High History of the Graal; Perlesvaus
Therewithal the history is silent of Lancelot,
and speaketh word of the King and Messire Gawain, that are in sore misgiving as
concerning him, for right gladly would they have heard tidings of him. They met
a knight that was coming all armed, and Messire Gawain asketh him whence he
came, and he said that he came from the land of the Queen of the Golden Circlet,
to whom a sore loss hath befallen; for the Son of the Widow Lady had won the
Circlet of Gold for that he had slain the Knight of the Dragon, and she was to
keep it safe for him and deliver it up to him at his will.
"But now hath Nabigant of the Rock reft her thereof, and a right outrageous
knight is he and puissant; wherefore hath he commanded a damsel that she bring
it to an assembly of knights that is to be held in the Meadow of the Tent of the
two damsels, there where Messire Gawain did away the evil custom. The damsel
that will bring the Golden Circlet will give it to the knight that shall do best
at the assembly. Nabigant is keenly set upon having it, and maketh the more sure
for that once aforetime he hath had it by force of arms. And I am going to the
knights that know not these tidings, in order that when they shall hear them,
they shall go to the assembly."
Therewithal the knight departeth. The King and Messire Gawain have ridden so far
that they come to the tent where Messire Gawain destroyed the evil custom by
slaying the two knights. He found the tent garnished within and without in like
manner as it was when he was there, and Messire Gawain made the King be seated
on a quilted mattress of straw, right costly, and thereafter be disarmed of a
squire, and he himself disarmed him, and they washed their hands and faces for
the rust wherewith both of them were besmuttered. And Messire Gawain found the
chests unlocked that were at the head of the couch, and made the King be
apparelled of white rich stuffs that he found, and a robe of cloth of silk and
gold, and he clad himself in the like manner, neither was the chest not a whit
disfurnished thereby, for the tent was all garnished of rich adornments. When
they were thus dight, a man might have sought far or ever he should find so
Thereupon, behold you the two Damsels of the
"Damsels," saith Messire Gawain, "Welcome may you be."
"Sir," say they, "Good adventure may you have both twain. It
seemeth us that you take right boldly that which is ours, yet never for neither
of us would you do a thing whereof you were beseeched."
"Messire Gawain" saith the elder, "No knight is there in this
kingdom but would be right joyous and he supposed that I loved him, and I prayed
you of your love on a day that is past, for the valour of your knighthood, yet
never did you grant it me. How durst you have affiance in me of aught, and take
the things that are mine own so boldly, when I may not have affiance in
"Damsel, for your courtesy and the good custom of the land; for you told me
when the evil customs were overthrown, that all the honours and all the
courtesies that are due to knights should ever be ready within for all them that
should come hither for harbour."
"Messire Gawain, you say true, but of right might one let the courtesy
tarry and pay back churlishness by churlishness."
"The assembly of knights will begin
to-morrow in this launde that is so fair. There will be knights in plenty, and
the prize will be the Circlet of Gold. Now shall we see who will do best. The
assembly will last three whole days, and of one thing at least you may well make
boast between you and your comrade, that you have the fairest hostel and the
most pleasant and the most quiet of any knights at the assembly."
The younger damsel looketh at King Arthur. "And you," saith she, What
will you do? Will you be as strange toward us as Messire Gawain is friendly with
"Damsel," saith the king,
"Messire Gawain will do his pleasure and I mine. Strange shall I not be in
respect of you, nor toward other damsels; rather shall they be honoured on my
part so long as I live, and I myself will be at your commandment."
"Sir," saith she, "Gramercy greatly. I pray you, therefore, that
you be my knight at the tournament."
"Damsel, this ought I not to refuse you, and right glad at heart shall I be
and I may do aught that shall please you; for all knights ought to be at pains
for the sake of dame or damsel."
"Sir," saith she, "what is your name?"
"Damsel," saith he, "My name is
Arthur, and I am of Tincardoil."
"Have you nought to do with King Arthur?"
"Damsel, already have I been many times at his court, and, if he loved me
not nor I him, I should not be in Messire Gawain's company. In truth, he is the
King in the world that I love best."
The damsel looketh at King Arthur, but wotteth not a whir that it is he, and
full well is she pleased with the seeming and countenance of him. As for the
King, lightly might he have trusted that he should have her as his lady-love so
long as he remained with her; but there is much to say betwixt his semblant and
his thought, for he showeth good semblant toward the damsel, that hath over much
affiance therein, but his thought is on Queen Guenievre in what place soever he
may be. For nought loveth he so well as her.
