Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

Chapter Fifth

How Sir Launcelot Went Upon an Adventure with the Damsel Croisette as Companion, and How He Overcame Sir Peris of the Forest Sauvage.

   Now after Sir Launcelot had finished that battle with Sir Turquine as aforetold, and when he had borrowed the horse of Sir Gaheris, he rode away from that place of combat with the young damsel, with intent to carry out the other adventure which he had promised her to undertake.
   But though he rode with her, yet, for a while, he said very little to her, for his wounds ached him sorely and he was in a great deal of pain. So, because of this, he had small mind to talk, but only to endure what he had to endure with as much patience as he might command. And the damsel upon her part was somewhat aware of what Sir Launcelot was suffering and she was right sorry for him, wherefore she did not trouble him with idle discourse at that moment, but waited for a while before she spake.
   Then by and by she said to him: "Messire, I would that thou wouldst rest for some days, and take thine ease, and have thy wounds searched and dressed, and have thy armor looked to and redded. Now there is a castle at some distance from this, and it is my brother's castle, and thither we may go in a little pass. There thou mayst rest for this night and take thine ease. For I know that my brother will be wonderfully glad to see thee because thou art so famous."
   Then Sir Launcelot turned his eyes upon the damsel: "Fair maiden," quoth he, "I make confession that I do in sooth ache a very great deal, and that I am somewhat a-weary with the battle I have endured this day. Wherefore I am very well content to follow thy commands in this matter. But I prithee, damsel, tell me what is thy name, for I know not yet how thou art called."'
   "Sir," she said, "I am called Croisette of the Dale, and my brother is called Sir Hilaire of the Dale, and it is to his castle that I am about to take thee to rest for this time."
   Then Sir Launcelot said: "I go with thee, damsel, wherever it is thy will to take me.
   So they two rode through that valley at a slow pace and very easily. And toward the waning of the afternoon they left the valley by a narrow side way, and so in a little while came into a shallow dale, very fertile and smiling, but of no great size. For the more part that dale was all spread over with fields and meadow-lands, with here and there a plantation of trees in full blossom and here and there a farm croft. A winding river flowed down through the midst of this valley, very quiet and smooth, and brimming its grassy banks, where were alder and sedge and long rows of pollard willows overreaching the water.
   At the farther end of the valley was a castle of very comely of appearance, being built part of stone and part of bright red bricks; and the castle had many windows of glass and tall chimneys, some a-smoke. About the castle and nigh to it was a little village of thatched cottages, with many trees in blossom and some without blossom shading the gables of the small houses that took shelter beneath them.
   Now when Sir Launcelot and Croisette came into that little valley it was at the declining of the day and the sky was all alight with the slanting sun, and the swallows were flying above the smooth shining surface of the river in such multitudes that it was wonderful to behold them. And the lowing herds were winding slowly along by the river in their homeward way, and all was so peaceful and quiet that Sir Launcelot drew rein for pure pleasure, and sat for some while looking down upon that fair, happy dale. Then by and by he said: "Croisette, meseems I have never beheld so sweet and fair a country as this, nor one in which it would be so pleasant to live."
   Upon this Croisette was very much pleased, and she smiled upon Sir Launcelot. "Think you so, Sir Launcelot?" quoth she. "Well, in sooth, I am very glad that this valley pleasures you; for I love it beyond any other place in all the world. For here was I born and here was I raised in that castle yonder. For that is my brother's castle and it was my father's castle before his time; wherefore meseems that no place in all the world can ever be so dear to my heart as this dale."
   Thereupon they went forward up that little valley, and along by the smoothly flowing river, and the farther they went the more Sir Launcelot took pleasure in all that he beheld. Thus they came through the pretty village where the folk stood and watched with great admiration how that noble knight rode that way; and so they came to the castle and rode into the court-yard thereof. Then presently there came the lord of that castle, who was Sir Hilaire of the Dale. And Sir Hilaire greeted Sir Launcelot, saying: "Welcome, Sir Knight. This is great honor you do me to come into this quiet dale with my sister, for we do not often have with us travellers of such quality as you."
