Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

Chapter Third

How Sir Launcelot was Found in a Sleep by Queen Morgana le Fay, and Three Other Queens who were with Her, and How He was Taken to a Castle of Queen Morgana's and of What Befell Him There.
   So Sir Launcelot lay in deep slumber under that apple-tree, and knew neither that Sir Lionel had left him nor what ill-fortune had befallen that good knight. Whilst he lay there sleeping in that wise there came by, along the road, and at a little distance from him, a very fair procession of lordly people, making a noble parade upon the highway. The chiefest of this company were four ladies, who were four queens. With them rode four knights, and, because the day was warm, the four knights bore a canopy of green silk by the four corners upon the points of their lances in such wise as to shelter those queens from the strong heat of the sun. And those four knights rode all armed cap-a-pie on four noble war-horses, and the four queens, bedight in great estate, rode on four white mules richly caparisoned with furniture of divers colors embroidered with gold. After these lordly folk there followed a very excellent court of esquires and demoiselles to the number of a score or more; some riding upon horses and some upon mules that ambled very easily.
   Now all these folk of greater or lesser degree were entirely unaware that Sir Launcelot lay sleeping so nigh to them as they rode by chattering very gayly together in the spring-time weather, taking great pleasure in the warm air, and in growing things, and the green fields, and the bright sky; and they would have had no knowledge that the knight was there, had not Sir Launcelot's horse neighed very lustily. Thereupon, they were aware of the horse, and then they were aware of Sir Launcelot where he lay asleep under the apple-tree, with his head lying upon his helmet.
   Now foremost of all those queens was Queen Morgana le Fay (who was King Arthur's sister, and a potent, wicked enchantress, of whom much hath been told in the Book of King Arthur), and besides Queen Morgana there was the Queen of North Wales, and the Queen of Eastland, and the Queen of the Outer Isles.
   Now when this party of queens, knights, esquires, and ladies heard the war-horse neigh, and when they beheld Sir Launcelot where he lay, they drew rein and marvelled very greatly to see a knight sleeping so soundly at that place, maugre all the noise and tumult of their passing. So Queen Morgana called to her one of the esquires who followed after them, and she said to him: "Go softly and see if thou knowest who is yonder knight; but do not wake him."
   So the esquire did as she commanded; he went unto that apple-tree and he looked into Sir Launcelot's face, and by hap he knew who it was because he had been to Camelot erstwhiles and he had seen Sir Launcelot at that place. So he hastened back to Queen Morgana and he said to her: "Lady, I believe that yonder knight is none other than the great Sir Launcelot of the Lake, concerning whom there is now such report; for he is reputed to be the most powerful of all the knights of King Arthur's Round Table, and the greatest knight in the world, so that King Arthur loves him and favors him above all other knights."
   Now when Queen Morgana le Fay was aware that the knight who was asleep there was Sir Launcelot, it immediately entered her mind for to lay some powerful, malignant enchantment upon him to despite King Arthur. For she too knew how dear Sir Launcelot was to King Arthur, and so she had a mind to do him mischief for King Arthur's sake. So she went softly to where Sir Launcelot lay with intent to work some such spell upon him. But when she had come to Sir Launcelot she was aware that this purpose of mischief was not possible whilst he wore that ring upon his finger which the Lady of the Lake had given him; wherefore she had to put by her evil design for a while.
   But though she was unable to work any malign spell upon him, she was able to cause it by her magic that that sleep in which he lay should remain unbroken for three or four hours. So she made certain movements of her hands above his face and by that means she wove the threads of his slumber so closely together that he could not break through them to awake.
   After she had done this she called to her several of the esquires who were of her party, and these at her command fetched the shield of Sir Launcelot and laid him upon it. Then they lifted him and bore him away, carrying him in that manner to a certain castle in the forest that was no great distance away. And the name of that castle was Chateaubras and it was one of Queen Morgana's castles.
   And all that while Sir Launcelot wist nothing, but lay in a profound sleep, so that when he awoke and looked about him he was so greatly astonished that he knew not whether he was in a vision or whether he was awake. For whilst he had gone asleep beneath that apple-tree, here he now lay in a fair chamber upon a couch spread with a coverlet of flame-colored linen.
   Then he perceived that it was a very fair room in which he lay, for it was hung all about with tapestry hangings representing fair ladies at court and knights at battle. And there were woven carpets upon the floor, and the couch whereon he lay was of carved wood, richly gilt. There were two windows to that chamber, and when he looked forth he perceived that the chamber where he was was very high from the ground, being built so loftily upon the rugged rocks at its foot that the forest lay far away beneath him like a sea of green. And he perceived that there was but one door to this chamber and that the door was bound with iron and studded with great bosses of wrought iron, and when he tried that door he found that it was locked.
   So Sir Launcelot was aware from these things that he was a prisoner--though not a prisoner in a hard case--and he wist not how he had come thither nor what had happened to him.
