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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter VIII. Launcelot of the Lake
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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter VIII. Launcelot of the Lake Post by :sweetsuccess Category :Nonfictions Author :Thomas Bulfinch Date :January 2011 Read :604

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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter VIII. Launcelot of the Lake

King Ban, of Brittany, the faithful ally of Arthur was attacked by
his enemy Claudas, and after a long war saw himself reduced to the
possession of a single fortress, where he was besieged by his
enemy. In this extremity he determined to solicit the assistance
of Arthur, and escaped in a dark night, with his wife Helen and
his infant son Launcelot, leaving his castle in the hands of his
seneschal, who immediately surrendered the place to Claudas. The
flames of his burning citadel reached the eyes of the unfortunate
monarch during his flight and he expired with grief. The wretched
Helen, leaving her child on the brink of a lake, flew to receive
the last sighs of her husband, and on returning perceived the
little Launcelot in the arms of a nymph, who, on the approach of
the queen, threw herself into the lake with the child. This nymph
was Viviane, mistress of the enchanter Merlin, better known by the
name of the Lady of the Lake. Launcelot received his appellation
from having been educated at the court of this enchantress, whose
palace was situated in the midst, not of a real, but, like the
appearance which deceives the African traveller, of an imaginary
lake, whose deluding resemblance served as a barrier to her
residence. Here she dwelt not alone, but in the midst of a
numerous retinue, and a splendid court of knights and damsels.

The queen, after her double loss, retired to a convent, where she
was joined by the widow of Bohort, for this good king had died of
grief on hearing of the death of his brother Ban. His two sons,
Lionel and Bohort, were rescued by a faithful knight, and arrived
in the shape of greyhounds at the palace of the lake, where,
having resumed their natural form, they were educated along with
their cousin Launcelot.

The fairy, when her pupil had attained the age of eighteen,
conveyed him to the court of Arthur for the purpose of demanding
his admission to the honor of knighthood; and at the first
appearance of the youthful candidate the graces of his person,
which were not inferior to his courage and skill in arms, made an
instantaneous and indelible impression on the heart of Guenever,
while her charms inspired him with an equally ardent and constant
passion. The mutual attachment of these lovers exerted, from that
time forth, an influence over the whole history of Arthur. For the
sake of Guenever, Launcelot achieved the conquest of
Northumberland, defeated Gallehaut, King of the Marches, who
afterwards became his most faithful friend and ally, exposed
himself in numberless encounters, and brought hosts of prisoners
to the feet of his sovereign.

SIR LAUNCELOT

After King Arthur was come from Rome into England all the knights
of the Table Round resorted unto him and made him many justs and
tournaments. And in especial Sir Launcelot of the Lake in all
tournaments and justs and deeds of arms, both for life and death,
passed all other knights, and was never overcome, except it were
by treason or enchantment; and he increased marvellously in
worship, wherefore Queen Guenever had him in great favor, above
all other knights. And for certain he loved the queen again above
all other ladies; and for her he did many deeds of arms, and saved
her from peril, through his noble chivalry. Thus Sir Launcelot
rested him long with play and game, and then he thought to prove
himself in strange adventures; so he bade his nephew, Sir Lionel,
to make him ready,-- "for we two will seek adventures." So they
mounted on their horses, armed at all sights, and rode into a
forest, and so into a deep plain. And the weather was hot about
noon, and Sir Launcelot had great desire to sleep. Then Sir Lionel
espied a great apple-tree that stood by a hedge, and he said:
"Brother, yonder is a fair shadow--there may we rest us and our
horses." "It is well said," replied Sir Launcelot. So they there
alighted, and Sir Launcelot laid him down, and his helm under his
head, and soon was asleep passing fast. And Sir Lionel waked while
he slept. And presently there came three knights riding as fast as
ever they might ride, and there followed them but one knight. And
Sir Lionel thought he never saw so great a knight before. So
within a while this great knight overtook one of those knights,
and smote him so that he fell to the earth. Then he rode to the
second knight and smote him, and so he did to the third knight.
Then he alighted down and bound all the three knights fast with
their own bridles. When Sir Lionel saw him do thus, he thought to
assay him, and made him ready silently, not to awake Sir
Launcelot, and rode after the strong knight, and bade him turn.
And the other smote Sir Lionel so hard that horse and man fell to
the earth; and then he alighted down and bound Sir Lionel, and
threw him across his own horse; and so he served them all four,
and rode with them away to his own castle. And when he came there
he put them in a deep prison, in which were many more knights in
great distress.

