The Song Of Arthur - Chapter XIII
by S. Fowler Wright
Return to Chapter XII
Gareth And Lionore.
It was the feast of Pentecost. That year
Held at Kin-Kenadon, a crest of towers
That ruled the wide sand-wastes, and held the powers,
Still restless, of the inward hills in fear.
The board was laid: the hour of noon was near:
The serving of the feast delayed, to meet
The custom of the king. He would not eat
Till tale of marvellous chance or warrior feat
The morn had brought, or plaint of need to call
Some chosen champion forth.
Adown the street,
From the high casements of the galleried hall,
Sir Gawain gazed: "Behold, Lord King," he cried,
"Three outland knaves on shaggy mounts that ride;
And mark I, while they halt, behind the three
A mighty destrier led. Against his knee
A wizened dwarf his shortened steps doth guide.
Toward the main gate they turn; the midmost nigh
As Lancelot tall: a falling mane of hair,
Yellow as the August corn, his shoulders bear,
And surely different from the twain is he,
But leaning, that his face I may not see."
"Here be strange haps; their end may well reveal
Adventurous chance," said Arthur, "let the meal
The open hall, to those who would
Unhindered entrance gave. No gate withstood
Their access to the king; he whose throne was free
To all that came.
Up the long hall the three
As doubting strangers drew. The midmost leant
As weary, on his comrades' arms, and bent
His height, as one whom some long sickness drained
Of half his strength; but as the length they gained
Of that great hall, it seemed the part he feigned
His heart forgot. Erect he gazed. Not least,
Midst those who at the king's high feast,
The unmatched of seven wide realms, the Table Knights,
His bearing showed: for all
Then Arthur, first who spake:
"Good youth, for honour, or lands, or lady's sake,
What would ye at my hand?"
"I ask," said he,
"Three gifts that in thy hand shall lightly lie.
One will I ask today, and twain would I
Entreat when next this Feast is held."
Answered the king, "thy gift shall granted be.
For if be ever good blood by bearing known,
Thou art worthy to be next a high king's throne.
Choose with bold heart."
"A simple boon I crave,
A year to serving in thy halls remain,
Thy meats to share."
"Ye be no serving-knave, nor know the life.
Bethink thee; ask again."
"I will no other."
"Then rede the name ye bear."
"My name I would not at this time declare."
"Ye be full bold," said Arthur, "yet, men know,
Such prayer I would not from my direst foe
Refuse. God thank, there is meat for all." He signed
To Kay who hard his burdened knaves behind,
Marshalled the meats the loaded board along.
"Sir seneschal, take thee for thy need," he said,
"A knave the more."
Now the high feast was spread
Before the assembled knights. The servitors,
Grouped at the lowlier boards and round the doors,
Of lordlier sorts the food rejected ate.
Lowliest with these the nameless stranger sate.
The boon he asked he took. He served: he fed
On broken meats: he made at eve his bed
On the cast rushes of the earlier day.
Ere dawn from rest his wearied limbs were chid.
Strong toil he gave, and proved in all he did
Fine-handed, cleanly, that the meanest act
Could naught degrade him.
Marked and mocked Sir Kay:
And called him Beaumains for the name he lacked.
But when to Camelot came the Court, and there
Were revel and feast and joyance and jousting fair,
He watched and learned; or when the long duress
Of thankless toil was paused, he joined the press
That thronged the issuing gate, to watch the tale
Of knights forth faring, guised in glittering mail,
With barded chargers and fair-painted shields,
To seek the events unproved of alien fields,
Or rescue of known comrade hard bested
Or search the fate of dungeoned knight or dead.
Or like returning, soiled and worn and sad
From vain essay; or haply toiled, but glad.
Of rescue achieved or high devoir; and thought
That nearer still the changing seasons brought
The feast when further gifts were his to claim.
And one day while he watched, behind him came
Sir Lancelot; lightly on his arm, unware,
A kindly hand he laid: "Good youth, if e'er
For separate rest ye seek, or quiet resort
My lodging is thine," he said. "My menials there
Will serve thee as myself. Though plain I fare,
And little softness harbours where I dwell,
Yet there be relics and spoils should please thee well
Awhile to view; and writings of the lore
Sir Dinadin loves, if such ye seek, and store
Of works in curious craft is there." The youth
Thanked him, but came not.
