Gilbert's King Arthur's Knights
III. THE KNIGHT OF THE KITCHEN
It was the feast of Pentecost, and King Arthur was holding
his court of the Round Table at the city of Kin-Kenadon, hard by the sea in Wales. In the
high hall the tables were set for dinner, and the floor was freshly strewn with rushes,
flowers, and fennel, so that the place smelled as sweet as a field. The cook and his
scullions came to and fro through the door of the kitchen with anxious faces, for they
feared lest the meats should be overdone, but as yet King Arthur would not sit to dinner.
For it was his custom never to go to meat on that day until he had heard or seen some
great marvel or adventure.
Sir Gawaine stood looking from a window in the
bower where the king sat with the queen, and suddenly he turned with a laugh, and said:
"Sir, go to your meat, for here, I think,
cometh a strange adventure."
And even as the king took his seat on the high
dais in the hall, and his knights sat at the Round Table, through the great door of the
hall came two men, well beseen and richly dressed, and, leaning on their shoulders, was a
tall, fair, young man, as goodly in strength and breadth as ever was seen, with hands
large and fair. But he was either lazy or ill-conditioned, for he leaned upon his fellows
as if he were unable to stand upright. And the three of them marched through the hall,
speaking no word, and they came to the foot of the dais, while men sat silent and
marvelling. Then the young man raised himself upright, and if was seen that he was a foot
and a half taller than those beside him.
"God bless you, 0 king!" said the young
man, " and all your fair fellowship and in especial the fellowship of the Round
Table. I come to crave of your kindness three gifts, and they are such as ye may
worshipfully and honourably grant unto me. And the first I will ask now, and the others
will I ask at the same day twelve-months, wheresoever ye hold your feast of
"Ask," said the king, " and ye
shall be granted your petition."
"The first is this," said he, "
that ye give me meat and drink and lodging here for a year."
"Willingly," said the king; "but
what is your name and whence come you? Ye have the bearing of good lineage."
"That is as may be," was the reply,
"but I may tell you naught, if it please you, lord."
Then King Arthur called Sir Kay, his steward, and
bade him tend the young man for a year as if he were a lord's son.
"There is no need that he should have such
care," sneered Sir Kay, who was a man of a sour mind. "I dare swear that he is
but a villein born. If he were of good blood he would have craved a horse and harness. And
since he hath no name I will dub him Beaumains, or Fair Hands, for see how soft are his
hands! And he shall live in the kitchen, and become as fat as any pig!"
But Sir Lancelot and Sir Gawaine reproached Sir
Kay for his mocking of the young man, "for," said Sir Lancelot, "I dare Iay
my head he hath the making of a man of great worship.
"That cannot be," said Sir Kay; "he
has asked as his nature prompted him. He will make naught but fat, for he desires only
meat and drink. On my life I would swear he is onIy some lazy fellow from an abbey where
food hath failed, and so he has come hither for sustenance."
So Kay sat down to his meat laughing, and Beaumains went to the door of the hall, where
the varlets and boys ate the leavings from the table; but he fared badly there, for they
jeered at him as Sir Kay had done.
Afterwards Sir Lancelot, of his great gentleness and courtesy, bade him come to his
chamber, to be better fed and clothed; and Sir Gawaine, because of a liking he felt in his
heart for the young man, proffered him good meat and drink and a soft bed. But then, and
at all other times, Beaumains refused, and would do nothing but what Sir Kay commanded.
Thus he lived in the kitchen, eating broken scraps, and lying at night where the scullions
lay, except that he was given the chilliest spot furthest from the fire. But he did what
he was bidden to do with a cheerful air and was ever willing to work. And if there was any
jousting of knights or any other sights of prowess, these would he see with the greatest
delight. In any sports or trials of strength or skill among the serving-men, he was ever
foremost, and none could overcome him in wrestling or at quarterstaff, nor could any throw
the bar or cast the stone so far as he could, no, not by two yards.
Whenever Sir Kay met him about the hall or the kitchen he would laugh mockingly, and to
those about him he would say, "Well, how like you my huge boy of the kitchen?"
But to such sneers, and to all the scorns and insults of the varlets of the kitchen,
Beaumains would answer naught, and was ever quiet and mild whatever he endured. And to all
was he ever gentle, both man and child, and he never put forth his great strength in
Thus a year passed, until again it was the feast of Pentecost, and at that time the king
held it at his chief city in Wales, Caerleon-upon-Usk. And again the feast was royally
prepared in the great hall of the court, but the king would not give the signal to sit to
meat until he should have heard or seen some strange adventure.
But about noon a squire came to where the king waited, and said, "Lord, I am bidden
to say ye may go to your meat, for there cometh a damsel with some strange
Quickly the king sat on the high seat, and the cooks brought in the smoking collops of
meat and the dishes of savoury stews. And as they began to eat, there came a maiden of a
plain sharp visage, who made her way to the step of the dais, and there kneeling, cried
"Succour and help I crave of you, 0 king!"
