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It befell upon a certain day, that King Arthur said to Merlin, "My lords and knights do daily pray me now to take a wife; but I will have none without thy counsel, for thou hast ever helped me since I came first to this crown."
"It is well," said Merlin, "that thou shouldst take a wife, for no man of bounteous and noble nature should live without one; but is there any lady whom thou lovest better than another?"
"Yea," said King Arthur, "I love Guinevere, the daughter of King Leodegrance, of Camelgard, who also holdeth in his house the Round Table that he had from my father Uther; and as I think, that damsel is the gentlest and the fairest lady living."
"Sir," answered Merlin, "as for her beauty, she is one of the fairest that do live; but if ye had not loved her as ye do, I would fain have had ye choose some other who was both fair and good. But where a man's heart is set, he will be loth to leave." This Merlin said, knowing the misery that should hereafter happen from this marriage.
Then King Arthur sent word to King Leodegrance that he mightily desired to wed his daughter, and how that he had loved her since he saw her first, when with Kings Ban and Bors he rescued Leodegrance from King Ryence of North Wales.
When King Leodegrance heard the message, he cried out, "These be the best tidings I have heard in all my life—so great and worshipful a prince to seek my daughter for his wife! I would fain give him half my lands with her straightway, but that he needeth none—and better will it please him that I send him the Round Table of King Uther, his father, with a hundred good knights towards the furnishing of it with guests, for he will soon find means to gather more, and make the table full."
Then King Leodegrance delivered his daughter Guinevere to the messengers of King Arthur, and also the Round Table with the hundred knights.
So they rode royally and freshly, sometimes by water and sometimes by land, towards Camelot. And as they rode along in the spring weather, they made full many sports and pastimes. And, in all those sports and games, a young knight lately come to Arthur's, court, Sir Lancelot by name, was passing strong, and won praise from all, being full of grace and hardihood; and Guinevere also ever looked on him with joy. And always in the eventide, when the tents were set beside some stream or forest, many minstrels came and sang before the knights and ladies as they sat in the tent-doors, and many knights would tell adventures; and still Sir Lancelot was foremost, and told the knightliest tales, and sang the goodliest songs, of all the company.
And when they came to Camelot, King Arthur made great joy, and all the city with him; and riding forth with a great retinue he met Guinevere and her company, and led her through the streets all filled with people, and in the midst of all their shoutings and the ringing of church bells, to a palace hard by his own.
Then, in all haste, the king commanded to prepare the marriage and the coronation with the stateliest and most honorable pomp that could be made. And when the day was come, the archbishops led the king to the cathedral, whereto he walked, clad in his royal robes, and having four kings, bearing four golden swords, before him; a choir of passing sweet music going also with him.
In another part, was the queen dressed in her richest ornaments, and led by archbishops and bishops to the Chapel of the Virgins, the four queens also of the four kings last mentioned walked before her, bearing four white doves, according to ancient custom; and after her there followed many damsels, singing and making every sign of joy.
And when the two processions were come to the churches, so wondrous was the music and the singing, that all the knights and barons who were there pressed on each other, as in the crowd of battle, to hear and see the most they might.
When the king was crowned, he called together all the knights that came with the Round Table from Camelgard, and twenty-eight others, great and valiant men, chosen by Merlin out of all the realm, towards making up the full number of the table. Then the Archbishop of Canterbury blessed the seats of all the knights, and when they rose again therefrom to pay their homage to King Arthur, there was found upon the back of each knight's seat his name, written in letters of gold. But upon one seat was found written, "This is the Siege Perilous, wherein if any man shall sit save him whom Heaven hath chosen, he shall be devoured by fire."
Anon came young Gawain, the king's nephew, praying to be made a knight, whom the king knighted then and there. Soon after came a poor man, leading with him a tall fair lad of eighteen years of age, riding on a lean mare. And falling at the king's feet, the poor man said, "Lord, it was told me, that at this time of thy marriage thou wouldst give to any man the gift he asked for, so it were not unreasonable."
"That is the truth," replied King Arthur, "and I will make it good."
"Thou sayest graciously and nobly," said the poor man. "Lord, I ask nothing else but that thou wilt make my son here a knight."
