Gilbert's King Arthur's Knights
XI. OF SIR GAWAINE'S HATRED, AND THE WAR WITH SIR LANCELOT
King Arthur, in the hall of his palace in London, walked quickly up and down, thinking
in great grief of the death of his queen. A group of pages stood quietly in the shadow by
the door, and two or three knights gazed silently at the moody king.
Suddenly there came the sound of running footsteps; a man dashed into the hall, and threw
himself at the feet of the king. It was a squire of Sir Mordred's, and he craved leave to
speak. " Say on," said the king.
"My lord," said the man, "Sir Lancelot hath rescued the queen from the fire
and hath slain some thirty of your knights, and he and his kin have taken the queen among
them away to some hiding-place."
King Arthur stood for a little while dumb for pure sorrow; then, turning away, he wrung
his hands and cried with a voice whose sadness pierced every heart:
"Alas, that ever I bare a crown, for now is the fairest fellowship of knights that
ever the world held, scattered and broken."
"Further, my lord," went on the man, as others came into the hall, "Sir
Lancelot hath slain the brethren of Sir Gawaine, and they are Sir Gaheris and Sir
The king looked from the man to the knights that now surrounded him, as if that which he
heard was past all belief.
"Is this truth?" he asked them, and all were moved at the sorrow on his face and
in his voice.
"Yea, lord," said they.
"Then, fair fellows," he said, very heavily, "I charge you that no man tell
Sir Gawaine of the death of his two brothers; for I am sure that when he heareth that his
loved younger brother, Sir Gareth, is slain, he will nigh go out of his mind for sorrow
The king strode up and down the chamber, wringing his hands in the grief he could not
"Why, oh why, did he slay them?" he cried out at length. "He himself
knighted Sir Gareth when he went to fight the oppressor of the Lady Lyones, and Sir Gareth
loved him above all others."
"That is truth," said some of the knights, and could not keep from tears to see
the king's grief, "but they were slain in the hurtling together of the knights, as
Sir Lancelot dashed in the thick of the press. He wist not whom he smote, so blind was his
rage to get to the queen at the stake."
"Alas! Alas!" said the king. "The death of them will cause the greatest
woful war that ever was in this fair realm. I see ruin before us all-rent and ruined shall
we be, and all peace for ever at an end."
Though the king had forbidden any of his knights to tell Sir Gawaine of the death of his
two brothers, Sir Mordred called his squire aside, and bade him go and let Sir Gawaine
know all that had happened.
"Do you see to it," he told the man, "that thou dost inflame his mind
against Sir Lancelot."
The knave went to Sir Gawaine, and found him walking on the terrace of the palace
overlooking the broad quiet Thames, where the small trading ships sailed up and down the
river on their ways to and from Gaul and the ports of the Kentish coast.
"Sir," said the squire, doffing his cap and bowing, "great and woful deeds
have been toward this day. The queen hath been rescued by Sir Lancelot and his kin, and
some thirty knights were slain in the melee about the stake."
"Heaven defend my brethren," said Sir Gawaine, they went unarmed. But as for Sir
Lancelot, I guessed he would try a rescue, and I had deemed him no man of knightly worship
if he had not. But, tell me, how are my brethren. Where be they?"
"Alas, sir," said the man, "they be slain."
The grim face of Sir Gawaine went pale, and with an iron hand he seized the shoulder of
the squire and shook him in his rage.
"Have a care, thou limb of Mordred's, if thou speakest lies," he said. "I
would not have them dead for all this realm and its riches. Where is my young brother, Sir
"Sir, I tell ye truth," said the man, "for I know how heavy would be your
anger if I lied in this. Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris are slain, and all good knights are
mourning them, and in especial the king our master."
Sir Gawaine took a step backwards and his face went pale and then it darkened with rage.
"Tell me who slew them?" he thundered.
"Sir," replied the man, "Sir Lancelot slew them both."
"False knave!" cried Sir Gawaine, "I knew thou didst lie."
He struck the man a great buffet on the head, so that he fell half-dazed to the ground.
"Ha! Ha! thou lying talebearer!" laughed Sir Gawaine half-relieved of his fears,
yet still half-doubtful. "To tell me that Sir Lancelot slew them! Why, man, knowest
thou of whom thou pratest? Sir Lancelot to slay my dear young brother Gareth! Why, man,
Gareth loved Sir Lancelot as he loved me - not more than he loved me, but near as much;
and Sir Lancelot was ever proud of him. 'Twas he that knighted my young brother
brave and hearty, noble of mind and goodly of look! He would have stood with Lancelot
against the king himself, so greatly he loved him. And thou -thou foul-mouth! - thou
tellest me that Lancelot hath slain him! Begone from my sight, thou split-tongue!"
