Launcelot: Chapter First
How Sir Launcelot Came Forth From the Enchanted Castle of the Lake and Entered Into the World Again, and How King Arthur Made Him Knight.
I KNOW not any time of the year that is more full of joyfulness than the early summer season; for that time the sun is wonderfully lusty and strong, yet not so very hot; that time the trees and shrubs are very full of life and very abundant of shade and yet have not grown dry with the heats and droughts of later days; that time the grass is young and lush and green, so that when you walk athwart the meadow-lands it is as though you walked through a fair billowy lake of magical verdure, sprinkled over with a great multitude of little flowers; that time the roses are everywhere a-bloom, both the white rose and the red, and the eglantine is abundant; that time the nests are brimful of well-fledged nestlings, and the little hearts of the small parent fowls are so exalted with gladness that they sing with all their mights and mains, so that the early daytime is filled full of the sweet jargon and the jubilant medley of their voices. Yea; that is a goodly season of the year, for though, haply, the spirit may not be so hilarious as in the young and golden spring-time, yet doth the soul take to itself so great a content in the fulness of the beauty of the world, that the heart is elated with a great and abundant joy that it is not apt to feel at another season.
Now it chanced upon the day before Saint John's day in the fulness of a summer-time such as this, that King Arthur looked forth from his chamber very early in the morning and beheld how exceedingly fair and very lusty was the world out-of-doors—all in the freshness of the young daylight. For the sun had not yet risen, though he was about to rise, and the sky was like to pure gold for brightness; all the grass and leaves and flowers were drenched with sweet and fragrant dew, and the birds were singing so vehemently that the heart of any man could not but rejoice in the fulness of life that lay all around about him.
There were two knights with King Arthur at that time, one was Sir Ewain, the son of Morgana le Fay (and he was King Arthur's nephew), and the other was Sir Ector de Maris, the son of King Ban of Benwick and of Queen Helen—this latter a very noble, youthful knight, and the youngest of all the Knights of the Round Table who were at that time elected. These stood by King Arthur and looked forth out of the window with him and they also took joy with him in the sweetness of the summer season. Unto them, after a while, King Arthur spake, saying: "Messires, meseems this is too fair a day to stay within doors. For, certes, it is a shame that I who am a king should be prisoner within mine own castle, whilst any ploughman may be free of the wold and the green woods and the bright sun and the blue sky and the wind that blows over hill and dale. Now, I too would fain go forth out of doors and enjoy these things; wherefore I ordain that we shall go a-hunting this day and that ye and I shall start before any others of the lords and the ladies that dwell herein are awake. So let us take our horses and our hounds and let us take certain foresters and huntsmen, and let us go forth a-hunting into the green forest; for this day shall be holiday for me and for you and we shall leave care behind us, and for a while we shall disport ourselves in pleasant places."
So they all did as King Arthur bade; they made them each man ready with his own hands, and they bade the huntsmen and the foresters to attend thereupon as the King had ordained. Then they rode forth from the castle and out into the wide world that lay beyond, and it was yet so early in the morning that none of the castle folk were astir to know of their departure.
All that day they hunted in the forest with much joy and with great sport, nor did they turn their faces toward home again until the day was so far spent that the sun had sunk behind the tops of the tall leafy trees. Then, at that time, King Arthur gave command that they should bend their ways toward Camelot once more.
Now this time, being the Eve of Saint John, fairies and those folk who are fay come forth, as is very well known, into the world from which they dwell apart at other times. So when King Arthur and those two knights and their several foresters and huntsmen came to a certain outlying part of the forest, they were suddenly aware of a damsel and a dwarf waiting where the road upon which they were travelling crossed another road, and they perceived, from her very remarkable appearance, that the damsel was very likely Fay. For both she and her dwarf sat each upon a milk-white horse, very strangely still, close to where was a shrine by a hedge of hawthorne; and the damsel was so wonderfully fair of face that it was a marvel to behold her. Moreover, she was clad all in white samite from top to toe and her garments were embroidered with silver; and the trappings and garniture of her horse were of white samite studded with bright silver bosses, wherefore, because of this silver, she glistered with a sudden lustre whensoever she moved a little. When King Arthur and the two knights who were with him drew nigh this damsel, much marvelling at her appearance, she hailed him in a voice that was both high and clear, crying: "Welcome, King Arthur! Welcome, King Arthur! Welcome, King Arthur!" saying three words three times; and "Welcome, Sir Ewain!" "Welcome, Sir Ector de Maris!" addressing each of those lords by his name.
