Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

Chapter Seventh

How Sir Launcelot Fell Into the Greatest Peril that Ever He Encountered in all His Life. Also How He Freed a Misfortunate Castle and Town From the Giants Who Held Them, and How He Released the Lord Thereof From a Dungeon.

   Now Sir Launcelot wandered errant for many days, meeting no adventure of any moment, but taking great joy in all that he beheld of the wide world about him, and in that time he found lodging wheresoever he chanced to be (if not in house, then beneath the skies), and he endured all sorts of weather, both wet and dry.
   Upon a certain day, in the prime of the morning, he came across a hilltop, and beheld beneath him a valley, very fertile and well-tilled, with fields and meadow-lands spread all over it like to a fair green carpet woven in divers patterns. And in the midst of the valley was a very large and noble castle, with many towers, and tall, steep roofs, and clustering chimneys. So Sir Launcelot descended into that valley, and the road which he took ended in front of the castle and under the shade of the tall gray walls thereof. But he did not stop at that castle but went on by it.
   Now after Sir Launcelot had passed by that castle it seemed to him that he heard very delicate silver bells ringing sweetly in the air above him, and when he looked up he beheld that a falcon was flying over his head toward a high elm tree that stood at a little distance, and he wist that it was the bells upon the cap of the falcon that rang so sweetly. And Sir Launcelot beheld that long lunes hung from the feet of the falcon as she flew, wherefore he was aware that the falcon had slipped her lunes and had flown from her owner.
   So Sir Launcelot watched the falcon, and he beheld that she lit in a tall elm tree, where she took her perch and rested, balancing with her wings part spread. Then by and by she would have taken her flight again, but the lunes about her feet had become entangled around the bough on which she sat, so that when she would have flown she could not do so. Now Sir Launcelot was very sorry to see the falcon beating herself in that wise, straining to escape from where she was prisoner, but he knew not what to do to aid her, for the tree was very high, and he was no good climber of trees.
   While he stood there watching that falcon he heard the portcullis of the castle lifted, with a great noise, and the drawbridge let fall, and therewith there came a lady riding out of the castle very rapidly upon a white mule, and she rode toward where Sir Launcelot watched the falcon upon the tree. When that lady had come nigh to Sir Launcelot, she cried out to him:
   "Sir Knight, didst thou see a falcon fly this way?" Sir Launcelot said: "Yea, Lady, and there she hangs, caught by her lunes in yonder elm-tree."
   Then when that lady beheld how that her falcon hung there she smote her hands together, crying out: "Alas, alas! what shall I do? That falcon is my lord's favorite hawk! While I was playing with her a while since, she slipped from me and took flight, and has sped as thou dost see. Now when my lord findeth that I have lost his hawk in that wise he will be very angry with me, and will haply do me some grievous hurt."
   Quoth Sir Launcelot: "Lady, I am very sorry for you." "Sir," she said, "it boots nothing for you to be sorry for me unless you can aid me." "How may I aid you in this?" said Sir Launcelot. "Messire," quoth she, "how otherwise could you aid me than by climbing up into this tree for my hawk? For if you aid me not in such a fashion, I know not what I shall do, for my lord hath a very hot and violent temper, and he is not likely to brook having his favorite hawk lost to him, as it is like to be."
   Upon this Sir Launcelot was put to a great pass and knew not what to do, for he had no good mind to climb that tree. "Lady," quoth he, "I prithee tell me what is thy lord's name." "Messire," she replied, "he is hight Sir Phelot, and is a knight of the court of the King of North Wales."
   "Well, Lady," said Sir Launcelot, "thou dost put upon me a very sore task in this, for God knoweth I am no climber of trees. Yea, I would rather do battle with twenty knights than to climb one such tree as this. Ne'ertheless, I cannot find it in me to refuse the asking of any lady, if so be it lieth at all in my power to perform her will. Now if you will aid me to unarm myself, I will endeavor to climb this tree and get your hawk."
