Gilbert's King Arthur's Knights

X. OF THE PLOTS OF SIR MORDRED, AND HOW SIR LANCELOT SAVED THE QUEEN

   After the quest of the Sangreal was completed, and all the knights that were left alive had returned to the court of King Arthur, there was great joy among the people, and the king and Queen Gwenevere were passing glad of the remnant that had come home again.
   Especially did the queen make much of Sir Lancelot and of Sir Bors his cousin, for they were the two most noble and courteous knights of the Round Table, and none thought of them but as men peerless and beyond compare.
   Sir Mordred, who was the king's nephew, was jealous of the two knights, and went about privily among such knights as were his familiars, and spoke sneering words concerning Sir Lancelot and the queen and Sir Bors. Once Sir Mordred said such words in the hearing of his brother Sir Gawaine; but that knight so heavily and wrathfully took him to task, that Sir Mordred knew that Sir Gawaine envied not the two knights, and could never be brought to think other than friendly thoughts of them.
   Therefore Sir Mordred hated the two knights more than ever. Of a slight frame was Mordred, but tall, with dark hair, sallow face, and deep-set grey eyes beside a thin long nose. Few loved him, for he was never cheery nor very friendly, and ever seemed to sneer with his thin lips and his cold wolfish eyes.
   In a little while strange dark rumours began to go about the court, and it was whispered that so proud had Sir Lancelot become of his fame and prowess, that he harboured evil thoughts against the king, and that he aimed to make a kingdom for himself out of the countries that lay about his own lands of Joyous Gard in the northern marches.
   Then fresh rumours went about, and these were the most evil of all. It was said that he sought to slay the king, and wished to make Gwenevere his own queen, and with her he would rule over all Britain.
   First, men laughed and passed the rumours with a shrug and a gesture of scorn; but when they were repeated again and again, some began half to believe them.
   When men came to ask who had set these evil tongues to wag, it was always found that a certain mean knight, named Sir Pinel, had first spoken wrong of Lancelot and Sir Bors and the queen. And men noticed that it was not long before the queen began to look coldly at Sir Pinel, and then they knew that his rumours had reached her ears.
Now it befell that the poor queen had heard, through her maidens, of the rumours concerning herself and Sir Lancelot, and, taking counsel of no one, she be-thought how she could prove to the remnant of the Round Table that she was free of any plots against the king or the fair kingdom of Britain.
   She resolved that she would invite the knights to a privy dinner, and when they had eaten she would throw herself upon their knightly pity and honour, telling them how the evil rumours wronged and hurt her bitterly. And she doubted not that thus their manly sympathy and worship of her, their queen, would, by her words, cast out the evil effects of the slanderous tales. Therefore, at that dinner, she had Sir Gawaine and his brethren, that is to say, Sir Gareth, Sir Agravaine, Sir Gaheris, and Sir Mordred. Also there were the kin of Sir Lancelot, to wit, Sir Bors, Sir Blamore, Sir Bleobaris, Sir Ector de Maris, and Sir Lionel. But Sir Lancelot had gone into the Scottish marches, to do in battle with a notable robber and oppressor there. There were other knights, making in all the number of twenty-four. And these were all the remnant of the one hundred and fifty that had gone forth in the Quest of the Sangreal.
Among the guests were Sir Pinel and his cousin, Sir Mador.
   Now Sir Gawaine had a custom of eating apples, which he used daily at dinner and at supper. He loved all manner of fruit, and in especial a certain brown or russet apple, which was called Afal Coch. Every one knew of this fondness of Sir Gawaine's, and whoever dined or feasted him took care to provide such apples for his pleasure.
   The queen had known this, and among the fruit for the table she had ordered such apples to be placed.
   Now Sir Mordred, as Sir Gareth had suspected, hated Sir Gawaine with a deep hatred, and therefore he had, by crafty dealing, taken all the russet apples from the dish except one, and into this he had thrust a deadly poison. He guessed that, as every one knew of Sir Gawaine's fondness for that sort of fruit, no one would take it, but would leave it for Sir Gawaine, who would eat it and die thereof.
   When the feast was near an end, and men laughed and jested together, the dish of fruit was handed round, and Sir Pinel, the mean knight, noticed that there was but one of the apples which Sir Gawaine loved; and to spite that knight, whom he hated, he took that apple, ere the dish went to Sir Gawaine.
   Sir Mordred saw him take it, yet would not cry out to warn his fellow-traitor, for this would have revealed himself. He saw Sir Pinel's teeth sink into the brown apple, and Sir Pinel's sneering look as he glanced across at Sir Gawaine, who was searching vainly in the dish for his favourite fruit.
