The Song Of Arthur - Chapter X
by S. Fowler Wright
Return to Chapter IX
From some lone hold amid the distant hills
Which yet were dark to Arthur's power, although
Its light they looked to, came a youth who sought
The grace of life which Camelot's knighthood taught.
Strong-thewed, fair fashioned was he, and richly clad,
Save only that a tattered cloak he had.
Cloth was it of gold, but rent so beggarly
That hang it as he would, it hung awry.
With two good squires, and with some train, he came;
Brewnor le Noyre he gave his outland name;
And being lodged, as with good ease he might,
Where hostels thronged to serve a wandering knight,
He entered where in hall King Arthur sate.
"Lord," said he, "knighthood at thy hand I seek,
And proffer service to support thy state."
"Who and whence art thou first," replied the king,
"I needs must know. You ask too great a thing
For casual largesse to a stranger's plea.
But tell me first why that rent cloak you wear.
I well believe its tale of stain and tear
Will show some cause of weight that thus you go."
Thereat his name he told, whereat Sir Kay
Jested: "If Brewnor be his name or no,
He will not need it. With that cloak atrail,
He may be better called Le Cote-Male-Taile,
And none will doubt the truth of whom he be."
No glance gave Brewnor to the japing Kay,
But answered to the king: "The cloak I bear
In heat of summer noon my father wore.
Long had he hunted from the dawn of day.
Faint was he. In the hawthorn shade he lay,
And heedless slept, for none beside was there.
"But evil was the chance. A knight there came
By-riding. One who bore old enmity
For no good cause. And there a deed of shame
God's sunlight saw. It saw his sword descend
On him who slept. This cloak I will not mend
Bears token of each felon stroke he dealt.
I swore by every wound my father felt
That I will wear it till that knight I slay.
If then I mend it, as perchance I may,
It will be record of a mended wrong."
"You swore not basely," said the king, "but still
Why should I knight thee? High requests belong
To knights of mine."
"Good lord," Sir Lamorack said,
"I count him fit a vacant seat to fill,
Even at our Table, to its further fame."
"Belike it were a chance you should not blame
In later days when all his strength ye see,"
Gaheris counselled: "So Sir Lancelot came,
Young, strange, and proofless of his parentage,
And surely proved him of no mean degree."
Then laughed the king: "Now by my crown," said he,
"Not often with one counsel Orkney's voice
Accords de Galis. Where you link your choice
I will not hinder. Here shall Brewnor stay,
And I may knight him on no distant day."
Next morn the king rode forth a hart to chase,
And with him rode such knights of good degree
As then were resting at the court. Perde,
Few of bold heart in idle walls remained!
A captive lion the royal towers contained
It chanced that morn his bars outbroke. He ran
Through scattering menials till he reached the place
Where with her ladies walked the queen; and she,
Either too noble or too feared to flee,
Stood in his path.
Some knights of name were there.
But Brewnor's was the sword that first was bare,
And Brewnor was the first to reach her side.
Leapt the great beast. But in midair he met
Such thrust that, falling, on the sword he bit.
Too deep within his vital parts was it
For rage to move it. Soon did Brewnor set
His heel upon the fallen, to regain
The blade by which the raging beast was slain.
The king returned, and called his court, and there
Gave thanks to Brewnor for the service done:
"Well may I knight thee now, for few but none
Have wrought so much to earn my bounty's share.
All in my hands that lies of fair and good
You need but ask."
The while the words were said,
Before his throne a wandering damsel stood.
Clear-eyed, and like a windy dawn was she,
Wild as the hills, and tameless as the sea.
Lovelier than most, but bold of mien, and less
Formed to invite or yield love's tenderness
Than hardier ways to take; and round her neck,
For such rude burden formed too slight and thin,
Was hanged a darkly blazoned shield that showed
A bleeding sword that drave.
The king required
What boon she sought, and why she bore that load
Unfit, and she, shrill-voiced, as one much ired:
"Long have I ridden, and hard, through dark and day,
Many a lone path, and many a wasted way,
And here at last, my latest hope to know.
"Now shalt thou heed the sombre cause I show.
A deed of arms, none loftier, dark and dread,
This shield belongs, which he who bears must take
Not for sure meed of lands, or lady's sake,
But blindly, as the dubious chance may bring.
"And one there was, and nobler none than he,
Who took it in good hope its end to see;
But on his opening path a knight he met
Who deadliest greeting gave. Too hard beset,
He scarce with life won through, though proved and bold;
And feeling wounds too wide his life to hold,
He called me to him, and charged with weakening speech
That I should bear this shield, desiring each
Of all the worthiest of the knights I met
To take the quest in which his life was let,
Even to thy court, O king."
"Now who will care
Level to life's loss this deadly shield to bear?"
King Arthur cried; but those good knights who heard,
Daunted by Merlin's warning, given old,
Who darkly in veiled speech this quest foretold,
Or by the shield's black menace, spake no word.
