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The Story of the Champions of the Round Table
By Howard Pyle
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
How Sir Launcelot Came Forth From the Enchanted Castle of the Lake and Entered Into the World Again, and How King Arthur Made Him Knight.
Of the springtime of long ago.
I know not any time of the year that is more full of joyfulness than the early summer season; for that time the sun is wonderfully lusty and strong, yet not so very hot; that time the trees and shrubs are very full of life and very abundant of shade and yet have not grown dry with the heats and droughts of later days; that time the grass is young and lush and green, so that when you walk athwart the meadow-lands it is as though you walked through a fair billowy lake of magical verdure, sprinkled over with a great multitude of little flowers; that time the roses are everywhere a-bloom, both the white rose and the red, and the eglantine is abundant; that time the nests are brimful of well-fledged nestlings, and the little hearts of the small parent fowls are so exalted with gladness that they sing with all their mights and mains, so that the early daytime is filled full of the sweet jargon and the jubilant medley of their voices. Yea; that is a goodly season of the year, for though, haply, the spirit may not be so hilarious as in the young and golden springtime, yet doth the soul take to itself so great a content in the fulness of the beauty of the world, that the heart is elated with a great and abundant joy that it is not apt to feel at another season.
Now it chanced upon the day before Saint John's day in the fulness of a summer-time such as this, that King Arthur looked forth from his chamber very early in the morning and beheld how exceedingly fair and very lusty was the world out-of-doors—all in the freshness of the young daylight. For the sun had not yet risen, though he was about to rise, and the sky was like to pure gold for brightness; all the grass and leaves and flowers were drenched with sweet and fragrant dew, and the birds were singing so vehemently that the heart of any man could not but rejoice in the fulness of life that lay all around about him.
There were two knights with King Arthur at that time, one was Sir Ewain, the son of Morgana le Fay (and he was King Arthur's nephew), and the other was Sir Ector de Maris, the son of King Ban of Benwick and of Queen Helen—this latter a very noble, youthful knight, and the youngest of all the Knights of the Round Table who were at that time elected. These stood by King Arthur and looked forth out of the window with him and they also took joy with him in the sweetness of the summer season. Unto them, after a while, King Arthur spake, saying: "Messires, meseems this is too fair a day to stay within doors. For, certes, it is a shame that I who am a king should be prisoner within mine own castle, whilst any ploughman may be free of the wold and the green woods and the bright sun and the blue sky and the wind that blows over hill and dale. Now, I too would fain go forth out of doors and enjoy these things; wherefore I ordain that we shall go a-hunting this day and that ye and I shall start before any others of the lords and the ladies that dwell herein are awake. So let us take our horses and our hounds and let us take certain foresters and huntsmen, and let us go forth a-hunting into the green forest; for this day shall be holiday for me and for you and we shall leave care behind us, and for a while we shall disport ourselves in pleasant places."
So they all did as King Arthur bade; they made them each man ready with his own hands, and they bade the huntsmen and the foresters to attend thereupon as the King had ordained. Then they rode forth from the castle and out into the wide world that lay beyond, and it was yet so early in the morning that none of the castle folk were astir to know of their departure.
All that day they hunted in the forest with much joy and with great sport, nor did they turn their faces toward home again until the day was so far spent that the sun had sunk behind the tops of the tall leafy trees. Then, at that time, King Arthur gave command that they should bend their ways toward Camelot once more.
Now this time, being the Eve of Saint John, fairies and those folk who are fay come forth, as is very well known, into the world from which they dwell apart at other times. So when King Arthur and those two knights and their several foresters and huntsmen came to a certain outlying part of the forest, they were suddenly aware of a damsel and a dwarf waiting where the road upon which they were travelling crossed another road, and they perceived, from her very remarkable appearance, that the damsel was very likely Fay. For both she and her dwarf sat each upon a milk-white horse, very strangely still, close to where was a shrine by a hedge of hawthorne; and the damsel was so wonderfully fair of face that it was a marvel to behold her. Moreover, she was clad all in white samite from top to toe and her garments were embroidered with silver; and the trappings and garniture of her horse were of white samite studded with bright silver bosses, wherefore, because of this silver, she glistered with a sudden lustre whensoever she moved a little. When King Arthur and the two knights who were with him drew nigh this damsel, much marvelling at her appearance, she hailed him in a voice that was both high and clear, crying: "Welcome, King Arthur! Welcome, King Arthur! Welcome, King Arthur!" saying three words three times; and "Welcome, Sir Ewain!" "Welcome, Sir Ector de Maris!" addressing each of those lords by his name.