"For whom?" said the king, " and for what reason?"
"Sir," said the maiden, "my lady sister is of great beauty and renown, and
is besieged in her castle by a tyrant-knight, who will not let her go forth from her
castle; and because it is said that here in your court are the noblest knights in all the
world, I come to you praying for aid."
"What is your lady sister's name?" asked the king, "and where doth she
dwell, and tell me who is he that doth besiege her?"
"Sir king," said the lady, "I may not tell you my sister's name, but she is
of great beauty and of wide lands. And the tyrant-knight who besieges her is the Red
Knight of Reedlands."
"I know him not," replied the king.
"Sir," cried Sir Gawaine from his seat, "I know him well. He is one of the
perilous knights of the world, for he hath the strength of seven men, and from him I once
escaped barely with my life."
"Fair lady," said the king, "I would help you willingly, but as ye will not
tell me your lady's name, none of my knights here shall go with you with my consent.
The damsel looked about the hall with a quick angry glance, and the knights that sat there
liked not her sour looks. Then from the crowd of scullions and kitchen lads that hung
about the serving-tables at the side of the hall came Beaumains, his dress smirched, but
his handsome face lit up and his eyes burning with eagerness.
"Sir king!" he cried, holding up his hand, " a boon I crave!"
As he came to the step of the dais the damsel shrank from him is if he had been something
"Say on," replied the king to the young man.
"God thank you, my king," went on Beaumains. "I have been these twelve
months in your kitchen, and have had my full living, as ye did graciously order, and now I
ask for the two further gifts ye promised."
"Ye have but to ask," replied the king.
"Sir, they are these," said Beaumains. "First, that ye will grant me this
adventure of the damsel."
"I grant it you," said King Arthur.
"Then, sir, this is the other - that ye shall bid Sir Lancelot du Lake to follow me,
and to make me a knight when I shall desire him."
"All this shall be done if Sir Lancelot think it well," said the king.
But the lady was exceedingly wroth, and her eyes flashed with scorn as she turned to the
"Shame on thee!" she cried; "will you give me a kitchen scullion to aid
With that she hastened from the hall, mounted her horse, and rode away. Even as she went
forth, a dwarf in the dress of a page entered the hall leading a great horse richly
caparisoned, and on the saddle was piled a splendid suit of armour. And the dwarf went up
to Beaumains and began to arm him, while men asked each other whence came all this fine
When he was dressed in armour, all the knights marvelled to see how goodly a man he
looked. Then Beaumains took leave of King Arthur and of Sir Gawaine, and asked Sir
Lancelot to follow him.
Many people went to the door of the hall to see Beaumains mount his horse and ride after
the damsel, and the way he sat his steed, with its trappings of gold and purple, excited
their admiration. But all wondered to see that Beaumains had neither shield nor spear, and
some laughed and said, "The ignorant churl! Doth he think the mere sight of him on
horseback will affright his enemies, that he carries neither shield nor Iance."
Sir Kay sneered with them, and suddenly getting up from his seat he cried:
"By my faith! I will go after my kitchen boy and see whether he will still know me
for his better!"
"Ye had better bide at home," said Sir Lancelot, and Sir Gawaine agreed.
But Sir Kay laughed them aside, and having swiftly put on his armour, he took his spear
and shield and rode after Beaumains. He caught up with the youth just as the latter
reached the side of the damsel, and Sir Kay cried out, with a scornful laugh:
"What! Beaurnains, do ye not know me?"
"Ay," replied Beaumains, " I know ye for the most ungentle knight in all
King Arthur's court, and there-fore keep you off from me."
"Ah, churl!" cried Sir Kay, "thou needst a lesson from me. A beggar, though
he be on horseback, is still a beggar."
With that he put his lance in rest and dashed towards Beaumains, expecting an easy
victory. But the young man, putting the lance aside with his sword just as it was about to
strike him, rushed upon Sir Kay, and with a deft thrust struck him through a joint of his
armour, so that Sir Kay fell backwards off his horse to the ground. Swiftly leaping down,
Beaumains took possession of his opponent's spear and shield, and commanded his dwarf to
mount upon Sir Kay's horse.
Then, after remounting, Beaumains rejoined the damsel, who had seen all that had taken
place, but said nothing.
At that moment they saw Sir Lancelot coming towards him. He had seen Sir Kay's
discomfiture, and wondered at the mastery which Beaumains had shown.
"Fair sir," cried Beaumains, turning and drawing rein as Sir Lancelot
approached, "I would joust with you, if ye will."
"Have at you, then!" replied Sir Lancelot with a laugh, and with spears in rest
they set their horses at a great gallop. They came together so fiercely that they were
both thrust backwards from their saddles and fell to the earth, half stunned and greatly
Sir Lancelot recovered first and ran to help Beaumains to his feet, and then, with their
shields before them, they continued the combat with swords. For an hour they strove
fiercely, thrusting, striking, and parrying like two great boars in a forest clearing. Sir
Lancelot was astonished to feel how great was the young man's strength, how swift were his
thrusts, and how powerful were his blows. He recognized that Beaumains was a dangerous
fighter, and that he himself would have much to do to overcome him.