Gawain spake to Kay:
"Why drive ye thus your hardiest knave? Good sooth,
Ye may repent it, when a later day
Shall shame thee. While ye railed his glance I caught.
His eyes were fearless, though he answered naught.
Is Brewnor, and thy fall, so soon forgot?"
"Beshrew ye," said Sir Kay, "this youth is not
As Brewnor; judge ye by the gift he chose.
The churl in choosing must his heart disclose;
And as the seeking of his heart is he."
"Nay, but two gifts remain that no man knows.
Less wise were wiser: wait the year and see."
A windy tower in rain-beat Orkney knew
From whence he came. There, lone the long year through
The Queen Morgause the charge of Arthur kept,
That still the dragoned banner, gules and blue,
Above Lord Gawain's white gyr-falcon flew.
And oft, the while the winds of winter swept
Round the lone tower, in wakeful nights she wept
Her youngest Gareth, and dearest, last begot
Ere south, with short leave-taking, sailed king Lot
To vengeance vowed for that late child she bore
Which was not his, and on the Cornish shore
Battled and died.
The long months passed: the year
Burgeoned anew: the Whitsun Feast was near.
Again the Feast of Pentecost. This year
Held in Caerleon, at the king's command,
Whose wont it was at that high feast to hear
And judge the doubtful causes of the land.
No hall of space those ancient towers belonged
The assembled court to hold, when inward thronged,
Their place to take before the king's high seat,
As marshalled for the feast in order meet
Damsel and knight - the Table names alone
An hundred knights and forty - hence his throne
As summer skies allowed, in that wide space
Erst rounded for the Roman games was set.
Now midst the crowd around his seat that met,
To yield him homage, or to claim his grace,
There came a high-born damsel, golden-zoned,
In crimsoned samite, on a palfrey black.
Before the king she reined. Not Arthur throned
Showed royaller mien or haughtier grace; nor lack
Of tending train her noble right could hide,
Nor monarch's audience serve to veil her pride.
"Liege lord," she said, with slight obeisance made,
"Methinks too long in idle state ye bide,
And damsels' arms. Your lieges' land is laid
A waste the while. My sister sieged - her foe
As thine she deemed, and long hath looked to know
Thy vengeance on him."
"Damsel," the king replied,
"Old tale is thine. The ordered land is wide
And still, but marsh and forest and border side
Yet feel my foes. To each, themselves beset,
The kingdom shakes; and all of need forget
That larger cares are mine. False tales beside
Are brought, and knights an empty quest may ride
Who heed them. But cease to chide, and rede me where
This dame, of force that may not serve to bear
Her private wars?"
"Lord king, wide known is she,
A lady of great worship and great lands,
Now seized of many in scorn of her and thee,
Who stoutly yet a tyrannous knight withstands,
But only in her compassed hold, and she,
Seeing her lands wasted and her people slain
Within thy peace, hath looked, and looked in vain
For rescue from thee as was meet; and now,
To any great knight who will her service vow,
And force the leaguers of the land, that far
Strong-held at ford and pass her rescue bar,
And meet this knight in mortal strife, and dare
The shameful doom that those he conquers share
Large wealth she gifts, and liberal dower of land,
And likely with the largesse of her hand
To well-born knight unwed."
The while she spake
One knight her glances searched from all that band,
Who for a nearer than her sister's sake
Well knew she, if he knew, that quest would take,
And haply win - Gaheris - but he that day
Till later came not from a lengthened way,
And the chance passed him.
Then the king again
Made answer: "Proffers of land and wealth are vain
To knights of mine, except fair cause ye show."
"Small honour is thine," she said, "that naught ye know
Told of her wrongs already. Though scorned of thee,
And left, whom once she helped, yet known was she
In wars afore to knights here. Her foe,
The Red-Knight of the Reed-lands hight is he."
"I knew him," Sir Gawain to Sir Lancelot said,
"In the great wars, and never was nearer sped:
Bare life I won. Whoever this quest may take
For wealth's attract, or honour, or lady's sake,
May find a damsel's lure to death beguile.