"Damsel," quoth King Arthur, "it is very singular that you should know who we are and that we should not know you. Now, will you not tell us your name and whence you come and whither you go? For of a surety I believe you are Fay."
"Lord," said the damsel, "it matters not who I am, saving that I am of the court of a wonderful lady who is your very good friend. She hath sent me here to meet you and to beseech you to come with me whither I shall lead you, and I shall lead you unto her."
"Damsel," said King Arthur, "I shall be right glad to go with you as you desire me to do. So, if you will lead me to your lady, I and my knights will gladly follow you thitherway to pay our court unto her."
Upon this the damsel waved her hand, and drawing her bridle-rein she led the way, accompanied by the dwarf, and King Arthur and the two knights followed her, and all their party of foresters and huntsmen and hounds and beagles followed them.
By this time the sun had set and the moon had risen very fair and round and as yellow as gold, making a great light above the silent tree-tops. Everything now was embalmed in the twilight, and all the world was enshrouded in the mystery of the midsummer eve. Yet though the sun had gone the light was wonderfully bright, wherefore all that the eye could see stood sharp-cut and very clear to the vision.
So the damsel and the dwarf led the way for somewhat of a distance, though not for so very far, until they came of a sudden to where was an open meadow in the forest, hedged all around with the trees of the woodland. And here the King and his knights were aware of a great bustle of many people, some working very busily in setting up several pavilions of white samite, and others preparing a table as for a feast, and others upon this business and others upon that; and there were various sumpter-mules and pack-horses and palfreys all about, as though belonging to a party of considerable estate.
Then King Arthur and those who were with him beheld that, at some distance away upon the other side of the meadow, there were three people sitting under a crab-apple tree upon a couch especially prepared for them, and they were aware that these people were the chief of all that company.
The first party of the three was a knight of very haughty and noble appearance, clad all in armor as white as silver; and his jupon was white embroidered with silver, and the scabbard of the sword and the sword-belt were white, and his shield hung in the crab-tree above him and that, too, was all white as of silver. This knight still wore his helmet, so that his countenance was not to be seen. The second party of the three was a lady clad all in white raiment. Her face was covered by her wimple so that her countenance also was not to be seen very clearly, but her garments were of wonderful sort, being of white sarcenet embroidered over with silver in the pattern of lily flowers. Also she wore around her breast and throat a chain of shining silver studded with bright and sparkling gems of divers sorts. The third party of the three was a youth of eighteen years, so beautiful of face that it seemed to King Arthur that he had never beheld so noble a being. For his countenance was white and shining, and his hair was as soft as silk and as black as it was possible to be, and curled down upon his shoulders; and his eyes were large and bright and extraordinarily black, and his eyebrows arched so smoothly that if they had been painted they could not have been marked upon his forehead more evenly than they were; and his lips, which pouted a little, though not very much, were as red as coral, and his upper lip was shaded with a soft down of black. Moreover, this youth was clad altogether in white cloth of satin with no ornaments whatsoever saving only a fine chain of shining silver set with opal-stones and emeralds that hung about his neck.
Then when King Arthur approached near enough he perceived by certain signs that the lady was the chiefest of those three, wherefore he paid his court to her especially, saying to her: "Lady, it seems that I have been brought hitherward unto you and that you were aware of my name and estate when you sent for me. Now I should be exceedingly glad if you would enlighten me in the same manner as to yourself."
"Sir," she said, "that I shall be glad to do; for if I have known you aforetime, you have also seen me afore time and have known me as your friend." Therewith the lady lowered the wimple from her face and King Arthur perceived that it was the Lady of the Lake.
Upon this he kneeled down upon one knee and took her hand and set it to his lips. "Lady," quoth he, "I have indeed cause to know you very well, for you have, as you affirm, been a friend to me and to my friends upon many several occasions." Then King Arthur turned to that knight who was with that Lady of the Lake, and he said unto him: "Messire, if I mistake not, I should know you also; and I doubt not, if you will lift the umbril of your helmet, we shall all three know your face." Upon this the knight without more ado lifted his umbril as King Arthur had desired him to do and the three beheld that it was Sir Pellias, the Gentle Knight.