"Damsel," quoth King Arthur, "it is very singular that you should know who we are and that we should not know you. Now, will you not tell us your name and whence you come and whither you go? For of a surety I believe you are Fay."
"Lord," said the damsel, "it matters not who I am, saving that I am of the court of a wonderful lady who is your very good friend. She hath sent me here to meet you and to beseech you to come with me whither I shall lead you, and I shall lead you unto her."
"Damsel," said King Arthur, "I shall be right glad to go with you as you desire me to do. So, if you will lead me to your lady, I and my knights will gladly follow you thitherway to pay our court unto her."
Upon this the damsel waved her hand, and drawing her bridle-rein she led the way, accompanied by the dwarf, and King Arthur and the two knights followed her, and all their party of foresters and huntsmen and hounds and beagles followed them.
By this time the sun had set and the moon had risen very fair and round and as yellow as gold, making a great light above the silent tree-tops. Everything now was embalmed in the twilight, and all the world was enshrouded in the mystery of the midsummer eve. Yet though the sun had gone the light was wonderfully bright, wherefore all that the eye could see stood sharp-cut and very clear to the vision.
So the damsel and the dwarf led the way for somewhat of a distance, though not for so very far, until they came of a sudden to where was an open meadow in the forest, hedged all around with the trees of the woodland. And here the King and his knights were aware of a great bustle of many people, some working very busily in setting up several pavilions of white samite, and others preparing a table as for a feast, and others upon this business and others upon that; and there were various sumpter-mules and pack-horses and palfreys all about, as though belonging to a party of considerable estate.
Then King Arthur and those who were with him beheld that, at some distance away upon the other side of the meadow, there were three people sitting under a crab-apple tree upon a couch especially prepared for them, and they were aware that these people were the chief of all that company.
The first party of the three was a knight of very haughty and noble appearance, clad all in armor as white as silver; and his jupon was white embroidered with silver, and the scabbard of the sword and the sword-belt were white, and his shield hung in the crab-tree above him and that, too, was all white as of silver. This knight still wore his helmet, so that his countenance was not to be seen. The second party of the three was a lady clad all in white raiment. Her face was covered by her wimple so that her countenance also was not to be seen very clearly, but her garments were of wonderful sort, being of white sarcenet embroidered over with silver in the pattern of lily flowers. Also she wore around her breast and throat a chain of shining silver studded with bright and sparkling gems of divers sorts. The third party of the three was a youth of eighteen years, so beautiful of face that it seemed to King Arthur that he had never beheld so noble a being. For his countenance was white and shining, and his hair was as soft as silk and as black as it was possible to be, and curled down upon his shoulders; and his eyes were large and bright and extraordinarily black, and his eyebrows arched so smoothly that if they had been painted they could not have been marked upon his forehead more evenly than they were; and his lips, which pouted a little, though not very much, were as red as coral, and his upper lip was shaded with a soft down of black. Moreover, this youth was clad altogether in white cloth of satin with no ornaments whatsoever saving only a fine chain of shining silver set with opal-stones and emeralds that hung about his neck.
Then when King Arthur approached near enough he perceived by certain signs that the lady was the chiefest of those three, wherefore he paid his court to her especially, saying to her: "Lady, it seems that I have been brought hitherward unto you and that you were aware of my name and estate when you sent for me. Now I should be exceedingly glad if you would enlighten me in the same manner as to yourself."
