Historical Tales: 13—King Arthur - Charles Morris




The Country of Strange Adventures

The two knights who had so hastily departed from Arthur's court were destined to see many and strange adventures before they should return. And as their wanderings and deeds were caused by the treason of Morgan le Fay, it is meet that they should here be told.

They spent their first night in an abbey not far from Camelot, and on the next morning rode forward until they came to a forest. Passing through this, they at length found themselves in a valley near a tower. Here they beheld two knights fully armed and seated on their war-horses, while twelve damsels were seen to pass to and fro beneath a tree.

When the wanderers came nearer they saw that on that tree hung a white shield, and that as the damsels passed by this they spat upon it and befouled it with mire.

"Why do you do this despite to the shield?" they asked, as they came up.

"Sir knights," answered the damsels, "we have good cause for what we do. He who has hung his shield here is a knight of great prowess, but he is one who hates all ladies, and this is how we repay him for his hatred."

"I think little of such a knight," said Gawaine. "Yet it may be that he has good cause for his hatred. He must love ladies elsewhere, if not here, if he be so good a knight as you say. For it is said that the despiser of ladies is never worthy in arms. What is the name of this knight?"

"His name is Marhaus. He is the son of the king of Ireland."

"I know him well," said Uwaine. "There is no man of more valor living. I saw him once at a tournament where no knight could stand before him."

"If this is his shield," said Gawaine, "he will soon be here in person, and it may not prove so easy for these knights to face him on horseback as for them to stand by and see his shield befouled. It is not our quarrel, but we shall stay no longer to see this dishonor."

Before they had withdrawn far, however, they saw the Irish knight riding towards his shield, and halted to note what would follow. At sight of him the damsels shrieked with terror, and ran so wildly towards the turret that some of them fell by the way. But one of the knights advanced his shield and cried loudly,—

"Sir Marhaus, defend yourself!"

Then he and Marhaus rode fiercely together, the knight breaking his spear without effect, while Marhaus smote him in return so hard a blow that he was hurled to the ground with a broken neck. Then the other knight rode against Marhaus, but with the same ill success, for both horse and man were smitten so furiously that they fell to the earth dead.

Then the knight of Ireland rode to his shield, and when he saw how foully it had been used he cried,—

"This is a foul shame; but I have requited it upon those dastards. For the love of her who gave me this white shield I shall wear it, and hang mine where it was."

Thereupon he took the white shield, and left in its place the one he had just used.

Then, seeing the two errant knights, he asked them what they did there. They answered that they were from Arthur's court, and had ridden in search of adventures.

"Then you can have one here," said Marhaus. "I shall be glad to joust with you."

He rode away from them to the proper range, without waiting for a reply.

"Let him go," said Uwaine. "I fear he is more than our match."

"I care not if he is," said Gawaine. "However good a knight he be, he shall not challenge us unanswered."

"Then let me meet him first. I am the weaker, and if he strikes me down you can revenge me."

With these words Uwaine took his place and rode against the Irish knight, but with such ill fortune that he was hurled to the earth with a wounded side. When Gawaine saw this he prepared for the joust, and the two knights rode together with great force. But, as luck would have it, Gawaine's spear broke, while that of Marhaus held firm. In consequence, both Gawaine and his horse went to the ground.

In an instant the knight was on his feet, sword in hand, and advancing towards his adversary. Marhaus drew his sword and moved upon him mounted.

"Meet me on foot," cried Gawaine, "or I will kill your horse."

"Gramercy, you teach me courtesy," said Marhaus, "It is not fair for one knight to be on foot and the other on horse."

Then he sprang to the ground, set his spear against a tree, and tied his horse. This done, he drew his sword and advanced upon Gawaine.

The combat that succeeded was long and hotly contested, beginning at nine in the morning and lasting till the day was well advanced. Never had that forest known so obstinate and fierce a fight. And from nine of the clock till the hour of noon Gawaine grew stronger and stronger, till his might was thrice increased and Marhaus had much ado to stand before him. But as the day waned from noon onwards Gawaine grew feeble, while the strength of Marhaus steadily increased, his form seeming to grow larger with every hour. At length it came that Gawaine could scarcely stand before him.