Now it hath already been very fully told about Sir Pellias in the Book of King Arthur, and those of you who read of him therein will remember, no doubt, how sorely he was wounded in a combat with Sir Gawaine, who was his best friend, and of how the Lady of the Lake took him to dwell with her in that wonderful city that was hidden by the appearance as of an enchanted lake, and of how it was Sir Gawaine who last beheld him upon that occasion. But if Sir Gawaine was the dearest friend that Sir Pellias had at that time, then Sir Ewain was only less dear to him. Therefore, when Sir Ewain beheld that the strange knight was Sir Pellias, he wist not what to think for pure wonder; for no mortal eyes had ever beheld Sir Pellias since he had gone into the lake with the Lady of the Lake that time as foretold, and it was not thought that anyone would ever see him again.
So when Sir Ewain beheld that the knight was Sir Pellias he emitted a great cry of joy and ran to him and catched him in his arms, and Sir Pellias forbade him not. For though at most times those who are of Faery do not suffer themselves to be touched by mortal hands, yet, upon the Eve of Saint John's Day, fairies and mortals may commune as though they were of the same flesh and blood. Wherefore Sir Pellias did not forbid Sir Ewain, and they embraced, as one-time brethren-in-arms should embrace. And each kissed the other upon the face, and each made great joy the one over the other. Yea, so great was their joy that all those who stood about were moved with pure happiness at beholding them.
Then Sir Pellias came to King Arthur and kneeled down before him and kissed his hand, as is the bounden duty of every knight unto his lord.
"Ha, Messire," quoth King Arthur, "methought when I beheld this lady, that you would not be very far distant from her." Then he said unto the Lady of the Lake: "Lady, I prithee tell me, who is this fair youth who is with you. For methinks I never beheld before so noble and so beautiful a countenance as his. Maybe you will make us acquainted with him also."
"Lord," said the Lady Nymue, "who he is, and of what quality, shall, I hope, be made manifest in due time; just now I would not wish that he should be known even unto you. But touching him, I may say that it was for his sake that I sent my damsel to meet you at the cross-roads awhile ago. But of that, more anon; for see! the feast is now spread which we have prepared for your entertainment. So let us first eat and drink and make merry together, and then we shall speak further of this matter."
So they all six went and sat down to the table that had been spread for them in the open meadow-land. For the night was very pleasant and warm and a wonderful full moon shone down upon them with a marvellous lustre, and there was a pleasant air, soft and warm, from the forest, and, what with the scores of bright waxen tapers that stood in silver candlesticks upon the table (each taper sparkling as bright as any star), the night was made all illuminate like to some singular mid-day. There was set before them a plenty of divers savory meats and of several excellent wines, some as yellow as gold, and some as red as carbuncle, and they ate and they drank and they made merry in the soft moonlight with talk and laughter. Somewhiles they told Sir Pellias and the lady of all that was toward at court at Camelot; otherwhiles Sir Pellias and the lady told them such marvellous things concerning the land in which they two dwelt that it would be hard to believe that the courts of Heaven could be fairer than the courts of Fairyland whence they had come.
Then, after the feast was ended, the Lady of the Lake said to King Arthur, "Sir, an I have won your favor in any way, there is a certain thing I would ask of you." To the which King Arthur made reply: "Ask it, Lady, and it shall be granted thee, no matter what it may be." "Sir," said the Lady of the Lake, "this is what I would ask of you. I would ask you to look upon this youth who sits beside me. He is so dear to me that I cannot very well make you know how dear he is. I have brought him hither from our dwelling-place for one certain reason; to wit, that you should make him knight. That is the great favor I would ask of you. To this intent I have brought armor and all the appurtenances of knighthood; for he is of such noble lineage that no armor in the world could be too good for him."
"Lady," quoth King Arthur, "I will do what you ask with much pleasure and gladness. But, touching that armor of which you speak, it is my custom to provide anyone whom I make a knight with armor of mine own choosing."
To this the Lady of the Lake smiled very kindly, saying, "Lord, I pray you, let be in this case, for I daresay that the armor which hath been provided for this youth shall be so altogether worthy of your nobility and of his future credit that you will be entirely contented with it." And with that, King Arthur was altogether satisfied.
Excerpted from The Story of the Champions of the Round Table by Howard Pyle. Copyright © 2014 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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