Sir Gawain and the Lady of Lys
FOR seven full days King Arthur and his men journeyed, and passed through many a forest ere they came into the open land and saw before their eyes the rich Castle Orguellous, the which they had greatly desired to behold. They who had gone ahead had already pitched the king’s pavilion in a fair meadow nigh unto a grove of branching olive trees, very fair and full of leaf. There the king, and they who were with him, dismounted gladly; they might go no further, since ‘twas well known in the land that they came to make war on the castle.
They had made no long abiding when they heard a great bell toll—no man had ever heard a greater—five leagues around might the sound be heard, and all the earth trembled. Then the king asked of him who knew the customs of the castle wherefore the bell tolled thus.
Quoth Bran de Lis, “Of a truth, ‘tis that all the country round may know that the castle is besieged, till that the bell be tolled nor shield nor spear may be set on the walls, the towers, or battlements.” As he spake thus they saw to the right more than five thousand banners wave from the walls, the towers, and donjon, and as many shields hung forth from the battlements. Then they saw issue forth from the forest on to the plain knights mounted on palfreys and war-horses, who made their way by many roads to the castles; right gladly did the king and his comrades behold them.
I will not devise unto ye all the fashion of the castle, I must needs spend overmuch time thereon, but since the birth of Christ no man ever saw one more fairly placed, nor richer, nor better garnished with tall towers and donjon.
Now was meat made ready in the king’s tent, and all sat them down to supper in right merry mood; they said among themselves that enough knights were entered into the castle to give work to each and all. Thus they spake and made sport concerning those within.
So soon as the king had sat him down Lucains the butler poured the wine into a golden cup, and spake unto the king, “I pray the right of the first joust that be ridden to-morrow morn, for it pertaineth unto mine office!“ Quoth the king, “I were loth to refuse the first gift prayed of me here in this land.” “‘Tis well said,” quoth the lord of Lys. And the king said to the butler, “Go, eat with my nephew,” and he did so right gladly.
So soon as supper was done, and they had washed, swiftly they commanded their arms to be brought, nor will I lie to ye; thereafter might ye have seen a great testing, many greaves of iron laced on, limbs outstretched, feet bent ; squires were bidden don the hauberks that they might look well to them, and add straps or take away—all were fain to see that naught was lacking, but all in fair and knightly order. Ye never saw a folk thus busy themselves. They made merry with the king the while, and prayed of him in sport to say the day he would allot to each, that their pain might be the sooner ended. “Nay, lords,” quoth Arthur,” I would fain keep ye the longer in dread.” Thus when they had made sport enow, and it was nightfall, they drank, and betook them to rest.
On the morrow, without delay, they arose at sunrise, and betook them to a chapel in a wood, nigh to a meadow where were buried all the good knights slain before the castle, whether strangers or men of the land. And so soon as the priest had said the Mass of the Holy Ghost, and the service was ended, they turned them again, and made ready for meat in the king’s pavilion, and the king and all his knights ate together right joyfully. When they had eaten they arose, and armed Lucains the butler well and courteously. The vest he ware under his hauberk was of purple broidered with gold. Then they brought him his horse and his shield, and he mounted right glad and joyful, and they brought unto him his pennon. Thus he departed from the king and his comrades, and set spurs to his steed, and stayed not till he came unto the field of battle, whither they betook them and demanded joust of those of the castle.
Masters, at the four corners of the meadow were planted four olive trees, to show the bounds of the field, and he was held for vanquished who should first pass the boundary of the olives. Since he had come thither armed, it befell not to await long, but short space after he entered the field he saw ride proudly from the castle a great knight, mounted a roan steed, right well appointed of arm and accoutrements. He came at full to the meadow, and swiftly, as each lowered his lance, and set spurs to his steed, and rode the one against the other. Great blows they dealt on each other’s shield, and the knight smote Lucains so fiercely that he brake his lance all to shivers, and the butler smote back in such wise that he bare him out of the saddle on to the ground. Then he took the steed, and turned him, leaving his foeman afoot, and came gladly and blithely again to the pavilion. Quoth Bran de Lis, “Certes, butler, the siege had been raised had ye brought yon knight captive, nor would ye have had further travail, for the quest on which ye came hither had been achieved, and ere nightfall Sir Giflet had been delivered up, for yonder is so good a knight they had gladly made the exchange!”