" Nevertheless, Sir Gawaine," said the man, rising, "Sir Lancelot slew them
both in his rage. As he would - saving your presence - have slain you had you stood
between him and the queen at the stake."
At these words, stubbornly spoken in spite of the furious looks of Sir Gawaine, the knight
realized that the man was speaking the truth.
His look was fixed on the face of the knave, and rage and grief filled his eyes as he
grasped the fact that his beloved brother was really slain. Then the blood surged into his
face, and he dashed away.
Men started to see the wild figure of Sir Gawaine rushing through the passages, his eyes
bloodshot, his face white. At length he dashed into the presence of the king. Arthur stood
sorrowing amidst his knights, but Sir Gawaine rushed through them and faced the king.
"Ha! King Arthur!" he cried, half-breathless, but in a great wild voice,
"my good brother, Sir Gareth, is slain, and also Sir Gaheris! I cannot bear the
thought of them slain. It cannot be true! I cannot believe it!"
"Nay, nor can any think upon it," said the king, "and keep from
"Ay, ay," said Sir Gawaine in a terrible voice, "there shall be weeping, I
trow, and that erelong. Sir, I will go see my dead brothers. I would kiss them ere they be
laid in earth."
"Nay, that may not be," said the king gently. "I knew how great would be
thy sorrow, and that sight of them would drive thee mad. And I have caused them to be
"Tell me," said Gawaine, and men marvelled to see the wild look in his eyes and
to hear the fierce voice, "is it truth that Sir Lancelot slew them both?"
"It is thus told me," said the king, "that in his fury Sir Lancelot knew
not whom he smote."
"But, man," thundered Sir Gawaine, "they bare no arms against him! Their
hearts were with him, and young Gareth loved him as if - as if Lancelot was his own
"I know it, I know it," replied King Arthur. "But, men say they were
mingled in the thick press of the fight, and Lancelot knew not friend from foe, but struck
down all that stood between him and the queen."
For a space Sir Gawaine was silent, and men looked upon him with awe and compassion. His
mane of hair, grizzled and wild, was thrown back upon his shoulders, and his eyes flamed
with a showing light as of fire. Suddenly he stepped up to the king, and lifting his right
hand said, in a voice that trembled with rage:
"My lord, my king, and mine uncle, wit you well that now I make oath by my
knighthood, that from this day I will seek Sir Lancelot and never rest till he be slain or
he slay me. Therefore, my lord king, and you, my fellow knights and lords, I require you
all to prepare yourselves for war; for, know you, though I ravage this land and all the
lands of Christendom, I will not rest me nor slake my revenge until I come up to Lancelot
and drive my sword into his evil heart."
With that Sir Gawaine strode from the room, and for a space all men were silent, so fierce
and full of hatred had been his words.
"I see well," said the king, "that the death of these twain knights will
cause the deadliest war that hath ever raged, and never shall we have rest until Gawaine
do slay Lancelot or is slain by him. 0 Lancelot! Lancelot! my peerless knight, that ever
thou shouldst be the cause of the ruin of this my fair kingdom!"
None that heard the king could keep from tears; and many felt that in this quarrel the
king's heart was not set, except for the sake of Sir Gawaine, his nephew, and all his kin.
Then there were made great preparations in London and all the lands south of Trent, with
sharpening of swords and spears, making of harness and beating of smiths' hammers on
Men's minds were in sore distress, and the faces of the citizens were long and white with
dismay. Daily the quarrel caused other quarrels. Many a group of knights came to high
words, some taking the side of Lancelot and the queen, and others that of the king and Sir
Gawaine. Often they came to blows, and one or other of their number would be left writhing
and groaning on the ground.
Families broke up in bad blood by reason of it, for the sons would avow their intent to go
and enlist with Lancelot, while the fathers, in high anger at such dislovalty to Arthur,
would send their tall sons away, bidding them never to look upon their faces again.
Women sorrowed and wept, for whichever side they took, it meant that one or other of their
dear ones was opposed to them, and would go to battle, fighting against those of their own
kin and of their own hearths.
Towards midsummer the host was ready, and took the road to the north. The quarrel had been
noised abroad throughout Britain, and many kings, dukes, and barons came to the help of
Arthur, so that his army was a great multitude. Yet many others had gone to Lancelot,
where he lay in his castle of Joyous Gard, not far from Carlisle.
Thither, in the month of July, when the husbandman were looking to their ripening
fields and thinking of harvest, King Arthur and Sir Gawaine drew with their army and laid
a siege against the castle of Joyous Gard, and against the walled town which it protected.
But for all their engines of war, catapults which threw great stones, and ramming irons
which battered the walls, they could not make a way into the place, and so lay about it
until harvest time.
