Quest of the White Hart
As with so many especial events during
Arthur's reign, adventures often began during a high feast, this one being the wedding
of Arthur to Guenever. The high feast was made ready when Arthur was wedded to Guenever
in the church of Saint Stephen's in Camelot. Merlin asks that all the knights remain
at their seats to see a strange adventure. A white hart comes running into the hall chased
by a white brachet and thirty couple of black running hounds. The brachet manages to catch
and bite the hart, which in its frenzy to escape leaps the table overthrowing a knight and
escapes. The knight rises and takes the brachet and departs. A lady comes riding in on a
white palfrey and requests the return of her brachet, crying aloud and making great dole.
As she cries, a knight appears and takes her by force and departs. Arthur is relieved for
she made a great noise but Merlin will not let him put aside the adventure lightly. Merlin
requests that Arthur send Gawaine to bring back the hart, Tor to bring back the brachet,
and Pellinore to return the damsel.
Whatever the original purpose of this
quest adventure, we shall see that this quest is interwoven with the role of a knight
giving mercy and protecting and honouring women for each of the adventures presents us
with the evil that such failure will bring. At the end of the quest when the wedding
feast is coming to an end, Arthur makes all the knights swear upon an oath that will be
renewed each Pentecost that requires the knights to show mercy and succour all ladies.
Gawaine sets out with Gaheris, his brother, as squire and as they ride they
find two knights battling. Gawaine rides between them and asks for what cause they fight.
The knights were two brothers that each thought himself the better. Having seen the hart,
they each wished to pursue it and fought to determine which would have the right. Gawaine
berates them since brother should not fight brother and demands that they yield to him.
The brothers, Sorlouse and Brian of the Forest, decide to yield and leave for Camelot.
Gawaine continues his quest following the cry of his hounds until they come to a river
which the hart swam. On the distant shore, a knight awaits and proclaims that Gawaine
can not cross after the hart unless he fight with him. Gawaine accepts the challenge and
fords the river. In the joust, Gawaine smites him off his horse but the knight will not
yield, requesting instead that Gawaine alight and fight on foot. The knight gives his
name as Allardin of the Isles and Gawaine takes the challenge, killing the knight in
Gawaine and Gaheris continue the chase. Gawaine's greyhounds chase the
hart into a castle, bringing the hart down in the main hall with Gawaine quick on their
heels. A knight, Ablamar of the Marsh, comes out of one of the chambers and attacks the
dogs, killing two of them and chasing away the others, even as Gawaine watched. The
knight mourns the death of the hart for his lady had gifted it to him and he had not
protected it. He arms himself and fiercely met with Gawaine. Gawaine complains of the
death of his hounds for they did only what they were trained to do, and the knight
should have taken his anger out on the owner. The knight agrees and they fight fiercely,
giving blow for blow, until Gawaine smote him hard and he fell to the earth, crying
mercy. But Gawaine does not wish to give mercy and prepares to kill the knight. Even
as the knight cries for mercy, Gawaine will not change his mind. The knight's lady
runs from the chamber and throws herself over her lord even as Gawaine strikes, killing
her rather than the knight. Gawaine is ashamed and Gaheris admonishes him, for a knight
without mercy is a knight without worship. Gawaine pardons the distraught knight and
forces him to go to Arthur to relay the adventure, taking one greyhound before him and
Gawaine decides to stay the night in the castle but before he can rest,
four knights come and attack them because of his dishonour. Gawaine and Gaheris are
hard pressed even to the point of death when Gawaine takes an arrow in the arm. They
would have died if four fair ladies had not cried for mercy. They are taken prisoner
and locked up with Gawaine afraid that he will end up maimed. In the morn, one of the
ladies questions Gawaine and upon learning who he is, gets the knights to release him
because of love of Arthur. They give Gawaine the head of the hart but also force him
to convey the murdered lady, her body draped across his horse and her head hung from
his neck. When he arrives at Camelot, Arthur is displeased and Guenever places a geas
on him that he would never refuse mercy and must always show honor and courtesy to all
ladies, to fight their quarrels unless he fought for one and his opponent fought for
another. He was sworn on the Four Evangelist and his quest is ended.
As in many of Malory's books, a dwarf appears and plays an important
part in guiding the adventure forward. This one suddenly appears and smites Tor's
horse on the head with a staff and refuses Tor leave to go, for he must joust with the
knights of the pavilions. When Tor tries to leave, the dwarf blows his horn and the
first knight appears and comes toward Tor. In the fight, Tor bare him off his horse
and forces him to yield. The second knight appears and Tor smites him through the
shield and body, and then alit and smote him on the helm forcing him to seek mercy.