   "Brother," said Croisette, "you may well say that it is an honor to have this knight with us, for this is none other knight than the great Sir Launcelot of the Lake. This day I beheld him overcome Sir Turquine in fair and honorable battle. So he doth indeed do great honor for to visit us in this wise."
   Then Sir Hilaire looked at Sir Launcelot very steadily, and he said: "Sir Launcelot, your fame is so great that it hath reached even unto this peaceful outland place; wherefore it shalt not soon be forgotten here how you came hither. Now, I pray you, come in and refresh yourself, for I see that you are wounded and I doubt not you are weary."
   Upon this several attendants came, and they took Sir Launcelot and led him to a pleasant chamber. There they unarmed him and gave him a bath in tepid water, and there came a leech and searched his wounds and dressed them. Then those in attendance upon him gave him a soft robe of cloth of velvet, and when Sir Launcelot had put it on he felt much at ease, and in great comfort of body.
   By and by, when evening had fallen, a very good, excellent feast was spread in the hall of the castle, and there sat down thereto Sir Launcelot and Sir Hilaire and the damsel Croisette. As they ate they discoursed of various things, and Sir Launcelot told many things concerning his adventures, so that all who were there were very quiet, listening to what he said. For it was as though he were a visitor come to them from some other world, very strange and distant, of which they had no knowledge, wherefore they all listened so as not to lose a single word of what he told them. So that evening passed very pleasantly, and Sir Launcelot went to his bed with great content of spirit.
   So Sir Launcelot abided for several days in that place until his wounds were healed. Then one morning, after they had all broken their fast, he made request that he and the damsel might be allowed to depart upon that adventure which he had promised her to undertake, and unto this Sir Hilaire gave his consent.
   Now, during this while, Sir Launcelot's armor had been so pieced and mended by the armor-smiths of that castle that when he donned it it was, in a measure, as sound as it had ever been, and of that Sir Launcelot was very glad. So having made ready in all ways he and Croisette took leave of that place, and all they who were there bade them adieu and gave Sir Launcelot God-speed upon that adventure.
   Now some while after they left that dale they rode through a very ancient forest, where the sod was exceedingly soft underfoot and silent to the tread of the horses, and where it was very full of bursting foliage overhead. And as they rode at an easy pace through that woodland place they talked of many things in a very pleasant and merry discourse.
   Quoth the damsel unto Sir Launcelot: "Messire, I take very great wonder that thou hast not some special lady for to serve in all ways as a knight should serve a lady."
   "Ha, damsel," said Sir Launcelot, "I do serve a lady in that manner and she is peerless above all other ladies; for that lady is the Lady Guinevere, who is King Arthur's queen. Yet though I am her servant I serve her from a very great distance. For in serving her I am like one who standeth upon the earth, yet looketh upward ever toward the bright and morning star. For though such an one may delight in that star from a distance, yet may he never hope to reach an altitude whereon that star standeth."
   "Heyday!" quoth Croisette, "for that matter, there are other ways of serving a lady than that wise. Were I a knight meseems I would rather serve a lady nearer at hand than at so great distance as that of which thou speakest. For in most cases a knight would rather serve a lady who may smile upon him nigh at hand, and not stand so far off from him as a star in the sky." But to this Sir Launcelot made no reply but only smiled. Then in a little Croisette said: "Dost thou never think of a lady in that wise, Sir Launcelot?"
   "Nay," said Sir Launcelot, "and neither do I desire so to serve any lady. For it is thus with me, Croisette-for all that while of my life until I was eighteen years of age I lived in a very wonderful land beneath a magical lake, of which I may not tell thee. Then I came out of that lake and into this world and King Arthur made me a knight. Now because I was so long absent from this world of mankind and never saw aught of it until I was grown into a man, meseems I love that world so greatly that I cannot tell thee how beautiful and wonderful it seems to me. For it is so wonderful and so beautiful that methinks my soul can never drink its fill of the pleasures thereof. Yea; methinks I love every blade of grass upon the fields, and every leaf upon every tree; and that I love everything that creepeth or that flyeth, so that when I am abroad under the sky and behold those things about me I am whiles like to weep for very joy of them. Wherefore it is, Croisette, that I would rather be a knight-errant in this world which I love so greatly than to be a king seated upon a throne with a golden crown upon my head and all men kneeling unto me. Yea; meseems that because of my joy in these things I have no room in my heart for such a love of lady as thou speakest of, but only for the love of knight-errantry, and a great wish for to make this world in which I now live the better and the happier for my dwelling in it. Thus it is, Croisette, that I have no lady for to serve in the manner thou speakest of. Nor will I ever have such, saving only the Lady Guinevere, the thought of whom standeth above me like that bright star afore spoken of."
