Historical Tales: 13—King Arthur - Charles Morris




How Lancelot and Turquine Fought

Not far nor long had Lancelot ridden before he found himself in familiar scenes, and in a short time he beheld that same apple-tree under which he had lain asleep.

"I shall take care never to sleep again beneath your shade," he said, grimly. "The fruit you bear is not wholesome for errant knights."

He rode by it, but had not followed the highway far when he met a damsel riding on a white palfrey, who saluted him. He courteously returned her salute, and said,—

"Fair damsel, know you of any adventures that may be had in this land?"

"Sir knight," she replied, "if you crave adventures you will not need to go far to find one. But it is one it might be safest for you not to undertake."

"Why should I not?" said Lancelot. "I came here seeking adventures, and am not the man to turn back from a shadow."

"You seem to be a good knight," she replied, regarding him closely. "If you dare face a powerful fighter, I can bring you where is the best and mightiest in this land. But first I would know what knight you are."

"As for my name, you are welcome to it," he replied. "Men call me Lancelot du Lake."

"This, then, is the adventure. Near by there dwells a knight who has never yet found his match, and who is ever ready for a joust. His name is Sir Turquine. As I am told, he has overcome and has in prison in his castle sixty-four knights of Arthur's court, whom he has met and vanquished in single combat. You shall fight with him if you will. And if you overcome him, then I shall beg for your aid against a false knight who daily distresses me and other damsels. Have I your promise?"

"There is nothing I would rather do," said Lancelot. "Bring me now where I may meet this Turquine. When I have ended with him I shall be at your service."

"Come this way," she replied, and led him to the ford and the tree where hung the basin.

Lancelot waited here until his horse had drunk, and then he beat on the basin with the butt of his spear with such force that its bottom fell out, but no one answered his challenge. He knocked then loudly at the manor gates, but they remained closed. Finding no entrance, he rode for half an hour along the manor walls, looking heedfully for Sir Turquine, whom he fancied must be abroad. At the end of that time he saw a knight who drove a horse before him, and athwart that horse lay an armed knight, bound.

As they drew near, Lancelot noticed something familiar in the aspect of the bound knight, and when they had come close he recognized him as Gaheris, the brother of Gawaine, and a Knight of the Round Table.

"That prisoner is a fellow of mine," he said to the damsel. "I shall begin, I promise you, by God's help, with rescuing him; and unless his captor sit better than I in the saddle, I shall deliver all his prisoners, among whom, I am sure, are some of my near kindred."

By this time Turquine was close at hand, and on seeing an armed knight thus confront him he drew up his horse and gripped his spear fiercely.

"Fair sir," said Lancelot, "put down that wounded knight and let him rest a while, while you and I find out who is the better man. I am told you have done much wrong to Knights of the Round Table, and I am here to revenge them. Therefore, defend yourself."

"If you be of the Round Table," said Turquine, "I defy you and all your fellowship."

"That is easy to say," retorted Lancelot. "Now let me see what you are ready to do."

Then, they put their spears in the rests, and rode together with the force of two ships meeting in mid-ocean, smiting each other so strongly in the midst of their shields that the backs of both horses broke beneath them. The knights, astonished at this result, leaped hastily to the ground to avoid being overthrown.

Then, drawing their swords and bearing their shields in front, they came hotly together, striking with such force that shield and armor alike gave way beneath the mighty blows, and blood soon began to flow freely from their wounds. Thus for two hours and more the deadly contest continued, the knights striking, parrying, advancing, and retiring with all the skill of perfect swordsmen. At the last they both paused through lack of breath, and stood leaning upon their swords, and facing each other grimly.

"Hold thy hand a while, fellow," said Turquine, "and tell me what I shall ask thee."

"Say on," rejoined Lancelot, briefly.

"Thou art the strongest and best-breathed man that ever I met with, and art much like the knight that I hate most of all men. If you are not he, then for the esteem I have for you I will release all my prisoners, and we shall be fellows together while we live. But first of all I would know your name."

"You speak well," said Lancelot. "But since you promise me your friendship, tell me what knight it is you hate so deeply?"