The damsels made stable the horses and purvey
for the bodies of the knights right richly at night, and they lay in two right
rich beds in the midst of the hall, and their arms were all set ready before.
The damsels would not depart until such time as they were asleep. The harness of
the knights that came to the assembly came on the morrow from all parts. They
set up their booths and stretched their tents all round about the launde of the
forest. King Arthur and Messire Gawain were risen in the morning and saw the
knights come from all parts. The elder damsel cometh to Messire Gawain and saith
unto him, "Sir," saith she, "I will that you bear to-day red arms
that I will lend you, for the love of me, and take heed that they be well
employed, and I desire that you should not be known by your arms; rather let it
be said that you are the Red Knight, and you shall allow it accordingly."
"Damsel, Gramercy greatly!" saith Messire Gawain, "I will do my
endeavour in arms the best I may for love of you."
The younger damsel cometh to King Arthur; "Sir," saith she, "My
sister hath made her gift and I will make mine. I have a suit of arms of gold,
the richest that knight may wear, that I will lend you, for methinketh they will
be better employed on you than on ever another knight; so I pray you that you
remember me at the assembly in like manner as I shall ofttimes remember
"Damsel," saith the King,
"Gramercy! No knight is there that should see you but ought to have you in
remembrance in his heart for your courtesy and your worth."
The knights were come about the tents. The King and Messire Gawain were armed
and had made caparison their horses right richly. The damsel that should give
the Golden Circlet was come. Nabigant of the Rock had brought great fellowships
of knights together with him, and ordinance was made for the assembly.
The younger damsel saith to King Arthur:
"Well may you know that no knight that is here this day hath better arms
than are yours, wherefore take heed that you show you to be good knight for love
"Damsel," saith King Arthur, "God grant that I be so."
So they laid hold on their reins and mounted their horses, that made great
leaping and went away a great gallop. Saith the younger damsel to her sister:
"What think you of my knight, doth he not please you?"
"Yea," saith the elder, "But sore misliketh me of Messire Gawain
for that he is not minded to do as I would have him. But he shall yet aby it
King Arthur and Messire Gawain strike into the midst of the assembly like as it
were two lions unchained, and at their first coming they smite down two knights
to the ground under the feet of their horses. Messire Gawain taketh the two
horses and sendeth them by a squire to the Damsels of the Tent, that made much
joy thereof. After that were they not minded to take more booty as of horses or
arms, but searched the fellowships on one side and the other; nor was there no
knight that came against them but they pierced his shield or bore him to the
ground, insomuch as none was there that might endure their buffets. Nabigant
espieth Messire Gawain and cometh toward him, and Messire Gawain toward him
again, and they hurtle together either on other so strongly that Messire Gawain
beareth Nabigant to the ground, him and his horse together all in a heap. And
King Arthur was not idle, for no knight durst come against him but he overthrew
him, so as that all withdrew them back and avoided his buffets. And many knights
did well that day at the assembly, but none might be the match of either of them
twain in deeds of arms, for, save it were Lancelot or Perceval, were no knights
on live that had in them so much hardiment and valour. After that it was
evensong the knights drew them back to their tents, and they say all that the
Knight of the Golden Arms and the Knight of the Red Arms had done better than
they all at the assembly. King Arthur and Messire Gawain come back to the tent
of the damsels, that make disarm them and do upon them the rich robes and make
great joy of them. Thereupon, behold you, a dwarf that cometh: "Damsels,
make great joy! for all they of the assembly say with one accord that your
knights have done best this day."
King Arthur and Messire Gawain sate to eat, and right well were they served of
every kind of meats and of great cups of wine and sops in wine. King Arthur made
the younger damsel sit beside him, and Messire Gawain the elder in like manner,
and when they had eaten they went to lie down and fell on sleep, for right sore
weary were they and forespent of the many buffets they had given and received,
and they slept until the morrow.
When the day appeared they rose up. Thereupon,
behold you the younger damsel where she cometh and saluteth King Arthur.
"And you, damsel!" saith King Arthur, "God give you joy and good
"Sir," saith she, "I will that you bear to-day these white arms
that you see here, and that you do no worse to-day than yesterday you did, sith
that better you may not do."
