The Song Of Arthur - Chapter VII
by S. Fowler Wright
Return to Chapter VI
The Three Damsels.
The knights held northward through a forest wild,
Seeking the events of lonely paths apart,
And filled the long hours of the vacant way
With talk of Ewaine's mother (fiend-beguiled
He called her, hating all her murderous art),
Her loves misplaced and sudden hates astray,
Inconstant, the desired of yesterday
The murdered tomorrow: "Naught is sure;
Yet all so deadly is her changing part
That even Merlin feared her. Only they,
The dusk's lake-maidens, cross her path secure."
So came they where a moss-grown hold and grey
Girt by the wide peace of the woodland lay.
Yet little peace their eyes beheld, for there
A group of damsels well-beseen and fair
Halted beneath an oak's out-thrusting bough,
Wherefrom there hung, with naught to guard it now,
A pale shield, showing from a silver cloud
The pleading white hands. The damsels there
With ribald jestures and shrill cries and loud,
Mocked and defiled it. By the gate were set
Two knights who not, to hinder nor to let,
Regarded what they did.
Sir Gawain said:
"Oh, ladies, in good sooth, ye do not well
On that device to spit, for who may tell
How near its owner rides? Not far afield
Knight-errant wanders from his blazoned shield."
"Sirs," they replied, "the tale is lightly told.
A knight of Ireland hath in yonder hold
Fixed his resort, and this his shield ye see.
Noble is he and bold as knight may be.
Yet neither loves he damsels, nor requites
The love they offer with desired delights.
Therefore we render for despite and scorn
Scorn and despite."
To which Gawain replied:
"Ladies, ye may be with no cause aggrieved.
Knowing the custom of knights, I dare to say
His thoughts were with some damsel far away
Through whose dear favour are his deeds achieved.
But if he wronged ye, might ye not delay
Till ye shall shortly meet him face to face?
For here be knights your quarrel to embrace,
And charge his treason in a knightly way.
But say what name he bears?"
"He boast to spring
From Ireland's best, and Ireland's heirless king
His only equal: to his sister wed."
"Then do I know him well," Sir Ewaine said.
"A noble, but overbearing knight.
I saw him where no other spear could ride
A course that might avail to break his pride,
Before the castle of the Dame de Vance.
Seven chosen knights went down before his lance,
Which yet endured unbroken. Wroth were they;
And she, as ever, in soft mood to pay
The favour of that knight whose fame was high.
But no regard he gave to sword or sigh.
Careless of wrath or love he rode away."
"Well," said Sir Gawain, "whosoe'er he be,
Such slighting of his shield I will not see
As one consenting."
With that word they rode
Some space apart, and turned the event to view,
For even then the Irish knight they knew
Returning. Huge of height and girth was he,
On a huge charger mounted. At the sight
The damsels scattered with shrill screams. They ran
Toward the gateway, which the foremost gained.
But others stumbled in their headlong flight,
Falling upon the path.
Was one that rode
Forward from those who watched beside the gate.
Between the damsels and the knight he reined.
"Lo," said he, "better shall our spears debate
Than such ignoble chase thy fame defray."
To which Sir Marhaus in much wrath replied:
"Beshrew me but that jest thy life shall pay.
I chase not any. In themselves there lay
The impulse of fear or flight. Defend ye now."
In equal wrath they clashed. But equal else
In naught were they; nor did his fate allow
That knight one moment to that fate regret
For Marhaus, with a strong unbending spear,
Smote fairly on the helm, and cast him clear
Of saddle and dead, neck-broken down he fell
His comrade of the fate advanced to break
As vain a spear, and death alike to take
As empty as brief words its tale can tell.
Then rode he to the shield defaced, and there
Viewed it, and changed it for his own, and said:
"Now for her sake who gave it will I bear
No other." Turning, careless of the dead,
And still in wrath for that foul slight espied,
Where the young princes twain had reined aside.
Abrupt he spake: "Why stand and watch ye thus?"
Said Ewaine: "We be knights adventurous
From Arthur's court."
"Then if ye list to stand,
Soon shall be your adventures here at hand."
At that he wheeled for vantage, while Ewaine
Took counsel: "Here be two his might hath slain.
Should our unequal spears adventure forth
- No cause of quarrel ours - to stint his wrath?"
"Yea," said Gawain, "however feared his name,
That must we; for the choice is strife or shame."
And called Sir Marhaus: "This dishonoured shield
Ye left unrescued will ye face, or yield?"
Said Ewaine: "Let the weaker strive the first.
Be thine to venge me if I fare the worst."
Boldly he rode against that knight, and well
Drove the straight spear, but overborne he fell,
Hurt in the side, and rose not; and Gawain,
Seeing him so hardly flung and likely slain,
Charged instant. Hard resolve and wrath alight
Matched him so nearly to the Irish knight
That almost equal was the course they ran.
Hard in that shattering shock the dint he dealt,
But harder dint he dured, and foundering felt
His steed beneath him fail; but ere it fell
His feet he loosed, and came to ground so well
That little vantage had been lost thereby.
Whereat the Irish knight, in haste to bring
Another combat to the end he would,
Rode at him with his heavy sword aswing.
But cried Sir Gawain: "Knight, avoid thy steed,
For I am loth, as else of cause I could,
Its noble life to cease."
Sir Marhaus answered. "Use of courtesy
Is thine to teach. The fault was mine."
To earth he came, and that insulted shield
Before him dressed, and hard they clashed, for each
The other's causeless ire would tame or teach,
And neither might prevail, nor either yield.
Now of Sir Gawain's might the tale was told
That, as the sun to noon advanced, would he
Gain larger strength than its expense would be.
So that in confidence his strokes were bold,
And Marhaus wondered, but full manfully
His part sustained, and so they fought until
The sun went downward, and Sir Gawain felt
Declining vigour, and the blows he dealt
Were fainter than before.
This loss of might
Sir Marhaus knew, and backward stept. "Sir knight,"
Courteously he spake, "fair gentle knight, I see
Thy sword is slow to rise, and as for me,
I think not ever in my wanderings yet
A harder challenge on my shield I met.
We have not quarrels of such kind to try
That to the utterance we should strive or die."
So spake he from the magnanimity
Which oft would rule him when his pride was fed.
"They are such generous words," Sir Gawain said,
"As rather I should speak," and with one will
They kissed, and comrades of one mind became.
For largely were their thoughts and deeds the same,
Born of like passions, constant to fulfil
The dictates of their prides, though shrewder far
Was Gawain ever than the Irish knight.
Now to Sir Marhaus' lodging rode the three,
Conversing as they went. "It marvel's me,"
Lord Gawain said, "that any knight should be
Against all ladies, as it seems you are."
