Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

Chapter Fourth

How Sir Launcelot Sought Sir Lionel and How a Young Damsel Brought Him to the Greatest Battle that Ever He Had in All His Life.
   So Sir Launcelot rode through the forest, and whilst he rode the day began to break. About sunrise he came out into an open clearing where certain charcoal-burners were plying their trade:
   To these rude fellows he appeared out of the dark forest like some bright and shining vision; and they made him welcome and offered him to eat of their food, and he dismounted and sat down with them and brake his fast with them. And when he had satisfied his hunger, he gave them grammercy for their entertainment, and took horse and rode away.
   He made forward until about the middle of the morning, what time he came suddenly upon that place where, two days before, he had fallen asleep beneath the blooming apple-tree. Here he drew rein and looked about him for a considerable while; for he thought that haply he might find some trace of Sir Lionel thereabouts. But there was no trace of him, and Sir Launcelot wist not what had become of him.
   Now whilst Sir Launcelot was still there, not knowing what to do to find Sir Lionel, there passed that way a damsel riding upon a white palfrey. Unto her Sir Launcelot made salutation, and she made salutation to him and asked him what cheer. "Maiden," said Sir Launcelot, "the cheer that I have is not very good, seeing that I have lost my companion-at-arms and know not where he is." Then he said: "Did you haply meet anywhere with a knight with the figure of a red gryphon upon his shield?" whereunto the damsel answered: "Nay, I saw nonesuch." Then Sir Launcelot said: "Tell me, fair damsel, dost thou know of any adventure hereabouts that I may undertake? For, as thou seest, I am errant, and in search of such."
   Upon this the damsel fell a-laughing: "Yea, Sir Knight," said she, "I know of an adventure not far away, but it is an adventure that no knight yet that ever I heard tell of hath accomplished. I can take thee to that adventure if thou hast a desire to pursue it."
   "Why should I not pursue it," said Sir Launcelot, "seeing that I am here for that very cause--to pursue adventure?"
   "Well," said the damsel, "then come with me, Sir Knight, I will take thee to an adventure that shall satisfy thee."
   So Sir Launcelot and that damsel rode away from that place together; he upon his great war-horse and she upon her ambling palfrey beside him. And the sun shone down upon them, very pleasant and warm, and all who passed them turned to look after them; for the maiden was very fair and slender, and Sir Launcelot was of so noble and stately a mien that few could behold him even from a distance without looking twice or three times upon him. And as they travelled in that way together they fell into converse, and the damsel said to Sir Launcelot: "Sir, thou appearest to be a very good knight, and of such a I sort as may well undertake any adventure with great hope of success. Now I prithee to tell me thy name and what knight thou art."
   "Fair maiden," said Sir Launcelot, "as for telling you my name, that I will gladly do. I am called Sir Launcelot of the Lake, and I am a knight of King Arthur's court and of his Round Table."
   At this the damsel was very greatly astonished and filled with admiration. "Hah!" quoth she, "it is a great pleasure to me to fall in with you, Sir Launcelot, for all the world now bespeaketh your fame. Little did I ever think to behold your person, much less speak with you, and ride in this way with you. Now I will tell you what this adventure is on which we are set; it is this--there is, some small distance from this, a castle of a knight hight Sir Turquine, who hath in his prison a great many knights of King Arthur's court, and several knights of his Round Table. These knights he keepeth there in great dole and misery, for it is said that their groans may be heard by the passers along the high-road below the castle. This Sir Turquine is held to be the greatest knight in the world (unless it be thou) for he hath never yet been overcome in battle, whether a-horseback or a-foot. But, indeed, I think it to be altogether likely that thou wilt overcome him."
   "Fair damsel," quoth Sir Launcelot, "I too have hope that I shall hold mine own with him, when I meet him, and to that I shall do my best endeavor. Yet this and all other matters are entirely in the hands of God."
   Then the damsel said, "If you should overcome this Sir Turquine, I know of still another adventure which, if you do not undertake it, I know of no one else who may undertake to bring it to a successful issue."
   Quoth Sir Launcelot, "I am glad to hear of that or of any other adventure, for I take great joy in such adventuring. Now, tell me, what is this other adventure?"
