S IR LANCELOT was acknowledged by all the knights of the Round Table to be the bravest of their number, and the one whom the king loved most. He was not often at court, because he was nearly always engaged in adventures which took him away from the town of Camelot. The knights were always sorry when he went away, yet they were sure he would return safely and with much to tell them.
One day Sir Lancelot called his nephew Sir Lionel, and told him to mount his horse, for they must go to seek adventures. Sir Lionel was very glad, for it was a great honor to be chosen as a companion by Sir Lancelot. They rode off through a deep forest, and then across a wide, treeless plain. The sun was shining hot and bright, and when they reached a clump of trees, Sir Lancelot bade Sir Lionel dismount. Then the two sat in the shade to rest.
It was not long before Sir Lancelot fell asleep. While Sir Lionel kept guard, he saw three knights furiously pursued by another knight, who was very large. This knight overtook the three knights, one after another, and overthrew them, and bound them by the reins of their bridles. Sir Lionel, who was young and self-confident, thought that he would like to fight with this knight. So he mounted his horse very quietly without waking his uncle, and rode into the plain.
When the big knight saw him coming, he laughed and rode up quickly. At the very first stroke, young Sir Lionel fell to the earth. The strong knight bound him fast to the other three knights and drove them all to his castle. There he took off their armor and clothes, and beat them with thorny sticks. After that he threw them into a deep dungeon where there were many other knights.
Meanwhile Sir Hector, the foster father of King Arthur, hearing that Sir Lancelot and Sir Lionel had gone in search of adventures, determined to join them; so he rode hastily in pursuit. When he had gone some distance through the forest, he met a wood-cutter, and asked him if he had seen Sir Lancelot and Sir Lionel. The man replied that he had not.
"Then do you know of any adventure which I can seek?" asked Sir Hector.
The man answered:
"Sir, a mile from here is a strong castle. On one side of it is a large stream, and by that stream a large tree. At the foot of the tree is a basin of copper. Go and strike on that three times with your spear and you will meet with an adventure."
"Thank you heartily," said Sir Hector.
He rode on and soon came to the tree. Hanging on it were a great many shields, and among them Sir Lionel's. There were also shields which belonged to other Knights of the Round Table. Sir Hector knew that the knights must be prisoners, and he grew very angry.
He struck sharply on the copper basin, and at once a huge knight appeared.
"Come forward and fight!" cried the knight.
"That I will," said Sir Hector.
"But I shall win," said the knight, "for I am the great Sir Turquaine."
Sir Hector had heard of this powerful knight whom so many of Arthur's lords had tried in vain to overthrow. But he was a brave old man, and so he began to fight fearlessly. He wounded the big knight once, but the knight wounded him many times, and at last overcame him. He picked Sir Hector up and carried him under his right arm into the castle.
"You are very brave," he said, when they had reached the great hall. "you are the first knight who has wounded me these twelve years. Now I will give you your freedom if you will swear to be a follower of mine."
"I will never swear that," said Sir Hector; "I am a follower of King Arthur."
"I am sorry for that," said Sir Turquaine, "for now I must treat you as I do all my other prisoners."
Then he took off Sir Hector's armor and clothes, and beat him with the thorny stick, and threw him into the dungeon. There the old man found Sir Lionel and many other knights.
"Is Sir Lancelot here?" asked Sir Hector, feebly.
"No," said Sir Lionel, and told how he had left Sir Lancelot sleeping.
Then Sir Hector became cheerful.
"Sir Lancelot will surely find us," he said, "and give us our freedom."
But Sir Lancelot still slept on under the tree. Soon four beautiful ladies rode by, and, seeing a sleeping knight, dismounted to look at him. They at once recognized him as Sir Lancelot, the bravest knight in the land. One of these ladies was Morgan le Fay, whom Arthur had forgiven for her treachery to him. She said to her companions:
"I will cast a spell over him, and we will carry him to my castle. Then, when he wakes, we will make him choose one of us as his wife."
The other three agreed, and Morgan le Fay cast her spell. Then the four women lifted the knight upon his horse and went with him to the castle of Morgan le Fay. They put the knight in a richly decorated chamber and left him.
In the morning he awoke and wondered where he was. Soon a fair damsel entered with food, and he asked her to explain how he came to be in that place.
"Sir, I cannot," she said. "But I can tell you this much: you are under a spell. In twelve hours the spell will break, and perhaps I can help you then."
After the damsel had gone out the four ladies entered. They were clad in most beautiful robes. One had on silk that looked like the foam of the sea. Another had on velvet that seemed like moss from the forest. The third wore satin that was the color of maple leaves in autumn. Morgan le Fay wore a robe that looked like a storm-cloud, and her diamonds were like stars.
"Choose one of us for your wife," she said, "and you shall be very happy."
But Sir Lancelot said:
"Fair ladies, I have no wish to marry. I would rather fight for my good King Arthur who needs me."
At this the ladies were angry.
"You shall stay here till you choose,[should have a close quote"] they said. "And if you will not choose, then you shall die in prison."
They went out, and Sir Lancelot remained alone all day. At dusk the fair damsel came to him.
