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Chapter 17

CHAPTER XVII.
SIR AGRIVAIN'S TREASON.

SO after the quest of the Sangreal was fulfilled, and all the
knights that were left alive were come again to the Table Round, there
was great joy in the court, and in especial King Arthur and Queen
Guenever made great joy of the remnant that were come home, and
passing glad were the king and the queen of Sir Launcelot and of Sir
Bohort, for they had been passing long away in the quest of the
Sangreal.
Then Sir Launcelot began to resort unto Queen Guenever again, and
forgot the promise that he made in the quest; so that many in the
court spoke of it, and in especial Sir Agrivain, Sir Gawain's brother,
for he was ever open-mouthed. So it happened Sir Gawain and all his
brothers were in King Arthur's chamber, and then Sir Agrivain said
thus openly, "I marvel that we all are not ashamed to see and to
know so noble a knight as King Arthur so to be shamed by the conduct
of Sir Launcelot and the queen." Then spoke Sir Gawain, and said,
"Brother, Sir Agrivain, I pray you and charge you move not such
matters any more before me, for be ye assured I will not be of your
counsel." "Neither will we," said Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth. "Then
will I," said Sir Modred. "I doubt you not," said Sir Gawain, "for
to all mischief ever were ye prone; yet I would that ye left all this,
for I know what will come of it." "Fall of it what fall may," said Sir
Agrivain, "I will disclose it to the king." With that came to them
King Arthur. "Now, brothers, hold your peace," said Sir Gawain, "We
will not," said Sir Agrivain. Then said Sir Gawain, "I will not hear
your tales, nor be of your counsel." "No more will I," said Sir Gareth
and Sir Gaheris, and therewith they departed, making great sorrow.
Then Sir Agrivain told the king all that was said in the court of
the conduct of Sir Launcelot and the queen, and it grieved the king
very much. But he would not believe it to be true without proof. So
Sir Agrivain laid a plot to entrap Sir Launcelot and the queen,
intending to take them together unawares. Sir Agrivain and Sir
Modred led a party for this purpose, but Sir Launcelot escaped from
them, having slain Sir Agrivain and wounded Sir Modred. Then Sir
Launcelot hastened to his friends, and told them what had happened,
and withdrew with them to the forest; but he left spies to bring him
tidings of whatever might be done.
So Sir Launcelot escaped, but the queen remained in the king's
power, and Arthur could no longer doubt of her guilt. And the law
was such in those days that they who committed such crimes, of what
estate or condition soever they were, must be burned to death, and
so it was ordained for Queen Guenever. Then said King Arthur to Sir
Gawain, "I pray you make you ready, in your best armor, with your
brethren, Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth, to bring my queen to the fire,
there to receive her death." "Nay, my most noble lord," said Sir
Gawain, "that will I never do; for know thou well, my heart will never
serve me to see her die, and it shall never be said that I was of your
counsel in her death." Then the king commanded Sir Gaheris and Sir
Gareth to be there, and they said, "We will be there, as ye command
us, sire, but in peaceable wise, and bear no armor upon us."
So the queen was led forth, and her ghostly father was brought to
her to shrive her, and there was weeping and wailing of many lords and
ladies. And one went and told Sir Launcelot that the queen was led
forth to her death. Then Sir Launcelot and the knights that were
with him fell upon the troop that guarded the queen, and dispersed
them, and slew all who withstood them. And in the confusion Sir Gareth
and Sir Gaheris were slain, for they were unarmed and defenceless. And
Sir Launcelot carried away the queen to his castle of La Joyeuse
Garde.
Then there came one to Sir Gawain and told him how that Sir
Launcelot had slain the knights and carried away the queen. "O Lord,
defend my brethren!" said Sir Gawain. "Truly," said the man, "Sir
Gareth and Sir Gaheris are slain." "Alas!" said Sir Gawain, "now is my
joy gone." And then he fell down and swooned, and long he lay there as
he had been dead.
When he arose out of his swoon Sir Gawain ran to the king, crying,
"O King Arthur, mine uncle, my brothers are slain." Then the king wept
and he both. "My king, my lord, and mine uncle," said Sir Gawain,
"bear witness now that I make you a promise that I shall hold by my
knighthood, that from this day I will never fail Sir Launcelot until
the one of us have slain the other. I will seek Sir Launcelot
throughout seven kings' realms, but I shall slay him or he shall
slay me." "Ye shall not need to seek him," said the king, "for, as I
hear, Sir Launcelot will abide me and you in the Joyeuse Garde; and
much people draweth unto him, as I hear say." "That may I believe,"
said Gawain, "but, my lord, summon your friends, and I will summon
mine." "It shall be done," said the king. So then the king sent
letters and writs throughout all England, both in the length and
breadth, to summon all his knights. And unto Arthur drew many knights,
dukes, and earls, so that he had a great host. Thereof heard Sir
Launcelot, and collected all whom he could; and many good knights held
with him, both for his sake and for the queen's sake. But King
Arthur's host was too great for Sir Launcelot to abide him in the