"Beaumains," he cried at length, "fight not so hard, lad. Our quarrel, if
we have aught, is surely not so great that we cannot leave off."
"That is truth!" said Beaumains, laughing, as he dropped the point of his
weapon. "But, Sir Lancelot, it doth me good to feel your wondrous skill and the
strength of your arm. Yet, my lord, I have not shown the uttermost of mine."
"By my faith, I believe ye," cried Sir Lancelot, "for I should have much
ado to keep myself from shameful defeat if you should really push me to the utmost.
Therefore I say that you need not fear any earthly knight."
"I thank you for your good words," replied Beaumains. "And do you think I
may hope at any time to become a proved knight?"
"Fight as you have fought with me, and I have no doubt of you."
"Then, I pray you, my lord," said Beaumains, "give me the order of
"Ere I do that, you must tell me your name and of what kin you were born,"
replied Sir Lancelot.
"If you will promise to tell no one, I will reveal it."
Sir Lancelot gave his promise, and Beaumains, going closer, whispered some words into Sir
"Ah, sir," said Sir Lancelot, taking the young man's hand in his, "I am
glad I was not deceived. I knew you must come of great kin, and that you had not come to
King Arthur for meat or drink. Kneel now, and I will make you knight."
So Beaumains knelt before Sir Lancelot, who lightly touched him on the shoulder with his
sword, naming him knight.
Thereupon they parted with many kind words, and Beaumains made haste to overtake the
damsel, who had long since disappeared.
As for Sir Kay, he was lifted upon Sir Lancelot's shield and taken back to the court, and
there slowly he recovered of his wound. Men laughed him to scorn for the beating he had
received from his own "kitchen boy."
"Lo," said some, "the proud knight went forth to cuff his own scullion, and
the scullion beat him sore and took his weapons for spoil."
When Beaumains reached the side of the damsel, she pulled up her horse and turned upon him
with flashing eyes and angry looks.
"What doest thou here?" she cried. "Away from me - thou smellest of the
kitchen, knave! Pah! thy clothes are foul with grease and tallow! Dost thou think to ride
"Lady," said Beaumains, and he spoke full gently, "my clothes may be
smirched, but my arm, I trust, is as strong to defend you as any that is wrapped in
"Out upon thee, saucy churl!" she cried. " Thinkest thou I should allow for
that knight whom you thrust from his horse but now? Nay, not a whit do I, for thou didst
strike him foully and like a coward! I know thee well, for Sir Kay named you. Beaumains
you are, dainty of hands and of eating, like a spoilt page. Get thee gone, thou turner of
spits and washer of greasy dishes!"
But for all that she raved, Beaumains would not reply in angry words, though his heart
burned within him.
"Damsel," said he courteously, " ye may say what ye will to me, but I will
not go from you whatever you say. I have given my promise to King Arthur that I will
achieve this adventure for you, and that will I do or die in the trial of it."
The girl laughed mockingly.
"You will finish my adventure - you will come to our aid!" she cried in scorn.
"Fie on thee, thou up-start kitchen page! But if you will not go from me, then come,
fool, and I shall see thee quickly shamed. Thou art proud with the too good living thou
hadst in Arthur 's kitchen, but one I know whose face thou wilt not dare to look into, my
knight of the kitchen!
So saying, she pushed on her horse, and thus in silence they went on together.
In a little while they came to a dark wood, and suddenly as they rode, a man with white
scared face started from behind a bush and ran to the side of Beaumains.
Go not that way, sir knight," he said, "for there be six knaves who have taken
my lord and bound him, and now they will surely take you and your lady unless you go back.
I barely escaped with my life, and hid when I heard you, thinking you were of their
"Take me to them!" cried Beaumains, and the poor squire, holding the knight's
stirrup-leather, ran with him. And surely, in a little while, three knaves rushed forth
before them in the green drive and bade Beaumains stand. But grimly he dashed at them,
before ever they could recover. Two he cut down with his good sword as they stood, and the
third, trying to escape, was run between the shoulders.
Then turning, Beaumains saw in a glade near the drive where three other knaves stood
beside a knight bound to a tree. They dashed towards Beaumains with spiked clubs uplifted.
But the squire rushed at one, tripped him up and dispatched him; and the others suddenly
decided to turn and flee. Their resolution came too late, however, for Beaumains cut them
down as they ran.
The knight was quickly released by his squire, and came up to his rescuer, and thanked him
heartily for his speedy help.
"Come with me," he said, "you and your lady, to my castle, which is but a
little way hence, and I will fittingly requite thee for the saving of my life."
"Nay," said Beaumains, "I will have no reward. All I do henceforth is but
my duty, and I will take naught in payment. Moreover, I must follow this lady."