"It is a great thing that thou askest," said the king. "What is thy name?"
"Aries, the cowherd," answered he.
"Cometh this prayer from thee or from thy son?" inquired King Arthur.
"Nay, lord, not from myself," said he, "but from him only, for I have thirteen other sons, and all of them will fall to any labor that I put them to. But this one will do no such work for anything that I or my wife may do, but is for ever shooting or fighting, and running to see knights and joustings, and torments me both night and day that he be made a knight."
"What is thy name?" said the king to the young man.
"My name is Tor," said he.
Then the king, looking at him steadfastly, was well pleased with his face and figure, and with his look of nobleness and strength.
"Fetch all thy other sons before me," said the king to Aries. But when he brought them, none of them resembled Tor in size or shape or feature.
Then the king knighted Tor, saying, "Be thou to thy life's end a good knight and a true, as I pray God thou mayest be; and if thou provest worthy, and of prowess, one day thou shalt be counted in the Round Table." Then turning to Merlin, Arthur said, "Prophesy now, O Merlin, shall Sir Tor become a worthy knight, or not?"
"Yea, lord," said Merlin, "so he ought to be, for he is the son of that King Pellinore whom thou hast met, and proved to be one of the best knights living. He is no cowherd's son."
Presently after came in King Pellinore, and when he saw Sir Tor he knew him for his son, and was more pleased than words can tell to find him knighted by the king. And Pellinore did homage to King Arthur, and was gladly and graciously accepted of the king; and then was led by Merlin to a high seat at the Table Round, near to the Perilous Seat.
But Sir Gawain was full of anger at the honor done King Pellinore, and said to his brother Gaheris, "He slew our father, King Lot, therefore will I slay him."
"Do it not yet," said he; "wait till I also be a knight, then will I help ye in it: it is best ye suffer him to go at this time, and not trouble this high feast with blood-shed."
"As ye will, be it," said Sir Gawain.
Then rose the king and spake to all the Table Round, and charged them to be ever true and noble knights, to do neither outrage nor murder, nor any unjust violence, and always to flee treason; also by no means ever to be cruel, but give mercy unto him that asked for mercy, upon pain of forfeiting the liberty of his court forevermore. Moreover, at all times, on pain of death, to give all succor unto ladies and young damsels; and lastly, never to take part in any wrongful quarrel, for reward or payment. And to all this he swore them knight by knight.
Then he ordained that, every year at Pentecost, they should all come before him, wheresoever he might appoint a place, and give account of all their doings and adventures of the past twelve-month. And so, with prayer and blessing, and high words of cheer, he instituted the most noble order of the Round Table, whereto the best and bravest knights in all the world sought afterwards to find admission.
Then was the high feast made ready, and the king and queen sat side by side, before the whole assembly; and great and royal was the banquet and the pomp.
And as they sat, each man in his place, Merlin went round and said, "Sit still awhile, for ye shall see a strange and marvelous adventure."
So as they sat, there suddenly came running through the hall, a white hart, with a white hound next after him, and thirty couple of black running hounds, making full cry; and the hart made circuit of the Table Round, and past the other tables; and suddenly the white hound flew upon him and bit him fiercely, and tore out a piece from his haunch. Whereat the hart sprang suddenly with a great leap, and overthrew a knight sitting at the table, who rose forthwith, and, taking up the hound, mounted, and rode fast away.
But no sooner had he left, than there came in a lady, mounted on a white palfrey, who cried out to the king, "Lord, suffer me not to have this injury!—the hound is mine which that knight taketh." And as she spake, a knight rode in all armed, on a great horse, and suddenly took up the lady and rode away with her by force, although she greatly cried and moaned.
Then the king desired Sir Gawain, Sir Tor, and King Pellinore to mount and follow this adventure to the uttermost; and told Sir Gawain to bring back the hart, Sir Tor the hound and knight, and King Pellinore the knight and the lady.