   So the lady dismounted from her mule, and Sir Launcelot dismounted from his horse, and the lady aided Sir Launcelot to unarm himself. And when he had unarmed himself he took off all his clothes saving only his hosen and his doublet. Then he climbed that tree, though with great labor and pain to himself, and with much dread lest he should fall. So he, at last, reached the falcon where it was, and he loosened the lunes from where they were entangled about the branch, and he freed the bird. Then he brake off a great piece of rotten bough of the tree and he tied the lunes of the falcon to it and he tossed the falcon down to where the lady was; and the lady ran with great joy and caught the falcon and loosed it from the piece of branch and tied the lunes to her wrist, so that it could not escape again.
   Then Sir Launcelot began to descend the tree with as great labor and pain as he had climbed into it.
   But he had not come very far down when he perceived a knight who came riding very rapidly toward that tree, and he saw that the knight was in full armor. When this knight came to the tree he drew rein and bespoke the lady who was there, though Sir Launcelot could not hear what he said. So, after he had spoken for a little, the knight dismounted from his horse and went to Sir Launcelot's shield and looked upon the face of it very carefully. Then presently he looked upward toward Sir Launcelot, and he said: "Art thou Sir Launcelot of the Lake?" And Sir Launcelot said: "Yea." "Very well," said the knight, "I am pleased beyond measure at that. For I am Sir Phelot, the lord of this castle, and the brother of that Sir Peris of the Forest Sauvage, whom thou didst treat so shamefully after thou hadst overcome him in battle."
   "Sir," said Sir Launcelot, "I treated him nowise differently from what he deserved." "No matter for that," said Sir Phelot, "he was my brother, and thou didst put great despite and shame upon him. So now I will be revenged upon thee, for now I have thee where I would have thee, and I will slay thee as shamefully as thou didst put shame upon him. So say thy prayers where thou art, for thou shalt never go away from this place alive."
   "Sir Knight," said Sir Launcelot, "I do not believe that thou wouldst really assault a naked and harmless man, for it would certainly be a great shame to thee to do me a harm in that wise. For lo! thou art armed in full, and I am a naked man, and to slay me as I am would be both murder and treason."
   "No matter for that," said Sir Phelot; "as for the shame of it, I take no thought of it. I tell thee thou shalt have no grace nor mercy from me. Wherefore make thy peace with Heaven, for thine hour is come."
   "Sir Knight," said Sir Launcelot, "I ask only one boon of thee; if thou art of a mind to take so much shame upon thee, as appears to be the case, let me not, at least, die like a felon without any weapon. Let me have my sword in my hand, even if I have no other defence. For if a knight must die, it is a shame for him to die without weapons. So hang my sword upon yonder bough, where I may reach it, and then thou mayst slay me."
   "Nay," said Sir Phelot, "I will not do that, for I know very well how wonderful is thy prowess. Wherefore I believe that even if thou wert otherwise unarmed thou mightst overcome me if thou hadst thy sword. So I will give thee no such chance, but will have my will of thee as thou art."
   Then Sir Launcelot was put to a great pass of anxiety, for he wist not what to do to escape from that danger in which he lay. Wherefore he looked all about him and above him and below him, and at last he beheld a great branch of the elm tree just above his head, very straight and tough. So he catched this branch and broke it off from the tree and shaped it to a club of some sort. Then he came lower, and the knight waited to strike him with his sword, when he was low enough; but Sir Launcelot did not come low enough for that.
   Then Sir Launcelot perceived that his horse stood below him and a little to one side, so of a sudden he ran out along the branch whereon he stood and he leaped quickly down to the earth upon the farther side of his horse from where the knight stood.
   At this Sir Phelot ran at him and lashed at him with his sword, thinking to slay him before he had recovered from his leap. But Sir Launcelot was quicker than he, for he recovered his feet and put away the blow of Sir Phelot with his club which he held. Then he ran in upon Sir Phelot under his sword arm, and before he could use his sword he struck Sir Phelot with all his might upon the side of his head. And he struck him very quickly again, and he struck him the third time, all in the space whilst one might count two. And those blows he struck were so direful that Sir Phelot fell down upon his knees, all stunned and bedazed, and the strength went out of his thews because of faintness. Then Sir Launcelot took the sword out of the hand of Sir Phelot and Sir Phelot did not have strength to deny him. And Sir Launcelot plucked off Sir Phelot's helm and catched him by the hair and dragged his neck forward so as to have ease to strike his head from off his body.