Was one knight only from the throng advanced.
Loose from her side he raised the shield, and glanced
At that dark symbol, but perchance he read
Such message there as chilled his hardihed;
And while he paused his name the damsel
Required, and he made answer: "Wit ye well
My name is Kay, the seneschal, wide-away
Known with the best."
She answered: "Great Sir Kay
You may be; yet a better knight than thou
This quest requires." And: "Damsel," answered he,
"I raised this shield to view it, without design
Of foolish riding on this tale of thine."
Then round the ring she swept her scornful sight,
While no man spake, but on the hall there fell
Long silence, broken by the new-made knight,
Sir Brewnor: "If no other counts the quest
More worthy, damsel, then a sword untried
"Fair young knight, what name is thine?"
"Men call me Le Cote Male Taile."
Thy garment holds it. But this quest of mine
Not the coat only, but the flesh shall tear.
Be wise, and leave it."
"Not my coat's repair
I need of thee, nor any hurt I take
Shall ask thy salving."
While they spake, there came
Two squires a charger piled with arms who led,
With lances for his need; and armed was he.
Though said the king: "It is not of my will
This hard venture for thy choice should be."
"Lord," he replied, "it is my natural right,
It coming at the noon that made me knight."
Meantime that damsel turned the court to leave,
As one who would not of her choice receive
The weakling's aid he would. But undeterred
By that cold welcome, on her path he spurred.
Now to Sir Kay a japing thought there came,
Engendered by that damsel's cold rebuff,
To send Sir Dagonet, Arthur's knighted fool,
To joust with Brewnor. Only different shame,
He thought, would follow, whether force enough
To overthrow, or in so light a school
His seat to lose were his.
Went the wise fool, though different thoughts had he,
Chased, challenged, jousted well, though not so well
But in fair course to Brewnor's spear he fell.
With laughing words he rose: "Young knight," he said,
"To cast down folly at thy first essay
Approves thy wisdom. Naught thy victoring way
Should hinder now, whatever nets be spread."
With wave of hand he went, and Brewnor turned
To heed of her whose words his service spurned.
"Lo," said she, "glory at thy feet should bow!
Thy name is joined to Arthur's fool from now.
A cockscomb rampant for thy crest should be.
Fools but with fools contend for mastery."
The while she railed, a noble knight they met,
Larger than he in limbs and girth, but set
On such huge steed as bore with ease his weight.
Whereat that damsel, Maldisaunt, who knew
Sir Bleoberis' hawk-plumage, and the blue
Shield-chevrons, to Sir Brewnor mocked anew:
"Flee while you may, Sir Fool, a knight is nigh
Who soon should leave thee all too faint to fly."
Mocked in such wise, to Brewnor naught remained,
Except to challenge, and alone he gained
Such fall as youth from seasoned use must take.
And wrath thereat to feel the damsel's scorn,
Even as he gained his feet, his sword was drawn
In harder strife his manhood's proof to make.
But Bleoberis, with slow appraising eyes
Viewed him; and with a silent smile, as loth
To stoop his might so low, or sunk in sloth,
Yawned, and passed on. Whereat, in courteous wise
That mockery veiled, the maid his fall condoned,
As fate of one who lacked the wit to flee.
"But safelier will you ride again," said she,
"When wisely those deluding arms are sold."
So with sharp words that hindered amity
Two days they journeyed, till by chance they met
Sir Palomides, and such fall he gave
As Bleoberis dealt before; and he
Alike declined dismounted strife to try.
Thereat she japed with fuller scorn: "Perde!
Knights must be classed of high and low degree.
The least of knighthood and the loftiest knave
A common dish may share. But only I
Am championed by a flinger of fools."
Sir Brewnor answered with the patience due
To such reproaches as his failures brought:
"Say what thou wilt. But little shame or naught
It brings, beneath such famous spear to fall. -
The more, that final strife we did not try."
"Ye did not close in final strife? And why?
They would not grant thee for so lewd a brawl
The grace of their dismounting."
While she spake
There came Sir Modred on their path. To make
A wayside bicker little thought had he.
Unless for danger or cupidity
His lance full seldom in the rest was set.
But Maldisaunt with courteous words he met.
And Brewnor fell behind; and riding thus
They came before the Castle Orgulous,
Which had this custom, that a passing knight
Must either for his name and freedom fight,
Or yield him captive, or, at least despite,
Give horse and harness as his freedom's fee.
Now outward came two knights of bold address,
Of which the foremost at Sir Modred rode.
Sir Modred doubted naught his fall to see,
But proved of strength, or sleight, or fortune less:
Flung backward to the summer dust was he.
Maldisaunt, half in hope, and half in fear,
Beheld Sir Brewnor sink his proofless spear.
Hard in midpath the second knight he met.