Now while Sir Launcelot lay under the apple-tree sleeping, there
came by him four queens of great estate. And that the heat should
not grieve them, there rode four knights about them, and bare a
cloth of green silk on four spears, betwixt them and the sun. And
the queens rode on four white mules.

Thus as they rode they heard by them a great horse grimly neigh.
Then they were aware of a sleeping knight, that lay all armed
under an apple-tree; and as the queens looked on his face, they
knew it was Sir Launcelot. Then they began to strive for that
knight, and each one said she would have him for her love. "We
will not strive," said Morgane le Fay, that was King Arthur's
sister, "for I will put an enchantment upon him, that he shall not
wake for six hours, and we will take him away to my castle; and
then when he is surely within my hold, I will take the enchantment
from him, and then let him choose which of us he will have for his
love." So the enchantment was cast upon Sir Launcelot. And then
they laid him upon his shield, and bare him so on horseback
between two knights, and brought him unto the castle and laid him
in a chamber, and at night they sent him his supper. And on the
morning came early those four queens, richly dight, and bade him
good morning, and he them again. "Sir knight," they said, "thou
must understand thou art our prisoner; and we know thee well, that
thou art Sir Launcelot of the Lake, King Ban's son, and that thou
art the noblest knight living. And we know well that there can no
lady have thy love but one, and that is Queen Guenever; and now
thou shalt lose her for ever, and she thee; and therefore it
behooveth thee now to choose one of us. I am the Queen Morgane le
Fay, and here is the Queen of North Wales, and the Queen of
Eastland, and the Queen of the Isles. Now choose one of us which
thou wilt have, for if thou choose not, in this prison thou shalt
die." "This is a hard case," said Sir Launcelot, "that either I
must die, or else choose one of you; yet had I liever to die in
this prison with worship, than to have one of you for my paramour,
for ye be false enchantresses." "Well," said the queens, "is this
your answer, that ye will refuse us." "Yea, on my life it is,"
said Sir Launcelot. Then they departed, making great sorrow.

Then at noon came a damsel unto him with his dinner, and asked
him, "What cheer?" "Truly, fair damsel," said Sir Launcelot,
"never so ill." "Sir," said she, "if you will be ruled by me, I
will help you out of this distress. If ye will promise me to help
my father on Tuesday next, who hath made a tournament betwixt him
and the king of North Wales; for last Tuesday my father lost the
field." "Fair maiden," said Sir Launcelot, "tell me what is your
father's name, and then will I give you an answer." "Sir knight,"
she said, "my father is King Bagdemagus." "I know him well," said
Sir Launcelot, "for a noble king and a good knight; and, by the
faith of my body, I will be ready to do your father and you
service at that day."

So she departed, and came on the next morning early and found him
ready, and brought him out of twelve locks, and brought him to his
own horse, and lightly he saddled him, and so rode forth.

And on the Tuesday next he came to a little wood where the
tournament should be. And there were scaffolds and holds, that
lords and ladies might look on, and give the prize. Then came into
the field the king of North Wales, with eightscore helms, and King
Badgemagus came with fourscore helms. And then they couched their
spears, and came together with a great dash, and there were
overthrown at the first encounter twelve of King Bagdemagus's
party and six of the king of North Wales's party, and King
Bagdemagus's party had the worse.

With that came Sir Launcelot of the Lake, and thrust in with his
spear in the thickest of the press; and he smote down five knights
ere he held his hand; and he smote down the king of North Wales,
and he brake his thigh in that fall. And then the knights of the
king of North Wales would just no more; and so the gree was given
to King Bagdemagus.

