(Vv. 1–30.) Since my lady of Champagne wishes me to undertake to write a romance, 119 I shall very gladly do so, being so devoted to her service as to do anything in the world for her, without any intention of flattery. But if one were to introduce any flattery upon such an occasion, he might say, and I would subscribe to it, that this lady surpasses all others who are alive, just as the south wind which blows in May or April is more lovely than any other wind. But upon my word, I am not one to wish to flatter my lady. I will simply say: “The Countess is worth as many queens as a gem is worth of pearls and sards.” Nay I shall make no comparison, and yet it is true in spite of me; I will say, however, that her command has more to do with this work than any thought or pains that I may expend upon it. Here Chretien begins his book about the Knight of the Cart. The material and the treatment of it are given and furnished to him by the Countess, and he is simply trying to carry out her concern and intention. Here he begins the story.
(Vv. 31–172.) Upon a certain Ascension Day King Arthur had come from Caerleon, and had held a very magnificent court at Camelot as was fitting on such a day. 120 After the feast the King did not quit his noble companions, of whom there were many in the hall. The Queen was present, too, and with her many a courteous lady able to converse in French. And Kay, who had furnished the meal, was eating with the others who had served the food. While Kay was sitting there at meat, behold there came to court a knight, well equipped and fully armed, and thus the knight appeared before the King as he sat among his lords. He gave him no greeting, but spoke out thus: “King Arthur, I hold in captivity knights, ladies, and damsels who belong to thy dominion and household; but it is not because of any intention to restore them to thee that I make reference to them here; rather do I wish to proclaim and serve thee notice that thou hast not the strength or the resources to enable thee to secure them again. And be assured that thou shalt die before thou canst ever succour them.” The King replies that he must needs endure what he has not the power to change; nevertheless, he is filled with grief. Then the knight makes as if to go away, and turns about, without tarrying longer before the King; but after reaching the door of the hall, he does not go down the stairs, but stops and speaks from there these words: “King, if in thy court there is a single knight in whom thou hast such confidence that thou wouldst dare to entrust to him the Queen that he might escort her after me out into the woods whither I am going, I will promise to await him there, and will surrender to thee all the prisoners whom I hold in exile in my country if he is able to defend the Queen and if he succeeds in bringing her back again.” Many who were in the palace heard this challenge, and the whole court was in an uproar. Kay, too, heard the news as he sat at meat with those who served. Leaving the table, he came straight to the King, and as if greatly enraged, he began to say: “O King, I have served thee long, faithfully, and loyally; now I take my leave, and shall go away, having no desire to serve thee more.” The King was grieved at what he heard, and as soon as he could, he thus replied to him: “Is this serious, or a joke?” And Kay replied: “O King, fair sire, I have no desire to jest, and I take my leave quite seriously. No other reward or wages do I wish in return for the service I have given you. My mind is quite made up to go away immediately.” “Is it in anger or in spite that you wish to go?” the King inquired; “seneschal, remain at court, as you have done hitherto, and be assured that I have nothing in the world which I would not give you at once in return for your consent to stay.” “Sire,” says Kay, “no need of that. I would not accept for each day’s pay a measure of fine pure gold.” Thereupon, the King in great dismay went off to seek the Queen. “My lady,” he says, “you do not know the demand that the seneschal makes of me. He asks me for leave to go away, and says he will no longer stay at court; the reason of this I do not know. But he will do at your request what he will not do for me. Go to him now, my lady dear. Since he will not consent to stay for my sake, pray him to remain on your account, and if need be, fall at his feet, for I should never again be happy if I should lose his company.” 121 The King sends the Queen to the seneschal, and she goes to him. Finding him with the rest, she went up to him, and said: “Kay, you may be very sure that I am greatly troubled by the news I have heard of you. I am grieved to say that I have been told it is your intention to leave the King. How does this come about? What motive have you in your mind? I cannot think that you are so sensible or courteous as usual. I want to ask you to remain: stay with us here, and grant my prayer.” “Lady,” he says, “I give you thanks; nevertheless, I shall not remain.” The Queen again makes her request, and is joined by all the other knights. And Kay informs her that he is growing tired of a service which is unprofitable. Then the Queen prostrates herself at full length before his feet. Kay beseeches her to rise, but she says that she will never do so until he grants her request. Then Kay promises her to remain, provided the King and she will grant in advance a favour he is about to ask. “Kay,” she says, “he will grant it, whatever it may be. Come now, and we shall tell him that upon this condition you will remain.” So Kay goes away with the Queen to the King’s presence. The Queen says: “I have had hard work to detain Kay; but I have brought him here to you with the understanding that you will do what he is going to ask.” The King sighed with satisfaction, and said that he would perform whatever request he might make.
(Vv. 173–246.) “Sire,” says Kay, “hear now what I desire, and what is the gift you have promised me. I esteem myself very fortunate to gain such a boon with your consent. Sire, you have pledged your word that you would entrust to me my lady here, and that we should go after the knight who awaits us in the forest.” Though the King is grieved, he trusts him with the charge, for he never went back upon his word. But it made him so ill-humoured and displeased that it plainly showed in his countenance. The Queen, for her part, was sorry too, and all those of the household say that Kay had made a proud, outrageous, and mad request. Then the King took the Queen by the hand, and said: “My lady, you must accompany Kay without making objection.” And Kay said: “Hand her over to me now, and have no fear, for I shall bring her back perfectly happy and safe.” The King gives her into his charge, and he takes her off. After them all the rest go out, and there is not one who is not sad. You must know that the seneschal was fully armed, and his horse was led into the middle of the courtyard, together with a palfrey, as is fitting, for the Queen. The Queen walked up to the palfrey, which was neither restive nor hard-mouthed. Grieving and sad, with a sigh the Queen mounts, saying to herself in a low voice, so that no one could hear: “Alas, alas, if you only knew it, I am sure you would never allow me without interference to be led away a step.” 122 She thought she had spoken in a very low tone; but Count Guinable heard her, who was standing by when she mounted. When they started away, as great a lament was made by all the men and women present as if she already lay dead upon a bier. They do not believe that she will ever in her life come back. The seneschal in his impudence takes her where that other knight is awaiting her. But no one was so much concerned as to undertake to follow him; until at last my lord Gawain thus addressed the King his uncle: “Sire,” he says, “you have done a very foolish thing, which causes me great surprise; but if you will take my advice, while they are still near by, I and you will ride after them, and all those who wish to accompany us. For my part, I cannot restrain myself from going in pursuit of them at once. It would not be proper for us not to go after them, at least far enough to learn what is to become of the Queen, and how Kay is going to comport himself.” “Ah, fair nephew,” the King replied, “you have spoken courteously. And since you have undertaken the affair, order our horses to be led out bridled and saddled that there may be no delay in setting out.”
(Vv. 247–398.) The horses are at once brought out, all ready and with the saddles on. First the King mounts, then my lord Gawain, and all the others rapidly. Each one, wishing to be of the party, follows his own will and starts away. Some were armed, but there were not a few without their arms. My lord Gawain was armed, and he bade two squires lead by the bridle two extra steeds. And as they thus approached the forest, they saw Kay’s horse running out; and they recognised him, and saw that both reins of the bridle were broken. The horse was running wild, the stirrup-straps all stained with blood, and the saddle-bow was broken and damaged. Every one was chagrined at this, and they nudged each other and shook their heads. My lord Gawain was riding far in advance of the rest of the party, and it was not long before he saw coming slowly a knight on a horse that was sore, painfully tired, and covered with sweat. The knight first saluted my lord Gawain, and his greeting my lord Gawain returned. Then the knight, recognising my lord Gawain, stopped and thus spoke to him: “You see, sir, my horse is in a sweat and in such case as to be no longer serviceable. I suppose that those two horses belong to you now, with the understanding that I shall return the service and the favour, I beg you to let me have one or the other of them, either as a loan or outright as a gift.” And he answers him: “Choose whichever you prefer.” Then he who was in dire distress did not try to select the better or the fairer or the larger of the horses, but leaped quickly upon the one which was nearer to him, and rode him off. Then the one he had just left fell dead, for he had ridden him hard that day, so that he was used up and overworked. The knight without delay goes pricking through the forest, and my lord Gawain follows in pursuit of him with all speed, until he reaches the bottom of a hill. And when he had gone some distance, he found the horse dead which he had given to the knight, and noticed that the ground had been trampled by horses, and that broken shields and lances lay strewn about, so that it seemed that there had been a great combat between several knights, and he was very sorry and grieved not to have been there. However, he did not stay there long, but rapidly passed on until he saw again by chance the knight all alone on foot, completely armed, with helmet laced, shield hanging from his neck, and with his sword girt on. He had overtaken a cart. In those days such a cart served the same purpose as does a pillory now; and in each good town where there are more than three thousand such carts nowadays, in those times there was only one, and this, like our pillories, had to do service for all those who commit murder or treason, and those who are guilty of any delinquency, and for thieves who have stolen others’ property or have forcibly seized it on the roads. Whoever was convicted of any crime was placed upon a cart and dragged through all the streets, and he lost henceforth all his legal rights, and was never afterward heard, honoured, or welcomed in any court. The carts were so dreadful in those days that the saying was then first used: “When thou dost see and meet a cart, cross thyself and call upon God, that no evil may befall thee.” The knight on foot, and without a lance, walked behind the cart, and saw a dwarf sitting on the shafts, who held, as a driver does, a long goad in his hand. Then he cries out: “Dwarf, for God’s sake, tell me now if thou hast seen my lady, the Queen, pass by here.” The miserable, low-born dwarf would not give him any news of her, but replied: “If thou wilt get up into the cart I am driving thou shalt hear tomorrow what has happened to the Queen.” Then he kept on his way without giving further heed. The knight hesitated only for a couple of steps before getting in. Yet, it was unlucky for him that he shrank from the disgrace, and did not jump in at once; for he will later rue his delay. But common sense, which is inconsistent with love’s dictates, bids him refrain from getting in, warning him and counselling him to do and undertake nothing for which he may reap shame and disgrace. Reason, which dares thus speak to him, reaches only his lips, but not his heart; but love is enclosed within his heart, bidding him and urging him to mount at once upon the cart. So he jumps in, since love will have it so, feeling no concern about the shame, since he is prompted by love’s commands. And my lord Gawain presses on in haste after the cart, and when he finds the knight sitting in it, his surprise is great. “Tell me,” he shouted to the dwarf, “if thou knowest anything of the Queen.” And he replied: “If thou art so much thy own enemy as is this knight who is sitting here, get in with him, if it be thy pleasure, and I will drive thee along with him.” When my lord Gawain heard that, he considered it great foolishness, and said that he would not get in, for it would be dishonourable to exchange a horse for a cart: “Go on, and wherever thy journey lies, I will follow after thee.”
(Vv. 399–462.) Thereupon they start ahead, one mounted on his horse, the other two riding in the cart, and thus they proceed in company. Late in the afternoon they arrive at a town, which, you must know, was very rich and beautiful. All three entered through the gate; the people are greatly amazed to see the knight borne upon the cart, and they take no pains to conceal their feelings, but small and great and old and young shout taunts at him in the streets, so that the knight hears many vile and scornful words at his expense. 123 They all inquire: “To what punishment is this knight to be consigned? Is he to be rayed, or hanged, or drowned, or burned upon a fire of thorns? Tell us, thou dwarf, who art driving him, in what crime was he caught? Is he convicted of robbery? Is he a murderer, or a criminal?” And to all this the dwarf made no response, vouchsafing to them no reply. He conducts the knight to a lodging-place; and Gawain follows the dwarf closely to a tower, which stood on the same level over against the town. Beyond there stretched a meadow, and the tower was built close by, up on a lofty eminence of rock, whose face formed a sharp precipice. Following the horse and cart, Gawain entered the tower. In the hall they met a damsel elegantly attired, than whom there was none fairer in the land, and with her they saw coming two fair and charming maidens. As soon as they saw my lord Gawain, they received him joyously and saluted him, and then asked news about the other knight: “Dwarf, of what crime is this knight guilty, whom thou dost drive like a lame man?” He would not answer her question, but he made the knight get out of the cart, and then he withdrew, without their knowing whither he went. Then my lord Gawain dismounts, and valets come forward to relieve the two knights of their armour. The damsel ordered two green mantles to be brought, which they put on. When the hour for supper came, a sumptuous repast was set. The damsel sat at table beside my lord Gawain. They would not have changed their lodging-place to seek any other, for all that evening the damsel showed them gear honour, and provided them with fair and pleasant company.
(Vv. 463–538.) When they had sat up long enough, two long, high beds were prepared in the middle of the hall; and there was another bed alongside, fairer and more splendid than the rest; for, as the story testifies, it possessed all the excellence that one could think of in a bed. When the time came to retire, the damsel took both the guests to whom she had offered her hospitality; she shows them the two fine, long, wide beds, and says: “These two beds are set up here for the accommodation of your bodies; but in that one yonder no one ever lay who did not merit it: it was not set up to be used by you.” The knight who came riding on the cart replies at once: “Tell me,” he says, “for what cause this bed is inaccessible.” Being thoroughly informed of this, she answers unhesitatingly: “It is not your place to ask or make such an inquiry. Any knight is disgraced in the land after being in a cart, and it is not fitting that he should concern himself with the matter upon which you have questioned me; and most of all it is not right that he should lie upon the bed, for he would soon pay dearly for his act. So rich a couch has not been prepared for you, and you would pay dearly for ever harbouring such a thought.” He replies: “You will see about that presently.”. . . . “Am I to see it?”. . . . “Yes.”. . . . “It will soon appear.”. . . . “By my head,” the knight replies, “I know not who is to pay the penalty. But whoever may object or disapprove, I intend to lie upon this bed and repose there at my ease.” Then he at once disrobed in the bed, which was long and raised half an ell above the other two, and was covered with a yellow cloth of silk and a coverlet with gilded stars. The furs were not of skinned vair but of sable; the covering he had on him would have been fitting for a king. The mattress was not made of straw or rushes or of old mats. At midnight there descended from the rafters suddenly a lance, as with the intention of pinning the knight through the flanks to the coverlet and the white sheets where he lay.124 To the lance there was attached a pennon all ablaze. The coverlet, the bedclothes, and the bed itself all caught fire at once. And the tip of the lance passed so close to the knight’s side that it cut the skin a little, without seriously wounding him. Then the knight got up, put out the fire and, taking the lance, swung it in the middle of the hall, all this without leaving his bed; rather did he lie down again and slept as securely as at first.
(Vv. 539–982.) In the morning, at daybreak, the damsel of the tower had Mass celebrated on their account, and had them rise and dress. When Mass had been celebrated for them, the knight who had ridden in the cart sat down pensively at a window, which looked out upon the meadow, and he gazed upon the fields below. The damsel came to another window close by, and there my lord Gawain conversed with her privately for a while about something, I know not what. I do not know what words were uttered, but while they were leaning on the window-sill they saw carried along the river through the fields a bier, upon which there lay a knight, 125 and alongside three damsels walked, mourning bitterly. Behind the bier they saw a crowd approaching, with a tall knight in front, leading a fair lady by the horse’s rein. The knight at the window knew that it was the Queen. He continued to gaze at her attentively and with delight as long as she was visible. And when he could no longer see her, he was minded to throw himself out and break his body down below. And he would have let himself fall out had not my lord Gawain seen him, and drawn him back, saying: “I beg you, sire, be quiet now. For God’s sake, never think again of committing such a mad deed. It is wrong for you to despise your life.” “He is perfectly right,” the damsel says; “for will not the news of his disgrace be known everywhere? Since he has been upon the cart, he has good reason to wish to die, for he would be better dead than alive. His life henceforth is sure to be one of shame, vexation, and unhappiness.” Then the knights asked for their armour, and armed themselves, the damsel treating them courteously, with distinction and generosity; for when she had joked with the knight and ridiculed him enough, she presented him with a horse and lance as a token of her goodwill. The knights then courteously and politely took leave of the damsel, first saluting her, and then going off in the direction taken by the crowd they had seen. Thus they rode out from the town without addressing them. They proceeded quickly in the direction they had seen taken by the Queen, but they did not overtake the procession, which had advanced rapidly. After leaving the fields, the knights enter an enclosed place, and find a beaten road. They advanced through the woods until it might be six o’clock, 126 and then at a crossroads they met a damsel, whom they both saluted, each asking and requesting her to tell them, if she knows, whither the Queen has been taken. Replying intelligently, she said to them: “If you would pledge me your word, I could set you on the right road and path, and I would tell you the name of the country and of the knight who is conducting her; but whoever would essay to enter that country must endure sore trials, for before he could reach there he must suffer much.” Then my lord Gawain replies: “Damsel, so help me God, I promise to place all my strength at your disposal and service, whenever you please, if you will tell me now the truth.” And he who had been on the cart did not say that he would pledge her all his strength; but he proclaims, like one whom love makes rich, powerful and bold for any enterprise, that at once and without hesitation he will promise her anything she desires, and he puts himself altogether at her disposal. “Then I will tell you the truth,” says she. Then the damsel relates to them the following story: “In truth, my lords, Meleagant, a tall and powerful knight, son of the King of Gorre, has taken her off into the kingdom whence no foreigner returns, but where he must perforce remain in servitude and banishment.” Then they ask her: “Damsel, where is this country? Where can we find the way thither?” She replies: “That you shall quickly learn; but you may be sure that you will meet with many obstacles and difficult passages, for it is not easy to enter there except with the permission of the king, whose name is Bademagu; however, it is possible to enter by two very perilous paths and by two very difficult passage-ways. One is called the water-bridge, because the bridge is under water, and there is the same amount of water beneath it as above it, so that the bridge is exactly in the middle; and it is only a foot and a half in width and in thickness. This choice is certainly to be avoided, and yet it is the less dangerous of the two. In addition there are a number of other obstacles of which I will say nothing. The other bridge is still more impracticable and much more perilous, never having been crossed by man. It is just like a sharp sword, and therefore all the people call it ‘the sword-bridge’. Now I have told you all the truth I know.” But they ask of her once again: “Damsel, deign to show us these two passages.” To which the damsel makes reply: “This road here is the most direct to the water-bridge, and that one yonder leads straight to the sword-bridge.” Then the knight, who had been on the cart, says: “Sire, I am ready to share with you without prejudice: take one of these two routes, and leave the other one to me; take whichever you prefer.” “In truth,” my lord Gawain replies, “both of them are hard and dangerous: I am not skilled in making such a choice, and hardly know which of them to take; but it is not right for me to hesitate when you have left the choice to me: I will choose the water-bridge.” The other answers: “Then I must go uncomplainingly to the sword-bridge, which I agree to do.” Thereupon, they all three part, each one commending the others very courteously to God. And when she sees them departing, she says: “Each one of you owes me a favour of my choosing, whenever I may choose to ask it. Take care not to forget that.” “We shall surely not forget it, sweet friend,” both the knights call out. Then each one goes his own way, and he of the cart is occupied with deep reflections, like one who has no strength or defence against love which holds him in its sway. His thoughts are such that he totally forgets himself, and he knows not whether he is alive or dead, forgetting even his own name, not knowing whether he is armed or not, or whither he is going or whence he came. Only one creature he has in mind, and for her his thought is so occupied that he neither sees nor hears aught else. 127 And his horse bears him along rapidly, following no crooked road, but the best and the most direct; and thus proceeding unguided, he brings him into an open plain. In this plain there was a ford, on the other side of which a knight stood armed, who guarded it, and in his company there was a damsel who had come on a palfrey. By this time the afternoon was well advanced, and yet the knight, unchanged and unwearied, pursued his thoughts. The horse, being very thirsty, sees clearly the ford, and as soon as he sees it, hastens toward it. Then he on the other side cries out: “Knight, I am guarding the ford, and forbid you to cross.” He neither gives him heed, nor hears his words, being still deep in thought. In the meantime, his horse advanced rapidly toward the water. The knight calls out to him that he will do wisely to keep at a distance from the ford, for there is no passage that way; and he swears by the heart within his breast that he will smite him if he enters the water. But his threats are not heard, and he calls out to him a third time: “Knight, do not enter the ford against my will and prohibition; for, by my head, I shall strike you as soon as I see you in the ford.” But he is so deep in thought that he does not hear him. And the horse, quickly leaving the bank, leaps into the ford and greedily begins to drink. And the knight says he shall pay for this, that his shield and the hauberk he wears upon his back shall afford him no protection. First, he puts his horse at a gallop, and from a gallop he urges him to a run, and he strikes the knight so hard that he knocks him down flat in the ford which he had forbidden him to cross. His lance flew from his hand and the shield from his neck. When he feels the water, he shivers, and though stunned, he jumps to his feet, like one aroused from sleep, listening and looking about him with astonishment, to see who it can be who has struck him. Then face to face with the other knight, he said: “Vassal, tell me why you have struck me, when I was not aware of your presence, and when I had done you no harm.” “Upon my word, you had wronged me,” the other says: “did you not treat me disdainfully when I forbade you three times to cross the ford, shouting at you as loudly as I could? You surely heard me challenge you at least two or three times, and you entered in spite of me, though I told you I should strike you as soon as I saw you in the ford.” Then the knight replies to him: “Whoever heard you or saw you, let him be damned, so far as I am concerned. I was probably deep in thought when you forbade me to cross the ford. But be assured that I would make you reset it, if I could just lay one of my hands on your bridle.” And the other replies: “Why, what of that? If you dare, you may seize my bridle here and now. I do not esteem your proud threats so much as a handful of ashes.” And he replies: “That suits me perfectly. However the affair may turn out, I should like to lay my hands on you.” Then the other knight advances to the middle of the ford, where the other lays his left hand upon his bridle, and his right hand upon his leg, pulling, dragging, and pressing him so roughly that he remonstrates, thinking that he would pull his leg out of his body. Then he begs him to let go, saying: “Knight, if it please thee to fight me on even terms, take thy shield and horse and lance, and joust with me.” He answers: “That will I not do, upon my word; for I suppose thou wouldst run away as soon as thou hadst escaped my grip.” Hearing this, he was much ashamed, and said: “Knight, mount thy horse, in confidence for I will pledge thee loyally my word that I shall not flinch or run away.” Then once again he answers him: “First, thou wilt have to swear to that, and I insist upon receiving thy oath that thou wilt neither run away nor flinch, nor touch me, nor come near me until thou shalt see me on my horse; I shall be treating thee very generously, if, when thou art in my hands, I let thee go.” He can do nothing but give his oath; and when the other hears him swear, he gathers up his shield and lance which were floating in the ford and by this time had drifted well down-stream; then he returns and takes his horse. After catching and mounting him, he seizes the shield by the shoulder-straps and lays his lance in rest. Then each spurs toward the other as fast as their horses can carry them. And he who had to defend the ford first attacks the other, striking him so hard that his lance is completely splintered. The other strikes him in return so that he throws him prostrate into the ford, and the water closes over him. Having accomplished that, he draws back and dismounts, thinking he could drive and chase away a hundred such. While he draws from the scabbard his sword of steel, the other jumps up and draws his excellent flashing blade. Then they clash again, advancing and covering themselves with the shields which gleam with gold. Ceaselessly and without repose they wield their swords; they have the courage to deal so many blows that the battle finally is so protracted that the Knight of the Cart is greatly ashamed in his heart, thinking that he is making a sorry start in the way he has undertaken, when he has spent so much time in defeating a single knight. If he had met yesterday a hundred such, he does not think or believe that they could have withstood him; so now he is much grieved and wroth to be in such an exhausted state that he is missing his strokes and losing time. Then he runs at him and presses him so hard that the other knight gives way and flees. However reluctant he may be, he leaves the ford and crossing free. But the other follows him in pursuit until he falls forward upon his hands; then he of the cart runs up to him, swearing by all he sees that he shall rue the day when he upset him in the ford and disturbed his revery. The damsel, whom the knight had with him, upon hearing the threats, is in great fear, and begs him for her sake to forbear from killing him; but he tells her that he must do so, and can show him no mercy for her sake, in view of the shameful wrong that he has done him. Then, with sword drawn, he approaches the knight who cries in sore dismay: “For God’s sake and for my own, show me the mercy I ask of you.” And he replies: “As God may save me, no one ever sinned so against me that I would not show him mercy once, for God’s sake as is right, if he asked it of me in God’s name. And so on thee I will have mercy; for I ought not to refuse thee when thou hast besought me. But first, thou shalt give me thy word to constitute thyself my prisoner whenever I may wish to summon thee.” Though it was hard to do so, he promised him. At once the damsel said: “O knight, since thou hast granted the mercy he asked of thee, if ever thou hast broken any bonds, for my sake now be merciful and release this prisoner from his parole. Set him free at my request, upon condition that when the time comes, I shall do my utmost to repay thee in any way that thou shalt choose.” Then he declares himself satisfied with the promise she has made, and sets the knight at liberty. Then she is ashamed and anxious, thinking that he will recognise her, which she did not wish. But he goes away at once, the knight and the damsel commending him to God, and taking leave of him. He grants them leave to go, while he himself pursues his way, until late in the afternoon he met a damsel coming, who was very fair and charming, well attired and richly dressed. The damsel greets him prudently and courteously, and he replies: “Damsel, God grant you health and happiness.” Then the damsel said to him: “Sire, my house is prepared for you, if you will accept my hospitality, but you shall find shelter there only on condition that you will lie with me; upon these terms I propose and make the offer.” Not a few there are who would have thanked her five hundred times for such a gift; but he is much displeased, and made a very different answer: “Damsel, I thank you for the offer of your house, and esteem it highly, but, if you please, I should be very sorry to lie with you.” “By my eyes,” the damsel says, “then I retract my offer.” And he, since it is unavoidable, lets her have her way, though his heart grieves to give consent. He feels only reluctance now; but greater distress will be his when it is time to go to bed. The damsel, too, who leads him away, will pass through sorrow and heaviness. For it is possible that she will love him so that she will not wish to part with him. As soon as he had granted her wish and desire, she escorts him to a fortified place, than which there was none fairer in Thessaly; for it was entirely enclosed by a high wall and a deep moat, and there was no man within except him whom she brought with her.