"Messire Gawain," saith the elder damsel, "Remember you of the
King there where his land was compassed about of a wall of stone, and you
harboured one night in his castle, what time you went to seek for the sword
wherewith John Baptist was beheaded, when he was fain to take away the sword
from you, whereof you had so sore misliking? Natheless, he yielded you up the
sword upon covenant that you should do that which a damsel should first ask you
to do thereafter, and you promised him loyally that so would you do?"
"Certes, damsel," saith Messire Gawain, "Well do I remember the
"Now, therefore," saith the damsel, "would I fain prove whether
you be indeed so loyal as men say, and whether you will hold your covenant that
you made. Wherefore I pray and beseech you that this day you shall be he that
doth worst of all the knights at the assembly, and that you bear none other arms
save your own only, so as that you shall be known again of all them that are
there present. And, so you will not do this, then will you have failed of your
covenant, and myself will go tell the King that you have broken the promise that
you made to him right loyally."
"Damsel," saith Messire Gawain, "Never yet brake I covenant with
none, so it were such as I might fulfil or another on my behalf."
King Arthur made arm him of the white arms that the younger damsel had given
him, and Messire Gawain of his own, but sore it irked him of this that the
damsel hath laid upon him to do, sith that needs must he lose worship and he
hold to his covenant, albeit not for nought that is in the world will he fail of
the promise he hath made. So they come into the assembly.
King Arthur smiteth with his spurs like a good
knight and overthroweth two knights in his onset, and Messire Gawain rideth a
bandon betwixt two fellowships to be the better known. The most part say,
"See! There is Messire Gawain, the good knight that is King Arthur's
Nabigant of the Rock cometh toward him as fast as his horse may carry him, lance
in rest. Messire Gawain seeth him coming toward him right furiously. He casteth
his shield down on the ground and betaketh him to flight as swiftly as he may.
They that beheld him, some two score or more, marvel thereof, and say, "Did
ever one see the like overpassing cowardize!"
Nabigant saith that he never yet followed a knight that was vanquished, nor
never will follow one of such conditions, for no great prize would it be to take
him and win his horse. Other knights come to joust with him, but Messire Gawain
fleeth and avoideth them the best he may, and maketh semblance that none is
there he durst abide. He draweth toward King Arthur for safety. "The King
hath great shame of this that he seeth him do, and right sore pains hath he of
defending Messire Gawain, for he holdeth as close to him as the pie doth to the
bramble when the falcon would take her. In such shame and dishonour was Messire
Gawain as long as the assembly lasted, and the knights said that he had gotten
him off with much less than he deserved, for that never had they seen so craven
knight at assembly or tournament as was he, nor never henceforth would they have
dread of him as they had heretofore. From this day forward may many lightly
avenge themselves upon him of their kinsfolk and friends that he hath slain by
the forest. The assembly brake up in the evening, whereof the King and Messire
Gawain were right well pleased. The knights disarm them at their hostels and the
King and Messire Gawain at the damsels' tent.
With that, behold you the dwarf that cometh.
"By my head, damsels, your knights go from bad to worse! Of him in the
white arms one may even let pass, but Messire Gawain is the most coward ever saw
I yet, and so he were to run upon me to-morrow and I were armed like as is he, I
should think me right well able to defend me against him. 'Tis the devil took
him to a place where is such plenty of knights, for the more folk that are there
the better may one judge of his ill conditions. And you, Sir," saith he to
the King, "Wherefore do you keep him company? You would have done best
to-day had he not been there. He skulked as close by you, to be out of the
buffets, as a hare doth to the wood for the hounds. No business hath good knight
to hold company with a coward. I say not this for that I would make him out
worse that he is, for I remember the two knights he slew before this tent."
The damsel heareth the dwarf talking and smileth thereat, for she understandeth
that blame enough hath Messire Gawain had at the assembly. The knights said at
their hostels that they knew not to whom to give the Circlet of Gold, sith that
the Knight of the Golden Armour and he of the Red Armour were not there; for
they did the best the first day of the assembly, and much they marvelled that
they should not come when it was continued on the morrow.
"Gawain," saith the King, "Sore blame have you had this day, and
I myself have been all shamed for your sake. Never thought I that so good a
knight as you might ever have known how to counterfeit a bad knight as you did.
