A MONG Arthur's Knights of the Round Table was one who was a mixture of good and bad, as indeed most people are. His name was Sir Ivaine; brave, kind-hearted, and merry; but at the same time fickle, sometimes forgetful of his promises, and inclined to make light of serious things.
One night, in the early spring, the knights and ladies of Arthur's Court were sitting in the dining-hall. The king and Guinevere had withdrawn, but were expected to return. Supper had been served, and the last course, consisting of pomegranate seeds and dates, had just been carried off. A fire had been built in the deep hearth, and the four bronze pillars in front were lighted by the flames. Four little pages in blue and white velvet kirtles sat on stools watching the fire, and perhaps dreaming of the days when they, too, should be warriors and have adventures.
Sir Ivaine was telling of his experience with the Black Knight.
"It was when I was very young," he said; "indeed, I had just been made a knight. Some one told me of the wicked Black Knight who lived, and still lives, in a wood a long way from here. Knowing that he did much evil, I determined to kill him. I rode to the wood where he lived, and in which I found a marble platform. In the middle of it was a sunken space holding a fountain. I walked to this, and following the directions of some writing which was on the stone, picked up a cup that lay at hand, and filling it with water, poured it into the fountain.
"Then a great storm of wind and rain arose, and when it was at its height the Black Knight rode up and began to attack me. We fought for a little while, but he easily overthrew me. Thinking me dead, he rode back, leaving me on the ground. But after a time I was able to mount my horse, and went back to my mother's castle."
At this moment the king and the queen entered, unperceived by any one except Sir Ivaine. The young man, who was always polite, sprang to his feet; then the other knights rose. Sir Kay, who was not always sweet-tempered, said to Sir Ivaine:
"We all know that you are very polite, but you have more courtesy than bravery."
At that Sir Ivaine said:
"I was almost a boy when the Black Knight overthrew me, but I could conquer him now."
"It is very easy to say that after you have eaten," said Sir Kay. "Almost any knight feels brave and self-satisfied when he has had a good supper of venison."
The king asked what the conversation was about, and Sir Ivaine repeated the story of his adventure, adding:
"And, Sir King, I crave your permission to set forth to-morrow to slay this Black Knight who is a pest in the land."
"I have heard of this man," said the king, "and have often thought of sending some one to punish him. But he lives far away, and it has been necessary heretofore to right first the wrongs nearest home. Yet now his evil deeds and persecutions must cease. To-morrow a company of us will set forth and conquer him and all his people."
The king named some half-dozen of his knights, Sir Ivaine among them, who were to undertake this adventure.
Sir Ivaine was displeased; he thought that the adventure should be his alone. So he rose in the middle of the night and stole away unattended, determined to go in advance of the others and kill the Black Knight. It did not occur to him that in proving himself brave, he was also proving himself disobedient.
He rode forth in the darkness, humming merrily to himself. At daybreak he reached a valley, and as he went through it, saw a great serpent fighting with a lion. Sir Ivaine stopped to watch this curious combat. At first the two fighters seemed evenly matched, but soon the huge serpent wrapped all its folds about the lion and began squeezing it to death. When Sir Ivaine saw this, he drew his sword and killed the serpent.
When the lion was free, it bounded up to Sir Ivaine, and he was afraid that it meant to kill him; but it fawned at his feet like a spaniel. He stroked it, and put his arms about its neck. When he mounted his horse, the beast followed him, refusing to go away. Then Sir Ivaine made up his mind that they were to be companions.
For many days the two kept close together, and at night Sir Ivaine would go to sleep with his head on the lion's neck. One day, as they came to a square castle set in a meadow, some people who stood on the castle walls began to shoot arrows at the lion, but Sir Ivaine stopped them, telling them that the animal was tame.
Then they told him that it was their rule that no one should pass by that castle without doing battle with their lord. Sir Ivaine told them that he was quite willing to obey their rule; so they opened the castle gate. They said he must make his lion stay outside, but Sir Ivaine refused to do this. He promised, however, to make the lion lie down quietly; then the two were allowed to enter.