When the butler heard this he was ill-pleased, and he tarried no longer at the pavilion, but leaving the steed gat him back to the meadow, nor turned again for the king, who many a time called upon him. Then from the gateway rode forth a great knight bearing his pennon, and came spurring into the meadow, and when the butler saw him he rode against him, and smote him so fiercely on the shield that the shaft of apple-wood brake, and the knight smote him back with so strong a lance that he bare him to the ground. Lucains sprang up swiftly, and thought to take the splinters from his arm without delaying, but the knight ran upon him fiercely, and he defended himself as best he might, though wounded, but since the blade was yet in him, whether he would or no, he must needs yield himself prisoner, as one who might do no more. Thus he yielded up his sword to the knight, who led him with him to the castle, but first he drew out the blade carefully, stanching the blood, and binding up the wound.
Very wrathful was the king when he saw his butler thus led thence; then quoth Sir Gawain, “Certes, an Lucains were whole I should rejoice in that he is captive, for now will our comrade Giflet, the brave and valiant, who hath been there in durance four years, learn such tidings of us as shall make him glad and joyful. The butler is a right gallant knight, and it may chance to any that he be overthrown and wounded. I have no mind to blame him for such ill hap.” Sir Bran de Lis answered, “Fair Sir, an God help me, he hath overthrown one of their men, and I know no better among their ten thousand knights.” So spake Sir Bran de Lis, but for all that was he somewhat vexed concerning the butler, in that he had reproached him for not having taken the knight captive, for he thought in his heart that for these words of his, and for naught else, had Lucains been taken. Then he came unto the king, and besought him for the great love he bare him to grant him the morrow’s joust ; but though he prayed him straitly the king was loth to yield, but answered that in no wise would he grant his request save that he was fain not to anger him by reason of the true faith that he bare unto him. “So God help me, fair friend; I have it in my mind that I were but ill sped did I chance to lose ye!"
“Sire, think not of that, ‘tis ill done to summon evil, an God will this shall not befall so long as I live; doubt ye not, Sire, but grant me the fight freely, ere others ask it!"
Then the king quoth, “Have your desire, since ye so will.” With that they gat them to meat in the tent, but that day a butler was lacking to them.
Into that selfsame chamber where that good knight, Giflet fis Do, had long lain, they led Lucains prisoner, and Giflet when he beheld him failed not to know him, but sprang up, and embraced him, and asked straightway, “Tell me, gentle friend, in what land were ye made captive?” Then Lucains told him the truth from beginning to end, how the king had set siege to the castle, and was lodged without, “And he hath sworn he will not depart hence, nor lift the siege, till that he hath freed ye.” Gifiet was right joyful when he heard this, and he spake again, “Sir Lucains, greatly do I desire to hear from ye tidings of the best knights in the world, even the companions of the Round Table; ‘tis over long since I saw them, or heard speak of them.” And the butler made answer, “Sir, by all the Saints in the calendar, such an one is dead, such an one made captive, this and that knight are hale and whole, and to the places of the dead many a good knight and true hath been elect.” And Gifiet cried, “Ah, God, how minished is that goodly company; I know not the half of them who yet live!”
Quoth Lucains, “Know of a truth that all greatly desire to have ye again, nor will they know joy in their hearts till that ye be once more of their fellowship.”
At these words they brought them food, and they washed, and ate, and when ‘twas time they gat them to rest, and passed the night in great joy of each other’s company. But the night was short, since Pentecost was past, and the feast of S. John, when the days are the longest in the year.
On the morrow the sun rose fine and fair, for the weather was calm and clear, and the king arose betimes with his comrades. First they gat them to the chapel and heard Mass, and then dinner was made ready, since to eat ere noon is healthful for the brain. The dinner was rich and plentiful, they sat them down gaily and ate with speed, they had larded venison (for of deer was there no lack), and so soon as they had dined the chamberlain armed the lord of Lys right richly, on a fair flowered carpet, and the king himself laced his helmet. Then Sir Bran de Lis mounted and hung the shield about his neck, and took his lance whereon was a pennon, and spurred straight for the meadow, which he knew full well.