You have done much for the love of the damsel, and right well had she avenged
herself of you and you had done her great annoy. Howbeit, and to-morrow your
cowardize be such as it hath been to-day, never will the day be when you shall
not have blame thereof."
"By my faith." saith Messire Gawain,
"Behoveth me do the damsel's pleasure sith that we have fallen by
ill-chance into her power."
They went to bed at night and took their rest as soon as they had eaten, and on
the morrow the damsel came to Messire Gawain.
"I will," saith she, "that you be clad in the same arms as was
your comrade on the first day, right rich, that I will lend you, and I will,
moreover, that you be knight so good as that never on any day were you better.
But I command you, by the faith you pledged me the other day, to obey this
caution, that you make yourself known to none, and so any man in the world shall
ask your name, you shall say that you are the knight of the Golden Arms."
"Damsel," saith Gawain, "Gramercy, I will do your pleasure."
The younger damsel cometh back to the King: "Sir," saith she, "I
will that you wear new arms: You shall bear them red, the same as Messire Gawain
bore the first day, and I pray you be such as you were the first day, or
"Damsel, I will do my best to amend
myself and my doings, and right well pleased am I of that it pleaseth you to
Their horses were caparisoned and the knights mounted, all armed. They come
together to the tournament with such an onset as that they pass through the
thickest of the press and overthrew knights and horses as many as they
encountered. King Arthur espieth Nabigant that came right gaily caparisoned, and
smiteth him so passing strong a buffet in the midst of his breast that he
beareth him down from his horse, in such sort that he breaketh his collar-bone,
and presenteth the destrier, by his squire, to the younger damsel, that maketh
great joy thereof. And Messire Gawain searcheth the fellowships on all sides,
and so well did he search that scarce was one might endure his blows. King
Arthur is not idle, but pierceth shields and beateth in helms, the while all
look on in wonderment at him and Messire Gawain. The story saith that the King
would have done still better, but that he put not forth his full strength in
deeds of arms, for that Messire Gawain had done so ill the day before, and now
he would fain that he should have the prize.
The damsel that held the Golden Circlet was in
the midst of the assembly of knights, and had set it in a right rich casket of
ivory with precious stones, right worshipfully. When the damsel saw that the
assembly was at an end, she made all the knights stay, and prayed them they
should speak judgment true, concealing nought, who had best deserved of arms,
and ought therefore of right to have the Golden Circle. They said all, that of
right judgment the Knight of the Golden Arms and he of the Red Arms ought to
have the prize above all the others, but that of these two, he of the Golden
Arms ought to have the prize, for so well did he the first day as that no knight
might do better, and on the last day likewise, and that if he of the Red Arms
had put forth his full strength on the last day, he would have done full as well
or better. The Circlet of Gold was brought to Messire Gawain, but it was not
known that it was he; and Messire Gawain would fain that it had been given to my
Lord King Arthur. The knights departed from the assembly. The King and Messire
Gawain came back to the tent and brought the Golden Circlet, whereof the damsels
made great joy. Thereupon, behold you! the dwarf that cometh back.
"Damsels, better is it to lodge knights such as these than Messire Gawain
the coward, the craven that had so much shame at the assembly! You yourselves
would have been sore blamed had you lodged him. This knight hath won the Golden
Circlet by force of arms, and Messire Gawain nought but shame and
The damsel laugheth at this that the dwarf saith, and biddeth him on his eyes
and head, begone!
The King and Messire Gawain were disarmed.
"Sir," saith the damsel, "What will you do with the Golden
"Damsel," saith Messire Gawain, "I will bear it to him that first
won it in sore peril of death, and delivered it to the Queen that ought to have
kept it safe, of whom it hath been reft by force."
The King and Messire Gawain lay the night in the tent. The younger damsel cometh
to the King.
"Sir, many feats of arms have you done at the assembly, as I have been
told, for love of me, and I am ready to reward you."
"Damsel, right great thanks. Your reward and your service love I much, and
your honour yet more, wherefore I would that you should have all the honour that
any damsel may have, for in damsel without honour ought none to put his
affiance. Our Lord God grant you to preserve yours."