One day, as Queen Gwenevere stood at a window of the castle, she looked down at the tents
of the besieging host, and her gaze lingered on the purple tent of King Arthur, with the
banner of the red dragon on the pole above it. As she looked, she saw her husband issue
from the tent and begin to walk up and down alone in a place apart. Very moody did he
seem, as he strode to and fro with bent head. Sometimes he looked towards Joyous
then his face had a sad expression upon it which went to the queen's heart.
She went to Sir Lancelot, and said:
"Sir Lancelot, I would that this dreadful war were done, and that thou wert again
friends and in peace with my dear lord. Something tells me that he sorrows to be at enmity
with thee. Thou wert his most famous knight and brought most worship to the fellowship of
the Round Table. Wilt thou not try to speak to my lord? Tell him how evil were the false
reports of the conspiracy against him, and that we are innocent of any treason against him
and this dear land."
"Lady," said Sir Lancelot, "on my knighthood I will try to accord with my
lord. If our enemies have not quite poisoned his thoughts of us, he may listen and
Thereupon Sir Lancelot caused his trumpeter to sound from the walls, and ask that King
Arthur would hold a parley with him. This was done, and Sir Pentred, a knight of King
Arthur's, took the message to the king.
In a little while King Arthur, with Sir Gawaine and a company of his counsellors and
knights, came beneath the walls, and the trumpeters blew a truce, and the bowmen ceased
from letting fly their arrows and the men-at-arms from throwing spears.
Then Sir Lancelot came down to a narrow window in the gate-tower, and cried out to the
"Most noble king, I think that neither of us may get honour from this war. Cannot we
make an end of it?"
"Ay," cried Sir Gawaine, his face red with anger, and shaking his mailed fist at
Lancelot, "come thou forth, thou traitor, and we will make an end of thee."
"Come forth," said the king, "and I will meet thee on the field. Thou hast
slain thirty of my good knights, taken my queen from me, and plunged this realm in
"Nay, lord, it was not I that caused this war," said Sir Lancelot. "I had
been but a base knight to have suffered the noble lady my queen to be burned at the stake.
And it passes me, my lord king, how thou couldst ever think to suffer her to be
"She was charged with poisoning a knight who slandered her," said the king.
"I must see justice done on high and low, and though it grieved me to condemn her, I
could do naught else. Moreover, if Sir Pinel spoke true, both you and she were conspiring
to slay me and to rule this kingdom in my stead."
"A foul lie, a black calumny!" cried Sir Lancelot fiercely. "And I would
answer for it with the strength which God might give me on any six of your knights that
may say I am so black a traitor. I tell you, my lord king, and I swear it on my
knighthood, and may death strike me now if I lie, that neither I nor the queen have ever
had evil thoughts against your person, nor had designs upon your crown."
At so solemn an oath men stood still and waited, for few doubted in those days that if a
man who took so great an oath was speaking falsely, fire from heaven would instantly
descend and consume him.
The moments passed and nothing happened, and men breathed again.
Sir Lancelot looked at the face of King Arthur, and saw by the light upon it that the king
believed him and Sir Lancelot rejoiced in his heart.
He saw the king turn to Sir Gawaine with a questioning air, as if he would ask what more
his nephew wanted. But next moment, with a harsh laugh, Sir Gawaine spoke.
"Hark ye, Sir Lancelot, thou mayest swear to Heaven as to some things, and there are
those that may be moved by thy round oaths. But this I charge upon thee, thou false, proud
knight, that thou didst slay two unarmed men - men that loved thee and worshipped thee!
For-sooth, thou boastful braggart and mouthing hero, thou wilt not dare to deny it!"
Sad was the face and voice of Sir Lancelot as he made reply.
"I cannot hope to find excuse from you," he said, "for I cannot and never
will forgive myself. I would as lief have slain my nephew, Sir Bors, as slay young Sir
Gareth whom I loved, and Gaheris his brother. Sorrow is on me for that! I was mad in my
rage and did not see them. Only I knew that many knights stood between me and the queen,
and I slew all that seemed to bar my passage."
"Thou liest, false, recreant knight!" cried Sir Gawaine, whose grief by now had
made him mad with the lust for revenge; "thou slewest them in thy pride, to despite
me and the king, because we had permitted the queen to go to the stake. Thou coward and
traitor! Therefore, wit thee well, Sir Lancelot, I will not quit this quest, until I feel
my sword thrusting into thy evil heart."
"Sorrow is on me," said Sir Lancelot, "to know that thou dost so hatefully
pursue me. If thou didst not, I think my lord the king would give me his good grace again,
and receive back his queen and believe us innocent."