Then from the gates of the castle he beheld issue forth a knight on a gallant steed, right fittingly armed, who rode at full speed to the meadow where Sir Bran de Lis awaited his coming. And so soon as each beheld the other they spurred swiftly forward, and I tell ye of a truth that they smote each other on the shield so that their lances brake, and they came together with such force that they hurled each other to the ground; but they lay not there for long, but sprang up anon, and laid to with their swords, dealing each other mighty blows on the gleaming helmets, for the worser of the twain was a gallant knight. But he of the castle was sore vexed, in that he was wounded while Bran de Lis was yet whole, and passing light on his feet, so that he pressed him sore, in so much that he might not abide in any place. By force Sir Bran de Lis brought his foeman to his knees, and ere he might rise he must perforce yield himself captive. Thus he led him to the pavilion, and made gift of him to Arthur, who received him well, and thanked the lord of Lis right heartily.
Then the king bade them make a lodge of boughs, with curtains round about whereto they led the wounded knight to rest, for much need had he of repose. King Arthur and his men disarmed Sir Bran de Lis gaily, and he washed himself and they made great sport all day long.
And when it came to the freshness of the evening they went forth to disport themselves; many a valiant knight sat there, round about the king, in the shade of an olive tree.
Then they heard the sound of those who blew loudly on the horn and played upon the flageolet; there was no instrument befitting a watch the music of which was not to be heard within the castle, and much joy they made therein. The king was the more wakeful by night in that he took pleasure in the fair melody which the watchmen who sounded the horn made in answering the one the other.
Beside the lord of Lys sat Kay, who hearkened to the music, nor might he long keep silence, but must needs speak his mind. “Sire,” quoth he, “by Saint Denis, meseemeth the joust be forgotten, for this eve none bath demanded it; the king bath neither companion nor peer who bath so far prayed it, I wot none be desirous thereof!
“Kay,” quoth the King, “I grant thee the joust."
“Sire,” quoth Kay, "by Saint Martin, I were liever to handle a spit than a spear tomorrow; I thank ye for naught! Nevertheless, Sire, an such be your pleasure I will do it, by the faith lowe to my lord Sir Gawain.” Then all laughed at Kay’s words, and when they had made sport enow of him they gat them back to the tent.
Thus the night passed, and on the morrow at dawn, ere prime had rung, the king hearkened Mass, and when they had dined they armed the seneschal, and he mounted, and took his shield, and departed from them swiftly. No sooner had he come to the meadow when a knight, right well armed, came forth from the castle, and rode on to the field. They smote each other on the shields so that they fell to the ground, and springing up lightly they fell to with their sharp swords; right dourly they pressed on each other, and smote sounding blows on the helms. He of the castle struck wrathfully at Kay, and the seneschal caught the blow, and the knight smote again on the boss of the shield so that the blade brake, notwithstanding he had so pressed on the seneschal that he made him by force to pass the boundary of the four olives, which stood at the corners of the field.
There the knight stayed him, and turned him back to his steed which was in the midst of the meadow, and remounted, and took Kay’s horse, for he saw well ‘twas a good steed, and led it away, none gain-saying him. Kay went his way back, and knew not that he had been deceived, but deemed he had won the day, though in sooth he was vanquished.
Then the knights spake unto the king, “Sire, let us go to meet Kay, and make merry over him; ‘twill be rare sport to mislead him!" The king was right willing, so they went in company towards the seneschal.
The king went ahead, as one wise and courteous, and spake gently, “ Kay, hast thou come from far? Has mischance befallen thee?” and Kay, who was ever sharp and ready of tongue, answered, “Sire, let me be; ye have naught wherewith to reproach me. I have vanquished one of their knights, but he hath taken my horse; the field is mine, for I have conquered it; and he who hath ridden hence hath the worse!” All held their peace, and laughed not.
“Sir, are ye in need of help?“ quoth Tor fis Ares. And then the others spake; “Seneschal, are ye wounded?” “Methinks ye limp somewhat,” quoth Sir Gawain.
