Howard Pyle's The
Champions of the Round Table
How Sir Launcelot Rescued Sir Kay From a Perilous Pass. Also, How He Changed
Armor with Sir Kay and what Befell.
One day Sir Launcelot came at early nightfall to a goodly manor-house and
there he besought lodging for the night, and lodging was granted to him very
Now there was no lord of that manor, but only an old gentlewoman of very good
breeding and address. She made Sir Launcelot right welcome and gave such cheer
as she could, setting before him a very good supper, hot and savory, and a
great beaker of humming mead wherewith to wash it down. Whilst Sir Launcelot
ate, the gentlewoman inquired of him his name and he told her it was Sir
Launcelot of the Lake. "Ha!" quoth she, "I never heard that name before, but it
is a very good name."
At this Sir Launcelot laughed: "I am glad," said he, "that my name belikes
thee. As for thy not having heard of it--well, I am a young knight as yet,
having had but three years of service. Yet I have hopes that by and by it may be
better known than it is at this present."
"Thou sayest well," quoth she, "for thou art very young yet, wherefore thou
mayst not know what thou canst do till thou hast tried." And therewith Sir
Launcelot laughed again, and said: "Yea, that is very true."
Now after Sir Launcelot had supped, his hostess showed him to the lodging she
had provided for him wherein to sleep, and the lodging was in a fair garret over
the gateway of the court. So Sir Launcelot went to his bed and, being weary with
journeying, he presently fell into a deep and gentle sleep.
Now about the middle of the night there fell of a sudden the noise of someone
beating upon the gate and calling in a loud voice and demanding immediate admittance thereat. This
noise awoke Sir Launcelot, and he arose from his couch and went to the window
and looked out to see who it was that shouted so loudly and made such
The moon was shining at that time, very bright and still, and by the light
thereof Sir Launcelot beheld that there was a knight in full armor seated upon
horseback without the gate, and that the knight beat upon the gate with the
pommel of his sword, and shouted that they should let him in.
But ere anyone could run to answer his call there came a great noise of
horses upon the highroad, and immediately after there appeared three knights
riding very fiercely that way, and these three knights were plainly pursuing
that one knight. For, when they perceived him, they rode very violently to where
he was, and fell upon him fiercely, all three at one time; wherefore, though
that one knight defended himself as well as he could, yet was he in a very sorry
way, and altogether likely to be overborne. For those three surrounded him so
close to the gate that he could do little to shift himself away from their
Now when Sir Launcelot beheld how those three knights attacked that one
knight, he said to himself: "Of a surety, yonder knight is in a very sorry way.
I will do what I can to help him; for it is a shame to behold three knights
attack one knight in that way. And if he be slain in this assault, meseems I
shall be a party to his death."
Therewith he ran and put his armor upon him, and made ready for battle. Then
he drew the sheet from his bed, and he tied the sheet to the bar of the window and by
it he let himself quickly down to the ground not far from where those knights
were doing battle. So being safely arrived in that way he cried out in a very
loud voice: "Messires, leave that knight whom ye assail, and turn to me, for I
have a mind to do battle with you myself."
Then one of those knights, speaking very fiercely, said: "Who are you, and
what business have you here?"
"It matters not who I am," said Sir
Launcelot, "but I will not have it that
you three shall attack that one without first having had to do with me."
"Very well," said that knight who had spoken, "you shall presently have your
will of that."
Therewith he and his fellows immediately descended from their horses, and
drew their swords and came at Sir Launcelot upon three sides at once. Then Sir
Launcelot set his back against the gate and prepared to defend himself.
Therewith that knight whom he would defend immediately got down from his
horse with intent to come to the aid of Sir Launcelot, but Sir Launcelot forbade
him very fiercely, saying: "Let be, Sir Knight, this is my quarrel, and you
shall not meddle in it."