Tor sends the two knights, Sir Felot of Langduk and Sir Petipase of Winchelsea to
Arthur. The dwarf asks to serve Sir Tor and guides him through the forest to the
pavilions of the knight that took the brachet from Arthur's court. Tor finds
the brachet with a lady and her damosels. He takes the brachet and departs, even
as the lady complains.
After spending the night at an hermitage, Tor sets out once again. After
a long while, a knight appears from behind calling for Tor to return the brachet.
They joust and both men and horses are smote to the earth; but both leap up lightly
and fought hard and eagerly. The knight almost passes out from the struggle and loss
of blood allowing Tor to redouble his effort and throw him to the earth. Even though
Tor asks him to yield, the knight refuses unless Tor returns the brachet. As Tor
reiterates that he must return to Arthur with the brachet, a damosel rides up fast
and beseeches Tor for a gift. For she wants the knight's head claiming that he
was an outrageous knight and murderer. During an adventure of arms, the knight
identified now as Abelleus fought with the damosel's brother. When the brother
tried to yield and even as the damosel sought mercy kneeling in the mire for over
an half hour, the knight still took his head. Tor is loath to grant the wish but
the knight is afraid and cries mercy and attempts to escape. Tor chases him and
takes his head. Tor spends the night with the damosel and her husband and returns
to Camelot where he is greeted with joy. Because of his success in the quest and
through Merlin's own words about his future, Arthur grants Tor an earldom.
There is a thread between the two adventures, for in one Gawaine
refuses to show mercy, killing a lady through his dishonour and in the second,
a dishonoured knight who would not show mercy even at the request of a lady meets
his death at Tor's hands. For Gawaine's dishonour, he receives a lifelong
geas that he must honor all ladies and to never turn-aside from supporting their
quarrels. But except for the fact of his relation to Arthur, he would probably have
met the same fate as Abelleus.
Pellinore's quest for the lady that demanded the brachet will lead
him on a path that gains the end but not without pain, for Pellinore shall also fail
a lady in need and shall bring Merlin's end much closer. After more than a fair
distance from court, Pellinore passes a lady sitting by a well in a forest valley.
She holds a wounded knight in her arms and cries out loud for Pellinore's
assistance. Even though she cries for his aid, he merely salutes her and goes on
his way because of the quest. Because he would not tarry, the knight dies and she
takes her own life with his sword.
Pellinore meets a poor labourer that tells him that the lady he seeks
is even now nearby held in a pavilion while the knight that took her and another
knight claiming kinship to her fight over her. Pellinore finds the pavilions and
moves to separate the two warriors. Sir Meliot of Logurs who claims kinship as she
is his cousin states that he fights because his kinswoman is being held but the other
knight, Hontzlake of Wentland, claims he has the right of her because he took her by
prowess of arms at Arthur's court. Pellinore disputes them both and prepares to
fight them but Hontzlake kills Pellinore's horse beneath him so that he would
have no advantage over them. Pellinore is angered by the death of his horse and in
one quick stroke clave Hontzlake from head to chin. The wounded Meliot prudently
kneels down and requests that Pellinore should be a true knight. Pellinore agrees
and stays the night with Meliot and is gifted a fine horse by him to replace the one
Hontzlake killed. Meliot tells Pellinore that his cousin is named Nimue and that
the second nearby pavilion is that of his sworn brother Brian of the Isles who will
not fight any man unless sore put upon. Pellinore invites them to Camelot and sets
out; but within a distance, Nimue's horse stumbles in a valley full of stones
and throws her, bruising her arm. There they rest for the remainder of the day and
at Nimue's request, they stay the night.
Toward midnight, they hear a horse and from their concealment, they see
two knights meet, one from the direction of Camelot and the other from the North.
The one from Camelot tells that he rides north to tell the chieftains of the
fellowship and strength of Arthur's court. The one from the North reveals that he
brings a strong poison for they have a friend close to Arthur that has received
monies to poison Arthur. His companion warns him of Merlin and they depart.
Pellinore and Nimue pass the well on the trip back and Pellinore
made great sorrow for they found the dead knight and the remains of the lady who
had been left to the wild beasts. At Nimue's advice, Pellinore transports the
knight's body to an hermitage for proper burial and takes the head of the lady
with him back to Arthur. Much Pellinore looked on the visage of the
yellow-haired lady and mourned. But in due time, he arrives at Camelot and
relates his adventure. Merlin, in his usual format as foreteller of future books
in the legend, tells Pellinore that the lady was his own duaghter, Eleine,
begotten on the lady of the Rule and the knight was her future husband, Miles of
the Launds, who was struck and slew from behind by a false knight, Loraine le
Savage. Because he failed in providing assistance, he would one day find his
best friend fail him and leave him when in his darkest moment and that he would
be slain. Pellinore accepts this but hopes that God will change the destiny.