So Sir Gawain rode forth at a swift pace, and with him Gaheris, his brother, for a squire. And as they went, they saw two knights fighting on horseback, and when they reached them they divided them and asked the reason of their quarrel. "We fight for a foolish matter," one replied, "for we be brethren; but there came by a white hart this way, chased by many hounds, and thinking it was an adventure for the high feast of King Arthur, I would have followed it to have gained worship; whereat my younger brother here declared he was the better knight and would go after it instead, and so we fight to prove which of us be the better knight."
"This is a foolish thing," said Sir Gawain. "Fight with all strangers, if ye will, but not brother with brother. Take my advice, set on against me, and if ye yield to me, as I shall do my best to make ye, ye shall go to King Arthur and yield ye to his grace."
"Sir knight," replied the brothers, "we are weary, and will do thy wish without encountering thee; but by whom shall we tell the king that we were sent?"
"By the knight that followeth the quest of the white hart," said Sir Gawain. "And now tell me your names, and let us part."
"Sorlous and Brian of the Forest," they replied; and so they went their way to the king's court.
Then Sir Gawain, still following his quest by the distant baying of the hounds, came to a great river, and saw the hart swimming over and near to the further bank. And as he was about to plunge in and swim after, he saw a knight upon the other side, who cried, "Come not over here, Sir knight, after that hart, save thou wilt joust with me."
"I will not fail for that," said Sir Gawain; and swam his horse across the stream.
Anon they got their spears, and ran against each other fiercely; and Sir Gawain smote the stranger off his horse, and turning, bade him yield.
"Nay," replied he, "not so; for though ye have the better of me on horseback, I pray thee, valiant knight, alight, and let us match together with our swords on foot."
"What is thy name?" quoth Gawain.
"Allardin of the Isles," replied the stranger.
Then they fell on each other; but soon Sir Gawain struck him through the helm, so deeply and so hard, that all his brains were scattered, and Sir Allardin fell dead. "Ah," said Gaheris, "that was a mighty stroke for a young knight!"
Then did they turn again to follow the white hart, and let slip three couple of greyhounds after him; and at the last they chased him to a castle, and there they overtook and slew him, in the chief courtyard.
At that there rushed a knight forth from a chamber, with a drawn sword in his hand, and slew two of the hounds before their eyes, and chased the others from the castle, crying, "Oh, my white hart! alas, that thou art dead! for thee my sovereign lady gave to me, and evil have I kept thee; but if I live, thy death shall be dear bought." Anon he went within and armed, and came out fiercely, and met Sir Gawain face to face.
"Why have ye slain my hounds?" said Sir Gawain; "they did but after their nature: and ye had better have taken vengeance on me than on the poor dumb beasts."
"I will avenge me on thee, also," said the other, "ere thou depart this place."
Then did they fight with each other savagely and madly, till the blood ran down to their feet. But at last Sir Gawain had the better, and felled the knight of the castle to the ground. Then he cried out for mercy, and yielded to Sir Gawain, and besought him as he was a knight and gentleman to save his life. "Thou shalt die," said Sir Gawain, "for slaying my hounds."
"I will make thee all amends within my power," replied the knight.
But Sir Gawain would have no mercy, and unlaced his helm to strike his head off; and so blind was he with rage, that he saw not where a lady ran out from her chamber and fell down upon his enemy. And making a fierce blow at him, he smote off by mischance the lady's head.
"Alas!" cried Gaheris, "foully and shamefully have ye done—the shame shall never leave ye! Why give ye not your mercy unto them that ask it? a knight without mercy is without worship also."
Then Sir Gawain was sore amazed at that fair lady's death, and knew not what to do, and said to the fallen knight, "Arise, for I will give thee mercy."
"Nay, nay," said he, "I care not for thy mercy now, for thou hast slain my lady and my love—that of all earthly things I loved the best."
"I repent me sorely of it," said Sir Gawain, "for I meant to have struck thee: but now shalt thou go to King Arthur and tell him this adventure, and how thou hast been overcome by the knight that followeth the quest of the white hart."
"I care not whether I live or die, or where I go," replied the knight.
So Sir Gawain sent him to the court to Camelot, making him bear one dead greyhound before and one behind him on his horse. "Tell me thy name before we part," said he.
"My name is Athmore of the Marsh," he answered.