Upon this, those three knights rushed upon him very furiously, and they
struck at him all at once, smiting at him wherever they could and with all their
might and main. So Sir Launcelot had much ado to defend himself from their
assault. But he made shift that they should not all rush in upon him at once, and
by and by he found his chance with one of them. Whereupon he turned suddenly
upon that one, and suddenly he lashed so terrible a buffet at him that the
knight fell down and lay as though he had been struck dead with the force
Then, ere those other two had recovered themselves, he ran at a second and
struck him so fierce a blow that his wits left him, and he staggered like a
drunken man and ran around and around in a circle, not knowing whither he went.
Then he rushed upon the third and thrust him back with great violence, and as he
went back Sir Launcelot struck him, too, as he had struck his companions and
therewith that knight dropped his sword and fell down upon his knees and had not
power to raise himself up.
Then Sir Launcelot ran to him and snatched off his helmet, and catched him by
the hair with intent to cut off his head. But at that the fallen knight embraced
Sir Launcelot about the knees, crying out: "Spare my life!"
"Why should I spare you?" said Sir
Launcelot. "Sir," cried the knight, "I
beseech you of your knighthood to spare me."
"What claim have you upon knighthood," said Sir
Launcelot, "who would attack
a single knight, three men against one man?"
Then the other of those knights who had been staggered by Sir Launcelot's
blow, but who had by now somewhat recovered himself, came and kneeled to Sir
Launcelot, and said: "Sir, spare his life, for we all yield ourselves unto you,
for certes, you are the greatest champion in all the world."
Then Sir Launcelot was appeased, but he said: "Nay, I will not take your
yielding unto me. For as you three assaulted this single knight, so shall you
all three yield to him."
"Messire," said the knight who kneeled: "I am very loth to yield us to that
knight, for we chased him hither, and he fled from us, and we would have
overcome him had you not come to his aid."
"Well," said Sir Launcelot, "I care nothing for all that, but only that you
do as I will. And if ye do not do it, then I must perforce slay your companions
and you two. Wherefore you may take your choice."
Then said that knight who kneeled: "Messire, I see no other
thing to do than to yield us as you
would have, wherefore we submit ourselves unto this knight whom you have rescued
Then Sir Launcelot turned to that knight to whom he had brought aid in
that matter, and he said: "Sir Knight, these knights yield themselves unto
you to do as you command them. Now I pray you of your courtesy to tell me your
name and who you are."
"Sir," said that knight, "I am Sir Kay the Seneschal, and am King Arthur's
foster-brother, and a knight of the Round Table. I have been errant now for some
time in search of Sir Launcelot of the Lake. Now, I deem either that you are Sir
Launcelot, or else that you are the peer of Sir Launcelot,"
"Thou art right, Sir Kay," said Sir
Launcelot, "and I am Sir Launcelot of the
Lake." So thereat they two made great joy over one another, and embraced one
another as brothers-in-arms should do.
Then Sir Kay told Sir Launcelot how it was with those three knights who had
assailed him; that they were three brethren, and that he had overthrown the
fourth brother in an adventure at arms and had hurt him very sorely thereby. So
those three had been pursuing him for three days with intent to do him a
Now Sir Kay was very loath to take submission of those three knights, but Sir
Launcelot would have it so and no other way. So Sir Kay consented to let it be as Sir Launcelot
willed. Thereupon those three knights came and submitted themselves to Sir Kay,
and Sir Kay ordained that they should go to Camelot and lay their case before
King Arthur, and that King Arthur should adjudge their case according to what he
considered to be right and fitting.
Then those three knights mounted upon their horses and rode away, and when
they had done so the gates of the manor were opened, and Sir Launcelot and Sir
Kay entered in. But when the old lady who was his hostess beheld Sir Launcelot
come in, she was very greatly astonished, for she wist he was still asleep in
his bed-chamber. Wherefore she said: "Sir, methought you were in bed and
asleep." "So indeed I was," said Sir Launcelot, "but when I saw this knight in
peril of his life against three knights, I leaped out of my window and went to
his aid." "Well," said his hostess, "meseems that you will sometime be a very
good knight, if you have so much courage whilst you are so young." And at that
both Sir Launcelot and Sir Kay laughed a great deal.
Then the chatelaine set bread and wine before Sir Kay, and he ate and
refreshed himself, and thereafter he and Sir Launcelot went to that garret above
the gate, and there fell asleep with great ease of body.
