Historical Tales: 13—King Arthur - Charles Morris



Book V
The Adventures of Beaumains




The Knighting of Kay's Kitchen Boy

King Arthur had, early in his reign, established the custom that at the feast of Pentecost he would never dine until he had seen or heard of some marvellous event. Through that custom many strange adventures were brought to his notice. It happened on one day of Pentecost that the king held his Round Table at a castle called Kinkenadon, on the borders of Wales. On that day, a little before noon, as Gawaine looked from a window, he saw three men on horseback and a dwarf on foot approaching the castle. When they came near the men alighted, and, leaving their horses in care of the dwarf, they walked towards the castle-gate. One of these men was very tall, being a foot and a half higher than his companions.

On seeing this, Gawaine went to the king and said,—

"Sire, I deem you can now safely go to your dinner, for I fancy we have an adventure at hand."

[Illustration] from King Arthur I by Charles Morris

KING ARTHUR'S ROUND TABLE, WINCHESTER CATHEDRAL


The king thereupon went to the table with his knights and the kings who were guests at his court. They were but well seated when there came into the hall two men, richly attired, upon whose shoulders leaned the fairest and handsomest young man that any there had ever seen. In body he was large and tall, with broad shoulders and sturdy limbs, yet he moved as if he could not bear himself erect, but needed support from his comrades' shoulders.

When Arthur saw this youth he bade those around him to make room, and the stranger with his companions walked up to the high dais without speaking.

Then he drew himself up straight and stood erect before the king.

"King Arthur," he said, "may God bless you and your fellowship, and, above all, the fellowship of the Round Table. I am come hither to beg of you three gifts, promising that they shall not be unreasonable, and that you can honorably grant them without hurt or loss to yourself. The first I shall ask now, and the other two this day twelvemonth."

"Ask what you will," said Arthur. "You shall have your gift, if it be so easy to grant."

"This is my first petition, that you furnish me meat and drink sufficient for this year, and until the time has come to ask for my other gifts."

"My fair son," said Arthur, "I counsel you to ask more than this. If my judgment fail not, you are of good birth and fit for noble deeds."

"However that may be, I have asked all that I now desire."

"Well, well, you shall have meat and drink enough. I have never denied that to friend or foe. But what is your name?"

"Great sir, that I cannot tell you."

"There is a mystery here. A youth of so handsome face and vigorous form as you must be of noble parentage. But if you desire secrecy, I shall not press you."

Then Arthur bade Kay to take charge of the youth and see that he had the best fare of the castle, and to find out if he was a lord's son, if possible.

"A churl's son, I should say," answered Kay, scornfully, "and not worth the cost of his meals. Had he been of gentle birth he would have asked for horse and armor; but he demands that which fits his base-born nature. Since he has no name, I shall give him one. Let him be called Beaumains, or Fair Hands. I shall keep him in the kitchen, where he can have fat broth every day, so that at the years end he will be fat as a swollen hog."

Then the two men departed and left the youth with Kay, who continued to scorn and mock him.

Gawaine and Lancelot were angry at this, and bade Kay to cease his mockery, saying that they were sure the youth would prove of merit.

"Never will he," said Kay. "He has asked as his nature bade him."

"Beware," said Lancelot. "This is not the first youth you have given a name in mockery, which turned on yourself at last."

"I do not fear that of this fellow. I wager that he has been brought up in some abbey, and came hither because good eating failed him there."

Kay then bade him get a place and sit down to his meal, and Beaumains sought a place at the hall-door among boys and menials.

Gawaine and Lancelot thereupon asked him to come to their chambers, where he should be well fed and lodged; but he refused, saying that he would do only as Kay commanded, since the king had so bidden.

It thus came about that Beaumains ate in the kitchen among the menials, and slept in sorry quarters. And during the whole year he was always meek and mild, and gave no cause for displeasure to man or child.

But whenever there was jousting of knights he was always present to see, and seemed in this sport to take great delight. And Gawaine and Lancelot, who felt sure that the youth but bided his time, gave him clothes and what money he needed. Also, wherever there were sports of skill or strength he was sure to be on hand, and in throwing the bar or stone he surpassed all contestants by two yards.

"How like you my boy of the kitchen?" Kay would say, on seeing these feats. "Fat broth is good for the muscles."

And so the year passed on till the festival of Whitsuntide came again. The court was now at Carlion, where royal feasts were held. But the king, as was his custom, refused to eat until he should hear of some strange adventure.

While he thus waited a damsel came into the hall and saluted the king, and begged aid and succor of him.

"For whom?" asked Arthur. "Of what do you complain?"

"Sire," she replied, "I serve a lady of great worth and merit, who is besieged in her castle by a tyrant, and dares not leave her gates for fear of him. I pray you send with me some knight to succor her."

"Who is your lady, and where does she dwell? And what is the name of the man who besieges her?"