Mark how her haughty bearing chafes the king."
"Nay, for he speaks," said Lancelot, "peace awhile."
"Damsel," the king adjudged, "no knight shall rise
At call of mine to search this blind emprise,
Except that better words and proofs ye bring."
"Then must I -," said the damsel.
"O Sir King,"
Cried Beaumains where amidst that crowd he stood,
"Twelve months thy meats I have eaten, and found them good,
And in their strength thy further gifts I pray."
"Ask, on my peril," the king replied. And he,
"This damsel's quest I claim."
"I grant it thee. The third boon would ye?"
Beaumains answered: "Yea,
The greatest gift is last, that I be made
Knight of Sir Lancelot. For I would not be
By choice made knight of any less than he."
"A noble boon ye seek," the king replied,
"And on the path ye take shall Lancelot ride,
And knight thee as thy deeds deserve."
Beyond all speech, that wrathful damsel gazed
On Beaumains and the king. Such scorn to meet
She had not dreamed. 'Is Uther's throne,' she thought,
'A jester's seat? Pendragon's glory brought
To dust so low?' Her sharp-pricked palfrey's feet
Rang on the stones along the gateward street.
Laughed in good mirth the king, and watched her go.
Then curious eyes to Beaumains turned, and lo!
That dwarf Sir Gawain marked the year ago
The same great destrier led, and on the selle
Was knightly armour borne. From Beaumains fell
The servile garb he wore. The doubting gaze
Of knights the points of knightly worth who knew
Appraised and owned him. Goodlier none but few
They deemed; who heeding naught of scorn or praise
Amidst their watchful silence armed; bestrode
His steed; and on the path the damsel rode
Forth fared apace.
Now came the bustling Kay,
With ordering cares of that great feasting pressed.
The tale was told: "How, would ye loose away
My best knave from me, on the busiest day
The whole year brings? Lord Arthur, rare ye jest
Mirth moved the king: "Good friend," said he,
"He goes not distant if it lies in thee
To bring him backward in his own defeat."
"That will I unloth," said Kay. In instant haste
His arms he called: a saddled charger, meet
His weight to bear. "Soon shall the rogue be chased
But Gawain counselled: "Nay, bethink,
Ye fling a scullion, shall thy praise be more?
A scullion wins thee, shall the jest be o'er
A ten years hence?"
And Lancelot: "Noble Kay,
There be such perils on his chosen way
As needs must prove him. If the youth endure -
I think he may - then shall ye rest ye sure
Ye choose the worthier part to wait, and he
Be seen, belike, the better knight than we,
Ere all things end."
"Nay, Lancelot, still ye deem
Of all men nobler than themselves they seem.
They are seldom thus."
He seized the spear they brought,
Stirred the strong steed, and left the laughing court.
Now Beaumains, on that angered damsel's track
Rode a shrewd pace, and gained her side, and she
Spake with free scorn: "Good knave, thy comrades lack
Thy service at the hearth. Return thee back
Before thy beaten bones the jest shall pay."
"Damsel," he laughed upon her, "perchance I may,
Be failure mine."
In hard pursuit Sir Kay
Showed as they spake, and in the distant rear
Came Lancelot: "Yea, perchance the proof is near
If this knight's purpose rede I right."
Prompt to his master's word, down-leapt from off
The croup. The youthful arms that Beaumains brought,
When nameless first he came to Arthur's Court,
Nor lance nor shield belonged. Unknighted yet
What shield were his, except his foe's he get?
A strong and trenchant sword from sheath he drew,
And backward turned, and when in nearer view
The seneschal showed, cried to him: "The year is o'er.
Friend if thou wilt, or foe, but lord no more,
What would ye?"
"Defend, thou saucy knave." The spear
Sank with the cry. A perilous chance was here,
Which any might shrink, though proved in equal joust.
With gathering speed the impetuous charge down-bore
On Beaumains, paused await, as needs he must,
Till instant to the call of rein and knee
The good steed swerved: the spear point passed: and he
Leaned outward from the saddle, and hard he thrust,
The shield beneath. Loud clanging in the dust
The seneschal fell.
This bout of arms beheld
Sir Lancelot and the damsel.