And Marhaus answered: "If for truth ye take
Those turret-damsels spite, ye widely err.
This shield I cherish for a lady's sake,
And love and homage are my gifts to her.
Iseult, the daughter of the Irish queen,
My sister's child, in earliest youth is she.
Lovelier with every year that youth hath been,
And lovelier yet with every spring shall be.
But for most ladies, as yourselves ye know,
To take their bondage is the overthrow
Of strength and freedom. Be they frail to me,
Gladly I take their gifts, and let them go."
Sir Marhaus' lodging was a priory, hid
In the deep woods, which few would find, for low
The beeches closed around it, and forbid
Sight of its walls to those who failed to know
Its single entrance. Near no road it stood;
And none, except who sought, would likely go
Its narrow path along.
Though small and bare
Sir Gawain judged it, yet their welcome there
Was past reproach, and ladies' gentle hands
Unlaced their helms, and loosed their hauberk bands;
And searched their wounds and salved, for all the three
Some hurts had suffered.
When Sir Marhaus knew
His comrades' nearness to King Arthur's throne,
There was no kindness that he would not do.
But when at last, well-eased, they rode anew,
He would not longer that they rode alone.
"For I can guide you to a land," he said,
"Where never any knight of hardihed
Has wandered through the dark, nor yet by day,
But has he found adventures strange and new
With marvels offering both to dure and do."
"There," said they, "surely would we seek to be.
And we will thank thee for thy company."
Seven days through forest silences they thrid,
And reached at length that fair enchanted vale
Where never any riding knight may fail
To find such tests its trackless depths amid
As shall his worth approve, or else reveal
What else he might from all but God conceal.
Some men its forest leagues Arroi will call:
But more the Land Where Strange Adventures Fall.
Deep lay the vale before them, boulder-strewn,
And through its stones a breaking streamlet ran,
That from the vale's fair side its course began,
Leaving the cliff's dark face in leaping light,
And near its source, in mantling ivies bright,
Three damsels sate, who dawn and dusk and noon
Might well have symboled, or the seasons three
That have cold winter for their destiny.
For one there was of three-score winters old
With her white hair bound in a brace of gold;
And one who seemed of half her age, and showed
A kindred circlet round her brows, that glowed
Of gold alike; and one had known no more
Than fifteen years of spring, and white she wore
A crest of roses in her night of hair.
Fair greeting these, Sir Gawain asked from where
They came, and why they sate that fount beside.
Whereto they answered: "We be here to teach
Ventures to wandering knights; and since ye ride
Three errant knights, and we be damsels three,
Needs must ye choose a damsel, each for each.
Then will we lead to where three highways meet,
And there divide. And when twelve months complete
Their changing moons, we here shall meet again,
If all our freedoms and our lives remain.
Sir Marhaus answered: "Lightly where ye lead
We follow, and may God our choosing speed.
Which will ye?"
And Ewaine answered: "Since I be
The youngest and the weakliest of the three,
Mine be the eldest, who will most have been
In various dangers past, and most have seen,
And best can counsel when the need is near."
"Yet doth such wisdom in the words appear,
Small need is thine the fault of youth to fear,"
Sir Marhaus answered. (If he mocked or no
Were hard to guess.) "The next must have my voice
As meetest mine."
With each the damsel of his choice for guide
They rode to where the triple ways divide,
And there they kissed and parted. Northward lay
The path that Gawain chose; the western way
Ewaine desired; and left, and well content
With that fair road, Sir Marhaus southward went.
Gay rode Sir Gawain, with his damsel's arms
Around his belt, and to his lips was blown
The careless challenge of her scented hair.
Little of guidance hers, till came they where
A noble manor, garthed and moated fair,
And ivied green to hide the colder stone,
Stood in a verdant valley, green and wide,
Edged by a gentle stream: its further side
Ascending to a wood so dense and black
That any who rode alone might turn him back
From entering its close glades and brakes of fear.
But on the soft stream's hither side was all
Quiet in the golden light of evenfall.
Here an old knight, whose days of strife were through,
Dwelt in a settled peace, that naught he knew
In emulous youth; and gracious ways and clear,
That varied only with the varying year,
Where habit to his life's serene decline.
An open gate, and open hearth, had he
For wanderers of exalt or mean degree.
Gawain he welcomed, and that damsel, who
It may be doubted that before he knew.
And when Sir Gawain asked: "In lands around
May hazards for an idle lance be found?"
He answered: "Seek ye for that lance of thine
Some perilous quest? Ye need not wander far.
For in the woods enough of ventures are
To keep ye active till the leaves descend.
Wait but the morn."
And with the morn he led,
Fording the stream, to where the greenwood shade
Parted to form a narrow rising glade,
Where on the loftier boughs the sunlight played.
Here in the past days revering hands had raised
A cross o'er some dead knight dead lips had praised,
Dead hearts had loved; but all was nameless now.
As the new leaves upon the changeful bough,
So the new time the old had pushed away.
Half broken was the cross, and round it lay
The mossy fragments that the storm had strewn.
"Wait here," the old knight said. "With reach of noon,
When to the sward the downward sun can smite
Your eyes will fall upon the seemliest knight
That in ten years these sombre woods have seen."
So it was. As the high down-striking sun
Its lordship of the narrow glade had won,
And the light changed it to a livelier green,
A knight came riding from the denser screen
In royal gold and green most fairly clad;
And on his helm the circling gold he had
Which kings may wear. No anvil of Logre
His arms had known, but by their outland style
It seemed that some remote sea-sundered isle
His home had been. Upon his painted shield
There was the symbol of a lonely star
In dexter chief, and 'neath its dexter bar
A seamew skimmed the sea's wind-furrowed field.
Comely and strong and young and bold was he,
And in all aspects as a knight should be,
And Gawain when he saw, full courteously
He greeted: "Now may God your worship send."
"Gramercy," said Sir Gawain, "and to thee
The like I would."
"My worship," said the knight,
"Is naught to wish. For as the day the night,
So doth dispraise its swift reverse supply."
And as he spake, a glance of such wild woe
He gave, that vext was Gawain's thought to know
By what strange evil was his life mischanced.
Then from the further side of that fair glade
Ten knights outrode and ranged in line, as though
Arrayed for settled strife or tourney-show,
As one by one from out their line advanced
And jousted singly with the single knight.
But little praise was theirs, for one by one
He cast them to the sward, till all were done.
Yet rose they boldly from their evil plight,
And him, who did not from his horse alight
Nor bare his sword, they bound in shameful sort
Beneath the belly of the steed, and so
They led him captive through the closing trees.
"Here," said Sir Gawain, "is a wondrous sight,
That not by force they bound the victor knight.