Now before the sun arose Sir Launcelot awoke but Sir Kay still slept very
soundly. Then Sir Launcelot beheld how Sir Kay slept, and he had a mind for a jest. So he clad himself in Sir Kay's armor altogether from head
to foot, and he took Sir Kay's shield and spear, and he left his armor and shield and spear
for Sir Kay to use. Then he went very softly from that room, and left Sir Kay
still sleeping. And he took Sir Kay's horse and mounted upon it and rode away;
and all that while Sir. Kay knew not what had befallen, but slept very
Now after a while Sir Kay awoke, and he found that Sir Launcelot was gone,
and when he looked he found that his own armor was gone and that Sir Launcelot's
armor was left. Then he wist what Sir Launcelot had done, and he said: "Ha! what
a noble, courteous knight is the gentleman. For he hath left me his armor for my
protection, and whilst I wear it and carry his shield and ride his horse, it is
not likely that anyone will assail me upon my way. As for those who assail him,
I do not believe that they will be likely to find great pleasure in their
Therewith he arose and clad himself in Sir Launcelot's armor, and after he
had broken his fast he thanked his hostess for what she had given him, and rode
upon his way with great content of spirit.
(And it was as Sir Kay had said, for when he met other knights upon the road,
and when they beheld the figure upon his shield, they all said: "It is not well
to meddle with that knight, for that is Sir Launcelot." And so he came to
Camelot without having to do battle with any man.)
As for Sir Launcelot, he rode upon his way with great cheerfulness of spirit,
taking no heed at all of any trouble in the world, but chanting to himself as he
rode in the pleasant weather. But ever he made his way toward Camelot, for he
said: "I will return to Camelot for a little, and see how it fares with my
friends at the court of the King."
So by and by he entered into the country around about Camelot, which is a
very smooth and fertile country, full of fair rivers and meadows with many cots
and hamlets, and with fair hedge-bordered highways, wonderfully pleasant to
journey in. So travelling he came to a very large meadow where were several
groves of trees standing here and there along by a river. And as he went through
this meadow he saw before him a long bridge, and at the farther side of the
bridge were three pavilions of silk of divers colors, which pavilions had been cast in the
shade of a grove of beech-trees. In front of each pavilion stood a great spear
thrust in the earth, and from the spear hung the shield of the knight to whom
the pavilion belonged. These shields Sir Launcelot read very easily, and so knew
the knights who were there. To wit: that they were Sir Gunther, Sir Gylmere,
and Sir Raynold, who were three brothers of the Court of King Arthur. As Sir
Launcelot passed their pavilions, he saw that the three knights sat at feast in
the midmost pavilion of the three, and that a number of esquires and pages
waited upon them and served them, for those knights were of very high estate,
and so they were established as high lords should be.
Now when those knights perceived Sir Launcelot they thought it was Sir Kay
because of the armor he wore, and Sir Gunther, who was the eldest of the three
brothers, cried out: "Come hither, Sir Kay, and eat with us!" But to this Sir
Launcelot made no reply, but rode on his way. Then said Sir Gunther: "Meseems
Sir Kay hath grown very proud this morning. Now I will go and bring him back
with me, or else I will bring down his pride to earth." So he made haste and
donned his helmet and ran and took his shield and his spear, and mounted his
horse and rode after Sir Launcelot at a hard gallop. As he drew nigh to Sir
Launcelot he cried out: "Stay, Sir Knight! Turn again, and go with me!" "Why
should I go with you?" said Sir Launcelot. Quoth Sir Gunther: Because you must
either return with me or do battle with me." "Well, said Sir Launcelot, "I would
rather do battle than return against my will." And at that Sir Gunther was
astonished, for Sir Kay was not wont to be so ready for a battle. So Sir
Launcelot set his shield and spear and took his stand, and Sir Gunther took his
stand. Then, when they were in all ways prepared, each set spur to his horse and
rushed together with terrible
speed. So each knight struck the other in the midst of his shield, but the onset
of Sir Launcelot was so terrible that it was not to be withstood, wherefore both
Sir Gunther and his horse were overthrown in such a cloud of dust that nothing
at all was to be seen of them until that cloud lifted.
