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Stories from Le Morte D'Arthur and the Mabinogion online

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without word spoken, they charged upon each other, and each bore
the other from the saddle. Thus for a while they lay, stunned by
the fall. The Red Knight was the first to rise, for Balin, all
wearied by his travels and many encounters, was sore shaken by the
fall. Then they fought together right fiercely, hacking away great
pieces of armour, and dealing each other dreadful wounds. But when
they paused to take breath, Balin, looking up, saw the battlements
of the castle filled with knights and ladies watching the struggle,
and immediately, shamed that the conflict should have so long
endured, he rushed again upon the Red Knight, aiming at him blows
that might have felled a giant. So they fought together a long
while; but at the last, the Red Knight drew back a little. Then
cried Balin: "Who art thou? for till now, never have I met my
match." Then said the Red Knight: "I am Balan, brother to the noble
knight, Sir Balin"; and with the word, he fell to the ground as one
dead. "Alas!" cried Balin, "that I should have lived to see this
day!" Then, as well as he might, for his strength was almost spent,
he crept on hands and knees to his brother's side and opened the
vizor of his helmet, and when he saw his brother's face all
ghastly, as it was, he cried: "O Balan, I have slain thee, as thou
hast also slain me! Oh! woeful deed I never to be forgotten of
men!" Then Balan, being somewhat recovered, told Balin how he had
been compelled by those at the castle to keep the ford against all
comers, and might never depart; and Balin told of the grievous
chance by which he had taken another's shield.

So these two died, slain by each other's hands. In one tomb they
were buried; and Merlin, passing that way, inscribed thereon the
full story of their deaths.





Now, as time passed, King Arthur gathered into his Order of the
Round Table knights whose peers shall never be found in any age;
and foremost amongst them all was Sir Launcelot du Lac. Such was
his strength that none against whom he laid lance in rest could
keep the saddle, and no shield was proof against his sword dint;
but for his courtesy even more than for his courage and strength,
Sir Launcelot was famed far and near. Gentle he was and ever the
first to rejoice in the renown of another; and in the jousts, he
would avoid encounter with the young and untried knight, letting
him pass to gain glory if he might.

It would take a great book to record all the famous deeds of Sir
Launcelot, and all his adventures. He was of Gaul, for his father,
King Ban, ruled over Benwick; and some say that his first name was
Galahad, and that he was named Launcelot du Lac by the Lady of the
Lake who reared him when his mother died. Early he won renown by
delivering his father's people from the grim King Claudas who, for
more than twenty years, had laid waste the fair land of Benwick;
then, when there was peace in his own land, he passed into Britain,
to Arthur's court, where the King received him gladly, and made him
Knight of the Round Table and took him for his trustiest friend.
And so it was that, when Guenevere was to be brought to Canterbury,
to be married to the King, Launcelot was chief of the knights sent
to wait upon her, and of this came the sorrow of later days. For,
from the moment he saw her, Sir Launcelot loved Guenevere, for her
sake remaining wifeless all his days, and in all things being her
faithful knight. But busy-bodies and mischief-makers spoke evil of
Sir Launcelot and the Queen, and from their talk came the undoing
of the King and the downfall of his great work. But that was after
long years, and after many true knights had lived their lives,
honouring the King and Queen, and doing great deeds whereby the
fame of Arthur and his Order passed through all the world.



Now on a day, as he rode through the forest, Sir Launcelot met a
damsel weeping bitterly, and seeing him, she cried, "Stay, Sir
Knight! By your knighthood I require you to aid me in my distress."
Immediately Sir Launcelot checked his horse and asked in what she
needed his service. "Sir," said the maiden, "my brother lies at the
point of death, for this day he fought with the stout knight, Sir
Gilbert, and sorely they wounded each other; and a wise woman, a
sorceress, has said that nothing may staunch my brother's wounds
unless they be searched with the sword and bound up with a piece
of the cloth from the body of the wounded knight who lies in the
ruined chapel hard by. And well I know you, my lord Sir Launcelot,
and that, if ye will not help me, none may." "Tell me your
brother's name," said Sir Launcelot. "Sir Meliot de Logris,"
answered the damsel. "A Knight of our Round Table," said Sir
Launcelot; "the more am I bound to your service. Only tell me,
gentle damsel, where I may find this Chapel Perilous." So she
directed him, and, riding through forest byeways, Sir Launcelot
came presently upon a little ruined chapel, standing in the midst
of a churchyard, where the tombs showed broken and neglected under
the dark yews. In front of the porch, Sir Launcelot paused and
looked, for thereon hung, upside down, dishonoured, the shield of
many a good knight whom Sir Launcelot had known.