The knight went to the lady, and begged that she would accept his hospitality, for the
twilight was deepening and they were yet far from a town. The damsel consented, but, on
reaching the castle of the knight, she would not permit Beaumains to sit at the same table
Take the knave hence!" she cried haughtily. "He is but a scullion from King
Arthur's kitchen, and is not fit to sit with a lady of rank. He is more suited, sir
knight, to dine with your turnspits."
"Lady, I do not understand your words," said the knight, "for this
gentleman hath proved himself a man of knightly courage and courtesy this day."
"As for that," said the lady, " I count it naught. He took the rascals
unawares, and they had no heart. They were but sorrier knaves than he is."
"Well," said the knight, "since you mislike him so, he shall sit with me,
and you shall sit alone."
So it was done, and while the lady sat eating her meal in chilly silence at one table,
Beaumains and the knight, his host, laughed and talked merrily over their dinner at
Next morning, early, Beaumains and the lady were up and away while yet the dew shone on
the leaves. Soon they passed through a great forest and approached a wide river. In a
little while they rode down to where a roughly paved way ran into the water, and, looking
to the other bank, Beaumains was aware of two knights on horseback, stationed as if to
hinder his passing the ford.
"Now, sir kitchen knight," laughed the lady mockingly, "what sayest thou?
Art thou a match for these two knights, or wilt thou not turn back?"
"I would not turn if they were six," replied Beaumains quietly.
With that he rushed, with spear at rest, into the ford, and one of the waiting knights
came swiftly against him. They met in the midst with so great a shock that their spears
were splintered. They then closed fiercely with their swords, and hurtled about in the
foaming, dashing water, beating at each other. Suddenly Beaumains struck the other so hard
a stroke on his helm that he was stunned, and fell from his horse into the stream, which
whirled him away into the deeps, and there drowned him.
Then Beaumains rode swiftly towards the other knight, who with his lance dashed against
him. But Beaumains parried the spear stroke, and with one great heave of his sword clove
the other's helm in twain, so that the knight fell like a stone.
"Alas!" cried the lady, as she came across the ford, "that ever kitchen
knave should have the mishap to slay two such noble knights! Doubtless thou thinkest thou
hast done mightily, sir knight of the turnspit, but I saw well how it all happened. The
first knight's horse stumbled on the stones of the ford, and the other thou didst stab
from behind. Twas a shameful deed!"
"Damsel," said Beaumains, quiet in words though hot of mind at her words, "
ye may say what ye will. I only know that I fight fairly, as God gives me strength. I reck
not what ye say, so I win your lady sister from her oppressor."
"Thou knave of impudence!" cried the lady. "Thee to speak of winning my
lady sister, high of rank and rich in wide lands as she is! But thou shalt soon see
knights that shall abate thy pride."
"Whatever knights they be, I care not, so that I win good words from you at
last," said Beaumains.
"Those thou shalt never have, thou churl," replied the lady scornfully.
"For all that thou hast done has been by chance and misadventure, and not by the
prowess of thy hands. But if thou wilt follow me, why, then, come, and I shall the more
quickly be rid of thee, for of a surety thou wilt soon be slain."
Beaumains answered naught, and so they went on their way.
Thus they fared until
evensong, and then they came to a waste land, where their way led through a narrow
darkling valley. And at the head thereof they entered upon a wide land, black and drear to
the very skies, and beside the way was a black hawthorn, and thereon hung a black banner
and a black shield, and by it, stuck upright, was a long black spear, and beside it was a
great black horse covered with silk, and a black stone fast by it.
And upon the stone sat a knight in black armour, at sight of whom the damsel cried:
"Now, my kitchen knight 'tis not too late. Fly back through the valley, or this
knight will surely slay thee."
"Nay, I will not," said Beaumains, "for I fear him not."
The black knight came to the damsel and asked if she had brought this knight from King
Arthur's court to be her champion.
"Fie!" she said angrily, "he is no knight. He is but a knave that was fed
for alms in the king's kitchen, and would follow me in spite of all I say. And I would
that you would rid me of him. To-day he slew two noble knights at the passage of the
water, and all by evil chance."
"A strong knave, in truth," answered the knight, and a saucy one. Then this will
I do. He shall leave me his horse and armour, for since he is but a knave, my knightly
hands may not harm him."
"You speak lightly of my horse and armour," said Beaumains, " but l will
have you know that you get naught from me, and moreover I will pass these lands with this
lady in spite of you."
"Thou knave!" cried the knight angrily, "yield me this lady and thyself
"Let me see what thou canst do to take us," replied Beaumains, and laughed
At this the knight in a rage leaped upon his horse, and they thundered together. The black
knight's spear broke, but Beaumains' lance pierced him through the side and broke off
short. Nevertheless, though badly wounded, the black knight drew his sword and fought
manfully, striking Beaumains many mighty blows and bruising him sorely.
But suddenly his lifted sword fell from his hand, and turning in his saddle, he dropped to
the ground in a swoon, and shortly died.
And Beaumains, seeing that the black armour was better than his own, armed himself in it
with the aid of his dwarf squire, and rode after the damsel.