For came they all as one, I count with ease
He might have foiled them."
"Wonder here and woe,"
His damsel answered, "in one scale are flung.
Yet didst thou seek with neither hand nor tongue
To find their meaning, or their course prevent."
"Fair one, it seemed that of his own intent
His capture came."
Her storm-blue eyes alight
With scorn the caution of his words to know,
And those black tresses wreathed in roses white
Tossed in disdain, she answered: "Thought ye so?
To strike more swiftly, and to think the less,
Were no disfavour to thy knightliness."
And further words had been, but while they spake
A knight, all armed except he helmless came,
Rode outward on one side, and him to meet
A dwarf, like armed, except the helm, complete,
Came from the further woods, and called aloud:
"Where is the lady who should meet us here?"
And at the word a lady from the brake
Came forth on foot, of aspect fair and proud,
Who stood between them, but to neither near.
"Mine is she," said the knight.
"It shall not be
Except ye win her," said the dwarf.
Were any lady willing mate for thee?"
"That shall our swords decide."
Their swords they drew,
But ere the strife to utmost fury grew,
The dwarf cried: "Halt. Is here a fairer way.
Behold that watchful knight the cross beside.
Let him between us in good faith decide."
The knight agreed. Should any choice prefer
That foul dwarf as the better mate for her,
Unless by violence forced? And so the three
Approached Sir Gawain.
"Shall my judgement be
By all accepted?"
"Yea, good faith," they said.
"Then judge I that the lady's choice be free."
Thereat the knight laughed out. For who would choose
A wide-mouthed dwarf to gain, and lightlier lose
A comely knight as he? The dwarf was still.
And she, from such strange strife who found her will,
With unrevealing eyes a moment stood,
As held in thought, and then, in hasteless mood,
But yet not slowly, to the dwarf she drew.
"Come, let us go," she said, and laughing he
Embraced her, while the knight dejectedly
Turned to his steed, and mourning rode away.
But in high triumph, as his gain he knew,
The dwarf's good singing rang the woodland through.
"Here be strange sights enough," Sir Gawain said,
"Though naught be mine to do, and naught to dread."
But, as he spake, and to his words' rebuke,
Two knights came riding by, and when they saw
His falconed shield, as with one voice they cried:
"Thou knight of Arthur, guard thee."
One to avoid and one to fairly meet,
The further knight far backward in the shaw
Asprawl he cast; and with no lessening heat
Against the second rode, and overthrew.
But this strong knight arose, and sword he drew,
And Gawain's sword he met full actually.
A bold knight and of stubborn strength was he.
Now while they strove the other knight arose,
With little thought his comrade's fate to view.
But to Sir Gawain's damsel close he drew,
Who stirred not as that near approach she knew,
Thinking, it may be guessed, that flight were vain.
Softly between the clanging blows she heard,
Smooth as a stoneless stream, the tempting word:
"Because they are not friends, we are not foes?
While the dogs bicker, shall the bone remain?"
"How sweetly to a bone you liken me."
"The flesh is sweetest by the bone," said he.
"Minded I am to change to even thee,
In whom, God wot, a better heart may be."
"So should you know him. Tet, as God is true,
Meseems he standeth in most hard ado."
"Hard may he be," she answered "hard and bold.
Yet is his bartering mood too cautious-cold
For love or homage at his feet to lie."
"But neither cautious, nor too cold am I."
"That may be tried," she laughed, and laughing fled,
But not so fast that all pursuit were vain.
And Gawain marked them go: "Behold," he said,
"I need not slay thee nor myself be slain
For any difference ours! But while we strive
My damsel leaves me."
"Well, our strife may wait,"
The knight replied, "but even now too late
You gaze toward the boughs that blind their flight."
"Ah, well!" Sir Gawain said, "were vain to gyve
A damsel restive to her own delight.
Let go who will, are better yet to find;
And those who to ourselves are most inclined,
Are by that choice the most delectable.
So, be we comrades, laugh, and let them go."
And the knight answered: "If ye count it so.
I may content me at a cost as light.
And at my lodging, for the nearing night,
Will be the welcome of an open gate."
"Gramercy," said Sir Gawain, and the knight
Mounted his waiting steed, and led the way.
Now, as they rode, Sir Gawain raised debate
Of whom that strong and dolorous knight should be,
Who in his sight had done such boisterous play,
Casting ten to earth. "It showed to me
As though he might have overruled them all,
To each in turn he gave so hard a fall.
Yet at the last, with most indignity,
He suffered, meek as never maid should be,
Their rude assault."
"Is here a tale to tell,"
Sir Caradoc answered, (that the name he gave),
"To pass belief; but I can vouch it well,
Who all have seen. This knight, Sir Pelleas named,
King of fair isles, is comely, young and brave,
And skilled in arms beyond a light compare.
His love should any damsel seek unshamed:
His throne should any find it pride to share.
"But one there was on whom his favour fell
Beyond her fair desert, for all could see
Her prideful ways beyond her just degree,
And many thousands are more fair than she.
Ettard her name. Her castle, warded well,
Lies in these woods. But in the peopled lands,
Five hidden leagues beyond, a city stands
Where first they met.
"It chanced, while Pelleas there
Endured her scorn, its lord a tourney blew,
A three days' tourney, with a princely prize:
A sword, gold-hilted, of a marvellous blade,
And sheath enscrolled with charms, the strength to aid
Of who should wield it; and a circlet set
With rubies, golden for a queen to wear,
Which might the victor give to grace the hair
Of whom his fancy chose as fairest fair,
Of all the fair ones at the tourney met.
"Were many knights of valiant purpose there,
Mighty in arms to take the tourney test,
But of them all Sir Pelleas rode the best.
Joust after joust, unshaken seat he held:
Three score in those three days his spear excelled:
First was he in all men's mouths, to pass compare.
"His was the prize, and to Ettard he gave
The golden crown, while many lovelier there
Remained unhonoured. Oft such chance must be
When love, which sees what only love can see,
Exalts its choice; but one so placed may well
Observe it was not she did all excel,
But he who chose her, and in all she may
That honour with her loyal faith repay.
"But not Ettard was thus. The crown she took.
Yet gave who gave it not one generous look,
But open scorn, and said for all to heed
That he was naught to her, and naught should be
Though flatly in the dust he fell to plead.
"So to her castle she came again, and he,
Like a stoned dog that whines but will not flee,
Came after, and lodged anear, and round her gate
He hoved, and she was wroth, and forth she sent
Ten knights to drive him. Vain their strength they spent.
For all to earth he threw. But when they rose,
So was he to false love infatuate,
He would not profit from their overthrow,
Nor would he wisely take her word and go,
But rather would their shackled captive be,
So that he might renewed his torment know.
