Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

Chapter Second

How Sir Launcelot and Sir Lionel Rode Forth Errant Together and How Sir Lionel Met Sir Turquine to His Great Dole. Also How Sir Ector Grieved for the Departure of His Brother Launcelot and So, Following Him, Fell into a Very Sorry Adventure.
   Now after King Arthur had thus given Sir Launcelot leave to go errant and whilst Sir Launcelot was making himself ready to depart there came to him Sir Lionel, who was his cousin germain, and Sir Lionel besought leave to go with him as his knight-companion, and Sir Launcelot gave him that leave.
   So when King Arthur confirmed Sir Launcelot's permission Sir Lionel also made himself ready very joyfully, and early of the morning of the next day they two took their leave of the court and rode away together; the day being very fair and gracious and all the air full of the joy of that season--which was in the flower of the spring-time.
   So, about noon-tide, they came to a certain place where a great apple-tree stood by a hedge, and by that time they had grown an-hungered. So they tied their horses near-by in a cool and shady place and straightway sat them down under the apple-tree in the soft tall grass, which was yet fresh with the coolness of the morning.
   Then when they had ended their meal Sir Launcelot said: "Brother, I have a great lust to sleep for a little space, for I find myself so drowsy that mine eyelids are like scales of lead." Unto which Sir Lionel made reply:
   "Very well; sleep thou for a while, and I will keep watch, and after that thou shalt watch, and I will sleep for a little space." So Sir Launcelot put his helmet beneath his head and turned upon his side, and in a little had fallen into a sleep which had neither dream nor thought of any kind, but which was deep and pure like to a clear well of water in the forest.
   And, whilst he slept thus, Sir Lionel kept watch, walking up and down in the shade of a hedge near-by.
   Where they were was upon the side of a hill, and beneath them was a little valley; and a road ran through the valley, very white and shining in the sunlight, like a silken ribbon, and the road lay between growing fields of corn and pasture-land. Now as Sir Lionel walked beside the hedge he beheld three knights come riding into that valley and along that road with very great speed and in several clouds of dust; and behind them came a fourth knight, who was very huge of frame and who was clad altogether in black armor. Moreover, this knight rode upon a black horse and his shield was black and his spear was black and the furniture of his horse was black, so that everything appertaining to that knight was as black as any raven.
   And Sir Lionel beheld that this one knight pursued those other three knights and that his horse went with greater speed than theirs, so that by and by he overtook the hindermost knight. And Sir Lionel beheld that the sable knight smote the fleeing knight a great buffet with his sword, so that that knight fell headlong from his horse and rolled over two or three times upon the ground and then lay as though he were dead. Then the black knight catched the second of the three, and served him as he had served his fellow. Then the third of the three, finding that there was no escape for him, turned as if to defend himself; but the black knight drave at him, and smote him so terrible a blow that I believe had a thunderbolt smitten him he would not have fallen from his horse more suddenly than he did. For, though that combat was full three furlongs away, yet Sir Lionel heard the sound of that blow as clearly as though it had been close by.
   Then after the black knight had thus struck down those three knights he went to each in turn and tied his hands behind his back. Then, lifting each man with extraordinary ease, he laid him across the saddle of that horse from which he had fallen, as though he were a sack of grain. And all this Sir Lionel beheld with very great wonder, marvelling much at the strength and prowess of that black knight. "Ha," quoth he to himself, "I will go and inquire into this business, for it may haply be that yonder black knight shall not find it to be so easy to deal with a knight of the Round Table as with those other three knights."
   So, with this, Sir Lionel loosed his horse very quietly and went his way so softly that Sir Launcelot was not awakened. And after he had gone some way, he mounted his steed and rode off at a fast gallop down into that valley.
   When Sir Lionel had come to that place where the knight was, he found that he had just bound the last of the three knights upon the saddle of his horse as aforetold. So Sir Lionel spoke to the sable knight in this wise: "Sir, I pray you tell me your name and degree and why you treat those knights in so shameful a fashion as I behold you to do."
