Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

Chapter Sixth

How Sir Launcelot Took Part in the Tournament Between King Bagdemagus and the King of North Wales, and How He Won that Battle for King Bagdemagus.

   Sir Launcelot rode by many highways and many byways at a very slow pace, stopping now and then when it pleased him to do so, for he took great joy in being free in the open air again. For the day was warm and that time the clouds were very thick, drifting in great abundance across the sky. And anon there would fall a sudden shower of rain, and anon the sun would shine forth again, very warm and strong, so that all the world sparkled as with incredible myriads of jewels.
   Then the cock crowed lustily because the shower was past, and another cock answered him far away, and all the world suddenly smiled, and the water trickled everywhere, and the little hills clapped their hands for joy. So Sir Launcelot took great pleasure in the day and he went his way at so easy a pace that it was night-time ere he reached that abbey of monks where he was to meet Elouise the Fair.
   Now that evening Elouise was sitting in a certain apartment of the abbey overlooking the court-yard, and a maiden was reading to her by the light of several waxen tapers from a book of painted pictures. And the maiden read in a voice that was both high and clear; meanwhile, Elouise sat very still and listened to what she read. Now while Elouise the Fair sat so, there was of a sudden the sound of a great horse coming on the stone pavement of the court below. Therewith Elouise arose hastily and ran to the window and looked down into that court-yard. Then she saw who he was that came, and that it was Sir Launcelot of the Lake. For the light was not yet altogether gone from the sky, which was all shining with gray, so that she could see who it was who came there.
   Then Elouise gave great exclamation of joy, and clapped her hands. And she ran down to the court where Sir Launcelot was, and several of her maidens went with her.
   When she had come to the court she gave great welcome to Sir Launcelot, and she summoned many attendants and she bade them look to Sir Launcelot. So some of them aided Sir Launcelot to dismount and some took his horse, and some brought him up to a chamber that had been set apart for him, and there unarmed and served him, and set him at his ease.
   Then Elouise sent to him a soft robe of purple cloth of velvet, lined with fur, and Sir Launcelot put it upon him and took great comfort in it.
   After that Sir Launcelot descended to where Elouise was, and he found that a fair supper had been set for his refreshment. So he sat and ate, and Elouise the Fair herself served him.
   Meanwhile she had sent for her father, King Bagdemagus, who was at that time no great distance away, and a little after Sir Launcelot had finished his supper King Bagdemagus came to that place, much wondering why Elouise had sent for him.
   When King Bagdemagus came, Elouise took him by the hand and led him to Sir Launcelot, and she said: "Sire, here is a knight who, for my sake, is come to help you in this tournament upon Tuesday."
   Now King Bagdemagus had never before seen Sir Launcelot, so he knew not who that knight was. Wherefore he said to him: "Messire, I am much beholden to you for coming to my aid in this battle. Now I pray you that you tell me your name and what knight you are."
   "Lord," said Sir Launcelot, "I am hight Launcelot, and am surnamed 'He of the Lake.'"
   Now when King Bagdemagus heard this he was astonished beyond measure, wherefore he cried out, "This is wonderful, that you who are the very flower of knighthood should be here, and that you should come to aid me in my battle!"
   "Sire," said Sir Launcelot, "I know not how much aid I may be to thee until that matter is proven. But of a surety I owe it to this damsel to do what I am able at her request, in return for all that she hath done for me to aid me in my time of great peril. So it is a very small repayment for me to aid thee, her father, in thy time of difficulties. Wherefore if, by good hap, I may be of use to thee in this battle which is nigh at hand, then I shall be glad beyond measure that I have paid some part of that debt which I owe to this lady."
   "Messire," said King Bagdemagus, "I give thee grammercy for thy good will in this matter. I am sure that, with thy aid, I shall be successful in this battle, and that it will always be most renowned in the history of chivalry because thou hast taken part in it."
   So spake they with great courtesy to one another. Then, by and by, Sir Launcelot said: "Sir, I pray you tell me who are those knights of King Arthur's court who are upon the part of the King of North Wales? For I would fain know against whom I am to do battle." To which King Bagdemagus said: "Messire, those three knights of the Round Table are as follows--there is Sir Mordred, nephew unto King Arthur, and there is Sir Galahantine, and there is Sir Mador de la Porte."
   "Ha," quoth Sir Launcelot, "these are three very good knights indeed, and I am not at all astonished that the King of North Wales should have had such good fortune aforetime in that other tournament with you, seeing that he had three such knights as they to do battle upon his side."
   After this they fell into discourse as to the manner in which they should do battle upon the morrow, and Sir Launcelot advised in this wise: "Lord, let me take three knights of yours, such as you trust, and such as you hold to be the strongest knights of your party. Let these three knights paint their shields altogether white and I will paint mine white, and then no man will know who we are. For I would have it so that I should not be known to be in this battle until I shall have approved myself in it. Now, when you have chosen those three knights, we four will take hiding in some wood or glade nigh to the place of combat, and when you are most busily engaged, and when you begin to be hard-pressed, then we will come forth and fall upon the flank of the party of the King of North Wales with intent to throw them into confusion. Then you will push your assault very hard, and I doubt not by the grace of God that we shall betwixt us be able to bear back their array in confusion."