And Sir Launcelot rode forth with King Bagdemagus unto his castle;
and there he had passing good cheer, both with the king and with
his daughter. And on the morn he took his leave, and told the king
he would go and seek his brother, Sir Lionel, that went from him
when he slept. So he departed, and by adventure he came to the
same forest where he was taken sleeping. And in the highway he met
a damsel riding on a white palfrey, and they saluted each other.
"Fair damsel," said Sir Launcelot, "know ye in this country any
adventures?" "Sir knight," said the damsel, "here are adventures
near at hand, if thou durst pursue them." "Why should I not prove
adventures?" said Sir Launcelot, "since for that cause came I
hither." "Sir," said she, "hereby dwelleth a knight that will not
be overmatched for any man I know, except thou overmatch him. His
name is Sir Turquine, and, as I understand, he is a deadly enemy
of King Arthur, and he has in his prison good knights of Arthur's
court, threescore and more, that he hath won with his own hands."
"Damsel," said Launcelot, "I pray you bring me unto this knight."
So she told him, "Hereby, within this mile, is his castle, and by
it on the left hand is a ford for horses to drink of, and over
that ford there groweth a fair tree, and on that tree hang many
shields that good knights wielded aforetime, that are now
prisoners; and on the tree hangeth a basin of copper and latten,
and if thou strike upon that basin thou shalt hear tidings." And
Sir Launcelot departed, and rode as the damsel had shown him, and
shortly he came to the ford, and the tree where hung the shields
and the basin. And among the shields he saw Sir Lionel's and Sir
Hector's shields, besides many others of knights that he knew.

Then Sir Launcelot struck on the basin with the butt of his spear;
and long he did so, but he saw no man. And at length he was ware
of a great knight that drove a horse before him, and across the
horse there lay an armed knight bounden. And as they came near,
Sir Launcelot thought he should know the captive knight. Then Sir
Launcelot saw that it was Sir Gaheris, Sir Gawain's brother, a
knight of the Table Round. "Now, fair knight," said Sir Launcelot,
"put that wounded knight off the horse, and let him rest awhile,
and let us two prove our strength. For, as it is told me, thou
hast done great despite and shame unto knights of the Round Table,
therefore now defend thee." "If thou be of the Table Round," said
Sir Turquine, "I defy thee and all thy fellowship." "That is
overmuch said," said Sir Launcelot.

Then they put their spears in the rests, and came together with
their horses as fast as they might run. And each smote the other
in the middle of their shields, so that their horses fell under
them, and the knights were both staggered; and as soon as they
could clear their horses they drew out their swords and came
together eagerly, and each gave the other many strong strokes, for
neither shield nor harness might withstand their strokes. So
within a while both had grimly wounds, and bled grievously. Then
at the last they were breathless both, and stood leaning upon
their swords. "Now, fellow," said Sir Turquine, "thou art the
stoutest man that ever I met with, and best breathed; and so be it
thou be not the knight that I hate above all other knights, the
knight that slew my brother, Sir Carados, I will gladly accord
with thee; and for thy love I will deliver all the prisoners that
I have."

"What knight is he that thou hatest so above others?" "Truly,"
said Sir Turquine, "his name is Sir Launcelot of the Lake." "I am
Sir Launcelot of the Lake, King Ban's son of Benwick, and very
knight of the Table Round; and now I defy thee do thy best." "Ah!"
said Sir Turquine, "Launcelot, thou art to me the most welcome
that ever was knight; for we shall never part till the one of us
be dead." And then they hurtled together like two wild bulls,
rashing and lashing with their swords and shields, so that
sometimes they fell, as it were, headlong. Thus they fought two
hours and more, till the ground where they fought was all
bepurpled with blood.

Then at the last Sir Turquine waxed sore faint, and gave somewhat
aback, and bare his shield full low for weariness. That spied Sir
Launcelot, and leapt then upon him fiercely as a lion, and took
him by the beaver of his helmet, and drew him down on his knees.
And he raised off his helm, and smote his neck in sunder.

And Sir Gaheris, when he saw Sir Turquine slain, said, "Fair lord,
I pray you tell me your name, for this day I say ye are the best
knight in the world, for ye have slain this day in my sight the
mightiest man and the best knight except you that ever I saw."
"Sir, my name is Sir Launcelot du Lac, that ought to help you of
right for King Arthur's sake, and in especial for Sir Gawain's
sake, your own dear brother. Now I pray you, that ye go into
yonder castle, and set free all the prisoners ye find there, for I
am sure ye shall find there many knights of the Table Round, and
especially my brother Sir Lionel. I pray you greet them all from
me, and tell them I bid them take there such stuff as they find;
and tell my brother to go unto the court and abide me there, for
by the feast of Pentecost I think to be there; but at this time I
may not stop, for I have adventures on hand." So he departed, and
Sir Gaheris rode into the castle, and took the keys from the
porter, and hastily opened the prison door and let out all the
prisoners. There was Sir Kay, Sir Brandeles, and Sir Galynde, Sir
Bryan, and Sir Alyduke, Sir Hector de Marys, and Sir Lionel, and
many more. And when they saw Sir Gaheris they all thanked him, for
they thought, because he was wounded, that he had slain Sir
Turquine. "Not so," said Sir Gaheris; "it was Sir Launcelot that
slew him, right worshipfully; I saw it with mine eyes."