“Kay, hand me your shield,” said Sir Ywain. “Right valiantly have ye approved yourself, marvellous were the blows I saw ye deal! God be thanked that ye did thus well!” With that he took the shield, and hung it around his own neck. Each joined in the sport as best he might, and Kay was right well aware thereof.
Then he spake to Sir Ywain, “Sir, I will grant ye to-morrow so much as I have won to-day, the joust and the field shall ye have in exchange for my shield which ye bear. Ye can do well, an ye will, and I were fain to repay ye in such wise as I may."
Those who heard might not refrain their mirth, and in merry mood they led him to the tent, and disarmed him, and the lord of Lys said, “Sir Kay, ye passed the boundary of the four olive trees, and he who first passes betwixt them is held for vanquished.” And Kay answered, “Maybe, Sir, by the faith lowe the King of Heaven an ye know the differ ‘twixt entry and exit tis more than I may do; sure, ‘tis all one, for there where one cometh in the other goeth out!”
Suddenly there rang forth from the castle and the minster a peal so great and glad that ye might scarce hear God thunder, and the king asked wherefore the bells rang thus.
Then Bran de Lis spake, “I will tell ye, Sire: ‘tis Saturday today, and now that noon be past they within will do naught against ye, come what may. In this land is the Mother of God more honoured than elsewhere in Christendom; know of a truth that ye shall presently see knights and ladies, burgesses and other folk, clad in their best, betake them to the minster; they go to hear Vespers, and do honour to Our Lady. Thus it is from noon on Saturday till Tierce on Monday, when Mass is sung, and the bells chimed throughout the burg, then they get them to their tasks again; the minstrels and other folk. I tell ye without fail till then shall no joust be ridden; to-morrow, an ye will, ye may go forth to hunt in the forest.”
The king praised the custom much, and spent the night with a light heart until the morn, when he arose, and with his knights betook him to the woods, and all day long the forest rang to the sound of the huntsman’s horn.
Now it chanced that Sir Gawain beheld a great stag, which two of his hounds had severed from the rest of the herd, and he followed hard after the chase till that the quarry was pulled down in a clearing. There he slew and quartered it, and gave their portion to the dogs, but would take with him naught save the back and sides. So he rode on fairly, and without annoy, the hounds running ahead, till, as he went his way, he heard nigh at hand a hawk cry loudly. Then he turned him quickly towards the sound, and came on to a wide and dusky path, and followed it speedily to a dwelling, the fairest he had found in any land wherein he had sojourned.
‘Twas set in the midst of a clearing, and no wish or thought of man might devise aught that was lacking unto it. There was a fair hail and a strong tower, ‘twas set round about with palisades, and there was a good drawbridge over the moat, which was wide enow, and full of running water. At the entry of the bridge was a pine-tree, and beneath, on a fair carpet, sat a knight; never had ye seen one so tall, or so proud of bearing.
Sir Gawain rode straight and fast to him, but he stirred no whit for his coming, but sat still, frowning and thoughtful. Sir Gawain marvelled at his stature, and spake very courteously, “Sir, God save ye!" But the stranger answered nor loud nor low, having no mind for speech. Thrice Sir Gawain greeted him, but he answered not, and the good knight stayed his steed full before him, but he made no semblance of seeing him.
Quoth Sir Gawain, “Ha, God, who hath made man with Thine own hand, wherefore didst Thou make this man so fair if he be deaf and dumb? So tall is he,and so well fashioned he is like unto a giant. An I had a comrade with me I would lead him hence, even unto the king; methinks he would thank me well, for he would look on him as a marvel!" And he bethought him that he would even bear the knight hence with him on his steed. Thus he laid his venison beneath a tree, and bent him downwards from his saddlebow, and took the other by the shoulders, and raised him a little.
Then the knight clapped hand to his side, but his sword was lacking, and he cried, “Who may ye be? It lacked but little and I had slain ye with my fist, since ye have snatched me from death; had I my sword here ‘twere red with your blood! Get ye hence, vassal, and leave me to my death.”
Then he sat him again under the tree, and fell a-musing, even as when Sir Gawain found him. And that good knight, without more ado, reloaded his venison and turned him back, leaving the knight sad and sorrowful.