The countering chargers reared, and overset
Both knights alike. In such a dust they rose
That neither at first grasp his charger knows:
Remounted, but with change of steeds, are they.
In saddle first, Sir Brewnor swerved aside
With purpose to Sir Modred's aid to ride:
Boldly his victor to the ground he bore.
Then turned he to the knight he faced before.
But he, who found that bout too hard a play,
Gave ground, and through the castle gate he fled.
Close following, Brewnor smote, and cleft his head
That miscreant in the castle yard he died.
But now was outrush from the central keep.
Round Brewnor clamour arose from every side.
Bare swords and lifted shields around him sweep.
Yet with good blows the further wall is won,
A score of knights against him. Exit none
Or refuge round him lay, but overhead
Was one who from her casement leaned, and saw,
And privily by a postern forth she sped,
And caught his steed, and by the portal tied,
And so returned; and from the casement wide
Leaned forth again to watch that desperate war,
The where, with life to guard and death to take,
His blade stabbed swifter than the darting snake,
And lightened backward where his fence was bare.
Then clear beneath the clamour and the clang
Of shouts that ringed him, and of blows that rang,
A soft voice sounded: "Oh, young knight," it said,
"Recall thou with more hope thy hardihed
For one great bout to be; and cast aside
The thought of death. Thy charger waiteth, tied
By the near gate."
Sir Brewnor heard. His heart
Beat with new hope. For of such sort was he
That higher for blurred sight and falling knee
Rose the resistant flame of life, and gave
A moment's vigour of sight and hand, retrieved
From shadowing death. Upon them he leapt. He clave
The foremost helm. Across a fallen foe
Stumbled the next. His stooping crest received
Like boon, and rose not ever. Of these relieved,
He raised his shield, and through their hinder press
Charged shouldering past, a driven bolt of death
That broke them in disorder apart; and thus
Came victoring from the Castle Orgulous,
With four dead knights behind him.
Soon the day
When Camelot heard the tale; and not Sir Kay
Could dim it with the steam of envious breath.
Meantime that damsel to Sir Modred said:
"I ween my foolish knight is lost, but thou
Canst thank his sword that saved thee. Wilt thou now
We prove his fate, or while the road is free
Like loss avoid?"
And Modred answered: "Nay,
For he who threw me, ere thy knight was sped
I deem he paid, and more I care not. See
How like a wakened hive the portway hums
And stirs in menace! Ere the outrush comes,
Well may we leave it."
"Prudent choice," she said,
"Your wisdom takes. Outraging foes to meet
Small force is ours," and turned her steed, but still
Watched the thronged gate with anxious eyes, until
Forth rode Sir Brewnor, in his foes' defeat
Unfollowed. He cleansed a naked sword and red,
And sheathed it.
Breathless yet, and in some heat
And exaltation from that strife, he said:
"I ween the pride of that Tower Orgulous
Some loss hath felt. Of all the best they had
Was none to stay me: of the final four
Who barred me, two will boast their deeds no more."
And she, with eyes that mocked and yet were glad,
Laughed on him: "Belike you caught their taint, that thus
You boast against them, as your childhood dreamt.
They let thee pass unscathed in mere contempt
I more believe."
"It waits thy proof," he said.
Thereat a caitiff to enquire she sent
From out her train; and to that hold he went
And asked the issue of the strife; and they
Gave angry answer: "Evil fall the day!
Fiend was he surely, of our best to slay,
And then break through us in our most despite.
We thought not Lancelot were so bold a knight,
Nor Gawain thus to flout us."
With the word
He back returned, and when that damsel heard
Her glance fell somewhat, and no more she said.
But answer made Sir Modred: "By my head,
Well are ye named, and, damsel, much to blame
To have such champion thine, and speak him shame.
For even Lancelot, when he first essayed
Jousts with strong knights, fell oft, but undismayed
Would hardily at the swords point regain
His fair renown, and leave them mired or slain.
"And marked thou not that those two knights he met
Were blithe of heart to prove his seat, but yet
Shunned sword-strife, being wily, and old in war;
For that you will not see they lightlier saw.
Long practice only makes a knight's seat sure
When the strong chargers rear. But if he endure,
I warn thee that thou hast, to prove thy quest,
One who may ride unshamed where ride the best."
When Brewnor three days' time the court had left,
Came Lancelot from an evil quest and long,
Hungered for ease and rest. At evensong
He came, and scantly were his arms aside
Before the tale he heard. They told him all.
The coat awry. The lion so stoutly cleft.
The quest on which the proofless youth would ride.
Sir Kay's sharp jest, and Dagonet's bruising fall.
They told it lightly, as a laughing tale,
Met Lancelot's eyes, and found their laughter fail.
"So God me save," he spake, in scorn and wrath,
"Shamed are ye all who watched him issuing forth,
Unproved, unpractised, ardent, young and bold,
His sombre tryst with bitter death to hold.