"Thus, week by week, a sight that glade hath seen
Such as it may be in no land hath been
Since the first trees in Eden's woods were green.
And week by week with fresh offence they sport
To shame him, while she laughs contempt, and he
Doth, not the next, as of good right he ought,
Slay those from whom he takes indignity."
"It is too deep a shame," Sir Gawain said.
"Tomorrow morn I will Sir Pelleas seek.
It may be that our wits are not too weak
Some sharp device to change its course to see."
To this resolve he held, and ere the light
Of the next noon that narrow glade had lit,
He gave his friendship to the woeful knight,
Who idle on a mossy bank did sit,
Waiting the chance that should his woe remit,
Though he were treated with the most despite
That fed the malice of her ruthless wit.
Glad was he of his evil plight to tell,
"Which naught can aid, and naught can change," he said,
"Nor any counsel cease; for wit ye well
Blithe were my heart her bonded slave to be,
If I were blessed thereby her face to see.
But leiver were I that she left me dead,
Than cast me thus beyond her walls to be."
To which Sir Gawain answered: "Long ye may
Such scorn endure, the while ye tamely take.
If light thy worth thyself account, shall she
More highly hold it, or for ruth remit
To mock thy meekness? Nay, ye all mistake
That damsels are. But let me deal, and I
To gain thine end a likelier wile shall try.
For there will ride I with thine arms, and say
In wayside strife I slew thee. All too late
Shall she, that paltered with thy faith ingrate,
Her loss believe; and when, with following day,
I here return, in better heart shalt thou
The truth reveal, and she, more wise than now,
Accord thee gladly. Not such knights as we
Do mateless damsels long in mockery flee."
And Pelleas answered: "That ye speak may be.
But her ye know not. Yet so bare am I
Of help or hope that, though thy ruse misfall,
What further grief were mine? When lost is all,
The desperate chance as cautioned use we try."
His shield he gave, and, "wait ye here the day:
The morn shall bring me." Gawain spake, and rode
Forth from the woods; and where red sunset glowed
On that low vale, her moated towers he knew;
And parleyed at the gate, and gave his name,
And showed the shield of whom in strife he slew
The earlier day, and entrance gained, and told
Ettard his tale, but she dark brows and bold
Bent on him the while, and not for all he said -
A piteous tale of knight untimely dead,
By thrust misfortuned in fair tilt, who died
Desiring only that his end she knew -
Cast down her glance, nor feigned his loss to rue
Nor sank the lifting of the strong white chin,
And laughter thrilled the heavy throat, wherein
A pulse beat ever. "Is one joy less," she said,
"That in such strife my three weeks' jest is dead.
Beshrew ye, Gawain, for his loss." And he
Marvelled that aught were here should Pelleas see
More worth than those a baser lust should hire,
Chance-chosen, damsels of a night's desire.
But well she welcomed, and his bold regard
Received, that not her own gay glance and hard
Abashed, and courteous words she found to sue
His longer halt at her poor towers, where few
Of noble name came ever; and he, content,
Accorded; nor allowed his heart's relent
For whom he friendship vowed, and aid.
That while to Pelleas in those woods await
The slow days wearied, swifter hours they knew,
Who found that passed too soon the lengthened day
In sport, and feast, and song, and jest, and play.
And when the third swift noon to eve had sped,
Beneath the walls was plenteous banquet spread,
In the wide gard the moat engirthed, and there
They feasted long in summer ease, and so
Vouchsafed Ettard her softer mien to show,
That well Sir Gawain judged he need but dare,
And his pledged purpose fail, his will to do.
'Behold,' he thought, 'a highway fruit is hung
For all of reach to take it Reach have I;
And that I take I leave; and, reach would he,
A seven-day hence the branch will bend as free.
What wrong is here? Who lets his chance go by,
The meanlier in forgotten dust shall lie,
Where all men end. But I, while life is strong,
Take that which falls, and leave of right or wrong,
A cause for those of weaker needs to try.'
And as the wine passed, and the feast was spent,
Toward her in like mood to hers he bent.
"O powers of friendship, and of wine!" Said he,
"That cause us speak the grief that else should be
Our secret woe. I may not as I would
Thy cheer receive, for all my purpose yearns
To one, the loveliest known, who likely spurns
Love's signal seen, or blindly casts it by."
She answered: "Blame is hers. Thy fame so high
Thyself so goodly in thy strength and race,
There is no damsel but should grant her grace
To meet thy will."
"If so ye deem," he said,
"That meetly may she yield, nor think it sin,
Wilt thou thine aid, her utter love to win,
Plight in sure faith?"
"My body's faith," said she,
"I pledge to help thee in good heart."
"I pray thee hold thy faith, for needs that now
I tell thee whom she be, and since that thou
Art whom I seek, effectual aid from thee
Must vanquish doubt, and prove love's mastery
And surely heaven had made thy beauty less
The anhungered hearts of lovers to distress,
If to desire it made thee merciless."
Then laughed Ettard: "I would not die forsworn.
With sins to choose, the sweeter sin for me.
Is naught for thee I would not lightlier do,
Than aught for that poor fool ye wisely slew."
But while in that slow summer dawn she lay
In Gawain's arms, a spoiled and willing prey,
Came Pelleas from the woods at last aware
Of shadowed treason in their long delay.
He crossed the moat, where no man stirred to stay,
Nor watch was kept, and through the garth his way
Unhindered held, where three pavilions gay
Were reared, and witless that his sword was bare,
Entered; and in the first her knights of guard
Sleeping, and in the next her damsels lay,
And in the last were Gawain and Ettard.
And Pelleas looked, and there long while he stood
Unmotioned; save his sight had seen, not he
Had that of her he loved believed, nor so
That knight renowned of his great order should
Betray so basely all he vowed. The woe
That later to the doubt of life should be,
He knew not yet; but wonder waked, and grew
To hate and loathing, and the lust to slay
Leapt in him thereat, and, as in sleep, he knew
The keen blade forward in his hand, and thought,
The while death chafed the thirsting point's delay:
'Is here no praise a sleeping knight to slay.'
And turned in doubt, and passed some space away,
And twice returned, and looked, and doubting yet,
Against her throat the eager point he set,
And then withheld, and thought them how they lay
Wine-flushed and easeless, and returned again,
And laid the sword across their throats, and said:
"Wake ye to woe, more quiet rest the dead."
And turned, and left them in their sleep unslain.
Sir Pelleas to his own pavilions came,
Where knights and squires his loyal service did,
Who sorrowed that their king so strange a shame
Should take, and, but his straitest word forbid,
Had done no less than honour bade them do
And taught Ettard for very life to sue.