   Then Sir Mordred saw Sir Pinel's face go red, and then deadly white. And as the poison gripped him, Sir Pinel rose shrieking from the table, crying out that some enemy had poisoned him
   Then he sank writhing to the ground, shrieking and moaning, clutching at the ground and at the legs of the chairs. Suddenly, with a great groan, he lay still and was dead.
   Every knight leaped from the table, ashamed, full of rage and fear, nigh out of their wits, but dumb. They looked at each other and then at the dead Sir Pinel, and all their eyes kept from the face of the queen, where she sat on the high seat, with two of her ladies beside her.
   The reason they could not speak was that they knew the queen had heard of the evil tales which Sir Pinel had spread about her, and that she must have hated him bitterly. And she had made this feast, and had invited him thereto, and now he was dead at the board by means of deadly poison placed in the food which she had set before him.
   Then the voice of Sir Mador rang out, and checked men from going from the room, and drew all eyes to where he stood, a tall and burly man, red and angry of face, and fierce of eyes.
   "Look!" he cried, and held between his fingers and high above his head the apple which Sir Pinel had bitten, "this is the thing whereof my kinsman, Sir Pinel, hath lost his life. The matter shall not end here, for I have lost a noble knight of my blood, and I will be revenged to the uttermost."
   Then, turning, he savagely looked at the queen, and with fierce rolling eyes he roared out:
   "Thou art the murderess! Thou-the queen! Hear me, knights and chieftains. I charge the queen with the murder of my kinsman, Sir Pinel, and justice upon her will I have."
   Every one in the hall stood still as if they were of stone. None could gainsay him, none could utter a word on behalf of the queen, for all had suspicion that she had slain Sir Pinel for his slanders of her.
   Then suddenly the queen rose, white and trembling. "My lords and knights, I did not cause it! she cried in a broken voice. "I am innocent! I know not how it came!"
   And therewith she fell down in a swoon.
   Sir Mordred's pale face smiled with a bitter sneer. He knew not then whether what had happened would help his evil plots or no; but he resolved to say naught, and so went out with all the other silent knights, whilst the ladies of the queen took her up lamenting, and bore her to her chamber.
   With the noise and the sorrow that was in the court, King Arthur came and craved to know what was the matter; but none of the silent knights would speak until he met Sir Gawaine, who replied, and said:
   "Sir, the queen did invite us to a privy feast with her. And one of the knights did eat of the fruit on the table, and he is dead by poison. Therefore, I dread lest the queen will be shamed for this."
   King Arthur was passing heavy at the hearing of these words, and went unto the queen to comfort her.
   On the next day, when the king sat in hall with his two court judges, as was his wont daily, to hear any causes or charges which might be brought before him, all men stood with gloomy faces, and there was no laughing and jesting talk, as was usual at this time.
   Sir Mador came forward and charged the queen of murder, and required that justice should be done upon her.
   The king heard him with a sad face and in silence. Then he said:
   "Fair lords and noble knights, heavy is my grief for this, and rather would I give my life for my queen at this moment than that my tongue should frame so evil a charge against my dear wife and your noble queen. But I am here to see that law is done, as justly to the highest as to the lowest. I doubt not that God will soon clear her of this seeming evil."
   "I know not how that may be," said Sir Mador angrily, "for the evil deed is clear to any man's eyes.
   "I deem this deed was never done by my queen, nor by her desire," said the king sternly, "but by some traitor that would do her evil and wishes to see her die. But as I am her judge, I may not be her champion and fight for her fair fame. I doubt not, however , that some good knight will take this charge upon himself, and put his body in jeopardy for my queen. For if this be not done, dost thou know what is the penalty?"
   "She must be burnt," said Mador sullenly. "But she hath done the deed and will merit the doom."
   "Cease, hasty man," said King Arthur sternly; "it goeth to my heart to hear thee pronounce the doom thou wouldst visit upon that fair lady. Fear not, Sir Mador, she shall find some good knight to do combat for her. Therefore do thou name thy day of battle."
   "But hark ye, lord," said Sir Mador, " there is none of the four-and-twenty knights that were bidden to this dinner that hath not suspicion of the queen for this deed. Therefore, no knight can take this charge upon him in her behalf. What say ye, my lords?"
   He turned to the silent moody men about the dais.
   The knights looked troubled, and were dumb for some moments; but at the last Sir Gawaine said:
   "We cannot excuse the queen, for she gave the feast. And either the poison came by her will or by her servants."
But most of the knights were silent, and Sir Bors and his kindred were very sorrowful. King Arthur was heavy at the words of Sir Gawaine.
   "Now, king," cried Sir Mador triumphantly, "I require ye, as ye be a righteous king, give me a day that I may have justice."
