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Stories from Le Morte D'Arthur and the Mabinogion online

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it the Dolorous Garde.

There he called about him his friends and kinsmen, saying: "Fair
Knights, I must now pass into my own lands." Then they all, with
one voice, cried that they would go with him. So he thanked them,
promising them all fair estates and great honour when they were
come to his kingdom; for all France belonged to Sir Launcelot. Yet
was he loth to leave the land where he had followed so many
glorious adventures, and sore he mourned to part in anger from King
Arthur. "My mind misgives me," said Sir Launcelot, "but that
trouble shall come of Sir Mordred, for he is envious and a
mischief-maker, and it grieves me that never more I may serve Sir
Arthur and his realm."

So Sir Launcelot sorrowed; but his kinsmen were wroth for the
dishonour done him, and making haste to depart, by the fifteenth
day they were all embarked to sail overseas to France.




CHAPTER XXXIV

HOW KING ARTHUR AND SIR GAWAIN WENT TO FRANCE


From the day when Sir Launcelot brought the Queen to Carlisle,
never would Gawain suffer the King to be at rest; but always he
desired him to call his army together that they might go to attack
Sir Launcelot in his own land.

Now King Arthur was loth to war against Sir Launcelot; and seeing
this, Sir Gawain upbraided him bitterly. "I see well it is naught
to you that my brother, Sir Gareth, died fulfilling your behest.
Little ye care if all your knights be slain, if only the traitor
Launcelot escape. Since, then, ye will not do me justice nor avenge
your own nephew, I and my fellows will take the traitor when and
how we may. He trusts in his own might that none can encounter with
him; let see if we may not entrap him."

Thus urged, King Arthur called his army together and bade collect a
great fleet; for rather would he fight openly with Sir Launcelot
than that Sir Gawain should bring such dishonour upon himself as to
slay a noble knight treacherously. So with a great host, the King
passed overseas to France, leaving Sir Mordred to rule Britain in
his stead.

When Launcelot heard that King Arthur and Sir Gawain were coming
against him, he withdrew into the strong castle of Benwick; for
unwilling indeed was he to fight with the King, or to do an injury
to Sir Gareth's brother. The army passed through the land, laying
it waste, and presently encamped about the castle, laying close
siege to it; but so thick were the walls, and so watchful the
garrison, that in no way could they prevail against it.

One day, there came to Sir Launcelot seven brethren, brave knights
of Wales, who had joined their fortunes to his, and said: "Sir
Launcelot, bid us sally forth against this host which has invaded
and laid waste your lands, and we will scatter it; for we are not
wont to cower behind walls." "Fair lords," answered Launcelot, "it
is grief to me to war on good Christian knights, and especially on
my lord, King Arthur. Have but patience and I will send to him and
see if, even now, there may not be a treaty of peace between us;
for better far is peace than war." So Sir Launcelot sought out a
damsel and, mounting her upon a palfrey, bade her ride to King
Arthur's camp and require of the King to cease warring on his
lands, proffering fair terms of peace. When the damsel came to the
camp, there met her Sir Lucan the Butler, "Fair damsel," said Sir
Lucan, "do ye come from Sir Launcelot?" "Yea, in good truth," said
the damsel; "and, I pray you, lead me to King Arthur." "Now, may ye
prosper in your errand," said Sir Lucan. "Our King loves Sir
Launcelot dearly and wishes him well; but Sir Gawain will not
suffer him to be reconciled to him." So when the damsel had come
before the King, she told him all her tale, and much she said of
Sir Launcelot's love and good-will to his lord the King, so that
the tears stood in Arthur's eyes. But Sir Gawain broke in roughly:
"My Lord and uncle, shall it be said of us that we came hither with
such a host to hie us home again, nothing done, to be the scoff of
all men?" "Nephew," said the King, "methinks Sir Launcelot offers
fair and generously. It were well if ye would accept his proffer.
Nevertheless, as the quarrel is yours, so shall the answer be."
"Then, damsel," said Sir Gawain, "say unto Sir Launcelot that the
time for peace is past. And tell him that I, Sir Gawain, swear by
the faith I owe to knighthood that never will I forego my revenge."

So the damsel returned to Sir Launcelot and told him all. Sir
Launcelot's heart was filled with grief nigh unto breaking; but his
knights were enraged and clamoured that he had endured too much of
insult and wrong, and that he should lead them forth to battle. Sir
Launcelot armed him sorrowfully, and presently the gates were set
open and he rode forth, he and all his company. But to all his
knights he had given commandment that none should seek King Arthur;
"For never," said he, "will I see the noble King, who made me
knight, either killed or shamed."