But ever as before she railed at him, telling him he had conquered the black knight by a
cowardly blow but Beaumains would answer her nothing in anger.
Anon they came to the edge of a vast and dark forest, and from its shadows came a knight
in green armour, who cried to the damsel:
"Lady, is that my brother the Black Knight whom ye bring riding behind ye?"
"Nay, sir knight, it is not your brother," she replied. "It is but a
kitchen knave who by treachery hath slain your noble brother, the Knight of the Black
"Thou traitor !" cried the green knight. "Now shalt thou surely die, for my
brother, Sir Percard, was a most noble knight and a valiant. And to think that he fell by
the dirty hand of a knave is great shame.
"I am no knave!" said Beaumains, " but of lineage as high as
And I slew your brother in knightly fashion."
But the green knight stayed not to answer, and they hurtled together, and clashed midway
as if it were thunder. And Beaumains' stroke was so mighty that both the green knight and
his horse fell to the ground.
Swiftly the green knight rose to his feet, and then, Beaumains having alighted, they
rushed together with their swords, and stood a long time hacking, thrusting, and parrying.
And each hurt the other sorely.
"Oh, my lord the green knight," cried the damsel, "why do ye stand so long
fighting with that kitchen knave? A shame it is to see a proved knight matched by a dirty
scullion! Slay him for me and be done!"
Shamed by her words, the green knight gave a fierce stroke and clove Beaumains' shield in
twain. Then Beaumains, smarting with this blow, and in anger at the words of the lady,
suddenly gave the green knight so great a stroke that he fell upon his knees, and then was
thrust grovelling upon the earth.
Swiftly Beaumains cut the fastenings of his helm, and, tearing it off, lifted his sword to
strike off the other's head.
But the green knight prayed of his mercy and pleaded hard for his life.
"Thou shalt plead in vain," said Beaumains, "unless this lady shall beg thy
life of me."
"Shame on thee, thou kitchen knave!" cried the lady, biting her lip with anger.
"Thinkest thou I shall crave aught of thee, and be so beholden to thee."
"Then he shall die!" cried Beaumains.
"0 lady, suffer me not to die!" cried the prostrate knight, "when a fair
word from you will save my life. And you, sir knight, give me my life, and I will yield
myself and thirty knights to be your men and do your commands while they live."
"Now that is a grievous shame!" cried the lady. "What, Sir Green Knight,
art such a coward as to crave thy life of a scullion knave, and promise him thirty
"You and your thirty knights shall avail you naught," said Beaumains grimly;
"and since this lady will not beg thy life of me, why, now I shall slay thee."
With that he raised the sword, but the lady cried out :
"Put down, thou rascally knave, and slay him not, or thou shalt repent it!"
"Lady," said Beaumains, and bowed full gently, "your command is to me a
pleasure, and at your desire I give him his life."
Then the green knight did homage to Beaumains and gave up his sword. Afterwards he took
them to his castle near by, where they passed the night.
Next morning the green knight, whose name was Sir Pertolope, accompanied them some
distance on their way, and at parting he told Beaumains that he and his thirty knights
would do service when and where he might desire. Thereupon Beaumains told him that he must
go and yield himself and his knights to King Arthur, and this Sir Pertolope promised
faithfully to do.
And again, when they had gone some way and had reached a little town, a knight challenged
Beaumains, who, having fought with the stranger and overpowered him, threatened to slay
him unless the lady begged for his life. This she did, after she had said many bitter and
evil things, and Beaumains commanded the knight to go, with threescore knights which were
in his service, and yield himself up to King Arthur.
Then Beaumains and the lady went on again, and the lady was full of rage in that she had
been compelled a second time to plead with him for the life of a knight.
"Thou shalt get thy full wages to-day, sir kitchen knight," said she, "for
in a little while there will meet us the most valiant knight in the world, after King
Arthur. Methinks thou wouldst do the better part to flee, for the evil luck which thou
hast had with the three knights you have overcome will not avail thee upon this one."
"Madam," said Beaumains, "ye know that ye are uncourteous so to reproach
me. I have done you great service these three days, but ever ye call me coward and kitchen
knave. Yet those who have come against me, who you said would beat me, are now either
slain or have yielded homage to me."
"The greater shame," said the lady, " that so lowborn a churl as thou art
should have knights yield to thee who should have slain thee."
Beaumains answered nothing more, but his heart was very heavy at the thought that, do what
he might, he could not win this lady to speak fairly of him.
Towards noon, as they rode, they saw the white towers of a fair city, and before its gates
was a field newly mown, with many tents therein of divers rich colours.
"Lo, there is the town of the man that shall cut thy comb, thou proud varlet!"
said the lady. "A brave and proved knight is he, by name Sir Persaunt of
he hath a following of five hundred knights and men-at-arms."
"A goodly lord, indeed," replied Beaumains, "and one I fain would
The lady laughed mockingly..