(Vv. 983–1042.) Here she had constructed for her residence a quantity of handsome rooms, and a large and roomy hall. Riding along a river bank, they approached their lodging-place, and a drawbridge was lowered to allow them to pass. Crossing the bridge, they entered in, and found the hall open with its roof of tiles. Through the open door they pass, and see a table laid with a broad white cloth, upon which the dishes were set, and the candles burning in their stands, and the gilded silver drinking-cups, and two pots of wine, one red and one white. Standing beside the table, at the end of a bench, they found two basins of warm water in which to wash their hands, with a richly embroidered towel, all white and clean, with which to dry their hands. No valets, servants, or squires were to be found or seen. The knight, removing his shield from about his neck, hangs it upon a hook, and, taking his lance, lays it above upon a rack. Then he dismounts from his horse, as does the damsel from hers. The knight, for his part, was pleased that she did not care to wait for him to help her to dismount. Having dismounted, she runs directly to a room and brings him a short mantle of scarlet cloth which she puts on him. The hall was by no means dark; for beside the light from the stars, there were many large twisted candles lighted there, so that the illumination was very bright. When she had thrown the mantle about his shoulders, she said to him: “Friend, here is the water and the towel; there is no one to present or offer it to you except me whom you see. Wash your hands, and then sit down, when you feel like doing so. The hour and the meal, as you can see, demand that you should do so.” He washes, and then gladly and readily takes his seat, and she sits down beside him, and they eat and drink together, until the time comes to leave the table.
(Vv. 1043–1206.) When they had risen from the table, the damsel said to the knight: “Sire, if you do not object, go outside and amuse yourself; but, if you please, do not stay after you think I must be in bed. Feel no concern or embarrassment; for then you may come to me at once, if you will keep the promise you have made.” And he replies: “I will keep my word, and will return when I think the time has come.” Then he went out, and stayed in the courtyard until he thought it was time to return and keep the promise he had made. Going back into the hall, he sees nothing of her who would be his mistress; for she was not there. Not finding or seeing her, he said: “Wherever she may be, I shall look for her until I find her.” He makes no delay in his search, being bound by the promise he had made her. Entering one of the rooms, he hears a damsel cry aloud, and it was the very one with whom he was about to lie. At the same time, he sees the door of another room standing open, and stepping toward it, he sees right before his eyes a knight who had thrown her down, and was holding her naked and prostrate upon the bed. She, thinking that he had come of course to help her, cried aloud: “Help, help, thou knight, who art my guest. If thou dost not take this man away from me, I shall find no one to do so; if thou dost not succour me speedily, he will wrong me before thy eyes. Thou art the one to lie with me, in accordance with thy promise; and shall this man by force accomplish his wish before thy eyes? Gentle knight, exert thyself, and make haste to bear me aid.” He sees that the other man held the damsel brutally uncovered to the waist, and he is ashamed and angered to see him assault her so; yet it is not jealousy he feels, nor will he be made a cuckold by him. At the door there stood as guards two knights completely armed and with swords drawn. Behind them there stood four men-at-arms, each armed with an axe the sort with which you could split a cow down the back as easily as a root of juniper or broom. The knight hesitated at the door, and thought: “God, what can I do? I am engaged in no less an affair than the quest of Queen Guinevere. I ought not to have the heart of a hare, when for her sake I have engaged in such a quest. If cowardice puts its heart in me, and if I follow its dictates, I shall never attain what I seek. I am disgraced, if I stand here; indeed, I am ashamed even to have thought of holding back. My heart is very sad and oppressed: now I am so ashamed and distressed that I would gladly die for having hesitated here so long. I say it not in pride: but may God have mercy on me if I do not prefer to die honourably rather than live a life of shame! If my path were unobstructed, and if these men gave me leave to pass through without restraint, what honour would I gain? Truly, in that case the greatest coward alive would pass through; and all the while I hear this poor creature calling for help constantly, and reminding me of my promise, and reproaching me with bitter taunts.” Then he steps to the door, thrusting in his head and shoulders; glancing up, he sees two swords descending. He draws back, and the knights could not check their strokes: they had wielded them with such force that the swords struck the floor, and both were broken in pieces. When he sees that the swords are broken, he pays less attention to the axes, fearing and dreading them much less. Rushing in among them, he strikes first one guard in the side and then another. The two who are nearest him he jostles and thrusts aside, throwing them both down flat; the third missed his stroke at him, but the fourth, who attacked him, strikes him so that he cuts his mantle and shirt, and slices the white flesh on his shoulder so that the blood trickles down from the wound. But he, without delay, and without complaining of his wound, presses on more rapidly, until he strikes between the temples him who was assaulting his hostess. Before he departs, he will try to keep his pledge to her. He makes him stand up reluctantly. Meanwhile, he who had missed striking him comes at him as fast as he can and, raising his arm again, expects to split his head to the teeth with the axe. But the other, alert to defend himself, thrusts the knight toward him in such a way that he receives the axe just where the shoulder joins the neck, so that they are cleaved apart. Then the knight seizes the axe, wresting it quickly from him who holds it; then he lets go the knight whom he still held, and looks to his own defence; for the knights from the door, and the three men with axes are all attacking him fiercely. So he leaped quickly between the bed and the wall, and called to them: “Come on now, all of you. If there were thirty-seven of you, you would have all the fight you wish, with me so favourably placed; I shall never be overcome by you.” And the damsel watching him, exclaimed: “By my eyes, you need have no thought of that henceforth where I am.” Then at once she dismisses the knights and the men-at-arms, who retire from there at once, without delay or objection. And the damsel continues: “Sire you have well defended me against the men of my household. Come now, and I’ll lead you on.” Hand in hand they enter the hall, but he was not at all pleased, and would have willingly dispensed with her.
(Vv. 1207–1292.) In the midst of the hall a bed had been set up, the sheets of which were by no means soiled, but were white and wide and well spread out. The bed was not of shredded straw or of coarse spreads. But a covering of two silk cloths had been laid upon the couch. The damsel lay down first, but without removing her chemise. He had great trouble in removing his hose and in untying the knots. He sweated with the trouble of it all; yet, in the midst of all the trouble, his promise impels and drives him on. Is this then an actual force? Yes, virtually so; for he feels that he is in duty bound to take his place by the damsel’s side. It is his promise that urges him and dictates his act. So he lies down at once, but like her, he does not remove his shirt. He takes good care not to touch her; and when he is in bed, he turns away from her as far as possible, and speaks not a word to her, like a monk to whom speech is forbidden. Not once does he look at her, nor show her any courtesy. Why not? Because his heart does not go out to her. She was certainly very fair and winsome, but not every one is pleased and touched by what is fair and winsome. The knight has only one heart, and this one is really no longer his, but has been entrusted to some one else, so that he cannot bestow it elsewhere. Love, which holds all hearts beneath its sway, requires it to be lodged in a single place. All hearts? No, only those which it esteems. And he whom love deigns to control ought to prize himself the more. Love prized his heart so highly that it constrained it in a special manner, and made him so proud of this distinction that I am not inclined to find fault with him, if he lets alone what love forbids, and remains fixed where it desires. The maiden clearly sees and knows that he dislikes her company and would gladly dispense with it, and that, having no desire to win her love, he would not attempt to woo her. So she said: “My lord, if you will not feel hurt, I will leave and return to bed in my own room, and you will be more comfortable. I do not believe that you are pleased with my company and society. Do not esteem me less if I tell you what I think. Now take your rest all night, for you have so well kept your promise that I have no right to make further request of you. So I commend you to God; and shall go away.” Thereupon she arises: the knight does not object, but rather gladly lets her go, like one who is the devoted lover of some one else; the damsel clearly perceived this, and went to her room, where she undressed completely and retired, saying to herself: “Of all the knights I have ever known, I never knew a single knight whom I would value the third part of an angevin in comparison with this one. As I understand the case, he has on hand a more perilous and grave affair than any ever undertaken by a knight; and may God grant that he succeed in it.” Then she fell asleep, and remained in bed until the next day’s dawn appeared.
(Vv. 1293–1368.) At daybreak she awakes and gets up. The knight awakes too, dressing, and putting on his arms, without waiting for any help. Then the damsel comes and sees that he is already dressed. Upon seeing him, she says: “May this day be a happy one for you.” “And may it be the same to you, damsel,” the knight replies, adding that he is waiting anxiously for some one to bring out his horse. The maiden has some one fetch the horse, and says: “Sire, I should like to accompany you for some distance along the road, if you would agree to escort and conduct me according to the customs and practices which were observed before we were made captive in the kingdom of Logres.” In those days the customs and privileges were such that, if a knight found a damsel or lorn maid alone, and if he cared for his fair name, he would no more treat her with dishonour than he would cut his own throat. And if he assaulted her, he would be disgraced for ever in every court. But if, while she was under his escort, she should be won at arms by another who engaged him in battle, then this other knight might do with her what he pleased without receiving shame or blame. This is why the damsel said she would go with him, if he had the courage and willingness to safe guard her in his company, so that no one should do her any harm. And he says to her: “No one shall harm you, I promise you, unless he harm me first.” “Then,” she says, “I will go with you.” She orders her palfrey to be saddled, and her command is obeyed at once. Her palfrey was brought together with the knight’s horse. Without the aid of any squire, they both mount, and rapidly ride away. She talks to him, but not caring for her words, he pays no attention to what she says. He likes to think, but dislikes to talk. Love very often inflicts afresh the wound it has given him. Yet, he applied no poultice to the wound to cure it and make it comfortable, having no intention or desire to secure a poultice or to seek a physician, unless the wound becomes more painful. Yet, there is one whose remedy he would gladly seek. . . . 128 They follow the roads and paths in the right direction until they come to a spring, situated in the middle of a field, and bordered by a stone basin. Some one had forgotten upon the stone a comb of gilded ivory. Never since ancient times has wise man or fool seen such a comb. In its teeth there was almost a handful of hair belonging to her who had used the comb.
(Vv. 1369–1552.) When the damsel notices the spring, and sees the stone, she does not wish her companion to see it; so she turns off in another direction. And he, agreeably occupied with his own thoughts, does not at once remark that she is leading him aside; but when at last he notices it, he is afraid of being beguiled, thinking that she is yielding and is going out of the way in order to avoid some danger. “See here, damsel,” he cries, “you are not going right; come this way! No one, I think, ever went straight who left this road.” “Sire, this is a better way for us,” the damsel says, “I am sure of it.” Then he replies to her: “I don’t know, damsel, what you think; but you can plainly see that the beaten path lies this way; and since I have started to follow it, I shall not turn aside. So come now, if you will, for I shall continue along this way.” Then they go forward until they come near the stone basin and see the comb. The knight says: “I surely never remember to have seen so beautiful a comb as this.” “Let me have it,” the damsel says. “Willingly, damsel,” he replies. Then he stoops over and picks it up. While holding it, he looks at it steadfastly, gazing at the hair until the damsel begins to laugh. When he sees her doing so, he begs her to tell him why she laughs. And she says: “Never mind, for I will never tell you.” “Why not?” he asks. “Because I don’t wish to do so.” And when he hears that, he implores her like one who holds that lovers ought to keep faith mutually: “Damsel, if you love anything passionately, by that I implore and conjure and beg you not to conceal from me the reason why you laugh.” “Your appeal is so strong,” she says, “that I will tell you and keep nothing back. I am sure, as I am of anything, that this comb belonged to the Queen. And you may take my word that those are strands of the Queen’s hair which you see to be so fair and light and radiant, and which are clinging in the teeth of the comb; they surely never grew anywhere else.” Then the knight replied: “Upon my word, there are plenty of queens and kings; what queen do you mean?” And she answered: “In truth, fair sire, it is of King Arthur’s wife I speak.” When he hears that, he has not strength to keep from bowing his head over his saddle-bow. And when the damsel sees him thus, she is amazed and terrified, thinking he is about to fall. Do not blame her for her fear, for she thought him in a faint. He might as well have swooned, so near was he to doing so; for in his heart he felt such grief that for a long time he lost his colour and power of speech. And the damsel dismounts, and runs as quickly as possible to support and succour him; for she would not have wished for anything to see him fall. When he saw her, he felt ashamed, and said: “Why do you need to bear me aid?” You must not suppose that the damsel told him why; for he would have been ashamed and distressed, and it would have annoyed and troubled him, if she had confessed to him the truth. So she took good care not to tell the truth, but tactfully answered him: “Sire, I dismounted to get the comb; for I was so anxious to hold it in my hand that I could not longer wait.” Willing that she should have the comb, he gives it to her, first pulling out the hair so carefully that he tears none of it. Never will the eye of man see anything receive such honour as when he begins to adore these tresses. A hundred thousand times he raises them to his eyes and mouth, to his forehead and face: he manifests his joy in every way, considering himself rich and happy now. He lays them in his bosom near his heart, between the shirt and the flesh. He would not exchange them for a cartload of emeralds and carbuncles, nor does he think that any sore or illness can afflict him now; he holds in contempt essence of pearl, treacle, and the cure for pleurisy; 129 even for St. Martin and St. James he has no need; for he has such confidence in this hair that he requires no other aid. But what was this hair like? If I tell the truth about it, you will think I am a mad teller of lies. When the mart is full at the yearly fair of St. Denis, 130 and when the goods are most abundantly displayed, even then the knight would not take all this wealth, unless he had found these tresses too. And if you wish to know the truth, gold a hundred thousand times refined, and melted down as many times, would be darker than is night compared with the brightest summer day we have had this year, if one were to see the gold and set it beside this hair. But why should I make a long story of it? The damsel mounts again with the comb in her possession; while he revels and delights in the tresses in his bosom. Leaving the plain, they come to a forest and take a short cut through it until they come to a narrow place, where they have to go in single file; for it would have been impossible to ride two horses abreast. Just where the way was narrowest, they see a knight approach. As soon as she saw him, the damsel recognised him, and said: “Sir knight, do you see him who yonder comes against us all armed and ready for a battle? I know what his intention is: he thinks now that he cannot fail to take me off defenceless with him. He loves me, but he is very foolish to do so. In person, and by messenger, he has been long wooing me. But my love is not within his reach, for I would not love him under any consideration, so help me God! I would kill myself rather than bestow my love on him. I do not doubt that he is delighted now, and is as satisfied as if he had me already in his power. But now I shall see what you can do, and I shall see how brave you are, and it will become apparent whether your escort can protect me. If you can protect me now, I shall not fail to proclaim that you are brave and very worthy.” And he answered her: “Go on, go on!” which was as much as to say: “I am not concerned; there is no need of your being worried about what you have said.”
(Vv. 1553–1660.) While they were proceeding, talking thus, the knight, who was alone, rode rapidly toward them on the run. He was the more eager to make haste, because he felt more sure of success; he felt that he was lucky now to see her whom he most dearly loves. As soon as he approaches her, he greets her with words that come from his heart: “Welcome to her, whence-soever she comes, whom I most desire, but who has hitherto caused me least joy and most distress!” It is not fitting that she should be so stingy of her speech as not to return his greeting, at least by word of mouth. The knight is greatly elated when the damsel greets him; though she does not take the words seriously, and the effort costs her nothing. Yet, if he had at this moment been victor in a tournament, he would not have so highly esteemed himself, nor thought he had won such honour and renown. Being now more confident of his worth, he grasped the bridle rein, and said: “Now I shall lead you away: I have today sailed well on my course to have arrived at last at so good a port. Now my troubles are at an end: after dangers, I have reached a haven; after sorrow, I have attained happiness; after pain, I have perfect health; now I have accomplished my desire, when I find you in such case that I can without resistance lead you away with me at once.” Then she says: “You have no advantage; for I am under this knight’s escort.” “Surely, the escort is not worth much,” he says, “and I am going to lead you off at once. This knight would have time to eat a bushel of salt before he could defend you from me; I think I could never meet a knight from whom I should not win you. And since I find you here so opportunely, though he too may do his best to prevent it, yet I will take you before his very eyes, however disgruntled he may be.” The other is not angered by all the pride he hears expressed, but without any impudence or boasting, he begins thus to challenge him for her: “Sire, don’t be in a hurry, and don’t waste your words, but speak a little reasonably. You shall not be deprived of as much of her as rightly belongs to you. You must know, however, that the damsel has come hither under my protection. Let her alone now, for you have detained her long enough!” The other gives them leave to burn him, if he does not take her away in spite of him. Then the other says: “It would not be right for me to let you take her away; I would sooner fight with you. But if we should wish to fight, we could not possibly do it in this narrow road. Let us go to some level place — a meadow or an open field.” And he replies that that will suit him perfectly: “Certainly, I agree to that: you are quite right, this road is too narrow. My horse is so much hampered here that I am afraid he will crush his flank before I can turn him around.” Then with great difficulty he turns, and his horse escapes without any wound or harm. Then he says: “To be sure, I am much chagrined that we have not met in a favourable spot and in the presence of other men, for I should have been glad to have them see which is the better of us two. Come on now, let us begin our search: we shall find in the vicinity some large, broad, and open space.” Then they proceed to a meadow, where there were maids, knights, and damsels playing at divers games in this pleasant place. They were not all engaged in idle sport, but were playing backgammon and chess or dice, and were evidently agreeably employed. Most were engaged in such games as these; but the others there were engaged in sports, dancing, singing, tumbling, leaping, and wrestling with each other.
(Vv. 1661–1840.) A knight somewhat advanced in years was on the other side of the meadow, seared upon a sorrel Spanish steed. His bridle and saddle were of gold, and his hair was turning grey. One hand hung at his side with easy grace. The weather being fine, he was in his shirt sleeves, with a short mantle of scarlet cloth and fur slung over his shoulders, and thus he watched the games and dances. On the other side of the field, close by a path, there were twenty-three knights mounted on good Irish steeds. As soon as the three new arrivals come into view, they all cease their play and shout across the fields: “See, yonder comes the knight who was driven in the cart! Let no one continue his sport while he is in our midst. A curse upon him who cares or deigns to play so long as he is here!” Meanwhile he who loved the damsel and claimed her as his own, approached the old knight, and said: “Sire, I have attained great happiness; let all who will now hear me say that God has granted me the thing that I have always most desired; His gift would not have been so great had He crowned me as king, nor would I have been so indebted to Him, nor would I have so profited; for what I have gained is fair and good.” “I know not yet if it be thine,” the knight replies to his son. But the latter answers him: “Don’t you know? Can’t you see it, then? For God’s sake, sire, have no further doubt, when you see that I have her in my possession. In this forest, whence I come, I met her as she was on her way. I think God had fetched her there for me, and I have taken her for my own.” “I do not know whether this will be allowed by him whom I see coming after thee; he looks as if he is coming to demand her of thee.” During this conversation the dancing had ceased because of the knight whom they saw, nor were they gaily playing any more because of the disgust and scorn they felt for him. But the knight without delay came up quickly after the damsel, and said: “Let the damsel alone, knight, for you have no right to her! If you dare, I am willing at once to fight with you in her defence.” Then the old knight remarked: “Did I not know it? Fair son, detain the damsel no longer, but let her go.” He does not relish this advice, and swears that he will not give her up: “May God never grant me joy if I give her up to him! I have her, and I shall hold on to her as something that is mine own. The shoulder-strap and all the armlets of my shield shall first be broken, and I shall have lost all confidence in my strength and arms, my sword and lance, before I will surrender my mistress to him.” And his father says: “I shall not let thee fight for any reason thou mayest urge. Thou art too confident of thy bravery. So obey my command.” But he in his pride replies: “What? Am I a child to be terrified? Rather will I make my boast that there is not within the sea-girt land any knight, wheresoever he may dwell, so excellent that I would let him have her, and whom I should not expect speedily to defeat.” The father answers: “Fair son, I do not doubt that thou dost really think so, for thou art so confident of thy strength. But I do not wish to see thee enter a contest with this knight.” Then he replies: “I shall be disgraced if I follow your advice. Curse me if I heed your counsel and turn recreant because of you, and do not do my utmost in the fight. It is true that a man fares ill among his relatives: I could drive a better bargain somewhere else, for you are trying to take me in. I am sure that where I am not known, I could act with better grace. No one, who did not know me, would try to thwart my will; whereas you are annoying and tormenting me. I am vexed by your finding fault with me. You know well enough that when any one is blamed, he breaks out still more passionately. But may God never give me joy if I renounce my purpose because of you; rather will I fight in spite of you!” “By the faith I bear the Apostle St. Peter,” his father says, “now I see that my request is of no avail. I waste my time in rebuking thee; but I shall soon devise such means as shall compel thee against thy will to obey my commands and submit to them.” Straightway summoning all the knights to approach, he bids them lay hands upon his son whom he cannot correct, saying: “I will have him bound rather than let him fight. You here are all my men, and you owe me your devotion and service: by all the fiefs you hold from me, I hold you responsible, and I add my prayer. It seems to me that he must be mad, and that he shows excessive pride, when he refuses to respect my will.” Then they promise to take care of him, and say that never, while he is in their charge, shall he wish to fight, but that he must renounce the damsel in spite of himself. Then they all join and seize him by the arms and neck. “Dost thou not think thyself foolish now?” his father asks; “confess the truth: thou hast not the strength or power to fight or joust, however distasteful and hard it may be for thee to admit it. Thou wilt be wise to consent to my will and pleasure. Dost thou know what my intention is? In order somewhat to mitigate thy disappointment, I am willing to join thee, if thou wilt, in following the knight today and tomorrow, through wood and plain, each one mounted on his horse. Perhaps we shall soon find him to be of such a character and bearing that I might let thee have thy way and fight with him.” To this proposal the other must perforce consent. Like the man who has no alternative, he says that he will give in, provided they both shall follow him. And when the people in the field see how this adventure has turned out, they all exclaim: “Did you see? He who was mounted on the cart has gained such honour here that he is leading away the mistress of the son of my lord, and he himself is allowing it. We may well suppose that he finds in him some merit, when he lets him take her off. Now cursed a hundred times be he who ceases longer his sport on his account! Come, let us go back to our games again.” Then they resume their games and dances.