   Now when the twilight of the evening had fallen, a porter, huge of frame and very forbidding of aspect, came and opened the door of the chamber where Sir Launcelot lay, and when he had done so there entered a fair damsel, bearing a very good supper upon a silver tray. Moreover, she bore upon the tray three tapers of perfumed wax set in three silver candlesticks, and these gave a fair light to the entire room. But, when Sir Launcelot saw the maiden coming thus with intent to serve him, he arose and took the tray from her and set it himself upon the table; and for this civility the damsel made acknowledgement to him. Then she said to him: "Sir Knight, what cheer do you have?" "Ha, damsel," said Sir Launcelot, "I do not know how to answer you that, for I wist not what cheer to have until I know whether I be with friends or with enemies. For though this chamber wherein I lie is very fair and well-bedight, yet meseems I must have been brought here by some enchantment, and that I am a prisoner in this place; wherefore I know not what cheer to take."
   Then the damsel looked upon Sir Launcelot, and she was very sorry for him. "Sir," quoth she, "I take great pity to see you in this pass, for I hear tell you are the best knight in the world and, of a surety, you are of a very noble appearance. I must tell you that this castle wherein you lie is a castle of enchantment, and they who dwell here mean you no good; wherefore I would advise you to be upon your guard against them."
   "Maiden," said Sir Launcelot, "I give you grammercy for your kind words, and I will be upon my guard as you advise me."
   Then the damsel would have said more, but she durst not for fear that she should be overheard and that evil should befall her, for the porter was still without the door. So in a little she went away and Sir Launcelot was left alone.
   But though the damsel bade Sir Launcelot have good cheer, yet he had no very good cheer for that night, as anyone may well suppose, for he wist not what was to befall him upon the morrow.
   Now when the morning had come Sir Launcelot was aware of someone at his chamber door, and when that one entered it was Queen Morgana le Fay.
   She was clad in all the glory at her command, and her appearance was so shining and radiant that when she came into that room Sir Launcelot knew not whether it was a vision his eyes beheld or whether she was a creature of flesh and blood. For she came with her golden crown upon her head, and her hair, which was as red as gold, was bound around with ribbons of gold; and she was clad all in cloth of gold; and she wore golden rings with jewels upon her fingers and golden bracelets upon her arms and a golden collar around her shoulders; wherefore, when she came into the room she shone with an extraordinary splendor, as if she were a marvellous statue made all of pure gold--only that her face was very soft and beautiful, and her eyes shone exceedingly bright, and her lips, which were as red as coral, smiled, and her countenance moved and changed with all the wiles of fascination that she could cause it to assume.
   When Sir Launcelot beheld her come thus gloriously into his room he rose and greeted her with a very profound salutation, for he was astonished beyond measure at beholding that shining vision. Then Queen Morgana gave him her hand, and he kneeled, and took her jewelled fingers in his and set her hand to his lips. "Welcome, Sir Launcelot!" quoth she; "welcome to this place! For it is indeed a great honor to have here so noble and famous a knight as you!"
   "Ha, Lady," said Sir Launcelot, "you are gracious to me beyond measure! But I pray you tell me how I came to this place and by what means? For when I fell asleep yesterday at noon I lay beneath an apple-tree upon a hillside; and when I awoke--lo! I found myself in this fair chamber."
   To this Queen Morgana le Fay made smiling reply as follows: "Sir, I am Queen Morgana le Fay, of whom you may have heard tell, for I am the sister of King Arthur, whose particular knight you are. Yesterday, at noon, riding with certain other queens and a small court of knights, esquires, and demoiselles, we went by where you lay sleeping. Finding you lying so, alone and without any companion, I was able, by certain arts which I possess, to lay a gentle enchantment upon you so that the sleep wherein you lay should remain unbroken for three or four hours. So we brought you to this place in hopes that you would stay with us for two or three days or more, and give us the pleasure of your company. For your fame, which is very great, hath reached even as far as this place, wherefore we have made a gentle prisoner of you for this time being."
   "Lady," said Sir Launcelot, "such constraint as that would be very pleasing to me at another time. But when I fell asleep I was with my cousin, Sir Lionel, and I know not what hath become of him, and haply he will not know what hath become of me should he seek me. Now I pray you let me go forth and find my cousin, and when I have done so I will return to you again at this place with an easy spirit."
   "Well, Messire," said Queen Morgana, "it shall be as you desire, only I require of you some pledge of your return." (Herewith she drew from her finger a golden ring set very richly with several jewels.) "Now take this ring," she said, "and give me that ring which I see upon your finger, and when you shall return hither each shall have his ring again from the other."
   "Lady," said Sir Launcelot, "that may not be. For this ring was placed upon my finger with such a pledge that it may never leave where it is whilst my soul abideth in my body. Ask of me any other pledge and you shall have it; but I cannot give this ring to you."
   Upon this Queen Morgana's cheeks grew very red, and her eyes shone like sparks of fire. "Ha, Sir Knight," she said, "I do not think you are very courteous to refuse a lady and a queen so small a pledge as that I am much affronted with you that you should have done so. Wherefore, I now demand of you, as the sister of King Arthur whom you serve, that you give me that ring."
