Howard Pyle's The Champions of the Round Table

Chapter Eighth

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 willingly.
   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 uproar.
   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 assaults.
   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 thereof.
   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 from us."
   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 harm.
   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 deeply.
   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 battle."
   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 him.
   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 Desirous.
   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 Launcelot, 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 near-by.
   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 him.
   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 wise.

   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.

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