"Thou shalt see him too soon to please thee, I doubt not," she replied,
"for he is the lordliest knight that ever whipped a knave."
"That may well be," said Beaumains, "and the more desire I have to see
"Thou fool!" cried the lady angrily. "Thou hadst better turn and flee while
there is time."
"Not a step will I," replied he with a laugh. "For, look you, if he be so
lordly a knight as you say, he will not set his five hundred knights on me at once. But if
he will send but one against me at a time, I will do my best till my strength goes from
me. No man, be he knave or knight, can do more."
At his quiet brave words the lady's heart smote her. She repented of her evil tongue, when
she thought how valiant and true this unknown man had been on her behalf.
"Sir," she said in a gentler voice, "ye make me marvel. Thou hast spoken
boldly, and, by my faith, thou hast done boldly, and that makes me wonder of what kin thou
art. But as ye are so brave, and have done, you and your horse, great travail these three
days, I misdoubt that ye will get hurt if ye go further. Therefore I bid you turn, or ever
it be too late."
"Nay, I will not," said Beaumains. "It would be a great shame that now,
when we are but a few miles from your lady sister's oppressor, I should turn back."
"But, sir, I counsel ye to do so," said the lady. "For the strength of Sir
Persaunt, even if ye conquer him, is but little compared with the great strength of the
Red Knight who doth oppress my sister. And I am sure you have little hope of overcoming
"Nevertheless, lady, I will essay to conquer him," said Beaumains, "for it
is but my duty and my desire to rescue your lady sister as I have resolved."
"I marvel what manner of man ye be," said the lady. "It must be that ye
come of noble blood, for no woman could have spoken or treated you more evilly than I have
done. Yet ever you have courteously suffered all I said."
"Lady, it is but a man's duty to suffer a woman's wayward words," said
Beaumains, "and they have not been without service to me. For the more ye angered me
the more strength of wrath I put into my blows, and so was enabled to overcome your
enemies. And as to what I am and whence I came, I could have had meat in other places than
in King Arthur's kitchen, but all that I have done was to try my friends. And whether I be
knave or gentleman, I have done you gentleman's service."
"That is truth, Sir Beaumains," said the lady, all soft and penitent now,
"and I beg of you forgiveness for all my evil words."
"I forgive ye with all my heart," said Sir Beaumains, "and I tell you,
lady, that now that you speak kindly to me, it gladdens me greatly, and I feel that there
is no knight living whom I could not strike down for the sake of yourself and your lady
By this time Sir Persaunt had seen them, and had sent a squire to ask Beaumains whether he
came in peace or war.
"If he will not let us pass," replied Beaumains, "it shall be war."
At that they saw Sir Persaunt array himself in his armour and mount his horse, and now he
came rushing across the field at utmost speed, his lance in rest. Beaumains also made his
horse leap forward swiftly, and the two knights met with so great a force that both their
lances splintered in many pieces, and their horses fell dead upon the field.
But the two knights instantly disentangled themselves, and fought on foot with shield and
sword. So furiously did they hurl themselves at each other that often they fell to the
ground. For two hours the duel raged, till their hauberks were tattered and their shields
were hacked, while both were sorely bruised and wounded.
At length Beaumains thrust Sir Persaunt in the side, and the latter's attack became less
eager. Finally Beaumains hit the other so great a stroke that he fell headlong, and
instantly Beaumains leaped astride of him and unlashed his helm, as if about to slay him.
Then Sir Persaunt yielded him and pleaded for his life, and the lady, who had stood
watching the combat, ran forward, placed her hand on Sir Beaumains' sword arm,
and cried :
"Of your mercy, Sir Beaumains, yield him his life for my sake."
"I do it willingly," cried he, helping the knight to rise, " for he hath
nobly fought and so deserves not to die."
"Gramercy," said Sir Persaunt, "and now I know thou art the strong knight
who slew my brothers the Black Knight of the Thorn and the Green Knight of the Wood. And
now I will be your man, and five hundred knights of mine shall do your service as and when
And that night they supped bounteously in Sir Persaunt's castle, and the lady besought
Beaumains to sit by her at the same table, and all three made merry company.
In the morning, after they had heard mass and broken their fast, Beaumains and the lady
set out again, and Sir Persaunt went with them to the draw-bridge.
"Fair lady," said he, "where dost thou lead this valiant knight?"
"Sir," said the lady, "he is going to raise the siege which hath been set
by the tyrant knight of the Reed Lands."
"Ah, then he goes to Castle Dangerous, and on the most perilous adventure that any
man could take. For they say the Red Knight hath the strength of seven men. And he doth
oppress one of the fairest and sweetest ladies in the world. I think you are her sister,
"That is my name," replied the lady, "and my sister is Dame
"This Red Knight is the most dangerous knight in the world," said Sir Persaunt
to Beaumains, "and hath besieged that fair lady these two years. Many times he might
have forced her for terror to have married him, but he keeps the siege in hopes that Sir
Lancelot or even King Arthur would come to rescue the lady. For he hateth all true
knights, but those two with most bitterness."