"Sir," she said, "that I shall be glad to do; for if I have known you aforetime, you have also seen me aforetime and have known me as your friend." Therewith the lady lowered the wimple from her face and King Arthur perceived that it was the Lady of the Lake.
Upon this he kneeled down upon one knee and took her hand and set it to his lips. "Lady," quoth he, "I have indeed cause to know you very well, for you have, as you affirm, been a friend to me and to my friends upon many several occasions." Then King Arthur turned to that knight who was with that Lady of the Lake, and he said unto him: "Messire, if I mistake not, I should know you also; and I doubt not, if you will lift the umbril of your helmet, we shall all three know your face." Upon this the knight without more ado lifted his umbril as King Arthur had desired him to do and the three beheld that it was Sir Pellias, the Gentle Knight.
Now it hath already been very fully told about Sir Pellias in the Book of King Arthur, and those of you who read of him therein will remember, no doubt, how sorely he was wounded in a combat with Sir Gawaine, who was his best friend, and of how the Lady of the Lake took him to dwell with her in that wonderful city that was hidden by the appearance as of an enchanted lake, and of how it was Sir Gawaine who last beheld him upon that occasion. But if Sir Gawaine was the dearest friend that Sir Pellias had at that time, then Sir Ewain was only less dear to him. Therefore, when Sir Ewain beheld that the strange knight was Sir Pellias, he wist not what to think for pure wonder; for no mortal eyes had ever beheld Sir Pellias since he had gone into the lake with the Lady of the Lake that time as foretold, and it was not thought that anyone would ever see him again.
So when Sir Ewain beheld that the knight was Sir Pellias he emitted a great cry of joy and ran to him and catched him in his arms, and Sir Pellias forbade him not. For though at most times those who are of Faëry do not suffer themselves to be touched by mortal hands, yet, upon the Eve of Saint John's Day, fairies and mortals may commune as though they were of the same flesh and blood. Wherefore Sir Pellias did not forbid Sir Ewain, and they embraced, as one-time brethren-in-arms should embrace. And each kissed the other upon the face, and each made great joy the one over the other. Yea, so great was their joy that all those who stood about were moved with pure happiness at beholding them.
Then Sir Pellias came to King Arthur and kneeled down before him and kissed his hand, as is the bounden duty of every knight unto his lord.
"Ha, Messire," quoth King Arthur, "methought when I beheld this lady, that you would not be very far distant from her." Then he said unto the Lady of the Lake: "Lady, I prithee tell me, who is this fair youth who is with you. For methinks I never beheld before so noble and so beautiful a countenance as his. Maybe you will make us acquainted with him also."
"Lord," said the Lady Nymue, "who he is, and of what quality, shall, I hope, be made manifest in due time; just now I would not wish that he should be known even unto you. But touching him, I may say that it was for his sake that I sent my damsel to meet you at the cross-roads awhile ago. But of that, more anon; for see! the feast is now spread which we have prepared for your entertainment. So let us first eat and drink and make merry together, and then we shall speak further of this matter."
So they all six went and sat down to the table that had been spread for them in the open meadow-land. For the night was very pleasant and warm and a wonderful full moon shone down upon them with a marvellous lustre, and there was a pleasant air, soft and warm, from the forest, and, what with the scores of bright waxen tapers that stood in silver candlesticks upon the table (each taper sparkling as bright as any star), the night was made all illuminate like to some singular mid-day. There was set before them a plenty of divers savory meats and of several excellent wines, some as yellow as gold, and some as red as carbuncle, and they ate and they drank and they made merry in the soft moonlight with talk and laughter. Somewhiles they told Sir Pellias and the lady of all that was toward at court at Camelot; otherwhiles Sir Pellias and the lady told them such marvellous things concerning the land in which they two dwelt that it would be hard to believe that the courts of Heaven could be fairer than the courts of Fairyland whence they had come.
