his horse to smite off his head. So he took him by the helm, and would have rent it from his head, had not the hermit come running unto him, which was a good man and of great age. Well had he heard all the words that were between them, and so fell down upon Sir Bors.

Then he said to Lionel, "Ah, gentle knight, have mercy upon me and on thy brother, for if thou slay him thou shalt commit a deadly sin, and that were sorrowful; for he is one of the worthiest knights of the world, and of the best conditions."

"So God me help," said Lionel, "sir priest, unless ye flee from him I shall slay you, and he shall never the sooner be quit."

"Verily," said the good man, "I had rather ye slay me than him, for my death shall not be great harm, not half so much as his."

"Well," said Lionel, "I am agreed"; and he set his hand to his sword, and smote the hermit so hard that his head went backward.

For all that, he restrained him not of his evil will, but took his brother by the helm, and unlaced it to strike off his head. And he would have slain him without fail, but so it happened that Colgrevance, a fellow of the Round Table, came at that time thither, as our Lord's will was. First he saw the good man slain, then he beheld how Lionel would slay his brother, whom he knew and loved right well. Anon he sprang down and took Lionel by the shoulders, and drew him strongly back from Bors, and said, "Lionel, will ye slay your brother, one of the worthiest knights of the world? That should no good man suffer."

"Why," said Sir Lionel, "will ye hinder me? If ye interfere in this, I shall slay you, and him after."

Then Lionel ran upon Bors, and would have smitten him through the head, but Sir Colgrevance ran betwixt them, and said, "If ye be so hardy as to do so more, we two shall meddle together."

Then Lionel defied him, and gave a great stroke through the helm. Now Colgrevance drew his sword, for he was a passing good knight, and defended himself right manfully. So long endured the battle that Sir Bors awoke from his swoon, and rose up all anguishly, and beheld Sir Colgrevance, the good knight, fight with his brother for his quarrel. Then was he full sorry and heavy, and would have risen to part them. But he had not so much might as to stand on foot, and must abide so long till Colgrevance had the worse, for Sir Lionel was of great chivalry and right hardy.

Only death awaited Colgrevance, when he beheld Sir Bors assaying to rise, and he cried, "Ah, Bors, come ye and cast me out of peril of death, wherein I have put me to succour you, which were right now nigh to death."

When Bors heard that, he did so much as to rise and put on his helm, making a marvellous sorrow at the sight of the dead hermit hard by. With that Lionel smote Colgrevance so sore that he bare him to the earth.

When he had slain Colgrevance, he ran upon his brother as a fiendly man, and gave him such a stroke that he made him stoop; and he, full of humility, prayed him for God's love to leave this battle. But Lionel would not, and then Bors drew his sword, all weeping, and said, "Fair brother, God knoweth mine intent. Ah, brother, ye have done full evil this day to slay such a holy priest, the which never trespassed. Also ye have slain a gentle knight, one of our fellows. And well wot ye that I am not afraid of you greatly, but I dread the wrath of God. This is an unkindly war; therefore may God show miracle upon us both. Now God have mercy upon me, though I defend my life against my brother."

With that Bors lifted up his hands, and would have smitten Lionel, but even then he heard a voice that said, "Flee, Bors, and touch him not."

Right so came a cloud betwixt them in likeness of a fire, so that both their shields burned. Then were they sore afraid, and fell both to the earth, and lay there a great while in a swoon. When they came to themselves, Bors saw that his brother had no harm, wherefore he gave thanks, for he feared God had taken vengeance upon him. With that he heard a voice say, "Bors, go hence and bear thy brother no longer fellowship, but take thy way anon right to the sea, for Sir Percivale abideth thee there."

So Sir Bors departed from Lionel, and rode the next way to the sea. On the strand he found a ship covered all with white samite. He alighted from his horse and entered into the ship, and anon it departed into the sea, and went so fast that him seemed the ship went flying. Then he saw in the midst of the ship a knight lie, all armed save his helm, and he knew that it was Sir Percivale. And either made great joy of other, that it was marvel to hear.

Then Sir Bors told Sir Percivale how he came into the ship, and by whose admonishment, and either told other of his temptations, as ye have heard toforehand. So went they downward in the sea, one while backward, another while forward, and each comforted other, and oft were they in their prayers. Then said Sir Percivale, "We lack nothing but Galahad, the good knight."