To these with no conceal the truth he told,
As one who cast the dice of life away,
And rising from a game he would not play
Left on the board the stakes he would not hold.
"What I have is yours to part," he said,
"In rightful guerdon for your service done,
Now that of worldly goods my use is none,
Who think but on the couch of grief to lie
Until relenting Heaven shall let me die."
And casting off his arms, an easeless bed
He sought, despairful of more life, and they
Heard in like grief, but found no words to say,
Yet neither spoiled his goods, nor rode away.
Wholly they served him whom they could not aid,
And still in loyal faith his words obeyed,
That even yet Ettard they did not slay.
So while the moons of summer rose and set
He lay as those who tire of life may lie,
Too faint to rise, and yet too strong to die;
Till came a day when one who served him yet
Rode in those woods, and Nimue there he met,
Who asked him: "Why, while summer laughed aloud,
He gloomed as one beneath the winter's cloud?"
Then all he told her that had been, and how
"Sir Pelleas lies as one no clarion now
Shall rouse: no kiss to quickened pulses wake."
And Nimue answered: "Nay, you all mistake,
Remain to guard him well, and wait and see.
The road is other than the end shall be."
So when he weak from that long sickness lay,
And August in the deep woods waned; to where
His tent, back looped to find the cooler air
Owned the fierce noon, beside the leafy way
Came Nimue, riding in no haste, and lit,
And entered where he slept, and looked, and laid
Her weird upon him, to bide in sleep unstayed
While thence she passed, and brought Ettard; and they
To that pavilion came, and entered it
Even as he waked; and he beheld again,
With sight made clear in those slow weeks of pain,
Beside the elusive fairness of the fey
Ettard's hard beauty, in that noon of day
That naught reserved; and love to loathing grew,
Remembering where he last had seen, but she
His sword with differing thoughts recalled, that lay
Across her, waking.
That desire she knew,
Called by love's name, from Gawain turned, and he
That late she scorned, she longed; and doubting naught
That still, for all, her milder mood he sought,
"O Pelleas, rise ye in good heart," she said,
"Forget the wrongs I wrought. The night is fled.
Love must I now for thy proved faith to pay.
"Yea," said he, "when by night full noon shall be,
Or when clear stream from out a separate sea
Return, well may I, for any prayer ye say,
Regard thee more. But till that these things be,
Avoid me, traitress, lest my heart forget
Its patience, and my heel, too hardly set,
Deform thy mouth beneath it, ere the note
Of pleading, through the blood that choke thy throat,
Cease, where the sword-point enter."
With the word
He turned him from their sight, and she that heard,
Shrank from the scorn of whom to scorn before
Her mirth had made, and in desire the more
For that repulse, to Nimue spake, "Canst thou,
Who brought me here, resolve if help may be,
This hate to break, or I, reject as now,
Still plead his grace, and yet no mercy see,
Who well such scorn to lose were leiver dead?
Is all for naught?"
"Yea, so God deals," she said.
But when, to waste in that reversed regret,
Ettard had to her towers returned, he lay
More lone than erst, who might not more forget
That other; mortal seen, or dream, or fey,
He knew not surely; from the ways of men
Too likely passed; till that long heat gave way
To storm and discord of rent skies; but when
Rose, after rain and night's chill winds, a morn
Lovelier than Naiad from the reedy stream
Still dewed, and wringing her drenched hair, again,
Fairer than thought's recall, or dream, she came
To Pelleas, waking.
"Long ye still," she said,
"To gain her, faithless, whose unsightly scorn
Contemned thee, captive to her menials' shame?
Or wilt thou freedom of new days?"
"From blindness past the better light I see.
I thank God there for."
"Nay," she said, "thank me."
And o'er his couch she bent her glorious head,
And held him with her dreaming eyes, and said:
"Oh deep and cool, dim-vista'd, dream-endowed,
The faery path beyond the sunset cloud
Where I would lead thee willing. Love may teach
To love, the faery sight: the faery speech
Love may interpret. Past that light that lies
For ever changeless in the changeful skies
Of sunset, through the enchanted dark, where they
Who neither troth withhold, nor trust betray,
Find access to the nameless land, may be
Thy path, its joys in life to prove."
"O more than ransomed life, thou dawn to me,
O love that bound me in this freedom new,
O love that found me false to hold me true,
O mortal or immortal, maid or fey,
To mortal knight who thus beholds thy face
The way thou takest is the only way
Henceforth for ever." Here his raised embrace
Reached her, whereat she avoided.
"Nay," she said,
"Not I thy leman for the passing day.
Before thee is the further path to tread,
The faery speech to learn, the sight to see,
E'er love may rede if any love may be
Between us ever."
"Be thine to guide," said he,
"Thy steps I take, who only will thy willst.
Thy hands the cup that holds, to save or spill,
The dying life I had."
Long months they rode
While summer dulled its green: while autumn; glowed:
While every covert glade unshaded showed:
Till came again the covering green, and then
Far wandering in a land unknown of men,
Deep downward from the sunny skies, and through
A world of shadowy green, and misty blue
Of hyacinth dells, the guiding faery tried
A pathway borne through branches brushed aside,
Where more at last she gave for all denied
Often in the ways of men
They came thereafter. Him for guard she gave
The fence of faery lance and faery glaive
To hold him through the ringing lists unthrown,
A gift of sure avail to those alone
In most reverse of steadfast heart and strong.
Therewith she charged him ever, for right or wrong,
For thirst of honour, or for damsel's plea,
That never in strife or tilt his lance should he
Against Sir Lancelot venture forth (for he,
Though mortal, in immortal arms had lain,
In childhood days, when Claudas' hate had been
His sure death else, in mortal ways to flee;
And shadows of the world that walks unseen
Were round him ever), lest her spells in vain
She wove to guard him, and his life were slain.
South went Sir Marhaus. Long a woodland way
In pleasured ease he rode. The lessening day
To shelter turned his thought, and then remind
That not through all the empty leagues behind
Had cleared space shown; nor sound of axe on oak,
Nor call of kine, the brooding silence broke.
"Lo," said he to the damsel, "naught is here
Of sheltering roof. Is only darkness near,
With neither warmth of wine, nor easeful bed?"
"Bethink thee that the summer dark," she said,
"Is no way hostile to thy steed or thee.
Worse than the nightwind's chill embrace may be
In lighted halls, and where the feast is spread.
Yet if such rest you would, I will not nay:
But we must reach it by the darkest way."
Then turned she from the clearer path to take
Such narrow passage as the wild deer make
Through bracken that their antlers find too high.
Here closed the night before the night was nigh.
Above, the meeting branches hid the sky.