"My lord," she said, "the spell is broken now, and I can help you. These ladies are not kind to me, and I am going to run away. I will take you with me on one condition."
"Name it, damsel," he said.
"I am a king's daughter," she said. My father is King Bagdemagus."
"He is a good man," Sir Lancelot said. "I know him well."
"My father has been fighting in a tournament," said the maiden, "and has been overcome, with all his knights. He feels very sad. Now, in two days there will be another tournament at which he must fight. If you will help him, he will surely win and be happy again."
"I will gladly help him," said Sir Lancelot.
Then the damsel bade him walk softly with her. She opened twelve great doors one after another. Each had a lock with a key so heavy that the maiden had to use both hands to turn it. At last they reached the courtyard, and there she gave Sir Lancelot his horse and armor. She also mounted a horse, and the two rode away.
After riding all night, they came to the court of King Bagdemagus. He was overjoyed to welcome Sir Lancelot, for well he knew that none could overcome that good knight in combat. All day there was music and dancing and feasting. Sir Lancelot, however, could not be merry. He kept thinking of his nephew, Sir Lionel, and wondering where he was.
On the morning of the tournament Sir Lancelot asked King Bagdemagus to furnish him with a white shield, because he did not want to be known. The king did so, and also gave each of the three knights who rode with him a shield of the same color. Sir Lancelot went with the knights into a little leafy wood near the field where the tournament was to be held.
Meanwhile King Bagdemagus rode to the tournament with sixty men, and met there the king of Northgalis with eighty men. They began to fight, and soon those on the side of King Bagdemagus began to be worsted. Then Sir Lancelot, with the three knights, dashed out of the little wood and into the thick of the fight.
No one could stand against Sir Lancelot. One of King Arthur's knights, Sir Modred, the brother of Sir Gawain and Sir Gareth, was fighting against King Bagdemagus. Not knowing who Sir Lancelot was, he rushed upon him. Sir Lancelot unhorsed him, but would not hurt him because he was a Knight of the Round Table. Years afterward he was sorry he had not killed him, for Sir Modred proved to be a traitor to King Arthur.
Sir Lancelot fought so well that, for his sake, all the prizes of the tournament were given to King Bagdemagus, who was greatly rejoiced, and offered large gifts to Sir Lancelot, and begged him to be his guest for a time. But Sir Lancelot was so anxious to find out what had become of Sir Lionel that he could not remain. So the next day he set forth.
He rode back towards the clump of trees where he had fallen asleep while Sir Lionel kept watch. On the highway he met a damsel riding on a white palfrey.
"Fair damsel," said Sir Lancelot, "can you tell me of any adventures hereabouts? I am Sir Lancelot of the Lake."
"Oh, Sir Lancelot," said she, "It is indeed fortunate that you have come, for there is here a knight named Sir Turquaine who has put in prison many of the Knights of the Round Table. You shall fight with him for the freedom of your friends."
Then she turned her horse, and Sir Lancelot gladly followed her. She brought him to the tree on which hung the shields of his brother knights. Sir Lancelot let his horse drink a little water, and then he struck on the iron basin at the foot of the tree so fiercely that the bottom fell out.
No one appeared, however. Then he rode up to the castle of Sir Turquaine. Near the gate he met the big knight. He was on foot, driving his horse before him. On the horse lay a knight, securely bound. Sir Lancelot recognized him as Sir Gaheris, the brother of Sir Gawain and Sir Gareth.
"Put down the knight," said Sir Lancelot. "Mount and fight."
"Gladly," said Sir Turquaine. "Before long you will be sorry for your challenge."
Then the two rode at each other. Their horses' feet beat the dust into clouds, and they used their swords so fiercely that their armor rang continually like the clanging of heavy bells. They fought until they were breathless, each bleeding from many wounds. Then Sir Turquaine, leaning on his sword, said:
"By my faith, never have I fought with such a strong man before. I admire you, and I would be your friend. You fight as they say that knight does whom I hate most in all this world. If you are not that knight, I give you my friendship, and shall free all my prisoners for your sake."
"That is well said," replied Sir Lancelot. "Tell me who this knight is whom you hate so much."
"He is Sir Lancelot of the Lake. For hatred of him, I kill or imprison all the knights of the Round Table whom I can find.
"Then let us begin to fight again," said Sir Lancelot, "for I am Sir Lancelot of the Lake."
Then they struck at each other furiously, and soon gave each other so many wounds that the ground was covered with blood. Sir Turquaine was a brave man, but he was not so strong as Sir Lancelot. After a long conflict he fell, mortally wounded, to the ground. Then Sir Lancelot unlaced his helmet and eased him as well as he could till he died. Afterwards he left Sir Turquaine, and went to the porter who held the keys of the castle.
Sir Lancelot took the keys and unlocked the doors of the prison. He led the poor knights out into the daylight and struck off their chains. Sir Lionel and Sir Hector were overjoyed to see that their deliverer was indeed Sir Lancelot. Each knight found his own armor in the armory, and his own horse in the stables. After that a servant came with four horses laden down with venison, and the poor knights, who for a long time had had nothing but bread and water, enjoyed a good meal. Then Sir Lancelot rode away in search of new adventures.