field; and he was full loath to do battle against the king. So Sir
Launcelot drew him to his strong castle, with all manner of
provisions. Then came King Arthur and Sir Gawain, and laid siege all
about La Joyeuse Garde, both the town and the castle; but in no wise
would Sir Launcelot ride out of his castle, neither suffer any of
his knights to issue out, until many weeks were past.
Then it befell upon a day in harvest-time Sir Launcelot looked
over the wall, and spake aloud to King Arthur and Sir Gawain, "My
lords both, all is vain that ye do at this siege, for here ye shall
win no worship, but only dishonor; for if I list to come out, and my
good knights, I shall soon make an end of this war." "Come forth,"
said Arthur, "if thou darest, and I promise thee I shall meet thee
in the midst of the field." "God forbid me," said Sir Launcelot, "that
I should encounter with the most noble king that made me knight." "Fie
upon thy fair language," said the king, "for know thou well that I
am thy mortal foe, and ever will be to my dying day." And Sir Gawain
said, "What cause hadst thou to slay my brother, Sir Gaheris, who bore
no arms against thee, and Sir Gareth, whom thou madest knight, and who
loved thee more than all my kin? Therefore know thou well I shall make
war to thee all the while that I may live."
When Sir Bohort, Sir Hector de Marys, and Sir Lionel heard this
outcry they called to them Sir Palamedes, and Sir Saffire his brother,
and Sir Lawayn, with many more, and all went to Sir Launcelot. And
they said, "My lord, Sir Launcelot, we pray you, if you will have
our service, keep us no longer within these walls, for know well all
your fair speech and forbearance will not avail you." "Alas!" said Sir
Launcelot, "to ride forth and to do battle I am full loath." Then he
spake again unto the king and Sir Gawain, and willed them to keep
out of the battle; but they depised his words. So then Sir Launcelot's
fellowship came out of the castle in full good array. And always Sir
Launcelot charged all his knights, in any wise, to save King Arthur
and Sir Gawain.
Then came forth Sir Gawain from the king's host, and offered combat,
and Sir Lionel encountered with him, and there Sir Gawain smote Sir
Lionel through the body, that he fell to the earth as if dead. Then
there began a great conflict, and much people were slain; but ever Sir
Launcelot did what he might to save the people on King Arthur's party,
and ever King Arthur followed Sir Launcelot to slay him; but Sir
Launcelot suffered him, and would not strike again. Then Sir Bohort
encountered with King Arthur, and smote him down; and he alighted
and drew his sword, and said to Sir Launcelot, "Shall I make an end of
this war?" for he meant to have slain King Arthur. "Not so," said
Sir Launcelot, "touch him no more, for I will never see that most
noble king that made me knight either slain or shamed;" and
therewith Sir Launcelot alighted off his horse and took up the king,
and horsed him again, and said thus: "My lord Arthur, for God's
love, cease this strife." And King Arthur looked upon Sir Launcelot,
and his tears burst from his eyes, thinking on the great courtesy that
was in Sir Launcelot more than in any other man; and therewith the
king rode his way. Then anon both parties withdrew to repose them, and
buried the dead.
But the war continued and it was noised abroad through all
Christendom, and at last it was told afore the pope; and he,
considering the great goodness of King Arthur, and of Sir Launcelot,
called unto him a noble clerk, which was the Bishop of Rochester,
who was then in his dominions, and sent him to King Arthur, charging
him that he take his queen, dame Guenever, unto him again, and make
peace with Sir Launcelot.
So, by means of this bishop, peace was made for the space of one
year; and King Arthur received back the queen, and Sir Launcelot
departed from the kingdom with all his knights, and went to his own
country. So they shipped at Cardiff, and sailed unto Benwick, which
some men call Bayonne. And all the people of those lands came to Sir
Launcelot, and received him home right joyfully. And Sir Launcelot
stablished and garnished all his towns and castles, and he greatly
advanced all his noble knights, Sir Lionel and Sir Bohort, and Sir
Hector de Marys, Sir Blamor, Sir Lawayne, and many others, and made
them lords of lands and castles; till he left himself no more than any
one of them.
But when the year was passed, King Arthur and Sir Gawain came with a
great host, and landed upon Sir Launcelot's lands, and burnt and
wasted all that they might overrun. Then spake Sir Bohort and said,
"My lord, Sir Launcelot, give us leave to meet them in the field,
and we shall make them rue the time that ever they came to this
country." Then said Sir Launcelot, "I am full loath to ride out with
my knights for shedding of Christian blood; so we will yet awhile keep
our walls, and I will send a messenger unto my lord Arthur, to propose
a treaty; for better is peace than always war." So Sir Launcelot
sent forth a damsel, and a dwarf with her, requiring King Arthur to
leave his warring upon his lands; and so she started on a palfrey, and
the dwarf ran by her side. And when she came to the pavilion of King
Arthur, she alighted, and there met her a gentle knight, Sir Lucan the
butler, and said, "Fair damsel, come ye from Sir Launcelot du Lac?"
"Yea, sir," she said, "I come hither to speak with the king."
"Alas!" said Sir Lucan, "my lord Arthur would be reconciled to Sir