Ahead she rode, with little space for two,
As denser yet the wood's encounter grew.
"Is no man live in all this wild," he said.
"Beshrew thy guidance."
"See the light ahead."
Soothly she spake, for as the woods withdrew
On either hand, a starlit glade they knew,
And at the further side of that fair scene,
Where the black shadows closed their arms anew,
A trembling light, for any star too low,
Moved for a moment, and the space between
With quickened hooves they crossed. A place they found
From thickets tamed, and midst the trampled ground
Were swinepens, and a swineherd's lowly cot.
"Now here be lodging for our need, God wot,
My thanks to ask."
"To thank or thank me not
Is thine to choose, but those who thanks delay
May count more truly of the debt they pay."
He answered naught to that. He hailed a man
Who from his bolted wicket leaned to see
Who these night-wanderers of the woods might be,
His lantern loftier now. "Hast harbour near
For those who pay?"
"No harbour meet is here
For those who ride in steel, and prankt as thou."
"But worn are we, and all we ask thee now
Is fodder for our steeds, and straw to lie
In clean covert of an empty sty."
"I have no swinepen that is clean and clear,
Nor such presumption would my lord allow."
"Thy lord? Then wilt thou lead to where he dwells?"
"So must I if thou wilt, for such would be
My lord's desire alike. But yet for thee
The choice remains. The worst thy heart foretells
May fall too short."
"Plain words I guerdon."
I have said too much, and more the lash would pay."
"We will not turn us for a tale unsaid,
And more these black and pathless woods to tread
Our steeds are little fit; and we no less
Are faint through hunger and through weariness.
Dost say thy lord will grant no harbourage
To those wayfaring in such need?"
Will ever open to a wanderer's cry."
"Then time we lose in overlong debate.
Lead onward thou."
No more the swineherd said.
But through the blackness of the woods he led,
Sure of his steps as though the night were day.
So came they clear of those deep glades, and saw
A level land where shallow waters spread,
Far silvered by a rising moon, or black
Where sucking marshes lay. And midst of these
A glimmering causeway thrust its single track
To where a sombre castle, dimly grey,
Squat like a toad, thick-walled and moated lay.
The porter hailed them as they reached the gate:
"Who cometh here unasked, so loud and late?"
The swineherd answered: "Here be wanderers twain
Lost in the woods, a knight and damsel they,
Who seek but harbour till the rise of day."
Then screeched a bolt, and rang a falling chain.
In the huge gate there showed a slender slit,
Which would not those with steeds or arms admit,
But to his lord the swineherd went therethrough
And told his tale.
The lord of that wide hold
With crackling laughter heard: "Such grace is due
To wanderers all. The wind perchance is cold.
Let warmth of welcome that defect supply.
Here shall they freely eat and warmly lie,
Though morn repent the price at which they buy."
Then the dark courtyard waked to life. The light
Of torches tossed. The huge gates backward swung.
And Marhaus entering left behind the night
To find fair welcome, greeting knights among.
The wearied steeds to groom and stall were led.
The knight and damsel both were chambered well.
And well accomplished was the banquet spread
To which they came content that all befell
As most they would.
But in his hall await
Its lord required Sir Marhaus, ere they sate,
His name to show. Of mean aspect was he,
So formed, so featured, that his high degree,
Even by long use, could give no dignity;
Nor length of years availed. Behind him stood
Six taller sons, whose thews at least were good,
Though knightly in their gaits they could not be.
"Sir knight," he said, "I would thy name, and who
You serve, and whence you ride, and where you dwell,
And what in these woods you seek to do."
And Marhaus, stirred in his tempestuous pride,
Gave curt reply: "In Arthur's land I ride,
As all men may. An errant knight am I.
It little were thy gain my name to know.
If grudged be hostel here, we can but go."
"Nay, but I ask not vainly. Cause have I.
And in thine answer may thy safety lie."
"My safety? That may in myself abide.
But seldom need a knight of Ireland hide
The name he bears. Sir Marhaus. Near akin
To Ireland's king am I, and hence allied
To Arthur's throne and part."
"I can but grieve,"
Answered that lord, "that lightly I believe
That truth is said. For only Arthur's foe
Is free to enter here, and free to go,
Since of the thirteen sons that once I knew
Gawain's fierce wrath left less than one for two.
Now I am sworn myself the scale to weigh.
Here are the six who live, and surely they
At morn shall slay thee, or thyself shalt slay
Myself and them."
Sir Marhaus thought: 'But few
Such odds may dure, but yet if Gawain slew
The half, were no great bout to dare ado
With these, the remnant of the evil crew.
Yet would I know with whom I thus contend,'
And asked: "I would thy name?"
"My name let lie.
Duke of the Southern Marshes called am I."
"It is a name much known as Arthur's foe."
"It is a name thyself shall closelier know."
"Well, with the morn be that God will to be."
Thus to this friendless welcome entered he,
And had good tendence, and the damsel too,
Till morning came, and with the morning light
Came word for that hard strife to make prepare.
At that he rose, and when the mass was through
Broke fast, and armed, and every brace aright
His damsel's care assured, and down the stair
He went to find his saddled steed await
In the wide court-yard, and alike were there
The seven whose malice sought his death to be.
Lawless as hounds unleashed they charged, and he
Sate with raised lance the while that, two by two,
They brake their own upon him, and when the last
Snapt through the stave, his own he lowered, and fast
Charged on them lanceless in such sort as cast
The old knight to earth among his sons; and drew
Swift sword to strive, and in the mood to slay.
Next to his point the duke, head-injured, lay,
While his cast sons regained their feet, and they,
As wary dogs a stronger bear who bait,
To left and right with naked swords await
Closed on him. At which the fallen cried in fear:
"I charge ye for my life ye come not near,
So that Sir Marhaus on his part forebear
My life to let."
Sir Marhaus answered: "Yea,
They well may yield, for well their fates may share
Thine own. Most shortly shouldst thou lead the way."
Thereat, as faint of heart for more ado,
Or filial-urged a father's life to sue,
They knelt, and on their cross-hilt swords they swore
Against the king's high peace to work no more.
But soothly at the feast of Pentecost
At Arthur's feet those seven swords to lay;
And gain more honour thus than thus they lost.
"Why, when the better road prefers the lake,
Turn we abrupt a mountain path to take?"
"I lead thee where I may the most provide
To match thy valour, or to feed thy pride."
So to the north they turned, and so they came
After two days to where De Vance's dame
Had called a tourney, with a prize so great
- A heavy circlet of fine gold, wherein
Red rubies glowed - that such a prize to win
Knights of known prowess and large estate
Had scorned not to endure long journeying
From distant lands; and those of nearer name,
Glittering in arms, a jostling concourse came,
Baron, and earl, and captain; prince and king.