At this both Sir Raynold and Sir Gylmere were astonished beyond measure, for
Sir Gunther was reckoned to be a much better knight than Sir Kay, wherefore they
wist not how it was that Sir Kay should have overthrown him in that fashion.
So straightway Sir Gylmere, who was the second of those brothers, called out
to Sir Launcelot to tarry and do battle. "Very well," said Sir Launcelot, "if I
cannot escape thee I must needs do battle. Only make haste, for I would fain be
going upon my way."
So Sir Gylmere donned his helm in haste and ran and took his shield and spear
and mounted upon his horse. So when he had made himself ready in all ways he
rushed upon Sir Launcelot with all his might and Sir Launcelot rushed against
In that encounter each knight struck the other in the midst of his shield,
and the spear of Sir Gylmere burst into pieces, but Sir Launcelot's spear held, so the breast-strap of
Sir Gylmere's saddle bursting, both saddle and knight were swept entirely off
the horse and to the earth, where Sir Gylmere lay altogether stunned.
Then Sir Raynold came against Sir Launcelot in like manner as the others had
done, and in that encounter Sir Launcelot overthrew both horse and man so that, had not
Sir Raynold voided his horse, he would likely have been very sadly hurt.
Then Sir Raynold drew his sword and cried out in a loud voice: "Come, Sir
Knight, and do me battle afoot!" But Sir Launcelot said: "Why will you have it
so, Sir Knight? I have no such quarrel with you as to do battle with swords."
"Ha!" said Sir Raynold, "you shall fight with me. For though you wear Sir Kay's
armor, I wot very well that you are not Sir Kay, but a great deal bigger man
than ever Sir Kay is like to be."
"Nay," said Sir Launcelot, "I will not do any more battle with you." And
therewith he drew rein and rode away, leaving Sir Raynold standing very angry in
the middle of the highway.
After that Sir Launcelot rode very easily at a quiet gait, with no great
thought whither he rode, until after a while he came to a place where a road
went across a level field with two rows of tall poplar trees, one upon either
side of the highway. Then Sir Launcelot perceived where, beneath the shade of
these poplar trees, were four knights standing each by his horse. And these four
knights were conversing very pleasantly together. Now as Sir Launcelot drew nigh
he perceived that those were four very famous noble knights of the Round Table;
to wit: one of those knights was his own brother, Sir Ector de Maris, another
was Sir Gawain, another was Sir Ewain, and the fourth was Sir Sagramore le
Now as Sir Launcelot drew nigh Sir Gawain said: "Look, yonder cometh Sir Kay
the Seneschal." Unto this Sir Sagramore le Desirous said: "Yea, this is he; now
bide you here for a little while, and I will go and take a fall of him."
So straightway he mounted upon his horse, and he rode toward Sir
and he cried out: Stay, Sir Knight, you cannot go farther until you have had to
do with me. "What would you have of me?" quoth Sir Launcelot. "Sir," said Sir
Sagramore, "I will have a fall of you." "Well," said Sir Launcelot, "I suppose I
must pleasure you, since it cannot be otherwise."
Therewith he dressed his shield and his spear and Sir Sagramore dressed
his shield and his spear, and
when they were in all ways prepared they ran together at full tilt. In that
encounter Sir Sagramore's spear broke, but Sir Launcelot struck so powerful a
blow that he overthrew both horse and man into a ditch of water that was
Then Sir Ector de Maris said: "Ha, surely some very ill chance has befallen
Sir Sagramore for to be overthrown by Sir Kay. Now I will go and have ado with
him, for if the matter rests here there will be no living at court with the
jests which will be made upon us."
So he took horse and rode to where Sir Launcelot was, and he went at a very
fast gallop. When he had come near to Sir Launcelot he cried out: "Have at thee,
Sir Kay, for it is my turn next!" "Why should I have at thee?" said Sir
Launcelot, "I have done thee no harm." "No matter," said Sir Ector, "you can go
no farther until you have had to do with me." "Well," said Sir Launcelot, "if
that is so, the sooner I have to do with thee, the sooner shall I be able to go
upon my way."