   "Sir," said the damsel, "a long distance to the west of this there is a knight who hath a castle in the woods and he is the evilest disposed knight that ever I heard tell of. For he lurks continually in the outskirts of the woods, whence he rushes forth at times upon those who pass by. Especially he is an enemy to all ladies of that country, for he hath taken many of them prisoners to his castle and hath held them in the dungeon thereof for ransom; and sometimes he hath held them for a long while. Now I am fain that thou undertake that adventure for my sake."
   "Well," said Sir Launcelot, "I believe it would be a good thing for any knight to do to rid the world of such an evil-disposed knight as that, so if I have the good fortune to overcome this Sir Turquine, I give my knightly word that I will undertake this adventure for thy sake, if so be thou wilt go with me for to show me the way to his castle."
   "That I will do with all gladness," said the damsel, "for it is great pride for any lady to ride with you upon such an adventure."
   Thus they talked, and all was arranged betwixt them. And thus they rode very pleasantly through that valley for the distance of two leagues or a little more, until they came to that place where the road crossed the smooth stream of water afore told of; and there was the castle of Sir Turquine as afore told of; and there was the thorn-bush and the basin hanging upon the thorn-bush as afore told of. Then the maiden said: "Sir Launcelot, beat upon that basin and so thou shalt summon Sir Turquine to battle with thee."
   So Sir Launcelot rode to that basin where it hung and he smote upon it very violently with the butt of his spear. And he smote upon that basin again and again until he smote the bottom from out it; but at that time immediately no one came.
   Then, after a while, he was ware of one who came riding toward him, and he beheld that he who came riding was a knight very huge of frame, and long and strong of limb. And he beheld that the knight was clad entirely in black, and that the horse upon which he rode and all the furniture of the horse was black. And he beheld that this knight drave before him another horse, and that across the saddle of that other horse there lay an armed knight, bound hand and foot; and Sir Launcelot wist that the sable knight who came riding was that Sir Turquine whom he sought.
   So Sir Turquine came very rapidly along the highway toward where Sir Launcelot sat, driving that other horse and the captive knight before him all the while. And as they came nearer and nearer Sir Launcelot thought that he should know who the wounded knight was; and when they came right close, so that he could see the markings of the shield of that captive knight, he wist that it was Sir Gaheris, the brother of Sir Gawaine, and the nephew of King Arthur, whom Sir Turquine brought thither in that wise.
   At this Sir Launcelot was very wroth; for he could not abide seeing a fellow-knight of the Round Table treated with such disregard as that which Sir Gaheris suffered at the hands of Sir Turquine; wherefore Sir Launcelot rode to meet Sir Turquine, and he cried out: "Sir Knight! put that wounded man down from his horse, and let him rest for a while, and we two will prove our strength, the one against the other! For it is a shame for thee to treat a noble knight of the Round Table with such despite as thou art treating that knight."
   "Sir," said Sir Turquine, "as I treat that knight, so treat I all knights of the Round Table-and so will I treat thee if thou be of the Round Table."
   "Well," said Sir Launcelot, "as for that, I am indeed of the Round Table, and I have come hither for no other reason than for to do battle with thee."
   "Sir Knight," said Sir Turquine, "thou speakest very boldly; now I pray thee to tell me what knight thou art and what is thy name."
   "Messire," said Sir Launcelot, "I have no fear to do that. I am called Sir Launcelot of the Lake, and I am a knight of King Arthur's, who made me knight with his own hand."
   "Ha!" said Sir Turquine, "that is very good news to me, for of all knights in the world thou art the one I most desire to meet, for I have looked for thee for a long while with intent to do battle with thee. For it was thou who didst slay my brother Sir Caradus at Dolorous Gard, who was held to be the best knight in all the world. Wherefore, because of this, I have the greatest despite against thee of any man in the world, and it was because of that despite that I waged particular battle against all the knights of King Arthur's court. And in despite of thee I now hold five score and eight knights, who are thy fellows, in the dismallest dungeon of my castle. Also I have to tell thee that among those knights is thine own brother, Sir Ector, and thy kinsman, Sir Lionel. For I overthrew Sir Ector and Sir Lionel only a day or two ago, and now they lie almost naked in the lower parts of that castle yonder. I will put down this knight as thou biddst me, and when I have done battle with thee I hope to tie thee on his saddle-horn in his place."
   So Sir Turquine loosed the cords that bound Sir Gaheris and set him from off the horse's back, and Sir Gaheris, who was sorely wounded and very weak, sat him down upon a slab of stone near-by.