Of these Sir Marhaus proved so far the best
That forty fallen knights his strength confest,
And with much worship, and the crowd's acclaim,
They hailed him victor. Here some days he stayed,
Feted and feasted by the dame who made
That splendid tourney with no more intent
Than some high knight proved greatest to procure,
Not as guest only, but for paramour.
Ever she sought the noblest knights to know,
Ever when all was gained she let them go.
Wealth and high birth and youth and loveliness
She found a market-price that much could buy.
Ever she sought new lords in wantonness,
Lay with them once, and then no more would lie.
Sir Marhaus sought no more and took no less,
His heart as lustful and his pride as high.
So with the circlet on his helm to show
His valour's height, and how bebruised and low
His foes should fall, his damsel's guidance led
Far south and west, a seven day's ride, until
Beneath the shadow of a Cornish hill,
A bare grey hold, that o'er a desolate land
Looked southward to a wild sea-beaten strand,
They entered, and were met with welcome fair,
Though service mean, and meagre banquet there
Told that its youthful lord no wealth controlled,
And freely at the meal its course was told.
For said Sir Fergus: "Though these lands I own
By right of birth, but little gain I win,
While there is one so fierce who dwells herein,
So fearful in his strength contemptuous,
So prone to plunder, or to cast away
All that exceeds the hunger of the day,
Whom I should meet in knightly wise, but I
Should do the land no aid, but vainly die,
So greatly stronger of his hands is he."
To which Sir Marhaus answered: "Yet to me
He may not seem beyond a likely fall;
And ride I seeking where such needs may call.
Where lies his strength? In skill the lance to guide?
Or wind and limb a tireless sword to sway?"
"The lance? No lance he lifts. He doth not ride.
No horse would bear him. Oft the long June day
He sits or wanders in these woods, as might
A wolf of empty maw. An axe perchance,
Or iron club within his reach may be.
But little need of anvilled steel hath he,
For should you meet him, and his hands were bare,
A great limb from some mighty oak to tear
Would be his likely choice. One sweeping blow
May break a good steed's limbs, and bring him low,
And thus at mercy cast a mounted foe.
Mercy I said? He doth not mercy know.
Tallard his name, and devil-hearted he."
"On foot, it seemeth, must our meeting be."
At dawn, well guided by Earl Fergus' men,
Sir Marhaus came to where the monster's den
Close hollies screened, and he, that screen before,
Sprawled on the turf. A mace beside him lay,
Set with long spikes, and matted hair and gore
Proclaimed the slaughter of a previous prey.
Agile despite his bulk, his feet he gained,
As Marhaus' bold approach his glance perceived.
No parley his, nor fair pretence he feigned,
But in both hands the ponderous mace he heaved,
And bellowing like a beast he forward ran.
Too near a fatal end that strife began,
For Marhaus, loth a forward foot to yield,
Met the club's menace with a lifted shield,
That leapt to fragments at the blows descent.
Onward its sweeping course unhindered went
To shatter a sideward rock. Sir Marhaus thought:
'To stand is here to die,' and warier now,
Avoided, in his haste he knew not how,
Reiterate blows, until the giant's pursuit
Outreached its aim. For with one stroke's descent,
Which for an ending of that strife he meant,
He stumbled to his knee, and swift to seize
The instant chance, Sir Marhaus turned and smote.
While on his hand he leaned. The monster saw
His arm fall severed to the sand, cut through
Both muscle and bone. As some half-slaughtered bull
Bursts the strong toils, a blood-drenched course he ran
Down the slope sands, the while the sword he knew
Thrusting behind, his stumbling legs to stay.
Ahead the refuge of the water lay
In which beyond the common height of man
He waded, past pursuit. But those who saw
Hard chased and maimed their feared and hated foe,
Earl Fergus' servants, (as by natural law
All creatures so abused their chance who know
Will seize it) gathering on the water's verge,
Heaved rocks upon him. Soon he might not show
His head for one short breath above the surge
Except it bled beneath a further blow;
Until it rose no longer. Smooth and bright
The long wave rippled where he sank from sight.
Then those dark hollies Marhaus pierced to where,
Between sheer rocks some ancient thunder split
The giant made his fear-defended lair.
Ladies and beaten knights were captive there,
Whom mercy's had not been the thought to spare,
But servile for his monstrous use were they.
These did Sir Marhaus to the light release,
And found much plunder in that lair that lay,
Which Fergus would not take, but more increase,
For more he said was his the debt to pay
To half his lands. But Marhaus answered: "Nay,
For wealth is here beyond my need."
Content were both; and Marhaus there remained
In honoured care. For that first-taken blow
Had bruised him inly, and the months were slow
Before, with loaded spoils and strength regained,
To meet his comrades at that woodland well
He rode, their deeds to hear, and his to tell.
Now turn we to Ewaine. That damsel old
Led the young knight toward the sunset's gold,
That dark against the flaming west they rode
Toward the marshes of North Gales. Next eve
- The shadow still behind, the light before -
They came through meadow-scented vales to where
A king had called high tournament; and there
His strength he tried and proved, and gained the meed:
A fair ger-falcon, and a white war-steed
Trapped all in gold.
The damsel's guidance showed
Many a strange chance along a mountain road,
Through which with honour he came. A tower at last,
Between a slope-wood and a long lake shore
- Where the wide reeds their glamorous hosts upcast
In outcry for their outraged haunts, that far
Through the dim west, beneath its single star,
Circled, and filled it with their wailed protest -
Awaiting shelter showed.
Their course, anear
The lapping margin of the shadowy mere
Toward a dark entrance led. No welcome here,
Nor shine of torch, nor glint of warder's spear,
The lake repaid; but deepening darkness hid
The silent hold.
No less that damsel led
Boldly thereto, and when their names were said
To the grudged parley at the grating slit,
Entrance was theirs to lighted hall, and kind
The welcome that its lady gave.
As one," she said, "who is but fugitive
On her own land. By greater strength oppressed
Than mine could be." And at the meal she told
How she, the Lady of the Rock, was held
Nigh prisoned in that strong tower; for brethren two
Of the Red Hold - Sir Edward and Sir Hugh -
Accounted perilous knights, had robbed her due.
"Here in this narrow space contained I dwell,
Who own the land from lake to height," she said;
"And those who are not bought, and have not fled,
Who yet for mean reward my order do,
Are now so weak, and have become so few,
That in contempt of my futility,
As sunk beneath regard, they let me be."
In more assertion of her cause, she showed
The writings of the land, and bonds ignored
By those strong pilferers of her right, that so
Ewaine believed, and answered: "That you tell
Forbids debate. Your words and proofs too well
Expose the wrong to doubt it. Rest content.