Therewith each knight made himself ready and when they were in all
ways prepared they came together with
such force that Sir Launcelot's spear went through Sir Ector's shield and smote
him upon the shoulder, and Sir Ector was thrown down upon the ground with such
violence that he lay where he had fallen, without power to move.
Then said Sir Ewain to Sir Gawain where they stood together: "That is, the
most wonderful thing that ever I beheld, for never did I think to behold Sir Kay
bear himself in battle in such a fashion as that. Now bide thee here and let me
have a try at him." Therewith Sir Ewain mounted his horse and rode at Sir
Launcelot, and there were no words spoken this time, but each knight immediately
took his stand to do battle. Then they ran their horses together, and Sir
Launcelot gave Sir Ewain such a buffet that he was astonished, and for a little
he knew not where he was, for his spear fell down out of his hand, and he bore
his shield so low that Sir Launcelot might have slain him where he stood if he
had been minded to do so.
Then Sir Launcelot said: "Sir Knight, I bid thee yield to me." And Sir Ewain
said: "I yield me. For I do not believe that thou art Sir Kay but a bigger man than he shall
ever be. Wherefore I yield me." "Then that is well," said Sir Launcelot. "Now
stand thou a little aside where thou mayst bring succor unto these other two
knights, for I see that Sir Gawain has a mind to tilt with me."
And it was as Sir Launcelot said, for Sir Gawain also had mounted his horse
and had made himself ready for that encounter. So Sir Gawain and Sir Launcelot
took stand at such place as suited them. Then each knight set spurs to his horse
and rushed together like thunder, and each knight smote the other knight in the
midst of his shield; and in that encounter the spear of Sir
Gawain brake in twain but the spear of Sir Launcelot held, and therewith he gave
Sir Gawain such a buffet that Sir Gawain's horse reared up into the air, and it
was with much ado that he was able to void his saddle ere his horse fell over
backward. For if he had not leaped to earth the horse would have fallen upon
Then Sir Gawain drew his sword and cried very fiercely: "Come down and fight
me, Sir Knight! For thou art not Sir Kay!"
"Nay, I will not fight thee that way," said Sir
Launcelot, and therewith he
passed on his way without tarrying further.
But he laughed to himself behind his helmet as he rode, and he said: "God
give Sir Kay joy of such a spear as this, for I believe there came never so good
a spear as this into my hand. For with it I have overthrown seven famous knights
in this hour.
As for those four knights of the Round Table, they comforted one another as
best they could, for they knew not what to think of that which had befallen
them. Only Sir Ector said: "That was never Sir Kay who served us in this wise,
but such a man as is better than ten Sir Kays, or twice ten Sir Kays, for the
matter of that."
Now Sir Launcelot came to Camelot about eventide, what time King Arthur and
his court were assembled at their supper. Then there was great joy when news was
brought of his coming and they brought him in to the court and set him beside
the King and the Lady Guinevere all armed as he was. Then King Arthur
said: "Sir Launcelot, how is it with thee?" and Sir Launcelot said: "It is
well." Then King Arthur said: "Tell us what hath befallen thee." And Sir
Launcelot told all that had happened in that month since he had left court. And
all they who were there listened, and were much astonished.
But when Sir Launcelot told how he had encountered those seven knights, in
the armor of Sir Kay, all laughed beyond measure excepting those of the seven
who were there, for they took no very good grace to be laughed at in that
So now I hope I have made you acquainted with Sir Launcelot of the Lake, who
was the greatest knight in the world. For not only have I told you how he was created a knight at the hands of King Arthur, but I have also
led you errant along with him, so that you might see for yourself how he
adventured his life for other folk and what a noble and generous gentleman he
was; and how pitiful to the weak and suffering, and how terrible to the
evil-doer. But now I shall have to leave him for a while (but after a while in
another book that shall follow this, I shall return to him to tell you a great
many things concerning other adventures of his), for meantime it is necessary
that I should recount the history of another knight, who was held by many to be
nearly as excellent a knight as Sir Launcelot was himself.