Scarce had Sir Gawain ridden half a league when he saw coming towards him a maiden, fair and courteous, on a great Norman palfrey; nor king nor count had been better horsed. The bridle, the harness, the trappings of her steed were beyond price, nor might I tell ye how richly the maiden was clad. Her vesture was of cloth of gold, the buttons of Moorish work, wrought in silk with golden pendants. The lady smote her steed oft and again, and rode past Sir Gawain with never a word of greeting.
Sir Gawain marvelled much at her haste, and that she had failed to speak with him, and he turned him about, and rode after, crying “Stay a little, Lady !“ but she answered not, but made the more haste.
Then Sir Gawain overtook her, and rode alongside, saying,” Lady, stay, and tell me whither ye be bound.” Then she made answer, “Sir, for God’s sake, hinder me not, for an ye do I tell ye of a truth I shall have slain the best and the fairest knight in any castle of Christendom!"
“What,” quoth Sir Gawain, “have ye slain him with your own hands?”
“I, sir? God forbid, but I madecovenant with him yesterday that I would be with him ere noon, and now have I failed of my compact. He awaiteth me at a tower near by, mine own true love, the best knight in the world.”
Certes, Lady, he is yet alive, of that am I true witness; ‘twas but now he well nigh dealt me a buffet with his fist! Make not such haste!”
“Fair sir, are ye sure and certain?”
“Yea, Lady, but he was sore bemused.”
“Then know of a truth, Sir Knight, that he may no longer be alive, and I may not tarry.” With that she struck her steed and rode off apace. Sir Gawain gazed after her, and it vexed him much that he had not asked more concerning the knight, whence he came, his land and his name, but knew neither beginning nor end of his story.
Thus he went on his way, and came again to the pavilion where his companions awaited him, sore perplexed at his delay, and were right joyful when they beheld him. Then straightway he told them the adventure, even as it had chanced, and when the lord of Lys heard it he said unto the King, “Sire, the knight is the Rich Soudoier, he who maintaineth all this goodly following and seignorie; and so much doth he love the maiden whom he calleth his lady and his love, that all men say he will die an he win her not.”
As he spake they beheld a great cloud of dust arise toward the forest, and there rode past so great a company of folk there cannot have been less than twenty thousand ; there was left in the city not a soul who might well stir thence who went not forth of right good will toward the forest. ‘Twas nigh unto nightfall ere all had entered therein.
Then the king asked whither all this folk were bound, and Bran de Lis answered, “Sire, they go to meet their lord, and to do him honour, for never before this hath he led his lady hither. I tell ye of a truth that each one of his barons will dub three new knights, to horour and pleasure him, for so have they sworn, and for that doth he owe them right good will.”
What more may I tell ye? All night they held great feast through the city,. with many lights in castle, tower, and hall. They blazed upon the walls, the trees, and round about the meadows, till that the great burg seemed all aflame, and all night long they heard the sound of song and loud rejoicing.
Then the king betook him to rest, and at dawn Sir Ywain prayed as gift the joust which Kay had given unto him. The king made no gainsaying, but after meat they armed their comrade well and fittingly, and he mounted quickly, and took shield and lance; nor did he long await a foe, for there rode forth from the castle one well armed, on a strong and swift steed, and spurred upon Sir Ywain. He smote him so that his lance brake, and Sir Ywain smote him again with such force that he bare him to earth ere that his lance failed. Then he rode upon him with unsheathed sword, and by weight of his steed bare him to earth when he had fain arisen, and trod him underfoot so hardly that, whether he would or no, he must needs yield. Then Sir Ywain took his pledge, and led him without more ado to the pavilion, and delivered him to the king.
Such was the day’s gain, but know that ‘twas one of the new made knights, not of the mesnie of the Rich Soudoier. And when he was disarmed the king spake unto him in the hearing of all his men, and said, “Fair friend, whence do ye come, and of what land may ye be?”
Then he answered, “ Sire, I am of Ireland, and son to the Count Brangelis, and ever have I served the lady of the Rich Soudoier. She bade me carve before her, and my lord for love of her yestermorn made me knight, and as guerdon for my service they granted me the joust ; yet, but for my lady who prayed for me this grace, they had not given it to me, since within the walls there be many a good man and true who was sore vexed thereat.”