While Sir Kay
Stirred not, Beaumains, alighting where he lay,
Took lance and shield, the victor's right.
That damsel thought, unseemlier sight were seen
Than here. 'But that strong knight behind, I ween,
Will deal this knave his due, and haply take
My quest thereafter.' So she thought; but spake
The twain fair words the while, as Beaumains prayed
Sir Lancelot of his courteous grace that he
Might learn his might in friendly joust. Full free
Was Lancelot ever to grant that courtesy
To those that would, and what they gained full few
Forgat. Yet these in equal jousting joined:
In equal fate they fell. Arisen, they drew;
And Beaumains' might, amazed, Sir Lancelot knew.
So hard on helm he smote, so swift he foined,
So skilled the shifting shield to change was he,
That Lancelot cried at last: "Beaumains, let be,
Fight not so sore. Thy quarrel and mine, perde,
Is not so great that mortal hurt should chance."
Then Beaumains backward stepped: "With sword and lance
Think ye," he asked, "I might awhile endure
Strife of strong knights?"
"That will I warrant," said he,
For sore of hurt to take or deal I dred,
So fierce ye pressed, on helm the blows ye strook
Would bide but few."
And Beaumains answered: "Sure
I erred, and pardon sue I. But your great might
I joyed to feel. The fresh delight I took
Constrained me to it. Now wilt thou make me knight,
As spake the king?"
"With all accord, but so
That first your kindred and your name ye show,
As is but meet."
"Lord Lancelot, if ye know,
Wilt thou to any reveal it?"
"Without thy will
It shall not be discovered to any, until
Of all men known."
"Of Orkney's line am I.
A child of Lot, and Gawain's brother, and son
To Queen Morgause."
And Lancelot answered: "None
Of nobler race can tell. Of heart so high,
Of strength so great, a kingdom's gain should be
Thy generous youth. Sir Gareth, rejoiced am I
To know thee higher than all I thought. But see
How far thy damsel down the path hath fled,
The while we spake."
Then Gareth the damsel's track
Pursued. But Lancelot turned where, seeming dead,
The seneschal lay. Him to the charger's back
He raised with pain, and slowly homeward led.
But she, that damsel who, her sister's need
To aid, had ridden at Arthur's throne to plead,
Now in no May-day mood returning rode.
Scorn at her heart too fierce, and anger glowed
Too hot, the failure of her suit to heed.
Yet no light need she knew: contemptuous pride
Of his great might, that Arthur's best defied,
Had led their foe to yield her conduct free,
By ford and tower, to bring what knight she would,
The champion of her sister's cause to be;
And treaty made the while, that till she came,
Against those walls so long his siege that stood
No further storm should rise. Some knight of fame,
Perchance the highest, so hard a quest to gain,
Would Arthur grant, she had doubted naught. For fain
Of honour the Table knights were known: the king
Not least. Her haughty spirit against the shame
Chafed with vain ire, and shrank the tale to bring
That fixed the fate of those sieged towers.
Hooves sounded. Where the backward path inclined
She gazed, and shining down a shadowy way
Disguised in knightly arms, her scullion came;
And riding on the captured steed of Kay,
His dwarf behind him. All too glad was he
Of knighthood, and good steed, and ventures free,
Kay's fall, and Lancelot's grace, her scorn to care;
But on him unreined her wrathful heart she loosed.
"Why comest thou here?" she cried, "and dost thou dare
Unordered in my train to ride? Unused
For aught but blows to teach? Or dost thou ween
I more regard thee that in foul ado
Thy master by some knavish sleight ye slew?
To turn the broach, to serve the board, to clean
The leavings of the feast, no knave I lack;
And on the path I take shalt wish ye back
Full soon, in safety couched thy hearth beside.
Perchance ye thought an idle quest to ride,
Lured by the pride, the glamour and the gold
That knights belong? Thy path shall soon behold
A bated boast. Such trial awaits thy spear
As Gawain's self might lose, or Lancelot fear.
Thinkst thou such strife at last with life to bide?
And ere ye reach are perilous passes four
By strong knights held, and every knight the more
Than last ye win. Full forty knights before
Have spent their lives to try it. And earlier yet
Than these, two knights across our path are set,
Where spreads the stream, our only ford to let;
And not for all the broth thy brawn hath fed
Then wilt thou stand."