   Then Sir Launcelot and Sir Turquine made themselves ready at all points, and each took such stand as seemed to him to be best; and when each was ready for the assault, each set spurs to his horse and rushed the one against the other with such terrible violence that they smote together like a clap of thunder.
   So fierce was that onset that each horse fell back upon the ground and only by great skill and address did the knight who rode him void his saddle, so as to save himself from a fall. And in that meeting the horse of Sir Turquine was killed outright and the back of Sir Launcelot's horse was broken and he could not rise, but lay like dead upon the ground.
   Then each knight drew his sword and set his shield before him and they came together with such wrath that it appeared as though their fierce eyes shot sparks of fire through the occulariums of their helmets. So they met and struck; and they struck many scores of times, and their blows were so violent that neither shield nor armor could withstand the strokes they gave. For their shields were cleft and many pieces of armor were hewn from their limbs, so that the ground was littered with them. And each knight gave the other so many grim wounds that the ground presently was all sprinkled with red where they stood.
   Now that time the day had waxed very hot, for it was come high noontide, so presently Sir Turquine cried out: "Stay thee, Sir Launcelot, for I have a boon to ask!" At this Sir Launcelot stayed his hand and said: "What is it thou hast to ask, Sir Knight?" Sir Turquine said: "Messire, I am athirst--let me drink." And Sir Launcelot said: "Go and drink."
   So Sir Turquine went to that river and entered into that water, which was presently stained with red all about him. And he stooped where he stood and drank his fill, and presently came forth again altogether refreshed.
   Therewith he took up his sword once more and rushed at Sir Launcelot and smote with double strength, so that Sir Launcelot bent before him and had much ado to defend himself from these blows.
   Then by and by Sir Launcelot waxed faint upon his part and was athirst, and he cried out: "I crave of thee a boon, Sir Knight!" "What wouldst thou have?" said Sir Turquine. "Sir Knight," said Sir Launcelot, "bide while I drink, for I am athirst." "Nay," said Sir Turquine, "thou shalt not drink until thou quenchest thy thirst in Paradise." "Ha!" cried Sir Launcelot, "thou art a foul churl and no true knight. For when thou wert athirst, I let thee drink; and now that I am athirst, thou deniest me to quench my thirst."
   Therewith he was filled with such anger that he was like one gone wode; wherefore he flung aside his shield and took his sword in both hands and rushed upon Sir Turquine and smote him again and again; and the blows he gave were so fierce that Sir Turquine waxed somewhat bewildered and bore aback, and held his shield low for faintness.
   Then when Sir Launcelot beheld that Sir Turquine was faint in that wise, he rushed upon him and catched him by the beaver of his helmet and pulled him down upon his knees. And Sir Launcelot rushed Sir Turquine's helmet from off his head. And he lifted his sword and smote Sir Turquine's head from off his shoulders, so that it rolled down upon the ground.
   Then for a while Sir Launcelot stood there panting for to catch his breath after that sore battle, for he was nearly stifled with the heat and fury thereof. Then he went down into the water, and he staggered like a drunken man as he went, and the water ran all red at his coming. And Sir Launcelot stooped and slaked his thirst, which was very furious and hot.
   Thereafter he came up out of the water again, all dripping, and he went to where the damsel was and he said to her: "Damsel, lo, I have overcome Sir Turquine; now I am ready to go with thee upon that other adventure, as I promised thee I would."
   At this the damsel was astonished beyond measure, wherefore she cried: "Sir, thou art sorely hurt, and in need of rest for two or three days, and maybe a long time more, until thy wounds are healed."
   "Nay," said Sir Launcelot, "no need to wait; I will go with thee now."
   Then Sir Launcelot went to Sir Gaheris--for Sir Gaheris had been sitting for all that while upon that slab of stone. Sir Launcelot said to Sir Gaheris: "Fair Lord, be not angry if I take your horse, for I must presently go with this damsel, and you see mine own horse hath broke his back."
   "Sir Knight," said Sir Gaheris, "this day you have saved both me and my horse, wherefore it is altogether fitting that my horse or anything that is mine should be yours to do with as you please. So I pray you take my horse, only tell me your name and what knight you are; for I swear by my sword that I never saw any knight in all the world do battle so wonderfully as you have done to-day."
   "Sir," said Sir Launcelot, "I am called Sir Launcelot of the Lake, and I am a knight of King Arthur's. So it is altogether fitting that I should do such service unto you as this, seeing that you are the brother of that dear knight, Sir Gawaine. For if I should not do this battle that I have done for your sake, I should yet do it for the sake of my lord, King Arthur, who is your uncle and Sir Gawaine's uncle."