(Vv. 1841–1966.) Thereupon the knight turns away, without longer remaining in the field, and the damsel accompanies him. They leave in haste, while the father and his son ride after them through the mown fields until toward three o’clock, when in a very pleasant spot they come upon a church; beside the chancel there was a cemetery enclosed by a wall. The knight was both courteous and wise to enter the church on foot and make his prayer to God, while the damsel held his horse for him until he returned. When he had made his prayer, and while he was coming back, a very old monk suddenly presented himself; whereupon the knight politely requests him to tell him what this place is; for he does not know. And he tells him it is a cemetery. And the other says: “Take me in, so help you God!” “Gladly, sire,” and he takes him in. Following the monk’s lead, the knight beholds the most beautiful tombs that one could find as far as Dombes 131 or Pampelune; and on each tomb there were letters cut, telling the names of those who were destined to be buried there. And he began in order to read the names, and came upon some which said: “Here Gawain is to lie, here Louis, and here Yvain.” After these three, he read the names of many others among the most famed and cherished knights of this or any other land. Among the others, he finds one of marble, which appears to be new, and is more rich and handsome than all the rest. Calling the monk, the knight inquired: “Of what use are these tombs here?” And the monk replied: “You have already read the inscriptions; if you have understood, you must know what they say, and what is the meaning of the tombs.” “Now tell me, what is this large one for?” And the hermit answered: “I will tell you. That is a very large sarcophagus, larger than any that ever was made; one so rich and well-carved was never seen. It is magnificent without, and still more so within. But you need not be concerned with that, for it can never do you any good; you will never see inside of it; for it would require seven strong men to raise the lid of stone, if any one wished to open it. And you may be sure that to raise it would require seven men stronger than you and I. There is an inscription on it which says that any one who can lift this stone of his own unaided strength will set free all the men and women who are captives in the land, whence no slave or noble can issue forth, unless he is a native of that land. No one has ever come back from there, but they are detained in foreign prisons; whereas they of the country go and come in and out as they please.” At once the knight goes to grasp the stone, and raises it without the slightest trouble, more easily than ten men would do who exerted all their strength. And the monk was amazed, and nearly fell down at the sight of this marvellous thing; for he thought he would never see the like again, and said: “Sire, I am very anxious to know your name. Will you tell me what it is?” “Not I,” says the knight, “upon my word.” “I am certainly sorry, for that,” he says; “but if you would tell me, you would do me a great favour, and might benefit yourself. Who are you, and where do you come from?” “I am a knight, as you may see, and I was born in the kingdom of Logre. After so much information, I should prefer to be excused. Now please tell me, for your part, who is to lie within this tomb.” “Sire, he who shall deliver all those who are held captive in the kingdom whence none escapes.” And when he had told him all this, the knight commended him to God and all His saints. And then, for the first time, he felt free to return to the damsel. The old white-haired monk escorts him out of the church, and they resume their way. While the damsel is mounting, however, the hermit relates to her all that the knight had done inside, and then he begged her to tell him, if she knew, what his name was; but she assured him that she did not know, but that there was one sure thing she could say, namely, that there was not such a knight alive where the four winds of heaven blow.
(Vv. 1967–2022.) Then the damsel takes leave of him, and rides swiftly after the knight. Then those who were following them come up and see the hermit standing alone before the church. The old knight in his shirt sleeves said: “Sire, tell us, have you seen a knight with a damsel in his company?” And he replies: “I shall not be loath to tell you all I know, for they have just passed on from here. The knight was inside yonder, and did a very marvellous thing in raising the stone from the huge marble tomb, quite unaided and without the least effort. He is bent upon the rescue of the Queen, and doubtless he will rescue her, as well as all the other people. You know well that this must be so, for you have often read the inscription upon the stone. No knight was ever born of man and woman, and no knight ever sat in a saddle, who was the equal of this man.” Then the father turns to his son, and says: “Son, what dost thou think about him now? Is he not a man to be respected who has performed such a feat? Now thou knowest who was wrong, and whether it was thou or I. I would not have thee fight with him for all the town of Amiens; and yet thou didst struggle hard, before any one could dissuade thee from thy purpose. Now we may as well go back, for we should be very foolish to follow him any farther.” And he replies: “I agree to that. It would be useless to follow him. Since it is your pleasure, let us return.” They were very wise to retrace their steps. And all the time the damsel rides close beside the knight, wishing to compel him to give heed to her. She is anxious to learn his name, and she begs and beseeches him again and again to tell her, until in his annoyance he answers her: “Have I not already told you that I belong in King Arthur’s realm? I swear by God and His goodness that you shall not learn my name.” Then she bids him give her leave to go, and she will turn back, which request he gladly grants.
(Vv. 2023–2198.) Thereupon the damsel departs, and he rides on alone until it grew very late. After vespers, about compline, as he pursued his way, he saw a knight returning from the wood where he had been hunting. With helmet unlaced, he rode along upon his big grey hunter, to which he had tied the game which God had permitted him to take. This gentleman came quickly to meet the knight, offering him hospitality. “Sire,” he says, “night will soon be here. It is time for you to be reasonable and seek a place to spend the night. I have a house of mine near at hand, whither I shall take you. No one ever lodged you better than I shall do, to the extent of my resources: I shall be very glad, if you consent.” “For my part, I gladly accept,” he says. The gentleman at once sends his son ahead, to prepare the house and start the preparations for supper. The lad willingly executes his command forthwith, and goes off at a rapid pace, while the others, who are in no haste, follow the road leisurely until they arrive at the house. The gentleman’s wife was a very accomplished lady; and he had five sons, whom he dearly loved, three of them mere lads, and two already knights; and he had two fair and charming daughters, who were still unmarried. They were not natives of the land, but were there in durance, having been long kept there as prisoners away from their native land of Logres. When the gentleman led the knight into his yard, the lady with her sons and daughters jumped up and ran to meet them, vying in their efforts to do him honour, as they greeted him and helped him to dismount. Neither the sisters nor the five brothers paid much attention to their father, for they knew well enough that he would have it so. They honoured the knight and welcomed him; and when they had relieved him of his armour, one of his host’s two daughters threw her own mantle about him, taking it from her own shoulders and throwing it about his neck. I do not need to tell how well he was served at supper; but when the meal was finished, they felt no further hesitation in speaking of various matters. First, the host began to ask him who he was, and from what land, but he did not inquire about his name. The knight promptly answered him: “I am from the kingdom of Logres, and have never been in this land before.” And when the gentleman heard that, he was greatly amazed, as were his wife and children too, and each one of them was sore distressed. Then they began to say to him: “Woe that you have come here, fair sire, for only trouble will come of it! For, like us, you will be reduced to servitude and exile.” “Where do you come from, then?” he asked. “Sire, we belong in your country. Many men from your country are held in servitude in this land. Cursed be the custom, together with those who keep it up! No stranger comes here who is not compelled to stay here in the land where he is detained. For whoever wishes may come in, but once in, he has to stay. About your own fate, you may be at rest, you will doubtless never escape from here.” He replies: “Indeed, I shall do so, if possible.” To this the gentleman replies: “How? Do you think you can escape?” “Yes, indeed, if it be God’s will; and I shall do all within my power.” “In that case, doubtless all the rest would be set free; for, as soon as one succeeds in fairly escaping from this durance, then all the rest may go forth unchallenged.” Then the gentleman recalled that he had been told and informed that a knight of great excellence was making his way into the country to seek for the Queen, who was held by the king’s son, Meleagant; and he said to himself: “Upon my word, I believe it is he, and I’ll tell him so.” So he said to him: “Sire, do not conceal from me your business, if I promise to give you the best advice I know. I too shall profit by any success you may attain. Reveal to me the truth about your errand, that it may be to your advantage as well as mine. I am persuaded that you have come in search of the Queen into this land and among these heathen people, who are worse than the Saracens.” And the knight replies: “For no other purpose have I come. I know not where my lady is confined, but I am striving hard to rescue her, and am in dire need of advice. Give me any counsel you can.” And he says: “Sire, you have undertaken a very grievous task. The road you are travelling will lead you straight to the sword-bridge.132 You surely need advice. If you would heed my counsel, you would proceed to the sword-bridge by a surer way, and I would have you escorted thither.” Then he, whose mind is fixed upon the most direct way, asks him: “Is the road of which you speak as direct as the other way?” “No, it is not,” he says; “it is longer, but more sure.” Then he says: “I have no use for it; tell me about this road I am following!” “I am ready to do so,” he replies; “but I am sure you will not fare well if you take any other than the road I recommend. To-morrow you will reach a place where you will have trouble: it is called ‘the stony passage’. Shall I tell you how bad a place it is to pass? Only one horse can go through at a time; even two men could not pass abreast, and the passage is well guarded and defended. You will meet with resistance as soon as you arrive. You will sustain many a blow of sword and lance, and will have to return full measure before you succeed in passing through.” And when he had completed the account, one of the gentleman’s sons, who was a knight, stepped forward, saying: “Sire, if you do not object, I will go with this gentleman.” Then one of the lads jumps up, and says: “I too will go.” And the father gladly gives them both consent. Now the knight will not have to go alone, and he expresses his gratitude, being much pleased with the company.
(Vv. 2199–2266.) Then the conversation ceases, and they take the knight to bed, where he was glad to fall asleep. As soon as daylight was visible he got up, and those who were to accompany him got up too. The two knights donned their armour and took their leave, while the young fellow started on ahead. Together they pursued their way until they came at the hour of prime to “the stony passage.” In the middle of it they found a wooden tower, where there was always a man on guard. Before they drew near, he who was on the tower saw them and cried twice aloud: “Woe to this man who comes!” And then behold! A knight issued from the tower, mounted and armed with fresh armour, and escorted on either side by servants carrying sharp axes. Then, when the other draws near the passage, he who defends it begins to heap him with abuse about the cart, saying: “Vassal, thou art bold and foolish, indeed, to have entered this country. No man ought ever to come here who had ridden upon a cart, and may God withhold from him His blessing!” Then they spur toward each other at the top of their horses’ speed. And he who was to guard the passage-way at once breaks his lance and lets the two pieces fall; the other strikes him in the neck, reaching him beneath the shield, and throws him over prostrate upon the stones. Then the servants come forward with the axes, but they intentionally fail to strike him, having no desire to harm or damage him; so he does not deign to draw his sword, and quickly passes on with his companions. One of them remarks to the other: “No one has ever seen so good a knight, nor has he any equal. Is not this a marvellous thing, that he has forced a passage here?” And the knight says to his brother: “Fair brother, for God’s sake, make haste to go and tell our father of this adventure.” But the lad asserts and swears that he will not go with the message, and will never leave the knight until he has dubbed and knighted him; let his brother go with the message, if he is so much concerned.
(Vv. 2267–2450.) Then they go on together until about three o’clock, when they come upon a man, who asks them who they are. And they answer: “We are knights, busy about our own affairs.” Then the man says to the knight: “Sire, I should be glad to offer hospitality to you and your companions here.” This invitation he delivers to him whom he takes to be the lord and master of the others. And this one replies to him: “I could not seek shelter for the night at such an hour as this; for it is not well to tarry and seek one’s ease when one has undertaken some great task. And I have such business on hand that I shall not stop for the night for some time yet.” Then the man continues: “My house is not near here, but is some distance ahead. It will be late when you reach there, so you may proceed, assured that you will find a place to lodge just when it suits you.” “In that case,” he says, “I will go thither.” Thereupon the man starts ahead as guide, and the knight follows along the path. And when they had proceeded some distance, they met a squire who was coming along at a gallop, mounted upon a nag that was as fat and round as an apple. And the squire calls our to the man: “Sire, sire, make haste! For the people of Logres have attacked in force the inhabitants of this land, and war and strife have already broken out; and they say that this country has been invaded by a knight who has been in many battles, and that wherever he wishes to go, no one, however reluctantly, is able to deny him passage. And they further say that he will deliver those who are in this country, and will subdue our people. Now take my advice and make haste!” Then the man starts at a gallop, and the others are greatly delighted at the words they have heard, for they are eager to help their side. And the vavasor’s son says: “Hear what this squire says! Come and let us aid our people who are fighting their enemies!” Meanwhile the man rides off, without waiting for them, and makes his way rapidly toward a fortress which stood upon a fortified hill; thither he hastens, till he comes to the gate, while the others spur after him. The castle was surrounded by a high wall and moat. As soon as they had got inside, a gate was lowered upon their heels, so that they could not get out again. Then they say: “Come on, come on! Let us not stop here!” and they rapidly pursue the man until they reach another gate which was not closed against them. But as soon as the man had passed through, a portcullis dropped behind him. Then the others were much dismayed to see themselves shut in, and they think they must be bewitched. But he, of whom I have more to tell, wore upon his finger a ring, whose stone was of such virtue that any one who gazed at it was freed from the power of enchantment. 133 Holding the ring before his eyes, he gazed at it, and said: “Lady, lady, so help me God, now I have great need of your succour!” 134 This lady was a fairy, who had given it to him, and who had cared for him in his infancy. And he had great confidence that, wherever he might be, she would aid and succour him. But after appealing to her and gazing upon the ring, he realises that there is no enchantment here, but that they are actually shut in and confined. Then they come to the barred door of a low and narrow postern gate. Drawing their swords, they all strike it with such violence that they cut the bar. As soon as they were outside the tower, they see that a fierce strife was already begun down in the meadows, and that there are at least a thousand knights engaged, beside the low-bred infantry. While they were descending to the plain, the wise and moderate son of the vavasor remarked: “Sire, before we arrive upon the field, it would be wise for us, it seems to me, to find out and learn on which side our people are. I do not know where they are placed, but I will go and find out, if you wish it so.” “I wish you would do so,” he replies, “go quickly, and do not fail to come back again at once.” He goes and returns at once, saying: “It has turned out well for us, for I have plainly seen that these are our troops on this side of the field.” Then the knight at once rode into the fight and jousted with a knight who was approaching him, striking him in the eye with such violence that he knocked him lifeless to the ground. Then the lad dismounts, and taking the dead knight’s horse and arms, he arms himself with skill and cleverness. When he was armed, he straightway mounts, taking the shield and the lance, which was heavy, stiff, and decorated, and about his waist he girt a sharp, bright, and flashing sword. Then he followed his brother and lord into the fight. The latter demeaned himself bravely in the melee for some time, breaking, splitting, and crushing shields, helmets and hauberks. No wood or steel protected the man whom he struck; he either wounded him or knocked him lifeless from the horse. Unassisted, he did so well that he discomfited all whom he met, while his companions did their part as well. The people of Logres, not knowing him, are amazed at what they see, and ask the vavasor’s sons about the stranger knight. This reply is made to them: “Gentlemen, this is he who is to deliver us all from durance and misery, in which we have so long been confined, and we ought to do him great honour when, to set us free, he has passed through so many perils and is ready to face many more. He has done much, and will do yet more.” Every one is overjoyed at hearing this welcome news. The news travelled fast, and was noised about, until it was known by all. Their strength and courage rise, so that they slay many of those still alive, and apparently because of the example of a single knight they work greater havoc than because of all the rest combined. And if it had not been so near evening, all would have gone away defeated; but night came on so dark that they had to separate.
(Vv. 2451–2614.) When the battle was over, all the captives pressed about the knight, grasping his rein on either side, and thus addressing him: “Welcome, fair sire,” and each one adds: “Sire, for the name of God, do not fail to lodge with me!” What one says they all repeat, for young and old alike insist that he must lodge with them, saying: “You will be more comfortably lodged with me than with any one else.” Thus each one addresses him to his face, and in the desire to capture him, each one drags him from the rest, until they almost come to blows. Then he tells them that they are very foolish and silly to struggle so. “Cease this wrangling among yourselves, for it does no good to me or you. Instead of quarrelling among ourselves, we ought rather to lend one another aid. You must not dispute about the privilege of lodging me, but rather consider how to lodge me in such a place that it may be to your general advantage, and that I may be advanced upon my way.” Then each one exclaims at once: “That is my house, or, No, it is mine,” until the knight replies: “Follow my advice and say nothing more; the wisest of you is foolish to contend this way. You ought to be concerned to further my affairs, and instead you are seeking to turn me aside. If you had each individually done me all the honour and service it is possible to do, and I had accepted your kindness, by all the saints of Rome I swear that I could not be more obliged to you than I am now for your good-will. So may God give me joy and health, your good intentions please me as much as if each one of you had already shown me great honour and kindness: so let the will stand for the deed!” Thus he persuades and appeases them all. Then they take him quickly along the road to a knight’s residence, where they seek to serve him: all rejoice to honour and serve him throughout the evening until bedtime, for they hold him very dear. Next morning, when the time came to separate, each one offers and presents himself, with the desire to accompany him; but it is not his will or pleasure that any one shall go with him except the two whom he had brought with him. Accompanied by them alone, he resumed his journey. That day they rode from morn till evening without encountering any adventure. When it was now very late, and while they were riding rapidly out of a forest, they saw a house belonging to a knight, and seated at the door they saw his wife, who had the bearing of a gentle lady. As soon as she espied them coming, she rose to her feet to meet them, and greeted them joyfully with a smile: “Welcome! I wish you to accept my house; this is your lodging; pray dismount” “Lady, since it is your will, we thank you, and will dismount; we accept your hospitality for the night.” When they had dismounted, the lady had the horses taken by members of her well-ordered household. She calls her sons and daughters who come at once: the youths were courteous, handsome, and well-behaved, and the daughters were fair. She bids the lads remove the saddles and curry the horses well; no one refused to do this, but each carried out her instructions willingly. When she ordered the knights to be disarmed, her daughters step forward to perform this service. They remove their armour, and hand them three short mantles to put on. Then at once they take them into the house which was very handsome. The master was not at home, being out in the woods with two of his sons. But he presently returned, and his household, which was well-ordered, ran to meet him outside the door. Quickly they untie and unpack the game he brings, and tell him the news: “Sire, sire, you do not know that you have three knights for guests.” “God be praised for that,” he says. Then the knight and his two sons extend a glad welcome to their guests. The rest of the household were not backward, for even the least among them prepared to perform his special task. While some run to prepare the meal, others light the candles in profusion; still others get a towel and basins, and offer water for the hands: they are not niggardly in all this. When all had washed, they take their seats. Nothing that was done there seemed to be any trouble or burdensome. But at the first course there came a surprise in the form of a knight outside the door. As he sat on his charger, all armed from head to feet, he looked prouder than a bull, and a bull is a yew proud beast. One leg was fixed in the stirrup, but the other he had thrown over the mane of his horse’s neck, to give himself a careless and jaunty air. Behold him advancing thus, though no one noticed him until he came forward with the words: “I wish to know which is the man who is so foolish and proud a numskull that he has come to this country and intends to cross the sword-bridge. All his pains will come to naught, and his expedition is in vain.” Then he, who felt no fear at all, thus replies with confidence: “I am he who intends to cross the bridge.” “Thou? Thou? How didst thou dare to think of such a thing? Before undertaking such a course, thou oughtest to have thought of the end that is in store for thee, and thou oughtest to have in mind the memory of the cart on which thou didst ride. I know not whether thou feelest shame for the ride thou hadst on it, but no sensible man would have embarked on such an enterprise as this if he had felt the reproach of his action.”
(Vv. 2615–2690.) Not a word does he deign to reply to what he hears the other say; but the master of the house and all the others express their surprise openly: “Ah, God, what a misfortune this is,” each one of them says to himself; “cursed be the hour when first a cart was conceived or made! For it is a very vile and hateful thing. Ah, God, of what was he accused? Why was he carried in a cart? For what sin, or for what crime? He will always suffer the reproach. If he were only clear of this disgrace, no knight could be found in all the world, however his valour might be proved, who would equal the merit of this knight. If all good knights could be compared, and if the truth were to be known, you could find none so handsome or so expert.” Thus they expressed their sentiments. Then he began his speech of impudence: “Listen, thou knight, who art bound for the sword-bridge! If thou wishest, thou shalt cross the water very easily and comfortably. I will quickly have thee ferried over in a skiff. But once on the other side, I will make thee pay me toll, and I will take thy head, if I please to do so, or if not, thou shalt be held at my discretion.” And he replies that he is not seeking trouble, and that he will never risk his head in such an adventure for any consideration. To which the other answers at once: “Since thou wilt not do this, whosesoever the shame and loss may be, thou must come outside with me and there engage me hand to hand.” Then, to beguile him. the other says: “If I could refuse, I would very gladly excuse myself; but in truth I would rather fight than be compelled to do what is wrong.” Before he arose from the table where they were sitting, he told the youths who were serving him, to saddle his horse at once, and fetch his arms and give them to him. This order they promptly execute: some devote themselves to arming him, while others go to fetch his horse. As he slowly rode along completely armed, holding his shield tight by the straps, you must know that he was evidently to be included in the list of the brave and fair. His horse became him so well that it is evident he must be his own, and as for the shield he held by the straps and the helmet laced upon his head, which fitted him so well, you would never for a moment have thought that he had borrowed it or received it as a loan; rather, you would be so pleased with him that you would maintain that he had been thus born and raised: for all this I should like you to take my word.