Then, after the feast was ended, the Lady of the Lake said to King Arthur: "Sir, an I have won your favor in any way, there is a certain thing I would ask of you." To the which King Arthur made reply: "Ask it, Lady, and it shall be granted thee, no matter what it may be." "Sir," said the Lady of the Lake, "this is what I would ask of you. I would ask you to look upon this youth who sits beside me. He is so dear to me that I cannot very well make you know how dear he is. I have brought him hither from our dwelling-place for one certain reason; to wit, that you should make him knight. That is the great favor I would ask of you. To this intent I have brought armor and all the appurtenances of knighthood; for he is of such noble lineage that no armor in the world could be too good for him."
"Lady," quoth King Arthur, "I will do what you ask with much pleasure and gladness. But, touching that armor of which you speak, it is my custom to provide anyone whom I make a knight with armor of mine own choosing."
To this the Lady of the Lake smiled very kindly, saying, "Lord, I pray you, let be in this case, for I daresay that the armor which hath been provided for this youth shall be so altogether worthy of your nobility and of his future credit that you will be entirely contented with it." And with that, King Arthur was altogether satisfied.
And, touching that armor, the ancient history that speaketh of these matters saith that it was of such a sort as this that followeth, and that it was brought from that enchanted court of the lake in this wise; to wit, in the front came two youths, leading two white mules, and the mules bore two chests studded with silver bosses. In one chest was the hauberk of that armor and in the other were the iron boots. These were bright like to silver and were inlaid with cunningly devised figures, all of pure gold. Next to them came two esquires, clad in white robes and mounted upon white horses, bearing the one a silver shield and the other a shining helmet, as of silver—it likewise being very wonderfully inlaid with figures of pure gold. After these came two other esquires, the one bearing a sword in a white sheath embossed with studs of silver (the belt whereof was of silver with facets of gold) and the other leading a white charger, whose coat was as soft and as shining as silk. And all the gear and furniture of this horse was of silver and of white samite embellished with silver. So from this you can see how nobly that young acolyte was provided with all that beseemed his future greatness. For, as you may have guessed, this youth was Launcelot, King Ban's son of Benwick, who shortly became the greatest knight in the world.
Now there was in that part of the forest border a small abbey of monks, and in the chapel of that abbey Launcelot watched his armor for that night and Sir Ewain was with him for all that time. Meantime King Arthur and Sir Ector de Maris slept each in a silken pavilion provided for them by the Lady of the Lake.
In the morning Sir Ewain took Launcelot to the bath and bathed him, for such was the custom of those who were being prepared for knighthood.
Now, whilst Sir Ewain was bathing the youth, he beheld that on his shoulder was a mark in the likeness of a golden star and he marvelled very much thereat; but he made no mention of it at that time, but held his peace concerning what he saw; only he marvelled very greatly thereat.
Then, after Sir Ewain had bathed Launcelot, he clothed him in raiment fitted for that ceremony unto which he was ordained, and when the youth was so clothed, Sir Ewain brought him to King Arthur, and King Arthur knighted Launcelot with great ceremony, and buckled the belt around him with his own hands. After he had done this Sir Ewain and Sir Ector de Maris set the golden spurs to his heels, and Sir Ector wist not that he was performing such office for his own brother.
So Sir Launcelot was made knight with great estate and ceremony, whereof I have told you all, unto every particular. For it is fitting that all things should be so told concerning that most great and famous knight.