"I believe it well, false, recreant knight!" cried Sir Gawaine, full of rage to
know that the king verily wished to have peace; "but know ye that while I live, my
good uncle will make war upon thee, and at last we will have thee in spite of thy castle
walls and thy skill in battle. And then I will have thy head."
"I trust ye for that," said Sir Lancelot, "for I see that thy hatred hath
crazed thee. So, if ye may get me, I shall expect no mercy."
Then, seeing how useless it was to keep up the parley any longer, Sir Lancelot withdrew.
Next day spies brought in word to Sir Lancelot that, at a council of his chief men, the
king had said he would take back his queen and make peace with Sir Lancelot; but that Sir
Gawaine had fiercely told him that if he did not keep up the war until Sir Lancelot was
taken or slain, he and all the kin of Lot would break away from the realm and their
allegiance. Indeed, it was rumoured that Sir Gawaine would have made the king prisoner had
he not yielded; and so powerful was Sir Gawaine and the lords that followed him, that none
could have been strong enough to withstand them.
Sir Gawaine, yearning, by reason of his hatred, to get Sir Lancelot out of his castle to
fight with him, now sent knights to cry out shame upon him under his walls. Thus they
marched up and down, calling out insulting names and charging him with dishonourable
Until at length the very men-at-arms that kept watch upon Sir Lancelot's walls reddened
for shame, and hurled down spears and stones at the foul months. Sir Bors, Sir Ector de
Maris, and Sir Lionel, they also heard the words, and going to the other knights of Sir
Lancelot, took counsel with them, and decided that this could no longer be suffered.
Together they went to Sir Lancelot and said to him:
"Wit ye well, my lord, that we feel great scorn of the evil words which Sir Gawaine
spoke unto you when that ye parleyed with him, and also of these shameful names which men
call upon ye for all the citizens to hear. Wherefore, we charge you and beseech you, if ye
will to keep our service, hold us no longer behind these walls, but let us out, in the
name of Heaven and your fair name, and have at these rascals."
"Fair friends," replied Sir Lancelot, "I am full loth to fight against my
dear lord, King Arthur."
"But if ye will not," said Sir Lionel, his brother, "all men will say ye
fear to stir from these walls, and hearing the shameful words they cry, will say that
there must be truth in them if ye seek not to silence them."
They spoke long with Sir Lancelot, and at length he was persuaded; and he sent a message
to the king telling him that he would come out and do battle; but that, for the love he
bore the king, he prayed he would not expose his person in the fight.
But Sir Gawaine returned answer that this was the king's quarrel, and that the king would
fight against a traitor knight with all his power.
On the morrow, at nine in the morning, King Arthur drew forth his host, and Sir Lancelot
brought forth his array. When they stood facing each other, Sir Lancelot addressed his men
and charged all his knights to save Arthur from death or wounds, and for the sake of their
old friendship with Sir Gawaine, to avoid battle with him also.
Then, with a great hurtling and crashing, the knights ran together, and much people were
there slain. The knights of Sir Lancelot did great damage among the king's people, for
they were fierce knights, and burned to revenge themselves for the evil names they had
Sir Gawaine raged like a lion through the field, seeking Sir Lancelot, and many knights
did he slay or overthrow. Once, indeed, King Arthur, dashing through the fight, came upon
"Now, Sir Lancelot," he cried, "defend thee, for thou art the causer of
this civil war."
At these words he struck at Sir Lancelot with his sword; but Sir Lancelot took no means to
defend himself, and put down his own sword and shield, as if he could not put up arms
against his king. At this the king was abashed and put down his sword, and looked
sorrowfully upon Sir Lancelot.
Then the surging tide of battle poured between them and separated them, until it happened
that Sir Bors saw King Arthur at a little distance. With a spear the knight rushed at the
king, and so fierce was his stroke and hardy his blow that the king was stricken to the
Whereupon Sir Bors leapt from his horse and drew his sword and ran towards the king. But
some one called upon him, and looking up he saw Sir Lancelot riding swiftly towards him.
Sir Bors held the king down upon the ground by the nose-piece of his helm, and in his
other hand he held his naked sword.
Looking up to Sir Lancelot, he cried in a fierce voice:
"Cousin, shall I make an end of this war? 'Twere easy done."
He meant that, if the king were slain, Sir Gawaine would lose half his forces, and could
not hope to keep up the war against Sir Lancelot singlehanded.
"Nay, nay," said Sir Lancelot, "on peril of thy head touch not the king.
Let him rise, man. I will not see that most noble king, who made me knight and once loved
me, either slain or shamed."
Sir Lancelot, leaping from his horse, went and raised the king, and held the stirrup of
his horse while the king mounted again.