(Vv. 2691–2792.) Outside the gate, where the battle was to be fought, there was a stretch of level ground well adapted for the encounter. When they catch sight of each other, they spur hotly to the attack and come together with such a shock, dealing such blows with their lances, that they first bend, then buckle up, and finally fly into splinters. With their swords they then hew away at their shields, helmets, and hauberks. The wood is cut and the steel gives way, so that they wound each other in several places. They pay each other such angry blows that it seems as if they had made a bargain. The swords often descend upon the horses’ croups, where they drink and feast upon their blood; their riders strike them upon the flanks until at last they kill them both. And when both have fallen to earth, they attack each other afoot; and if they had cherished a mortal hatred, they could not have assailed each other more fiercely with their swords. They deal their blows with greater frequency than the man who stakes his money at dice and never fails to double the stakes every time he loses; yet, this game of theirs was very different; for there were no losses here, but only fierce blows and cruel strife. All the people came out from the house: the master, his lady, his sons and daughters; no man or woman, friend or stranger, stayed behind, but all stood in line to see the fight in progress in the broad, level field. The Knight of the Cart blames and reproaches himself for faintheartedness when he sees his host watching him and notices all the others looking on. His heart is stirred with anger, for it seems to him that he ought long since to have beaten his adversary. Then he strikes him, rushing in like a storm and bringing his sword down close by his head; he pushes and presses him so hard that he drives him from his ground and reduces him to such a state of exhaustion that he has little strength to defend himself. Then the knight recalls how the other had basely reproached him about the cart; so he assails him and drubs him so soundly that not a string or strap remains unbroken about the neck-band of his hauberk, and he knocks the helmet and ventail from his head. His wounds and distress are so great that he has to cry for mercy. Just as the lark cannot withstand or protect itself against the hawk which outflies it and attacks it from above, so he in his helplessness and shame, must invoke him and sue for mercy. And when he hears him beg for mercy, he ceases his attack and says: “Dost thou wish for mercy?” He replies: “You have asked a very clever question; any fool could ask that. I never wished for anything so much as I now wish for mercy.” Then he says to him: “Thou must mount, then, upon a cart. Nothing thou couldst say would have any influence with me, unless thou mountest the cart, to atone for the vile reproaches thou didst address to me with thy silly mouth.” And the knight thus answers him: “May it never please God that I mount a cart!” “No?” he asks; “then you shall die.” “Sire, you can easily put me to death; but I beg and beseech you for God’s sake to show me mercy and not compel me to mount a cart. I will agree to anything, however grievous, excepting that. I would rather die a hundred times than undergo such a disgrace. In your goodness and mercy you can tell me nothing so distasteful that I will not do it.”
(Vv. 2793–2978.) While he is thus beseeching him, behold across the field a maiden riding on a tawny mule, her head uncovered and her dress disarranged. In her hand she held a whip with which she belaboured the mule; and in truth no horse could have galloped so fast as was the pace of the mule. The damsel called out to the Knight of the Cart: “May God bless thy heart, Sir Knight, with whatever delights thee most!” And he, who heard her gladly, says: “May God bless you, damsel, and give you joy and health!” Then she tells him of her desire. “Knight,” she says, “in urgent need I have come from afar to thee to ask a favour, for which thou wilt deserve the best guerdon I can make to thee; and I believe that thou wilt yet have need of my assistance.” And he replies: “Tell me what it is you wish; and if I have it, you shall have it at once, provided it be not something extravagant.” Then she says: “It is the head of the knight whom thou hast just defeated; in truth, thou hast never dealt with such a wicked and faithless man. Thou wilt be committing no sin or wrong, but rather doing a deed of charity, for he is the basest creature that ever was or ever shall be.” And when he who had been vanquished hears that she wishes him to be killed, he says to him: “Don’t believe her, for she hates me; but by that God who was at once Father and Son, and who chose for His mother her who was His daughter and handmaiden, I beg you to have mercy upon me!” “Ah, knight!” the maid exclaims, “pay no attention to what this traitor says! May God give thee all the joy and honour to which thou dost aspire, and may He give thee good success in thy undertaking.” Then the knight is in a predicament, as he thinks and ponders over the question: whether to present to her the head she asks him to cut off, or whether he shall allow himself to be touched by pity for him. 135 He wishes to respect the wishes of both her and him. Generosity and pity each command him to do their will; for he was both generous and tender-hearted. But if she carries off the head, then will pity be defeated and put to death; whereas, if she does not carry off the head, generosity will be discomfited. Thus, pity and generosity hold him so confined and so distressed that he is tormented and spurred on by each of them in turn. The damsel asks him to give her the head, and on the other hand the knight makes his request, appealing to his pity and kindness. And, since he has implored him, shall he not receive mercy? Yes, for it never happened that, when he had put down an enemy and compelled him to sue for mercy, he would refuse such an one his mercy or longer bear him any grudge. Since this is his custom, he will not refuse his mercy to him who now begs and sues for it. And shall she have the head she covets? Yes, if it be possible. “Knight,” he says, “it is necessary for thee to fight me again, and if thou dost care to defend thy head again, I will show thee such mercy as to allow thee to resume the helmet; and I will give thee time to arm thy body and thy head as well as possible. But, if I conquer thee again, know that thou shalt surely die.” And he replies: “I desire nothing better than that, and ask for no further favour.” “And I will give thee this advantage,” he adds: “I will fight thee as I stand, without changing my present position.” Then the other knight makes ready, and they begin the fight again eagerly. But this time the knight triumphed more quickly than he had done at first. And the damsel at once cries out: “Do not spare him, knight, for anything he may say to thee. Surely he would not have spared thee, had he once defeated thee. If thou heedest what he says, be sure that he will again beguile thee. Fair knight, cut off the head of the most faithless man in the empire and kingdom, and give it to me! Thou shouldst present it to me, in view of the guerdon I intend for thee. For another day may well come when, if he can, he will beguile thee again with his words.” He, thinking his end is near, cries aloud to him for mercy; but his cry is of no avail, nor anything that he can say. The other drags him by the helmet, tearing all the fastening, and he strikes from his head the ventail and the gleaming coif. Then he cries out more loudly still: “Mercy, for God’s sake! Mercy, sir!” But the other answers: “So help me, I shall never again show thee pity, after having once let thee off.” “Ah,” he says, “thou wouldst do wrong to heed my enemy and kill me thus.” While she, intent upon his death, admonishes him to cut off his head, and not to believe a word he says. He strikes: the head flies across the sward and the body fails. Then the damsel is pleased and satisfied. Grasping the head by the hair, the knight presents it to the damsel, who takes it joyfully with the words: “May thy heart receive such delight from whatever it most desires as my heart now receives from what I most coveted. I had only one grief in life, and that was that this man was still alive. I have a reward laid up for thee which thou shalt receive at the proper time. I promise thee that thou shalt have a worthy reward for the service thou hast rendered me. Now I will go away, with the prayer that God may guard thee from harm.” Then the damsel leaves him, as each commends the other to God. But all those who had seen the battle in the plain are overjoyed, and in their joy they at once relieve the knight of his armour, and honour him in every way they can. Then they wash their hands again and take their places at the meal, which they eat with better cheer than is their wont. When they had been eating for some time, the gentleman turned to his guest at his side, and said: “Sire, a long while ago we came hither from the kingdom of Logres. We were born your countrymen, and we should like to see you win honour and fortune and joy in this country; for we should profit by it as well as you, and it would be to the advantage of many others, if you should gain honour and fortune in the enterprise you have undertaken in this land.” And he makes answer: “May God hear your desire.”
(Vv. 2979–3020.) When the host had dropped his voice and ceased speaking, one of his sons followed him and said: “Sire, we ought to place all our resources at your service, and give them outright rather than promise them; if you have any need of our assistance, we ought not to wait until you ask for it. Sire, be not concerned over your horse which is dead. We have good strong horses here. I want you to take anything of ours which you need, and you shall choose the best of our horses in place of yours.” And he replies: “I willingly accept.” Thereupon, they have the beds prepared and retire for the night. The next morning they rise early, and dress, after which they prepare to start. Upon leaving, they fail in no act of courtesy, but take leave of the lady, her lord, and all the rest. But in order to omit nothing, I must remark that the knight was unwilling to mount the borrowed steed which was standing ready at the door; rather, he caused him to be ridden by one of the two knights who had come with him, while he took the latter’s horse instead, for thus it pleased him best to do. When each was seated on his horse, they all asked for leave to depart from their host who had served them so honourably. Then they ride along the road until the day draws to a close, and late in the afternoon they reach the sword-bridge.
(Vv. 3021–3194.) At the end of this very difficult bridge they dismount from their steeds and gaze at the wicked-looking stream, which is as swift and raging, as black and turgid, as fierce and terrible as if it were the devil’s stream; and it is so dangerous and bottomless that anything failing into it would be as completely lost as if it fell into the salt sea. And the bridge, which spans it, is different from any other bridge; for there never was such a one as this. If any one asks of me the truth, there never was such a bad bridge, nor one whose flooring was so bad. The bridge across the cold stream consisted of a polished, gleaming sword; but the sword was stout and stiff, and was as long as two lances. At each end there was a tree-trunk in which the sword was firmly fixed. No one need fear to fall because of its breaking or bending, for its excellence was such that it could support a great weight. But the two knights who were with the third were much discouraged; for they surmised that two lions or two leopards would be found tied to a great rock at the other end of the bridge. The water and the bridge and the lions combine so to terrify them that they both tremble with fear, and say: “Fair sire, consider well what confronts you; for it is necessary and needful to do so. This bridge is badly made and built, and the construction of it is bad. If you do not change your mind in time, it will be too late to repent. You must consider which of several alternatives you will choose. Suppose that you once get across (but that cannot possibly come to pass, any more than one could hold in the winds and forbid them to blow, or keep the birds from singing, or re-enter one’s mother’s womb and be born again — all of which is as impossible as to empty the sea of its water); but even supposing that you got across, can you think and suppose that those two fierce lions that are chained on the other side will not kill you, and suck the blood from your veins, and eat your flesh and then gnaw your bones? For my part, I am bold enough, when I even dare to look and gaze at them. If you do not take care, they will certainly devour you. Your body will soon be torn and rent apart, for they will show you no mercy. So take pity on us now, and stay here in our company! It would be wrong for you to expose yourself intentionally to such mortal peril.” And he, laughing, replies to them: “Gentlemen, receive my thanks and gratitude for the concern you feel for me: it comes from your love and kind hearts. I know full well that you would not like to see any mishap come to me; but I have faith and confidence in God, that He will protect me to the end. I fear the bridge and stream no more than I fear this dry land; so I intend to prepare and make the dangerous attempt to cross. I would rather die than turn back now.” The others have nothing more to say; but each weeps with pity and heaves a sigh. Meanwhile he prepares, as best he may, to cross the stream, and he does a very marvellous thing in removing the armour from his feet and hands. He will be in a sorry state when he reaches the other side. He is going to support himself with his bare hands and feet upon the sword, which was sharper than a scythe, for he had not kept on his feet either sole or upper or hose. But he felt no fear of wounds upon his hands or feet; he preferred to maim himself rather than to fall from the bridge and be plunged in the water from which he could never escape. In accordance with this determination, he passes over with great pain and agony, being wounded in the hands, knees, and feet. But even this suffering is sweet to him: for Love, who conducts and leads him on, assuages and relieves the pain. Creeping on his hands, feet, and knees, he proceeds until he reaches the other side. Then he recalls and recollects the two lions which he thought he had seen from the other side; but, on looking about, he does not see so much as a lizard or anything else to do him harm. He raises his hand before his face and looks at his ring, and by this test he proves that neither of the lions is there which he thought he had seen, and that he had been enchanted and deceived; for there was not a living creature there. When those who had remained behind upon the bank saw that he had safely crossed, their joy was natural; but they do not know of his injuries. He, however, considers himself fortunate not to have suffered anything worse. The blood from his wounds drips on his shirt on all sides. Then he sees before him a tower, which was so strong that never had he seen such a strong one before: indeed, it could not have been a better tower. At the window there sat King Bademagu, who was very scrupulous and precise about matters of honour and what was right, and who was careful to observe and practise loyalty above all else; and beside him stood his son, who always did precisely the opposite so far as possible, for he found his pleasure in disloyalty, and never wearied of villainy, treason, and felony. From their point of vantage they had seen the knight cross the bridge with trouble and pain. Meleagant’s colour changed with the rage and displeasure he felt; for he knows now that he will be challenged for the Queen; but his character was such that he feared no man, however strong or formidable. If he were not base and disloyal, there could no better knight be found; but he had a heart of wood, without gentleness and pity. What enraged his son and roused his ire, made the king happy and glad. The king knew of a truth that he who had crossed the bridge was much better than any one else. For no one would dare to pass over it in whom there dwelt any of that evil nature which brings more shame upon those who possess it than prowess brings of honour to the virtuous. For prowess cannot accomplish so much as wickedness and sloth can do: it is true beyond a doubt that it is possible to do more evil than good.
(Vv. 3195–3318.) I could say more on these two heads, if it did not cause me to delay. But I must turn to something else and resume my subject, and you shall hear how the king speaks profitably to his son: “Son,” he says, “it was fortunate that thou and I came to look out this window; our reward has been to witness the boldest deed that ever entered the mind of man. Tell me now if thou art not well disposed toward him who has performed such a marvellous feat. Make peace and be reconciled with him, and deliver the Queen into his hands. Thou shalt gain no glory in battle with him, but rather mayst thou incur great loss. Show thyself to be courteous and sensible, and send the Queen to meet him before he sees thee. Show him honour in this land of thine, and before he asks it, present to him what he has come to seek. Thou knowest well enough that he has come for the Queen Guinevere. Do not act so that people will take thee to be obstinate, foolish, or proud. If this man has entered thy land alone, thou shouldst bear him company, for one gentleman ought not to avoid another, but rather attract him and honour him with courtesy. One receives honour by himself showing it; be sure that the honour will be thine, if thou doest honour and service to him who is plainly the best knight in the world.” And he replies: “May God confound me, if there is not as good a knight, or even a better one than he!” It was too bad that he did not mention himself, of whom he entertains no mean opinion. And he adds: “I suppose you wish me to clasp my hands and kneel before him as his liegeman, and to hold my lands from him? So help me God, I would rather become his man than surrender to him the Queen! God forbid that in such a fashion I should deliver her to him! She shall never be given up by me, but rather contested and defended against all who are so foolish as to dare to come in quest of her.” Then again the king says to him: “Son, thou wouldst act very courteously to renounce this pretension. I advise thee and beg thee to keep the peace. Thou knowest well that the honour will belong to the knight, if he wins the Queen from thee in battle. He would doubtless rather win her in battle than as a gift, for it will thus enhance his fame. It is my opinion that he is seeking her, not to receive her peaceably, but because he wishes to win her by force of arms. So it would be wise on thy part to deprive him of the satisfaction of fighting thee. I am sorry to see thee so foolish; but if thou dost not heed my advice, evil will come of it, and the ensuing misfortune will be worse for thee. For the knight need fear no hostility from any one here save thee. On behalf of myself and all my men, I will grant him a truce and security. I have never yet done a disloyal deed or practised treason and felony, and I shall not begin to do so now on thy account any more than I would for any stranger. I do not wish to flatter thee, for I promise that the knight shall not lack any arms, or horse or anything else he needs, in view of the boldness he has displayed in coming thus far. He shall be securely guarded and well defended against all men here excepting thee. I wish him clearly to understand that, if he can maintain himself against thee, he need have no fear of any one else.” “I have listened to you in silence long enough,” says Meleagant, “and you may say what you please. But little do I care for all you say. I am not a hermit, nor so compassionate and charitable, and I have no desire to be so honourable as to give him what I most love. His task will not be performed so quickly or so lightly; rather will it turn out otherwise than as you and he expect. You and I need not quarrel because you aid him against me. Even if he enjoys peace and a truce with you and all your men, what matters that to me? My heart does not quail on that account; rather, so help me God, I am glad that he need not feel concern for any one here but me; I do not wish you to do on my account anything which might be construed as disloyalty or treachery. Be as compassionate as you please, but let me be cruel.” “What? Wilt thou not change thy mind?” “No,” he says. “Then I will say nothing more. I will leave thee alone to do thy best and will go now to speak with the knight. I wish to offer and present to him my aid and counsel in all respects; for I am altogether on his side.”
(Vv. 3319–3490.) Then the king goes down and orders them to bring his horse. A large steed is brought to him, upon which he springs by the stirrup, and he rides off with some of his men: three knights and two squires he bade to go with him. They did not stop their ride downhill until they came to the bridge, where they see him stanching his wounds and wiping the blood from them. The king expects to keep him as his guest for a long time while his wounds are healing; but he might as well expect to drain the sea. The king hastens to dismount, and he who was grievously wounded, stood up at once to meet him, though he did not know him, and he gave no more evidence of the pain he felt in his feet and hands than if he had been actually sound. The king sees that he is exerting himself, and quickly runs to greet him with the words: “Sire, I am greatly amazed that you have fallen upon us in this land. But be welcome, for no one will ever repeat the attempt: it never happened in the past, and it will never happen in the future that any one should perform such a hardy feat or expose himself to such peril. And know that I admire you greatly for having executed what no one before ever dared to conceive. You will find me very kindly disposed, and loyal and courteous toward you. I am the king of this land, and offer you freely all my counsel and service; and I think I know pretty well what you have come here to seek. You come, I am sure, to seek the Queen.” “Sire,” he replies, “your surmise is correct; no other cause brings me here.” “Friend, you must suffer hardship to obtain her,” he replies; “and you are sorely wounded, as I see by the wounds and the flowing blood. You will not find him who brought her hither so generous as to give her up without a struggle; but you must tarry, and have your wounds cared for until they are completely healed. I will give you some of ‘the three Marys’ ointment, 136 and something still better, if it can be found, for I am very solicitous about your comfort and your recovery. And the Queen is so confined that no mortal man has access to her — not even my son, who brought her here with him and who resents such treatment, for never was a man so beside himself and so desperate as he. But I am well disposed toward you, and will gladly give you, so help me God, all of which you stand in need. My son himself will not have such good arms but that I will give you some that are just as good, and a horse, too, such as you will need, though my son will be angry with me. Despite the feelings of any one, I will protect you against all men. You will have no cause to fear any one excepting him who brought the Queen here. No man ever menaced another as I have menaced him, and I came near driving him from my land, in my displeasure because he will not surrender her to you. To be sure, he is my son; but feel no concern, for unless he defeats you in battle, he can never do you the slightest harm against my will.” “Sire,” he says, “I thank you. But I am losing time here which I do not wish to waste. I have no cause to complain, and have no wound which is paining me. Take me where I can find him; for with such arms as I have, I am ready to divert myself by giving and receiving blows.” “Friend, you had better wait two or three weeks until your wounds are healed, for it would be well for you to tarry here at least two weeks, and not on any account could I allow it, or look on, while you fought in my presence with such arms and with such an outfit.” And he replies: “With your permission, no other arms would be used than these, for I should prefer to fight with them, and I should not ask for the slightest postponement, adjournment or delay. However, in deference to you, I will consent to wait until tomorrow; but despite what any one may say, longer I will not wait.” Then the king assured him that all would be done as he wished; then he has the lodging-place prepared, and insistently requests his men, who are in the company, to serve him, which they do devotedly. And the king, who would gladly have made peace, had it been possible, went at once to his son and spoke to him like one who desires peace and harmony, saying: “Fair son, be reconciled now with this knight without a fight! He has not come here to disport himself or to hunt or chase, but he comes in search of honour and to increase his fame and renown, and I have seen that he stands in great need of rest. If he had taken my advice, he would not have rashly undertaken, either this month or the next, the battle which he so greatly desires. If thou makest over the Queen to him, dost thou fear any dishonour in the deed? Have no fear of that, for no blame can attach to thee; rather is it wrong to keep that to which one has no rightful claim. He would gladly have entered the battle at once, though his hands and feet are not sound, but cut and wounded.” Meleagant answers his father thus: “You are foolish to be concerned. By the faith I owe St. Peter, I will not take your advice in this matter. I should deserve to be drawn apart with horses, if I heeded your advice. If he is seeking his honour, so do I seek mine; if he is in search of glory, so am I; if he is anxious for the battle, so am I a hundred times more so than he.” “I see plainly,” says the king, “that thou art intent upon thy mad enterprise, and thou shalt have thy fill of it. Since such is thy pleasure, tomorrow thou shalt try thy strength with the knight.” “May no greater hardship ever visit me than that!” Meleagant replies; “I would much rather it were today than tomorrow. Just see how much more downcast I am than is usual! My eyes are wild, and my face is pale! I shall have no joy or satisfaction or any cause for happiness until I am actually engaged with him.”
(Vv. 3491–3684.) The king understands that further advice and prayers are of no avail, so reluctantly he leaves his son and, taking a good, strong horse and handsome arms, he sends them to him who well deserves them, together with a surgeon who was a loyal and Christian man. There was in the world no more trusty man, and he was more skilled in the cure of wounds than all the doctors of Montpeilier. 137 That night he treated the knight as best he could, in accordance with the king’s command. Already the news was known by the knights and damsels, the ladies and barons of all the country-side, and all through the night until daybreak strangers and friends were making long journeys from all the country round. When morning came, there was such a press before the castle that there was not room to move one’s foot. And the king, rising early in his distress about the battle, goes directly to his son, who had already laced upon his head the helmet which was of Poitiers make. No delay or peace is possible, for though the king did his best, his efforts are of no effect. In the middle of the castle-square, where all the people are assembled, the battle will be fought in compliance with the king’s wish and command. The king sends at once for the stranger knight, and he is conducted to the grounds which were filled with people from the kingdom of Logres. For just as people are accustomed to go to church to hear the organ on the annual feast-days of Pentecost or Christmas, so they had all assembled now. All the foreign maidens from King Arthur’s realm had fasted three days and gone barefoot in their shifts, in order that God might endow with strength and courage the knight who was to fight his adversary on behalf of the captives. Very early, before prime had yet been sounded, both of the knights fully armed were led to the place, mounted upon two horses equally protected. Meleagant was very graceful, alert, and shapely; the hauberk with its fine meshes, the helmet, and the shield hanging from his neck — all these became him well. All the spectators, however, favoured the other knight, even those who wished him ill, and they say that Meleagant is worth nothing compared with him. As soon as they were both on the ground, the king comes and detains them as long as possible in an effort to make peace between them, but he is unable to persuade his son. Then he says to them: “Hold in your horses until I reach the top of the tower. It will be only a slight favour, if you will wait so long for me.” Then in sorrowful mood he leaves them and goes directly to the place where he knew he would find the Queen. She had begged him the evening before to place her where she might have an unobstructed view of the battle; he had granted her the boon, and went now to seek and fetch her, for he was very anxious to show her honour and courtesy. He placed her at one window, and took his place at another window on her right. Beside them, there were gathered there many knights and prudent dames and damsels, who were natives of that land; and there were many others, who were captives, and who were intent upon their orisons and prayers. Those who were prisoners were praying for their lord, for to God and to him they entrusted their succour and deliverance. Then the combatants without delay make all the people stand aside; then they clash the shields with their elbows, and thrust their arms into the straps, and spur at each other so violently that each sends his lance two arms’ length through his opponent’s shield, causing the lance to split and splinter like a flying spark. And the horses meet head on, clashing breast to breast, and the shields and helmets crash with such a noise that it seems like a mighty thunder-clap; not a breast-strap, girth, rein or surcingle remains unbroken, and the saddle-bows, though strong, are broken to pieces. The combatants felt no shame in falling to earth, in view of their mishaps, but they quickly spring to their feet, and without waste of threatening words rush at each other more fiercely than two wild boars, and deal great blows with their swords of steel like men whose hate is violent. Repeatedly they trim the helmets and shining hauberks so fiercely that after the sword the blood spurts out. They furnished an excellent battle, indeed, as they stunned and wounded each other with their heavy, wicked blows. Many fierce, hard, long bouts they sustained with equal honour, so that the onlookers could discern no advantage on either side. But it was inevitable that he who had crossed the bridge should be much weakened by his wounded hands. The people who sided with him were much dismayed, for they notice that his strokes are growing weaker, and they fear he will get the worst of it; it seemed to them that he was weakening, while Meleagant was triumphing, and they began to murmur all around. But up at the window of the tower there was a wise maiden who thought within herself that the knight had not undertaken the battle either on her account or for the sake of the common herd who had gathered about the list, but that his only incentive had been the Queen; and she thought that, if he knew that she was at the window seeing and watching him, his strength and courage would increase. And if she had known his name, she would gladly have called to him to look about him. Then she came to the Queen and said: “Lady, for God’s sake and your own as well as ours, I beseech you to tell me, if you know, the name of yonder knight, to the end that it may be of some help to him.” “Damsel,” the Queen replies, “you have asked me a question in which I see no hate or evil, but rather good intent; the name of the knight, I know, is Lancelot of the Lake.” 138 “God, how happy and glad at heart I am!” the damsel says. Then she leans forward and calls to him by name so loudly that all the people hear: “Lancelot, turn about and see who is here taking note of thee!”