   Now all this while the lady had been weeping and watching what befell. But when she saw the great danger Sir Phelot was in, she ran and clasped her arms about him, and cried out in a very loud and piercing voice upon Sir Launcelot to spare Sir Phelot and to slay him not. But Sir Launcelot, still holding him by the hair of the head, said: "Lady, I cannot spare him, for he has treated me more treacherously than any other knight with whom I ever had dealings." But the lady cried out all the more vehemently, "Sir Launcelot, thou good knight, I beseech thee, of thy knighthood, to spare him."
   "Well," said Sir Launcelot, "it hath yet to be said of me that I have denied anything that I was able to grant unto any lady that hath asked it of me upon my knighthood. And yet I know not how to trust either of ye. For thou didst not say one word in my behalf when I was in danger of being slain so treacherously just now. As for this knight, I perceive that he is every whit as great a traitor and a coward as was his brother Sir Peris of the Sauvage Forest. So I will spare him, but I will not trust him, lest he turn against me ere I arm myself again. Wherefore give me hither the halter rein of your mule." So the lady gave Sir Launcelot the halter rein, weeping a-main as she did so. And Sir Launcelot took the halter rein and he tied the arms of Sir Phelot behind him. Then he bade the lady of Sir Phelot to help him arm himself from head to foot, and she did so, trembling a very great deal. Then, when she had done so, quoth Sir Launcelot: "Now I fear the treachery of no man." Therewith he mounted his horse and rode away from that place. And he looked not behind him at all, but rode away as though he held too much scorn of that knight and of that lady to give any more thought to them.

   So after that Sir Launcelot travelled for a while through the green fields of that valley, till by and by he passed out of that valley, and came into a forest through which he travelled for a very long time.
   For it was about the slanting of the afternoon ere he came forth out of that forest and under the open sky again. And when he came out of the forest he beheld before him a country of perfectly level marish, very lush and green, with many ponds of water and sluggish streams bordered by rushes and sedge, and with pollard willows standing in rows beside the waters. In the midst of this level plain of green (which was like to the surface of a table for flatness) there stood a noble castle, part built of brick and part of stone, and a town of no great size and a wall about the town. And this castle and town stood upon an island surrounded by a lake of water, and a long bridge, built upon stone buttresses, reached from the mainland to the island. And this castle and town were a very long distance away, though they appeared very clear and distinct to the sight across the level marish, like, as it were, to a fine bit of very small and cunning carving.
   Now the way that Sir Launcelot travelled, led somewhat toward that town, wherefore he went along that way with intent to view the place more near by. So he conveyed by that road for some time without meeting any soul upon the way. But at last he came of a sudden upon an archer hiding behind an osier tree with intent to shoot the water-fowl that came to a pond that was there-for he had several such fowl hanging at his girdle. To him Sir Launcelot said: "Good fellow, what town is that yonderway?" "Sir," said the yeoman, "that is called the Town of the Marish because it stands in these Fenlands. And that castle is called the Castle of the Fenlands for the same reason."
   Quoth Sir Launcelot: "What manner of place is that? Is it a good place, or is it otherwise?" "Sir," said the archer, "that place was one while a very good, happy place; for in times gone by there was a lord who dwelt there who was both just and noble, and kind to all folk, wherefore he was loved by all the people. But one night there came two very grim and horrible giants thither from the Welsh Mountains and these entered into the castle by treachery and made prisoner of the lord of the castle. Him they cast into the dungeon of the castle, where they held him prisoner as an hostage. For they threaten that if friends of that lord's should send force against them to dispossess them, they will slay him. As for any other rescue, there is no knight who dareth to go against them because of their terrible size, and their strength, and their dreadful, horrible countenances."
   "Well," said Sir Launcelot, "that is a pity and I am sorry for that noble lordling. Now, since there is no other single knight who dareth to undertake this adventure, I myself will go and encounter these giants."