So they parted from Sir Persaunt and rode onwards, and the lady spoke now full friendly to
In a little while, when they had passed through a
fair forest, they came upon a plain, and in the distance was a high castle with
many tents about it, and men passing to and fro between them. And as they rode
under some withered trees by the edge of the forest, they saw, hanging by their
necks from the bare boughs, many goodly knights in armour, with their shields and swords hung before them.
At this shameful sight Beaumains checked his horse and asked: "What means this?"
"Fair sir," said Linet, "abate not your cheer at this dreadful sight, for
ye have need now of all your courage, or else are we all shamed and destroyed. These dead
knights are those who have come against the Red Knight trying to rescue my sister from his
power. But the tyrant knight hath overcome them, and slain them thus shamefully by
"Now Heaven aid me," said Beaumains, "for this is a most shameful and
unknightly custom, and well doth that evil knight deserve death."
"Nevertheless he is a knight of great prowess and force, though of evil custom,"
replied the lady, "and no one hath ever borne him down in battle."
With that they came to a sycamore tree which stood alone in the plain, and on it was hung
a great horn of elephant bone, with gold work curiously wrought.
"Fair sir, ye must blow that horn if ye wish to do battle with the Red Knight. But,
sir," went on the lady quickly, and caught at Beaumains' arm that lifted the horn,
"be ye not overbold. It is now the hour of prime, and it is said that the Red
Knight's force increaseth to the strength of seven men until it is noon. Wait, therefore,
until noon shall be past, and his strength shall diminish."
"Nay, nay," said Beaumains, "speak not thus to me. I will assail him
however mighty he be, and either I will beat him or die with honour in the field."
Therewith he lifted the horn and blew so great a blast that instantly knights came in a
great press from the tents, and people looked out from the walls and windows of the
Then Beaumains saw a tall man come running from a tent, arming himself as he came. Two
barons set his spurs upon his heels and an earl buckled his helm upon his head. He was all
in red armour, from the plume which waved upon his crest to the cloth which was upon his
horse. And his shield was all of red, with but a black heart in the centre thereof.
Then he waited for Beaumains in a little hollow before the castle, so that all that were
therein might see the combat.
"Now, fair sir," said Linet, "it behoves you to have great courage and
heart, for yonder is your deadliest enemy, and at yonder window is my lady sister, Dame
Beaumains looked to where Linet was pointing, and saw at a window the loveliest lady he
had ever seen. And as he looked she smiled and bowed to him, and he felt his heart burn
with love for her.
"Truly," he said, " she is the fairest lad I have ever looked upon, and she
shall be my lady."
"Cease thy looking at that lady," called the Red Knight in a harsh and angry
voice. "She is my lady, and soon shall she see thy foolish body swinging from the
tree for the ravens to pluck, as others hang there afore thee."
"'Tis for that shameful sight, and for the love of this lady that hates you and your
evil custom, that I am resolved to slay you, if God so wills," was the stern reply of
"A boastful rogue thou art," cried the Red Knight and laughed scornfully. "
What is thy name, and whence come ye, Sir Black Knight? For surely from your talk you must
be one of those prating and soft fools of the Round Table."
"I will not tell thee my name," said Beaumains. "And as yet I am not of the
worshipful company of King Arthur's Round Table. But when I have slain thee and rid the
world of so shameful a knight, then shall I crave the king to receive me into that high
fellowship of noble and courteous knights."
"Make thee ready!" shouted the Red Knight in a furious voice. "I will talk
no more with thee."
With that they withdrew a little from each other, and then, spurring their horses, and
with lances in rest, they hurled themselves towards each other. With so great a crash did
they come together that both their spears were broken into a hundred pieces, and their
breast-plates, girths, and cruppers burst, and the two knights fell to the ground half
stunned with the shock.
But in a little while they avoided their struggling horses, and leaping towards each other
with their swords, they cut and hacked each the other so fiercely that great pieces of
their shields and armour flew off.
Thus they fought till it was past noon, and would not stop, till at last they both lacked
wind, and thus they stood swaying, staggering, panting, yet feinting and striking with
what strength they had. The Red Knight was a cunning fighter, and Beaumains learned much
from him, though it was at the cost of many a gaping wound.
When it was evensong they rested by mutual accord, and seated on two molehills near the
fighting place, they had their helms taken off by their pages and their worse wounds bound
up. Then Beaumains lifted up his eyes to the lady at the window, and saw how her looks
were tender with pity for him.