"The time will show it," he said.
Now while they spake, the path the damsel led
The denser woods constrained, and overhead
Dark branches closed, and on their riding fell
The shadows of night, ere yet the night was nigh.
In that close gloom the boldest heart might well
With heedful caution move. So thickly grew
The towering pine, the dark low-branching yew,
So strait the way, they needs must single ride;
And here Linette, who led the path, espied
Where from the branches burst a serving man,
That flying in haste or fear toward them ran.
Breathless awhile, Sir Gareth's rein he grasped,
And on the charger leaned. For aid he gasped.
"My master - in the slade - eight thieves," he said,
"There be but six - twain by his hand are dead -
They bound him then."
"Go first," said Gareth; and through
That dusking world of shadows and darker yew
Leaving the path, they forced a hindered way,
And reached a place that plain the treason showed
That there had been. For in the twilight glowed
A tabard, soiled and torn, that yet was gay
With scarlet and with bordering gold. It lay
With scattered arms which from that knight bereft,
For greater ease his captors' haste had left
Strewn as they fell. The trampled trail they took,
Down a steep slade, aside a hurrying brook.
Beyond the slade, a wider space was spread
Of marshy ground, from whence, more deep and dread,
Remoter woods, and wastes unpeopled lay.
Clear-seen in this wide space the chase appeared.
As hasting wolves that herd a lordly prey,
They drove full loth the luckless knight they felled,
To linger in some thieves' hold at ransom held,
Or slain if ransom failed or rescue neared.
Sudden on their rear the ring of arms they heard.
No hope was theirs in open ground they knew
Steeled knight to meet; and winged with fear they flew,
While Gareth, a thundering death behind them spurred,
And gained, and swept upon them, and rode them through.
Three with the thrusting lance forthright he slew.
But warier, from the impending shock withdrew
A hardier three, and vantage of the wood
Gained, and Sir Gareth on foot they stout with-stood.
Till at the last he laid them; and returned,
And loosed that knight, who prayed them of their grace
To make his halls that night their biding place,
Where he that rescue would with wealth repay,
For more he might not than such aid had earned.
Naught spake Linette; but Gareth gave answer: "Nay,
Reward I will not for the help I gave,
For I was made of Lancelot knight today.
Vowed am I the thief to slay, the bond to serve.
To God I did it. But in thy halls tonight
We well may rest."
Then laughed Linette: "Sir knight,
This youth, who fortuned well thy life to save,
No knight-in-arms is he: a serving knave
Who rides from Arthur's court in knight's array;
And lordly hath he learnt of word and way,
Behind the board on many a banquet night."
"Lady, whate'er thy jest, whoe'er ye be,
And this bold knight, alike it lies with me
To thank him and content to all my power."
Soon ceased the path, down-issuing from the brake,
On the slant beach that edged a winding lake;
And midst the lake an isle, and there a tower
Sheer from the flood that knight had built, to sleep
In safety, circled by the waters deep.
Lord of few spears and wide waste lands was he.
Now stirred the tower, and short the space they wait,
Ere from the dark arch of the water gate,
That lifted for it, shot forth across the lake
A barge of ample space their steeds to take,
And beaked with gold, and with his pensel gay,
And scarlet-garbed the rowers, but seeming black,
As fast they pulled athwart the shining track
Of sunset light along the lake that lay.
Slowlier the loaded barge returned its way:
The shadowed arch they passed: the torches' glare
The landing showed: and up the winding stair
They climbed; and Gareth to arrased chamber fair,
That knight himself, his full regard to show,
Conveyed, and courteous sought his needs to know,
And on him a festal robe of price bestowed,
For naught of worth beside his arms had he.
So robed, Sir Gareth, as knight of most degree,
With reverence to the banquet hall he showed.
But when toward the evening board they drew,
And Beaumains seated at her side she knew,
That damsel's cheek with sudden anger glowed.
"Mine host, when highborn ladies grace thy meat,
Do always menials at thy table eat?"
Amazed and shamed, the knight replied: "Not so,
There sits no menial here, but whom I know
My friend indeed."