(Vv. 3685–3954.) When Lancelot heard his name, he was not slow to turn around: he turns and sees seated up there at the window of the tower her whom he desired most in the world to see. From the moment he caught sight of her, he did not turn or take his eyes and face from her, defending himself with backhand blows. And Meleagant meanwhile attacked him as fiercely as he could, delighted to think that the other cannot withstand him now; and they of the country are well pleased too, while the foreigners are so distressed that they can no longer support themselves, and many of them fall to earth either upon their knees or stretched out prone; thus some are glad, and some distressed. Then the damsel cried again from the window: “Ah, Lancelot, how is it that thou dost now conduct thyself so foolishly? Once thou wert the embodiment of prowess and of all that is good, and I do not think God ever made a knight who could equal thee in valour and in worth. But now we see thee so distressed that thou dealest back-hand blows and fightest thy adversary, behind thy back. Turn, so as to be on the other side, and so that thou canst face toward this tower, for it will help thee to keep it in view.” Then Lancelot is so ashamed and mortified that he hates himself, for he knows full well that all have seen how, for some time past, he has had the worst of the fight. Thereupon he leaps backward and so manoeuvres as to force Meleagant into a position between him and the tower. Meleagant makes every effort to regain his former position. But Lancelot rushes upon him, and strikes him so violently upon his body and shield whenever he tries to get around him, that he compels him to whirl about two or three times in spite of himself. Lancelot’s strength and courage grow, partly because he has love’s aid, and partly because he never hated any one so much as him with whom he is engaged. Love and mortal hate, so fierce that never before was such hate seen, make him so fiery and bold that Meleagant ceases to treat it as a jest and begins to stand in awe of him, for he had never met or known so doughty a knight, nor had any knight ever wounded or injured him as this one does. He is glad to get away from him, and he winces and sidesteps, fearing his blows and avoiding them. And Lancelot does not idly threaten him, but drives him rapidly toward the tower where the Queen was stationed on the watch. There upon the tower he did her the homage of his blows until he came so close that, if he advanced another step, he would lose sight of her. Thus Lancelot drove him back and forth repeatedly in whatever direction he pleased, always stopping before the Queen, his lady, who had kindled the flame which compels him to fix his gaze upon her. And this same flame so stirred him against Meleagant that he was enabled to lead and drive him wherever he pleased. In spite of himself he drives him on like a blind man or a man with a wooden leg. The king sees his son so hard pressed that he is sorry for him and he pities him, and he will not deny him aid and assistance if possible; but if he wishes to proceed courteously, he must first beg the Queen’s permission. So he began to say to her: “Lady, since I have had you in my power, I have loved you and faithfully served and honoured you. I never consciously left anything undone in which I saw your honour involved; now repay me for what I have done. For I am about to ask you a favour which you should not grant unless you do so willingly. I plainly see that my son is getting the worst of this battle; I do not speak so because of the chagrin I feel, but in order that Lancelot, who has him in his power, may not kill him. Nor ought you to wish to see him killed; not because he has not wronged both you and him, but because I make the request of you: so tell him, please, to stop beating him. If you will, you can thus repay me for what I have done for you.” “Fair sire, I am willing to do so at your request,” the Queen replies; “had I mortal hatred for your son, whom it is true I do not love, yet you have served me so well that, to please you, I am quite willing that he should desist.” These words were not spoken privately, but Lancelot and Meleagrant heard what was said. The man who is a perfect lover is always obedient and quickly and gladly does his mistress’ pleasure. So Lancelot was constrained to do his Lady’s will, for he loved more than Pyramus, 139 if that were possible for any man to do. Lancelot heard what was said, and as soon as the last word had issued from her mouth, “since you wish him to desist, I am willing that he should do so,” Lancelot would not have touched him or made a movement for anything, even if the other had killed him. He does not touch him or raise his hand. But Meleagant, beside himself with rage and shame when he hears that it has been necessary to intercede in his behalf, strikes him with all the strength he can muster. And the king went down from the tower to upbraid his son, and entering the list he addressed him thus: “How now? Is this becoming, to strike him when he is not touching thee? Thou art too cruel and savage, and thy prowess is now out of place! For we all know beyond a doubt that he is thy superior.” Then Meleagant, choking with shame, says to the king: “I think you must be blind! I do not believe you see a thing. Any one must indeed be blind to think I am not better than he.” “Seek some one to believe thy words!” the king replies, “for all the people know whether thou speakest the truth or a lie. All of us know full well the truth.” Then the king bids his barons lead his son away, which they do at once in execution of his command: they led away Meleagant. But it was not necessary to use force to induce Lancelot to withdraw, for Meleagant might have harmed him grievously, before he would have sought to defend himself. Then the king says to his son: “So help me God, now thou must make peace and surrender the Queen. Thou must cease this quarrel once for all and withdraw thy claim.” “That is great nonsense you have uttered! I hear you speak foolishly. Stand aside! Let us fight, and do not mix in our affairs!” But the king says he will take a hand, for he knows well that, were the fight to continue, Lancelot would kill his son. “He kill me! Rather would I soon defeat and kill him, if you would leave us alone and let us fight.” Then the king says: “So help me God, all that thou sayest is of no avail.” “Why is that?” he asks. “Because I will not consent. I will not so trust in thy folly and pride as to allow thee to be killed. A man is a fool to court death, as thou dost in thy ignorance. I know well that thou hatest me because I wish to save thy life. God will not let me see and witness thy death, if I can help it, for it would cause me too much grief.” He talks to him and reproves him until finally peace and good-will are restored. The terms of the peace are these: he will surrender the Queen to Lancelot, provided that the latter without reluctance will fight them again within a year of such time as he shall choose to summon him: this is no trial to Lancelot. When peace is made, all the people press about, and it is decided that the battle shall be fought at the court of King Arthur, who holds Britain and Cornwall in his sway: there they decide that it shall be. And the Queen has to consent, and Lancelot has to promise, that if Meleagant can prove him recreant, she shall come back with him again without the interference of any one. When the Queen and Lancelot had both agreed to this, the arrangement was concluded, and they both retired and removed their arms. Now the custom in the country was that when one issued forth, all the others might do so too. All called down blessings upon Lancelot: and you may know that he must have felt great joy, as in truth he did. All the strangers assemble and rejoice over Lancelot, speaking so as to be heard by him: “Sire, in truth we were joyful as soon as we heard your name, for we felt sure at once that we should all be set free.” There was a great crowd present at this glad scene, as each one strives and presses forward to touch him if possible. Any one who succeeded in touching him was more delighted than he could tell. There was plenty of joy, and of sorrow too; those who were now set free rejoiced unrestrainedly; but Meleagant and his followers have not anything they want, but are pensive, gloomy, and downcast. The king turns away from the list, taking with him Lancelot, who begs him to take him to the Queen. “I shall not fail to do so,” the king replies; “for it seems to me the proper thing to do. And if you like, I will show you Kay the seneschal.” At this Lancelot is so glad that he almost falls at his feet. Then the king took him at once into the hall, where the Queen had come to wait for him.
(Vv. 3955–4030.) When the Queen saw the king holding Lancelot by the hand, she rose before the king, but she looked displeased with clouded brow, and she spoke not a word. “Lady, here is Lancelot come to see you,” says the king; “you ought to be pleased and satisfied.” “I, sire? He cannot please me. I care nothing about seeing him.” “Come now, lady,” says the king who was very frank and courteous, “what induces you to act like this? You are too scornful toward a man who has served you so faithfully that he has repeatedly exposed his life to mortal danger on this journey for your sake, and who has defended and rescued you from my son Meleagant who had deeply wronged you.” “Sire, truly he has made poor use of his time. I shall never deny that I feel no gratitude toward him.” Now Lancelot is dumbfounded; but he replies very humbly like a polished lover: “Lady, certainly I am grieved at this, but I dare not ask your reason.” The Queen listened as Lancelot voiced his disappointment, but in order to grieve and confound him, she would not answer a single word, but returned to her room. And Lancelot followed her with his eyes and heart until she reached the door; but she was not long in sight, for the room was close by. His eyes would gladly have followed her, had that been possible; but the heart, which is more lordly and masterful in its strength, went through the door after her, while the eyes remained behind weeping with the body. And the king said privily to him: “Lancelot, I am amazed at what this means: and how it comes about that the Queen cannot endure the sight of you, and that she is so unwilling to speak with you. If she is ever accustomed to speak with you, she ought not to be niggardly now or avoid conversation with you, after what you have done for her. Now tell me, if you know, why and for what misdeed she has shown you such a countenance.” “Sire, I did not notice that just now; but she will not look at me or hear my words, and that distresses and grieves me much.” “Surely,” says the king, “she is in the wrong, for you have risked your life for her. Come away now, fair sweet friend, and we shall go to speak with the seneschal.” “I shall be glad to do so,” he replies. Then they both go to the seneschal. As soon as Lancelot came where he was, the seneschal’s first exclamation was: “How thou hast shamed me!” “I? How so?” Lancelot inquires; “tell me what disgrace have I brought upon you?” “A very great disgrace, for thou hast carried out what I could not accomplish, and thou hast done what I could not do.”
(Vv. 4031–4124.) Then the king left them together in the room, and went out alone. And Lancelot inquires of the seneschal if he has been badly off. “Yes,” he answers, “and I still am so. I was never more wretched than I am now. And I should have died a long time ago, had it not been for the king, who in his compassion has shown me so much gentleness and kindness that he willingly let me lack nothing of which I stood in need; but I was furnished at once with everything that I desired. But opposed to the kindness which he showed me, was Meleagant his son, who is full of wickedness, and who summoned the physicians to him and bade them apply such ointments as would kill me. Such a father and stepfather have I had! For when the king had a good plaster applied to my wounds in his desire that I should soon be cured, his treacherous son, wishing to put me to death, had it promptly taken off and some harmful salve applied. But I am very sure that the king was ignorant of this; he would not tolerate such base and murderous tricks. But you do not know how courteous he has been to my lady: no frontier tower since the time that Noah built the ark was ever so carefully guarded, for he has guarded her so vigilantly that, though his son chafed under the restraint, he would nor let him see her except in the presence of the king himself. Up to the present time the king in his mercy has shown her all the marks of consideration which she herself proposed. She alone had the disposition of her affairs. And the king esteemed her all the more for the loyalty she showed. But is it true, as I am told, that she is so angry with you that she has publicly refused to speak with you?” “You have been told the exact truth,” Lancelot replies, “but for God’s sake, can you tell me why she is so displeased with me?” He replies that he does not know, and that he is greatly surprised at it. “Well, let it be as she pleases,” says Lancelot, feeling his helplessness; “I must now take my leave, and I shall go to seek my lord Gawain who has entered this land, and who arranged with me that he would proceed directly to the waterbridge.” Then, leaving the room, he appeared before the king and asked for leave to proceed in that direction. And the king willingly grants him leave to go. Then those whom Lancelot had set free and delivered from prison ask him what they are to do. And he replies: “All those who desire may come with me, and those who wish to stay with the Queen may do so: there is no reason why they should accompany me.” Then all those, who so desire, accompany him, more glad and joyous than is their wont. With the Queen remain her damsels who are light of heart, and many knights and ladies too. But there is not one of those who stay behind, who would not have preferred to return to his own country to staying there. But on my lord Gawain’s account, whose arrival is expected, the Queen keeps them, saying that she will never stir until she has news of him.
(Vv. 4125–4262.) The news spreads everywhere that the Queen is free to go, and that all the other prisoners have been set at liberty and are free to go whenever it suits and pleases them. Wherever the people of the land gather together, they ask each other about the truth of this report, and never talk of anything else. They are very much enraged that all the dangerous passes have been overcome, and that any one may come and go as he pleases. But when the natives of the country, who had not been present at the battle, learned how Lancelot had been the victor, they all betook themselves to the place where they knew he must pass by, thinking that the king would be well pleased if they should seize Lancelot and hale him back to him. All of his own men were without their arms, and therefore they were at a disadvantage when they saw the natives of the country coming under arms. It was not strange that they seized Lancelot, who was without his arms. They lead him back prisoner, his feet lashed together beneath his horse. Then his own men say: “Gentlemen, this is an evil deed; for the king has given us his safe-conduct, and we are under his protection.” But the others reply: “We do not know how that may be; but as we have taken you, you must return with us to court.” The rumour, which swiftly flies and runs, reaches the king, that his men have seized Lancelot and put him to death. When the king hears it, he is sorely grieved and swears angrily by his head that they who have killed him shall surely die for the deed; and that, if he can seize or catch them, it shall be their fate to be hanged, burned, or drowned. And if they attempt to deny their deed, he will not believe what they say, for they have brought him such grief and shame that he would be disgraced were vengeance not to be exacted from them; but he will be avenged without a doubt. The news of this spread until it reached the Queen, who was sitting at meat. She almost killed herself on hearing the false report about Lancelot, but she supposes it to be true, and therefore she is in such dismay that she almost loses the power to speak; but, because of those present, she forces herself to say: “In truth, I am sorry for his death, and it is no wonder that I grieve, for he came into this country for my sake, and therefore I should mourn for him.” Then she says to herself, so that the others should not hear, that no one need ask her to drink or eat, if it is true that he is dead, in whose life she found her own. Then grieving she rises from the table, and makes her lament, but so that no one hears or notices her. She is so beside herself that she repeatedly grasps her throat with the desire to kill herself; but first she confesses to herself, and repents with self-reproach, blaming and censuring herself for the wrong she had done him, who, as she knew, had always been hers, and would still be hers, if he were alive. She is so distressed at the thought of her cruelty, that her beauty is seriously impaired. Her cruelty and meanness affected her and marred her beauty more than all the vigils and fastings with which she afflicted herself. When all her sins rise up before her, she gathers them together, and as she reviews them, she repeatedly exclaims: “Alas! of what was I thinking when my lover stood before me and I should have welcomed him, that I would not listen to his words? Was I not a fool, when I refused to look at or speak to him? Foolish indeed? Rather was I base and cruel, so help me God. I intended it as a jest, but he did not take it so, and has not pardoned me. I am sure it was no one but me who gave him his death-blow. When he came before me smiling and expecting that I would be glad to see him and would welcome him, and when I would not look at him, was not that a mortal blow? When I refused to speak with him, then doubtless at one blow I deprived him of his heart and life. These two strokes have killed him, I am sure; no other bandits have caused his death. God! can I ever make amends for this murder and this crime? No, indeed; sooner will the rivers and the sea dry up. Alas! how much better I should feel, and how much comfort I should take, if only once before he died I had held him in my arms! What? Yes, certainly, quite unclad, in order the better to enjoy him. If he is dead, I am very wicked not to destroy myself. Why? Can it harm my lover for me to live on after he is dead, if I take no pleasure in anything but in the woe I bear for him? In giving myself up to grief after his death, the very woes I court would be sweet to me, if he were only still alive. It is wrong for a woman to wish to die rather than to suffer for her lover’s sake. It is certainly sweet for me to mourn him long. I would rather be beaten alive than die and be at rest.”
(Vv. 4263–4414.) For two days the Queen thus mourned for him without eating or drinking, until they thought she too would die. There are plenty of people ready to carry bad news rather than good. The news reaches Lancelot that his lady and sweetheart is dead. You need have no doubt of the grief he felt; every one may feel sure that he was afflicted and overcome with grief. Indeed, if you would know the truth, he was so downcast that he held his life in slight esteem. He wished to kill himself at once, but first he uttered a brief lament. He makes a running noose at one end of the belt he wore, and then tearfully communes thus with himself: “Ah, death, how hast thou spied me out and undone me, when in the bloom of health! I am undone, and yet I feel no pain except the grief within my heart. This is a terrible mortal grief. I am willing that it should be so, and if God will, I shall die of it. Then can I not die some other way, without God’s consent? Yes, if he will let me tie this noose around my neck. I think I can compel death, even against her will, to take my life. Death, who covets only those who fear her, will not come to me; but my belt will bring her within my power, and as soon as she is mine, she will execute my desire. But, in truth, she will come too tardily for me, for I yearn to have her now!” Then he delays and hesitates no longer, but adjusts his head within the noose until it rests about his neck; and in order that he may not fail to harm himself, he fastens the end of the belt tightly about the saddle-bow, without attracting the attention of any one. Then he let himself slide to earth, intending his horse to drag him until he was lifeless, for he disdains to live another hour. When those who ride with him see him fallen to earth, they suppose him to be in a faint, for no one sees the noose which he had attached about his neck. At once they caught him in their arms and, on raising him, they found the noose which he had put around his neck and with which he sought to kill himself. They quickly cut the noose; but the noose had so hurt his throat that for some time he could not speak; the veins of his neck and throat are almost broken. Now he could not harm himself, even had he wished to do so; however, he is grieved that they have laid hands on him, and he almost burns up with rage, for willingly would he have killed himself had no one chanced to notice him. And now when he cannot harm himself, he cries: “Ah, vile and shameless death! For God’s sake, why hadst thou not the power and might to kill me before my lady died? I suppose it was because thou wouldst not deign to do what might be a kindly deed. If thou didst spare me, it must be attributed to thy wickedness. Ah, what kind of service and kindness is that! How well hast thou employed them here! A curse upon him who thanks thee or feels gratitude for such a service! I know not which is more my enemy: life, which detains me, or death, which will not slay me. Each one torments me mortally; and it serves me right, so help me God, that in spite of myself I should still live on. For I ought to have killed myself as soon as my lady the Queen showed her hate for me; she did not do it without cause, but she had some good reason, though I know not what it is. And if I had known what it was before her soul went to God, I should have made her such rich amends as would have pleased her and gained her mercy. God! what could my crime have been? I think she must have known that I mounted upon the cart. I do not know what other cause she can have to blame me. This has been my undoing. If this is the reason of her hate, God! what harm could this crime do? Any one who would reproach me for such an act never knew what love is, for no one could mention anything which, if prompted by love, ought to be turned into a reproach. Rather, everything that one can do for his lady-love is to be regarded as a token of his love and courtesy. Yet, I did not do it for my ‘lady-love’. I know not by what name to call her, whether ‘lady-love’, or not. I do not dare to call her by this name. But I think I know this much of love: that if she loved me, she ought not to esteem me less for this crime, but rather call me her true lover, inasmuch as I regarded it as an honour to do all love bade me do, even to mount upon a cart. She ought to ascribe this to love; and this is a certain proof that love thus tries his devotees and thus learns who is really his. But this service did not please my lady, as I discovered by her countenance. And yet her lover did for her that for which many have shamefully reproached and blamed him, though she was the cause of it; and many blame me for the part I have played, and have turned my sweetness into bitterness. In truth, such is the custom of those who know so little of love, that even honour they wash in shame. But whoever dips honour into shame, does not wash it, but rather sullies it. But they, who maltreat him so, are quite ignorant of love; and he, who fears not his commands, boasts himself very superior to him. For unquestionably he fares well who obeys the commands of love, and whatever he does is pardonable, but he is the coward who does not dare.”
(Vv. 4415–4440.) Thus Lancelot makes his lament, and his men stand grieving by his side, keeping hold of him and guarding him. Then the news comes that the Queen is not dead. Thereupon Lancelot at once takes comfort, and if his grief for her death had before been intense and deep, now his joy for her life was a hundred thousand times as great. And when they arrived within six or seven leagues of the castle where King Bademagu was, grateful news of Lancelot was told him, how he was alive and was coming hale and hearty, and this news the king was glad to hear. He did a very courteous thing in going at once to appraise the Queen. And she replies: “Fair sire, since you say so, I believe it is true, but I assure you that, if he were dead, I should never be happy again. All my joy would be cut off, if a knight had been killed in my service.”
(Vv. 4441–4530.) Then the king leaves her, and the Queen yearns ardently for the arrival of her lover and her joy. She has no desire this time to bear him any grudge. But rumour, which never rests but runs always unceasingly, again reaches the Queen to the effect that Lancelot would have killed himself for her sake, if he had had the chance. She is happy at the thought that this is true, but she would not have had it happen so for anything, for her sorrow would have been too great. Thereupon Lancelot arrived in haste. 140 As soon as the king sees him, he runs to kiss and embrace him. He feels as if he ought to fly, borne along by the buoyancy of his joy. But his satisfaction is cut short by those who had taken and bound his guest, and the king tells them they have come in an evil hour, for they shall all be killed and confounded. Then they made answer that they thought he would have it so. “It is I whom you have insulted in doing your pleasure. He has no reason to complain,” the king replies; “you have not shamed him at all, but only me who was protecting him. However you look at it, the shame is mine. But if you escape me now, you will see no joke in this.” When Lancelot hears his wrath, he puts forth every effort to make peace and adjust matters; when his efforts have met with success, the king takes him away to see the Queen. This time the Queen did not lower her eyes to the ground, but she went to meet him cheerfully, honouring him all she could, and making him sit down by her side. Then they talked together at length of all that was upon their hearts, and love furnished them with so much to say that topics did not lack. And when Lancelot sees how well he stands, and that all he says finds favour with the Queen, he says to her in confidence: “Lady, I marvel greatly why you received me with such a countenance when you saw me the day before yesterday, and why you would not speak a word to me: I almost died of the blow you gave me, and I had not the courage to dare to question you about it, as I now venture to do. I am ready now, lady, to make amends, when you have told me what has been the crime which has caused me such distress.” Then the Queen replies: “What? Did you not hesitate for shame to mount the cart? You showed you were loath to get in, when you hesitated for two whole steps. That is the reason why I would neither address nor look at you.” “May God save me from such a crime again,” Lancelot replies, “and may God show me no mercy, if you were not quite right! For God’s sake, lady, receive my amends at once, and tell me, for God’s sake, if you can ever pardon me.” “Friend, you are quite forgiven,” the Queen replies; “I pardon you willingly.” “Thank you for that, lady,” he then says; “but I cannot tell you here all that I should like to say; I should like to talk with you more at leisure, if possible.” Then the Queen indicates a window by her glance rather than with her finger, and says: “Come through the garden to-night and speak with me at yonder window, when every one inside has gone to sleep. You will not be able to get in: I shall be inside and you outside: to gain entrance will be impossible. I shall be able to touch you only with my lips or hand, but, if you please, I will stay there until morning for love of you. Our bodies cannot be joined, for close beside me in my room lies Kay the seneschal, who is still suffering from his wounds. And the door is not open, but is tightly closed and guarded well. When you come, take care to let no spy catch sight of you.” “Lady,” says he, “if I can help it, no spy shall see me who might think or speak evil of us.” Then, having agreed upon this plan, they separate very joyfully.