So heartened was he at the sight that he started up swiftly, and bade the Red Knight make
him ready to do battle once more to the uttermost. Then they rushed fiercely at each
other, and the fight raged more hotly than ever. At length, by cunning, the Red Knight
suddenly struck Beaumains' sword from his hand, and before he could recover it, the Red
Knight had with a great buffet thrown him to the ground, and had fallen upon him to keep
Then cried the Lady Linet piteously:
"0 Sir Beaumains! Sir Beaumains! where is your great heart? My lady sister beholds
you, and she sobs and weeps, for surely she feels the evil Red Knight hath her almost in
At that, so great a rage possessed Beaumains, that with one great effort he thrust the Red
Knight from him, and, leaping up, he seized his sword again, and so fiercely did he beat
upon his enemy that the Red Knight sank to his knees, and then was thrust grovelling to
Beaumains leaped astride him, and cut the fastenings of his helm. Then the Red Knight
shrieked for mercy.
"Thou recreant and coward!" said Beaumains.
Did not any of those knights that thou hast hung cry to thee for mercy? What pity and what
mercy didst thou give them? And thou deservest none from me, nor from any man!"
With that he slew him at a stroke, and the people in the castle cried out with joy.
Their leader being dead, his following of earls, barons, and knights came and did homage
to Beaumains, and he commanded that instantly they should betake themselves to the court
of King Arthur and yield them into his hands.
Then for ten days the Lady Linet made Beaumains rest him in the Red Knight's tent, while
she tended his man sore wounds. But ever Beaumains desired to go into the castle to see
the lady he loved, but his hurts forbade him.
On the eleventh day he would no longer be denied, but having armed himself, all except his
helm, which his page carried, he rode up to the castle gate. But as he came thither he saw
many armed men, who pulled up the drawbridge before him, so that he should not enter.
Therewith he saw a knight at a window, who called to him.
"Fair sir, I am Sir Gringamor, brother to the Lady Lyones," said the knight.
"I wilI that ye enter not yet. We know that you have proved yourself a bold and brave
fighter, but we know not who you are. Therefore unless you tell me your name and kindred,
I may not suffer my sister to see you."
"I know naught of thee, sir knight," cried Beaumains sternly. "My business
is with the lady, from whom I think I deserve a little kindness, for I have bought her
deliverance and her love with some of the best blood m my body. Must I go away then,
thinking she cares more for a name and noble lineage than for brave deeds and devotion?
Tell me, Sir Gringamor, is this the will of the Lady Lyones?"
"Ye have but to tell us thy name and of thy lineage, brave man," said Sir
"Nay, that I will not!" said Beaumains, for his heart was hot with shame and
anger. "If I were but a churl, I should reckon myself a nobler man than the recreant
knight from whom I have rescued you and your sister. But since he was a knight, it seems
ye would reckon him as of greater honour than the brave churl that slew him for his evil
"Nay, nay, it is not so!" came a sweet voice crying in tears, and Sir Beaumains
saw the tender face of the Lady Lyones at the window where Sir Gringamor had been.
"My brave knight, think not ill of me, for this is none of my will, for I am mocked
and my pleasure denied in my own castle by this my overcareful brother. I love thee, sir
knight, whatsoever thou art, for I feel that thou art gentle and brave, and as good a man
as any lady might love. And I beg you go not far from me, for I will have my will erelong,
and I tell you now that I trust you, and I shall be true to you, and unto my death I shall
love you and no other. And whenever I may come to you I will, in spite of this my
Saying these words, the lady sobbed as if her heart would break, and hiding her face in
her hands she was led away by her women.
With that Beaumains' heart smote him, and he was resolved to reveal his name and lineage
for the sake of the dear lady who loved him. But even as he thought this, he was aware of
a party of knights coming towards him from the plain, and soon he recognized that they
were of the company of King Arthur's Round Table.
And the foremost knight, who bore his helm in his hand, rode forward to him, crying:
"Gareth, Gareth, my brother, how hast thou deceived us all?"
Then did Sir Beaumains clasp the other's hand right warmly, for this was his own brother,
Sir Gaheris, sent from King Arthur to bring him home.
When Sir Gringamor knew of the coming of these knights, quickly he bade the drawbridge to
be lowered, and in a little while the knights were being welcomed in the hall.
"Sir Gringamor," said Sir Gaheris, "I find that I come at a lucky chance
for the happiness of my brother. Already the fame of his brave deeds has reached King
Arthur, for the knights he hath overcome have put themselves in the mercy of the
"Sir Knight of the Round Table," said Sir Gringamor, "tell me who is this
brave knight that will not say his name?"
"He is Sir Gareth, my brother, the youngest son of the King of Orkney," replied
Sir Gaheris, " and fit for the highest lady in the land. He hath played this trick
upon us all, to test us. We did not know him, for he hath grown up to manhood while we
have been long away from home. But ever he hath had an adventurous and witty mind."
"Sir, I thank you," said Sir Gringamor, and taking Sir Gareth by the hand he led
him into the bower where sat the Lady Lyones, who sprang to meet Sir Gareth. To her Sir
Gringamor told all that he had heard, and then left Sir Gareth to tell her more of
And in a little while, at the court of King Arthur, they were married with great feastings
and joustings and with all things to make merry. And Linet was wedded at the same time to
Sir Gaheris. For though the Lady Linet was sharp of tongue, she was of great and good
heart, and well beloved of all who knew her well.