"Sir knight," said Marhaus, "this I will say, that I never met a better man than yourself, and we have had a noble passage at arms. But as we have no quarrel, and I can see you are growing feeble, it were a pity to do you more harm. If you are willing, I agree to end the fight."

"That should I have said, gentle knight," answered Gawaine. "I am much beholden to your courtesy."

Thereupon they took off their helmets and kissed each other, and swore to love one another thenceforth as brethren in arms. Marhaus prayed that the two knights would lodge with him that night, and they rode together towards his dwelling.

"I marvel," said Gawaine, as they rode forward, "that so good a knight as you should love no ladies."

"I love not such as those minxes of the tower, nor any of their sort," said Marhaus. "They are a false-hearted and vile-thinking crew. But to all honorable women I owe the best of my knightly service."

They soon reached the dwelling, which was in a little priory, and here Marhaus gave them the best cheer at his disposal, the more so when he learned that they were sons of King Arthur's sisters. Here they remained seven days, until their wounds had fully healed. On the eighth day they took horse again to continue their journey.

"We shall not part so lightly," said Marhaus. "I shall bring you through the forest, and mayhap ride farther with you."

For seven days more they rode onward without adventure. Then they found themselves on the borders of a still greater forest, in what was known as the country and forest of Arroy and the land of strange adventures.

"It is well named," said Marhaus. "For it is said that no knight ever rode into this country and failed to find adventures many and marvellous."

They rode onward into the forest before them, and in good time found themselves in a deep and stony valley, traversed by a fair stream of water.

Following this upward, they soon came to a fair fountain, the head of the stream, beside which three damsels were seated.

Of these, the eldest was not less than threescore years of age. She wore a garland of gold upon her head, and her hair was white beneath it. The second damsel was thirty years of age, and she also wore a circlet of gold. The third was not over fifteen years old, and her garland was of flowers.

The knights halted and looked at them in surprise, asking them why they sat by that lonely fountain.

"We are here to await knights-errant who come in quest of adventures," they said. "If you three knights are in search of things strange and stirring, each of you must choose one of us. When this is done we shall lead you unto three highways, one of which each of you must take, and his damsel with him. This day twelvemonth you must meet here again, and to all this you must pledge your troth, if God give you your lives to return."

"You speak well," said Marhaus. "Adventures we seek, and no true knight-errant hesitates before the unknown and the dangerous. We shall do as you say, each of us choose one of you, and then, whatsoever fortune wills, let it come."

"As for me," said Uwaine, "since I am the youngest and weakest of the three, I choose the eldest damsel. I have more need of help than either of you, and her age and knowledge may aid me well."

"Then I shall take her of middle age," said Marhaus. "She fits me best."

"I thank you both," said Gawaine. "You have left me the youngest and fairest, and the one most to my liking."

This said, each damsel took the reins of her knight, and they led them to the parting of the three ways. Here the knights took oath to meet at the fountain that day twelvemonth if they were living, kissed each other, and departed, each knight taking his chosen lady on his steed behind him. Of the three ways, Uwaine took that which lay west, Marhaus that which lay south, and Gawaine took the way that lay north.

Of the three we shall first follow Gawaine, who rode forward until he came to a fair manor, where dwelt an old knight.

"Are there any adventures to be found in this country?" he asked him.

"I shall show you some marvellous ones to-morrow," said his host.

In the morning, Gawaine and the old knight rode into the forest of adventures till they came to a wide, open lawn, upon which stood a cross. Here they halted and looked about them, and ere long saw approaching a knight of seemly aspect, who made the bitterest lamentations as he advanced. When he saw Gawaine he saluted him, and hoped that God would send him honor.

"As to that, gramercy," said Gawaine. "I pray God, in return, that he send you honor and worship."

"That will not come," said the knight. "He sendeth me but sorrow and shame."

As he spoke he passed on to the other side of the lawn. Here Gawaine saw ten knights, standing with shields and spears ready against this one warrior. But he rode against them one by one, thrusting some over their horses' tails, and hurling others to the ground, horse and man, until with one spear he had unhorsed them all.