They shall restore thee all, or much repent.
"Yet first in peace we ask, for wrath and wrong
Work wrong and wrath too often. If we fail,
Then doubt not shall the sword for right prevail.
For sworn in Arthur's name to cleanse the land
Are numerous knights of better strength than I;
And I may yet suffice thee."
"Prince," she said
"Thy noble gentleness fulfils report;
And if I may not as of right I ought,
Shall God requite thee."
Fair the words he sent
Requiring those two lords, in Arthur's name
To meet him there, to prove or loose their claim,
Ere the next dawn its morning light had spent.
Thereat they came those castle gates before,
A hundred knights behind them. Jest and mirth
Stirred the gay line their fluttering pencels led,
As though his mother's spells had called to birth
Fiend-powers too strong for all his hardihed
To lightly rule or lay. But he, the more
For that bold rout resolved, forthright had thought
To ride to meet them, till that dame besought
More trustless caution.
"Heed them naught," she said,
"Neither fair words nor any oaths they swear.
Such men are ever what at first they were,
And that by force they take, by guile they stay."
So from the wall Sir Ewaine held debate,
Requiring of a right they could not show.
But with light scorn they answered: "Right or no,
That which we have we little doubt to hold,
Maugre the most she may. But we will yet
Accept thy battle, if thy heart be bold
Our terms to take. We are not single here,
But partnered are we, and must so be met.
And if two spears against a single spear
You think not past your valour's competence,
Then will we meet thee on this witnessed bond,
That, if we win, she cease her loud offence,
Which vexes all the land with vain pretence."
"Now in God's quarrel who shall doubt or die?"
Ewaine made answer. "In good heart will I
Against ye twain contest it."
"Let there be
Sufficient bond," they said, "that wholly she
Her fretful claim will loose, except that so,
In clear fair field, on level ground and bare,
All rescue barred, ourselves and only thou
This cause shall prove; and if so much ye dare,
Let morn disclose."
He answered: "All ye say
I grant; and on this strife our right shall rest.
Return ye here with rising dawn of day,
And he shall yield who must, and hold who may."
Light-hearted rose Ewaine, as only they
May rise erect to face a threatening day
Who think not that God's part is theirs, nor fear
He shall not surely in His part appear.
So in good counsel to himself he said:
"God's knights may fall, but not discomfited.
I have not Marhaus' might, nor Gawain's skill
With lance and sword alike, but yet my will
May be no less than theirs, and God with me
More potent than a second sword should be."
Thus mooded, to the wide and barriered space
Without the gates, which was their meeting-place
For doubt of treason should he venture more,
He issued, well deviced. For all he wore
Had both his hostess' and his damsel's care
Dressed at all points the best of steel to bear.
Against him there Sir Edward and Sir Hugh
Their heavy spears declined. A single two
They charged upon him, but how oft is true
That which is good to think is vain to do.
The jostling shoulders of their steeds but ill
Their aims allowed. Their lances broke. But still
Ewaine his seat sustained, the while that he,
Whose eyes were only for his rightward foe,
Sir Edward smote and cast. To like degree
He compassed next his brother's overthrow.
But lightly both they rose, and swords they drew.
Here was a hardier test of one to two.
But in good heart Ewaine, with swift avoid,
Leapt from his steed before they closed, and so
His shield he raised, and all his art employed
To take their blades upon it, and more designed
His own defence, than instant chance to find
His foes to wound. The watching crowd that thronged
The barrier rails, and those of friendlier will
The castle wall who lined, were fixed and still
In that suspense, which long endured, for he
Defended with fine sleights, and patiently
To wait his chance, and when it came, so well
The instant seized that low Sir Edward fell
Down-smitten on the helm, so shrewd a blow
That good steel yielded, and the skull below
Was cloven. At the dead knight's side, Sir Hugh
Still faced Ewaine, but now his confidence
Had left him largely. With no more pretence
Of equal valour, back a stumbling way
Before Ewaine's hard-hammering harvestry
He faltered to his knees, and cast aside
His vain down-beaten sword: "I yield," he cried.
"Have mercy thou!"
To which, in gentleness
Answered Ewaine: He stretched a hand to raise
The kneeling knight: "You will the wrong redress
Which stirred this strife; and then for loftier days
At Arthur's court attend, his vows to swear."
So peace was made, and she he fought to spare
With joyous tears embraced him, while Sir Hugh
Wept for the brutish knight her champion slew.
There for long months Ewaine well-tended lay,
For as his heat was past his hurts he knew.
Many and deep and hard to heal were they,
But at the last he rose with strength anew,
As life awakened from its winter sleep,
To face the perils of the lonely way,
And with his damsel rode, the tryst to keep
Where from dark ivies leapt the fountain fair
At which they parted twelve short months before.
Three of the four at punctual time they met,
But Gawain's rose-crowned damsel was not there.
Still with Sir Marhaus in their company
Rode the two cousins by foul ways or fair,
Until a courier met them. Long had he
Sought them with Arthur's message: To repair
Back to the court in honour undeclined
He prayed them: "For you had not left a day
Before the King Urience rose in wrath to say
That, plot Queen Morgan's malice what she may,
His life were pledged for thee."
"That will we gladly, though the king denied
Fair justice, and a loyal friend forbad
The rights which to the lords of Gore belong;
Yet great and bitter was the cause he had,
And at my mother's door the wrong shall lie."
Then for twelve days they rode the wild woods through,
Before ploughed fields and kindly roofs they knew,
And came to Camelot.
There the Irish knight
Was known of some, and for his noble kin
Welcomed of more; and when at Pentecost
Came Pelleas to the court with Nimue,
And full session of the Table showed
Two places vacant (for two knights were lost
In such high ventures as they might not win),
On Marhaus and on Pelleas were bestowed
Those seats left vacant, and the Table's fame
Grew with the years, for still a mightier name
Would fill the space of whom no longer came
From knightly failure, or unkinightly shame.
Yet feuds were there, and jealous hates and mean,
Held in strong leash by Arthur's nobler will.
The death-feud Lot's and Pellinor's sons between
Was latent for the time, but thirsted still
Its lust of waiting vengeance to fulfil.
Though Lamorack's gentler nature half forgot,
There was no changing in the sons of Lot.
And Pelleas now on Gawain looked as one
Whom honour well might slay, and friendship shun.
But Nimue counselled: "Let Lord Gawain be.
What wrong he did was little loss to thee.
His craft in distant days may well restrain
His fiercer brethren to the kingdom's gain.
Save in swift wraths, as when his hounds were slain,
Sagacious even in his hates is he."
End of Chapter VII