Fierce was the battle between those two hosts. On Launcelot's side,
Sir Bors and Sir Lavaine and many another did right well; while on
the other side, King Arthur bore him as the noble knight he was,
and Sir Gawain raged through the battle, seeking to come at Sir
Launcelot. Presently, Sir Bors encountered with King Arthur, and
unhorsed him. This Sir Launcelot saw and, coming to the King's
side, he alighted and, raising him from the ground, mounted him
upon his own horse. Then King Arthur, looking upon Launcelot,
cried: "Ah! Launcelot, Launcelot! That ever there should be war
between us two!" and tears stood in the King's eyes. "Ah! my Lord
Arthur," cried Sir Launcelot, "I pray you stay this war." As they
spoke thus, Sir Gawain came upon them, and, miscalling Sir
Launcelot traitor and coward, had almost ridden upon him before
Launcelot could provide him of another horse. Then the two hosts
drew back, each on its own side, to see the battle between Sir
Launcelot and Sir Gawain; for they wheeled their horses, and
departing far asunder, rushed again upon each other with the noise
of thunder, and each bore the other from his horse. Then they put
their shields before them and set on each other with their swords;
but while ever Sir Gawain smote fiercely, Sir Launcelot was content
only to ward off blows, because he would not, for Sir Gareth's
sake, do any harm to Sir Gawain. But the more Sir Launcelot forbore
him, the more furiously Sir Gawain struck, so that Sir Launcelot
had much ado to defend himself, and at the last smote Gawain on the
helm so mightily that he bore him to the ground. Then Sir
Launcelot stood back from Sir Gawain. But Gawain cried: "Why do ye
draw back, traitor knight? Slay me while ye may, for never will I
cease to be your enemy while my life lasts." "Sir," said Launcelot,
"I shall withstand you as I may; but never will I smite a fallen
knight." Then he spoke to King Arthur: "My Lord, I pray you, if but
for this day, draw off your men. And think upon our former love if
ye may; but, be ye friend or foe, God keep you." Thereupon Sir
Launcelot drew off with his men into his castle, and King Arthur
and his company to their tents. As for Sir Gawain, his squires bore
him to his tent where his wounds were dressed.




BOOK XI

THE MORTE D'ARTHUR




CHAPTER XXXV

MORDRED THE TRAITOR


So Sir Gawain lay healing of the grim wound which Sir Launcelot had
given him, and there was peace between the two armies, when there
came messengers from Britain bearing letters for King Arthur; and
more evil news than they brought might not well be, for they told
how Sir Mordred had usurped his uncle's realm. First, he had caused
it to be noised abroad that King Arthur was slain in battle with
Sir Launcelot, and, since there be many ever ready to believe any
idle rumour and eager for any change, it had been no hard task for
Sir Mordred to call the lords to a Parliament and persuade them to
make him king. But the Queen could not be brought to believe that
her lord was dead, so she took refuge in the Tower of London from
Sir Mordred's violence, nor was she to be induced to leave her
strong refuge for aught that Mordred could promise or threaten.

This was the news that came to Arthur as he lay encamped about Sir
Launcelot's castle of Benwick. Forthwith he bade his host make
ready to move, and when they had reached the coast, they embarked
and made sail to reach Britain with all possible speed.

Sir Mordred, on his part, had heard of their sailing, and hasted to
get together a great army. It was grievous to see how many a stout
knight held by Mordred, ay, even many whom Arthur himself had
raised to honour and fortune; for it is the nature of men to be
fickle. Thus it was that, when Arthur drew near to Dover, he found
Mordred with a mighty host, waiting to oppose his landing. Then
there was a great sea-fight, those of Mordred's party going out in
boats, great and small, to board King Arthur's ships and slay him
and his men or ever they should come to land. Right valiantly did
King Arthur bear him, as was his wont, and boldly his followers
fought in his cause, so that at last they drove off their enemies
and landed at Dover in spite of Mordred and his array. For that
time Mordred fled, and King Arthur bade those of his party bury the
slain and tend the wounded.