   "Nay, Sir Knight," said the yeoman, "do not do so, for they are not like mortal men, but rather like monsters that are neither beast nor man. Wherefore anyone who beholdeth them, feareth them."
   "Grammercy for thy thought of me, good fellow," quoth Sir Launcelot, "but if I shall refuse an adventure because I find it perilous, then I am not like to undertake any adventure at all."
   Therewith he bade good den to that yeoman and rode upon his way, directing his course toward that town at an easy pass.
   So he came at last to the long bridge that reached from the land to the island, and he saw that at the farther end of the bridge was the gateway of the town and through the arch thereof he could perceive a street of the town, and the houses upon either side of the street, and the people thereof coming and going.
   So he rode forth upon the bridge and at the noise of his coming (for the hoofs of his horse sounded like thunder upon the floor of the bridge) the people of the town came running to see who it was that dared to come so boldly into their town.
   These, when Sir Launcelot came nigh, began to call to him on high, crying: "Turn back, Sir Knight! Turn back! Else you will meet your death at this place." But Sir Launcelot would not turn back, but advanced very steadfastly upon his way.
   Now somewhat nigh the farther end of that bridge there stood a little lodge of stone, built to shelter the warden of the bridge from stress of weather. When Sir Launcelot came nigh to this lodge there started suddenly out from it a great churl, above seven feet high, who bore in his hand a huge club, shod with iron and with great spikes of iron at the top. This churl ran to Sir Launcelot and catched his horse by the bridle-rein and thrust it back upon its haunches, crying out in a great hoarse voice: "Whither goest thou, Sir Knight, for to cross this bridge?" Sir Launcelot said: "Let go my horse's rein, Sir Churl." Whereunto the churl made answer: "I will not let go thy horse's rein, and thou shalt not cross this bridge."
   At this Sir Launcelot waxed very angry, and he drew his sword and struck the churl a blow with the flat thereof upon the shoulder, so that he dropped the rein very quickly. Therewith that churl drew back and took his great iron-shod club in both hands and struck at Sir Launcelot a blow that would have split a millstone. But Sir Launcelot put by the blow with his sword so that it did him no harm. But therewith he waxed so wroth that he ground his teeth together with anger, and, rising in his stirrups, he lashed that churl so woeful a blow that he cleft through his iron cap and his head and his breast even to the paps.
   Now when the people of the town beheld that terrible blow they lifted up their voices in a great outcry, crying out: "Turn back, Sir Knight! Turn back! For this is a very woful thing for thee that thou hast done!" and some cried out: "Thou hast killed the giants' warder of the bridge!" And others cried: "Thou art a dead man unless thou make haste away from this." But to all this Sir Launcelot paid no heed, but wiped his sword and thrust it back into its sheath. Then he went forward upon his way across the bridge as though nothing had befallen, and so came to the farther side. Then, without paying any heed to all the people who were there, he rode straight to the castle and into the gate of the castle and into the court-yard thereof.
   Now by this time all the castle was astir, and in great tumult, and many people came running to the windows and looked down upon Sir Launcelot. And Sir Launcelot sat his horse and looked all about him. So he perceived that beyond the court-yard was a fair space of grass, very smooth and green, well fitted for battle, wherefore he dismounted from his horse and tied it to a ring in the wall, and then he went to that green field and made him ready for whatever might befall.
   Meantime all those people who were at the windows of the castle cried out to him, as the people of the town had done: "Go away, Sir Knight! Go away whilst there is still time for you to escape, or else you are a dead man!"
   But Sir Launcelot replied not, but stood there and waited very steadfastly. Then the great door of the castle hall opened, and there came forth therefrom those two giants of whom he had heard tell.
   And in truth Sir Launcelot had never beheld such horrible beings as they; for they were above ten feet high, and very huge of body and long of limb. And they were clad in armor of bull-hide with iron rings upon it, and each was armed with a great club, huge and thick, and shod with iron, and studded with spikes. These came toward Sir Launcelot swinging their clubs and laughing very hideously and gnashing their long white teeth, for they thought to make easy work of him.