As he stood wondering, suddenly there pressed upon him from all
sides thirty stout knights, all giants and fully armed, their drawn
swords in their hands and their shields advanced. With threatening
looks, they spoke to him saying: "Sir Launcelot, it were well ye
turned back before evil befell you." But Sir Launcelot, though he
feared to have to do with thirty such warriors, answered boldly: "I
turn not back for high words. Make them good by your deeds." Then
he rode upon them fiercely, whereupon instantly they scattered and
disappeared, and, sword in hand, Sir Launcelot entered the little
chapel. All was dark within, save that a little lamp hung from the
roof, and by its dim light he could just espy how on a bier before
the altar there lay, stark and cold, a knight sheathed in armour.
And drawing nearer, Sir Launcelot saw that the dead man lay on a
blood-stained mantle, his naked sword by his side, but that his
left hand had been lopped off at the wrist by a mighty sword-cut.
Then Sir Launcelot boldly seized the sword and with it cut off a
piece of the bloody mantle. Immediately the earth shook and the
walls of the chapel rocked, and in fear Sir Launcelot turned to go.
But, as he would have left the chapel, there stood before him in
the doorway a lady, fair to look upon and beautifully arrayed, who
gazed earnestly upon him, and said: "Sir Knight, put away from you
that sword lest it be your death." But Sir Launcelot answered her:
"Lady, what I have said, I do; and what I have won, I keep." "It is
well," said the lady. "Had ye cast away the sword your life days
were done. And now I make but one request. Kiss me once." "That may
I not do," said Sir Launcelot. Then said the lady: "Go your way,
Launcelot; ye have won, and I have lost. Know that, had ye kissed
me, your dead body had lain even now on the altar bier. For much
have I desired to win you; and to entrap you, I ordained this
chapel. Many a knight have I taken, and once Sir Gawain himself
hardly escaped, but he fought with Sir Gilbert and lopped off his
hand, and so got away. Fare ye well; it is plain to see that none
but our lady, Queen Guenevere, may have your services." With that,
she vanished from his sight. So Sir Launcelot mounted his horse and
rode away from that evil place till he met Sir Meliot's sister, who
led him to her brother where he lay, pale as the earth, and
bleeding fast. And when he saw Sir Launcelot, he would have risen
to greet him; but his strength failed him, and he fell back on his
couch. Sir Launcelot searched his wounds with the sword, and bound
them up with the blood-stained cloth, and immediately Sir Meliot
was sound and well, and greatly he rejoiced. Then Sir Meliot and
his sister begged Sir Launcelot to stay and rest, but he departed
on his adventures, bidding them farewell until he should meet them
again at Arthur's court.

As for the sorceress of the Chapel Perilous, it is said she died
of grief that all her charms had failed to win for her the good
knight Sir Launcelot.



Sir Launcelot rode on his way, by marsh and valley and hill, till
he chanced upon a fair castle, and saw fly from it, over his head,
a beautiful falcon, with the lines still hanging from her feet. And
as he looked, the falcon flew into a tree where she was held fast
by the lines becoming entangled about the boughs. Immediately, from
the castle there came running a fair lady, who cried: "O Launcelot,
Launcelot! As ye are the noblest of all knights, I pray you help me
to recover my falcon. For if my husband discover its loss, he will
slay me in his anger." "Who is your husband, fair lady?" asked Sir
Launcelot. "Sir Phelot, a knight of Northgalis, and he is of a
hasty temper; wherefore, I beseech you, help me." "Well, lady,"
said Sir Launcelot, "I will serve you if I may; but the tree is
hard to climb, for the boughs are few, and, in truth, I am no
climber. But I will do my best." So the lady helped Sir Launcelot
to unarm, and he led his horse to the foot of the tree, and
springing from its back, he caught at the nearest bough, and drew
himself up into the branches. Then he climbed till he reached the
falcon and, tying her lines to a rotten bough, broke it off, and
threw down bird and bough to the lady below. Forthwith, Sir Phelot
came from amongst the trees and said: "Ah! Sir Launcelot! Now at
length I have you as I would; for I have long sought your life."
And Sir Launcelot made answer: "Surely ye would not slay me, an
unarmed man; for that were dishonour to you. Keep my armour if ye
will; but hang my sword on a bough where I may reach it, and then
do with me as ye can." But Sir Phelot laughed mockingly and said:
"Not so, Sir Launcelot. I know you too well to throw away my
advantage; wherefore, shift as ye may." "Alas!" said Sir Launcelot,
"that ever knight should be so unknightly. And you, madam, how
could ye so betray me?" "She did but as I commanded her," said Sir