After King Arthur had so dubbed Sir Launcelot knight, it was time that those two parties should part company—to wit, the party of the Lady of the Lake and the party of King Arthur. But when they were about to leave one another the Lady of the Lake took Sir Launcelot aside, and she spake to him after this manner:
"Launcelot, forget not that you are a king's son, and that your lineage is as noble as that of anyone upon earth—for so I have often told you aforetime. Wherefore, see to it that your worthiness shall be as great as your beauty, and that your courtesy and gentleness shall be as great as your prowess. To-day you shall go unto Camelot with King Arthur to make yourself known unto that famous Court of Chivalry. But do not tarry there, but, ere the night cometh, depart and go forth into the world to prove your knighthood as worthily as God shall give you grace to do. For I would not have you declare yourself to the world until you have proved your worthiness by your deeds. Wherefore, do not yourself proclaim your name, but wait until the world proclaimeth it; for it is better for the world to proclaim the worthiness of a man than that the man should proclaim his own worthiness. So hold yourself ready to undertake any adventure whatsoever that God sendeth to you to do, but never let any other man complete a task unto which you yourself have set your hand." Then, after the Lady of the Lake had so advised Sir Launcelot, she kissed him upon the face, and therewith gave him a ring curiously wrought and set with a wonderful purple stone, which ring had such power that it would dissolve every enchantment. Then she said: "Launcelot, wear this ring and never let it be from off your finger." And Launcelot said: "I will do so." So Sir Launcelot set the ring upon his finger and it was so that it never left his finger whilst he drew the breath of life.
Then King Arthur and Sir Ewain and Sir Ector de Maris and the young Sir Launcelot laid their ways toward Camelot. And, as they journeyed so together, Sir Ewain communicated privily to Sir Ector de Maris how that the youth had a mark as of a golden star upon the skin of his shoulder, and upon this news Sir Ector fell very silent. For Sir Ector knew that that sign was upon his own brother's shoulder, and he did not know how it could be upon the shoulder of any other man. Wherefore, he wist not what to think that it should be upon the shoulder of this youth. But he said naught of these thoughts to Sir Ewain, but held his peace.
So they reached Camelot whilst it was still quite early in the morning and all they who were there made great joy at the coming of so wonderfully fair and noble a young knight as Sir Launcelot appeared to be. Wherefore, there was great sound of rejoicing at his coming.
Then, after a while, King Arthur said: "Let us go and see if, haply, this youth's name is marked upon any of the seats of the Round Table, for I think it should be there." So all they of the court went to that pavilion afore described, where the Round Table was established, and they looked; and lo! upon the seat that King Pellinore had one time occupied was this name:
THE KNIGHT OF THE LAKE.
So the name stood at first, nor did it change until the name of Sir Launcelot of the Lake became so famous in all the world. Then it became changed to this:
SIR LAUNCELOT OF THE LAKE.
So Sir Launcelot remained at Camelot for that entire day and was made acquainted with a great many of the lords and ladies and knights and dames of King Arthur's court. And all that while he was like one that walked in a dream, for he had never before beheld anything of the world of mankind since he had been carried away into the lake, wherefore he wist not very well whether what he saw was real or whether he beheld it in a vision of enchantment. For it was all very new and wonderful to him and he took great delight in it because that he was a man and because this world was the world of mankind. Wherefore, though that Castle of the Lake was so beautiful, yet he felt his heart go forth to this other and less beautiful land as it did not go forth to that, because he was human and this was human.
Nevertheless, though that was so joyful a day for him, yet Sir Launcelot did not forget what the Lady of the Lake had said concerning the time he was to abide there! Wherefore, when it drew toward evening he besought leave of King Arthur to depart from that place in search of adventures, and King Arthur gave him leave to do as he desired.
So Sir Launcelot prepared to depart, and whilst he was in his chamber making ready there came in unto him Sir Ector de Maris. And Sir Ector said unto him: "Sir, I prithee tell me—is it true that you bear upon your right shoulder a mark like unto a golden star?" And Sir Launcelot made reply: "Yea, that is true." Then Sir Ector said: "I beseech you to tell me if your name is Launcelot." And Sir Launcelot said: "Yea, that is my name."
Upon this Sir Ector broke out into great weeping and he catched Sir Launcelot in his arms and he cried out: "Launcelot, thou art mine own brother! For thy father was my father, and my mother was thy mother! For we are both sons unto King Ban of Benwick, and Queen Helen was our mother." Therewith he kissed Sir Launcelot with great passion upon the face. And Sir Launcelot upon his part kissed Sir Ector with a great passion of joy that he had found a brother in this strange world into which he had so newly come. But Sir Launcelot charged Sir Ector that he should say nothing of this to any man; and Sir Ector pledged his knightly word to that effect. (Nor did he ever tell anyone who Sir Launcelot was until Sir Launcelot had performed such deeds that all the world spake his name.)