That damsel Maldisaunt is called: 'twas she
Whose shield by Breuse was reft so thievishly,
And Tristram rescued and returned. Perde!
Long years she hath borne it through wide lands in vain
Some champion for her nameless quest to gain.
Surely I cast me on their trail to ride."
Then for fresh steeds he called, and would not bide
For ease nor banquet nor the angered glance
Guenever scarce veiled, but chose his mightiest lance,
Bade his squire follow, and took the road anew.
Such pace he rode that as to evening drew
The seventh June-long day, there came in view
Bare heights, and belting pines, and glens below
Growth-choked, and vocal with the impatient flow
Of hindered streams; and on a pathway there
He saw the train of those he sought; but ere
They joined, Sir Modred, of his shield aware,
Left them, who loved not Lancelot. Can the kite
The eagle cherish, or sustain its height
In the clear breathing of the cloudless blue?
So Lancelot came upon them alone. Not she
Nor Brewnor knew him, and when she railed anew
And Lancelot answered, on himself he drew
Like jibes, which with no bate of courtesy
He passed, as one not caring.
In hard pursuit a courier-damsel came.
A letter which she bore from Brittany
To Lancelot's hand she gave.
"Thy path to find
Of all knight's living," she said, "the worst I deem."
But chanced she did not speak Sir Lancelot's name,
Which surely all might think that all would know.
Forthright Sir Lancelot broke the seal, and read
Sir Tristram's missive. 'Do not think,' it said,
'That aught is ever as its aspects seem.
False to Iseult I have not dealt to be;
But should your wanderings turn that her you see,
This comfort give her, with what oaths you may.
For I (so much you know me) would not lie,
That you thereby should be foresworn for me.
'And tell her further that no distant day
Will see me land again on Cornish soil,
When for long absence greater joys shall be.
Thee also at that time I count to see,
For more thy friendship than a kingdom's spoil.'
This letter to his chamber's quietude
He bore, to ponder all it told, and write
Fair answer, which would grant the grace it sued
With such fine courtesy as knight to knight
Would render, when of such good blood were they
That nobleness alike to think and say
Came natural to them as no baseness might.
But Brewnor by his damsel's guidance rode
A further way, and at high noon he came
To where an old tower bore an ancient name,
Pendragon, that proclaimed its earlier fame,
Though later holds of greater strength might be.
Here were six knights arrayed for rivalry,
Of whom the first at Brewnor charged; but he
Tumbled him hard his horse's croup behind.
At which fair sight the five, of equal mind
Not to adventure for a like rebuff,
Rode on him at once, and bore him down, and so
Bound him, unrisen from that foul overthrow,
And to their castle as a captive thrall
They bore him.
At the following morn arose
Sir Lancelot. More he wrote, recounting all
The many happenings of the realm, that one
So exiled might not hear, and surance gave
That in his hearing unrebuked should none
Miscall Sir Tristram as a knight untrue.
This letter to the damsel's hand he gave,
And armed, and rode upon Sir Brewnor's track.
He would not ride as one too close who clave,
Nor would he the young knight good aid should lack,
If evil chance beyond his might he met.
But not for Brewnor's aid his lance was set
When next it levelled to the rest, for nigh
A bridge too narrow for two knights to ride,
Was one who would a peaceful path deny.
On the smooth bank their practised strength they tried,
And hard to ground that bold opponent fell.
Yet in good heart he rose, and knightly well
His sword he wielded, till Sir Lancelot thought
Not oft extended to such toil he fought;
Though, at the last, so haut a stroke he swang
It brought the strange knight to a stumbling knee.
"I yield me to thee as I must," said he.
"Nay," said Sir Lancelot, "for it need not be
That either yield. A lively bout is through."
"Tell me thy name, most courteous knight."
Accord, if first thine own thyself shalt tell."
"I am Neroveus de Lyle. I hold
My knighthood from the great Sir Lancelot's hand."
"Then I am joyed I made a knight so bold."
Much was the beaten knight discomfited:
"Much evil have I paid where most I owe."
"You paid good dealing. Let us mount and go."
"Here am I vowed for three full moons to stay.
But, for thine ease, avoid the leftward way.
There is Pendragon Tower; and thereabout
Will hove its lord. Brian of the Wilds is he.
He would not meet thee in one equal bout,
But knights like questing hounds would compass thee,
To deal thee basely some unguarded blow.
So hath he brought to hard captivity
Those who in single strife had cast him low.
"If truth be told, it was but yesterday
That such a one - A Table knight, men say -
Who with a damsel rode his peaceful way
Those snares have caught."
"Were any debt to pay,"
Sir Lancelot answered, "ready coin is thine.
He was a comrade and a friend of mine.
Him will I rescue, if by force I may."
Leftward he rode, and in short hour he saw
Pendragon's moss-grey walls, and there below
Six watchful knights who owned no knightly law,
But basely sank their spears, and charged anew,
That scantly to the rest his own he set.