Then Launcelot looked about him to see how he might help himself in
these straits, and espying above his head a great bare branch, he
tote it down. Then, ever watching his advantage, he sprang to the
ground on the far side of his horse, so that the horse was between
him and Sir Phelot. Sir Phelot rushed upon him with his sword, but
Sir Launcelot parried it with the bough, with which he dealt his
enemy such a blow on the head that Sir Phelot sank to the ground in
a swoon. Then Sir Launcelot seized his sword where it lay beside
his armour, and stooping over the fallen knight, unloosed his helm.
When the lady saw him do that, she shrieked and cried: "Spare his
life! spare his life, noble knight, I beseech you!" But Sir
Launcelot answered sternly: "A felon's death for him who does
felon's deeds. He has lived too long already," and with one blow,
he smote off his head. Then he armed himself, and mounting upon his
steed, rode away, leaving the lady to weep beside her lord.





In the days of Arthur, there ruled over the kingdom of Liones the
good knight Sir Meliodas; and his Queen was the fair Elizabeth,
sister of King Mark of Cornwall.

Now there was a lady, an enchantress, who had no good-will towards
King Meliodas and his Queen; so one day, when the King was
hunting, she brought it to pass by her charms that Meliodas chased
a hart till he found himself, far from all his men, alone by an old
castle, and there he was taken prisoner by the lady's knights.

When King Meliodas did not return home, the Queen was nigh crazed
with grief. Attended only by one of the ladies of her court, she
ran out into the forest to seek her lord. Long and far she
wandered, until she could go no further, but sank down at the foot
of a great tree, and there, in the midst of the forest, was her
little son born. When the Queen knew that she must die, she kissed
the babe and said: "Ah! little son, sad has been thy birth,
wherefore thy name shall be Tristram; but thou shalt grow to be a
brave knight and a strong." Then she charged her gentlewoman to
take care of the child and to commend her to King Meliodas; and
after that she died. All too late came many of the barons seeking
their Queen, and sorrowfully they bore her back to the castle where
presently the King arrived, released by the skill of Merlin from
the evil spells of the enchantress. Great indeed was his grief for
the death of his Queen. He caused her to be buried with all the
pomp and reverence due to so good and fair a lady, and long and
bitterly he mourned her loss and all the people with him.

But at the end of seven years, King Meliodas took another wife.
Then, when the Queen had sons of her own, it angered her to think
that in the days to come, her stepson Tristram, and none other,
should rule the fair land of Liones. The more she thought of it,
the more she hated him till, at the last, she was resolved to do
away with him. So she filled a silver goblet with a pleasant drink
in which she had mixed poison, and she set it in the room where
Tristram played with the young princes, his half-brothers. Now the
day was hot, and presently, being heated with his play, the young
prince, the Queen's eldest son, drank of the poisoned goblet; and
immediately he died. Much the Queen grieved, but more than ever she
hated her stepson Tristram, as if, through him, her son had died.
Presently, again she mixed poison and set it in a goblet; and that
time, King Meliodas, returning thirsty from the chase, took the cup
and would have drunk of it, only the Queen cried to him to forbear.
Then the King recalled to mind how his young son had drunk of a
seeming pleasant drink and died on the instant; and seizing the
Queen by the hand, he cried: "False traitress! tell me at once what
is in that cup, or I will slay thee!" Then the Queen cried him
mercy and told him all her sin. But in his wrath the King would
have no mercy, but sentenced her to be burnt at the stake, which,
in those days, was the doom of traitors. The day having come when
the Queen should suffer for her fault, she was led out and bound to
a stake in the presence of all the court, and the faggots were
heaped about her. Then the young prince Tristram kneeled before the
King and asked of him a favour: and the King, loving him much,
granted him his request. "Then," said Tristram, "I require you to
release the Queen, my stepmother, and to take her again to your
favour." Greatly the King marvelled, and said: "Ye should of right
hate her, seeing that she sought your life." But Tristram answered:
"I forgive her freely." "I give you then her life," said the King;
"do ye release her from the stake." So Tristram unloosed the chains
which bound the Queen and led her back to the castle, and from that
day the Queen loved him well; but as for King Meliodas, though he
forgave her and suffered her to remain at court, yet never again
would he have aught to do with her.



