The Age of Chivalry, by Thomas Bulfinch

Chapter XVII.

Sir Agrivain’s Treason.

SO after the quest of the Sangreal was fulfilled, and all the knights that were left alive were come again to the Table Round, there was great joy in the court, and in especial King Arthur and Queen Guenever made great joy of the remnant that were come home, and passing glad were the king and the queen of Sir Launcelot and of Sir Bohort, for they had been passing long away in the quest of the Sangreal.

Then Sir Launcelot began to resort unto Queen Guenever again, and forgot the promise that he made in the quest; so that many in the court spoke of it, and in especial Sir Agrivain, Sir Gawain’s brother, for he was ever open-mouthed. So it happened Sir Gawain and all his brothers were in King Arthur’s chamber, and then Sir Agrivain said thus openly, “I marvel that we all are not ashamed to see and to know so noble a knight as King Arthur so to be shamed by the conduct of Sir Launcelot and the queen.” Then spoke Sir Gawain, and said, “Brother, Sir Agrivain, I pray you and charge you move not such matters any more before me, for be ye assured I will not be of your counsel.” “Neither will we,” said Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth. “Then will I,” said Sir Modred. “I doubt you not,” said Sir Gawain, “for to all mischief ever were ye prone; yet I would that ye left all this, for I know what will come of it.” “Fall of it what fall may,” said Sir Agrivain, “I will disclose it to the king.” With that came to them King Arthur. “Now, brothers, hold your peace,” said Sir Gawain, “We will not,” said Sir Agrivain. Then said Sir Gawain, “I will not hear your tales, nor be of your counsel.” “No more will I,” said Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris, and therewith they departed, making great sorrow.

Then Sir Agrivain told the king all that was said in the court of the conduct of Sir Launcelot and the queen, and it grieved the king very much. But he would not believe it to be true without proof. So Sir Agrivain laid a plot to entrap Sir Launcelot and the queen, intending to take them together unawares. Sir Agrivain and Sir Modred led a party for this purpose, but Sir Launcelot escaped from them, having slain Sir Agrivain and wounded Sir Modred. Then Sir Launcelot hastened to his friends, and told them what had happened, and withdrew with them to the forest; but he left spies to bring him tidings of whatever might be done.

So Sir Launcelot escaped, but the queen remained in the king’s power, and Arthur could no longer doubt of her guilt. And the law was such in those days that they who committed such crimes, of what estate or condition soever they were, must be burned to death, and so it was ordained for Queen Guenever. Then said King Arthur to Sir Gawain, “I pray you make you ready, in your best armor, with your brethren, Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth, to bring my queen to the fire, there to receive her death.” “Nay, my most noble lord,” said Sir Gawain, “that will I never do; for know thou well, my heart will never serve me to see her die, and it shall never be said that I was of your counsel in her death.” Then the king commanded Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth to be there, and they said, “We will be there, as ye command us, sire, but in peaceable wise, and bear no armor upon us.”

So the queen was led forth, and her ghostly father was brought to her to shrive her, and there was weeping and wailing of many lords and ladies. And one went and told Sir Launcelot that the queen was led forth to her death. Then Sir Launcelot and the knights that were with him fell upon the troop that guarded the queen, and dispersed them, and slew all who withstood them. And in the confusion Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris were slain, for they were unarmed and defenceless. And Sir Launcelot carried away the queen to his castle of La Joyeuse Garde.

Then there came one to Sir Gawain and told him how that Sir Launcelot had slain the knights and carried away the queen. “O Lord, defend my brethren!” said Sir Gawain. “Truly,” said the man, “Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris are slain.” “Alas!” said Sir Gawain, “now is my joy gone.” And then he fell down and swooned, and long he lay there as he had been dead.

When he arose out of his swoon Sir Gawain ran to the king, crying, “O King Arthur, mine uncle, my brothers are slain.” Then the king wept and he both. “My king, my lord, and mine uncle,” said Sir Gawain, “bear witness now that I make you a promise that I shall hold by my knighthood, that from this day I will never fail Sir Launcelot until the one of us have slain the other. I will seek Sir Launcelot throughout seven kings’ realms, but I shall slay him or he shall slay me.” “Ye shall not need to seek him,” said the king, “for, as I hear, Sir Launcelot will abide me and you in the Joyeuse Garde; and much people draweth unto him, as I hear say.” “That may I believe,” said Gawain, “but, my lord, summon your friends, and I will summon mine.” “It shall be done,” said the king. So then the king sent letters and writs throughout all England, both in the length and breadth, to summon all his knights. And unto Arthur drew many knights, dukes, and earls, so that he had a great host. Thereof heard Sir Launcelot, and collected all whom he could; and many good knights held with him, both for his sake and for the queen’s sake. But King Arthur’s host was too great for Sir Launcelot to abide him in the field; and he was full loath to do battle against the king. So Sir Launcelot drew him to his strong castle, with all manner of provisions. Then came King Arthur and Sir Gawain, and laid siege all about La Joyeuse Garde, both the town and the castle; but in no wise would Sir Launcelot ride out of his castle, neither suffer any of his knights to issue out, until many weeks were past.