   "That will I do," said the king, "as I must do, that am a just king. I give you this day fifteen days, that ye be ready armed on horseback in the meadow beside the wall at London; and if it so fall out that there be a knight to encounter you, then God speed the right; and if there be no knight to take arms for my queen, then must she suffer by fire."
   So sorrowful were the king's words that many knights had much ado to keep from weeping.
   "And meanwhile," said Sir Mador, "I do require that ye keep the queen in close ward and prison, lest any try a rescue, and thus defeat the justice that is my due."
   Though it went to the king's heart to have to order this, he gave the queen into the keeping of Sir Kay, who kept her in her chamber, guarded by three knights, to the great grief of her women and all the court.
   Then the queen sent for Sir Bors, and when he was come she threw herself on her knees full piteously before him and wept sorely, and begged that he would save her from this dreadful death.
   "For by my confession unto Heaven," she cried, "I know naught of this wicked deed how it was brought about. And will ye not take this combat upon ye for my sake? For I am sure if your kinsman, Sir Lancelot, was here, he would not suffer this evil suspicion to lie against me. For he hath ever been my most faithful knight, but now am I without friend in this great pass."
   "Madam," replied Sir Bors, "what can I do? For if I take this charge upon me for your sake, men will say I was your aider in this crime that they charge upon you. And I see not how I may fight for you except by endangering my own life without saving yours. But I tell ye, madam, what I will do. I will hasten with all speed to the north, trusting in God to get news of Sir Lancelot, so that I may tell him and bring him here within the time appointed."
   "Ah, good Sir Bors," cried the queen, and clasped his hands. "Do ye do that, for I know that Sir Lancelot will never believe me guilty of so great a crime. And I will pray hourly that ye find him and bring him to me in time, so that my poor body be not unjustly given to the dreadful flames."
   Forthwith Sir Bors armed himself, and with two squires set forth instantly and sent his men in different ways, so that among the three they should not fail to hear where, in the northern marches, a knight so famous as Sir Lancelot might be found.
   No rest did the good Sir Bors give to himself, but swiftly did he ride hither and thither questioning all knights whom he met, and inquiring of every hermitage and abbey and at every harbourage. Finally, when eleven days had passed of the fifteen, he found Sir Lancelot lying wounded at a broken abbey, from which, in a fierce fight, he had but two days before thrust out a band of pagans, who would have murdered the nuns and robbed the church of its holy relics.
   Full wroth was Sir Lancelot when, having lovingly greeted each other, Sir Bors told him all that had passed with the queen.
   "The foul traitors!" he cried, and, getting fiercely from the pallet on which he lay, he strode up and down the chamber clenching his hands and gnashing his teeth.
   "Do any dare to suspect her - do any think in cold blood to see that peerless lady bound to the stake, the flames devouring her noble person? That men should think such things, and move not a hand in noble wrath, shows how evil are the days in which we live!"
   Then he rushed from the room, wounded as he was; and, full of a cold wrath, he ordered his arms to be brought and his horse to be saddled. And to the gentle persuasions of the nuns he said he must be gone, "for he must stay a wrong that, if suffered, would sink the kingdom in unquenchable shame and ruin."
   Then with Sir Bors he rode southwards, full fiercely, and never resting to eat, but taking food as he rode. At night he would not doff his armour, but slept beside his horse; and seldom spoke, but was consumed as by a great fire of anger.
   And on the fourteenth day they rode into London.
   "Go beg the queen to see me," he said to Sir Bors.
   Sir Bors went, and Sir Lancelot strode unto an hostelry to wash from himself the stains of travel, and to don a fitting robe in which to appear before the queen.
   Now it had befallen, while Sir Bors had been absent from the court seeking for Sir Lancelot, that Sir Mordred and Sir Agravaine had made a plot with each other against him and against Sir Lancelot. And they caused it to be noised in all the court that Sir Bors had gone to seek Sir Lancelot, and that Sir Bors was privy to the plots which Sir Lancelot and the queen had made to wrest the kingdom from King Arthur and to reign together in his stead. They said that Sir Bors had gone to warn Sir Lancelot that the time was ripe to strike.
   Wherefore many knights were greatly displeased to hear this news, but some would not believe it, and said that Sir Bors had gone to tell Sir Lancelot of the jeopardy in which the queen's life was placed, and to ask him to do battle for her.
   "But," said some, "if he do not find Sir Lancelot, it is his intention to do combat for the queen himself, and that is great wrong in Sir Bors, for he was with us at the feast, and none but she could have caused that poison."
   Daily the party which inclined to Sir Mordred and Sir Agravaine gained power, and some were for going to tell the king of the evil designs which Sir Lancelot and Sir Bors and the queen had against his person and the kingdom. But Sir Mordred said, "No, the time is not yet ripe. Wait a while."