Then went Sir Gawain into the castle, and prepared to sleep there and began to unarm; but Gaheris upbraided him, saying, "Will ye disarm in this strange country? bethink ye, ye must needs have many enemies about."
No sooner had he spoken than there came out suddenly four knights, well armed, and assailed them hard, saying to Sir Gawain, "Thou new-made knight, how hast thou shamed thy knighthood! a knight without mercy is dishonored! Slayer of fair ladies, shame to thee evermore! Doubt not thou shalt thyself have need of mercy ere we leave thee."
Then were the brothers in great jeopardy, and feared for their lives, for they were but two to four, and weary with traveling; and one of the four knights shot Sir Gawain with a bolt, and hit him through the arm, so that he could fight no more. But when there was nothing left for them but death, there came four ladies forth and prayed the four knights' mercy for the strangers. So they gave Sir Gawain and Gaheris their lives, and made them yield themselves prisoners.
On the morrow, came one of the ladies to Sir Gawain, and talked with him, saying, "Sir knight, what cheer?"
"Not good," said he.
"It is your own default, sir," said the lady, "for ye have done a passing foul deed in slaying that fair damsel yesterday—and ever shall it be great shame to you. But ye be not of King Arthur's kin."
"Yea, truly am I," said he; "my name is Gawain, son of King Lot of Orkney, whom King Pellinore slew—and my mother, Belisent, is half-sister to the king."
When the lady heard that, she went and presently got leave for him to quit the castle; and they gave him the head of the white hart to take with him, because it was in his quest; but made him also carry the dead lady with him—her head hung round his neck and her body lay before him on his horse's neck.
So in that fashion he rode back to Camelot; and when the king and queen saw him, and heard tell of his adventures, they were heavily displeased, and, by order of the queen, he was put upon his trial before a court of ladies—who judged him to be evermore, for all his life, the knight of ladies' quarrels, and to fight always on their side, and never against any, except he fought for one lady and his adversary for another; also they charged him never to refuse mercy to him that asked it, and swore him to it on the Holy Gospels. Thus ended the adventure of the white hart.
Meanwhile, Sir Tor had made him ready, and followed the knight who rode away with the hound. And as he went, there suddenly met him in the road a dwarf, who struck his horse so viciously upon the head with a great staff, that he leaped backwards a spear's length.
"Wherefore so smitest thou my horse, foul dwarf?" shouted Sir Tor.
"Because thou shalt not pass this way," replied the dwarf, "unless thou fight for it with yonder knights in those pavilions," pointing to two tents, where two great spears stood out, and two shields hung upon two trees hard by.
"I may not tarry, for I am on a quest I needs must follow," said Sir Tor.
"Thou shalt not pass," replied the dwarf, and therewith blew his horn. Then rode out quickly at Sir Tor one armed on horseback, but Sir Tor was quick as he, and riding at him bore him from his horse, and made him yield. Directly after came another still more fiercely, but with a few great strokes and buffets Sir Tor unhorsed him also, and sent them both to Camelot to King Arthur. Then came the dwarf and begged Sir Tor to take him in his service, "for," said he, "I will serve no more recreant knights."
"Take then a horse, and come with me," said Tor.
"Ride ye after the knight with the white hound?" said the dwarf; "I can soon bring ye where he is."
So they rode through the forest till they came to two more tents. And Sir Tor alighting, went into the first, and saw three damsels lie there, sleeping. Then went he to the other, and found another lady also sleeping, and at her feet the white hound he sought for, which instantly began to bay and bark so loudly, that the lady woke. But Sir Tor had seized the hound and given it to the dwarf's charge.
"What will ye do, Sir knight?" cried out the lady; "will ye take away my hound from me by force?"
"Yea, lady," said Sir Tor; "for so I must, having the king's command; and I have followed it from King Arthur's court, at Camelot, to this place."
"Well," said the lady, "ye will not go far before ye be ill handled, and will repent ye of the quest."