"My lord Arthur," said Lancelot, looking up at the king, "I would in the
name of Heaven that ye cause this war to cease, for none of us shall get honour by it. And
though I forbear to strike you and I try to avoid former brothers and friends of the Round
Table, they do continually seek to slay me and will not avoid me."
King Arthur looked upon Lancelot, and thought how nobly courteous was he more than any
The tears burst from the king's eyes and he could not speak, and sorrowfully he rode away
and would fight no more, but commanded the trumpets to cease battle. Whereupon Sir
Lancelot also drew off his forces, and the dead were buried and the wounded were tended.
Next morning the battle was joined again. Very fiercely fought the king's party, for Sir
Gawaine had commanded that no quarter should be given, and that whoever slew a knight of
Sir Lancelot's should have his helm filled with gold. Sir Gawaine himself raged like a
lion about the field, his spear in rest. He sought for Sir Lancelot; but that knight
always avoided him, and great was Gawaine's rage and scorn.
At length Sir Bors saw Sir Gawaine from afar, and spurred across the field towards him.
"Ha! Sir Bors," cried the other mockingly, "if ye will find that cowardly
cousin of thine, and bring him here to face me, I will love thee."
"'Twere well I should not take thy words seriously," mocked Sir Bors in his
turn. "For if I were to bring him to thee, thou wouldst sure repent it. Never yet
hath he failed to give thee thy fall, for all thy pride and fierceness."
This was truth. Often in the jousting of earlier days, when Sir Lancelot had come in
disguise and had been compelled to fight Sir Gawaine, the latter had had the worst. But
Sir Lancelot, loving his old brother-in-arms as he did, had in later years avoided the
assault with Sir Gawaine; yet the greater prowess and skill of Sir Lancelot were doubted
Sir Gawaine raged greatly at the words of Sir Bors, for he knew they were true, though he
had wished they were not.
"Thy vaunting of thy recreant kinsman's might will not avail thee," he cried
furiously. "Defend thyself!"
"I came to have to do with thee," replied Sir Bors fiercely. "Yesterday
thou didst slay my cousin Lionel. To-day, if God wills it, thou thyself shall have a
Then they set spurs to their horses and met together so furiously that the lance of either
bore a great hole in the other's armour, and both were borne backwards off their horses,
sorely wounded. Their friends came and took them up and tended them, but for many days
neither of the knights could move from their beds.
When the knights of Sir Lancelot saw that Sir Bors was grievously wounded, they were wroth
with their leader. Going to him, they charged him with injuring his own cause.
"You will not exert yourself to slay these braggart foes of ours," they said to
him. "what does it profit us that you avoid slaying knights because, though they are
not your bitter foes, they were once brothers of the Round Table? Do they avoid ye, and
seek not to slay you and us your kindred and friends? Sir Lionel is dead, and he is your
brother; and Sir Galk, Sir Griffith, Sir Saffre, and Sir Conan - all good and mighty
knights - are wounded sorely. Ye were ever courteous and kindly, Sir Lancelot," they
ended, "but have a care lest now your courtesy ruin not your cause and us."
Seeing by these words that he was like to chill the hearts of his friends if he continued
to avoid slaying his enemies, Sir Lancelot sorrowfully promised that henceforth he would
not stay his hand. After that he avoided none that came against him, though for very
sorrow he could have wept when some knight, with whom in happier times he had drunk wine
and jested at the board in Camelot, rushed at him with shrewd strokes to slay him.
As the fight went on, the lust of battle grew in Sir Lancelot's heart, and manfully he
fought, and with all his strength and skill he lay about him. By the time of evensong his
party stood very well, and the king's side seemed dispirited and as if they would avoid
the fierce rushes with which Sir Lancelot's knights attacked them.
Staying his horse, Sir Lancelot looked over the field, and sorrowed to see how many dead
there were - dead of whom many may have been slain by their own kindred. He saw how the
horses of his knights were splashed with the blood that lay in pools here and there, and
grief was heavy upon him:
Sir Palom, a very valiant knight, came up to him.
"See, lord," he cried, "how our foes flinch from the fierce hurtling of our
knights. They are dispirited by the wounding of Sir Gawaine. Sir Kay is also wounded, and
Sir Torre is slain. Now, if ye will take my advice, this day should cease this war once
for all. Do ye gather all your forces, lord, and I think with one great dash together ye
should scatter their wavering knights, and this field would be won."
"Alas!" said Sir Lancelot, "I would not have it so. It cuts me to my heart
to war as I do against my lord Arthur, and to trample him and his people in the mire of
defeat-nay, I should suffer remorse till my last day."