For when Sir Launcelot went out into the world in that wise he undertook several very weighty achievements and brought them all to a successful issue, so that his name very quickly became known in every court of chivalry.
First he removed an enchantment that overhung a castle, hight Dolorous Gard; and he freed that castle and liberated all the sad, sorry captives that lay therein. (And this castle he held for his own and changed the name from Dolorous Gard to Joyous Gard and the castle became very famous afterward as his best-loved possession. For this was the first of all his possessions that he won by the prowess of his arms and he loved it best of all and considered it always his home.) After that Sir Launcelot, at the bidding of Queen Guinevere, took the part of the Lady of Nohan against the King of Northumberland, and he overcame the King of Northumberland and made him subject unto King Arthur. Then he overcame Sir Gallehaut, King of the Marches, and sent him captive to the court of King Arthur (and afterward Sir Gallehaut and Sir Launcelot became great friends for aye). So in a little while all the world spoke of Sir Launcelot, for it was said of him, and truly, that he had never been overcome by any other knight, whether upon horseback or upon foot, and that he always succeeded in every adventure which he undertook, whether that adventure were great or whether it were small. So it was as the Lady of the Lake desired it to be, for Sir Launcelot's name became famous, not because he was his father's son, but because of the deeds which he performed upon his own account.
So Sir Launcelot performed all these famous adventures, and after that he returned again to the court of King Arthur crowned with the glory of his successful knighthood, and there he was received with joy and acclaim and was duly installed in that seat of the Round Table that was his. And in that court he was held in the greatest honor and esteem of all the knights who were there. For King Arthur spake many times concerning him to this effect: that he knew not any honor or glory that could belong to a king greater than having such a knight for to serve him as was Sir Launcelot of the Lake. For a knight like Sir Launcelot came hardly ever into the world, and when he did come his glory must needs illuminate with its effulgence the entire reign of that king whose servant he was.
So it was that Sir Launcelot was greatly honored by everybody at the court of King Arthur, and he thereafter abided at that court for the most part of his life.
And now I must needs make mention of that friendship that existed betwixt Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere, for after he thus returned to the court of the king, they two became such friends that no two people could be greater friends than they were.
Now I am aware that there have been many scandalous things said concerning that friendship, but I do not choose to believe any such evil sayings. For there are always those who love to think and say evil things of others. Yet though it is not to be denied that Sir Launcelot never had for his lady any other dame than the Lady Guinevere, still no one hath ever said with truth that she regarded Sir Launcelot otherwise than as her very dear friend. For Sir Launcelot always avouched with his knightly word, unto the last day of his life, that the Lady Guinevere was noble and worthy in all ways, wherefore I choose to believe his knightly word and to hold that what he said was true. For did not he become an hermit, and did not she become a nun in their latter days, and were they not both broken of heart when King Arthur departed from this life in so singular a manner as he did? Wherefore I choose to believe good of such noble souls as they, and not evil of them.
Yet, though Sir Launcelot thus abided at the court of the King, he ever loved the open world and a life of adventure above all things else. For he had lived so long in the Lake that these things of the sturdy life of out-of-doors never lost their charm for him. So, though he found, for a while, great joy in being at the court of the King (for there were many jousts held in his honor, and, whithersoever he rode forth, men would say to one another: "Yonder goeth that great knight, Sir Launcelot, who is the greatest knight in the world"), yet he longed ever to be abroad in the wide world again. So one day he besought King Arthur for leave to depart thence and to go forth for a while in search of adventures; and King Arthur gave him leave to do as he desired.
So now shall be told of several excellent adventures that Sir Launcelot undertook, and which he carried through with entire success, and to the great glory and renown of the Round Table, of which he was the foremost knight.