"I shall cheerfully abide whatsoever adventure cometh, by the grace of God," said Sir Tor; and so mounted his horse and began to ride back on his way. But night coming on, he turned aside to a hermitage that was in the forest, and there abode till the next day, making but sorrowful cheer of such poor food as the hermit had to give him, and hearing a Mass devoutly before he left on the morrow.
And in the early morning, as he rode forth with the dwarf towards Camelot, he heard a knight call loudly after him, "Turn, turn! Abide, Sir knight, and yield me up the hound thou tookest from my lady." At which he turned, and saw a great and strong knight, armed full splendidly, riding down upon him fiercely through a glade of the forest.
Now Sir Tor was very ill provided, for he had but an old courser, which was as weak as himself, because of the hermit's scanty fare. He waited, nevertheless, for the strange knight to come, and at the first onset with their spears, each unhorsed the other, and then fell to with their swords like two mad lions. Then did they smite through one another's shields and helmets till the fragments flew on all sides, and their blood ran out in streams; but yet they carved and rove through the thick armor of the hauberks, and gave each other great and ghastly wounds. But in the end, Sir Tor, finding the strange knight faint, doubled his strokes until he beat him to the earth. Then did he bid him yield to his mercy.
"That will I not," replied Abellius, "while my life lasteth and my soul is in my body, unless thou give me first the hound."
"I cannot," said Sir Tor, "and will not, for it was my quest to bring again that hound and thee unto King Arthur, or otherwise to slay thee."
With that there came a damsel riding on a palfrey, as fast as she could drive, and cried out to Sir Tor with a loud voice, "I pray thee, for King Arthur's love, give me a gift."
"Ask," said Sir Tor, "and I will give thee."
"Gramercy," said the lady, "I ask the head of this false knight Abellius, the most outrageous murderer that liveth."
"I repent me of the gift I promised," said Sir Tor. "Let him make thee amends for all his trespasses against thee."
"He cannot make amends," replied the damsel, "for he hath slain my brother, a far better knight than he, and scorned to give him mercy, though I kneeled for half an hour before him in the mire, to beg it, and though it was but by a chance they fought, and for no former injury or quarrel. I require my gift of thee as a true knight, or else will I shame thee in King Arthur's court; for this Abellius is the falsest knight alive, and a murderer of many."
When Abellius heard this, he trembled greatly, and was sore afraid, and yielded to Sir Tor, and prayed his mercy.
"I cannot now, Sir knight," said he, "lest I be false to my promise. Ye would not take my mercy when I offered it; and now it is too late."
Therewith he unlaced his helmet, and took it off; but Abellius, in dismal fear, struggled to his feet, and fled, until Sir Tor overtook him, and smote off his head entirely with one blow.
"Now, sir," said the damsel, "it is near night, I pray ye come and lodge at my castle hard by."
"I will, with a good will," said he, for both his horse and he had fared but poorly since they left Camelot.
So he went to the lady's castle and fared sumptuously, and saw her husband, an old knight, who greatly thanked him for his service, and urged him oftentimes to come again.
On the morrow he departed, and reached Camelot by noon, where the king and queen rejoiced to see him, and the king made him Earl; and Merlin prophesied that these adventures were but little to the things he should achieve hereafter.
Now while Sir Gawain and Sir Tor had fulfilled their quests, King Pellinore pursued the lady whom the knight had seized away from the wedding-feast. And as he rode through the woods, he saw in a valley a fair young damsel sitting by a well-side, and a wounded knight lying in her arms, and King Pellinore saluted her as he passed by.
As soon as she perceived him she cried out, "Help, help me, knight, for our Lord's sake!" But Pellinore was far too eager in his quest to stay or turn, although she cried a hundred times to him for help; at which she prayed to heaven he might have such sore need before he died as she had now. And presently thereafter her knight died in her arms; and she, for grief and love, slew herself with his sword.
But King Pellinore rode on till he met a poor man, and asked him had he seen a knight pass by that way, leading by force a lady with him.
"Yea, surely," said the man, "and greatly did she moan and cry; but even now another knight is fighting with him to deliver the lady; ride on and thou shalt find them fighting still."
At that King Pellinore rode swiftly on, and came to where he saw the two knights fighting, hard by where two pavilions stood. And when he looked in one of them, he saw the lady that was his quest, and with her the two squires of the two knights who fought.