   "Ha," quoth Croisette, "then am I sad for the sake of some lady, I know not who. For if thou wert of another mind thou mightest make some lady very glad to have so great a knight as thou art to serve her." Upon this Sir Launcelot laughed with a very cheerful spirit, for he and the damsel were grown to be exceedingly good friends, as you may suppose from such discourse as this.
   So they wended their way in this fashion until somewhat after the prime of day, and by that time they had come out of that forest and into a very rugged country. For this place into which they were now come was a sort of rocky valley, rough and bare and in no wise beautiful. When they had entered into it they perceived, a great way off, a castle built up upon the rocks. And that castle was built very high, so that the roofs and the chimneys thereof stood wonderfully sharp and clear against the sky; yet the castle was so distant that it looked like a toy which you might easily take into your hand and hold betwixt your fingers.
   Then Croisette said to Sir Launcelot: "Yonder is the castle of that evil-minded knight of whom I spake to thee yesterday, and his name is Sir Peris of the Forest Sauvage. Below that castle, where the road leads into that woodland, there doth he lurk to seize upon wayfarers who come thitherward. And indeed he is a very catiff knight, for, though he is strong and powerful, he doth not often attack other knights, but only ladies and demoiselles who come hither. For these he may take captive without danger to himself. For I believe that though he is so big of frame yet is he a coward in his heart."
   Then Sir Launcelot sat for a while and regarded that castle, and fell into thought; and he said, "Damsel, if so be this knight is such a coward as thou sayest, meseems that if I travel with thee I shall have some ado to come upon him; because, if he sees me with thee, he may keep himself hidden in the thicket of the forest from my sight. Now I will have it this way; do thou ride along the highway in plain sight of the castle, and I will keep within the woodland skirts, where I may have thee in sight and still be hidden from the sight of others. Then if this knight assail thee, as I think it likely he may do, I will come out and do battle with him ere he escapes."
   So it was arranged as Sir Launcelot said and they rode in that, wise: Croisette rode along the highway, and Sir Launcelot rode under the trees in the outskirts of the forest, where he was hidden from the eyes of anyone who might be looking that way. So they went on for a long pass until they came pretty nigh to where the castle was.
   Then, as they came to a certain part of the road that dipped down toward a small valley, they were suddenly aware of a great noise, and immediately there issued out from the forest a knight, large and strong of frame, and followed close behind by a squire dressed altogether in scarlet from head to foot. This knight bore down with great speed upon where Croisette was, and the esquire followed close behind him. When these two had come near to Croisette, the esquire leaped from off his horse and caught her palfrey by the bridle, and the knight came close to her and catched her as though to drag her off from her horse.
   With that Croisette shrieked very loud, and immediately Sir Launcelot broke out from the woods and rode down upon where all this was toward with a noise like to thunder. As he came he cried aloud in a great and terrible voice: "Sir Knight, let go that lady, and turn thou to me and defend thyself!"
   Then Sir Peris of the Forest Sauvage looked this way and that with intent to escape, but he was aware that he could not escape from Sir Launcelot, wherefore he took his shield in hand and drew his sword and put himself in, to a position of defence; for, whereas he could not escape, he was, perforce, minded to do battle. Then Sir Launcelot threw aside his spear, and he set his shield before him and he took his sword in his hand, and he drave his horse against Sir Peris. And when he had come nigh to Sir Peris he raised himself in his stirrups and struck him such a buffet that I believe nothing in the world could with stand its force. For though Sir Peris raised his shield against that blow, yet the sword of Sir Launcelot smote through the shield and it smote down the arm that held the shield, and it smote with such a terrible force upon the helm of Sir Peris that Sir Peris fell down from his horse and lay in a swoon without any motion at all.