But when they were all ten on foot they went to the dolorous knight, who stood stone still, pulled him from his horse, and tied him beneath the animal, without the least resistance on his part. This done, they led him away, thus shamefully bound.

"That is an ugly sight," said Gawaine. "Why does a knight of such prowess as this suffer himself to be so vilely treated?"

"Sir," said, the damsel to Gawaine, "why helped you not that good knight?"

"He seems to want no help," said Gawaine. "He could have taken care of himself if he would."

"You had no desire to help him," retorted the damsel, "or you would not have stood by and seen so noble a warrior so foully served."

As they talked a knight appeared on the other side of the lawn, all armed but the head. And opposite him came a dwarf on horseback similarly armed. He had a great mouth and a short nose, and was as ill favored as one would care to see.

"Where is the lady who should meet us here?" asked the dwarf.

In response thereto a fair lady rode from the wood, mounted on a handsome palfrey. On seeing her the knight and the dwarf began to strive in hot words for her, each saying that she should be his prize.

"Yonder is a knight at the cross," said the dwarf, at length. "Let us leave it to him, and abide by his decision."

"I agree to that," said the knight.

Thereupon they rode to Gawaine and told him the purpose of their strife.

"Do you put the matter into my hands?" he asked.

"Yes," they both replied.

"Then this is my decision. Let the lady stand between you and make her own choice. The one she chooses, he shall have her."

This was done, and at once the lady turned from the knight and went to the dwarf. Then the dwarf took her and went singing away, while the knight rode in grief and sorrow into the forest.

But the adventures of that day were not ended, for soon afterwards two armed knights rode from the forest, and one of them cried out loudly,—

"Sir Gawaine, knight of King Arthur, I am here to joust with you. So make ready."

"Since you know me, I shall not fail you," answered Gawaine.

Then the knights drew apart, and rode so furiously together that both were unhorsed. Springing up, they drew their swords and continued the battle on foot.

Meanwhile, the second knight went to the damsel and asked why she stayed with that knight, and begged her to go with him.

"That I will do," she replied. "I like not the way Gawaine acted just now, when one brave knight was overturned by ten dastards. So let us go while they fight."

The combat continued long, and then, as the knights seemed evenly matched, they ceased in amity, the stranger knight inviting Gawaine to spend the night at his lodge. As they rode thither he asked his host,—

"Who is this valiant champion that overturns ten knights, and then suffers them to bear him off bound hand and foot? I never saw so shameful a thing done."

"The thing has happened ten times and more," said Sir Carados. "The knight is one of noble prowess, named Sir Pelleas, and he loves a great lady of this country named Ettard, who loves him not in return. What you have seen came about in this way. There was of late days a great tournament in this country, at which Pelleas struck down every knight who was opposed to him, unhorsing twenty knights within three days. His valor and prowess won him the prize, which was a good sword, and a golden circlet to be given to the fairest lady at the lists. This circlet of gold he gave to the lady Ettard, whom he chose for the sovereign of his heart and the lady he loved above all women. But she was so proud and haughty that she returned him scorn for his love, and though he has followed her to her home she will not listen to his suit, or admit him in honor to her presence. He is lodged here near her, but can gain sight of her only in a shameful way. Every week she sends knights to fight with him, and when he has overcome them he suffers them to take him prisoner that he may feast his eyes on the face of his loved lady. But she does him great despite, for sometimes she has him brought in tied to his horse's tail, and sometimes bound under the horse, or in any other shameful manner she can think of. For all this he will not leave, but makes himself a martyr to his love."

"He is a noble knight, and I greatly pity him," said Gawaine. "I shall seek him to-morrow in the forest, and do what I can to help him."

In the morning he met Sir Pelleas, as he had promised, and heard from him the story of his woe.

"If I loved her not so truly I should rather die a hundred times than suffer such despite," he said. "But I trust that she will pity and love me at last."

"Let me aid you, so far as I can," said Gawaine. "I promise to do my utmost to gain you the love of your lady."

"Tell me who, and of what court, you are, my good friend?" asked Pelleas.

"My name is Gawaine; I am nephew to King Arthur, and King Lot of Orkney was my father."