The courtyard was a large paved place, in which there were a score of armed men. Presently the lord of the castle came forward. This lord was much larger than Sir Ivaine, and the lion, on seeing him, began to lash its tail. But Sir Ivaine ordered it to be still, and it at once obeyed.
Then Sir Ivaine and the knight battled together. The knight was powerful, but Sir Ivaine was very agile and skillful. He was not able to strike so hard as could his enemy, but he was better able to avoid blows. Therefore it was not long before he got the advantage and overthrew the lord.
When this happened, the lord called for help, and ordered his armed men to kill Sir Ivaine. The whole twenty began to obey this treacherous order, but just as they were about to fall upon Sir Ivaine, the lion bounded among them, roaring savagely. With a few strokes of its powerful paws it disabled the men. Sir Ivaine told the lord of the castle that he must ride to Camelot and give himself up to Arthur to be judged for his treachery. Then Sir Ivaine rode away from the castle; and now that the lion had saved his life, he became very fond of the animal.
After many days of travel, Sir Ivaine reached the forest in the midst of which was the castle of the Black Knight. He rode to the platform of stone, dismounted and poured water into the fountain. As before, a storm arose, and at its height the Black Knight appeared.
He recognized the armor of Sir Ivaine and said:
"Aha! I see I did not kill you before, but you shall not escape me this time."
"The best man shall win," said Sir Ivaine, cheerfully.
Then the two began a great combat. Their swords clashed so that the noise of the fountain was drowned; they fought so eagerly that they were not even aware of the storm. It was not long before the Black Knight began to grow weak from the many powerful and death-dealing strokes from Sir Ivaine's sword. At last, seeing that he was mortally wounded, the Black Knight turned his horse and galloped in the direction of his castle.
Ordering the lion to stay where it had lain during the combat, Sir Ivaine followed. But he could not quite catch up with the Black Knight, although gaining on him inch by inch. By the time the castle moat was reached, Sir Ivaine was only five feet behind. The horses thundered one after the other over the bridge. The Black Knight rode under the portcullis, or sharp iron gate, which was raised. The instant he was inside, the portcullis fell, in order to shut out Sir Ivaine.
But Sir Ivaine had already passed beneath it, and as it fell his horse was cut in two. Even the long plume in Sir Ivaine's helmet was shorn off, and lay outside the gate.
Sir Ivaine sprang to his feet and drew his sword to renew his attack upon the Black Knight, but he was already dead and lay across his panting horse's neck.
Then Sir Ivaine realized what his recklessness had cost him. There he was alone in a strange castle, the lord of which he had killed. Soon the people of the castle would come and capture him, for he could not escape, since the portcullis was down.
He ran into the castle, and up the stairs leading to the turret. He was fast growing weak from the wounds he had received, and his armor was heavy. Moreover, in spite of his care, it clashed at every step, and he was afraid some one would soon hear him. He had all but reached the top of the stairs when the door of the turret room opened, and a little maiden looked down upon him. He begged her not to cry out, and telling her who he was and what he had done, asked her to hide him.
"I will," she said, "because you are brave and you are wounded, and because you have killed that wicked tyrant, the Black Knight. He does not own this castle at all; it belongs to a beautiful lady, his cousin, who is my mistress. He keeps her here prisoner because she will not marry him."
Then the little maiden led him into the turret room. She concealed his armor in a hole in the side of the wall, and told him to hide himself between the two mattresses of the bed. Before he had time to do so, however, they heard a great noise in the courtyard, and looking down, saw that the body of the Black Knight had been discovered. Near it stood a beautiful lady, more beautiful than any Sir Ivaine had ever seen, except Queen Guinevere. She was dark like the queen, and her eyes were as bright as stars. He would have looked at her a long time but the little maiden begged him to hide without delay.