“Friend,” quoth Sir Gawain, “know ye, perchance, the which of them shall joust on the morrow?”
“Certes, Sir, I should know right well; us the lord of the castle himself who shall be first on the field, and I will tell ye how I know this. ‘Tis the custom therein that each morn the maidens mount the walls, and she who first beholds the armed knight take the field, ‘tis her knight who shall ride forth against him. Yestereven my lady assembled all the maidens and prayed of them that they would let her alone mount the wall—thus shall the joust be as I tell ye.”
Straightway Sir Gawain sprang to his feet, and went before the king, and demanded the joust, but Arthur forbade him saying, “Fair nephew, ye shall not go to-morrow, but later, ere it be my turn, ‘tis for us twain to ride the last jousts; ye shall have it when all save I have proved themselves.”
“Sire, Sire, I shall be sore shamed an ye deny me this gift; never more shall I be joyful, nor will I ride joust in this land, but will get me hence alone!"
Quoth the king, “An it be thus ye may have it.” And Sir Gawain answered, “I thank ye, Sire.”
Thus they passed the night, and at daybreak, when the dew lay thick upon the grass, Sir Gawain arose, and Sir Ywain with him. Know that the morning was so fine, so fair and clear, as if ‘twere made to be gazed on. Then he who was no coward washed face and hands and feet in the dew, and gat him back to the pavilion. There they brought him a wadded vest, of purple, bordered with samite, and he donned it, and fastened on his armlets deftly.
And ere he was fully armed the king his uncle had risen, and they gat them to Mass, and when Mass was said, to meat. When they had well dined they bade bring thither the armour, and Sir Gawain sat him on a rich carpet, spread on the ground in the midst of the tent, and there was never a knight but stood around uncovered, till that he had armed him at his leisure with all that pertaineth to assault and defence, so that he had naught to do save but to set forth.
Then they led unto him his steed, all covered with a rich trapping, and he mounted, and sat thereon, so goodly to look upon that never might ye hear speak of a fairer knight. Excalibur, his good sword, did King Arthur hand to him, and he girt it round him as he sat on the saddle, lightly, so that it vexed him not. Then he took shield and lance, and departed from them, making great speed for the meadow.
Now the adventure telleth that he had been there but short space when from the master tower of the castle a horn was sounded long and clear, so that for a league around the earth quivered by reason of the echo of the blast, and Sir Bran de Lis spake to the king, “Sire, in short space shall ye see the Rich Soudoier come forth armed on his steed, for they sound not the horn thus save for his arming. I know well by the long blast that he laceth on his spurs.”
Then the horn sounded a second time, and he said, “By my faith, now hath he donned and laced his greaves.”
For a long space there was silence, and again the horn rang forth so loudly that all the castle re-echoed, and the lord of Lys said, “Sire, now hath he donned his hauberk and laced his helm.” With that the horn sounded once again, “Now, Sire, he is mounted, and the horn will be blown no more to-day.”
This had the good knight told them truly, for the burg was all astir he who bare lordship therein rode proudly down from the castle, and after him so many of his folk that they of the pavilion heard the sound of their tread, though they might not behold them. Even to the gate they bare him company, and as he issued forth the king’s men beheld him covered with a silken robe, even to his spurs, his banner in his hand. Then they saw a great crowd mount to the battlements to watch the combat of the twain ; the walls were covered even to the gateways, so that twas a marvel to behold.
Thus the lord of the castle came proudly to the meadow where Sir Gawain awaited him, and when he saw him he gripped his shield tightly, and made ready for the onslaught. Then they laid their lances in rest, and shook forth their blazons, and smote their spurs into their steeds; nor did the joust fail, for they came together with such force of steed and shield and body that, an they would or no, both came to the ground in mid meadow and the good steeds fell over them. But the twain were full of valour, and arose up lightly, and drew their swords, and ran boldly on each other. Then might ye behold a dour combat, and a sight for many folk, for with great wrath they dealt each other mighty blows, so that all who beheld were astonied, and the king was in sore dread for his nephew, and they of the castle for their lord.
From either side many a prayer went up to Heaven that their champion might return safe and whole. And the twain spared not themselves, but each with shining blade smote the other, so that their strength waned apace. For know that that day there was so great a heat that never since hath the like been known, and that heat vexed and weakened them sore.