Then it befell upon a day in harvest-time Sir Launcelot looked over the wall, and spake aloud to King Arthur and Sir Gawain, “My lords both, all is vain that ye do at this siege, for here ye shall win no worship, but only dishonor; for if I list to come out, and my good knights, I shall soon make an end of this war.” “Come forth,” said Arthur, “if thou darest, and I promise thee I shall meet thee in the midst of the field.” “God forbid me,” said Sir Launcelot, “that I should encounter with the most noble king that made me knight.” “Fie upon thy fair language,” said the king, “for know thou well that I am thy mortal foe, and ever will be to my dying day.” And Sir Gawain said, “What cause hadst thou to slay my brother, Sir Gaheris, who bore no arms against thee, and Sir Gareth, whom thou madest knight, and who loved thee more than all my kin? Therefore know thou well I shall make war to thee all the while that I may live.”

When Sir Bohort, Sir Hector de Marys, and Sir Lionel heard this outcry they called to them Sir Palamedes, and Sir Saffire his brother, and Sir Lawayn, with many more, and all went to Sir Launcelot. And they said, “My lord, Sir Launcelot, we pray you, if you will have our service, keep us no longer within these walls, for know well all your fair speech and forbearance will not avail you.” “Alas!” said Sir Launcelot, “to ride forth and to do battle I am full loath.” Then he spake again unto the king and Sir Gawain, and willed them to keep out of the battle; but they depised his words. So then Sir Launcelot’s fellowship came out of the castle in full good array. And always Sir Launcelot charged all his knights, in any wise, to save King Arthur and Sir Gawain.

Then came forth Sir Gawain from the king’s host, and offered combat, and Sir Lionel encountered with him, and there Sir Gawain smote Sir Lionel through the body, that he fell to the earth as if dead. Then there began a great conflict, and much people were slain; but ever Sir Launcelot did what he might to save the people on King Arthur’s party, and ever King Arthur followed Sir Launcelot to slay him; but Sir Launcelot suffered him, and would not strike again. Then Sir Bohort encountered with King Arthur, and smote him down; and he alighted and drew his sword, and said to Sir Launcelot, “Shall I make an end of this war?” for he meant to have slain King Arthur. “Not so,” said Sir Launcelot, “touch him no more, for I will never see that most noble king that made me knight either slain or shamed;” and therewith Sir Launcelot alighted off his horse and took up the king, and horsed him again, and said thus: “My lord Arthur, for God’s love, cease this strife.” And King Arthur looked upon Sir Launcelot, and his tears burst from his eyes, thinking on the great courtesy that was in Sir Launcelot more than in any other man; and therewith the king rode his way. Then anon both parties withdrew to repose them, and buried the dead.

But the war continued and it was noised abroad through all Christendom, and at last it was told afore the pope; and he, considering the great goodness of King Arthur, and of Sir Launcelot, called unto him a noble clerk, which was the Bishop of Rochester, who was then in his dominions, and sent him to King Arthur, charging him that he take his queen, dame Guenever, unto him again, and make peace with Sir Launcelot.

So, by means of this bishop, peace was made for the space of one year; and King Arthur received back the queen, and Sir Launcelot departed from the kingdom with all his knights, and went to his own country. So they shipped at Cardiff, and sailed unto Benwick, which some men call Bayonne. And all the people of those lands came to Sir Launcelot, and received him home right joyfully. And Sir Launcelot stablished and garnished all his towns and castles, and he greatly advanced all his noble knights, Sir Lionel and Sir Bohort, and Sir Hector de Marys, Sir Blamor, Sir Lawayne, and many others, and made them lords of lands and castles; till he left himself no more than any one of them.

But when the year was passed, King Arthur and Sir Gawain came with a great host, and landed upon Sir Launcelot’s lands, and burnt and wasted all that they might overrun. Then spake Sir Bohort and said, “My lord, Sir Launcelot, give us leave to meet them in the field, and we shall make them rue the time that ever they came to this country.” Then said Sir Launcelot, “I am full loath to ride out with my knights for shedding of Christian blood; so we will yet awhile keep our walls, and I will send a messenger unto my lord Arthur, to propose a treaty; for better is peace than always war.” So Sir Launcelot sent forth a damsel, and a dwarf with her, requiring King Arthur to leave his warring upon his lands; and so she started on a palfrey, and the dwarf ran by her side. And when she came to the pavilion of King Arthur, she alighted, and there met her a gentle knight, Sir Lucan the butler, and said, “Fair damsel, come ye from Sir Launcelot du Lac?” “Yea, sir,” she said, “I come hither to speak with the king.” “Alas!” said Sir Lucan, “my lord Arthur would be reconciled to Sir Launcelot, but Sir Gawain will not suffer him.” And with this Sir Lucan led the damsel to the king, where he sat with Sir Gawain, to hear what she would say. So when she had told her tale, the tears ran out of the king’s eyes; and all the lords were forward to advise the king to be accorded with Sir Launcelot, save only Sir Gawain; and he said, “My lord, mine uncle, what will ye do? Will you now turn back, now you are so far advanced upon your journey? If ye do, all the world will speak shame of you.” “Nay,” said King Arthur, “I will do as ye advise me; but do thou give the damsel her answer, for I may not speak to her for pity.”

