A FTER Sir Brune, the Knight with the Badly Made Coat, had been at Arthur's Court for some months, he became eager to seek for the enemy of his father. Sir Lancelot, who took an interest in the big young knight, advised him to wait and try his strength at some smaller adventure first.
One day, when Sir Lancelot was away hunting, a damsel entered Arthur's hall. She carried a black shield which had painted on it a white hand holding a sword. She bowed to the king and said:
"My lord, I come for a knight to undertake the adventure of the black shield."
"And what is that adventure, fair damsel?" asked the king.
"That I may not tell you," answered the damsel, "except that it will cause much fighting and bloodshed to the knight who chooses it."
Some of the knights were eager to go, and Sir Kay pressed forward to finger the shield.
"Do not touch it, good Sir Kay," said the maiden, "for this adventure is not for you. I am to choose the knight."
She passed up and down the hall, looking into the face of each one. When she had seen them all she came back to Sir Brune and said:
"Young Knight with the Ugly Coat, will you take this shield?"
"Gladly, if my king allows," said the knight.
Then Arthur gave his permission, and Sir Brune followed the damsel out of the hall. Her horse was black, and wore white trappings. Sir Brune's horse was as brown as an autumn leaf. The two mounted and rode away. Sir Brune began to talk to the damsel, whose name was Elinor. At first she was agreeable, but after they had ridden many miles she became scornful, and told him she was sorry she had chosen him.
Sir Brune felt sad, because he had begun to love the damsel. He was afraid she did not like him because his coat was poor. He did not speak to her any more, but rode on sorrowfully beside her. After a long time they came to a castle enclosed by high walls. The gate stood open, and the damsel Elinor pointed to it and said, sighing:
"Since you have not left me as I hoped you would, go in there. You will find your first adventure. I may not tell you what it is.
Sir Brune galloped inside the gate. There he saw a hundred knights on horseback, armed and waiting for him. He had to think and act quickly. So he decided to rush in between the knights and put his back against the castle wall. Then he could fight with his back protected. He did this, though not without receiving some spear-wounds. Then he began to fight.
The lady of the castle, whom the knights were keeping prisoner, watched the fight out of the window, and grieved for the brave young man who had so many against him. She began to speak to him in a low voice:
"Young knight, if you can only get to the left side of the castle wall, there is a secret door through which you can escape. If you look, you will see that one portion of the wall is made of black stones. Strike the stones with the hilt of your sword, and a door will open through which you can ride out."
The other knights did not hear what the lady said, for they were farther away from her than Sir Brune was. Even he could hardly catch her words. He took a quick glance to the left and saw that there was indeed a portion of the wall marked with black stones. Then he began to work his way carefully towards the secret gate.
He was obliged to move slowly for fear the knights would guess what he was doing. Moreover, it was becoming very hard to fight, because of his many wounds. However, he at last came near the door; then he backed his brown horse up against it, struck the black with the handle of his sword, and the door opened. The knights shouted with rage, but they were unable to reach him in time. Sir Brune escaped, leaving behind him twelve men dead.
He was very weak, and he made his way painfully to the side of the wall where the maiden Elinor waited for him. She ran to meet him, and led him gently to a brook in a forest near by. There she took off his armor and bathed his wounds, anointing them with a precious salve she carried.
Sir Brune thought that she was sorry because she had been scornful of him, and he began to talk to her. But she said:
"Do not talk to me. If you want to please me, go back to Arthur's Court."
Sir Brune did not know why she spoke so, but he was too tired to think. So he lay down on the grass by the brook and went to sleep.
Meantime, at Arthur's Court Sir Lancelot had returned from his hunting expedition, and was told how Sir Brune had gone out with a damsel on the adventure of the shield.
"Oh!" cried Sir Lancelot, "what have you done! He will surely be killed. Merlin has told me what this adventure of the shield is. Many and many a knight has taken it up and each has been killed. A knight who vows to follow this adventure has to meet dangers of all sorts. This young untried Sir Brune will certainly be killed."