(Vv. 4551–4650.) Lancelot leaves the room in such a happy frame that all his past troubles are forgotten. But he was so impatient for the night to come that his restlessness made the day seem longer than a hundred ordinary days or than an entire year. If night had only come, he would gladly have gone to the trysting place. Dark and sombre night at last won its struggle with the day, and wrapped it up in its covering, and laid it away beneath its cloak. When he saw the light of day obscured, he pretended to be tired and worn, and said that, in view of his protracted vigils, he needed rest. You, who have ever done the same, may well understand and guess that he pretends to be tired and goes to bed in order to deceive the people of the house; but he cared nothing about his bed, nor would he have sought rest there for anything, for he could not have done so and would not have dared, and furthermore he would not have cared to possess the courage or the power to do so. Soon he softly rose, and was pleased to find that no moon or star was shining, and that in the house there was no candle, lamp, or lantern burning. Thus he went out and looked about, but there was no one on the watch for him, for all thought that he would sleep in his bed all night. Without escort or company he quickly went out into the garden, meeting no one on the way, and he was so fortunate as to find that a part of the garden-wall had recently fallen down. Through this break he passes quickly and proceeds to the window, where he stands, taking good care not to cough or sneeze, until the Queen arrives clad in a very white chemise. She wore no cloak or coat, but had thrown over her a short cape of scarlet cloth and shrew-mouse fur. As soon as Lancelot saw the Queen leaning on the window-sill behind the great iron bars, he honoured her with a gentle salute. She promptly returned his greeting, for he was desirous of her, and she of him. Their talk and conversation are not of vulgar, tiresome affairs. They draw close to one another, until each holds the other’s hand. But they are so distressed at not being able to come together more completely, that they curse the iron bars. Then Lancelot asserts that, with the Queen’s consent, he will come inside to be with her, and that the bars cannot keep him out. And the Queen replies: “Do you not see how the bars are stiff to bend and hard to break? You could never so twist, pull or drag at them as to dislodge one of them.” “Lady,” says he, “have no fear of that. It would take more than these bars to keep me out. Nothing but your command could thwart my power to come to you. If you will but grant me your permission, the way will open before me. But if it is not your pleasure, then the way is so obstructed that I could not possibly pass through.” “Certainly,” she says, “I consent. My will need not stand in your way; but you must wait until I retire to my bed again, so that no harm may come to you, for it would be no joke or jest if the seneschal, who is sleeping here, should wake up on hearing you. So it is best for me to withdraw, for no good could come of it, if he should see me standing here.” “Go then, lady,” he replies; “but have no fear that I shall make any noise. I think I can draw out the bars so softly and with so little effort that no one shall be aroused.”
(Vv. 4651–4754.) Then the Queen retires, and he prepares to loosen the window. Seizing the bars, he pulls and wrenches them until he makes them bend and drags them from their places. But the iron was so sharp that the end of his little finger was cut to the nerve, and the first joint of the next finger was torn; but he who is intent upon something else paid no heed to any of his wounds or to the blood which trickled down. Though the window is not low, Lancelot gets through it quickly and easily. First he finds Kay asleep in his bed, then he comes to the bed of the Queen, whom he adores and before whom he kneels, holding her more dear than the relic of any saint. And the Queen extends her arms to him and, embracing him, presses him tightly against her bosom, drawing him into the bed beside her and showing him every possible satisfaction; her love and her heart go out to him. It is love that prompts her to treat him so; and if she feels great love for him, he feels a hundred thousand times as much for her. For there is no love at all in other hearts compared with what there is in his; in his heart love was so completely embodied that it was niggardly toward all other hearts. Now Lancelot possesses all he wants, when the Queen voluntarily seeks his company and love, and when he holds her in his arms, and she holds him in hers. Their sport is so agreeable and sweet, as they kiss and fondle each other, that in truth such a marvellous joy comes over them as was never heard or known. But their joy will not be revealed by me, for in a story, it has no place. Yet, the most choice and delightful satisfaction was precisely that of which our story must not speak. That night Lancelot’s joy and pleasure were very great. But, to his sorrow, day comes when he must leave his mistress’ side. It cost him such pain to leave her that he suffered a real martyr’s agony. His heart now stays where the Queen remains; he has not the power to lead it away, for it finds such pleasure in the Queen that it has no desire to leave her: so his body goes, and his heart remains. But enough of his body stays behind to spot and stain the sheets with the blood which has fallen from his fingers. Full of sighs and tears, Lancelot leaves in great distress. He grieves that no time is fixed for another meeting, but it cannot be. Regretfully he leaves by the window through which he had entered so happily. He was so badly wounded in the fingers that they were in sorry, state; yet he straightened the bars and set them in their place again, so that from neither side, either before or behind, was it evident that any one had drawn out or bent any of the bars. When he leaves the room, he bows and acts precisely as if he were before a shrine; then he goes with a heavy heart, and reaches his lodgings without being recognised by any one. He throws himself naked upon his bed without awaking any one, and then for the first time he is surprised to notice the cuts in his fingers; but he is not at all concerned, for he is very sure that the wound was caused by dragging the window bars from the wall. Therefore he was not at all worried, for he would rather have had both arms dragged from his body than not enter through the window. But he would have been very angry and distressed, if he had thus injured and wounded himself under any other circumstances.
(Vv. 4755–5006.) In the morning, within her curtained room, the Queen had fallen into a gentle sleep; she had not noticed that her sheets were spotted with blood, but she supposed them to be perfectly white and clean and presentable. Now Meleagant, as soon as he was dressed and ready, went to the room where the Queen lay. He finds her awake, and he sees the sheets spotted with fresh drops of blood, whereupon he nudges his companions and, suspicious of some mischief, looks at the bed of Kay the seneschal, and sees that his sheets are blood-stained too, for you must know that in the night his wounds had begun to bleed afresh. Then he said: “Lady, now I have found the evidence that I desired. It is very true that any man is a fool to try to confine a woman: he wastes his efforts and his pains. He who tries to keep her under guard loses her sooner than the man who takes no thought of her. A fine watch, indeed, has been kept by my father, who is guarding you on my behalf! He has succeeded in keeping you from me, but, in spite of him, Kay the seneschal has looked upon you last night, and has done what he pleased with you, as can readily be proved.” “What is that?” she asks. “Since I must speak, I find blood on your sheets, which proves the fact. I know it and can prove it, because I find on both your sheets and his the blood which issued from his wounds: the evidence is very strong.” Then the Queen saw on both beds the bloody sheets, and marvelling, she blushed with shame and said: “So help me God, this blood which I see upon my sheets was never brought here by Kay, but my nose bled during the night, and I suppose it must be from my nose.” In saying so, she thinks she tells the truth. “By my head,” says Meleagant, “there is nothing in what you say. Swearing is of no avail, for you are taken in your guilt, and the truth will soon be proved.” Then he said to the guards who were present: “Gentlemen, do not move, and see to it that the sheets are not taken from the bed until I return. I wish the king to do me justice, as soon as he has seen the truth.” Then he searched until he found him, and failing at his feet, he said: “Sire, come to see what you have failed to guard. Come to see the Queen, and you shall see the certain marvels which I have already seen and tested. But, before you go, I beg you not to fail to be just and upright toward me. You know well to what danger I have exposed myself for the Queen; yet, you are no friend of mine and keep her from me under guard. This morning I went to see her in her bed, and I remarked that Kay lies with her every night. Sire, for God’s sake, be not angry, if I am disgruntled and if I complain. For it is very humiliating for me to be hated and despised by one with whom Kay is allowed to lie.” “Silence!” says the king; “I don’t believe it.” “Then come, my lord, and see the sheets and the state in which Kay has left them. Since you will not believe my words, and since you think I am lying, I will show you the sheets and the quilt covered with blood from Kay’s wounds.” “Come now,” says the king, “I wish to see for myself, and my eyes will judge of the truth.” Then the king goes directly to the room, where the Queen got up at his approach. He sees that the sheets are blood-stained on her bed and on Kay’s alike and he says: “Lady, it is going badly now, if what my son has said is true.” Then she replies: “So help me God, never even in a dream was uttered such a monstrous lie. I think Kay the seneschal is courteous and loyal enough not to commit such a deed, and besides, I do not expose my body in the market-place, nor offer it of my own free will. Surely, Kay is not the man to make an insulting proposal to me, and I have never desired and shall never desire to do such a thing myself.” “Sire, I shall be much obliged to you,” says Meleagant to his father, “if Kay shall be made to atone for this outrage, and the Queen’s shame thus be exposed. It devolves upon you to see that justice is done, and this justice I now request and claim. Kay has betrayed King Arthur, his lord, who had such confidence in him that he entrusted to him what he loved most in the world.” “Let me answer, sire,” says Kay, “and I shall exonerate myself. May God have no mercy upon my soul when I leave this world, if I ever lay with my lady! Indeed, I should rather be dead than ever do my lord such an ugly wrong, and may God never grant me better health than I have now but rather kill me on the spot, if such a thought ever entered my mind! But I know that my wounds bled profusely last night, and that is the reason why my sheets are stained with blood. That is why your son suspects me, but surely he has no right to do so.” And Meleagant answers him: “So help me God, the devils and demons have betrayed you. You grew too heated last night and, as a result of your exertions, your wounds have doubtless bled afresh. There is no use in your denying it; we can see it, and it is perfectly evident. It is right that he should atone for his crime, who is so plainly taken in his guilt. Never did a knight with so fair a name commit such iniquities as this, and yours is the shame for it.” “Sire, sire,” says Kay to the king, “I will defend the Queen and myself against the accusation of your son. He harasses and distresses me, though he has no ground to treat me so.” “You cannot fight,” the king replies, “you are too ill.” “Sire, if you will allow it, I will fight with him, ill as I am, and will show him that I am not guilty of the crime which he imputes to me.” But the Queen, having secretly sent word to Lancelot, tells the king that she will present a knight who will defend the seneschal, if Meleagant dares to urge this charge. Then Meleagant said at once: “There is no knight without exception, even were he a giant, whom I will not fight until one of us is defeated.” Then Lancelot came in, and with him such a rout of knights that the whole hall was filled with them. As soon as he had entered, in the hearing of all, both young and old, the Queen told what had happened, and said: “Lancelot, this insult has been done me by Meleagant. In the presence of all who hear his words he says I have lied, if you do not make him take it back. Last night, he asserted, Kay lay with me, because he found my sheets, like his, all stained with blood; and he says that he stands convicted, unless he will undertake his own defence, or unless some one else will fight the battle on his behalf.” Lancelot says: “You need never use arguments with me. May it not please God that either you or he should be thus discredited! I am ready to fight and to prove to the extent of my power that he never was guilty of such a thought. I am ready to employ my strength in his behalf, and to defend him against this charge.” Then Meleagant jumped up and said: “So help me God, I am pleased and well satisfied with that: no one need think that I object.” And Lancelot said: “My lord king, I am well acquainted with suits and laws, with trials and verdicts: in a question of veracity an oath should be taken before the fight.” Meleagant at once replies: “I agree to take an oath; so let the relics be brought at once, for I know well that I am right.” And Lancelot answers him: “So help me God, no one who ever knew Kay the seneschal would doubt his word on such a point.” Then they call for their horses, and ask that their arms be brought. This is promptly done, and when the valets had armed them, they were ready for the fight. Then the holy relics are brought forth: Meleagant steps forward, with Lancelot by his side, and both fall on their knees. Then Meleagant, laying his hands upon the relics, swears unreservedly: “So help me God and this holy relic, Kay the seneschal lay with the Queen in her bed last night and, had his pleasure with her.” “And I swear that thou liest,” says Lancelot, “and furthermore I swear that he neither lay with her nor touched her. And may it please God to take vengeance upon him who has lied, and may He bring the truth to light! Moreover, I will take another oath and swear, whoever may dislike it or be displeased, that if I am permitted to vanquish Meleagant today, I will show him no mercy, so help me God and these relics here!” The king felt no joy when he heard this oath.
(Vv. 5007–5198.) When the oaths had been taken, their horses were brought forward, which were fair and good in every way. Each man mounts his own home, and they ride at once at each other as fast as the steeds can carry them; and when the horses are in mid-career, the knights strike each other so fiercely that there is nothing left of the lances in their hands. Each brings the other to earth; however, they are not dismayed, but they rise at once and attack each other with their sharp drawn swords. The burning sparks fly in the air from their helmets. They assail each other so bitterly with the drawn swords in their hands that, as they thrust and draw, they encounter each other with their blows and will not pause even to catch their breath. The king in his grief and anxiety called the Queen, who had gone up in the tower to look out from the balcony: he begged her for God’s sake, the Creator, to let them be separated. “Whatever is your pleasure is agreeable to me,” the Queen says honestly: “I shall not object to anything you do.” Lancelot plainly heard what reply the Queen made to the king’s request, and from that time he ceased to fight and renounced the struggle at once. But Meleagant does not wish to stop, and continues to strike and hew at him. But the king rushes between them and stops his son, who declares with an oath that he has no desire for peace. He wants to fight, and cares not for peace. Then the king says to him: “Be quiet, and take my advice, and be sensible. No shame or harm shall come to thee, if thou wilt do what is right and heed my words. Dost thou not remember that thou hast agreed to fight him at King Arthur’s court? And dost thou not suppose that it would be a much greater honour for thee to defeat him there than anywhere else?” The king says this to see if he can so influence him as to appease him and separate them. And Lancelot, who was impatient to go in search of my lord Gawain, requests leave of the king and Queen to depart. With their permission he goes away toward the water-bridge, and after him there followed a great company of knights. But it would have suited him very well, if many of those who went had stayed behind. They make long days’ journeys until they approach the water-bridge, but are still about a league from it. Before they came in sight of the bridge, a dwarf came to meet them on a mighty hunter, holding a scourge with which to urge on and incite his steed. In accordance with his instructions, he at once inquired: “Which of you is Lancelot? Don’t conceal him from me; I am of your party; tell me confidently, for I ask the question for your good.” Lancelot replies in his own behalf, and says: “I am he whom thou seekest and askest for.” “Ah,” says the dwarf, “frank knight, leave these people, and trust in me. Come along with me alone, for I will take thee to a goodly place. Let no one follow thee for anything, but let them wait here; for we shall return presently.” He, suspecting no harm in this, bids all his men stay there, and follows the dwarf who has betrayed him. Meanwhile his men who wait for him may continue to expect him long in vain, for they, who have taken and seized him, have no desire to give him up. And his men are in such a state of grief at his failure to return that they do not know what steps to take. They all say sorrowfully that the dwarf has betrayed them. It would be useless to inquire for him: with heavy hearts they begin to search, but they know not where to look for him with any hope of finding him. So they all take counsel, and the most reasonable and sensible agree on this, it seems: to go to the passage of the water-bridge, which is close by, to see if they can find my lord Gawain in wood or plain, and then with his advice search for Lancelot. Upon this plan they all agree without dissension. Toward the water-bridge they go, and as soon as they reach the bridge, they see my lord Gawain overturned and fallen from the bridge into the stream which is very deep. One moment he rises, and the next he sinks; one moment they see him, and the next they lose him from sight. They make such efforts that they succeed in raising him with branches, poles and hooks. He had nothing but his hauberk on his back, and on his head was fixed his helmet, which was worth ten of the common sort, and he wore his iron greaves, which were all rusty with his sweat, for he had endured great trials, and had passed victoriously through many perils and assaults. His lance, his shield, and horse were all behind on the other bank. Those who have rescued him do not believe he is alive. For his body was full of water, and until he got rid of it, they did not hear him speak a word. But when his speech and voice and the passageway to his heart are free, and as soon, as what he said could be heard and understood, he tried to speak he inquired at once for the Queen, whether those present had any news of her. And they replied that she is still with King Bademagu, who serves her well and honourably. “Has no one come to seek her in this land?” my lord Gawain then inquires of them. And they answer him: “Yes, indeed.” “Who?” “Lancelot of the Lake,” they say, “who crossed the sword-bridge, and rescued and delivered her as well as all the rest of us. But we have been betrayed by a pot-bellied, humpbacked, and crabbed dwarf. He has deceived us shamefully in seducing Lancelot from us, and we do not know what he has done with him.” “When was that?” my lord Gawain inquires. “Sire, near here this very day this trick was played on us, while he was coming with us to meet you.” “And how has Lancelot been occupied since he entered this land?” Then they begin to tell him all about him in detail, and then they tell him about the Queen, how she is waiting for him and asserting that nothing could induce her to leave the country, until she sees him or hears some credible news of him. To them my lord Gawain replies: “When we leave this bridge, we shall go to search for Lancelot.” There is not one who does not advise rather that they go to the Queen at once, and have the king seek Lancelot, for it is their opinion that his son Meleagant has shown his enmity by having him cast into prison. But if the king can learn where he is, he will certainly make him surrender him: they can rely upon this with confidence.
(Vv. 5199–5256.) They all agreed upon this plan, and started at once upon their way until they drew near the court where the Queen and king were. There, too, was Kay the seneschal, and that disloyal man, full to overflowing of treachery, who has aroused the greatest anxiety for Lancelot on the part of the party which now arrives. They feel they have been discomfited and betrayed, and they make great lament in their misery. It is not a gracious message which reports this mourning to the Queen. Nevertheless, she deports herself with as good a grace as possible. She resolves to endure it, as she must, for the sake of my lord Gawain. However, she does not so conceal her grief that it does not somewhat appear. She has to show both joy and grief at once: her heart is empty for Lancelot, and to my lord Gawain she shows excessive joy. Every one who hears of the loss of Lancelot is grief-stricken and distracted. The king would have rejoiced at the coming of my lord Gawain and would have been delighted with his acquaintance; but he is so sorrowful and distressed over the betrayal of Lancelot that he is prostrated and full of grief. And the Queen beseeches him insistently to have him searched for, up and down throughout the land, without postponement or delay. My lord Gawain and Kay and all the others join in this prayer and request. “Leave this care to me, and speak no more of it,” the king replies, “for I have been ready to do so for some time. Without need of request or prayer this search shall be made with thoroughness.” Everyone bows in sign of gratitude, and the king at once sends messengers through his realm, sagacious and prudent men-at-arms, who inquired for him throughout the land. They made inquiry for him everywhere, but gained no certain news of him. Not finding any, they come back to the place where the knights remain; then Gawain and Kay and all the others say that they will go in search of him, fully armed and lance in rest; they will not trust to sending some one else.
(Vv. 5257–5378.) One day after dinner they were all in the hall putting on their arms, and the point had been reached where there was nothing to do but start, when a valet entered and passed by them all until he came before the Queen, whose cheeks were by no means rosy! For she was in such mourning for Lancelot, of whom she had no news, that she had lost all her colour. The valet greeted her as well as the king, who was by her side, and then all the others and Kay and my lord Gawain. He held a letter in his hand which he gave to the king, who took it. The king had it read in the hearing of all by one who made no mistake in reading it. The reader knew full well how to communicate to them what was written in the parchment: he says that Lancelot sends greetings to the king as his kind lord, and thanks him for the honour and kindness he has shown him, and that he now places himself at the king’s orders. And know that he is now hale and hearty at King Arthur’s court, and he bids him tell the Queen to come thither, if she will consent, in company with my lord Gawain and Kay. In proof of which, he affixed his signature which they should recognise, as indeed they did. At this they were very happy and glad; the whole court resounds with their jubilation, and they say they will start next day as soon as it is light. So, when the day broke, they make ready and prepare: they rise and mount and start. With great joy and jubilee the king escorts them for a long distance on their way. When he has conducted them to the frontier and has seen them safely across the border, he takes leave of the Queen, and likewise of all the rest. And when he comes to take his leave, the Queen is careful to express her gratitude for all the kindness he has shown to her, and throwing her arms about his neck, she offers and promises him her own service and that of her lord: no greater promise can she make. And my lord Gawain promises his service to him, as to his lord and friend, and then Kay does likewise, and all the rest. Then the king commends them to God as they start upon their way. After these three, he bids the rest farewell, and then turns his face toward home. The Queen and her company do not tarry a single day until news of them reaches the court. King Arthur was delighted at the news of the Queen’s approach, and he is happy and pleased at the thought that his nephew had brought about the Queen’s return, as well as that of Kay and of the lesser folk. But the truth is quite different from what he thinks. All the town is cleared as they go to meet them, and knights and vassals join in shouting as they approach: “Welcome to my lord Gawain, who has brought back the Queen and many another captive lady, and has freed for us many prisoners!” Then Gawain answered them: “Gentlemen, I do not deserve your praise. Do not trouble ever to say this again, for the compliment does not apply to me. This honour causes me only shame, for I did not reach the Queen in time; my detention made me late. But Lancelot reached there in time, and won such honour as was never won by any other knight.” “Where is he, then, fair dear sire, for we do not see him here?” “Where?” echoes my lord Gawain; “at the court of my lord the King, to be sure. Is he not?” “No, he is not here, or anywhere else in this country. Since my lady was taken away, we have had no news of him.” Then for the first time my lord Gawain realised that the letter had been forged, and that they had been betrayed and deceived: by the letter they had been misled. Then they all begin to lament, and they come thus weeping to the court, where the King at once asks for information about the affair. There were plenty who could tell him how much Lancelot had done, how the Queen and all the captives were delivered from durance by him, and by what treachery the dwarf had stolen him and drawn him away from them. This news is not pleasing to the King, and he is very sorry and full of grief; but his heart is so lightened by the pleasure he takes in the Queen’s return, that his grief concludes in joy. When he has what he most desires, he cares little for the rest.
(Vv. 5379–5514.) While the Queen was out of the country, I believe, the ladies and the damsels who were disconsolate, decided among themselves that they would marry, soon, and they organised a contest and a tournament. The lady of Noauz was patroness of it, with the lady of Pomelegloi. They will have nothing to do with those who fare ill, but they assert that they will accept those who comport themselves well in the tournament. And they had the date of the contest proclaimed s long while in advance in all the countries near and far, in order that there might be more participants. Now the Queen arrived before the date they had set, and as soon as the ladies heard of the Queen’s return, most of them came at once to the King and besought him to grant them a favour and boon, which he did. He promised to do whatever they wished, before he knew what their desire might be. Then they told him that they wished him to let the Queen come to be present at their contest. And he who was not accustomed to forbid, said he was willing, if she wished ir so. In happy mood they go to the Queen and say to her: “Lady, do not deprive us of the boon which the King has granted us.” Then she asks them: “What is that? Don’t fail to tell!” Then they say to her: “If you will come to our tournament, he will not gainsay you nor stand in the way.” Then she said that she would come, since he was willing that she should. Promptly the dames send word throughout the realm that they are going to bring the Queen on the day set for the tournament. The news spread far and near, here and there, until it reached the kingdom whence no one used to return — but now whoever wished might enter or pass out unopposed. The news travelled in this kingdom until it came to a seneschal of the faithless Meleagant may an evil fire burn him! This seneschal had Lancelot in his keeping, for to him he had been entrusted by his enemy Meleagant, who hated him with deadly hate. Lancelot learned the hour and date of the tournament, and as soon as he heard of it, his eyes were not tearless nor was his heart glad. The lady of the house, seeing Lancelot sad and pensive, thus spoke to him: “Sire, for God’s sake and for your own soul’s good, tell me truly,” the lady said, “why you are so changed. You won’t eat or drink anything, and I see that you do not make merry or laugh. You can tell me with confidence why you are so sad and troubled.” “Ah, lady, for God’s sake, do not be surprised that I am sad! Truly, I am very much downcast, since I cannot be present where all that is good in the world will be assembled: that is, at the tournament where there will be a gathering of the people who make the earth tremble. Nevertheless, if it pleased you, and if God should incline your heart to let me go thither, you might rest assured that I should be careful to return to my captivity here.” “I would gladly do it,” she replied, “if I did not see that my death and destruction would result. But I am in such terror of my lord, the despicable Meleagant, that I would not dare to do it, for he would kill my husband at once. It is not strange that I am afraid of him, for, as you know, he is very bad.” “Lady, if you are afraid that I may not return to you at once after the tournament, I will take an oath which I will never break, that nothing will detain me from returning at once to my prison here immediately after the tournament.” “Upon my word,” said she, “I will allow it upon one condition.” “Lady, what condition is that?” Then she replies: “Sire, upon condition that you wilt swear to return to me, and promise that I shall have your love.” “Lady, I give you all the love I have, and swear to come back.” Then the lady laughs and says: “I have no cause to boast of such a gift, for I know you have bestowed upon some one else the love for which I have just made request. However, I do not disdain to take so much of it as I can get. I shall be satisfied with what I can have, and will accept your oath that you will be so considerate of me as to return hither a prisoner.”