Before the foremost in full course he met.
Such wrath they roused that all his strength he let
Upon that midmost knight, and cast him far.
He lay back-broken, in short hours to die.
Three spears went wide, and two availed to mar
His painted shield, and wrench his plume awry.
For so they jostled in that craven press
That strength was naught, and skill was feebleness.
Round reined Sir Lancelot, as he passed them through,
And at the first who turned he charged anew.
Pierced the strong lance the countering shield. It went
Deep through the hawberk ere its force was spent,
Came out behind, and in the rearward rim
Of the peaked saddle broke at last. The four
Who yet remained at once their swords outswang.
And Lancelot in good heart their onset bore.
It was but spoil of wayside weeds to him.
Swerved the trained steed. The sword its discord rang
On broken helm and splintering shield, his way
They could not hinder.
Straight Sir Lancelot rode
Through gates that for their own return were wide.
"Come forth! Come down! Oh, craven knight!" He cried.
"A knight of Arthur for thy doom is here."
"A meddling knight I hate, but do not fear,"
Sir Brian answered. "While I arm, remain
To add one more to those my spear hath slain."
"Little I doubt but here a death may be."
Sir Brian armed. Of greater might was he
Than those his minions of the outer ward.
Their lances broke alike and sword to sword
On foot they strove, with furious blows that fell
On steel that proved too weak, though tested well,
Such blows to dure. By one good stroke at last
Sir Brian reeling to the ground was cast.
"Now yield thee."
"Yield I must."
"Then faithly swear
Wrongs to bywandering knights to all repair,
With full release and restitution fair;
And more I ask not, save that arm and heart
Be pledged henceforth to King Arthur's part."
So was it sworn, and thirty knights thereby,
With various damsels of their company,
Saw the clear light of unobstructed sky,
Sir Brewnor with them.
As to meat they came,
A damsel entered whom Neroveus sent
To learn how Lancelot fared. They told her: "None
But marvels how his hard release was won,
Against six knights at once, and after those
Sir Brewnor tamed."
"Rejoice, but marvel not,"
She answered, "for the great Sir Lancelot
Is he." At which Sir Brian's heart was glad
That from no meaner hand his fall he had;
But Brewnor's damsel heard with no delight
That whom she jibed should prove so great a knight.
'Now am I shamed beyond remede,' she thought,
'And his full courtesy, that answered naught,
Was contrast that contemns my part the more.'
Nor was it solace to her grief that he,
As though no more a common road he sought,
Alone and early from the postern door
Resumed his way. "Fair courteous knight," said she
To Brewnor, waiting in the outer court,
While from the stalls their rested steeds were brought,
"It is but for a mile, or maybe two,
Sir Lancelot rides ahead. With least delay
I will that we his softer pace pursue....
Whom I miscalled? ... But that was yesterday.
The dawn requires another word to say."
"Well, as thou wilt."
Then heel to flank they set,
And still the brakes with morning dews were wet
When Lancelot at a leisured pace they knew
Riding before them. Soon his rein he drew,
And turned to see what hot pursuit should hold
His peaceful path (for ever peace he would,
Riding abroad where evil ways were rife,
Desiring gentleness, and dealing strife);
But when no foes he saw, at ease he stood
To wait them.
"Say what sudden haste," he said,
"Hath brought thee here? Hath Brewnor failed his part?
Not long shall be before his craven heart
My sword shall feel."
The damsel laughed: "Perde,
Bold are thy foes! For surely foes of thee
Bold hearts must own. No fault of him we tell.
Mine was the wrong, who did thy deeds miscall,
Thyself degrade with mocking words, the while
There was no bating of thy courtesy."
"Nay, but I won the guerdon of my guise,
Who nameless rode. And for the name I bear,
I seek its honour, but I know too well
Shame at the last its brightest deeds must share."
"No shame be thine till honour's tale be done!
Unless Sir Tristram, in this land is none
Of deeds so splendid, or of speech so fair.
Him only would I count thy fame to share,
As only he mine equal aid hath been.
For once, when Breuse sans Pitie's lustful greed
My shield had reft, and I my vow to heed,
Was held thereby, Sir Tristram was but seen
Armed for its rescue, and the caitiff thief
Restored it lightly for his fear's relief."
"Fair damsel, gladly Tristram's praise to hear
I heed thy tale. But should you seek to bide
With one who in these lands doth random ride,
Speak of me as thou wilt, but speak not ill
Of him who doth thy sombre quest fulfil,
For worth thy worship, by my faith, is he.
And lest that quest beyond his reach should be
I would not distance from his danger's call."
To which she answered: "Yea. But wit ye well
Not the sought end the cast of speech may tell.
And tenderest thoughts a bitter word may bear.
