Quest of the Triple Goddess
Upon Arthur's return to Camelot following the failed attempts on his
life by Morgan le Fay, Morgan makes a last attempt by sending a rich cloak laced with
deadly enchantment. Nimue warns Arthur, who watches as the young damosel who bore it
from Morgan is killed and burnt to ashes when he forces her to put on the cloak. In
anger, Arthur turns to Urien and demands that he send Uwaine from court; for in his
great anger, he believes that someone of the family must be supporting her. Perhaps in
a small way Arthur is right, for Uwaine did fail to act against his mother when she made
the attempt on Uriens' life.
Uwaine, who must be just at the age of
manhood, leaves but Gawaine determines to depart with his cousin. Following an adventure
with Sir Marhaus, Marhaus accompanies them to the great forest called Arroy where Marhaus
declares that every knight that ventured into its domain found strange adventures. As they
rode, they came to a deep valley of stones with a broad stream. At the head of the stream
sit three ladies at a fair fountain. But these are not just ordinary ladies, for in them
we recognize the triple aspect of the goddess. The eldest is an old wise woman with white
hair crowned by a garland of gold, the second, a woman of thirty with a circlet of gold,
and the last, a maiden of fifteen with flowers in her hair. The three await errant knights
to teach them on strange adventures. Note that Malory uses the word teach not take. Each
of our knights must choose one of the three and a direction and the damosel will lead them
on a quest and in twelve months the three will meet again at the fountain.
Uwaine chooses the eldest for being the youngest and least experienced, he
felt that she would be the one to best help him. Marhaus chooses the damosel of thirty
winters, leaving the young maiden to Gawaine. Once chosen, the ladies lead them to a
crossroad that leads in three directions. Gawaine will travel north, Uwaine west, and
Marhaus south, directions that could mirror their own - Gawaine being from the northern
Lothians, Uwaine from Rheged, and Marhaus to be associated with Cornwall and the Tristram
legends. Without delving into the other sources, we can not from Malory determine the
moral, chivalric purpose of the quest. In some aspects, the tales should relate to love
and a knight's duty to protect those that have suffered for love or family's sake.
But Malory seems to have altered the tales' focus or combined the tales from other
source material using the triple goddess to present the stories as a combined quest.
Malory continues to use Gawaine as an anti-hero. Under a geas to provide
succour to all women, Gawaine will fail in a chivalric bond to the knight Pelleas
involving the Lady Ettard. Gawaine sets out on the quest and arrives at a fair manor.
Seeking adventure, the householder takes him to a meadow or open land where a cross
stood. The fairest and seemliest man that ever they saw came riding by in great dole.
Gawaine watches as ten knights confront this warrior and battle with him. The dolorous
knight encounters and defeats them all; but once defeated, the knight allows the
defeated men to take and bind him under his horse's belly in a shameful manner and
then lead him away. Gawaine is surprised at the knight's behavior but does not
interfere even though his quest damosel complains that to refrain from assisting proves
he lacks worship. The plot is straight forward at this point for the dolorous warrior
is Pelleas and Gawaine shall shortly meet and pledge his assistance.
But a new adventure even stranger occurs. While discussing the strange
behavior of Pelleas, an unhelmeted knight and an ugly dwarf arrive and challenge each
other for a lady. Before the fight proceeds too far, they decide to allow Gawaine to
settle their dispute. Properly, Gawaine places the lady between them and allows her to
decide betwixt them. She chooses the ugly dwarf and rides away with him leaving the
other knight to mourn. Love is blind!
Before we can analyze this act,
two knights appear and challenge Gawaine. He accepts the challenge and quickly becomes
embroiled in battle with the first knight, Sir Carados. The second knight takes the
opportunity to solicit the quest damosel who gladly abandons Gawaine because of his
earlier failure to assist Pelleas. Gawaine and Carados end their fight and Gawaine
accepts Carados invitation to lodge with him. During the stay, Carados tells Gawaine
about Pelleas' plight. Pelleas loves the Lady Ettard. During a great joust, Pelleas
is proclaimed the champion. The victor received a sword and a gold circlet which he
could bestow on his lady love. Pelleas selects the Lady Ettard. But Ettard scorns
Pelleas' advances. She returned to her lands, followed by Pelleas who attempts
to win her. Each week, she sends knights to fight him and each time he overcomes them
but then allows them to bind him. As her prisoner, he can catch sight of her. But
she will not keep him and thus the events repeat. Gawaine determines to help Pelleas
and sets out the following morning to seek him out.
Because Gawaine is of Arthur's court and kin, Pelleas agrees to accept
his support. While wearing Pelleas' armor and pretending to have slain him in combat,
Gawaine arrives at Ettard's castle where he is greeted warmly. One might say very
warmly, for instead of championing Pelleas' suit, Gawaine takes the lady as his own.
Ettard fulfills Gawaine's wishes and spends two days and nights in his arms in a
pavilion before the castle.
Growing uneasy, Pelleas arms himself and
arrives to find Gawaine and the lady asleep in each other arms in the pavilion. In
sorrow, he leaves but anger overcomes him and he returns. But he can not kill Gawaine
in his sleep and departs again. He returns again but still can not bring himself to
slay them, so he lays his naked sword across them and departs, returning to his own
pavilions beside the priory. He makes his peace, stating his wishes to his knights and
enters the pavilion determined to die.
Ettard awakes and finds the sword.