"His name," said Turquine, "is Lancelot du Lake. He slew my brother Carados at the dolorous tower, and I have vowed that, if I should meet him, one of us shall make an end of the other. Through hate of him I have slain a hundred knights, and maimed as many more, while of those I have thrown in prison, many are dead, and threescore and four yet live. If you will tell me your name, and it be not Lancelot, all these shall be delivered."

"It stands, then," said Lancelot, "that if I be one man I may have your peace and friendship, and if I be another man there will be mortal war between us. If you would know my name, it is Lancelot du Lake, son of King Ban of Benwick, and Knight of the Table Round. And now do your best, for I defy you."

"Ah, Lancelot!" said Turquine, "never was knight so welcome to me. This is the meeting I have long sought, and we shall never part till one of us be dead."

Then they rushed together like two wild bulls, lashing at each other with shield and sword, and striking such fiery blows that pieces of steel flew from their armor of proof, and blood poured from many new wounds.

Two hours longer the fight continued, Turquine giving Lancelot many wounds and receiving stinging blows in return, till at the end he drew back faint with loss of breath and of blood, and bore his shield low through weakness. This Lancelot quickly perceived, and leaped fiercely upon him, seizing him by the beaver of his helmet and dragging him down to his knees. Then he tore off his helm, and swinging in the air his fatal blade, smote off his head so that it leaped like a live thing upon the ground, while the body fell prostrate in death.

"So much for Turquine," said Lancelot. "He will take prisoner no more Round Table knights. But by my faith, there are not many such men as he, and he and I might have faced the world. Now, damsel, I am ready to go with you where you will, but I have no horse."

"Take that of this wounded knight; and let him go into the manor and release the prisoners."

"That is well advised," said Lancelot, who thereupon went to Gaheris and begged that he would lend him his horse.

"Lend it!" cried Gaheris. "I will give it, and would give ten if I had them, for I owe my life and my horse both to you. You have slain in my sight the mightiest man and the best knight that I ever saw, except yourself. And, fair sir, I pray you tell me your name?"

"My name is Lancelot du Lake. I owe you rescue for King Arthur's sake, and for that of Gawaine, your brother and my comrade. Within that manor you will find many Knights of the Round Table, whose shields you may see on yonder tree. I pray you greet them all from me, and say I bid them take for their own such stuff as they find there. I must ride on with this damsel to keep my promise, but I hope to be back at the court by the feast of Pentecost. Bid Lionel and Hector await me there."

This said, he mounted and rode on, while Gaheris went into the manor-house. Here he found a yeoman porter, who accosted him surlily. Gaheris flung the dogged fellow to the floor, and took from him his keys. With these he opened the prison doors and released the captives, who thanked him warmly for their rescue, for they saw that he was wounded, and deemed that he had vanquished Turquine.

"It was not I," said Gaheris, "that slew your tyrant. You have Lancelot to thank for that. He greets you all, and asks Lionel and Hector to wait for him at the court."

"That we shall not do," said they. "While we live we shall seek him."

"So shall I," said Kay, who was among the prisoners, "as I am a true knight."

Then the released knights sought their armor and horses, and as they did so a forester rode into the court, with four horses laden with fat venison.

"Here is for us," said Kay. "We have not had such a repast as this promises for many a long day. That rogue Turquine owes us a dinner at least."

Then the manor-kitchens were set in a blaze, and the venison was roasted, baked, and sodden, the half-starved knights enjoying such a hearty meal as they had long been without. Some of them afterwards stayed in the manor-house for the night, though in more agreeable quarters than they had of late occupied. But Lionel, Hector, and Kay rode in quest of Lancelot, resolved to find him if it were possible, and to lose no time in the search.

As for the victorious knight, he had many strange adventures, of which we can tell only those of most interest. First of all, he performed the task which the damsel required of him, for he met and killed that false knight against whom she prayed for redress.

"You have done this day a double service to mankind," said the damsel, gratefully. "As Turquine destroyed knights, so did this villain, whose name was Peris de Forest Savage, destroy and distress ladies and gentlewomen, and he is well repaid for his villany."