Now King Meliodas, though he had pardoned the Queen, would keep his
son Tristram no longer at the court, but sent him into France.
There Tristram learnt all knightly exercises, so that there was
none could equal him as harper or hunter; and after seven years,
being by then a youth of nineteen, he returned to his own land of

It chanced, in those days, that King Anguish of Ireland sent to
Cornwall, demanding the tribute paid him in former times by that
land. Then Mark, the Cornish King, called together his barons and
knights to take counsel; and by their advice, he made answer that
he would pay no tribute, and bade King Anguish send a stout knight
to fight for his right if he still dared claim aught of the land of

Forthwith there came from Ireland Sir Marhaus, brother of the Queen
of Ireland. Now Sir Marhaus was Knight of the Round Table and in
his time there were few of greater renown. He anchored his ships
under the Castle of Tintagil, and sent messengers daily to King
Mark, bidding him pay the tribute or find one to fight in his

Then was King Mark sore perplexed, for not one of his knights dared
encounter Sir Marhaus. Criers were sent through all the land,
proclaiming that, to any knight that would take the combat upon
him, King Mark would give such gifts as should enrich him for life.
In time, word of all that had happened came to Liones, and
immediately Tristram sought his father, desiring his permission to
go to the court of his uncle, King Mark, to take the battle upon
him. Thus it came to pass that, with his father's good leave,
Tristram presented himself before King Mark, asking to be made
knight that he might do battle for the liberties of Cornwall. Then
when Mark knew that it was his sister's son, he rejoiced greatly,
and having made Tristram knight, he sent word to Sir Marhaus that
there was found to meet him a champion of better birth than Sir
Marhaus' self.

So it was arranged that the combat should take place on a little
island hard by, where Sir Marhaus had anchored his ships. Sir
Tristram, with his horse and arms, was placed on board a ship, and
when the island was gained, he leaped on shore, bidding his squire
put off again and only return when he was slain or victorious.

Now, when Sir Marhaus saw that Tristram was but a youth, he cried
aloud to him: "Be advised, young Sir, and go back to your ship.
What can ye hope to do against me, a proven knight of Arthur's
Table?" Then Tristram made answer: "Sir and most famous champion, I
have been made knight to do battle with you, and I promise myself
to win honour thereby, I who have never before encountered a proven
knight." "If ye can endure three strokes of my sword, it shall be
honour enough," said Sir Marhaus. Then they rushed upon each other,
and at the first encounter each unhorsed the other, and Sir
Marhaus' spear pierced Sir Tristram's side and made a grievous
wound. Drawing their swords, they lashed at each other, and the
blows fell thick as hail till the whole island re-echoed with the
din of onslaught. So they fought half a day, and ever it seemed
that Sir Tristram grew fresher and nimbler while Sir Marhaus became
sore wearied. And at the last, Sir Tristram aimed a great blow at
the head of his enemy, and the sword crashed through the helmet and
bit into the skull so that a great piece was broken away from the
edge of Tristram's sword. Then Sir Marhaus flung away sword and
shield, and when he might regain his feet, fled shrieking to his
ships. "Do ye flee?" cried Tristram. "I am but newly made knight;
but rather than flee, I would be hewn piecemeal."

Then came Gouvernail, Sir Tristram's squire, and bore his master
back to land, where Mark and all the Cornish lords came to meet him
and convey him to the castle of Tintagil. Far and wide they sent
for surgeons to dress Sir Tristram's wound, but none might help
him, and ever he grew weaker. At the last, a wise woman told King
Mark that in that land alone whence came the poisoned spear could
Sir Tristram find cure. Then the King gave orders and a ship was
made ready with great stores of rich furnishings, to convey Sir
Tristram to Ireland, there to heal him of his wound.