Now know ye of a certain truth that my lord Sir Gawain waxed ever in strength, doubling his force from midnight, and even till noon was past and the day waned did his strength endure, but then he somewhat weakened till ‘twas midnight again. This I tell ye of a truth. ‘twas early morn that they fought thus in the meadow, and greatly did this gift aid him, and great evil it wrought to the Rich Soudoier. Neither had conquered aught on the other till it waxed high noon. If the one dealt mighty blows the other knew right well how to return them with wrath and vigour; ‘twas hard to say the which were the better, and all marvelled much that neither was as yet or slain or put to the worse.
‘Twas the Soudoier who first gave ground; by reason of the over great heat so sore a thirst seized him that he might no longer endure the heavy blows, and well nigh fell to the earth. When Sir Gawain felt his foe thus weakening he pressed him the more, till that he staggered on his feet, and Sir Gawain ran on him with such force that both fell to the ground. But the king’s nephew sprang to his feet lightly and cried, “Vassal, yield ye prisoner ere I slay ye!” but his foe was so dazed that for a space he might speak no word.
When he gat breath and speech he sighed forth, “Ah, God, who will slay me? Since she be dead I care naught for my life.”
Sir Gawain wondered much what the words might mean, and he shook him by the vizor, and when he saw that he took no heed he spake again, “Sir Knight, yield to me!" And he sighed, “Suddenly was she slain who was fairest in the world; I loved her with a passing great love!”
When Sir Gawain saw that he would answer none otherwise, conjure him as he might, he cut the laces of his helmet, and saw that he lay with his eyes closed as one in a swoon; by reason of the great heat and his sore thirst he had lost all colour, and was senseless. Sir Gawain was vexed in that he might not win from him speech, neither by word nor by blow, yet was he loth to slay him; nor would he leave him lying; for he thought an he slew him he might lose all he would gain by his victory, and should he get him back to the pavilion to seek aid to bear his prisoner hence, on his return he would surely find him gone. Thus was he much perplexed in mind. Then he doffed his helm, and sat him down beside the knight, sheathing Excalibur, and taking the sword of his foe. In a short space the Soudoier came again to himself, and seeing him sit thus, asked of him his name. Then he answered straightway, and when the other knew ‘twas Gawain, he said, “Sir, now know I for a certainty that ye be the best knight in the world.” Then he held his peace, and spake no further, and Sir Gawain looked upon him, and said, “Fair Sir Knight, bear me no ill will for aught ye may have heard me say, but come with me, an ye will, to yonder pavilion, and we will take your pledge.”
Then the Rich Soudoier answered, “I have a lady I love more than my life, and if she die then must I needs die too, so soon as I hear tell thereof. I pray ye, sir, for God’s sake, for love’s sake, for gentleness, for courtesy, save me my love that she die not, by covenant that, whether for right or for wrong, no man of the Castle Orguellous shall henceforth be against ye. Fair sir, an ye will do for me that which I now pray, I will pledge my faith to do all the king’s will, nor shall there be therein man of arms whom I will not make swear the same. But an if my lady knew thereof, as God be my witness, she would die straightway, for never would she believe that ye had conquered me; ‘tis truth I tell ye! Now of your courtesy, Sir Knight, I pray of ye this great service, that ye come back with me to the castle, that ye there do me honour, and kneeling to my lady declare ye her prisoner; an ye will thus make feint and say I have vanquished ye in fair field, then shall ye save my life, and that of my most sweet lady, and if ye will not do thus, then slay me here and now!”
Then that gentle knight, Sir Gawain, remembered him of how he had found him aforetime in the forest beneath the tower, and how the maiden who rode to keep tryst feared for his life, and he knew that he loved his lady with so great a love that he would die an she knew him to be shamed, and he thought within himself twas over much cruelty to slay so good a knight, and he answered. “Fair sir, certes will I go with ye to the Castle Orguellous, and there yield me captive, nor will I forbear for any doubt or misgiving. It might well turn to my shame, but even if I should die thereby, I would not, Sir Knight, that ye or your lady be wronged or aggrieved.”