"Do you want any more service of me?" asked Lancelot.

"Not at this time. But may heaven preserve you wherever you go, for you deserve the prayers of all who are in distress. But one thing, it seems to me, you lack: you are a wifeless knight. The world says that you will love no maiden, but that your heart is turned only to Queen Guenever, who has ordained by enchantment that you shall love none but her. This I hold to be a great pity, and many in the land are sorry to see so noble a knight so enchained."

"I cannot stop people from thinking what they will," said Lancelot, "but as for marrying, I shall not soon consent to be a stay-at-home knight. And as for Guenever's enchantment, it is only that of beauty and womanly graciousness. What time may bring me I know not, but as yet it has not brought me a fancy for wedded life. I thank you for your good wishes, fair damsel, and courteously bid you farewell."

With these words Lancelot and she parted, she seeking her home, and the knight riding in quest of new adventures. For two days his journey continued, through a country strange to him. On the morning of the third day he found himself beside a wide stream, which was crossed by a long bridge, beyond which rose the battlemented towers of a strong castle.

Lancelot rode upon the bridge, but before he had reached its middle there started out a foul-faced churl, who smote his horse a hard blow on the nose, and asked him surlily why he dared cross that bridge without license.

"Why should I not, if I wish?" asked the knight. "Who has the right to hinder?"

"I have," cried the churl. "You may choose what you will, but you shall not ride here," and he struck at him furiously with a great iron-shod club.

At this affront Lancelot angrily drew his sword, and with one stroke warded off the blow, and cut the churl's head in twain.

"So much for you, fool," he said.

But when he reached the end of the bridge he found there a village, whose people cried out to him, "You have done a sorry deed for yourself, for you have slain the chief porter of our castle."

Lancelot rode on, heedless of their cries, and forcing his great horse through the throng till he came to the castle walls. The gates of these stood open, and he rode in, where he saw a fair green court, and beyond it the stately walls and towers. At the windows were the faces of many people, who cried to him in dismay,—

"Fair knight, turn and fly. Death awaits you here."

"Fly! I have not learned how," answered Lancelot, as he sprang from his horse and tied him to a ring in the wall. "This court seems a fair place for knightly combat, and it fits better with my mood to fight than fly."

Hardly had he spoken when from the castle doors came two strong giants, armed all but their heads, and bearing as weapons great iron clubs. They set upon Lancelot together, the foremost making a stroke that would have slain him had it reached him. But the knight warded it off with his shield, and agilely returned the blow with his sword, with so vigorous a stroke that he cleft the giant's head in twain.

When his fellow saw this, he turned and ran in panic fear, but Lancelot furiously pursued him, and struck him so fierce a blow that the sword clove his great body asunder from shoulder to waist.

"Is it not better to fight than to fly?" cried Lancelot to the glad faces which he now saw at the windows, and, leaving the dead giants crimsoning the green verdure, he strode into the castle hall, where there came before him threescore ladies, who fell on their knees and thanked God and him for their deliverance.

"Blessed be the day thou wert born, sir knight," they said, "for many brave warriors have died in seeking to do what thou hast achieved this day. We are all of us gentlewomen born, and many of us have been prisoners here for seven years, working in silk for these giants that we might earn our food. We pray you to tell us your name, that our friends may know who has delivered us, and remember you in their prayers."

"Fair ladies," he said, "my name is Lancelot du Lake."

"You may well be he," they replied. "For we know no other knight that could have faced those giants together, and slain them as you have done."

"Say unto your friends," said Lancelot, "that I send them greeting, and that I shall expect good cheer from them if ever I should come into their manors. As for the treasure in this castle, I give it to you in payment for your captivity. For the castle itself, its lord, whom these giants have dispossessed, may claim again his heritage."

"The castle," they replied, "is named Tintagil. The duke who owned it was the husband of Queen Igraine, King Arthur's mother. But it has long been held by these miscreant giants."

"Then," said Lancelot, "the castle belongs to the king, and shall be returned to him. And now farewell, and God be with you."

So saying, he mounted his horse and rode away, followed by the thanks and prayers of the rescued ladies.