   The guard that was set about the queen's chamber was doubled, and all were knights that were well-willers to the plots of Sir Mordred and Sir Agravaine.
   When, therefore, Sir Bors came and asked to see the queen, they let him go to her; but Sir Agravaine hid himself and listened to all that passed between Sir Bors and the queen. Then he went and told the others that Sir Lancelot was waiting to speak to the queen, and he counselled that they should let him come, and then when he came forth again, as he would be unarmed, they could fall upon him and capture him, and take him before the king and charge him with his treason and his plots.
   And with the consent of Sir Mordred this was so agreed; and he advised that most of them should hide from before the door, so that Sir Lancelot should not think the guard was strong.
   "For," said Sir Mordred, "if he sees there is no great watch kept, he may strive to free the queen, and when we take him it will be blacker against him."
   When, therefore, Sir Bors came forth from his audience with the queen, he found but one knight at the door, and that was Sir Petipace of Winchelsea, a young man. Sir Bors wondered why the guard of ten or twelve that had been there before was now gone, and he was uneasy in his mind.
   Going to Sir Lancelot, he told him that the queen would see him at once; "but," added Sir Bors, "ye shall not go this night by my counsel, nor should you go before there are more of our kinsmen near us to aid us in case of need."
   "Why?" said Sir Lancelot.
   "Sir," said Sir Bors, "I misdoubt me of Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred. There was a great watch before the door of the queen's room when I entered; but when I came hence there was but one. And I mistrust them that stood there. For all were of Sir Mordred's evil company, and peradventure they lay some snare for you, and I dread me sore of treachery."
   "Have ye no doubt," said Sir Lancelot, "for I shall go and come again and make no tarrying."
   "Sir," replied his cousin, "that me sore repenteth. But if you will, I will go and seek some of our kinsmen to meet us near by. And do you not go until I have found them."
   "Nay, I will not stay," said Sir Lancelot, "and I marvel me much why ye say this, for they dare do naught against me."
   "God speed you well," said Sir Bors, "if that is your will, and send you safe and sound again."
   Sir Lancelot departed, taking his sword underneath his arm, while Sir Bors went forth to find some of their kin. He learned, however, that many of them had gone forth with the king to punish a bandit lord in the forest of the Weald, and would not return before the morrow, when the combat should be held for the queen.
   Sir Lancelot came to the door of the queen's prison, and found Sir Petipace there, and demanded to be let in to see the queen.
   "We thought you were in the north, Sir Lancelot," said the young knight, with a laugh, "and surely it will pleasure our lady queen to see you."
   He unlocked the door of the queen's antechamber, and told her waiting-woman that Sir Lancelot would see the queen, and in a few moments Sir Lancelot was let in. The sorrowing queen told him all that had happened, and how, and he was wroth to think that any one should suspect her of so great a crime. He promised that on the day appointed he would fight for her with all his strength, as a true knight should, and God would defend the right.
   Suddenly, as they spoke together, there came loud voices crying outside the chamber door:
   "Traitor knight, Sir Lancelot du Lake, now art thou taken in thy treachery!"
   Sir Lancelot knew that the voices were those of Sir Agravaine, who had ever been envious of him, and of Sir Mordred, whom no one loved. He went quickly to the door and barred it with the beam, and bade the terrified queen not to be alarrned. He asked her whether there was any armour in the room which he could put on to defend himself.
   "I have none," she said, weeping sorely, "wherefore I dread me sore that evil will come to you, my true and valiant knight, for I hear by their noise there be many strong knights, wherefore ye are like to be slain soon, and then shall I surely burn."
   "Alas!" said Sir Lancelot, "in all my life was I never in such a pass, to be slain for lack of my armour."
   "Traitor knight," cried those that were hammering at the door with the handles of their swords, "come out at once and skulk there no more, for know ye well thou art so beset that thou shalt not escape."
   Sir Lancelot went to the queen and, kneeling to her, took her hand and kissed it, saying:
   "Madam, I beseech you to pray for my soul if I be slain. I have been your true knight with all my power up to this time, and now I will not fail you if I may; but if I be slain, I am assured that my kinsman Sir Bors and all the others of my kin will not suffer you to go to the fire.
   Then Sir Lancelot, leaving the weeping queen, wrapped his mantle round his left arm as if it were a shield, and prepared to sell his life dearly. By this time the knights outside had got a bench from the hall, and using it as a battering-ram, were dashing it against the door to beat it in.
   "Leave your noise, fair lords," rang out the voice Of Lancelot, "and I will open the door to ye, and then ye may do to me what ye will."
   "Do it then," they cried, "and we will give you your life until we take thee to King Arthur, to be judged for your treason."