Sir Launcelot rode till at nightfall he came to a fair castle, and
therein he found an old gentlewoman, who lodged him with good-
will, and there he had good cheer for him and his horse. And when
time was, his host brought him to a fair chamber over the gate to
his bed. Then Sir Launcelot unarmed him, and set his harness by
him, and went to bed, and anon he fell asleep. And soon after,
there came one on horseback and knocked at the gate in great
haste; and when Sir Launcelot heard this, he arose and looked out
of the window, and saw by the moonlight three knights riding after
that one man, and all three lashed on him with their swords, and
that one knight turned on them knightly again and defended
himself. "Truly," said Sir Launcelot, "yonder one knight will I
help, for it is shame to see three knights on one." Then he took
his harness and went out at the window by a sheet down to the four
knights; and he said aloud, "Turn you knights unto me, and leave
your fighting with that knight." Then the knights left Sir Kay,
for it was he they were upon, and turned unto Sir Launcelot, and
struck many great strokes at Sir Launcelot, and assailed him on
every side. Then Sir Kay addressed him to help Sir Launcelot, but
he said, "Nay, sir, I will none of your help; let me alone with
them." So Sir Kay suffered him to do his will, and stood one side.
And within six strokes Sir Launcelot had stricken them down.

Then they all cried, "Sir knight, we yield us unto you." "As to
that," said Sir Launcelot, "I will not take your yielding unto me.
If so be ye will yield you unto Sir Kay the Seneschal, I will save
your lives, but else not." "Fair knight," then they said, "we will
do as thou commandest us." "Then shall ye," said Sir Launcelot,
"on Whitsunday next, go unto the court of King Arthur, and there
shall ye yield you unto Queen Guenever, and say that Sir Kay sent
you thither to be her prisoners." "Sir," they said, "it shall be
done, by the faith of our bodies;" and then they swore, every
knight upon his sword. And so Sir Launcelot suffered them to
depart.

On the morn Sir Launcelot rose early and left Sir Kay sleeping;
and Sir Launcelot took Sir Kay's armor, and his shield, and armed
him, and went to the stable and took his horse, and so he
departed. Then soon after arose Sir Kay, and missed Sir Launcelot.
And then he espied that he had taken his armor and his horse.
"Now, by my faith, I know well," said Sir Kay, "that he will
grieve some of King Arthur's knights, for they will deem that it
is I, and will be bold to meet him. But by cause of his armor I am
sure I shall ride in peace." Then Sir Kay thanked his host and
departed.

Sir Launcelot rode in a deep forest, and there he saw four
knights, under an oak, and they were of Arthur's court. There was
Sir Sagramour le Desirus, and Hector de Marys, and Sir Gawain, and
Sir Uwaine. As they spied Sir Launcelot they judged by his arms it
had been Sir Kay. "Now, by my faith," said Sir Sagramour, "I will
prove Sir Kay's might;" and got his spear in his hand, and came
towards Sir Launcelot. Therewith Sir Launcelot couched his spear
against him, and smote Sir Sagramour so sore that horse and man
fell both to the earth. Then said Sir Hector, "Now shall ye see
what I may do with him." But he fared worse than Sir Sagramour,
for Sir Launcelot's spear went through his shoulder and bare him
from his horse to the ground. "By my faith," said Sir Uwaine,
"yonder is a strong knight, and I fear he hath slain Sir Kay, and
taken his armor." And therewith Sir Uwaine took his spear in hand,
and rode toward Sir Launcelot; and Sir Launcelot met him on the
plain and gave him such a buffet that he was staggered, and wist
not where he was. "Now see I well," said Sir Gawain, "that I must
encounter with that knight." Then he adjusted his shield, and took
a good spear in his hand, and Sir Launcelot knew him well. Then
they let run their horses with all their mights, and each knight
smote the other in the middle of his shield. But Sir Gawain's
spear broke, and Sir Launcelot charged so sore upon him that his
horse fell over backward. Then Sir Launcelot passed by smiling
with himself, and he said, "Good luck be with him that made this
spear, for never came a better into my hand." Then the four
knights went each to the other and comforted one another. "What
say ye to this adventure," said Sir Gawain, "that one spear hath
felled us all four?" "I dare lay my head it is Sir Launcelot,"
said Sir Hector; "I know it by his riding."