"Her name I must not now tell. I shall only say that she has wide lands and is a noble lady. As for the tyrant that distresses her, he is called the Red Knight of the Red Lawns."

"I know him not," said the king.

"I know him well," said Gawaine. "Men say he has seven men's strength. I escaped him once barely with life."

"Fair damsel," said the king, "there are knights here who would do their utmost to rescue your lady. But if you will not tell me her name nor where she lives, none of them shall go with my consent."

"Then I must seek further," said the damsel, "for that I am forbidden to tell."

At this moment Beaumains came to the king, and said,—

"Royal sir, I have been twelve months in your kitchen, and have had all you promised me; now I desire to ask for my other two gifts."

"Ask, if you will. I shall keep to my word."

"This, then, is what I request. First, that you send me with the damsel, for this adventure belongs to me."

"You shall have it," said the king.

"My third request is that you shall bid Lancelot du Lake make me a knight, for he is the only man in your court from whom I will take that honor. When I am gone let him ride after me, and dub me knight when I require it of him."

"I grant your wish," said the king. "All shall be done as you desire."

"Fie on you all!" cried the damsel. "I came here for a knight, and you offer me a kitchen scullion. Is this King Arthur's way of rescuing a lady in distress? If so, I want none of it, and will seek my knight elsewhere."

She left the court, red with anger, mounted her horse, and rode away.

She had hardly gone when a page of the court came to Beaumains and told him that his dwarf was without, with a noble horse and a rich suit of armor, and all other necessaries of the best.

At this all the court marvelled, for they could not imagine who had sent all this rich gear to a kitchen menial. But when Beaumains was armed, there were none in the court who presented a more manly aspect than he. He took courteous leave of the king, and of Gawaine and Lancelot, praying the latter that he would soon ride after him. This done, he mounted his horse and pursued the damsel.

But those who observed him noticed that, while he was well horsed and had trappings of cloth of gold, he bore neither shield nor spear. Among those who watched him was Kay, who said,—

"Yonder goes my kitchen drudge, as fine a knight as the best of us, if a brave show were all that a knight needed. I have a mind to ride after him, to let him know that I am still his superior."

"You had better let him alone," said Gawaine. "You may find more than you bargain for."

But Kay armed himself and rode after Beaumains, whom he overtook just as he came up with the damsel.

"Hold there, Beaumains," he cried, in mockery. "Do you not know me?"

"Yes," answered the young man. "I know you for an ungentle knight of the court, who has put much despite upon me. It is my turn to repay you for your insults; so, sirrah, defend yourself."

Kay thereupon put his spear in rest and rode upon Beaumains, who awaited him sword in hand. When they came together, Beaumains, with a skilful parry, turned aside the spear, and then with a vigorous thrust wounded Kay in the side, so that he fell from his horse like a dead man. This done, he dismounted and took Kay's shield and spear, and bade his dwarf take his horse.

All this was observed by the damsel, and also by Lancelot, who had followed closely upon the track of the seneschal.

"Now, Sir Lancelot, I am ready to accept your offer to knight me," said Beaumains, "but, first, I would prove myself worthy of the honor, and so will joust with you, if you consent."

"That I shall certainly not decline," said Lancelot, counting upon an easy victory.

But when the knight and the youth rode against each other both were hurled from their horses to the earth, and sorely bruised. But Beaumains was entangled in his harness, and Lancelot helped him from his horse.

Then Beaumains flung aside his shield and proffered to fight Lancelot on foot, to which the latter consented. For an hour they fought, Beaumains showing such strength that Lancelot marvelled at it, and esteemed him more a giant than a knight. He began, indeed, to fear that he might be vanquished in the end, and at length cried out,—

"Beaumains, you fight too hard, considering that there is no quarrel between us. I fancy you need no further proof."

"That is true enough, my lord," said Beaumains. "But it did me good to feel your might. As for my own strength, I hardly know it yet."

"It is as much as I want to deal with," said Lancelot. "I had to do my best to save my honor."

"Then you think I may prove myself a worthy knight?"

"I warrant you that, if you do as well as you have done to-day."

"I pray you, then, to invest me with the order of knighthood."

"That shall I willingly do. But you must first tell me your name, and that of your father."

"You will keep my secret?"

"I promise you that on my faith, until you are ready to reveal it yourself."

"Then, sir, my name is Gareth, and I am Gawaine's brother, though he knows it not. I was but a child when he became a knight, but King Lot was my father."

"I am very glad to hear that," said Lancelot. "I knew you were of gentle blood, and came to court for something else than meat and drink."

Then Gareth kneeled before Lancelot, who made him a knight, and bade him be a good and worthy one, and to honor his birth by his deeds.

Lancelot then left him and returned to Kay, who lay half dead in the road. He had him borne back to the court, but his wound proved long in healing, and he found himself the scorn of the court for his discourteous treatment of the youth who had been put in his care.