   "Messire," said the black knight very fiercely, "this matter concerns you not at all; yet I may tell you that those knights whom I have overthrown are knights of King Arthur's court, and so I serve all such as come into this place. So will I serve you, too, if you be a knight of King Arthur's."
   "Well," said Sir Lionel, "that is a very ungracious thing for you to say. And as for that, I too am a knight of King Arthur's court, but I do not believe that you will serve me as you have served those three. Instead of that, I have great hope that I shall serve you in such a fashion that I shall be able to set these knights free from your hands."
   Thereupon, without more ado, he made him ready with spear and shield, and the black knight, perceiving his design, also made him ready. Then they rode a little distance apart so as to have a fair course for a tilt upon the roadway. Then each set spur to his horse and the two drave together with such violence that the earth shook beneath them. So they met fair in the middle of the course, but lo! in that encounter the spear of Sir Lionel broke into as many as thirty or forty pieces, but the spear of the black knight held, so that Sir Lionel was lifted clean out from his saddle and over the crupper of his horse with such violence that when he smote the ground he rolled three times over ere he ceased to fall. And because of that fierce, terrible blow he swooned away entirely, and all was black before his eyes, and he knew nothing.
   Therewith the black knight dismounted and tied Sir Lionel's arms behind, his back and he laid him across the saddle of his horse as he had laid those others across the saddles of their horses; and he tied him there very securely with strong cords so that Sir Lionel could not move.
   And all this while Sir Launcelot slept beneath the apple-tree upon the hillside, for he was greatly soothed by the melodious humming of the bees in the blossoms above where he lay.
   Now you are to know that he who had thus taken Sir Lionel and those three knights prisoner was one Sir Turquine, a very cruel, haughty knight, who had a great and strong castle out beyond the mouth of that valley in which these knights took combat as aforetold. Moreover, it was the custom of Sir Turquine to make prisoner all the knights and ladies who came that way; and all the knights and ladies who were not of King Arthur's court he set free when they had paid a sufficient ransom unto him; but the knights who were of King Arthur's court, and especially those who were of the Round Table, he held prisoner for aye within his castle. The dungeon of that castle was a very cold, dismal, and unlovely place, and it was to this prison that he proposed to take those four knights whom he had overcome, with intent to hold them prisoner as aforetold.
   And now turn we to King Arthur's court, and consider what befell there after Sir Launcelot and Sir Lionel had left it in search of adventures.

   When Sir Ector found that Sir Launcelot and Sir Lionel had gone away in that fashion he was very much grieved in spirit; wherefore he said to himself, "Meseems my brother might have taken me with him as well as our cousin." So he went to King Arthur and besought his leave to quit the court and to ride after those other two and to join in their adventures, and King Arthur very cheerfully gave him that leave. So Sir Ector made him ready with all despatch, and rode away at a great gait after Sir Launcelot and Sir Lionel. And ever as Sir Ector rode he made diligent inquiry and he found that those two knights had ridden before him, so he said to himself: "By and by I shall overtake them-if not to-day, at least by night, or by to-morrow day."
   But after a while he came to a cross-roads, and there he took a way that Sir Launcelot and Sir Lionel had not taken; so that, after he had gone a distance, he found that he had missed them by taking that road. Nevertheless, he went on until about the prime of the day, what time he met a forester, to whom he said: "Sirrah, saw you two knights ride this way--one knight clad in white armor with a white shield upon which was depicted the figure of a lady, and the other knight clad in red armor with the figure of a red gryphon upon his shield?" "Nay," said the forester, "I saw not such folk." Then said Sir Ector, "Is there any adventure to be found hereabouts?" Upon this the forester fell to laughing in great measure. "Yea," he said, "there is an adventure to be found hard by and it is one that many have undertaken and not one yet hath ever fulfilled." Then Sir Ector said, "Tell me what that adventure is and I will undertake it."
   "Sir," said the forester, "if you will follow along yonder road for a distance, you will find a very large, strong castle surrounded by a broad moat. In front of that castle is a stream of water with a fair, shallow ford, where the roadway crosses the water. Upon this side of that ford there groweth a thorn-tree, very large and sturdy, and upon it hangs a basin of brass. Strike upon that basin with the butt of your spear, and you shall presently meet with that adventure concerning which I have just now spoken." "Fellow," said Sir Ector, "grammercy for your news." And, therewith, straightway he rode off in search of that adventure.