"Quick!" she cried. "The men have seen that there is the front part of a horse inside the gate, and know that the person who has killed our lord must be here. Even now they have begun the search, for they all love the Black Knight, although my mistress does not and they will hang you if they find you."
So Sir Ivaine crept between the mattresses, and the little maiden hurried down the stairs and went to her beautiful mistress. Presently Sir Ivaine heard men tramping up the turret steps. They often stopped, trying all the doors they came to, and at last entered the room in which he lay. One of them, peering into the hole in the wall where his armor was, said:
"Here is armor."
But another replied:
"That is some that once was used by our master; there is no need to drag it into the light."
Then they searched among all the furnishings of the room, but found no one. At last, as they were leaving, one of the men thrust his sword twice through the mattress. The second thrust cut deeply into Sir Ivaine's arm; but as the knight was brave, he did not utter a cry.
When the men had gone, he crept out, and found that the cut in his arm and his other wounds were bleeding badly. Just then the little maiden came in with food. She cried out in alarm when she saw the blood, and quickly tore a piece of linen from her robe for bandages. When all the wounds had been carefully attended to, she gave him a plentiful supper and promised to take care of him until there was a good opportunity for him to escape.
She visited him every morning, and told him the day's news in the castle. He learned that a lion kept roaring about the walls, and that bowmen had tried to kill it, but could not. Sir Ivaine was sure that it was his lion, and longed to have it, but knew that this was impossible. She told him how the people of the castle had been angry at their lady because she would not marry the Black Knight; but now that he was dead, acknowledged her as mistress and obeyed her in everything. The little maiden said she thought that if the lady were told that Sir Ivaine was hidden she would probably see that he had a safe conduct out of the castle.
"I want never to leave this castle," said Sir Ivaine; "for I love your lady."
This pleased the little maiden, for she had learned to respect Sir Ivaine. So she went to the lady of the castle and told her all about the stranger. The lady had Sir Ivaine moved to a rich apartment where she could visit him often and help the little maid in her care of him. She did not tell her people, however, that this stranger knight had killed their lord.
As Sir Ivaine recovered, he soon found courage to tell her how beautiful she was, and that he loved her more that anything in the world. He said that if she would marry him, he would stay with her forever, and never seek for more adventures. All he asked was that she would let in his lion, which still continued to roar outside the castle walls. When the lady heard the story of the lion, it seemed to her that if Sir Ivaine were so kind to an animal, he would probably be much kinder to her.
So she said that she would marry him. The people of the castle saw and liked him, and agreed to obey him as their lord. When they were told that the lion they had tried to kill belonged to him and must be admitted to the castle, they showed some fear. Sir Ivaine told them that there was no need of this, for the beast was very gentle, and was making noise only because of its desire for its master. He went outside the castle walls and called. Soon there was heard a loud roaring; a big yellow body bounded out of the forest, and the lion came leaping to its master's feet. It frisked about him, and rubbed its head on his arm, just as a favorite dog might do. When the people saw how tame it was, they were no longer afraid.
Sir Ivaine and the beautiful lady were soon married, and for a long time everyone was very happy. Sir Ivaine sent a letter to King Arthur telling the result of his adventure. Soon the messenger returned bearing rich gifts from the king and Guinevere, and an invitation to come to Camelot whenever they wished to. The lady, however, persuaded Sir Ivaine to promise to remain with her in her castle.
One day a party of the Knights of the Round Table rode into the courtyard. They were going on a great adventure, and stopped by the way to see how Sir Ivaine and his beautiful wife fared. When Sir Ivaine saw them, all his old-time love of fighting came back, and he went to his lady and begged her to let him go with the knights.
"Ah, my Ivaine," she said, "you told me that you would never leave me."
"A knight ought to seek adventures," he said. "And I will return to you."
She paused for a while and then said:
"I will let you go if you will promise to come back in a year and a day; that is, next Whitsuntide."