(Vv. 5515–5594.) In accordance with her wish, Lancelot swears by Holy Church that he will return without fail. And the lady at once gives him the vermilion arms of her lord, and his horse which was marvellously good and strong and brave. He mounts and leaves, armed with handsome, new arms, and proceeds until he comes to Noauz. He espoused this side in the tournament, and took his lodging outside the town. Never did such a noble man choose such a small and lowly lodging-place; but he did not wish to lodge where he might be recognised. There were many good and excellent knights gathered within the town. But there were many more outside, for so many had come on account of the presence of the Queen that the fifth part could not be accommodated inside. For every one who would have been there under ordinary circumstances, there were seven who would not have come excepting on the Queen’s account. The barons were quartered in tents, lodges, and pavilions for five leagues around. Moreover, it was wonderful how many gentle ladies and damsels were there. Lancelot placed his shield outside the door of his lodging-place, and then, to make himself more comfortable, he took off his arms and lay down upon a bed which he held in slight esteem; for it was narrow and had a thin mattress, and was covered with a coarse hempen cloth. Lancelot had thrown himself upon the bed all disarmed, and as he lay there in such poor estate, behold! a fellow came in in his shirt-sleeves; he was a herald-at-arms, and had left his coat and shoes in the tavern as a pledge; so he came running barefoot and exposed to the wind. He saw the shield hanging outside the door, and looked at it: but naturally he did not recognise it or know to whom it belonged, or who was the bearer of it. He sees the door of the house standing open, and upon entering, he sees Lancelot upon the bed, and as soon as he saw him, he recognised him and crossed himself. And Lancelot made a sign to him, and ordered him not to speak of him wherever he might go, for if he should tell that he knew him, it would be better for him to have his eyes put out or his neck broken. “Sire,” the herald says, “I have always held you in high esteem, and so long as I live, I shall never do anything to cause you displeasure.” Then he runs from the house and cries aloud: “Now there has come one who will take the measure! 141 Now there has come one who will take the measure!” The fellow shouts this everywhere, and the people come from every side and ask him what is the meaning of his cry. He is not so rash as to answer them, but goes on shouting the same words: “Now there has come one who will take the measure!” This herald was the master of us all, when he taught us to use the phrase, for he was the first to make use of it.
(Vv. 5595–5640.) Now the crowd was assembled, including the Queen and all the ladies, the knights and the other people, and there were many men-at-arms everywhere, to the right and left. At the place where the tournament was to be, there were some large wooden stands for the use of the Queen with her ladies and damsels. Such fine stands were never seen before they were so long and well constructed. Thither the ladies betook themselves with the Queen, wishing to see who would fare better or worse in the combat. Knights arrive by tens, twenties, and thirties, here eighty and there ninety, here a hundred, there still more, and yonder twice as many yet; so that the press is so great in front of the stands and all around that they decide to begin the joust. As they assemble, armed and unarmed, their lances suggest the appearance of a wood, for those who have come to the sport brought so many lances that there is nothing in sight but lances, banners, and standards. Those who are going to take part begin to joust, and they find plenty of their companions who had come with similar intent. Still others prepare to perform other feats of chivalry. The fields, meadows, and fallow lands are so full of knights that it is impossible to estimate how many of them are there. But there was no sign of Lancelot at this first gathering of the knights; but later, when he entered the middle of the field, the herald saw him and could not refrain from crying out: “Behold him who will take the measure! Behold him who will take the measure!” And the people ask him who he is, but he will not tell them anything.
(Vv. 5641–6104.) When Lancelot entered the tournament, he was as good as twenty of the best, and he began to fight so doughtily that no one could take his eyes from him, wherever he was. On the Pomelegloi side there was a brave and valorous knight, and his horse was spirited and swifter than a wild stag. He was the son of the Irish king, and fought well and handsomely. But the unknown knight pleased them all more a hundred times. In wonder they all make haste to ask: “Who is this knight who fights so well?” And the Queen privily called a clever and wise damsel to her and said: “Damsel, you must carry a message, and do it quickly and with few words. Go down from the stand, and approach yonder knight with the vermilion shield, and tell him privately that I bid him do his ‘worst’.” She goes quickly, and with intelligence executes the Queen’s command. She sought the knight until she came up close to him; then she said to him prudently and in a voice so low that no one standing by might hear: “Sire, my lady the Queen sends you word by me that you shall do your ‘worst’.” When he heard this, he replied: “Very willingly,” like one who is altogether hers. Then he rides at another knight as hard as his horse can carry him, and misses his thrust which should have struck him. From that time till evening fell he continued to do as badly as possible in accordance with the Queen’s desire. But the other, who fought with him, did not miss his thrust, but struck him with such violence that he was roughly handled. Thereupon he took to flight, and after that he never turned his horse’s head toward any knight, and were he to die for it, he would never do anything unless he saw in it his shame, disgrace, and dishonour; he even pretends to be afraid of all the knights who pass to and fro. And the very knights who formerly esteemed him now hurled jests and jibes at him. And the herald who had been saying: “He will beat them all in turn!” is greatly dejected and discomfited when he hears the scornful jokes of those who shout: “Friend, say no more! This fellow will not take any one’s measure again. He has measured so much that his yardstick is broken, of which thou hast boasted to us so much.” Many say: “What is he going to do? He was so brave just now; but now he is so cowardly that there is not a knight whom he dares to face. The cause of his first success must have been that he never engaged at arms before, and he was so brave at his first attack that the most skilled knight dared not withstand him, for he fought like a wild man. But now he has learned so much of arms that he will never wish to bear them again his whole life long. His heart cannot longer endure the thought, for there is nothing more cowardly than his heart.” And the Queen, as she watches him, is happy and well-pleased, for she knows full well, though she does not say it, that this is surely Lancelot. Thus all day long till evening he played his coward’s part, and late in the afternoon they separated. At parting there was a great discussion as to who had done the best. The son of the Irish king thinks that without doubt or contradiction he has all the glory and renown. But he is grievously mistaken, for there were plenty of others as good as he. Even the vermilion knight so pleased the fairest and gentlest of the ladies and damsels that they had gazed at him more than at any other knight, for they had remarked how well he fought at first, and how excellent and brave he was; then he had become so cowardly that he dared not face a single knight, and even the worst of them could defeat and capture him at will. But knights and ladies all agreed that on the morrow they should return to the list, and the damsels should choose as their lords those who should win honour in that day’s fight: on this arrangement they all agree. Then they turn toward their lodgings, and when they had returned, here and there men began to say: “What has become of the worst, the most craven and despised of knights? Whither did he go? Where is he concealed? Where is he to be found? Where shall we search for him? We shall probably never see him again. For he has been driven off by cowardice, with which he is so filled that there is no greater craven in the world than he. And he is not wrong, for a coward is a hundred times more at ease than a valorous fighting man. Cowardice is easy of entreaty, and that is the reason he has given her the kiss of peace and has taken from her all she has to give. Courage never so debased herself as to lodge in his breast or take quarters near him. But cowardice is altogether lodged with him, and she has found a host who will honour her and serve her so faithfully that he is willing to resign his own fair name for hers.” Thus they wrangle all night, vying with each other in slander. But often one man maligns another, and yet is much worse himself than the object of his blame and scorn. Thus, every one said what he pleased about him. And when the next day dawned, all the people prepared and came again to the jousting place. The Queen was in the stand again, accompanied by her ladies and damsels and many knights without their arms, who had been captured or defeated, and these explained to them the armorial bearings of the knights whom they most esteem. Thus they talk among themselves: 142 “Do you see that knight yonder with a golden band across the middle of his red shield? That is Governauz of Roberdic. And do you see that other one, who has an eagle and a dragon painted side by side upon his shield? That is the son of the King of Aragon, who has come to this land in search of glory and renown. And do you see that one beside him, who thrusts and jousts so well, bearing a shield with a leopard painted on a green ground on one part, and the other half is azure blue? That is Ignaures the well-beloved, a lover himself and jovial. And he who bears the shield with the pheasants portrayed beak to beak is Coguillanz of Mautirec. Do you see those two side by side, with their dappled steeds, and golden shields showing black lions? One is named Semiramis, and the other is his companion; their shields are painted alike. And do you see the one who has a shield with a gate painted on it, through which a stag appears to be passing out? That is King Ider, in truth.” Thus they talk up in the stand. “That shield was made at Limoges, whence it was brought by Pilades, who is very ardent and keen to be always in the fight. That shield, bridle, and breast-strap were made at Toulouse, and were brought here by Kay of Estraus. The other came from Lyons on the Rhone, and there is no better under heaven; for his great merit it was presented to Taulas of the Desert, who bears it well and protects himself with it skilfully. Yonder shield is of English workmanship and was made at London; you see on it two swallows which appear as if about to fly; yet they do not move, but receive many blows from the Poitevin lances of steel; he who has it is poor Thoas.” Thus they point out and describe the arms of those they know; but they see nothing of him whom they had held in such contempt, and, not remarking him in the fray, they suppose that he has slipped away. When the Queen sees that he is not there, she feels inclined to send some one to search for him in the crowd until he be found. She knows of no one better to send in search of him than she who yesterday performed her errand. So, straightway calling her, she said to her: “Damsel, go and mount your palfrey! I send you to the same knight as I sent you yesterday, and do you seek him until you find him. Do not delay for any cause, and tell him again to do his ‘worst’. And when you have given him this message, mark well what reply he makes.” The damsel makes no delay, for she had carefully noticed the direction he took the night before, knowing well that she would be sent to him again. She made her way through the ranks until she saw the knight, whom she instructs at once to do his “worst” again, if he desires the love and favour of the Queen which she sends him. And he makes answer: “My thanks to her, since such is her will.” Then the damsel went away, and the valets, sergeants, and squires begin to shout: “See this marvellous thing! He of yesterday with the vermilion arms is back again. What can he want? Never in the world was there such a vile, despicable, and craven wretch! He is so in the power of cowardice that resistance is useless on his part.” And the damsel returns to the Queen, who detained her and would not let her go until she heard what his response had been; then she heartily rejoiced, feeling no longer any doubt that this is he to whom she altogether belongs, and he is hers in like manner. Then she bids the damsel quickly return and tell him that it is her command and prayer that he shall do his “best “; and she says she will go at once without delay. She came down from the stand to where her valet with the palfrey was awaiting her. She mounted and rode until she found the knight, to whom she said at once: “Sire, my lady now sends word that you shall do the ‘best’ you can!” And he replies: “Tell her now that it is never a hardship to do her will, for whatever pleases her is my delight.” The maiden was not slow in bearing back this message, for she thinks it will greatly please and delight the Queen. She made her way as directly as possible to the stand, where the Queen rose and started to meet her, however, she did not go down, but waited for her at the top of the steps. And the damsel came happy in the message she had to bear. When she had climbed the steps and reached her side, she said: “Lady, I never saw so courteous g knight, for he is more than ready to obey every command you send to him, for, if the truth be known, he accepts good and evil with the same countenance.” “Indeed,” says the Queen, “that may well be so.” Then she returns to the balcony to watch the knights. And Lancelot without delay seizes his shield by the leather straps, for he is kindled and consumed by the desire to show his prowess. Guiding his horse’s head, he lets him run between two lines. All those mistaken and deluded men, who have spent a large part of the day and night in heaping him with ridicule, will soon be disconcerted. For a long time they have had their sport and joke and fun. The son of the King of Ireland held his shield closely gripped by the leather straps, as he spurs fiercely to meet him from the opposite direction. They come together with such violence that the son of the Irish king having broken and splintered his lance, wishes no more of the tournament; for it was not moss he struck, but hard, dry boards. In this encounter Lancelot taught him one of his thrusts, when he pinned his shield to his arm, and his arm to his side, and brought him down from his horse to earth. Like arrows the knights at once fly out, spurring and pricking from either side, some to relieve this knight, others to add to his distress. While some thus try to aid their lords, many a saddle is left empty in the strife and fray. But all that day Gawain took no hand at arms, though he was with the others there, for he took such pleasure in watching the deeds of him with the red painted arms that what the others did seemed to him pale in comparison. And the herald cheered up again, as he shouted aloud so that all could hear: “Here there has one come who will take the measure! To-day you shall see what he can do. To-day his prowess shall appear.” Then the knight directs his steed and makes a very skilful thrust against a certain knight, whom he strikes so hard that he carries him a hundred feet or more from his horse. His feats with sword and lance are so well performed that there is none of the onlookers who does not find pleasure in watching him. Many even of those who bear arms find pleasure and satisfaction in what he does, for it is great sport to see how he makes horses and knights tumble and fall. He encounters hardly a single knight who is able to keep his seat, and he gives the horses he wins to those who want them. Then those who had been making game of him said: “Now we are disgraced and mortified. It was a great mistake for us to deride and vilify this man, for he is surely worth a thousand such as we are on this field; for he has defeated and outdone all the knights in the world, so that there is no one now that opposes him.” And the damsels, who amazed were watching him, all said that he might take them to wife; but they did not dare to trust in their beauty or wealth, or power or highness, for not for her beauty or wealth would this peerless knight deign to choose any one of them. Yet, most of them are so enamoured of him that they say that, unless they marry him, they will not be bestowed upon any man this year. And the Queen, who hears them boast, laughs to herself and enjoy the fun, for well she knows that if all the gold of Arabia should be set before him, yet he who is beloved by them all would not select the best, the fairest, or the most charming of the group. One wish is common to them all — each wishes to have him as her spouse. One is jealous of another, as if she were already his wife; and all this is because they see him so adroit that in their opinion no mortal man could perform such deeds as he had done. He did so well that when the time came to leave the list, they admitted freely on both sides that no one had equalled the knight with the vermilion shield. All said this, and it was true. But when he left, he allowed his shield and lance and trappings to fall where he saw the thickest press, then he rode off hastily with such secrecy that no one of all the host noticed that he had disappeared. But he went straight back to the place whence he had come, to keep his oath. When the tournament broke up, they all searched and asked for him, but without success, for he fled away, having no desire to be recognised. The knights are disappointed and distressed, for they would have rejoiced to have him there. But if the knights were grieved to have been deserted thus, still greater was the damsels’ grief when they learned the truth, and they asserted by St. John that they would not marry at all that year. If they can’t have him whom they truly love, then all the others may be dismissed. Thus the tourney was adjourned without any of them choosing a husband. Meanwhile Lancelot without delay repairs to his prison. But the seneschal arrived two or three days before Lancelot, and inquired where he was. And his wife, who had given to Lancelot his fair and well-equipped vermilion arms, as well as his harness and his horse, told the truth to the seneschal — how she had sent him where there had been jousting at the tourney of Noauz. “Lady,” the seneschal replies, “you could truly have done nothing worse than that. Doubtless, I shall smart for this, for my lord Meleagant will treat me worse than the beach-combers’ law would treat me were I a mariner in distress. I shall be killed or banished the moment he hears the news, and he will have no pity for me.” “Fair sire, be not now dismayed,” the lady said; “there is no occasion for the fear you feel. There is no possibility of his detention, for he swore to me by the saints that he would return as soon as possible.”
(Vv. 6105–6166.) 143 Then the seneschal mounts, and coming to his lord, tells him the whole story of the episode; but at the same time, he emphatically reassures him, telling how his wife had received his oath that he would return to his prison. “He will not break his word, I know,” says Meleagant: “and yet I am very much displeased at what your wife has done. Not for any consideration would I have had him present at that tournament. But return now, and see to it that, when he comes back, he be so strictly guarded that he shall not escape from his prison or have any freedom of body: and send me word at once.” “Your orders shall be obeyed,” says the seneschal. Then he goes away and finds Lancelot returned as prisoner in his yard. A messenger, sent by the seneschal, runs back at once to Meleagant, appraising him of Lancelot’s return. When he heard this news, he took masons and carpenters who unwillingly or of their own free-will executed his commands. He summoned the best artisans in the land, and commanded them to build a tower, and exert themselves to build it well. The stone was quarried by the seaside; for near Gorre on this side there runs a big broad arm of the sea, in the midst of which an island stood, as Meleagant well knew. He ordered the stone to be carried thither and the material for the construction of the tower. In less than fifty-seven days the tower was completely built, high and thick and well-founded. When it was completed, he had Lancelot brought thither by night, and after putting him in the tower, he ordered the doors to be walled up, and made all the masons swear that they would never utter a word about this tower. It was his will that it should be thus sealed up, and that no door or opening should remain, except one small window. Here Lancelot was compelled to stay, and they gave him poor and meagre fare through this little window at certain hours, as the disloyal wretch had ordered and commanded them.
(Vv. 6167–6220.) Now Meleagant has carried out all his purpose, and he betakes himself to King Arthur’s court: behold him now arrived! And when he was before the King, he thus spoke with pride and arrogance: “King, I have scheduled a battle to take place in thy presence and in thy court. But I see nothing of Lancelot who agreed to be my antagonist. Nevertheless, as my duty is, in the hearing of all who are present here, I offer myself to fight this battle. And if he is here, let him now step forth and agree to meet me in your court a year from now. I know not if any one has told you how this battle was agreed upon. But I see knights here who were present at our conference, and who, if they would, could tell you the truth. If he should try to deny the truth, I should employ no hireling to take my place, but would prove it to him hand to hand.” The Queen, who was seated beside the King, draws him to her as she says: “Sire, do you know who that knight is? It is Meleagant who carried me away while escorted by Kay the seneschal; he caused him plenty of shame and mischief too.” And the King answered her: “Lady, I understand; I know full well that it is he who held my people in distress.” The Queen says no more, but the King addresses Meleagant: “Friend,” he says, “so help me God, we are very sad because we know nothing of Lancelot.” “My lord King,” says Meleagant, “Lancelot told me that I should surely find him here. Nowhere but in your court must I issue the call to this battle, and I desire all your knights here to bear me witness that I summon him to fight a year from today, as stipulated when we agreed to fight.”
(Vv. 6221–6458.) At this my lord Gawain gets up, much distressed at what he hears: “Sire, there is nothing known of Lancelot in all this land,” he says; “but we shall send in search of him and, if God will, we shall find him yet, before the end of the year is reached, unless he be dead or in prison. And if he does not appear, then grant me the battle, and I will fight for him: I will arm myself in place of Lancelot, if he does not return before that day.” “Ah,” says Meleagant, “for God’s sake, my fair lord King, grant him the boon. I join my request to his desire, for I know no knight in all the world with whom I would more gladly try my strength, excepting only Lancelot. But bear in mind that, if I do not fight with one of them, I will accept no exchange or substitution for either one.” And the King says that this is understood, if Lancelot does not return within the time. Then Meleagant left the royal court and journeyed until he found his father, King Bademagu. In order to appear brave and of consideration in his presence, he began by making a great pretence and by assuming an expression of marvellous cheer. That day the king was holding a joyous court at his city of Bade; 144 it was his birthday, which he celebrated with splendour and generosity, and there were many people of divers sorts gathered with him. All the palace was filled with knights and damsels, and among them was the sister of Meleagant, of whom I shall tell you, farther on, what is my thought and reason for mentioning her here. But it is not fitting that I should explain it here, for I do not wish to confuse or entangle my material, but rather to treat it straight forwardly. Now I must tell you that Meleagant in the hearing of all, both great and small, spoke thus to his father boastingly: “Father,” he says, “so help me God, please tell me truly now whether he ought not to be well-content, and whether he is not truly brave, who can cause his arms to be feared at King Arthur’s court?” To this question his father replies at once: “Son,” he says, “all good men ought to honour and serve and seek the company of one whose deserts are such.” Then he flattered him with the request that he should not conceal why he has alluded to this, what he wishes, and whence he comes. “Sire, I know not whether you remember,” Meleagant begins, “the agreements and stipulations which were recorded when Lancelot and I made peace. It was then agreed, I believe, and in the presence of many we were told, that we should present ourselves at the end of a year at Arthur’s court. I went thither at the appointed time, ready equipped for my business there. I did everything that had been prescribed: I called and searched for Lancelot, with whom I was to fight, but I could not gain a sight of him: he had fled and run away. When I came away, Gawain pledged his word that, if Lancelot is not alive and does not return within the time agreed upon, no further postponement will be asked, but that he himself will fight the battle against me in place of Lancelot. Arthur has no knight, as is well known, whose fame equals his, but before the flowers bloom again, I shall see, when we come to blows, whether his fame and his deeds are in accord: I only wish it could be settled now!” “Son,” says his father, “thou art acting exactly like a fool. Any one, who knew it not before, may learn of thy madness from thy own lips. A good heart truly humbles itself, but the fool and the boastful never lose their folly. Son, to thee I direct my words, for the traits of thy character are so hard and dry, that there is no place for sweetness or friendship. Thy heart is altogether pitiless: thou art altogether in folly’s grasp. This accounts for my slight respect for thee, and this is what will cast thee down. If thou art brave, there will be plenty of men to say so in time of need. A virtuous man need not praise his heart in order to enhance his deed; the deed itself will speak in its own praise. Thy self-praise does not aid thee a whit to increase in any one’s esteem; indeed, I hold thee in less esteem. Son, I chasten thee; but to what end? It is of little use to advise a fool. He only wastes his strength in vain who tries to cure the madness of a fool, and the wisdom that one teaches and expounds is worthless, wasted and unemployed, unless it is expressed in works.” Then Meleagant was sorely enraged and furious. I may truly say that never could you see a mortal man so full of anger as he was; the last bond between them was broken then, as he spoke to his father these ungracious words: “Are you in a dream or trance, when you say that I am mad to tell you how my matters stand? I thought I had come to you as to my lord and my father; but that does not seem to be the case, for you insult me more outrageously than I think you have any right to do; moreover, you can give no reason for having addressed me thus.” “Indeed, I can.” “What is it, then?” “Because I see nothing in thee but folly and wrath. I know very well what thy courage is like, and that it will cause thee great trouble yet. A curse upon him who supposes that the elegant Lancelot, who is esteemed by all but thee, has ever fled from thee through fear. I am sure that he is buried or confined in some prison whose door is barred so tight that he cannot escape without leave. I should surely be sorely grieved if he were dead or in distress. It would surely be too bad, were a creature so splendidly equipped, so fair, so bold, yet so serene, to perish thus before his time. But, may it please God, this is not true.” Then Bademagu said no more; but a daughter of his had listened attentively to all his words, and you must know that it was she whom I mentioned earlier in my tale, and who is not happy now to hear such news of Lancelot. It is quite clear to her that he is shut up, since no one knows any news of him or his wanderings. “May God never look upon me, if I rest until I have some sure and certain news of him!” Straightway, without making any noise or disturbance, she runs and mounts a fair and easy-stepping mule. But I must say that when she leaves the court, she knows not which way to turn. However, she asks no advice in her predicament, but takes the first road she finds, and rides along at random rapidly, unaccompanied by knight or squire. In her eagerness she makes haste to attain the object of her search. Keenly she presses forward in her quest, but it will not soon terminate. She may not rest or delay long in any single place, if she wishes to carry out her plan, to release Lancelot from his prison, if she can find him and if it is possible. But in my opinion, before she finds him she will have searched in many a land, after many a journey and many a quest, before she has any news of him. But what would be the use of my telling you of her lodgings and her journeyings? Finally, she travelled so far through hill and dale, up and down, that more than a month had passed, and as yet she had learned only so much as she knew before — that is, absolutely nothing. One day she was crossing a field in a sad and pensive mood, when she saw a tower in the distance standing by the shore of an arm of the sea. Not within a league around about was there any house, cottage, or dwelling-place. Meleagant had had it built, and had confined Lancelot within. But of all this she still was unaware. As soon as she espied the tower, she fixed her attention upon it to the exclusion of all else. And her heart gives her assurance that here is the object of her quest; now at last she has reached her goal, to which Fortune through many trials has at last directed her.