   Sir Lancelot unbarred the door and held it open a little way, so that one knight only might enter at a time. One entered, a big slow man, named Sir Colgreve, and swiftly Sir Lancelot slammed the door and fastened it, to keep the others out.
   Sir Colgreve turned and struck at Sir Lancelot; but the latter put the stroke lightly aside with his sword, and gave so swift and keen a blow upon the other's helm that Sir Colgreve fell down dead.
   Then, while the others hammered and yelled outside the door, Sir Lancelot swiftly took off the armour of the dead knight, and with the help of the queen and her waiting-women was armed in it.
   Again the knights outside had begun to dash at the door to beat it down. Sir Lancelot, when he was armed, strode to it and cried out:
   "Let be your noise, and go away, for ye shall not prison me this night. And I promise ye, by my knighthood, that I will appear to-morrow before the king, and then such of ye as dare may accuse me of treason, and I will then prove that I am a true man and no traitor."
   "Fie on thee, false traitor," cried Sir Agravaine and Sir Morred, "but we will have thee this night and slay thee."
   "Then, sirs," replied Sir Lancelot, "if ye will not take my counsel, look well to yourselves."
   With that Sir Lancelot threw the door open suddenly, and while the others struggled and tripped over the bench between them he had run two of them through.
   Then in that narrow antechamber there was as fierce a fight as ever brave knight might wish to see. Sir Mordred from behind urged on the others with evil words, telling them to slay Sir Lancelot ; while he launched at that knight all manner of foul names.
   Fiercely did Sir Lancelot fight, for he was full of rage and as in the narrow place in which he stood, no more than two could come at him at once, he could not be overwhelmed by their numbers. There were ten of them, and so full of force were his blows and so skilful his thrusts, that in a little while seven lay slain, two were badly wounded, and the last, who was Sir Mordred barely escaped with his life, and bore a deep wound with him.
   Sir Lancelot, sorely wounded, returned to the queen, and said:
   "Madam, I know not what is this treason with which they charge me; but I doubt not it will go ill with me, for I have killed many of the kin of the king and of Sir Gawaine this night. And I misdoubt me that the king himself will be my foe also. Nevertheless, I will save you, if it is in my power, from the danger that threatens you."
   "Go ye, Sir Lancelot," the queen besought him, "ere the men-at-arms come, which are so many ye may never hope to escape them. I dread me sorely that much ill will come of this, and of the evil plots which our enemies weave about us."
   Then, kneeling, Sir Lancelot kissed the queen's hand, and went from the prison and the people who had assembled outside at the noise of the fighting wondered to see only one knight issue forth, his armour dented and broken, and dabbled here and there with the blood of his wounds.
   Sir Lancelot took his way to the lodging of Sir Bors, who showed his great gladness to see him again. And when he had been unarmed and his wounds stanched and bound, Sir Lancelot told him what had befallen him.
   "And now I beseech you," said Sir Lancelot, "be of good heart, in whatever great need we stand, for now I fear war must come of it all. But what is the treason they would charge me with I know not; yet I dread it meaneth much evil plotting against me and the peace of this fair kingdom."
   "Sir," said Sir Bors, "your enemies and those that envy your great farne have spread many evil reports about you. They say that you plot to slay the king and to take Queen Gwenevere to wife, to reign over this kingdom with you."
   With that Sir Lancelot was so astounded that for some moments he could not speak. Then he said:
   "By my confession unto Heaven, this is as foul a plot against me as ever fiend could fashion. And it showeth how far they will go to pull me down and dishonour me. And doth the king know of these evil rumours?"
   "I know not," replied Sir Bors, "but I doubt not that Sir Mordred will not rest his horse till he hath found the king and poisoned his mind against thee."
   "Had I known of this," said Sir Lancelot, "I would have brought the queen away with me and put her in a safe place, for now I know that her enemies and mine will not rest until she and I be slain."
   But Sir Bors counselled him not to attempt a rescue then, for day was breaking, the town was awake, and the court would be full of the armed retainers of the slain knights.
   Then, while Sir Lancelot rested himself, Sir Bors went out to the lodgings of such of his kinsmen as might not be gone with the king, and he found that now all had returned to London with the king, that Sir Mordred had met them on their way, and had told King Arthur of the fight, and had, moreover, charged Sir Lancelot and the queen with conspiring together to gain the crown.
   Sad indeed was Sir Bors to hear this; but, going about the town, he got together the kinsmen of Sir Lancelot and such of his friends as would cast in their lot with him in so weighty and terrible a thing as civil war. By seven of the clock he had got together good and valiant knights to the number of fourscore, all horsed and armed.