Of no sharp scorn I spake, but felt despair
His noble ardent proofless youth to see
Raised in a scale unequal. Shouldst thou weigh
That youth unskilled, that seat unsure, that heart
Unguiled, you well may judge the desperate part
From which I thought he should but would not flee.
"I sought to turn him from his loss away,
And meet therefore thy condemnation? ... Nay,
With thought and purpose of no different name,
Yourself hard-riding to his rescue came,
Nor wilt thou that for any wrath deny."
"Now in God's name," said Lancelot, "soothly ye say.
And when men call ye Maldisaunt will I
Call thee Bienpensaunt."
So, accorded well,
Long days they rode, until Surluse's bound
They passed, and there the shield's black venture found.
"Who beareth that black shield," the yeomen said,
"May pass, but only unaccompanied.
So choose ye which shall pass, and which shall stay."
Sir Lancelot looked. The broad stream swiftly ran.
The bridge was bastioned, and defended well,
Like to some great hold's outer barbican.
And on the farther side a citadel
With walls of height and flanking towers was set.
If Brewnor entered there, and ill befell,
He might be compassed in too close a net
For those who vainly watched his death to stay.
Valour nor might of any earthly man
Could scale its strength to force a rescuing way.
"Fair sirs, we come in mood of peace," he said,
We show no cause of fear our course to ban."
"We may but loose our bars on that consent,"
The yeomen said, "that he the shield who bears
- Be it which ye will - across the bridge may go
Alone and squireless, as the single foe
Of those who will his further path prevent."
"For this hard rule a seemly cause ye show?"
"We may not tell thee that we do not know."
Lancelot to Brewnor spake: "Of courtesy
I pray ye yield that sable shield to me.
Fain am I at heart this castle's lord to see."
"Fair lord," the young knight answered, "think ye well
How to accept such aid and stand aside
Would suit my honour? Nay, this quest is mine.
I do beseech thee that thy generous aid
Be - as thyself wouldst have it - so long delayed
That I may challenge that high citadel,
And he who rules it. If perchance I fall -
Well, there it goeth. If perchance I win,
Then shall the gates be wide to let thee in.
Or if within that hold I captive lie,
Then for my rescue shall I think on thee."
"Then Jesu be thine aid."
Alone he went
Through gates that one by one their strength unbarred
When that behind was closed. And then to guard
The open bridge two knights appeared. The two,
One after one, Sir Brewnor overthrew
On the strait bridge, and these, dismounted now,
Assailed him doubly. Flashed their swords and fell
On shield that turned them, or avoiding casque
From which they glanced and faltered. Knightly well
Sir Brewnor met them, and their force sustained.
Nor found their doubled blows too hard a task
For one who countered to at times reply
With strokes more wounding.
Yet was naught he gained,
Till, of lost blood and lessening strength aware,
He thought at last a desperate sleight to try.
To lose his footing as he smote he feigned,
And as the nearer knight against him came
Drave upward with a thrust forethought, that slit
The cuish's thong, and to the haunch-bone bit,
Leaving one foe for further strife too lame.
The second single now, with less pretence
Of forward valour, raised a shifting shield,
As one more seeking to prolong defence
Than that a wearied foe be forced to yield.
Who on defence replies invites defeat.
Soon on his crest the sword of Brewnor beat
Beyond his fortitude to more sustain.
"I yield," he cried, and cast his sword away.
"Then with thy comrade shalt thou here remain,
Until my death release thy longer stay,
Or I shall more direct ye. As for now,
My purpose forward lies."
The best he chose
Of those three chargers that around them stood,
Looked to his arms, and one unbroken lance
Picked from the cumbered ground, and called it good,
Then rode the bridge to find what further foe
Might still remain his wearied strength to test.
All this his friends had seen. Her watchful eyes
Maldisaunt's dubious hope and fear contest.
And like a leopard from his meal delayed
Sir Lancelot restless raged. His heel that prest
His charger's flank the tightened rein denied.
"Can he," she asked, "two swords at once endure?"
"His sword is used aright: his fence is sure.
He may outlast them."
"God it grant."
The first is sped."
"I thought him down."
Feinted the fall. If he this hour survive
He may be equalled by few knights alive."
"The second hath no heart."
Shall my young knight so worn go forward now,
Another bout to try?"
As thus she spake,
Sir Brewnor rode the bridge. Its further end
Did the like strength of gate and tower defend
As that he passed before. Such strength to break
He could not deem unless their bars withdrew
As had the first to pass him. But more near
His danger came. For thence a knight outrode
And spurred towards him with a rested spear.
No truce for parley and no choice was here.
Alike Sir Brewnor spurred; alike he showed
Naught but the stooped helmed head, the covering shield,
The point of the approaching lance to meet.
So crashed they, falling in the same defeat,
But rose sound-limbed, and in no mood to yield,
And sword to sword in bitter strife they set.
Hardly they fought, for now Sir Brewnor met
The castle's lord himself, Plenorious,
A knight full noble, and reputed well.