"Damsel," saith she to the other that sitteth before Messire Gawain,
"This Knight and Messire Gawain have taken counsel together. There is
neither solace nor comfort in them. Let us leave them to go to sleep, and ill
rest may they have, and Lord God defend us ever hereafter from such
"By my head," saith the eider damsel, "were it not for the Golden
Circlet that he is bound of right to deliver again to the Queen that had it in
charge, who is my Lady, they should not depart from this land in such sort as
they will. But, and Messire Gawain still be nice as concerneth damsels, at least
I now know well that he is loyal in anotherwise, so as that he will not fail of
With that the damsels departed, as did
likewise the King and Messire Gawain as soon as they saw the day. Nabigant, that
was wounded at the tournament, was borne away on a litter. Meliot of Logres was
in quest of Messire Gawain. He met the knights and the harness that came from
the assembly, and asked of many if they could tell him tidings of King Arthur's
nephew, Messire Gawain, and the most part answer, "Yea, and right bad
Then they ask him wherefore he demandeth.
"Lords," saith he, "His liege man am I, and he ought of right to
defend my land against all men, that Nabigant hath taken from me without right
nor reason, whom they are carrying from thence in a litter, wherefore I am fain
to beseech Messire Gawain that he help me to recover my land."
"In faith, Sir Knight," say they, "We know not of what avail he
may be to others that may not help himself. Messire Gawain was at the assembly,
but we tell you for true, it was he that did worst thereat."
"Alas," saith Meliot of Logres, "Then have I lost my land, and he
hath become even such an one as you tell me."
"You would readily believe us," say they, "had you seen him at
Meliot turneth him back, right sorrowful.
King Arthur and Messire Gawain depart from the
tent, and come a great pace as though they fain would escape thence to come
nigher the land where they would be, and great desire had they of the coming of
Lancelot. They rode until that they came one night to the Waste Manor whither
the brachet led Messire Gawain when he found the dead knight that Lancelot had
slain. They lodged there the night, and found there knights and damsels of whom
they were known. The Lady of the Waste Manor sent for succour to her knights,
saying that she held there King Arthur that slew other knights, and that his
nephew Messire Gawain was also there within, but dearly would she have loved
that Lancelot had been with them that slew her brother. Knights in plenty came
to her to do hurt to King Arthur and Messire Gawain, but she had at least so
much courtesy in her that she would not suffer any of them to do them ill within
her hold, albeit she kept seven of their number, full of great hardiment, to
guard the entrance of the bridge, so that King Arthur and Messire Gawain might
not depart thence save only amidst the points of their spears.
This high history witnesseth us that Lancelot
was departed from the Waste City wherein he was much honoured, and rode until
that he came to a forest where he met Meliot of Logres, that was sore dismayed
of the tidings he had heard of Messire Gawain. Lancelot asketh him whence he
cometh, and he saith from seeking Messire Gawain, of whom he had tidings whereof
he was right sorrowful.
"How," saith Lancelot, "Is he then otherwise than well?"
"Yea," saith he, "As I have heard tell: for he wont to be good
knight and hath now become evil. He was at the assembly of knights whereof I met
the harness and the fellowships, and they told me that never yet was such
cowardize in any knight, but that a knight who was with him did right well. But
howsoever he may have borne himself, right fain am I to find him, for, maugre
what any may say, I may scarce believe that he is so bad after all."
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "I will seek him for you, and you can come
along with me and it seemeth you good."
Meliot of Logres betaketh him back with Lancelot. They ride until they happen by
chance upon the Waste Manor where the King and Messire Gawain were lodged; and
they were armed, and were minded to go forth from thence. But the seven knights
guarded the issue, all armed. The King and Messire Gawain saw that no good would
it do them to remain there within, wherefore they passed over the bridge and
came perforce to the place where the seven knights were watching for them.
Thereupon, they went toward them all armed and struck among them, and the
knights received them on the points of their lances.
Thereupon, behold you! Lancelot and the knight
with him, whom they had not been looking for. Lancelot espied the King and
Messire Gawain; then the knights cried out and struck among them as a hawk
striketh amongst larks, and made them scatter on one side and the other.
Lancelot hath caught one at his coming, and smiteth him with his spear through
the body, and Meliot of Logres slayeth another. King Arthur knew Lancelot, and
right glad was he to see him safe and sound, as was Messire Gawain likewise.
Lancelot and Meliot of Logres made clear the passage for them. The knights
departed, for longer durst they not abide. The damsel of the castle held a
squire by the hand, that was right passing comely. She knew Lancelot, and when
she saw him she called him.