   Then he told them to betake themselves to a privy place in a wood beyond the city walls to the north, and there in a little while came Sir Lancelot with Sir Bors, and held counsel with them. He told them all that had befallen him in the fight with the twelve knights, and they in their turn related how Sir Mordred had met them and had told his evil tales against the queen and Lancelot, and how for long the king was too wroth and too sad to listen. But afterwards, when Sir Mordred told how Sir Pinel, who had spoken of these things, had been poisoned at the feast given by the queen, King Arthur had wept, and then was very stern and quiet and said no word more.
   "Now, my lords," said Sir Lancelot, when they had done speaking, "ye know well how evil are these plots how baseless are these foul rumours against me. But now they have been launched against me, and I have slain men on account of them, I fear we shall be hard put to it to get peace again. Those men were set on to betray me; and I doubt not mine enemies will have the queen burnt, to revenge themselves upon her and upon me. Therefore, fair lords, what counsel do ye give?"
   "Sir," said Sir Bors, when they had spoken together a little, "we think there is but one thing to be done first: that ye knightly rescue the queen, if your enemies force the king to put her to the stake. For if she be burnt, then it would be to your sharne, seeing that you vowed yourself her true knight when she came, a young fair bride, to our king, twenty years agone. And in whatsoever way ye would rescue her, ye may count upon us to our last breath."
   With a great shout all the other knights raised their right hands in the air and cried: "Yea! Yea!"
   Then, by the advice of Sir Lancelot, they kept hidden in the little wood, while one went into the city to learn what was being done, and in what manner the queen was to be treated.
   Meanwhile, in the hall of the palace of King Arthur, men sat or stood with anxious looks, glancing in silence at the king, as he walked up and down apart, with a stern look on his face.
   Then Sir Mador strode forward and said:
   "Lord, I do require you to perform your promise to me, to wit, that the queen be brought to the stake, unless one be found to do combat on her behalf."
   "What I have promised I will fulfil," said the king; and men sorrowed to see how heavy of anguish were his looks, and full of sorrow his words.
   "Lord king," said Sir Mordred, "we have shamefully suffered much wrong at the hands of Sir Lancelot. I appeal to thee that he be seized, so that the kin of those whom he slew this last night may have vengeance upon him."
   Then came Sir Gawaine forward quickly, and his face was dark with anger and his words hot.
   "Lord," he cried, "listen not to such tales, for I doubt not it was only by evil plots that Sir Lancelot was forced to slay those whom he slew. For I trust not Sir Mordred."
   "So God us help," said Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris, "we too will not be known to be of the same mind as our brother Sir Mordred."
   "Then will I do as I deem it best, to gain what I deem right," replied Sir Mordred.
   "I believe that thou wilt do it in thine own hidden ways," said Sir Gawaine, and looked fiercely at his brother "for in all unhappiness and evil thou art to be found, if men but seek in the darkest place and look for the most secret foe."
   "I appeal to you, lord," said Sir Mordred to the king, "to proclaim Sir Lancelot a false traitor to you and to your realm."
   "And I," said Sir Gawaine, "will bid ye remember, lord king, that if ye will make war between us and Sir Lancelot, there will be many kings and great lords hold with him. And I would ask you, how many times hath Sir Lancelot done noble deeds on our behalf and proved himself the best knight of us all? Did he not rescue twenty of us from the dungeons of Sir Turquine? Hath he not avenged shame upon the king and the queen, and the fame of the Round Table, many a time? Me-thinketh, my uncle, that such kind deeds should be well remembered."
   "Think ye," said the king, "that I am not loath to begin so evil and terrible a thing as civil war? Man, it rendeth my heart to think it. And I tell thee, Sir Mordred, I will not begin it, except I have proofs of what charge upon Sir Lancelot. And as he is the best knight of ye all, and the most valiant, I will not judge him before I hear him. If I know him well, he will come hither and challenge the knight to combat that doth bring these charges against him, and in that will I trust, for God shall surely defend the right. Therefore, let a messenger be sent to Sir Lancelot requiring him, by his knighthood, to appear before me here, and make answer to the charges thou hast against him."
   This was not as Sir Mordred desired; for he did not doubt that if Sir Lancelot came he would have little trouble to persuade the king that he was innocent. When the messenger was gone, therefore, Sir Mordred sent a servant after him, who slew him in a wood and hid his body under a bush.
   Meanwhile, Sir Mordred counselled Sir Mador to repeat his demand that the king should cause the queen to be led to the stake, since no knight had come forward and offered to fight for her.
   For a time the king put him off, hoping that as soon as Sir Lancelot received his commands he would come instantly. Very anxiously did the king look to the door, hoping to see the tall form of his best knight come towering through the hall.
   Instead thereof came the crafty servant of Sir Mordred, throwing himself at the feet of the king.