   Then Sir Launcelot leaped down from his horse and rushed off the helm of Sir Peris, and lifted his sword with intent to strike off his head.
   Upon that the senses of Sir Peris came somewhat back to him, and he set his palms together and he cried out, though in a very weak voice: "Spare me, Sir Knight! I yield myself to thee!"
   "Why should I spare thee?" said Sir Launcelot.
   "Sir," said Sir Peris, "I beseech thee, by thy knighthood, to spare me."
   "Well," said Sir Launcelot, "since thou hast besought me upon my knighthood I cannot do else than spare thee. But if I do spare thee, thou shalt have to endure such shame that any true knight in thy stead would rather die than be spared in such a manner."
   "Sir Knight," said Sir Peris, "I am content with anything thou mayst do, so be that thou wilt spare my life."
   Upon this Sir Launcelot bade Sir Peris rise. And he took the halter of Sir Peris's horse, and he bound Sir Peris's arms behind his back, and when he had done this he drove him up to his castle at the point of his lance. And when they came to the castle he bade Sir Peris have open the castle; and Sir Peris did so; and thereupon Sir Launcelot and Sir Peris entered the castle and the damsel and the squire followed after them.
   In that castle were fourteen ladies of high degree held captive for ransom; and some of these had been there for a considerable time, to their great discomfort. All these were filled with joy when they were aware that Sir Launcelot had set them free. So they came to Sir Launcelot and paid their court to him and gave him great thanks beyond measure.
   Sir Launcelot and Croisette abode in that castle all that night, and when the next morning had come Sir Launcelot made search all over that castle, and he found a considerable treasure of silver and gold, which had been gathered there by the ransom of the ladies and the damsels of degree whom Sir Peris had made prisoner aforetime. All this treasure Sir Launcelot divided among those ladies who were prisoners, and a share of the treasure he gave to the damsel Croisette, because that they two were such good friends and because Croisette had brought him thither to that adventure, and thereof Croisette was very glad. But Sir Launcelot kept none of that treasure for himself.
   Then Croisette said: "How is this, Sir Launcelot? You have not kept any of this treasure for yourself, yet you won it by your own force of arms, wherefore it is altogether yours to keep if you will to do so."
   "Croisette," said Sir Launcelot, "I do not care for such things as this treasure; for when I lived within that lake of which I have spoken to thee, such things as this treasure were there as cheap as pebbles which you may gather up at any river-bed, wherefore it has come to pass that such things have no value to me."

   Now, after all this had been settled, Sir Launcelot had Sir Peris of the Forest Sauvage haled before him, and Sir Launcelot said: "Catiff Knight, now is it time for thy shame to come upon thee." Therewith he had Sir Peris stripped of all armor and raiment, even to his jerkin and his hose, and he had his arms tied behind his back, and he had a halter set about his neck; and Sir Launcelot tied the halter that was about the neck of Sir Peris to the horn of the saddle of his own horse, so that when he rode away with Croisette Sir Peris must needs follow behind him at whatever gait the horse of Sir Launcelot might take.
   So Sir Launcelot and Croisette rode back to the manor of Sir Hilaire of the Dale with Sir Peris running behind them, and when they had come there Sir Launcelot delivered Sir Peris unto Sir Hilaire, and Sir Hilaire had Sir Peris bound upon a horse's back with his feet underneath the belly of the horse; and sent him to Camelot for King Arthur to deal with him as might seem to the King to be fit.
   But Sir Launcelot remained with Sir Hilaire of the Dale all the next day and he was very well content to be in that pleasant place. And upon the day after that, which was Sunday, he set forth at about the prime of the day to go to that abbey of monks where he had appointed to meet the damsel Elouise the Fair, as aforetold.

   And now you shall hear how Sir Launcelot behaved at the tournament of King Bagdemagus, if it please you to read that which herewith immediately followeth.

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