   "Lady," said Sir Launcelot, "I may not do that, though it grieveth me much to refuse you."
   Then Queen Morgana looked at Sir Launcelot awhile with a very angry countenance, but she perceived that she was not to have her will with him, wherefore she presently turned very quickly and went out of the room, leaving Sir Launcelot much perturbed in spirit. For he knew how great were the arts of Queen Morgana le Fay, and he could not tell what harm she might seek to work upon him by those arts. But he ever bore in mind how that the ring which he wore was sovereign against such malignant arts as she practised, wherefore he took what comfort he could from that circumstance.
   Nevertheless, he abode in that chamber in great uncertainty for all that day, and when night came he was afraid to let himself slumber, lest they of the castle should come whilst he slept and work him some secret ill; wherefore he remained awake whilst all the rest of the castle slept. Now at the middle of the night, and about the time of the first cock-crow, he was aware of a sound without and a light that fell through the crack of the door. Then, in a little, the door was opened and there entered that young damsel who had served him with his supper the night before, and she bare a lighted taper in her hand.
   When Sir Launcelot perceived that damsel he said: "Maiden, do you come hither with good intent or with evil intent?" "Sir," she said, "I come with good intent, for I take great pity to see you in such a sorry case as this. I am a King's daughter in attendance upon Queen Morgana le Fay, but she is so powerful an enchantress that, in good sooth, I am in great fear lest she some time do me an ill-hap. So to-morrow I leave her service and return unto my father's castle. Meantime, I am of a mind to help you in your adversity. For Queen Morgana trusts me, and I have knowledge of this castle and I have all the keys thereof, wherefore I can set you free. And I will set you free if you will, upon your part, serve me in a way that you can very easily do."
   "Well," said Sir Launcelot, "provided I may serve you in a way fitting my knightly honor, I shall be glad to do so under any condition. Now I pray you tell me what it is you would have of me."
   "Sir," said the damsel, "my father hath made a tournament betwixt him and the King of North Wales upon Tuesday next, and that is just a fortnight from this day. Now, already my father hath lost one such a tournament, for he hath no very great array of knights upon his side, and the King of North Wales hath three knights of King Arthur's Round Table to aid his party. Because of the great help of these knights of the Round Table, the King of North Wales won the last tournament and my father lost it, and now he feareth to lose the tournament that is to be. Now if you will enter upon my father's side upon the day of the tournament, I doubt not that he shall win that tournament; for all men say that you are the greatest knight in the world at this time. So if you will promise to help my father and will seal that promise with your knightly word, then will I set you free of this castle of enchantment."
   "Fair maiden," said Sir Launcelot, "tell me your name and your father's name, for I cannot give you my promise until I know who ye be."
   "Sir," said the demoiselle, "I am called Elouise the Fair, and my father is King Bagdemagus." "Ha!" quoth Sir Launcelot, "I know your father, and I know that he is a good king and a very worthy knight besides. If you did me no service whatsoever, I would, at your simple asking, were I free of this place, lend him such aid as it is in my power to give."
   At this the damsel took great joy and gave Sir Launcelot thanks beyond measure. So they spoke together as to how that matter might be brought about so that Sir Launcelot should be brought to talk to King Bagdemagus.
   And the damsel Elouise said: "Let it be this way, Sir Launcelot. Imprimis--thou art to know that somewhat of a long distance to the westward of that place where thou didst fall asleep yesterday, there standeth a very large, fair abbey known as the Abbey of Saint James the Lesser. This abbey is surrounded by an exceedingly noble estate that lieth all around about it so that no man that haps in that part of the country can miss it if he make inquiry for it. Now I will go and take lodging at that abbey a little while after I leave this place. So when it suits thee to do so, come thou thither and thou wilt find me there and I will bring thee to my father.
   "Very well," said Sir Launcelot, let it be that way. I will come to that place in good time for the tournament. Meantime, I prithee, rest in the assurance that I shall never forgot thy kindness to me this day, nor thy gracious behavior and speech unto me. Wherefore I shall deem it not a duty but a pleasure to serve thee."
   So, having arranged all these matters, the damsel Elouise opened the door of that room and led Sir Launcelot out thence; and she led him through various passages and down several long flights of steps, and so brought him at last unto a certain chamber, where was his armor. Then the damsel helped Sir Launcelot to encase him in his armor, so that in a little while he was altogether armed as he had been when he fell asleep under that apple-tree. Thereafter the damsel brought him out past the court-yard and unto the stable where was Sir Launcelot's horse, and the horse knew him when he came. So he saddled the horse by the light of a half-moon which sailed like a boat high up in the sky through the silver, floating clouds, and therewith he was ready to depart. Then the damsel opened the gate and he rode out into the night, which was now drawing near the dawning of the day.
   Thus Elouise the Fair aided Sir Launcelot to escape from that castle of enchantment, where else great ill might have befallen him.
   And now it shall be told how Sir Launcelot did battle with Sir Turquine and of what happened thereat.

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