And Sir Launcelot rode through many strange countries, till by
fortune he came to a fair castle; and as he passed beyond the
castle he thought he heard two bells ring. And then he perceived
how a falcon came flying over his head, toward a high elm; and she
had long lunys (Footnote: LUNYS, the string with which the falcon
is held.) about her feet, and she flew unto the elm to take her
perch, and the lunys got entangled in the bough; and when she
would have taken her flight, she hung by the legs fast, and Sir
Launcelot saw how she hung, and beheld the fair falcon entangled,
and he was sorry for her. Then came a lady out of the castle and
cried aloud, "O Launcelot, Launcelot, as thou art the flower of
all knights, help me to get my hawk; for if my hawk be lost, my
lord will slay me, he is so hasty." "What is your lord's name?"
said Sir Launcelot. "His name is Sir Phelot, a knight that
belongeth to the king of North Wales." "Well, fair lady, since ye
know my name, and require me of knighthood to help you, I will do
what I may to get your hawk; and yet in truth I am an ill climber,
and the tree is passing high, and few boughs to help me." And
therewith Sir Launcelot alighted and tied his horse to the tree,
and prayed the lady to unarm him. And when he was unarmed, he put
off his jerkin, and with might and force he clomb up to the
falcon, and tied the lunys to a rotten bough, and threw the hawk
down with it; and the lady got the hawk in her hand. Then suddenly
there came out of the castle her husband, all armed, and with his
naked sword in his hand, and said, "O Knight Launcelot, now have I
got thee as I would," and stood at the boll of the tree to slay
him. "Ah, lady!" said Sir Launcelot, "why have ye betrayed me?"
"She hath done," said Sir Phelot, "but as I commanded her; and
therefore there is none other way but thine hour is come, and thou
must die." "That were shame unto thee," said Sir Launcelot; "thou
an armed knight to slay a naked man by treason." "Thou gettest
none other grace," said Sir Phelot, "and therefore help thyself if
thou canst." "Alas!" said Sir Launcelot, "that ever a knight
should die weaponless!" And therewith he turned his eyes upward
and downward; and over his head he saw a big bough leafless, and
he brake it off from the trunk. And then he came lower, and
watched how his own horse stood; and suddenly he leapt on the
further side of his horse from the knight. Then Sir Phelot lashed
at him eagerly, meaning to have slain him. But Sir Launcelot put
away the stroke, with the big bough, and smote Sir Phelot
therewith on the side of the head, so that he fell down in a swoon
to the ground. Then Sir Launcelot took his sword out of his hand
and struck his head from the body. Then said the lady, "Alas! why
hast thou slain my husband?" "I am not the cause," said Sir
Launcelot, "for with falsehood ye would have slain me, and now it
is fallen on yourselves." Thereupon Sir Launcelot got all his
armor, and put it upon him hastily, for fear of more resort, for
the knight's castle was so nigh. And as soon as he might, he took
his horse and departed, and thanked God he had escaped that
adventure.

And two days before the feast of Pentecost, Sir Launcelot came
home; and the king and all the court were passing glad of his
coming. And when Sir Gawain, Sir Uwaine, Sir Sagramour, and Sir
Hector de Marys saw Sir Launcelot in Sir Kay's armor then they
wist well it was he that smote them down, all with one spear. Then
there was laughing and merriment among them; and from time to time
came all the knights that Sir Turquine had prisoners, and they all
honored and worshipped Sir Launcelot. Then Sir Gaheris said, "I
saw all the battle from the beginning to the end," and he told
King Arthur all how it was. Then Sir Kay told the king how Sir
Launcelot had rescued him, and how he "made the knights yield to
me, and not to him." And there they were, all three, and confirmed
it all "And, by my faith," said Sir Kay, "because Sir Launcelot
took my harness and left me his, I rode in peace, and no man would
have to do with me."

And so at that time Sir Launcelot had the greatest name of any
knight of the world, and most was he honored of high and low.

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