Then said Sir Gawain, “Damsel, say ye to Sir Launcelot, that it is waste labor to sue to mine uncle for peace, and say that I, Sir Gawain, send him word that I promise him, by the faith I owe unto God and to knighthood, I shall never leave him till he have slain me or I him.” So the damsel returned; and when Sir Launcelot had heard this answer, the tears ran down his cheeks.

Then it befell on a day Sir Gawain came before the gates, armed at all points, and cried with a loud voice, “Where art thou now, thou false traitor, Sir Launcelot? Why hidest thou thyself within holes and walls like a coward? Look out now, thou traitor knight, and I will avenge upon thy body the death of my three brethren.” All this language heard Sir Launcelot, and the knights which were about him; and they said to him, “Sir Launcelot, now must ye defend you like a knight, or else be shamed for ever, for you have slept overlong and suffered overmuch.” Then Sir Launcelot spoke on high unto King Arthur, and said, “My lord Arthur, now I have forborne long, and suffered you and Sir Gawain to do what ye would, and now must I needs defend myself, inasmuch as Sir Gawain hath appealed me of treason.” Then Sir Launcelot armed him and mounted upon his horse, and the noble knights came out of the city, and the host without stood all apart; and so the covenant was made that no man should come near the two knights, nor deal with them, till one were dead or yielded.

Then Sir Gawain and Sir Launcelot departed a great way in sunder, and then they came together with all their horses’ might as they might run, and either smote the other in the midst of their shields, but the knights were so strong, and their spears so big, that their horses might not endure their buffets, and so the horses fell to the earth. And then they avoided their horses, and dressed their shields afore them. Then they stood together, and gave many sad strokes on divers places of their bodies, that the blood burst out on many sides and places. Then had Sir Gawain such a grace and gift that an holy man had given to him, that every day in the year, from morning till high noon, his might increased those three hours as much as thrice his strength, and that caused Sir Gawain to win great honor. And for his sake King Arthur made an ordinance that all manner of battles for any quarrels that should be done before King Arthur should begin at Underne,18 and all was done for Sir Gawain’s love, that by likelihood if that Sir Gawain were on the one part he should have the better in battle, whilst his strength endured three hours, but there were few knights that time living that knew this advantage that Sir Gawain had, but King Arthur only. Thus Sir Launcelot fought with Sir Gawain, and when Sir Launcelot felt his might evermore increase, Sir Launcelot wondered and dread him sore to be ashamed. For Sir Launcelot thought when he felt Sir Gawain double his strength, that he had been a fiend, and no earthly man; wherefore Sir Launcelot traced and traversed, and covered himself with his shield, and kept his might and his braid during three hours; and that while Sir Gawain gave him many sad brunts and many sad strokes, that all the knights that beheld Sir Launcelot marvelled how he might endure him, but full little understood they that travail that Sir Launcelot had for to endure him. And then when it was past noon Sir Gawain had no more but his own might. Then Sir Launcelot felt him so come down; then he stretched him up, and stood near Sir Gawain, and said thus: “My lord Sir Gawain, now I fear ye have done; now my lord Sir Gawain, I must do my part, for many great and grievous strokes I have endured you this day with great pain.” Then Sir Launcelot doubled his strokes, and gave Sir Gawain such a buffet on the helmet that he fell down on his side, and Sir Launcelot withdrew from him. “Why turnest thou thee?” said Sir Gawain; “now turn again, false traitor knight, and slay me; for an thou leave me thus, when I am whole, I shall do battle with thee again.” “I shall endure you, sir, by God’s grace, but wit thou well, Sir Gawain, I will never smite a felled knight.” And so Sir Launcelot went into the city, and Sir Gawain was borne into one of King Arthur’s pavilions, and leeches were brought to him, and he was searched and salved with soft ointments. And then Sir Launcelot said, “Now have good day, my lord the king, for, wit you well, ye win no worship at these walls; and if I would my knights out bring, there should many a man die. Therefore, my lord Arthur, remember you of old kindness, and however I fare, Jesus be your guide in all places.”

18 Underne. The third hour in the day, nine o’clock.

Thus the siege endured, and Sir Gawain lay helpless near a month; and when he was near recovered, came tidings unto King Arthur that made him return with all his host to England.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/bulfinch/thomas/b93chi/chapter17.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32