   This advice seemed very good to King Bagdemagus, and so he did as Sir Launcelot said. He chose him three very strong, worthy, honorable knights, and these made their shields white as Sir Launcelot directed.
   Thus, all things being arranged as Sir Launcelot willed, it came to be the eve before the battle. So a little after sunset Sir Launcelot and those three knights whom King Bagdemagus had chosen rode over toward the place of tourney (which was some twelve miles from the abbey where the damsel Elouise was lodged). There they found a little woodland of tall, leafy trees fit for Sir Launcelot's purpose, and that wood stood to one side of the meadow of battle and at about the distance of three furlongs from it. In this little wood Sir Launcelot and the three knights-companion whom King Bagdemagus had chosen laid themselves down upon the ground and wrapped, each man, his cloak about him. So they slept there until the morrow, when the battle was ordained to be.
   Now there had been very great preparation made for this tournament, for on three sides of the meadow of battle scaffolds had been built and rows of seats had been placed. These were covered over with tapestries and hangings of divers colors-some of figured and some of plain weaving--so that the green and level meadow-land was hung all about with these gay and gaudy colors.
   Now when the morning had come, the folk who came to witness that tournament began to assemble from all directions--lords and ladies of high degree, esquires and damsels of lesser rank, burghers; and craftsmen with their wives, townspeople from the town, yeomen from the woodlands, and freeholders from the farm crofts. With these came many knights of the two parties in contest, and with the knights came their esquires in attendance. Now these knights were all in full armor, shining very bright, and the esquires were clad in raiment of many textures and various colors, so that they were very gay and debonair. So, with all this throng moving along the highway toward the meadow of battle, it seemed as though the entire world was alive with gay and moving figures.
   Now the place where Sir Launcelot and those three knights who were with him lay hidden was not far from the highway, so, whence they lay, they could see all that goodly procession of folk taking their way toward the lists, and they could look down upon the meadow of battle, which, as hath been said, was not more than three furlongs distant, and they could see the crowds of people of high and low degree taking their places upon those seats according to their rank and station. And they could see how the knights-contestant arrayed themselves upon this side of the field and upon that, and how the esquires and attendants hurried hither and thither, busying themselves in making their lords ready for the encounter that was soon to befall. Yea, all this could they see as plainly as though it lay upon the palm of a hand.
   So they saw that about noontide all those who had come thither had taken their places, and that the field was clean, and that the two parties of combat were arrayed in order for battle.
   Then Sir Launcelot perceived that the party of the King of North Wales was very much greater than the party of King Bagdemagus; for while the party of the King of North Wales had nigh eight score of helms, the party of King Bagdemagus had hardly four score of helms. So Sir Launcelot perceived that that party of King Bagdemagus would have much labor to do if it was to win in the battle.
   Now, all being prepared, the marshal stood forth and blew upon his trumpet, and therewith those two parties of knights rushed the one against the other, each in so great a cloud of dust that one could hardly see the knights in their passage. Therewith they met in the midst of the meadow of battle, with such a crash and uproar of splintered lances as was terrible to hear.
   And for a while no man could see what was toward, so great was the dust and the tumult. But by and by the dust raised itself a little and then Sir Launcelot perceived that the party of King Bagdemagus had been pushed back by that other party, as might have been supposed in such a case.
   So Sir Launcelot looked upon the battle for some while and he saw that the party of King Bagdemagus was pushed farther and farther back. Then by and by Sir Launcelot said to his knights-companion: "Messires, methinks now is our time to enter this engagement."
   Therewith he and they rode forth out of that woods, and they rode down the hill and across the fields and so came into that meadow-of-battle.
   At that time the party of the King of North Wales was so busily engaged in its assault upon the party of King Bagdemagus that very few of those knights engaged were aware of those four knights coming, and those who were aware of them thought but very little of the coming of so small a number. So no one interfered with their coming, wherefore they were able to bear down with great speed upon the flank of the party of the King of North Wales. Therewith they struck that flank with such force that both horses and horsemen were overturned by their assault.
   In that encounter Sir Launcelot carried a spear that was wonderfully strong and tough. With it he ran with great fierceness into the very thickest of the press, and before he was checked he struck down five knights with that one spear. And likewise those three knights that were with him did such good service that all that flank of the party of the King of North Wales was thrown into great confusion and wist not what to do for to guard themselves against that fierce, furious onset.
   Then Sir Launcelot and his three companions bore back a little, and when they got their distance they ran again into the press, and this time Sir Launcelot overthrew the King of North Wales himself, and that with such violence that the bone of his thigh was broken, and he had to be carried away out of that field by his attendants. And in this second assault Sir Launcelot and the three knights who were with him overthrew eleven knights besides the King of North Wales, wherefore all that part of the press began to break away from them and to seek some place where they could defend themselves from such another assault.