"Fair lady," said he, "ye must come with me unto King Arthur's court."
"Sir knight," said the two squires, "yonder be two knights fighting for this lady; go part them, and get their consent to take her, ere thou touch her."
"Ye say well," said King Pellinore, and rode between the combatants, and asked them why they fought.
"Sir knight," said the one, "yon lady is my cousin, mine aunt's daughter, whom I met borne away against her will, by this knight here, with whom I therefore fight to free her."
"Sir knight," replied the other, whose name was Hantzlake of Wentland, "this lady got I, by my arms and prowess, at King Arthur's court to-day."
"That is false," said King Pellinore; "ye stole the lady suddenly, and fled away with her, before any knight could arm to stay thee. But it is my service to take her back again. Neither of ye shall therefore have her; but if ye will fight for her, fight with me now and here."
"Well," said the knights, "make ready, and we will assail thee with all our might."
Then Sir Hantzlake ran King Pellinore's horse through with his sword, so that they might be all alike on foot. But King Pellinore at that was passing wroth, and ran upon Sir Hantzlake, with a cry, "Keep well thy head!" and gave him such a stroke upon the helm as clove him to the chin, so that he fell dead to the ground. When he saw that, the other knight refused to fight, and kneeling down said, "Take my cousin the lady with thee, as thy quest is; but as thou art a true knight, suffer her to come to neither shame nor harm."
So the next day King Pellinore departed for Camelot, and took the lady with him; and as they rode in a valley full of rough stones, the damsel's horse stumbled and threw her, so that her arms were sorely bruised and hurt. And as they rested in the forest for the pain to lessen, night came on, and there they were compelled to make their lodging. A little before midnight they heard the trotting of a horse. "Be ye still," said King Pellinore, "for now we may hear of some adventure," and therewith he armed her. Then he heard two knights meet and salute each other, in the dark; one riding from Camelot, the other from the north.
"What tidings at Camelot?" said one.
"By my head," said the other, "I have but just left there, and have espied King Arthur's court, and such a fellowship is there as never may be broke or overcome; for wellnigh all the chivalry of the world is there, and all full loyal to the king, and now I ride back homewards to the north to tell our chiefs, that they waste not their strength in wars against him."
"As for all that," replied the other knight, "I am but now from the north, and bear with me a remedy, the deadliest poison that ever was heard tell of, and to Camelot will I with it; for there we have a friend close to the king, and greatly cherished of him, who hath received gifts from us to poison him, as he hath promised soon to do."
"Beware," said the first knight, "of Merlin, for he knoweth all things, by the devil's craft."
"I will not fear for that," replied the other, and so rode on his way.
Anon King Pellinore and the lady passed on again; and when they came to the well at which the lady with the wounded knight had sat, they found both knight and damsel utterly devoured by lions and wild beasts, all save the lady's head.
When King Pellinore saw that, he wept bitterly, saying, "Alas! I might have saved her life had I but tarried a few moments in my quest."
"Wherefore make so much sorrow now?" said the lady.
"I know not," answered he, "but my heart grieveth greatly for this poor lady's death, so fair she was and young."
Then he required a hermit to bury the remains of the bodies, and bare the lady's head with him to Camelot, to the court.
When he was arrived, he was sworn to tell the truth of his quest before the King and Queen, and when he had entered the Queen somewhat upbraided him, saying, "Ye were much to blame that ye saved not that lady's life."
"Madam," said he, "I shall repent it all my life."
"Ay, king," quoth Merlin, who suddenly came in, "and so ye ought to do, for that lady was your daughter, not seen since infancy by thee. And she was on her way to court, with a right good young knight, who would have been her husband, but was slain by treachery of a felon knight, Lorraine le Savage, as they came; and because thou wouldst not abide and help her, thy best friend shall fail thee in thine hour of greatest need, for such is the penance ordained thee for that deed."
Then did King Pellinore tell Merlin secretly of the treason he had heard in the forest, and Merlin by his craft so ordered that the knight who bare the poison was himself soon after slain by it, and so King Arthur's life was saved.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
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