"My lord," said Sir Palom, "I think ye are unwise. Ye spare them thus to
come again against ye. They will give ye no thanks, and if they could get you and yours at
so great a disadvantage, wit you well they would not spare you."
But Sir Lancelot would not be moved, and in pity be ordered the trumpeters to sound the
retreat. King Arthur did likewise, and each party retired in the twilight from the field,
where the wounded lay groaning till death or succour came; and the dead lay still and
pale, until the kindly earth was thrown over them.
Some weeks passed in which the armies did not meet; for the nost of King Arthur was not
now so proud as they had been, seeing that they had lost many good knights; and Sir
Lancelot would not of his own will sally out from his castle to fall upon the king.
But ever Sir Gawaine tried to inflame the mind of King Arthur and his kinsmen against Sir
Lancelot, and he advised them to join battle with their enemy. More-over, from the lands
of his kingdom of Lothian, of which Sir Gawaine was now king in the place of his dead
father, King Lot, a great body of young knights and men-at-arms came; and the king's party
began to recover their courage.
Many began daily to ride to the walls of Joyous Gard, and by insult and evil names
endeavoured to tempt forth the men of Sir Lancelot. Soon the young knights clamoured to
King Arthur and Sir Gawaine to permit them to attack the walls, and reluctantly the king
consented to call his council for next day to devise some means of breaking down the
Headstrong was the counsel given by the young knights at that meeting, and greatly did
King Arthur sorrow to feel that, for love of his nephew, Sir Gawaine, he would be
compelled to yield to their wild demands for further battle.
Suddenly the door of the hall where sate the council was opened, and the porter of the
gate appeared and approached the king.
"My lord," he said, " the holy Bishop of London and King Geraint of Devon
crave audience of you."
Some of the fierce young knights scowled at the names and uttered cries of disgust.
The king's face brightened, and before any could advise him against his will, he said:
"Bid them enter instantly."
The meddling priest and the petty king that knoweth not his mind! sneered Sir
looking fiercely about the room. "I pray thee, uncle," he said to the king,
"listen not to their womanish persuasions, if thou lovest me."
King Arthur did not answer, but looked towards the door impatiently.
Through this there came first three priests and three armed men, and behind them stepped
an old and reverend man, the hair beside his tonsure white as driven snow, and falling
over his white robe edged with red, that showed his rank as bishop. Then, towering above
him, a noble knightly figure, came Geraint of Devon, grown nobler still since those noble
days when he had proved himself to be a strong leader indeed, while men had thought him
soft and foolish.
All rose to their feet in reverence to the bishop, and fondly did King Arthur welcome
Geraint, for this wise knight had from the first opposed Sir Gawaine in this war, and had
refused to fight against Sir Lancelot and the queen, though he abated not his service to
Dark was the look which Gawaine darted at Geraint, but quiet yet fearless was Geraint's
"What ye have to say," said Gawaine angrily, "say it quickly and
ye are still of two minds, there seems no need to speak, and there is no need to bring a
bishop to your aid."
"Gawaine," said King Geraint, and his voice was quiet, yet with a ring of menace
in it, "I think grief hath made you a little mad. Let the bishop speak, I pray ye. He
hath a message for the king."
"My lord," said the bishop, "I come from his Holiness the Pope."
At these words Sir Gawaine started forward, his hand upon his sword, as if he would
willingly in his madness slay the holy priest.
"And," went on the bishop, his grave voice and his quiet look not bating for all
the wrathful fire in Sir Gawaine's eyes, "I bear with me the bull of his Holiness -
see, here it is - by which his Highness doth charge King Arthur of Britain, as he is a
Christian king, to take back Queen Gwenevere unto his love and worship, and to make peace
with Sir Lancelot."
The murmurs of the wild young knights rose in a sudden storm, while Sir Gawaine glared
with looks of hatred at King Geraint and the bishop.
"And if ye do not this command," rang out the voice of the bishop (and there was
sorrow in its tone, and silence sank on all), "if ye do not, then will his Holiness
ex-communicate this land. None of ye here have seen so terrible a thing as a land laid
under the interdict of the Holy Church, and rarely doth she find her children so
stubbornly evil as to merit it. But the Father of the Church, seeing how this land is torn
and rent by this bitter war between brothers, and fearful lest, while ye tear at each
others' lives, the fierce and evil pagan will gain upon ye and beat the lives from both of
ye, and possess this fair island and drive Christ and His religion from it utterly-seeing
all this, his Holiness would pronounce the doom if ye are too stiffnecked to obey him.
Then will ye see this land lie as if a curse were upon it. Your churches will be shut, and
the relics of the holy saints will be laid in ashes, the priests will not give prayers nor
the Church its holy offices; and the dead shall lie uncoffined, for no prayers may be said
over them. Say, then, King Arthur of Britain, what shall be the answer to the command of
his Holiness -which here I lay before thee?"