   Then Sir Launcelot, seeing them coming thus, set his shield before him, and made ready for that assault with great calmness of demeanor. Then the giants rushed suddenly upon him and struck at him, the both of them together; for they deemed that by so doing the enemy could not escape both blows, but if one failed the other would slay him. But Sir Launcelot put aside the blow of one giant with his sword and of the other with his shield, with marvellous dexterity. Thereupon, ere they could recover themselves, he turned upon that giant who was upon his left hand and he struck him so terrible a blow upon the shoulder that he cut through the armor and through the shoulder and half-way through the body, so that the head and one arm of the giant leaned toward one way, and the other arm and the shoulder leaned toward the other way. Therewith the giant fell down upon the ground bellowing, so that it was most terrible to hear; and in a little he had died where he had fallen.
   Now when the fellow of that giant beheld that dreadful, horrible stroke, he was so possessed with terror that he stood for a while trembling and like one in a maze. But when he saw Sir Launcelot turn upon him with intent to make at him also, he let fall his club and ran away with great and fearful outcry. Therewith he ran toward the castle and would have entered therein, but those within the castle had closed the doors and the gates against him, so that he could not escape in that way. So the giant ran around and around the court with great outcry, seeking for some escape from his pursuer, and Sir Launcelot ran after him. And Sir Launcelot struck him several times with his sword, so that at last, what with terror and pain and weariness, that giant stumbled and fell upon the ground. Therewith Sir Launcelot ran at him, and, ere he could rise, he took his sword in both hands and smote off his head so that it rolled down upon the ground like a ball. Then Sir Launcelot stood there panting for breath, for he had raced very hard after the giant, and could hardly catch his breath again. As he stood so, many of those of the castle and many of those who were of the town came to him from all sides; and they crowded around him and gave him great acclaim for ridding that place of those giants.
   Then Sir Launcelot said to them: "Where is your lord?" Whereunto they made reply: "Sir, he lieth in the dungeon of the castle under the ground chained to the walls thereof, and there he hath been for three years or more, and no one hath dared to bring him succor until you came hither." "Go find him," said Sir Launcelot, "and set him free, and lose no time in doing so. And put him at all ease that you can."
   They say: "Will you not stay and see him, Messire, and receive his acknowledgements for what you have done?" But Sir Launcelot replied: "Nay, not so." Then they say: "Will you not have some refreshment after this battle?" Whereunto Sir Launcelot said: "I do not need such refreshment." Then they say: "But will you not rest a little?"
   "Nay," said Sir Launcelot: "I may not tarry, for I have far to go and several things to do, so that I do not care to stay." So he loosed his horse from the ring in the wall, and mounted upon it and rode away from that castle and from that town and across the bridge whence he had come. And all the people followed after him, giving him great acclaim.
   So Sir Launcelot left the castle, not because he needed no rest, but because he could not endure to receive the thanks of those whom he benefited. For though he loved to bring aid to the needy, yet he did not love to receive their thanks and their praise. Wherefore, having freed the lord of that castle from that brood of giants, he was content therewith and went his way without resting or waiting for thanks.
   For so it was with those noble gallant knights of those days; that whilst they would perform signal service for mankind, yet they were not pleased to receive thanks or reward for the same, but took the utmost satisfaction, not in what they gained by their acts, but in the doing of knightly deeds, for they found all their reward in their deeds, because that thereby they made the world in which they lived better; and because they made the glory of the King, whose servants they were, the more glorious.
   And I hold that such behavior upon the part of anyone makes him the peer of Sir Launcelot or Sir Tristram or Sir Lamorack or Sir Percival; yea, of Sir Galahad himself. For it does not need either the accolade or the bath to cause a man to be a true knight of God's making; nor does it need that a mortal King should lay sword upon shoulder to constitute a man the fellow of such knightly company as that whose history I am herewith writing; it needs only that he should prove himself at all times worthy in the performance of his duty, and that he shall not consider the hope of reward, or of praise of others in the performance of that duty.
   So look to it that in all your services you take example of the noble Sir Launcelot of the Lake, and that you do your uttermost with might and main, and that you therewith rest content with having done your best, maugre any praise. So you shall become a worthy fellow of Sir Launcelot and of his fellows.

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