She accuses Gawaine of his betrayal to Pelleas and to herself and Gawaine departs. But
Pelleas is not destined to get his wish to die in sorrow, for the Lady Nimue finds one
of Pelleas' knights wandering in dole through the forest. Hearing the story, she
visits Pelleas and falls in love with him. She places an enchantment of sleep on him
and orders his men to keep him secure. She brings the Lady Ettard to the pavilion and
shames her for her acts toward Pelleas. In punishment, she casts an enchantment that
reverses the fortunes of love, for now Ettard loves Pelleas without bounds and Pelleas
hates her more than any other. He casts Ettard from his presence while Nimue declares
her love of him. Their love will endure throughout their lives and never will he think
of Ettard again, who dies of her sorrow.
We do not know what happened to Gawaine during the remainder of the year
but he arrives at the rendezvous at the end of the period. His quest damosel could say
little of worship of him.
The interesting aspect of this account is the similarities between Pelleas
and Pellinore. Pelleas is almost a doppelganger to Pellinore. They both are kings from
the isles, handsome and fearsome knights. They both are associated with Nimue. Pellinore
rescues her in the Quest of the White Hart and brings her to court. Pelleas is rescued
by her love in this quest and brought to court by her. Gawaine hates Pellinore because
of the death of Lot. Pelleas hates Gawaine for his betrayal with Ettard. Pelleas is a
name variation of Pelli or Beli and Pellinore, as discussed in his own article, is a
derivation of Pelli or Beli Mawr, 'mawr' being an epitaph meaning great. There
is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that the stories are different corruptions
of an original story concerning the feud between the two men or their families. Another
intriguing possibility is that Pellinore and Pelleas are brothers. When Gawaine learns
of Pelleas' plight from Carados and realizes that he is kin to Pellinore whom he
hates, he schemes to revenge himself on their family by claiming to offer assistance.
Marhaus travels with his damosel a long distance coming to a deep forest
and even into the forest as nighttime arrives. Finding a small courtelage, they are
refused lodging; but the man takes them to a nearby fair castle of a duke. Marhaus is
led before the duke and his men where he relates who he is. Interestingly, Marhaus
states he is a knight of the Round Table but at the end of this quest, Arthur makes
him a knight of the Round Table. It would seem that Malory had difficulty distinguishing
between when a knight was of Arthur's court and when he was a member of the elite
The Duke of the South Marches is an enemy of Arthur. As a proper host,
he will provide welcome lodging to Marhaus for that night but in the morning, Marhaus
would have to meet him and his six sons in combat. Marhaus discovers in trying to seek
a remedy that the Duke blames Sir Gawaine for the death of his seventh son and will be
revenged on all knights and men of Arthur's. In the morning, Marhaus meets the duke
and his sons in battle and defeats them. Marhaus charges them to make peace with Arthur
at the next Whitsuntide.
Next, the quest damosel takes Marhaus to a tournament held by the Lady de
Vawse where Marhaus wins the gold circlet.
Within seven nights, Marhaus and the damosel arrive at the land of Earl
Fergus, a young lord recently come into his lands who will later be one of Tristram's
men. Fergus complains to Marhaus of a giant living nearby that was destroying Fergus'
lands. The giant, Taulard, also has a brother named Taulas in Cornwall that will be
defeated by Tristram later in Malory's story. Marhaus determines to face Taulard
and is taken by Fergus' man to the area. Marhaus meets the giant in combat and is
quickly in great peril for Taulard cleaves Marhaus' shield in two. After a fierce
battle, Marhaus smote off the giant's right arm.
Taulard flees to a nearby lake or the coast. Marhaus can not go in after
the giant and so attacks him from the shore using stones. After many hard hits, the
giant drowns. Marhaus went to the giant's castle where he released twenty-four
ladies and twelve knights from the prison and acquires the giant's riches. Because
of his wounds from the battle, Marhaus remains with Fergus for the remaining half year
before setting out to the rendezvous.
Along the way, he meets four knights of Arthur's court, Sagramore le
Desirous, Osanna, Dodinas le Savage, and Felot of Listinoise, and defeats them all with
one spear. It continues to amaze me that knights of the same brotherhood regularly
challenge each other to combat, often with deadly peril.
The aged damosel of Uwaine's quest brought him to a tournament near
the marches of Wales. Uwaine wins the prize defeating thirty knights. Afterward, she
conducted him on other strange adventures until they arrived at the land of the Lady
of the Rock. The lady had been disinherited from her estates by two brothers, Edward
and Hue of the Red Castle. When the lady complains to Uwaine, he determines to take up
her cause and sends to the two brothers to meet with the lady and him. The two brothers
arrive in full force with an hundred men. The lady refuses to allow Uwaine to go out
and meet them for fear of treachery. From a tower of her castle, Uwaine requires the
brothers to return her lands without success. When they refuse, he challenges one of
them to trial by combat. But the brothers state that the combat will be against the
two of them together. Uwaine accepts and the combat is set for the following morning.
Securities are made to prevent any treachery.
The next morning, Uwaine meets the brothers and unhorsed them; but the
brothers recover and demand Uwaine meet them on foot. After a vicious battle lasting
over five hours during which Uwaine suffered many wounds, he finally manages to kill
Edward and force Hue to yield. The lady is restored of her lands and Hue is ordered
to appear before Arthur at the next Pentecost feast.
Because of his wounds, Uwaine remains for the rest of the year before
setting out to rejoin Gawaine and Marhaus.
On the appointed day, Marhaus and Uwaine arrive with their damosels,
but as we remember, Gawaine's young damosel had left him early in his quest and he
had to arrive alone. After leaving the damosel's, the warriors rode through a great
forest and meet a messenger sent from Arthur wishing them to return to court.