With these words the bishop held a parchment rolled out between his hands before the eyes
of the king. Men craned forward and saw the black writing on the white skin, and the great
seals, or bulls, hanging from it whereon those who could read saw the device of the Pope
"Say, is this thy doing?" cried Sir Gawaine fiercely, looking at King Geraint.
"Didst thou send this meddling priest to Rome to get this?"
"That did I," replied Geraint.
"Then now I make this vow," thundered Sir Gawaine, "that though thou hast
balked me of my vengeance now, I will mark thee, thou king of two minds, and be thou sure
that erelong I will avenge me of this treachery, and that upon thy body and in thy
"I mark thy words, Sir Gawaine," said Geraint, whose eyes flashed fiercely,
though his voice was calm, "and I say again thou art mad. I will tell thee and the
king, our lord and master, why I did advise the holy bishop to go to Rome and get the
Pope's command, First, as ye all know, I did think this war a wicked one beyond all
measure, and ever have I raised my voice against it. And what I foresaw has come to pass.
As the good priest saith, while ye tore at each other's throats here in the furthest
marches of the north, the sly, fierce pagan, learning how all the land was rent and
weakened by this evil war, has crept up in his longships, he has landed at many solitary
places on the coast, and has spread far and wide throughout the land, burning and
slaughtering. The long files of his captives, our kinsmen, go day by day, even as ye fight
here, brother with brother, down to the black ships, and ye do naught to save them or
avenge them. Already have I, in my office as Count of the Saxon Shore, battered them back
to their ships at Lemanis, Llongporth, and Rutupix; but here in the north, for all that
the old lion, Uriens of Reged, worn with war and full of age, hath taken the field against
them, here, behind your backs as ye battle, kin with kin, a great and a stubborn pagan,
whom men call Hyring the Land-waster, hath entered the land and still prevails. Crafty he
is and strong, for he hath made treaties with some of our weaker kin, and their women he
hath taken in marriage for his leaders, and thus in our very midst there is treachery,
hand-in-hand with the brutal invaders. Yet still you, Gawaine, are so mad, so lost to all
care for your nation's weal, that you would see your people ruined and your land possessed
by the savage boars of Saxons, while ye slake your vengeance for a private wrong. If still
you so would do, I call you traitor, and, the grace of God, I will make good my words upon
your body, when we have thrust the pagan from the land and peace is within our borders
While the thunder of his noble anger still rolled through the wide hall, King Arthur
arose, and men marked the resolution in his eyes.
"I will that there be no more war," he said, and he looked sternly at
"Geraint hath spoken the truth, and the truth shall prevail. I repent me that I have
so long forgotten the needs of my kingdom. Do thou now, good bishop, go to Sir Lancelot,
tell him that I will make peace with him and that I will receive back my queen. And do
thou, good Geraint, fare south again. I thank thee from my heart for what thou hast done.
Would to Heaven that all my knights were as clean-souled and as single-minded in devotion
unto me as thou art. Do thou go and fulfil thy great office. Watch thou the coasts as
hitherto thou hast watched them; and soon I will follow to aid thee, should the foul and
savage pagans strive again to break into my realm."
But, after all, Sir Gawaine had his way in part. The bishop took the king's assurance,
sealed with his great seal, whereby he promised Sir Lancelot that he should come and go
safe from murder or sudden onset, and desiring him to bring the queen to the king at his
hall at Carlisle. But in that parchment was no word of reconciliation with Sir Lancelot.
Sir Gawaine fiercely told the king that the day on which he, the king, should clasp the
hand of Lancelot in friendship, he, Sir Gawaine, with all his vassals and his men, would
leave the kingdom.
So deep and burning was the hatred which Gawaine bore Sir Lancelot that he even threatened
that, if his will was not granted, he would join the pagans and fight against the king.
So shamed and saddened was the king at these words that, to put an end to his nephew's
rage, he consented to do as he desired. Therefore, though the bishop strove to persuade
the king to make his peace with Sir Lancelot Sir Gawaine's will was done, and the bishop
went sadly to Joyous Gard.
He showed his writings to Sir Lancelot and the queen, and both were sorrowful in that no
word of reconciliation was said.
"I will do my lord's desire," said the knight, "but I see that Sir
Gawaine's hatred of me is in no way abated. Nevertheless, do thou ride, my lord bishop, to
the king. Commend me unto his good grace, and say to him that in five days I will myself
bring my lady, Queen Gwenevere, unto him as he doth desire."