   Now when the party of King Bagdemagus saw into what confusion the other party were thrown by these four knights-champion, they began a very fierce and furious attack, and with such vehemence that in a little the party of the King of North Wales began to bear back before them. So, what with those who withdrew before Sir Launcelot's assault, and what with those who withdrew from the assault of King Bagdemagus, there was a great deal of confusion in the ranks of the party of the King of North Wales.
   Now those three knights who were of King Arthur's court perceived how Sir Launcelot and his knights-companion were throwing the ranks of the party of the King of North Wales into confusion, and they knew that unless the onset of Sir Launcelot was checked, the day would of a surety be lost unto them. Wherefore said Sir Mador de la Porte: "Yonder is a very strong and fierce-fighting knight; if we do not check his onset we will very likely be brought to shame in this battle." "Yea," said Sir Mordred, "that is so. Now I will take it upon me to joust with that knight and to overthrow him." Upon that those other two knights bade him go and do as he said. So Sir Mordred made way to where Sir Launcelot was, coming forward very fiercely and with great violence, and Sir Launcelot was aware of Sir Mordred's coming and made him ready for that assault. So the two came together with terrible violence and Sir Launcelot struck Sir Mordred such a buffet that the breast-band of Sir Mordred's saddle brake, and both the saddle and Sir Mordred flew over his horse's tail. Therewith Sir Mordred fell upon his head and struck with such violence upon the ground that his neck was nigh broken, and he lay altogether in a dead swoon and had to be carried out of the lists by his attendants.
   This saw Sir Mador de la Porte, and he cried out: "Ha! see what hath befallen Sir Mordred!" And therewith he also bare down upon Sir Launcelot with all his might and main with intent to overthrow him. And Sir Launcelot ran against him, and they struck together so fiercely that it was terrible to behold. But the spear of Sir Mador de la Porte burst into pieces, whilst the spear of Sir Launcelot held, so that both Sir Mador and his horse were overthrown, the horse rolling upon the man. And in that encounter Sir Mador's shoulder went out of place, and he also had to be borne away by his attendants.
   Then Sir Galahantine took a great spear from his esquire, who was nigh him, and he also ran against Sir Launcelot with all his might; and Sir Launcelot met him in full course and that onset was more terrible than either of the other two. For the spear of each knight was burst into splinters, even to the butt thereof. Then each threw away the butt of his spear and drew out his sword, and Sir Galahantine struck Sir Launcelot such a blow that the legs of Sir Launcelot's horse trembled under him because of the weight of that stroke. At this Sir Launcelot waxed wroth beyond measure. and he rose in his stirrups and he smote Sir Galahantine such a buffet that the blood burst out from his nose and his cars, and all his senses so went away from him that he might hardly behold the light of day because of the swimming of his sight.
   Therewith Sir Galahantine's head hung down upon his breast and he had no power to guide his horse, wherefore his horse made way out of the press and galloped off, bearing Sir Galahantine away, whether he would or no. And after the horse had galloped a little distance Sir Galahantine could not any longer sit upon his saddle, but he fell off of his horse and rolled over upon the ground and had not strength to rise therefrom.
   Then Sir Launcelot catched another spear, great and strong, from the esquire who followed him, and before ever that spear broke he overthrew sixteen knights therewith. Wherefore all who beheld him were amazed and terrified at what he did.
   By now the party of the King of North Wales began to bear more and more aback and in a little they broke, and then the party of King Bagdemagus pursued them hither and thither, and those who did not surrender were overthrown so that it was not possible for them to make any new order of battle. Then that party surrendered itself as conquered, one and all, and so King Bagdemagus won that tournament with the greatest glory that it was possible for him to have. For it had never been heard of before that a party of four-score knights should overcome in that way a party of eight-score knights, with three knights of the Round Table to champion them. Nor would such a victory have been possible only for what Sir Launcelot did in that battle.
   So Sir Launcelot won that tournament for King Bagdemagus, and after the battle was over and done King Bagdemagus came to Sir Launcelot and said to him: "Messire, thou hast brought to me the greatest glory this day that ever fell to my lot in all of my life. Now I prithee come with me and refresh thyself with me, so that I may give thee fitting thanks for all thou hast done, and so that I may reward thee in such a way as is fit for a king to reward a knight-champion such as thou art."
   Unto this Sir Launcelot made reply: "Lord, I give you thanks for your courtesy, but I need no reward; for it is meet that I should have done what I could for the sake of the demoiselle Elouise the Fair, seeing that she rescued me from the mischiefs that Queen Morgana had intent to do me."
   Then King Bagdemagus besought Sir Launcelot that he would tarry awhile and rest, but Sir Launcelot would not do so, but would be going upon his way without any tarrying. But he said to King Bagdemagus: "I prithee greet your daughter for me, and say to her that if ever she hath need of my services again let her send to me, and I will come to her even if it be to the end of the earth. For I have not yet repaid her for what she hath done for me."
   Therewith Sir Launcelot went his way from that meadow of battle, and, coming to the skirts of the forest he entered therein, and those who were there at the meadow of battle did not see him any more.

   So endeth the history of that famous tournament betwixt King Bagdemagus and the King of North Wales.

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