He called for his horse and arms, and said to the king:
"My lord, I will ride after this poor young man and give him what help I can. Perhaps I shall be too late; but if not, I shall ask him to give me this adventure of the shield."
Then Sir Lancelot mounted his horse and rode after Sir Brune. When he came near the brook where Sir Brune and the damsel had rested, he heard the sound of a great combat. Spurring forward he saw Sir Brune, fighting single-handed against six knights. Sir Lancelot rushed to the rescue and quickly overthrew the enemy. He found that they belonged to the company of the hundred knights whom Sir Brune had attacked. He ordered them, first of all, to free the lady of the castle, and then to go to Arthur's Court and surrender themselves to the mercy of the king.
Poor Sir Brune was almost dead, but Sir Lancelot revived him, and in a feeble voice he thanked Sir Lancelot for his help. But the damsel begged:
"Take him back to the Court of your king. I do not want him to follow this quest any longer."
"This is surely ungrateful of you," said Sir Lancelot. "He has fought bravely and well."
"The maiden scorns me, though I love her," bitterly said Sir Brune.
Then the damsel Elinor cried out:
"I will tell the truth. I love you and I am afraid you will be killed. Therefore, I wish you to return to Camelot."
Sir Brune was very glad, and he said:
"I have pledged my word and must follow this quest. When I have succeeded we shall go together back to Arthur's Court."
"Give this adventure to me," said Sir Lancelot, "and go back now with the damsel."
But Sir Brune refused. Then Sir Lancelot said that they must undertake the adventure together, and Sir Brune consenting, they rode slowly forward. Soon they came to an abbey, where they rested for some days until Sir Brune was well. Then they traveled as the damsel gave directions. She always knew what they had to do. At times they passed through woods full of wild beasts, some of which attacked them. Again they passed over enchanted meadows where wicked magicians tried to cast spells over them. They also fought with many knights. However, they escaped all dangers, although it is certain that Sir Brune would never have succeeded without the help of Sir Lancelot.
At length the damsel Elinor told them that they were nearing the last adventure. She pointed to a castle on a hill; a square structure built of black stones, with a turret on top. The damsel told them that at the gate of the castle were two huge dragons. These they must slay.
"Whose is the castle?[should include a close quote "]asked Brune.
"It belongs now to the wicked Lord Brian of the Isles," answered the damsel.
At this Sir Brune gave such a loud shout that the dragons on top of the hill heard him and roared in reply.
"Ah!" cried he, "that is the name of my enemy, who killed my dear father. At last I shall slay him."
He rode off so quickly that Sir Lancelot had much trouble to keep up with him. It seemed scarcely five minutes before they came to the dragons; terrible creatures, all of green, with eyes and tongues of flame. And their wings were as large as the sails of a ship.
Sir Brune had never before seen a dragon, but he was not afraid. He fought very bravely, and even when the teeth of the dragons crunched on his helmet, he did not lose courage. After a fierce fight of half an hour, the two knights had killed the dragons.
They hoped to rest, but at that moment the castle gate opened and a porter appeared.
"Enter and fight," he said.
Both spurred forward, but the porter said:
"Only one may enter."
"Let me go," said Sir Brune to Sir Lancelot. "Remember I am to avenge my father's death. It may be that Lord Brian of the Isles is waiting just inside the gate."
Sir Lancelot consented, and the porter led in Sir Brune and locked the gate. Inside were two great knights, the brothers of Lord Brian of the Isles. They were almost as large as Sir Brune. Together they set upon him. He was already tired from his fight with the dragons, but his desire to avenge his father strengthened his arm. One brother was soon overthrown. When the other saw that, he yielded. Then Sir Brune sent them both to Sir Lancelot outside the gate.
While Sir Brune was looking about him, a third knight appeared at the end of the courtyard. He was quite as large as Sir Brune, and as he came spurring up, the noise of his horse's hoofs was deafening. Sir Brune recognized him as Sir Plenorius, the cousin of Lord Brian.