   "Gracious lord," cried he, panting as if from swift running, "I have even now come from the place where Sir Lancelot and his friends are hiding. I am one of their servants, but I hate their treason against ye, and therefore I am come to tell you of this greatest treason of all. They have slain your messenger, my lord, him that came requiring Sir Lancelot to appear before thee. Sir Lancelot ran upon him when he gave his message and slew him, saying, 'Thus do I answer the saucy words of him who shall not much longer be king.'"
   The king looked at the face of the messenger long and sadly. The pain which the king suffered would have softened any ordinary heart; but the murderer was a hard and callous wretch, and his brazen eyes out-looked the king.
   "Then is Sir Lancelot changed indeed," said the king, and walked away with bowed head and moist eyes.
   Sir Mador pushed forward again, repeating his demand.
   "Have it as ye will," said the king heavily, and went quickly into his private chamber.
   "Alas!" said Sir Gawaine and Sir Gareth, "now is the whole realm falling to ruin, and the noble fellowship of the Round Table shall be scattered in civil war."
   Soon a page came to Sir Gawaine, telling him that the king would speak to him.
   "Gawaine," said the king, when the knight went to him. "I have been too easy with this knight, Sir Lancelot. He hath slain eleven knights of the Round Table and my messenger. The pride and ambition of that man shall have a check. His great fame for valiant deeds hath made him mad, until it would seem that nothing but this realm will content him. Now, therefore, as justice demands, and Sir Mador requires, do ye lead the queen to the fire. She shall have the law as is right. Afterwards we will seize Sir Lancelot; and know ye, he shall have a hard and shameful death."
   "Heaven forbid," said Sir Gawaine, "that ever I should see either of these things. For I will believe not these reports of Sir Lancelot."
   "How now?" said the king; "truly ye have little cause to love him. This night last past he slew Sir Agravaine, your brother, and several of your kindred .with him; and also, Sir Gawaine, remember how he slew but lately two sons of yours in battle against the oppressing lords of the borders."
   "My lord," said Sir Gawaine, "I know these things, and for their deaths I have grieved; but I warned them all, and as they sought their deaths wilfully I will not avenge them, nor think worse of Sir Lancelot."
   "Nevertheless," said the king, "I pray you will make ready with your brothers, Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth, to take the queen to the fire, there to have her judgment and receive her death."
   "Nay, most noble lord," replied the knight sadly, "that will I never do. I will never stand by to see so noble a queen meet so shameful a death."
   "Then," said the king sadly, "suffer your brothers, Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris, to be there."
   "They are younger than I," replied Sir Gawaine, "and they may not say you nay."
   The king commanded the two brothers of Sir Gawaine to come to him, and told them what he desired of them.
   "Sir," said Sir Gareth, "it is in your power to command us to lead the queen to her shameful end; but wit you well it is sore against our will. We will go as ye bid, but it shall be in peaceable guise, for we tell you straightway, we will not oppose a rescue, should any so desire."
   "Alas!" said Sir Gawaine, and wept, "that ever I should live to see this woeful day."
   Then the two knights went to the queen and sorrowfully bade her prepare for her death. Very pale was the queen, but very quiet, for now that this was come which she had dreaded night and day, she would bear herself proudly like a queen, innocent as she knew she was of any crime.
   Her ladies dressed her in her meanest garments; a priest, her confessor, was brought to her, and she was shriven of her sins. Then arose a weeping and a wailing and a wringing of hands among the lords and ladies. Between the knights and the men-at-arms she was led through the streets to the lists beyond the wall. Lamentation, cries of horror, and the shrieks and sighs of women arose from the multitude which lined each side of the narrow streets. Many were the prayers that rose from white lips, praying God to send a miracle to rescue so sweet a lady from so dreadful a doom.
   The city apprentices, with stout sticks in their hands, stood in bands, and in their stout young hearts was a great rage. It was in their minds to dash upon the guard of armoured knights, to attempt a rescue, but they knew how vain their sticks would be against the keen blades of swords.
   So stricken with horror were all those that looked on that they noticed not how, when the queen and her guards issued from the gates of the palace, a man in the coarse dress of a peasant, who was standing in the crowd, strode swiftly away down a narrow lane. There he vaulted, with an unpeasant-like deftness, upon a good steed that stood in the charge of a young lad; and striking spurs in the horse's flanks, he dashed away madly along the streets and through the northern gate into the fields.
   Amidst the sorrowing people, with women crying and men muttering and looking darkly at the knights about her, the queen was led to the tilting-ground beyond the northern wall, and in the midst thereof was a stake. To this she was fastened with a rope, and fagots of wood piled about her feet up to her knees. Near her the priest of her household, trying to cheer her with comforting words; but the queen, pale and without tears, seemed to be dazed and as if she did not hear him.