"Lancelot, you slew this squire's
brother, and, please God, either he or another shall take vengeance
Lancelot holdeth his peace when he heareth the dame speak, and departeth from
the Waste Hold. Meliot of Logres knew Messire Gawain and Messire Gawain him
again, and great joy made they the one of the other.
"Sir," saith Meliot, "I am come to lay plaint before you of
Nabigant of the Rock that challengeth me of the land whereof I am your man, and
saith that he will defend it against none but you only. Sir, the day is full
nigh, and if you come not to the day, I shall have lost my quarrel, and you held
me thereof in covenant what time I became your man."
"Right fainly will I go," saith Messire Gawain.
He goeth his way thither accordingly by leave of the King and Lancelot, and
saith that he will return to them the speediest he may.
King Arthur and Lancelot go their way as fast
as they may toward the land that was King Fisherman's. Messire Gawain rideth
until he cometh to the land of Nabigant of the Rock. Meliot doeth Nabigant to
wit that Messire Gawain was come, and that he was ready to uphold his right by
him that was his champion. Nabigant was whole of the wound he gat at the
assembly, and held Messire Gawain of full small account for the cowardize that
he saw him do, and bid his knights not meddle betwixt them two, for, and Messire
Gawain had been four knights he thought to vanquish them all. He issueth forth
of his castle all armed, and is come there where Messire Gawain awaited him.
Messire Gawain seeth him coming, and so draweth on one side, and Nabigant, that
was stark outrageous, setteth his spear in rest and cometh toward Messire Gawain
without another word, and smiteth him on the shield so that he maketh his spear
fly all in pieces. And Messire Gawain catcheth him right in the midst of his
breast, and pierceth him with his spear through the thick of his heart, and he
falleth to the ground dead; and the knights run upon Messire Gawain; but he
lightly delivereth himself of them, and Meliot of Logres likewise. Messire
Gawain entereth the castle by force, doing battle against all the knights, and
holdeth them in such a pass as that he maketh them do homage to Meliot of Logres, and deliver up to him the keys of the castle. He maketh them come to an
assembly from the whole of the land they had reft away from him, and thereafter
departeth and followeth after King Arthur. In the forest, he overtaketh a damsel
that was going on her way a great pace.
"Damsel," saith Messire Gawain,
"Lord God guide you, whither away so fast?"
"Sir," saith she, "I am going to the greatest assembly of knights
you saw ever."
"What assembly?" saith Messire Gawain.
"Sir," saith she, "At the Palace Meadow, but the knight I am
seeking is he that won the Circlet of Gold at the Meadow of the Tent. Fair Sir,
can you give me any tidings of him?" saith she.
"Damsel," saith Messire Gawain, "What would you do herein?"
"Certes, Sir, I would right fain find him. My Lady, that kept the Circlet
of Gold for the son of the Widow Lady, that won it aforetime, hath sent me to
"For what intent, damsel?" saith Messire Gawain.
"Sir, my Lady sendeth for him and beseecheth him by me, for the sake of the
Saviour of the World, that if he had ever pity of dame or damsel, he will take
vengeance on Nabigant that hath slain her men and destroyed her land, for she
hath been told how he that won back the Golden Circlet ought of right to take
vengeance upon him."
"Damsel," saith Messire Gawain,
"Be not any longer troubled hereof, for I tell you that the knight that won
the Golden Circlet by prize of arms hath killed Nabigant already."
"Sir," saith she, "How know you this?"
"I know the knight well," saith he, "And I saw him slay him, and
behold, here is the Circlet of Gold that I have as a token hereof, for that he
beareth it to him that hath won the Graal, to the intent that your Lady may be
quit of her charge."
Messire Gawain showeth her the Golden Circlet in the casket of ivory, that he
kept very nigh himself. Right joyful was the damsel that the matter had thus
fallen out, and goeth her way back again to tell her Lady of her joy. Messire
Gawain goeth on his way toward the assembly, for well knoweth he that, and King
Arthur and Lancelot have heard the tidings, there will they be. He goeth
thitherward as fast as he may, and as straight, and scarce hath he ridden away
or ever he met a squire that seemed right weary, and his hackney sore worn of
the way. Messire Gawain asked him whence he came, and the squire said to him.