"My name is Pelleas," answered the lovelorn knight. "I was born in the Isles, and am lord of many isles, but never till this unhappy time have I loved a lady. I pray you help me faithfully, for I get nothing from her but vile rebuke. She will not even hold me as prisoner, that I might see her daily, but robs me of my horse and armor, and has me thrust despitefully from her gates. She lives in a strong castle near by, and is lady of all this country. I fear you will not find it easy to obtain entrance."

"I shall use art instead of strength," said Gawaine. "Lend me your horse and armor, and I will ride to her castle and tell her I have slain you. She will let me in at that. Once admitted, I shall do my best to win you her love."

He plighted his honor to this, and therewith they changed horses and armor.

Leaving the knight of the doleful visage, Gawaine rode to Ettard's castle, whom he found in her pavilion outside the gate. On seeing him she hastily fled to the castle, but he called her loudly, declaring that he was not Pelleas, and that he had slain the knight and won his horse and armor.

"Take off your helm," she replied. "Let me see your face."

Gawaine did so, and when she saw that he spoke the truth she bade him alight and led him into the castle, questioning him who he was and how he had slain her tormenting admirer.

"I am sorry for his death," she said, "for he was a worthy knight; but of all men I hated him most, and could never rid myself of his importunities. As for you, Sir Gawaine, since you have done me this service, I shall be your lady, for I cannot but love you."

Then Gawaine was so entranced by the lady Ettard's blue eyes and fair face that he shamefully forgot his word of honor, and warmly returned her love. He remained with her and her knights in the castle, so happy in her presence as to ignore all the claims of duty and knightly faith.

It was now the month of May, and the air had grown warm and balmy. So it happened one evening that they all left the castle to enjoy themselves on the flowery meads outside. Believing Pelleas to be dead, Ettard lost all dread of unwelcome intrusion, and suggested that they should spend the night in the open air, lulled to sleep by the soft winds and the perfume of flowers.

But by fortune it chanced that Pelleas, hearing no word from Gawaine, that night mounted his horse and rode to the castle. It was a late hour, and he was surprised to see pavilions erected outside the gate, and couches spread in the open air. As he came near he saw knights and ladies asleep on these, while side by side lay Ettard and Gawaine, locked in deep slumber.

Anger and pain so filled the knight's heart at this that he drew his sword to slay his faithless friend, but on calmer thought he laid the naked blade athwart the throats of knight and lady and rode away. On reaching his tent, he told his attendants what treachery he had endured, and that he had resolved to take to his bed and lie there till he should die.

"And when I am dead I charge you to take my heart and bear it to the lady Ettard in a silver dish, and tell her that her falseness has slain the faithfulest of lovers."

Meanwhile Gawaine and Ettard awoke, and their dread was great on finding the sword across their throats.

"It is Pelleas's sword!" she cried. "You have betrayed him and me both, for you lied to me in saying that you had killed him. Only that he has proved himself a man of true honor, he would have slain us both. Leave me, traitor! Never let me see your false face again!"

Gawaine had no words in answer, but hastily mounted his horse and rode into the forest, feeling at heart that he had proved a traitor both to honor and love.

When morning dawned it happened that Nimue, the damsel of the lake, who by chance had come into that country, met with a follower of Sir Pelleas, who was grieving sorely for the ill fortune of his master. She asked him the cause of his grief, and he told her the woeful tale of the lovelorn knight, and how he had taken to his bed, vowing never again to rise.

"He shall not die of love, I warrant you that," she said. "Bring me to him. I promise you that she who has treated him so vilely shall feel all the pain she has made him endure."

She was accordingly brought to the tent of Pelleas, and a feeling of pity and love grew in her heart as she looked on his noble and woe-worn face while he lay asleep. Therefore she deepened his slumber with a spell of enchantment, and charging that no man should wake him before her return, she rode through the forest to Ettard's castle.

Within two hours she brought the lady Ettard to the tent, where Pelleas still lay wrapped in deep slumber.

"You should do penance for life to murder such a knight as this," she said. "You have treated a true lover with shameful despite, and for love's sake you shall pay the penalty of your misdeeds."