So as they passed from ship to ship, salving and binding the hurts
of the men, they came at last upon Sir Gawain, where he lay at the
bottom of a boat, wounded to the death, for he had received a great
blow on the wound that Sir Launcelot had given him. They bore him
to his tent, and his uncle, the King, came to him, sorrowing beyond
measure. "Methinks," said the King, "my joy on earth is done; for
never have I loved any men as I have loved you, my nephew, and Sir
Launcelot. Sir Launcelot I have lost, and now I see you on your
death-bed." "My King," said Sir Gawain, "my hour is come, and I
have got my death at Sir Launcelot's hand; for I am smitten on the
wound he gave me. And rightly am I served, for of my willfulness
and stubbornness comes this unhappy war. I pray you, my uncle,
raise me in your arms and let me write to Sir Launcelot before I
die."

Thus, then, Sir Gawain wrote: "To Sir Launcelot, the noblest of all
knights, I, Gawain, send greeting before I die. For I am smitten on
the wound ye gave me before your castle of Benwick in France, and I
bid all men bear witness that I sought my own death and that ye are
innocent of it. I pray you, by our friendship of old, come again
into Britain, and when ye look upon my tomb, pray for Gawain of
Orkney. Farewell."

So Sir Gawain died and was buried in the Chapel at Dover.




CHAPTER XXXVI

THE BATTLE IN THE WEST


The day after the battle at Dover, King Arthur and his host pursued
Sir Mordred to Barham Down where again there was a great battle
fought, with much slaughter on both sides; but, in the end, Arthur
was victorious, and Mordred fled to Canterbury.

Now, by this time, many that Mordred had cheated by his lying
reports, had drawn unto King Arthur, to whom at heart they had ever
been loyal, knowing him for a true and noble king and hating
themselves for having been deceived by such a false usurper as Sir
Mordred. Then when he found that he was being deserted, Sir Mordred
withdrew to the far West, for there men knew less of what had
happened, and so he might still find some to believe in him and
support him; and being without conscience, he even called to his
aid the heathen hosts that his uncle, King Arthur, had driven from
the land, in the good years when Launcelot was of the Round Table.

King Arthur followed ever after; for in his heart was bitter anger
against the false nephew who had wrought woe upon him and all his
realm. At the last, when Mordred could flee no further, the two
hosts were drawn up near the shore of the great western sea; and it
was the Feast of the Holy Trinity.

That night, as King Arthur slept, he thought that Sir Gawain stood
before him, looking just as he did in life, and said to him: "My
uncle and my King, God in his great love has suffered me to come
unto you, to warn you that in no wise ye fight on the morrow; for
if ye do, ye shall be slain, and with you the most part of the
people on both sides. Make ye, therefore, treaty for a month, and
within that time, Sir Launcelot shall come to you with all his
knights, and ye shall overthrow the traitor and all that hold with
him." Therewith, Sir Gawain vanished. Immediately, the King awoke
and called to him the best and wisest of his knights, the two
brethren, Sir Lucan the Butler and Sir Bedivere, and others, to
whom he told his dream. Then all were agreed that, on any terms
whatsoever, a treaty should be made with Sir Mordred, even as Sir
Gawain had said; and, with the dawn, messengers went to the camp of
the enemy, to call Sir Mordred to a conference. So it was
determined that the meeting should take place in the sight of both
armies, in an open space between the two camps, and that King
Arthur and Mordred should each be accompanied by fourteen knights.
Little enough faith had either in the other, so when they set forth
to the meeting, they bade their hosts join battle if ever they saw
a sword drawn. Thus they went to the conference.

Now as they talked, it befell that an adder, coming out of a bush
hard by, stung a knight in the foot; and he, seeing the snake, drew
his sword to kill it and thought no harm thereby. But on the
instant that the sword flashed, the trumpets blared on both sides
and the two hosts rushed to battle. Never was there fought a fight
of such bitter enmity; for brother fought with brother, and comrade
with comrade, and fiercely they cut and thrust, with many a bitter
word between; while King Arthur himself, his heart hot within him,
rode through and through the battle, seeking the traitor Mordred.
So they fought all day, till at last the evening fell. Then Arthur,
looking around him, saw of his valiant knights but two left, Sir
Lucan and Sir Bedivere, and these sore wounded; and there, over
against him, by a great heap of the dead, stood Sir Mordred, the
cause of all this ruin. Thereupon the King, his heart nigh broken
with grief for the loss of his true knights, cried with a loud
voice: "Traitor! now is thy doom upon thee!" and with his spear
gripped in both hands, he rushed upon Sir Mordred and smote him
that the weapon stood out a fathom behind. And Sir Mordred knew
that he had his death-wound. With all the might that he had, he
thrust him up the spear to the haft and, with his sword, struck
King Arthur upon the head, that the steel pierced the helmet and
bit into the head; then he fell back, stark and dead.

Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere went to the King where he lay, swooning
from the blow, and bore him to a little chapel on the sea-shore. As
they laid him on the ground, Sir Lucan fell dead beside the King,
and Arthur, coming to himself, found but Sir Bedivere alive beside
him.




CHAPTER XXXVII

THE PASSING OF ARTHUR


So King Arthur lay wounded to the death, grieving, not that his end
was come, but for the desolation of his kingdom and the loss of his
good knights. And looking upon the body of Sir Lucan, he sighed and
said: "Alas! true knight, dead for my sake! If I lived, I should
ever grieve for thy death, but now mine own end draws nigh." Then,
turning to Sir Bedivere, who stood sorrowing beside him, he said:
"Leave weeping now, for the time is short and much to do. Hereafter
shalt thou weep if thou wilt. But take now my sword Excalibur,
hasten to the water side, and fling it into the deep. Then, watch
what happens and bring me word thereof." "My Lord," said Sir
Bedivere, "your command shall be obeyed"; and taking the sword, he
departed. But as he went on his way, he looked on the sword, how
wondrously it was formed and the hilt all studded with precious
stones; and, as he looked, he called to mind the marvel by which it
had come into the King's keeping. For on a certain day, as Arthur
walked on the shore of a great lake, there had appeared above the
surface of the water a hand brandishing a sword. On the instant,
the King had leaped into a boat, and, rowing into the lake, had got
the sword and brought it back to land. Then he had seen how, on one
side the blade, was written, "Keep me," but on the other, "Throw me
away," and, sore perplexed, he had shown it to Merlin, the great
wizard, who said: "Keep it now. The time for casting away has not
yet come." Thinking on this, it seemed to Bedivere that no good,
but harm, must come of obeying the King's word; so hiding the sword
under a tree, he hastened back to the little chapel. Then said the
King: "What saw'st thou?" "Sir," answered Bedivere, "I saw naught
but the waves, heard naught but the wind." "That is untrue," said
King Arthur; "I charge thee, as thou art true knight, go again and
spare not to throw away the sword."

Sir Bedivere departed a second time, and his mind was to obey his
lord; but when he took the sword in his hand, he thought: "Sin it
is and shameful, to throw away so glorious a sword." Then, hiding
it again, he hastened back to the King, "What saw'st thou?" said
Sir Arthur. "Sir, I saw the water lap on the crags." Then spoke the
King in great wrath: "Traitor and unkind! Twice hast thou betrayed
me! Art dazzled by the splendour of the jewels, thou that, till
now, hast ever been dear and true to me? Go yet again, but if thou
fail me this time, I will arise and, with mine own hands, slay
thee."

Then Sir Bedivere left the King and, that time, he took the sword
quickly from the place where he had hidden it and, forbearing even
to look upon it, he twisted the belt about it and flung it with all
his force into the water. A wondrous sight he saw, for, as the
sword touched the water, a hand rose from out the deep, caught it,
brandished it thrice, and drew it beneath the surface.

Sir Bedivere hastened back to the King and told him what he had
seen. "It is well," said Arthur; "now, bear me to the water's edge;
and hasten, I pray thee, for I have tarried over-long and my wound
has taken cold." So Sir Bedivere raised the King on his back and
bore him tenderly to the lonely shore, where the lapping waves
floated many an empty helmet and the fitful moonlight fell on the
upturned faces of the dead. Scarce had they reached the shore when
there hove in sight a barge, and on its deck stood three tall
women, robed all in black and wearing crowns on their heads. "Place
me in the barge," said the King, and softly Sir Bedivere lifted the
King into it. And these three Queens wept sore over Arthur, and one
took his head in her lap and chafed his hands, crying: "Alas! my
brother, thou hast been over-long in coming and, I fear me, thy
wound has taken cold." Then the barge began to move slowly from the
land. When Sir Bedivere saw this, he lifted up his voice and cried
with a bitter cry: "Ah! my Lord Arthur, thou art taken from me! And
I, whither shall I go?" "Comfort thyself," said the King, "for in
me is no comfort more. I pass to the Valley of Avilion, to heal me
of my grievous wound. If thou seest me never again, pray for me."

So the barge floated away out of sight, and Sir Bedivere stood
straining his eyes after it till it had vanished utterly. Then he
turned him about and journeyed through the forest until, at
daybreak, he reached a hermitage. Entering it, he prayed the holy
hermit that he might abide with him, and there he spent the rest of
his life in prayer and holy exercise.

