Historical Tales: 13—King Arthur - Charles Morris

The Adventure of the Falcon

After his departure from the castle of Sir Meliot, Lancelot rode through many strange regions, over marshes and highlands, through valleys and forests, and at length found himself in front of a handsome castle. This he passed, and as he did so thought he heard two bells ring.

Then he saw a falcon fly over his head towards a high elm, with long cords hanging from her feet, and as she perched in the elm these became coiled round a bough, so that when she tried to fly again the lines held her and she hung downward by the legs.

Then there came a lady running from the castle, who cried, as she approached,—

"Oh, Lancelot, Lancelot, as thou art the flower of knights, help me to get my hawk, lest my lord destroy me! The hawk escaped me, and if my husband finds it gone, he is so hasty that I fear he will kill me."

"What is his name?" asked Lancelot.

"His name is Phelot. He is a knight of the king of Northgalis."

"Well, fair lady, since you know my name so well, and ask me on my knighthood to help you, I will try to get your hawk. But I am a poor climber, and the tree is high, with few boughs to help me."

"I trust you may," she replied, "for my life depends on your success."

Then Lancelot alighted and tied his horse to the tree, and begged the lady to help him remove his armor. When he was fully unarmed he climbed with much difficulty into the tree, and at length succeeded in reaching the hawk. He now tied the lines to a rotten branch and threw it and the bird down to the lady.

But as she picked it up with a show of joy, there suddenly came from a grove an armed knight, who rode rapidly up, with his drawn sword in his hand.

"Now, Lancelot du Lake," he cried, "I have you as I wanted you. Your day has come."

And he stood by the trunk of the tree, ready to slay him when he should descend.

"What treason is this?" demanded Lancelot. "False woman, why have you led me into this?"

"She did as I bade her," said Phelot. "I hate you, Lancelot, and have laid this trap for you. You have fought your last fight, my bold champion, for you come out of that tree but to your death."

"That would be a shameful deed," cried Lancelot, "for you, an armed knight, to slay a defenceless man through treachery."

"Help yourself the best you can," said Phelot; "you get no grace from me."

"You will be shamed all your life by so base an act," cried Lancelot. "If you will do no more, at least hang my sword upon a bough where I may get it, and then you may do your best to slay me."

"No, no," said Phelot. "I know you too well for that. You get no weapon if I can hinder you."

Lancelot was now in the most desperate strait he was likely ever to endure. He could not stay forever in the tree, and if he should attempt to descend there stood that armed villain awaiting him with ready sword. What to do he knew not, but his eyes glanced warily round, till he saw just above him a big leafless branch, which he broke off close to the body of the tree. Thus armed, he climbed down to a lower bough, and looked down to note the position of the knight and his own horse.

A quick look told him that there was still a chance for life, and with a nimble leap he sprang to the ground on the other side of his horse from the knight.

Phelot at once struck at him savagely with his sword, thinking to kill him with the blow; but Lancelot parried it with his heavy club, and in return dealt his antagonist so fierce a blow on the head as to hurl him from his horse to the ground. Then wrenching the sword from his hand, he struck off his villanous head.

"Alas!" cried the lady, "you have slain my husband!"

"If I should slay you with him it would be but justice," said Lancelot, "for you would have killed me through falsehood and treachery, and you have but your deserts."

Then the lady swooned away as if she would die, but Lancelot, seeing that the knight's castle was so nigh, hastened to resume his armor, for he knew not what other treachery might await him. Then, leaving the lady still in a swoon, he mounted and rode away, thanking God that he had come so well through that deadly peril.

As to Lancelot's other adventures at that time, they were of no great moment. The chronicles tell that he saw a knight chasing a lady with intent to kill her, and that he rescued her. Afterwards the knight, who was her husband and mad with jealousy, struck off her head in Lancelot's presence.

Then when Lancelot would have slain him, he grovelled in the dirt and begged for mercy so piteously, that the knight at length granted him his shameful life, but made him swear that he would bear the dead body on his back to Queen Guenever, and tell her of his deed.

This he accomplished, and was ordered by the queen, as a fitting penance, to bear the body of his wife to the Pope of Rome and there beg absolution, and never to sleep at night but with the dead body in the bed with him. All this the knight did, and the body was buried in Rome by the Pope's command. Afterwards Pedivere, the knight, repented so deeply of his vile deed that he became a hermit, and was known as a man of holy life.

Two days before the feast of Pentecost, Lancelot returned to Camelot from his long journey and his many adventures. And there was much laughter in the court when the knights whom he had smitten down saw him in Kay's armor, and knew who their antagonist had been.

"By my faith," said Kay, "I never rode in such peace as I have done in Lancelot's armor, for I have not found a man willing to fight with me, and have ruled lord of the land."

Then the various knights whom Lancelot had bidden to seek the court came in, one by one, and all were glad to learn that it was by no common man that they had been overcome. Among them came Sir Belleus, whom Lancelot had wounded at the pavilion, and who at his request was made a Knight of the Round Table, and Sir Meliot de Logres, whom he had rescued from the enchantment of the Chapel Perilous. Also the adventure of the four queens was told, and how Lancelot had been delivered from the power of the sorceresses, and had won the tournament for King Bagdemagus.

And so at that time Lancelot had the greatest name of any knight in the world, and was the most honored, by high and low alike, of all living champions.