On the day appointed, as the king sat in hall at Carlisle, surrounded by his knights and
their ladies, with Sir Gawaine standing on the high seat beside him, there came the beat
of many hoofs, and into the town rode Sir Lancelot with the queen, knights and squires
accompanying them. They reined up at the wide door of the hall, and Sir Lancelot alighted,
and having helped the queen to dismount, he took her hand, and led her through the ranks
of knights and ladies to where sat King Arthur.
Sir Lancelot kneeled upon the edge of the dais, and the queen with him; and to see so
noble a knight and so beautiful a lady, sad of countenance as they were, forced many a
tear to the eyes of the knights and dames who looked on. Then, rising, and taking up the
queen, Sir Lancelot spoke:
"My most redoubled lord," he said, "you shall understand that by the pope's
commandment and yours I have brought unto you my lady your queen, as right
if there be any knight here, of any degree, who shall say that she or I have ever thought
to plot treason against your person or your crown, or the peace of this realm, then do I
say here and now that I, Lancelot du Lake, will make it good upon his body, that he lies.
And, my gracious lord, if this is all that there is between you, my king, and myself,
there need be naught of ill thought between us, but only peace and goodwill. But I wist
well that one that hates me will not suffer ye to do what is in your good and kingly
Sternly did Sir Lancelot look at Sir Gawaine, while the tears gushed from King Arthur's
eyes, and from the eyes of many that heard Sir Lancelot's sad words.
Fierce and dark was the look which Sir Gawaine returned to Sir Lancelot.
"The king may do as he will," he said harshly and in a loud voice, "but wit
thou well, Sir Lancelot, thou and I shall never be at peace till one of us be slain; for
thou didst slay my twain brothers, though they bore no harness against thee nor any ill
will. Yet traitorously thou didst slay them!"
"Alas, my lord," said Sir Lancelot, and the tears bedewed his face, "I
cannot ask you for your forgiveness for that deed, unwitting though it was done and in my
madness. Would to Heaven they had worn harness! Wit you well that ever will I bewail the
death of my dear friend, Sir Gareth. 'Twas I that made him knight, and ever did I delight
to see him, to hear his manly laugh ring out, and to see the light in his brave eyes that
never suffered a mean or evil action. I wot he loved me above all other knights, and there
was none of my kinsmen that I loved so much as I loved him. Ever will the sorrow of the
death of thy brethren lie upon my soul; and to make some small amends I will, if my lord
will suffer it and it will please you, Sir Gawaine, I will walk in my shirt and barefoot
from Lemanis even unto this town, and at every ten miles I will found a holy house, and
endow it with monks to pray for the souls of Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris. Surely, Sir
Gawainse, that will do more good unto their souls than that my most noble lord and you
should war on me."
Every cheek was wet and the tears of the king fell from his eyes, yet made he no effort to
restrain or hide them.
"Out upon such monkish deeds!" cried Sir Gawaine, and his scornful eves surveyed
the weeping knights and dames. "Know thee, once for all, that never shalt thou wipe
away the treacherous murder of my brothers but by thy blood. Ye are safe now for a season,
for the pope hath given you safety, but in this land - whatever comes of it I care not -
thou shalt not abide above fifteen days, or else I shall have thy head. So make ye no more
ado; but deliver the queen from thee, and get thee quickly out of this court and out of
"Well," said Sir Lancelot, and laughed grimly, "if I had known I should
have so short an answer to my proffers of peace, I had thought twice ere I had come
hither. But now, madam," he said, turning to the weeping queen beside him, "I
must say farewell to ye, for now do I depart from this noble fellowship and this dear
realm for ever. Pray for me, and send me word if any lying tongues speak evil of you, and
if any knight's hand may deliver you by battle, believe me mine shall so deliver
With these words Sir Lancelot bent and kissed the queen's hand, and so turned away and
departed. There was neither king, baron, knight, nor squire of all that great company who
did not weep, nor think that Sir Gawaine had been of most evil mind to refuse the noble
proffers of Sir Lancelot.
Heavy was King Arthur ever thereafter, and never might man see his face brighten nor hear
his laugh and the better of his knights sorrowed with him, and knew what was in his heart.
"In this realm will be no more quiet," said Sir Owen of the Fountain to his
fellows as they stood upon the walls of Carlisle and saw the band of Sir Lancelot riding
southwards, the sunlight flashing from their helms and armour. "The pagans have
gathered strength daily while we have fought with each other, and that which would have
given us the strength and the union which would hurl them from our coasts is shattered and
broken. By the noble fellowship of the Round Table was King Arthur and his realm borne up,
and by their nobleness the king and all his realm was in quietness and in peace. And a
great part," he ended, " was because of the noble nature of Sir Lancelot, whom
Sir Gawaine's mad rage hath driven from the kingdom. Nor is all the evil ended yet."