But of King Arthur is no more known. Some men, indeed, say that he
is not dead, but abides in the happy Valley of Avilion until such
time as his country's need is sorest, when he shall come again and
deliver it. Others say that, of a truth, he is dead, and that, in
the far West, his tomb may be seen, and written on it these words:

"Here lies Arthur, once King and King to be."




CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE DEATH OF SIR LAUNCELOT AND OF THE QUEEN


When news reached Sir Launcelot in his own land of the treason of
Mordred, he gathered his lords and knights together, and rested not
till he had come to Britain to aid King Arthur. He landed at Dover,
and there the evil tidings were told him, how the King had met his
death at the hands of his traitor nephew. Then was Sir Launcelot's
heart nigh broken for grief. "Alas!" he cried, "that I should live
to know my King overthrown by such a felon! What have I done that I
should have caused the deaths of the good knights, Sir Gareth, Sir
Gaheris, and Sir Gawain, and yet that such a villain should escape
my sword!" Then he desired to be led to Sir Gawain's tomb where he
remained long in prayer and in great lamentation; after which he
called to him his kinsmen and friends, and said to them: "My fair
lords, I thank you all most heartily that, of your courtesy, ye
came with me to this land. That we be come too late is a misfortune
that might not be avoided, though I shall mourn it my life long.
And now I will ride forth alone to find my lady the Queen in the
West, whither men say she has fled. Wait for me, I pray you, for
fifteen days, and then, if ye hear naught of me, return to your own
lands." So Sir Launcelot rode forth alone, nor would he suffer any
to follow him, despite their prayers and entreaties.

Thus he rode some seven or eight days until, at the last, he came
to a nunnery where he saw in the cloister many nuns waiting on a
fair lady; none other, indeed, than Queen Guenevere herself. And
she, looking up, saw Sir Launcelot, and at the sight, grew so pale
that her ladies feared for her; but she recovered, and bade them go
and bring Sir Launcelot to her presence. When he was come, she said
to him: "Sir Launcelot, glad am I to see thee once again that I may
bid thee farewell; for in this world shall we never meet again."
"Sweet Madam," answered Sir Launcelot, "I was minded, with your
leave, to bear you to my own country, where I doubt not but I
should guard you well and safely from your enemies." "Nay,
Launcelot," said the Queen, "that may not be; I am resolved never
to look upon the world again, but here to pass my life in prayer
and in such good works as I may. But thou, do thou get back to
thine own land and take a fair wife; and ye both shall ever have my
prayers." "Madam," replied Sir Launcelot, "ye know well that shall
never be. And since ye are resolved to lead a life of prayer, I,
too, will forsake the world if I can find hermit to share his cell
with me; for ever your will has been mine." Long and earnestly he
looked upon her as he might never gaze enough; then, getting to
horse, he rode slowly away.

Nor did they ever meet again in life. For Queen Guenevere abode in
the great nunnery of Almesbury where Sir Launcelot had found her,
and presently, for the holiness of her life, was made Abbess. But
Sir Launcelot, after he had left her, rode on his way till he came
to the cell where Sir Bedivere dwelt with the holy hermit; and when
Sir Bedivere had told him all that had befallen, of the great
battle in the West, and of the passing away of Arthur, Sir
Launcelot flung down his arms and implored the holy hermit to let
him remain there as the servant of God. So Sir Launcelot donned the
serge gown and abode in the hermitage as the priest of God.

Presently there came riding that way the good Sir Bors, Launcelot's
nephew; for, when Sir Launcelot returned not to Dover, Sir Bors and
many another knight went forth in search of him. There, then, Sir
Bors remained and, within a half-year, there joined themselves to
these three many who in former days had been fellows of the Round
Table; and the fame of their piety spread far and wide.

So six years passed and then, one night, Launcelot had a vision. It
seemed to him that one said to him: "Launcelot, arise and go in
haste to Almesbury. There shalt thou find Queen Guenevere dead, and
it shall be for thee to bury her." Sir Launcelot arose at once and,
calling his fellows to him, told them his dream. Immediately, with
all haste, they set forth towards Almesbury and, arriving there the
second day, found the Queen dead, as had been foretold in the
vision. So with the state and ceremony befitting a great Queen,
they buried her in the Abbey of Glastonbury, in that same church
where, some say, King Arthur's tomb is to be found. Launcelot it
was who performed the funeral rites and chanted the requiem; but
when all was done, he pined away, growing weaker daily. So at the
end of six weeks, he called to him his fellows, and bidding them
all farewell, desired that his dead body should be conveyed to the
Joyous Garde, there to be buried; for that in the church at


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