He gladly promised, and she said:
"If you break this promise, I will never see you again."
But Sir Ivaine was sure he would not break the promise, because he loved her too much for that.
So off he rode with the knights, followed by his faithful lion. The lady and the little maiden waved farewells to Sir Ivaine from the tower until they could no longer see him; then they again took up the life they had lived before he came to the castle.
Sir Ivaine rode with the knights for many months, and had many adventures. At last, just as the year was drawing to a close, he started homeward. On the way, however, he stopped at Arthur's Court to pay his respects to the king and the queen. They both remembered him and greeted him kindly.
A great tournament was being held at that time in Camelot, and the king asked Sir Ivaine if he would like to take part. Sir Ivaine was pleased, for he loved the display of such combats. During the three days of the tournament he distinguished himself greatly.
On the evening of the third day, as the knights were sitting in the great hall of the Round Table, a little maiden entered. She went up to King Arthur and gave him a ring.
"This ring," she said, "is one Sir Ivaine gave my lady. She returns it, and has vowed never to see him again because he has broken his promise to her."
Then, before any one could stop her, she left the hall, mounted her horse, and rode away. Sir Ivaine sprang to his feet, staring wildly. Whitsuntide had fallen on the first day of the tournament, his year and a day had more than passed, and he had forgotten his promise!
He rushed from the hall and down the hill through the streets of Camelot, out of the city gate, and into the forest. He ran on and on until he fell exhausted.
The next day he awoke in a fever, and would have died but for his faithful lion. The poor animal tried to make Sir Ivaine rise, but seeing that he could not, dragged him to the edge of a brook, where he could drink when he was thirsty. The lion also brought him game. At first Sir Ivaine would not touch it, but finally began to eat it raw.
After a time he became better, physically, but his senses were gone. In his madness he wandered all through the woods, fighting with the trees and bushes. The lion always followed him, protecting him from other animals and from men.
One day when the lion was absent finding food, Sir Ivaine lay asleep. A good hermit came up to him, and pitying his condition, lifted him in his arms and carried him to his hut. He bathed the poor knight, cut his hair, and put a robe upon him. He was laying him upon a bed when the lion came roaring to the door and dashed it open.
When it saw the hermit tending its master, it fawned at his feet. After that Sir Ivaine spent much of his time in the hut. The lion supplied him with food, bringing meat to the hermit, who always divided it into four parts: three parts he gave to the lion, and one he cooked for Sir Ivaine and himself.
Sometimes Sir Ivaine would run away from the hermit and wander for days in the forest. The lion took care of him, and always led him back to the hermit's hut. Once, however, Sir Ivaine set forth in the direction of his wife's castle. At night the lion tried to take him to the hut, but in vain. For days he wandered, always in the same direction, until at last he reached the wood where the stone platform was. He laid himself down upon it and slept. Soon a lady and a maid appeared. The lion sprang at them but when it reached their feet, it licked the lady's hand, for she was its mistress.
It took her robe in its teeth and pulled her gently to the spot where Sir Ivaine lay. At first she would not look at him, because she had not forgiven him for breaking his promise. But the little maiden said:
"Dear mistress, look at him. The story which the knights of Arthur's Court told us about his madness must be true. If you will but look at his face you will see that it is the face of a man who has lost his senses."
Then the lady knelt beside him. When she saw his worn features and his tattered garments, she began to believe that he really had lost his senses from grief. She sent the maiden to the castle for an ointment she had. It was so powerful that if it were rubbed over a person who was ill, it would cure him, no matter what his disease was. When the little maid brought it, the lady put it upon Sir Ivaine, but so gently as not to rouse him.
After several hours, Sir Ivaine awoke. At first he hardly knew where he was, but soon he recollected all that had happened, and seeing his lady near, begged her to forgive him. This she did, and they were reconciled. Sir Ivaine was sure that he would never again forget to keep a promise.
For some months they lived very happily in the castle. Then they went to Camelot in order to be near to Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.