"Ah," cried he, "where is that wretch, Lord Brian? Am I to fight with all his family before I meet with him?"
Sir Plenorius wasted no words. He rushed upon Sir Brune and struck him with his long spear. The blow broke Sir Brune's helmet, and he had much trouble to guard his head with his shield. He fought courageously, but he became weaker and weaker. Then Sir Plenorius stopped fighting.
"I know you will never yield," he said. "You are the bravest knight I have yet seen. In truth I loved your good father, and grieved because my cousin slew him. I have no love for my cousin, Lord Brian of the Isles, but I am vowed to fight for him as long as he lives, or until I am overcome."
Sir Brune was about to answer, but he fell back in a swoon. Sir Plenorius lifted him gently in his arms and bore him into the castle. He carried him up the winding stairs to the turret room, and gently laid him on a bed. Then he went back to the courtyard.
Meantime, Sir Lancelot, hearing the porter shout that Sir Brune was killed, beat on the gate, but nobody would let him in. Then with great difficulty he climbed the castle wall and leaped down. Sir Plenorius was just about to care for the horse of Sir Brune.
"Give me back my friend!" cried Sir Lancelot, fiercely. "Where is my friend?"
Then he began to fight with Sir Plenorius. Sir Plenorius was so much larger than Sir Lancelot that he thought he could easily overcome him. As the fight went on, however, he found himself all but defeated.
"Yield now to me," said Sir Lancelot. "I am Sir Lancelot of the Lake."
Then Sir Plenorius said:
"Ah, my good lord, I know of your fame, if we go on fighting, you will certainly kill me. Yet I do not want to yield, so I ask you to treat me as I have treated Sir Brune."
When Sir Lancelot heard how Sir Plenorius had spared Sir Brune, he said:
"You are a gentle knight. I am sorry you are vowed to the service of Lord Brian of the Isles. He shall surely die."
Sir Plenorius answered:
"When he is dead, I will come to Arthur's Court as one of his followers."
All this time Sir Brune was lying in a swoon on the bed in the turret room. But at last he came to himself and looked about him. He saw near him his sword and shield; so he lifted them up beside him. As he lay still, trying to recover his strength, he heard stealthy footsteps coming up the turret stairs. They came nearer and nearer. Suddenly, in rushed Lord Brian of the Isles. He knew that Sir Brune was there, alone and wounded, and he intended to kill him as he lay defenseless. Sir Brune understood this and he cried:
"Ah, wretch, you were ever a coward. You come to kill me as I lie wounded here, just as you killed my poor father while he slept. But the sight of you makes me forget my wounds."
At these words, and at the fierce rage which shone in Sir Brune's eyes, Lord Brian, who was indeed a coward, tried to retreat. But Sir Brune sprang to the doorway.
"You shall never go down by these stairs, villain," he said, "for I will kill you!"
Lord Brian rushed to the window and sprang out upon the battlements. Sir Brune followed him, though with difficulty. The two began to fight, and Sir Brune soon saw that his enemy was trying to push him close to the edge of the battlements, that he might fall down into the courtyard below.
Sir Brune, at this, put himself behind Lord Brian, determined to cast him off instead. Slowly he pushed him, until Lord Brian was but a step from the edge. Then Sir Brune lifted his shield and struck his enemy with it. The wicked lord lost his footing, and was dashed to pieces at the feet of Sir Lancelot and Sir Plenorius in the courtyard below.
They ordered his soldiers to bury him, and while Sir Lancelot went to care for Sir Brune, Sir Plenorius went down the hill to find the damsel Elinor. She came back with tears of joy to Sir Brune.
When Sir Brune was well enough to travel, he visited all the castles of Lord Brian, in search of his lost mother. He was very much afraid that she was dead, but at last he found her alive, in the very castle which had belonged to his father. There was great joy at their meeting. He took her to Arthur's Court, whither Sir Lancelot had already conducted the damsel Elinor. A few days afterward Sir Brune and the damsel were married amid great festivities.