   A hundred knights ranged themselves behind the queen, some on horseback, but the most on foot. Many of them had followed the example of Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth and stood without arms; but Sir Mador was on his horse, fully armed, and prepared for combat. Others of his kindred rode beside him.
   Then Sir Gaheris called upon the herald to proclaim what the king had commanded.
   "In the name of the king," cried the herald, "the queen hath been found guilty of the death of a knight by treason and poison, and his kinsmen have demanded due judgment upon her. But if any knight shall take upon himself to do battle for her, let him appear instantly. If none do appear, then shall she stiffer the death by burning as the law doth appoint."
   The herald ceased; the people in the seats, craning this way and that, looked eagerly up and down the lists to see if any knight came.
   They saw Sir Mador, in the forefront of the troop of mounted knights, glance about him; but no armed man moved forward to do battle for the innocence of the queen. Then he looked to where she stood, pale and still, and men saw him smile faintly, as if his cruel heart already rejoiced to think that she would surely burn.
   A great stillness was on the multitude of people. The eyes of all the citizens of London were bent upon that long wide space of sand within the lists; many, blurred by tears, could not bear to look at the white figure in the midst of the fagots.
   Men and women held their breath. They saw Sir Mador look towards Sir Gaheris, as if to ask him why he delayed giving the signal for the executioner to go forward to do his duty.
   Sir Gaheris stood looking down the lists towards the great entrance. His brother, Sir Gareth, was beside him, and in the hearts of both were prayers which asked that something might happen to prevent them doing this dreadful dead upon their fair queen.
   "I do call upon you, Sir Gaheris, to fulfil the law!"
   Sir Mador's harsh voice rang out in the silence, startling all. With the sound, Sir Gaheris threw up his hands in a gesture of despair. He turned to the executioner, who stood beside a cauldron of fire, and pointed to the queen.
   Horror held the great multitude in silence, and all eyes watched the man put his torch in the fire, and then carry it blazing towards the fagots.
   Suddenly men heard a strange throbbing sound, as if from a distance; then quickly it changed into the fierce beat of horses' hoofs; and before many could realize what it meant, through the great gate at the end of the lists dashed knights in armour, on horses whose foam-flecked trappings showed at what a speed they had come.
   At the head of them rode a great knight; and as men caught the device upon his shield a great roar of gladness burst from the throats of the people, while women sobbed for joy
   "Sir Lancelot! Sir Lancelot to the rescue!" was the cry.
   As the knights entered, Sir Mador's quick commands sounded, and the knights about him ran forward and surrounded the queen. They had barely reached the place when, with a great crashing sound, the party of Sir Lancelot was upon them. Many of Sir Mador's people were at once thrown headlong to the ground by the force of the shock, but the others fought fiercely.
   This way and that the battle swayed; Sir Mador trying to thrust the others from the fire, and Sir Lancelot's kinsmen striving to reach the queen. All was in confusion; the knights on foot were mingled with those on horseback, and many were cut down who did not bear arms.
   Full of a mad wrath was Sir Lancelot, as he raged among the knights that stood about the fagots; nor could any withstand him. So blind was he in his fury that he knew not whom he slew, except that they were men who stood between him and the queen.
   So, by great mischance, at this rushing and hurtling, he slew two knights and knew not that they were un-armed, and that they were of those he loved most. One was Sir Gareth, whom he had himself knighted, and the other was Sir Gaheris. In very truth Sir Lancelot knew them not; and afterwards they were found dead where the corpses lay thickest.
   Short but very fierce was that battle, for none could long withstand the fury of Sir Lancelot and his kinsmen. Many were slain on both sides; Sir Mador had his head sheared from his shoulders by a stroke of Sir Lancelot's sword, and the remnant of his party fled.
   Then Sir Lancelot rode to the queen, cut her bonds, and lifted her upon his horse full tenderly. Her eyes streamed with tears as she returned thanks to God for her deliverance, and hardly could she tell her gratitude to Sir Lancelot.
   Thus, with the continued praises of the people in his ears, Sir Lancelot fared forth amidst his kinsmen, and taking the road northwards he rode with the queen to his own castle of Joyous Gard.

   "For," said he, "I will keep the queen in safety until I know that the king is assured of our innocence of any treason against him. But I doubt our enemies have poisoned his mind, for never else would he have suffered her to go to the stake."
   But therein was Sir Lancelot in great error, as in much grief and remorse he came later to see; for if instantly he had taken the queen to the king, and had dared his enemies to prove his treason and the queen's, they would have been instantly discountenanced, and King Arthur would have known and loved him as he had ever done, for a true knight and a peerless one.
   Nevertheless, Sir Lancelot would ever have had the hatred of Sir Gawaine, which was caused by his slaying, though unwittingly, the two good knights, Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth; whereof came great bale and sorrow.