   Now when Sir Gaheris heard who Sir Launcelot was, he made great exclamation of amazement--"Ha, Sir Launcelot!" he cried, "and is it thou! Often have I heard of thee and of thy prowess at arms! I have desired to meet thee more than any knight in the world; but never did I think to meet thee in such a case as this." Therewith Sir Gaheris arose, and went to Sir Launcelot, and Sir Launcelot came to him and they met and embraced and kissed one another upon the face; and from that time forth they were as brethren together.
   Then Sir Launcelot said to Sir Gaheris: "I pray you, Lord, for to go up unto yonder castle, and bring succor to those unfortunates who lie therein. For I think you will find there many fellow-knights of the Round Table. And I believe that you will find therein my brother, Sir Ector, and my cousin, Sir Lionel. And if you find any other of my kindred I pray you to set them free and to do what you can for to comfort them and to put them at their ease. And if there is any treasure in that castle, I bid you give it unto those knights who are prisoners there, for to compensate them for the pains they have endured. Moreover, I pray you tell Sir Ector and Sir Lionel not to follow after me, but to return to court and wait for me there, for I have two adventures to undertake and I must essay them alone."
   Then Sir Gaheris was very much astonished, and he cried out upon Sir Launcelot: "Sir! Sir! Surely you will not go forth upon another adventure at this time, seeing that you are so sorely wounded."
   But Sir Launcelot said: "Yea, I shall go now; for I do not think that my wounds are so deep that I shall not be able to do my devoirs when my time cometh to do them."
   At this Sir Gaheris was amazed beyond measure, for Sir Launcelot was very sorely wounded, and his armor was much broken in that battle, wherefore Sir Gaheris had never beheld a person who was so steadfast of purpose as to do battle in such a case.
   So Sir Launcelot mounted Sir Gaheris' horse and rode away with that young damsel, and Sir Gaheris went to the castle as Sir Launcelot had bidden him to do.
   In that castle he found five score and eight prisoners in dreadful case, for some who were there had been there for a long time, so that the hair of them had grown down upon their shoulders, and their beards had grown down upon their breasts. And some had been there but a short time, as was the case of Sir Lionel and Sir Ector. But all were in a miserable sorry plight; and all of those sad prisoners but two were knights of King Arthur's court, and eight of them were knights of the Round Table. All these crowded around Sir Gaheris, for they saw that he was wounded and they deemed that it was he had set them free, wherefore they gave him thanks beyond measure.
   "Not so," said Sir Gaheris, "it was not I who set you free; it was Sir Launcelot of the Lake. He overcame Sir Turquine in such a battle as I never before beheld. For I saw that battle with mine own eyes, being at a little distance seated upon a stone slab and wounded as you see. And I make my oath that I never beheld so fierce and manful a combat in all of my life. But now your troubles are over and done, and Sir Launcelot greets you all with words of good cheer and bids me tell you to take all ease and comfort that you can in being free, and in especial he bids me greet you, Sir Ector, and you, Sir Lionel, and to tell you that you are to follow him no farther, but to return to court and bide there until he cometh; for he goeth upon an adventure which he must undertake by himself."
   "Not so," said Sir Lionel, "I will follow after him, and find him." And so said Sir Ector likewise, that he would go and find Sir Launcelot. Then Sir Kay the Seneschal said that he would ride with those two; so the three took horse and rode away together to find Sir Launcelot.
   As for those others, they ransacked throughout the castle of Sir Turquine, and they found twelve treasure-chests full of treasure, both of silver and of gold, together with many precious jewels; and they found many bales of cloth of silk and of cloth of gold. So, as Sir Launcelot had bid them do so, they divided the treasure among themselves, setting aside a part for Sir Ector and a part for Sir Lionel and a part for Sir Kay. Then, whereas before they had been mournful, now they were joyful at having been made so rich with those precious things.
   Thus happily ended that great battle with Sir Turquine which was very likely the fiercest and most dolorous fight that ever Sir Launcelot had in all of his life. For, unless it was Sir Tristram, he never found any other knight so big as Sir Turquine except Sir Galahad, who was his own son.

   And now it shall be told how Sir Launcelot fared upon that adventure which he had promised the young damsel to undertake.

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