Cause had he in past days for meeting thus
The bearer of that shield, and him to quell,
(A tale too distant and too long to tell)
Wherefore he ravaged in most hard attack,
And pace by pace he drove Sir Brewnor back
- For weakened by his previous toil was he,
And bleeding from deep wounds at side and knee -
Until he prayed him of his courtesy
Some while to rest: "For I am worn," he said,
"And little fit to meet thy hardihed.
Knightly it were to grant."
"But nay," said he,
"Expect not rest nor any grace from me.
Long have I waited that black shield to see,
And pay in coin of steel too old a debt."
"Then must I bide thy worst offence; and yet
I know not what it mean, nor whom you be; -
Being blindly charged to bear it."
"Soothly you swear?
You are not of its two-fold curse aware?"
"I swear it."
"Then this vanquishing strife resign.
Yield to me recreant, and thy life is thine."
"That will I never."
"Then thy choice is made.
Heaven is my friend, and thine a demon's aid.
Defend thee as thou canst."
In swift reply
Sir Brewnor swung his heavy blade on high,
And lopped a cantal from the lifted shield,
Fiercely they fought again, but how deny
Life's failing strength? With never thought to yield,
Yet was he beaten down to earth, and lay
Beneath Plenorious' blade to save or slay.
Then stooped that noble knight his foe to raise.
"No loss is thine," he said, "and no dismay
Should vex thee for thy fall. My most amaze,
Is that thy strength of arm, and valiant will,
Endured and victored that first strife, and still
Had mood to meet me. He I sought to slay
Belike hath ended on some earlier day,
Caught in such dangers as such sort as he
May fitly find. I do not deem thee less
Either in strength of arm or valiantness
Because I foiled thee. Had I fought as thou,
More than thyself I had been fallen now.
Expect not aught but grace and courtesy
While here you bide."
As these good words were said,
He raised him, and with aiding arms he led
Through the far exit of the bridge, to where
Rose his great towers in solid strength and bare
Against the background of the larches green
The further height that clad.
Not wholly seen
From the far bank, and what such sight might mean
Not wholly guessed, Sir Brewnor's loss the two
Who watched that end of strife too surely knew.
Maldisaunt's clouded and ambiguous eyes
Shone with fierce light thereat: "He helped him rise,
Or so I thought. What might it mean?"
I saw not how. Outworn by earlier blows
How could he on a fresher knight prevail?
Yet was he better than their best. To fail,
So matched, is honour, though its shame remain.
Less is the loss of those in combat slain."
"Nay," said she, "in thyself his rescue lies.
I will not doubt it."
"On such walls as those
A lance breaks vainly. Yet remains to see
If the gates' warders still our path oppose,
Or if our transit of the bridge be free."
Then to the yeomen who were placed to guard
Those double gates of oak and triply barred
He spake: "Good warders, is it still denied
That we, our turn who wait, the bridge may ride?"
"Lord," said they, "neither charge to hold thee back,
Nor license of our lord to let thee through
Is clearly ours; and while this word we lack
We know not what the further ward may do.
Go forward if thou wilt, but take the doubt:
To give thee entrance doth not pass thee out."
"Then give me entrance with what speed ye may.
I think not ever on that bridge to stay
But with the castle's lord a word would I."
So was it done, but while this parley held
Was Brewnor kindly by Plenorious led
To where fair tendance and regard dispelled
The thought of shame by barren failure bred.
As for an honoured guest the meal was spread.
As for a brother's life solicitous
His captor urged him that his wounds be drest.
And being welcomed and attended thus
He gave good warning to Plenorious:
"Lord, I have found thee a most noble knight,
And would such dealing in its kind requite,
Therefore I warn thee that a harder test
Awaits thy valour. For my comrade stands
At the far entrance to the bridge. His hands
The lance to govern or sword to sway
Are tenfold more than mine. He will not stay
For either depth of stream or height of tower
Until he reive me from a captor's power.
Thus were it largely to thy gain to tell
That thou with knightly grace hath served me well,
Before his valour at thy gates protest."
"Young knight, I thank thee; but I do not fear."
"Yet in good sooth before he seeks thee here
Well were it to accord."
"What name of dread
Belongs this lord of whom such praise is said
By one not worthless for his own defence?"
"I have no freedom to reveal his name."
"Then can I move not for such light pretence.
Bold may he be, but if a hundred came
I would not challenge of their best refuse."
"Well, here he cometh."
From the court without
The voice of Lancelot rose. With no retard,
Through ponderous gratings raised, and gates unbarred
By those whom Brewnor's fall had left in doubt
Of how their orders for his snaring lay,
He had outpassed the bridge, and found the way
To the great court beyond was wide and bare.
"Come forth," he cried, "thou caitiff knight, to meet
The just requital of thine own defeat,
Who didst so foully gain by one to three;
Or else release him if thou dost not dare
A single strife to try."