(Vv. 6459–6656.) The damsel draws so near to the tower that she can touch it with her hands. She walks about, listening attentively, I suppose, if perchance she may hear some welcome sound. She looks down and she gazes up, and she sees that the tower is strong and high and thick. She is amazed to see no door or window, except one little narrow opening. Moreover, there was no ladder or steps about this high, sheer tower. For this reason she surmises that it was made so intentionally, and that Lancelot is confined inside. But she resolves that before she tastes of food, she will learn whether this is so or not. She thinks she will call Lancelot by name, and is about to do so when she is deterred by hearing from the tower a voice which was making a marvellously sad moan as it called on death. It implores death to come, and complains of misery unbearable. In contempt of the body and life, it weakly piped in a low, hoarse tone: “Ah, fortune, how disastrously thy wheel has turned for me! Thou hast mocked me shamefully: a while ago I was up, but now I am down; I was well off of late, but now I am in a sorry state; not long since thou didst smile on me, but now thy eyes are filled with tears. Alas, poor wretch, why didst thou trust in her, when so soon she has deserted thee! Behold, in a very little while she has cast thee down from thy high estate! Fortune, it was wrong of thee to mock me thus; but what carest thou! Thou carest not how it may turn out. Ah, sacred Cross! All, Holy Ghost! How am I wretched and undone! How completely has my career been closed! Ah, Gawain, you who possess such worth, and whose goodness is unparalleled, surely I may well be amazed that you do not come to succour me. Surely you delay too long and are not showing courtesy. He ought indeed to receive your aid whom you used to love so devotedly! For my part I may truly say that there is no lodging place or retreat on either side of the sea, where I would not have searched for you at least seven or ten years before finding you, if I knew you to be in prison. But why do I thus torment myself? You do not care for me even enough to take this trouble. The rustic is right when he says that it is hard nowadays to find a friend! It is easy to rest the true friend in time of need. Alas! more than a year has passed since first I was put inside this tower. I feel hurt, Gawain, that you have so long deserted me! But doubtless you know nothing of all this, and I have no ground for blaming you. Yes, when I think of it, this must be the case, and I was very wrong to imagine such a thing; for I am confident that not for all the world contains would you and your men have failed to come to release me from this trouble and distress, if you were aware of it. If for no other reason, you would be bound to do this out of love for me, your companion. But it is idle to talk about it — it cannot be. Ah, may the curse and the damnation of God and St. Sylvester rest upon him who has shut me up so shamefully! He is the vilest man alive, this envious Meleagant, to treat me as evilly as possible!” Then he, who is wearing out his life in grief, ceases speaking and holds his peace. But when she, who was lingering at the base of the tower, heard what he said, she did not delay, but acted wisely and called him thus: “Lancelot,” as loudly as she could; “friend, up there, speak to one who is your friend!” But inside he did not hear her words. Then she called out louder yet, until he in his weakness faintly heard her, and wondered who could be calling him. 145 He heard the voice and heard his name pronounced, but he did not know who was calling him: he thinks it must be a spirit. He looks all about him to see, I suppose, if he could espy any one; but there is nothing to be seen but the tower and himself. “God,” says he, “what is that I heard? I heard some one speak, but see nothing! Indeed, this is passing marvellous, for I am not asleep, but wide awake. Of course, if this happened in a dream, I should consider it an illusion; but I am awake, and therefore I am distressed.” Then with some trouble he gets up, and with slow and feeble steps he moves toward the little opening. Once there, he peers through it, up and down and to either side. When he had looked out as best he might, he caught sight of her who had hailed him. He did not recognise her by sight. But she knew him at once and said: “Lancelot, I have come from afar in search of you. Now, thank God, at last I have found you. I am she who asked of you a boon as you were on your way to the sword-bridge, and you very gladly granted it at my request; it was the head I bade you cut from the conquered knight whom I hated so. Because of this boon and this service you did me, I have gone to this trouble. As a guerdon I shall deliver you from here.” “Damsel, many thanks to you,” the prisoner then replied; “the service I did you will be well repaid if I am set at liberty. If you can get me out of here, I promise and engage to be henceforth always yours, so help me the holy Apostle Paul! And as I may see God face to face, I shall never fail to obey your commands in accordance with your will. You may ask for anything I have, and receive it without delay.” “Friend, have no fear that you will not be released from here. You shall be loosed and set free this very day. Not for a thousand pounds would I renounce the expectation of seeing you free before the datum of another day. Then I shall take you to a pleasant place, where you may rest and take your ease. There you shall have everything you desire, whatever it be. So have no fear. But first I must see if I can find some tool anywhere hereabouts with which you might enlarge this hole, at least enough to let you pass.” “God grant that you find something,” he said, agreeing to this plan; “I have plenty of rope in here, which the rascals gave me to pull up my food — hard barley bread and dirty water, which sicken my stomach and heart.” Then the daughter of Bademagu sought and found a strong, stout, sharp pick, which she handed to him. He pounded, and hammered and struck and dug, notwithstanding the pain it caused him, until he could get out comfortably. Now he is greatly relieved and glad, you may be sure, to be out Of prison and to get away from the place where he has been so long confined. Now he is at large in the open air. You may be sure that he would not go back again, were some one to gather in a pile and give to him all the gold there is scattered in the world.
(Vv. 6657–6728.) Behold Lancelot now released, but so feeble that he staggered from his weakness and disability. Gently, without hurting him, she sets him before her on her mule, and then they ride off rapidly. But the damsel purposely avoids the beaten track, that they may not be seen, and proceeds by a hidden path; for if she had travelled openly, doubtless some one would have recognised them and done them harm, and she would not have wished that to happen. So she avoided the dangerous places and came to a mansion where she often makes her sojourn because of its beauty and charm. The entire estate and the people on it belonged to her, and the place was well furnished, safe, and private. There Lancelot arrived. And as soon as he had come, and had laid aside his clothes, the damsel gently laid him on a lofty, handsome couch, then bathed and rubbed him so carefully that I could not describe half the care she took. She handled and treated him as gently as if he had been her father. Her treatment makes a new man of him, as she revives him with her cares. Now he is no less fair than an angel and is more nimble and more spry than anything you ever saw. When he arose, he was no longer mangy and haggard, but strong and handsome. And the damsel sought out for him the finest robe she could find, with which she clothed him when he arose. And he was glad to put it on, quicker than a bird in flight. He kissed and embraced the maid, and then said to her graciously: “My dear, I have only God and you to thank for being restored to health again. Since I owe my liberty to you, you may take and command at will my heart and body, my service and estate. I belong to you in return for what you have done for me; but it is long since I have been at the court of my lord Arthur, who has shown me great honour; and there is plenty there for me to do. Now, my sweet gentle friend, I beg you affectionately for leave to go; then, with your consent, I should feel free to go.” “Lancelot, fair, sweet dear friend, I am quite willing,” the damsel says; “I desire your honour and welfare above everything everywhere.” Then she gives him a wonderful horse she has, the best horse that ever was seen, and he leaps up without so much as saying to the stirrups “by your leave”: he was up without considering them. Then to God, who never lies, they commend each other with good intent.
(Vv. 6729–7004.) Lancelot was so glad to be on the road that, if I should take an oath, I could not possibly describe the joy he felt at having escaped from his trap. But he said to himself repeatedly that woe was the traitor, the reprobate, whom now he has tricked and ridiculed, “for in spite of him I have escaped.” Then he swears by the heart and body of Him who made the world that not for all the riches and wealth from Babylon to Ghent would he let Meleagant escape, if he once got him in his power: for he has him to thank for too much harm and shame! But events will soon turn out so as to make this possible; for this very Meleagant, whom he threatens and presses hard, had already come to court that day without being summoned by any one; and the first thing he did was to search until he found my lord Gawain. Then the rascally proven traitor asks him about Lancelot, whether he had been seen or found, as if he himself did not know the truth. As a matter of fact, he did not know the truth, although he thought he knew it well enough. And Gawain told him, as was true, that he had not been seen, and that he had not come. “Well, since I don’t find him,” says Meleagant, “do you come and keep the promise you made me: I shall not longer wait for you.” Then Gawain makes answer: “I will keep presently my word with you, if it please God in whom I place my trust. I expect to discharge my debt to you. But if it comes to throwing dice for points, and I should throw a higher number than you, so help me God and the holy faith, I’ll not withdraw, but will keep on until I pocket all the stakes.” 146 Then without delay Gawain orders a rug to be thrown down and spread before him. There was no snivelling or attempt to run away when the squires heard this command, but without grumbling or complaint they execute what he commands. They bring the rug and spread it out in the place indicated; then he who had sent for it takes his seat upon it and gives orders to be armed by the young men who were standing unarmed before him. There were two of them, his cousins or nephews, I know not which, but they were accomplished and knew what to do. They arm him so skilfully and well that no one could find any fault in the world with them for any mistake in what they did. When they finished arming him, one of them went to fetch a Spanish steed able to cross the fields, woods, hills, and valleys more swiftly than the good Bucephalus. 147 Upon a horse such as you have heard Gawain took his seat — the admired and most accomplished knight upon whom the sign of the Cross was ever made. Already he was about to seize his shield, when he saw Lancelot dismount before him, whom he was not expecting to see. He looked at him in amazement, because he had come so unexpectedly; and, if I am not wrong, he was as much surprised as if he had fallen from the clouds. However, no business of his own can detain him, as soon as he sees Lancelot, from dismounting and extending his arms to him, as he embraces, salutes and kisses him. Now he is happy and at ease, when he has found his companion. Now I will tell you the truth, and you must not think I lie, that Gawain would not wish to be chosen king, unless he had Lancelot with him. The King and all the rest now learn that, in spite of all, Lancelot, for whom they so long have watched, has come back quite safe and sound. Therefore they all rejoice, and the court, which so long has looked for him, comes together to honour him. Their happiness dispels and drives away the sorrow which formerly was theirs. Grief takes flight and is replaced by an awakening joy. And how about the Queen? Does she not share in the general jubilee? Yes, verily, she first of all. How so? For God’s sake, where, then, could she be keeping herself? She was never so glad in her life as she was for his return. And did she not even go to him? Certainly she did; she is so close to him that her body came near following her heart. Where is her heart, then? It was kissing and welcoming Lancelot. And why did the body conceal itself? Why is not her joy complete? Is it mingled with anger or hate? No, certainly, not at all; but it may be that the King or some of the others who are there, and who are watching what takes place, would have taken the whole situation in, if, while all were looking on, she had followed the dictates of her heart. If common-sense had not banished this mad impulse and rash desire, her heart would have been revealed and her folly would have been complete. Therefore reason closes up and binds her fond heart and her rash intent, and made it more reasonable, postponing the greeting until it shall see and espy a suitable and more private place where they would fare better than here and now. The King highly honoured Lancelot, and after welcoming him, thus spoke: “I have not heard for a long time news of any man which were so welcome as news of you; yet I am much concerned to learn in what region and in what land you have tarried so long a time. I have had search made for you up and down, all the winter and summer through, but no one could find a trace of you.” “Indeed, fair sire,” says Lancelot, “I can inform you in a few words exactly how it has fared with me. The miserable traitor Meleagant has kept me in prison ever since the hour of the deliverance of the prisoners in his land, and has condemned me to a life of shame in a tower of his beside the sea. There he put me and shut me in, and there I should still be dragging out my weary life, if it were not for a friend of mine, a damsel for whom I once performed a slight service. In return for the little favour I did her, she has repaid me liberally: she has bestowed upon me great honour and blessing. But I wish to repay without delay him for whom I have no love, who has sought out and devised for me this shame and injury. He need not wait, for the sum is all ready, principal and interest; but God forbid that he find in it cause to rejoice!” Then Gawain said to Lancelot: “Friend, it will be only a slight favour for me, who am in your debt, to make this payment for you. Moreover, I am all ready and mounted, as you see. Fair, sweet friend, do not deny me the boon I desire and request.” But Lancelot replies that he would rather have his eye plucked out, or even both of them, than be persuaded to do this: he swears it shall never be so. He owes the debt and he will pay it himself: for with his own hand he promised it. Gawain plainly sees that nothing he can say is of any avail, so he loosens and takes off his hauberk from his back, and completely disarms himself. Lancelot at once arms himself without delay; for he is impatient to settle and discharge his debt. Meleagant, who is amazed beyond measure at what he sees, has reached the end of his good fortunes, and is about to receive what is owing him. He is almost beside himself and comes near fainting. “Surely I was a fool,” he says, “not to go, before coming here, to see if I still held imprisoned in my tower him who now has played this trick on me. But, God, why should I have gone? What cause had I to think that he could possibly escape? Is not the wall built strong enough, and is not the tower sufficiently strong and high? There was no hole or crevice in it, through which he could pass, unless he was aided from outside. I am sure his hiding-place was revealed. If the wall were worn away and had fallen into decay, would he not have been caught and injured or killed at the same time? Yes, so help me God, if it had fallen down, he would certainly have been killed. But I guess, before that wall gives away without being torn down, that all the water in the sea will dry up without leaving a drop and the world will come to an end. No, that is not it: it happened otherwise: he was helped to escape, and could not have got out otherwise: I have been outwitted through some trickery. At any rate, he has escaped; but if I had been on my guard, all this would never have happened, and he would never have come to court. But it’s too late now to repent. The rustic, who seldom errs, pertinently remarks that it is too late to close the stable when the horse is out. I know I shall now be exposed to great shame and humiliation, if indeed I do not suffer and endure something worse. What shall I suffer and endure? Rather, so long as I live, I will give him full measure, if it please God, in whom I trust.” Thus he consoles himself, and has no other desire than to meet his antagonist on the field. And he will not have long to wait, I think, for Lancelot goes in search of him, expecting soon to conquer him. But before the assault begins, the King bids them go down into the plain where the tower stands, the prettiest place this side of Ireland for a fight. So they did, and soon found themselves on the plain below. The King goes down too, and all the rest, men and women in crowds. No one stays behind; but many go up to the windows of the tower, among them the Queen, her ladies and damsels, of whom she had many with her who were fair.
(Vv. 7005–7119.) In the field there stood a sycamore as fair as any tree could be; it was wide-spread and covered a large area, and around it grew a fine border of thick fresh grass which was green at all seasons of the year. Under this fair and stately sycamore, which was planted back in Abel’s time, there rises a clear spring of water which flows away hurriedly. The bed of the spring is beautiful and as bright as silver, and the channel through which the water flows is formed, I think, of refined and tested gold, and it stretches away across the field down into a valley between the woods. There it pleases the King to take his seat where nothing unpleasant is in sight. After the crowd has drawn back at the King’s command, Lancelot rushes furiously at Meleagant as at one whom he hates cordially, but before striking him, he shouted with a loud and commanding voice: “Take your stand, I defy you! And take my word, this time you shall not be spared.” Then he spurs his steed and draws back the distance of a bow-shot. Then they drive their horses toward each other at top speed, and strike each other so fiercely upon their resisting shields that they pierced and punctured them. But neither one is wounded, nor is the flesh touched in this first assault. They pass each other without delay, and come back at the top of their horses: speed to renew their blows on the strong, stout shields. Both of the knights are strong and brave, and both of the horses are stout and fast. So mighty are the blows they deal on the shields about their necks that the lances passed clean through, without breaking or splintering, until the cold steel reached their flesh. Each strikes the other with such force that both are borne to earth, and no breast-strap, girth, or stirrup could save them from falling backward over their saddle-bow, leaving the saddle without an occupant. The horses run riderless over hill and dale, but they kick and bite each other, thus showing their mortal hatred. As for the knights who fell to earth, they leaped up as quickly as possible and drew their swords, which were engraved with chiselled lettering. Holding their shields before the face, they strive to wound each other with their swords of steel. Lancelot stands in no fear of him, for he knew half as much again about fencing as did his antagonist, having learned it in his youth. Both dealt such blows on the shield slung from their necks, and upon their helmets barred with gold, that they crushed and damaged them. But Lancelot presses him hard and gives him a mighty blow upon his right arm which, though encased in mail, was unprotected by the shield, severing it with one clean stroke. And when he felt the loss of his right arm, he said that it should be dearly sold. If it is at all possible, he will not fail to exact the price; he is in such pain and wrath and rage that he is well-nigh beside himself, and he has a poor opinion of himself, if he cannot score on his rival now. He rushes at him with the intent to seize him, but Lancelot forestalls his plan, for with his trenchant sword he deals his body such a cut as he will not recover from until April and May be passed. He smashes his nose-guard against his teeth, breaking three of them in his mouth. And Meleagant’s rage is such that he cannot speak or say a word; nor does he deign to cry for mercy, for his foolish heart holds tight in such constraint that even now it deludes him still. Lancelot approaches and, unlacing his helmet, cuts off his head. Never more will this man trouble him; it is all over with him as he falls dead. Not a soul who was present there felt any pity at the sight. The King and all the others there are jubilant and express their joy. Happier than they ever were before, they relieve Lancelot of his arms, and lead him away exultingly.
(Vv. 7120–7134.) My lords, if I should prolong my tale, it would be beside the purpose, and so I will conclude. Godefroi de Leigni, the clerk, has written the conclusion of “the Cart”; but let no one find fault with him for having embroidered on Chretien’s theme, for it was done with the consent of Chretien who started it. Godefroi has finished it from the point where Lancelot was imprisoned in the tower. So much he wrote; but he would fain add nothing more, for fear of disfiguring the tale.
Endnotes supplied by Prof. Foerster are indicated by “(F.)”; all other endnotes are supplied by W.W. Comfort.
120 Marie, daughter of Louis VII. of France and Eleanor of Aquitaine, married in 1164, Henri I., Count of Champagne. On the poet’s own statement below, she furnished him with the subject matter (“maitere”) and the manner of treatment (“san”) of this romance. (F.)
121 The situation of Camelot has not been certainly determined. Foerster places it in Somersetshire, while F. Paris identified it with Colchester in Essex. (F.)
122 The high value here set upon Kay by king Arthur is worth noting in view of the unfavourable light in which Chretien usually portrays him.
123 This enigmatic exclamation is addressed to the absent Lancelot, who is the secret lover of Guinevere, and who, though he long remains anonymous as “the Knight of the Cart”, is really the hero of the poem.
124 It was not uncommon in old French romances and epic poems for knights to be subjected to the mockery and raillery of the vulgar townspeople (cf. “Aiol”, 911–923; id. 2579–2733; and even Moliere in “Monsieur de Pourceaugnac”, f. 3).
125 For magic beds with descending swords, see A. Hertel, “Versauberte Oertlichkeiten”, etc., p. 69 f. (Hanover, 1908).
126 The wounded knight is the defeated seneschal.
127 Mediaeval knights were such early risers as to cause us astonishment!
128 Lancelot has constantly in mind the Queen, for whose sake he is enduring all this pain and shame.
129 i.e., the Queen.
130 Nothing can here be added to the tentative conjectures of Foerster regarding the nature of these unknown remedies.
131 A great annual fair at Paris marked the festival, on June 11, of St. Denis, the patron saint of the city. (F.)
132 “Donbes” (=Dombes) is the reading chosen by Foerster from a number of variants. None of these variants has any significance, but a place-name rhyming with “tonbes” in the preceding verse is required. Modern Dombes is the name of a former principality in Burgundy, between the Rhone and the Saone, while Pampelune is, of course, a Spanish city near the French frontier. (F.)
133 The topography of the kingdom of Gorre, the land where dwell the captives held by King Bademagu, is much confused. One would suppose at first that the stream traversed by the two perilous bridges formed the frontier of the kingdom. But here (v.2102), before reaching such a frontier, the captives are already met. Foerster suggests that we may be here at a sort of foreground or borderland which is defended by the knight at the ford (v. 735 f.), and which, though not within the limits of the kingdom, is nevertheless beneath the sway of Bademagu. In the sequel the stream with the perilous bridges is placed immediately before the King’s palace (cf. Foerster’s note and G. Paris in “Romania”, xxi. 471 note).
134 For magic rings, see A. Hertel, op. cit., p. 62 f.
135 This “dame” was the fairy Vivian, “the lady of the lake”. (F.)
136 A good example of the moral dilemmas in which Chretien delights to place his characters. Under the displeasing shell of allegory and mediaeval casuistry we have here the germ of psychological analysis of motive.
137 The legendary origin of this ointment, named after Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James, and Mary Salome, is mentioned in the epic poem “Mort Aimeri de Narbonne” (ed. “Anciens Textes”, p. 86). (F.)
138 The universities of Montpellier and of Salerno were the chief centres of medical study in the Middle Ages. Salerno is referred to in “Cliges”, v. 5818.
139 The hero of the poem is here first mentioned by name.
140 The classic love-story of Pyramus and Thisbe, told by Ovid et al., was a favourite in the Middle Ages.
141 Here he have the explanation of Guinevere’s cold reception of Lancelot; he had been faithless to the rigid code of courtesy when he had hesitated for even a moment to cover himself with shame for her sake.
142 The expression “or est venuz qui aunera”, less literally means “who will defeat the entire field”. Though Chretien refers to the expression as a current proverb, only two other examples of its use have been found. (Cf. “Romania”, xvi. 101, and “Ztsch. fur romanische Philologie”, xi. 430.) From this passage G. Paris surmised that Chretien himself was a herald-at-arms (“Journal des Savants”, 1902, p. 296), but as Foerster says, the text hardly warrants the supposition.
143 The evident satisfaction with which Chretien describes in detail the bearings of the knights in the following passage lends colour to Gaston Paris’ conjecture that he was a herald as well as a poet.
144 According to the statement made at the end of the poem by the continuator of Chretien, Godefroi de Leigni, it must have been at about this point that the continuator took up the thread of the story. It is not known why Chretien dropped the poem where he did.
145 Bade = Bath. (F.)
146 The situation recalls that in “Aucassin et Nicolette”, where Aucassin confined in the tower hears his sweetheart calling to him from outside.
147 The figure is, of course, taken from the game of throwing dice for high points. For an exhaustive account of dice-playing derived from old French texts, cf. Franz Semrau, “Wurfel und Wurfelspiel in alten Frankreich”, “Beiheft” 23 of “Ztsch. fur romanische Philologie (Halle,” 1910).
148 Alexander’s horse.
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