Then the knight spake frankly, “Sir, I am your liege man all the days of my life.” And he gave him his hand, and sware straitly. that he would do all the king’s pleasure. And when Sir Gawain had taken his oath, straightway the two mounted their steeds and betook them to the Castle Orguellous.
Well nigh did King Arthur die of wrath when he saw his nephew ride hence, and he cried, “Now am I indeed bereft if my nephew be led therein; now will they hold him prisoner! Think ye, my lords, that he be of a truth captive?”
“Yea, Sire, of a faith, so it seemeth, yet are we greatly in marvel thereat, for we know certainly that he had vanquished and overthrown his adversary. Never so great an ill hap hath befallen any knight, for ere the knight of the castle rose we said surely that he was conquered!"
The king had no heart to hearken longer, but betook him straightway to his bed; cause enow had he for woe, or so it seemed him
But they of the castle sped joyously to meet their lord, whom they thought to have lost, and ran to bear the tidings to the lady, who was well nigh distraught with grief, and anger, and they told her that her lord came again. “And he leadeth by the bridle, as one conquered, Sir Gawain!"
Even at these words came the knights unto the gateway, and dismounted, and Sir Gawain speedily yielded him prisoner to the maiden, saying, “Lady, take here my sword, and know of a proven truth that this good knight, your true lover, bath vanquished me by force of arms.”
Never since the hour ye were born did ye see such rejoicing as the maiden made, and the Rich Soudoier spake, saying, “Ride ye to my castle of Bouvies with five hundred knights, and make ready the chambers. I will be with ye to-morrow, and would fain sojourn there; we will have but few folk with us. Marvel not at this, for to-day have I been over much wearied.”
And the maiden answered, “Ye have well said ; the castle is very fair and pleasant.” With that she was mounted, and the knights set forth to convoy her to the castle. And know ye why he sent her hence? ‘Twas that he might tell his men the truth of what had passed.
When the lady had departed ‘twas made known throughout the castle how the matter had in very truth fallen out, and the lord bade release the son of Do, and the butler, and they did his bidding. But when Sir Gawain saw Gifiet he ran towards him, and kissed him more than a hundred times, and made marvellous great joy of him. Then they sat them down on a bench, side by side, and held converse together. And when the twain who had fought were disarmed they brought for the four very fair robes of rich and royal cloth; never had ye seen such. Then the Soudoier bade saddle four steeds, and they mounted, and rode thus adown the street.
Thus they four alone took their way to the pavilion, and the king’s men beheld them, even as they came forth from the castle gateway, and Sir Ywain cried, “By my faith, and no lie, I see four men come hither, and all four be knights, so it seemeth me!” And Kay answered, “I see them too."
And when they came so near to the pavilion that their faces might be seen, Sir Ywain ran joyfully to the king. “Sire, Sire, an God help me, here cometh Sir Gawain, and with him three others, all hand in hand there be the son of Do, and Sir Lucains, and for the fourth a great knight!"
The king answered no word, but made semblance as if he heard not, and rose not from his couch, save that he raised himself somewhat higher thereon.
In a little space he spake to his knights, “Be not over dismayed, but make as fair a countenance as ye may; methinks they come thither to bid us return with them to prison, but I go not hence ere that I be vanquished, or have freed my comrades.” And all answered, “Well spoken, Sire!”
But now had the four come so nigh that they had dismounted, and come before the king; never was seen such rejoicing as his Lord made of Giflet, but now was he in sore distress, and, lo! his sorrow was turned to joy! Why should I lie to ye? The Rich Soudoier told him how Sir Gawain had conquered him, and how, by his courtesy, he had given life to him and to his fair lady; and the king hearkened to the tale right willingly.
Now will I leave speaking of them, but this much will I say, that well might the lord of the castle love and cherish him who first overcame him by arms and then did him so great honour as to yield him to his lady so that his life might thereby be saved. So here will I hold my peace, no, nor speak further, save to tell ye that now was the king lord alike of the Castle Orguellous and the lands around ; never in all his days did he make so great it conquest, as Bleheris doth witness to us.
Sir Gawain at the Grail Castle. ed. and trans. Jessie L. Weston. London: D. Nutt, 1903.
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