Then she threw so deep a spell of enchantment on the proud lady that her former scorn turned to the deepest love, and her heart went out to Pelleas as if it would break with sorrow and remorse.

"Alas!" she cried, "I hated him above all men. What has befallen me that I love him now with my whole soul?"

"It is God's righteous judgment," said Nimue.

As they spoke Pelleas awoke, and when he looked upon Ettard his eyes filled with scorn and hatred.

"Away, traitress!" he cried. "Never again come within my sight. You have taught me to hate you as much as I ever loved."

These scornful words wounded Ettard to the soul. She turned away weeping bitterly, and left the tent overwhelmed with anguish.

"Take your horse and leave this country, Sir Pelleas," said the damsel. "Love not again till you can give your heart to a lady who is worthy of it."

"I have found such a one now," said the knight, fixing his eyes with warm feeling upon her face. "This lady Ettard has treated me despitefully and turned all my love for her to hatred and scorn. But the love I felt for her has gone out to you."

"Thank me for your delivery," said Nimue. "It is too soon to talk of love. But this I may say, that if you love me as you vow, you shall not find me another Ettard."

Soon after Pelleas arose and armed, and bidding his men to follow with the pavilions and furniture, rode into the forest with the damsel of the lake, for whom the love in his heart grew each moment warmer.

[Illustration] from King Arthur I by Charles Morris

THE LOVE OF PELLEAS AND NIMUE


And thus this woeful story ends in true love's joy and retribution; for the false lady Ettard died in lovelorn sorrow, but Pelleas and Nimue lived together in true love during the remainder of their days, she becoming his dear lady and wife.

Meanwhile Marhaus and Uwaine pursued their course and had their adventures, but they were not so many and strange as those of Gawaine, and therefore we shall not tell them in full.

As for Uwaine, who rode away with the old damsel, he gained great honor at a tournament near the Welsh marches, winning the prize, which was a gerfalcon, and a white steed with trappings of cloth of gold. Many other adventures he had, and at last came to the castle of a noble lady, who was called the Lady of the Rock. Her lands had been taken from her by two robber knights, named Sir Edward and Sir Hue of the Red Castle. These Uwaine fought together, and with such good fortune that he killed Sir Edward and forced Sir Hue to surrender the lady's lands. Then he dwelt at the castle of the Lady of the Rock for six months, till he was healed of the many and deep wounds he had received in his battle with the robber knights.

Meanwhile, Marhaus rode southward with the damsel of thirty summers. Many adventures he had, and he won a circlet of gold as the victor in a tournament. At length he stopped at the castle of a noble earl named Fergus, whose lands were harried by a giant named Taulard. Him Marhaus proffered to fight, as neither the earl nor any of his men dared meet him.

Fierce and perilous was the battle that followed, for the giant was of monstrous height and strength, and armed with iron clubs and great battle-axes. But after a terrible contest, Marhaus, by a nimble stroke, cut off Taulard's right arm. Then the giant, bellowing with pain and terror, fled, and rushed into a stream of water beyond his pursuer's reach. But stones were brought to Marhaus by Fergus's men, and with these he battered the giant so sorely that at length he fell over into the water, where he was quickly drowned.

Afterwards the victorious champion went to the giant's castle, where he found in close captivity twenty-four ladies and twelve knights. These he delivered from prison. He found also a great store of wealth, enough to make him rich for the remainder of his life.

When the year ended the three knights met again at the fountain, two of them with their damsels; but Gawaine had lost his, and had come back much shorn of honor. Soon after they met by chance a messenger from King Arthur, who had long been seeking the banished knights, with orders to bring them back to the court.

So the three knights journeyed to Camelot, where the king received them graciously, and listened with admiration to the story of their adventures. And there, at the feast of Pentecost, came Pelleas and Nimue, true lovers plighted. Then were held high feasts and tournaments, where many noble knights splintered spears and much honor was lost and won. And here Marhaus and Pelleas bore themselves with such noble and mighty prowess, that all men vowed the glory of the tournament was theirs, and King Arthur, glad to reward such deeds of valor, made them Knights of the Table Round.