   He rode a great distance at a very fast gait and by and by he came to the top of a hill and therewith he saw before him the mouth of a fair valley. Across from where he stood was another hill not very large or high, but exceedingly steep and rocky. Upon this farther hill was builded a tall, noble castle of gray stone with many towers and spires and tall chimneys and with several score of windows, all shining bright in the clear weather. A fair river ran down into the mouth of that valley and it was as bright and as smooth as silver, and on each side of it were smooth level meadow-lands--very green--and here and there shady groves of trees and plantations of fruit-trees. And Sir Ector perceived that the road upon which he travelled crossed the aforesaid river by a shallow ford, and he wist that this must be the ford whereof the forester had spoken. So he rode down unto that ford, and when he had come nigh he perceived the thorn-tree of which the forester had told him, and he saw that a great basin of brass hung to the thorn-tree, just as the forester had said.
   Then Sir Ector rode to that thorn-tree and he smote upon that basin of brass with the butt of his spear, so that the basin rang with a noise like thunder; and he smote it again and again, several times over. But though he was aware of a great commotion within that fair castle, yet no adventure befell him, although he smote the brazen basin several times.
   Now, his horse being athirst, Sir Ector drove him into the ford that he might drink, and whilst he was there he was suddenly aware where, on the other side of the stream, was a singular party coming along the roadway. For first of all there rode a knight entirely clad in black, riding upon a black horse, and all the harness and furniture of that horse entirely of black. Behind him, that knight led four horses as though they were pack-horses, and across each one of those four horses was a knight in full armor, bound fast to the saddle like to a sack of grain, whereat Sir Ector was very greatly astonished.
   As soon as that sable knight approached the castle, several came running forth and relieved him of those horses he led and took them into the castle, and as soon as he had been thus relieved the sable knight rode very violently up to where Sir Ector was. As soon as he had come to the water's edge he cried out: "Sir Knight, come forth from out of that water and do me battle."
   "Very well," said Sir Ector, "I will do so, though it will, I think, be to thy very great discomfort."
   With that he came quickly out from the ford, the water whereof was all broken and churned into foam at his passing, and straightway he cast aside his spear and drew his sword and, driving against that sable knight, he smote him such a buffet that his horse turned twice about.
   "Ha," said the black knight, "that is the best blow that ever I had struck me in all of my life." Therewith he rushed upon Sir Ector, and without using a weapon of any sort he catched him about the body, underneath the arms, and dragged him clean out of his saddle, and flung him across the horn of his own saddle. Thereupon, having accomplished this marvellous feat, and with Sir Ector still across his saddle-bow, he rode up unto his castle, nor stopped until he had reached the court-yard of the keep. There he set Sir Ector down upon the stone pavement. Then he said: "Messire, thou hast done to me this day what no other knight hath ever done to me before, wherefore, if thou wilt promise to be my man from henceforth, I will let thee go free and give thee great rewards for thy services as well."
   But Sir Ector was filled very full of shame, wherefore he cried out fiercely, "Rather would I lie within a prison all my life than serve so catiff a knight as thou, who darest to treat other knights as thou hast just now treated me."
   "Well," said the black knight very grimly, "thou shalt have thy choice." Therewith he gave certain orders, whereupon a great many fierce fellows set upon Sir Ector and stripped him of all his armor, and immediately haled him off, half-naked, to that dungeon aforementioned.
   There he found many knights of King Arthur's court, and several of the Round Table, all of whom he knew, and when they beheld Sir Ector flung in unto them in that fashion they lifted up their voices in great lamentation that he should have been added to their number, instead of freeing them from their dolorous and pitiable case. "Alas," said they, "there is no knight alive may free us from this dungeon, unless it be Sir Launcelot. For this Sir Turquine is, certes, the greatest knight in all the world, unless it be Sir Launcelot."

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