Launcelot, but Sir Gawain will not suffer him." And with this Sir
Lucan led the damsel to the king, where he sat with Sir Gawain, to
hear what she would say. So when she had told her tale, the tears
ran out of the king's eyes; and all the lords were forward to advise
the king to be accorded with Sir Launcelot, save only Sir Gawain;
and he said, "My lord, mine uncle, what will ye do? Will you now
turn back, now you are so far advanced upon your journey? If ye do,
all the world will speak shame of you." "Nay," said King Arthur, "I
will do as ye advise me; but do thou give the damsel her answer, for I
may not speak to her for pity."
Then said Sir Gawain, "Damsel, say ye to Sir Launcelot, that it is
waste labor to sue to mine uncle for peace, and say that I, Sir
Gawain, send him word that I promise him, by the faith I owe unto
God and to knighthood, I shall never leave him till he have slain me
or I him." So the damsel returned; and when Sir Launcelot had heard
this answer, the tears ran down his cheeks.
Then it befell on a day Sir Gawain came before the gates, armed at
all points, and cried with a loud voice, "Where art thou now, thou
false traitor, Sir Launcelot? Why hidest thou thyself within holes and
walls like a coward? Look out now, thou traitor knight, and I will
avenge upon thy body the death of my three brethren." All this
language heard Sir Launcelot, and the knights which were about him;
and they said to him, "Sir Launcelot, now must ye defend you like a
knight, or else be shamed for ever, for you have slept overlong and
suffered overmuch." Then Sir Launcelot spoke on high unto King Arthur,
and said, "My lord Arthur, now I have forborne long, and suffered
you and Sir Gawain to do what ye would, and now must I needs defend
myself, inasmuch as Sir Gawain hath appealed me of treason." Then
Sir Launcelot armed him and mounted upon his horse, and the noble
knights came out of the city, and the host without stood all apart;
and so the covenant was made that no man should come near the two
knights, nor deal with them, till one were dead or yielded.
Then Sir Gawain and Sir Launcelot departed a great way in sunder,
and then they came together with all their horses' might as they might
run, and either smote the other in the midst of their shields, but the
knights were so strong, and their spears so big, that their horses
might not endure their buffets, and so the horses fell to the earth.
And then they avoided their horses, and dressed their shields afore
them. Then they stood together, and gave many sad strokes on divers
places of their bodies, that the blood burst out on many sides and
places. Then had Sir Gawain such a grace and gift that an holy man had
given to him, that every day in the year, from morning till high noon,
his might increased those three hours as much as thrice his
strength, and that caused Sir Gawain to win great honor. And for his
sake King Arthur made an ordinance that all manner of battles for
any quarrels that should be done before King Arthur should begin at
Underne,* and all was done for Sir Gawain's love, that by likelihood
if that Sir Gawain were on the one part he should have the better in
battle, whilst his strength endured three hours, but there were few
knights that time living that knew this advantage that Sir Gawain had,
but King Arthur only. Thus Sir Launcelot fought with Sir Gawain, and
when Sir Launcelot felt his might evermore increase, Sir Launcelot
wondered and dread him sore to be ashamed. For Sir Launcelot thought
when he felt Sir Gawain double his strength, that he had been a fiend,
and no earthly man; wherefore Sir Launcelot traced and traversed,
and covered himself with his shield, and kept his might and his
braid during three hours; and that while Sir Gawain gave him many
sad brunts and many sad strokes, that all the knights that beheld
Sir Launcelot marvelled how he might endure him, but full little
understood they that travail that Sir Launcelot had for to endure him.
And then when it was past noon Sir Gawain had no more but his own
might. Then Sir Launcelot felt him so come down; then he stretched him
up, and stood near Sir Gawain, and said thus: "My lord Sir Gawain, now
I fear ye have done; now my lord Sir Gawain, I must do my part, for
many great and grievous strokes I have endured you this day with great
pain." Then Sir Launcelot doubled his strokes, and gave Sir Gawain
such a buffet on the helmet that he fell down on his side, and Sir
Launcelot withdrew from him. "Why turnest thou thee?" said Sir Gawain;
"now turn again, false traitor knight, and slay me; for an thou
leave me thus, when I am whole, I shall do battle with thee again." "I
shall endure you, sir, by God's grace, but wit thou well, Sir
Gawain, I will never smite a felled knight." And so Sir Launcelot went
into the city, and Sir Gawain was borne into one of King Arthur's
pavilions, and leeches were brought to him, and he was searched and
salved with soft ointments. And then Sir Launcelot said, "Now have
good day, my lord the king, for, wit you well, ye win no worship at
these walls; and if I would my knights out bring, there should many
a man die. Therefore, my lord Arthur, remember you of old kindness,
and however I fare, Jesus be your guide in all places."

* Underne. The third hour in the day, nine o'clock.

Thus the siege endured, and Sir Gawain lay helpless near a month;
and when he was near recovered, came tidings unto King Arthur that
made him return with all his host to England.

Thomas Bulfinch