"From the land of King Arthur, where is great war toward, for that none
knoweth not what hath become of him. Many folk go about saying that he is dead,
for never sithence that he departed from Cardoil, and Messire Gawain and
Lancelot with him, have no tidings been heard of him; and he left the Queen at
Cardoil to take his place, and also on account of her son's death, and the most
part say that he is dead. Briant of the Isles and my Lord Kay with him are
burning his land, and carrying off plunder before all the castles. Of all the
Knights of the Table Round are there now no more than five and thirty, and of
these are ten sore wounded, and they are in Cardoil, and there protect the land
the best they may."
When Messire Gawain heareth these tidings,
they touch his heart right sore, so that he goeth the straightest he may toward
the assembly, and the squire with him that was sore fordone. Messire Gawain
found King Arthur and Lancelot, and the knights were come from all the kingdom
to the piece of ground. For a knight was come thither that had brought a white
destrier and borne thither a right rich crown of gold, and it was known
throughout all the lands that marched with this, that the knight that should do
best at the assembly should have the destrier and the crown, for the Queen that
ware it was dead, and it would behove him to guard and defend the land whereof
she had been Lady. On account of these tidings had come thither great plenty of
folk and of folk. King Arthur and Messire Gawain and Lancelot set them of one
side. The story saith that at this assembly King Arthur bare the red shield that
the damsel gave him; Messire Gawain had his own, such as he was wont to bear,
and Lancelot a green shield that he bare for the love of the knight that was
slain for helping him in the forest. They struck into the assembly like lions
unchained, and cast down three knights at their first onset. They searched the
fellowships on every side, smote down knights and overthrew horses.
King Arthur overtook no knight but he clave
his shield to the boss: all swerved aside and avoided his buffets. And Messire
Gawain and Lancelot are not idle on the other hand, but each held well his
place. But the more part had wonderment looking at the King, for he holdeth him
at bay like a lion when the staghounds would attack him. The assembly lasted
throughout on such wise, and when it came to an end, the knights said and
adjudged that the Knight of the Red Shield had surpassed all other in doing
well. The knight that had brought the crown came to the King, but knew him not a
whit: "Sir," saith he, "You have by your good deeds of arms won
this crown of gold and this destrier, whereof ought you to make great joy, so
only you have so much valour in you as that you may defend the land of the best
earthly Queen that is dead, and whether the King be alive or dead none knoweth,
wherefore great worship will it be to yourself and you may have prowess to
maintain the land, for right broad is it and right rich and of high sovranty.
Saith King Arthur, "Whose was the land,
and what was the name of the Queen whose crown I see?"
"Sir, the King's name was Arthur, and the best king in the world was he;
but in his kingdom the more part say that he is dead. And this crown was the
crown of Queen Guenievre that is dead and buried, whereof is sore sorrow. The
knights that may not leave Cardoil lest Briant of the Isles should seize the
city, they sent me to the kingdom of Logres and charged me with the crown and
destrier for that I have knowledge of the isles and foreign lands; wherefore
they prayed me I should go among the assemblies of knights, that so I might hear
tidings of my Lord King Arthur and my Lord Gawain and Lancelot, and, so I might
find them, that I should tell them how the land hath fallen into this grievous
King Arthur heareth tidings whereof he is full sorrowful. He draweth on one
side, and the knights make the most grievous dole in the world. Lancelot knoweth
not what he may do, and saith between his teeth that now hath his joy come to an
end and his knighthood is of no avail, for that he hath lost the high Queen, the
valiant, that heart and comfort gave him and encouragement to do well. The tears
ran down from his comely eyes right amidst his face and through the ventail,
and, had he durst make other dole, yet greater would it have been. Of the
mourning the King made is there nought to speak, for this sorrow resembleth none
other. He holdeth the crown of gold, and looketh full oft at the destrier for
love of her, for he had given it her; and Messire Gawain may not stint of making
"Certes", saith he, "Now may I
well say that the best Queen in the world and of most understanding is dead, nor
never hereafter shall be none of equal worth."
"Sir," saith Lancelot to the King, "So it please you, and Messire
Gawain be willing, I will go back toward Cardoil, and help to defend your land
to the best I may, for sore is it discounselled, until such time as you shall be
come from the Graal."
"Certes," saith Messire Gawain to the King, "Lancelot hath spoken
well, so you grant him your consent."
"That do I with right good will," saith the Kind, "And I pray him
right heartily that he go thither and be guardian of my land and the governance
thereof, until such a time as God shall have brought me back."
Lancelot taketh leave of the King and goeth his way back, all sorrowing and full