Thus Tristram sailed to Ireland, and when he drew nigh the coast,
he called for his harp, and sitting up on his couch on the deck,
played the merriest tune that was ever heard in that land. And the
warders on the castle wall, hearing him, sent and told King Anguish
how a ship drew near with one who harped as none other might. Then
King Anguish sent knights to convey the stranger into the castle.
So when he was brought into the King's presence, Tristram declared
that he was Sir Tramtrist of Liones, lately made knight, and
wounded in his first battle; for which cause he was come to
Ireland, to seek healing. Forthwith the King made him welcome, and
placed him in the charge of his daughter, Isolt. Now Isolt was
famed for her skill in surgery, and, moreover, she was the fairest
lady of that time, save only Queen Guenevere. So she searched and
bandaged Sir Tristram's wound, and presently it was healed. But
still Sir Tristram abode at King Anguish's court, teaching the Fair
Isolt to harp, and taking great pleasure in her company. And ever
the princess doubted whether Sir Tristram were not a renowned
knight and ever she liked him better.

So the time passed merrily with feastings and in the jousts, and in
the lists Sir Tristram won great honour when he was recovered of
his wound.

At last it befell upon a day that Sir Tristram had gone to the bath
and left his sword lying on the couch. And the Queen, entering,
espied it, and taking it up, drew the sword from the sheath and
fell to admiring the mighty blade. Presently she saw that the edge
was notched, and while she pondered how great a blow must have
broken the good steel, suddenly she bethought her of the piece
which had been found in the head of her brother, Sir Marhaus.
Hastening to her chamber, she sought in a casket for the fragment,
and returning, placed it by the sword edge, where it fitted as well
as on the day it was first broken. Then she cried to her daughter:
"This, then, is the traitor knight who slew my brother, Sir
Marhaus"; and snatching up the sword, she rushed upon Sir Tristram
where he sat in his bath, and would have killed him, but that his
squire restrained her. Having failed of her purpose, she sought her
husband, King Anguish, and told him all her story: how the knight
they had harboured was he who had slain Sir Marhaus. Then the King,
sore perplexed, went to Sir Tristram's chamber, where he found him
fully armed, ready to get to horse. And Tristram told him all the
truth, how in fair fight he had slain Sir Marhaus. "Ye did as a
knight should," said King Anguish; "and much it grieves me that I
may not keep you at my court; but I cannot so displease my Queen or
barons." "Sir," said Tristram, "I thank you for your courtesy, and
will requite it as occasion may offer. Moreover, here I pledge my
word, as I am good knight and true, to be your daughter's servant,
and in all places and at all times to uphold her quarrel. Wherefore
I pray you that I may take my leave of the princess."

Then, with the King's permission, Sir Tristram went to the Fair
Isolt and told her all his story; "And here," said he, "I make my
vow ever to be your true knight, and at all times and in all places
to uphold your quarrel." "And on my part" answered the Fair Isolt,
"I make promise that never these seven years will I marry any man,
save with your leave and as ye shall desire." Therewith they
exchanged rings, the Fair Isolt grieving sore the while. Then Sir
Tristram strode into the court and cried aloud, before all the
barons: "Ye knights of Ireland, the time is come when I must
depart. Therefore, if any man have aught against me, let him stand
forth now, and I will satisfy him as I may." Now there were many
present of the kin of Sir Marhaus, but none dared have ado with Sir
Tristram; so, slowly he rode away, and with his squire took ship
again for Cornwall.



When Sir Tristram had come back to Cornwall, he abode some time at
the court of King Mark. Now in those days the Cornish knights were
little esteemed, and none less than Mark himself, who was a coward,
and never adventured himself in fair and open combat, seeking
rather to attack by stealth and have his enemy at an advantage. But
the fame of Sir Tristram increased daily, and all men spoke well of
him. So it came to pass that King Mark, knowing himself despised,
grew fearful and jealous of the love that all men bore his nephew;
for he seemed in their praise of him to hear his own reproach. He
sought, therefore, how he might rid himself of Tristram even while
he spoke him fair and made as if he loved him much, and at the last
he bethought him how he might gain his end and no man be the wiser.
So one day, he said to Tristram: "Fair nephew, I am resolved to
marry, and fain would I have your aid." "In all things, I am yours
to command," answered Sir Tristram. "I pray you, then," said King
Mark, "bring me to wife the Fair Isolt of Ireland. For since I have

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Online LibraryBeatrice ClayStories from Le Morte D'Arthur and the Mabinogion → online text (page 4 of 12)