Plenorious rose: "Belike thy fate to share
Thy boisterous friend with such insistence cries."
"Nay, let me greet him first, and all compose."
"The answer to such words is harder blows.
Even at my gates! I nigh my grace repent
To one so leaguerd with one so insolent!"
Forth, with his sword outdrawn, Plenorious ran:
"Stint that loud clamour, and defend! For thee
Alone I come, with little need for three
To tame thine ardour. If so much ye can,
Avoid my danger ere ye boast more high
Of rescuing others."
Sword to sword was set,
Lashing with great strokes that equal anger rained.
Seldom had Lancelot with such fury met:
Never Plenorious such assault sustained.
Plenorious knew the wall behind him lay,
And as Sir Lancelot forced relentless way,
Step following forward step most hardly won,
His strong opponent traced to left and right,
Striving to turn his front as best he might,
But found such traverse by his foe foredone,
And nearer to his back the danger grew.
"Now yield ye," cried Sir Lancelot, "while ye may.
Yield to my grace, for very sooth to say
I know thee for a knight too good to slay."
No word Plenorious spake, but smote anew
On Lancelot's helm, and harder than before.
Dazzling his eyes the sparks of impact flew.
Most had it ended. But his heart the more
Rose to the challenge of the stroke. On high
Swept his great blade to such a hard reply
That to his knees Plenorious came. Perforce
He yielded, lacking strength to further strive.
"Now," said Sir Lancelot, "wouldst thou stand alive,
This fortressed bridge and these high towers shall be
Thy gift to him who was no foe to thee,
But was entrapped, and with no courtesy
Outnumbered, that, as most would fall, he fell."
"Thine is it to say. Yet that which brought his loss,
The shield's black challenge, doth acquit me well."
But Brewnor heard and spake: "I thank thy grace
Which would so dower me, but thou dost not know
How when I failed, he proved a gentle foe,
And further than he took I could not take.
When that he thought me in his hands to lie
Beyond all rescue, then good words he spake,
And life and freedom of his bounty gave.
Wherefore for this high-hearted knight I crave
An equal freedom, if he soothly swear
That he to Arthur's part his strength ally,
Our friends, our ventures, and our vows to share."
And answer made Plenorious: "That shall I,
As one not bound, but with consenting will;
For to be lowly there would all fulfil
That pride may reach for."
"That," Sir Lancelot said,
"Shall be the fruit of this relenting fray.
And Arthur's word, I do not doubt to say,
Will lift thee upward till thy name be read
With those the sieges of the Table show."
So did their strife its glad conclusion know,
And in that hold, Sir Brewnor's wounds to mend,
They stayed and watched the autumn suns descend.
And through the winter days in more delay
They had good rest, and jocund game and play,
And warmth and cheer, and many a tale was told
Of love's fair service, and of ventures bold,
Till the dark solstice of the year was through,
And spring's gay daffodils awaked anew.
While in Plenorious' hold Sir Lancelot lay,
There to resort Brandiles came with Kay,
And with them rode upon the homeward way
To Camelot's towers. In that long course they drew
To where the victor flag of Arthur flew
Above Pendragon's ancient battlement,
Which Lancelot's valour had subdued before.
Here made he halt, and for Neroveus sent,
To whom he spake: "Fair knight, your warning gave
The chance a foe to foil, a friend to save;
And this great hold of antique strength thereby
With all its lands I won. No need have I
Of fields to coulter, or of gold to pay,
Or walls to hold me from my foes away,
And Brewnor's are they, on this plight, that he
(Who from his fiefs remote hath subsidy)
Appoint thee to command them, and keep
Such portion in thy hands as guardians reap."
With this resolved, their further journey lay
Through the green woodlands of a laughing May,
Until to Camelot's crowding halls returned,
Where those of other wanderings told or learned
All that had chanced on their adventuring ways.
Hard were it to enlarge Sir Lancelot's fame,
But honour to the crest of Brewnor came
For good blows given and borne; and more his praise
For fortitude of heart and outrage bold
When compassed in the Castle Orgulous.
Yet little had he cared for praise or gold
Or lordships won, if she his course who led
Had meet his pleadings with rejection cold,
Or jibes of scorn to mate her name had said.
But her clear eyes were kind, and tremulous
With words of love the lips that once denied
All worth to him whom now her heart allied.
Not only from her neck the shield's black weight
Was loosed, but from her heart its burden fell,
And Maldisaunt, with love's close gain elate,
Thus these twain were wed
While yet blithe summer held her conquest well,
And faithful were they for long years to be;
And those deep joys which root in constancy
Gained with the years, as only those deny
Who love reject, in baser marts to buy.
A nearer day, when winter's storms were past,
Saw the rent cloak aside as refuse cast.
To end a tale we would, but may not, tell.
How should we turn to every sideward track,
Its furthest turns explore and wander back?
End of Chapter X