"Yea, surely. Slaughter of swine
So nursed his strength to slay those knaves of thine,
Ye needs must thank him. Need ye therefore thus
Unseemly place him here, to eat with us
His wont to serve?"
"Damsel, thy scoffs before
As jest I judged. But if thy jest be true,
And place apart to nobler blood be due,
The dais-board is thine. Yet deem I well,
If churl's base blood from churlish use rebel,
If churl shall knight in knightly use excel,
Knight is he in truth, and late this knight I proved,
And thanks I owe."
So saying, himself he moved
With Gareth, to where a board aside was laid,
And here each point of courteous usage paid,
As given to guest of known and reverenced worth.
Festive awhile, with harp and song's delights
The hall was loud. But soon the sounds of mirth
Stilled: on the shining lake the casement lights
Died: the short hours of summer darkness sped,
Awakening only to the warder's tread.
Dawn rosed the east in cloudless heaven, and glad
Waked Gareth. Too fresh the keen delight he had
In knighthood won, and that fair-opening quest,
The daylight hours to lose in lengthened rest.
He rose, and from the chamber passing found
A narrow stair and steep that upward wound
The eastern tower, and issuing thence he came
Where the wide dawn held heaven and lake aflame.
Not yet was any sound or sight of man,
Save the lone warder on the bartizan
Beneath him paced. Out from the landward marge,
Still in his passing bridal greens arrayed,
The careless mallard sailed his brood at large,
Of naught but of the soaring erne afraid.
Faint o'er the encrimsoned lake the waking bird
Called from the brake, and crooned the moaning dove
From loftier boughs: lost in the light above
A wood lark sang. Here, mazed in dreams, he leaned.
A rescued bride his light-winged fancy weened
Already he held. Till loud beneath him stirred
The inward court, where stamping steeds were groomed,
And hurrying scullions crossed, and life resumed
Its customed way. Then downward to the hall
He passed; and meetly there the mass they heard,
And brake their fast, the while that good knight's care
(Wide were they of the path the damsel knew),
Bid for their guard a stalwart band prepare,
And guidance, purposed in his own escort,
With seven stout spears the dangerous marsh-lands through
Their course to lead.
This did he, and soon them brought
To surer ways, and leaving, fain betaught
Their quest to God.
More days they rode, and late
They came to where this damsel's quest began.
A river around her sister's land that ran
Here thinned its depth, and here, in stern await,
On the far bank a knight his charger sate
From noon to night; his comrade held his ward
From night to noon. Awakening at the sight
Of these that came, with forward spear, the knight
Rode the slope bank, and halted in the ford,
The shallowing water round the charger's knees.
Intent, Linette her knave's first combat sees.
Through the splashed ford she marks their chargers plunge.
No speed is here. With fewtred spears they lunge
As best they may, and soon to swords resort;
Till Gareth's strong foe, borne backward and out-fought,
Toward the rear bank to turn his charger sought,
In hope of flight. The meed of cowards he earned,
And won. The swerving charger slipped and slid.
The fatal chance the current, eddying, caught.
Once in the foam were flashing hooves upturned;
Then the good steed the assailant waters spurned,
And gained the bank unridered.
The struggling steed, his further foe to find,
Pressed Gareth, until the branches, closing blind,
Concealed the event from those that waited. Steel
Sounded, and ceased. There came a mortal cry.
Linette's black palfrey felt her sharpened heel.
She passed the ford: she climbed the bank: and near
Stood Gareth, and on the ground a fallen foe.
"Damsel," he said, "the holden path is free."
"Yea, for it to thee," she said, "scant thanks I owe,
That thy churl's lance hath cost their princelier blood.
The charger failed of foothold in the flood;
Yea, on the stream's ribbed rocks it slipped, and he
Ye might not win, by that mischancing died.
The next - how know I what wrong the woods might hide?
I ween ye killed him by some treacherous guile.
Belike ye thrust him from behind, the while
He turned for vantage, all content to know
The branches hid the deed. Howe'er it be,
Far other than these ye meet, except ye flee.
Bethink ye yet. Thy life is whole. The tale
Of how two days ye wore the knightly mail -
Thy master flung, and with thy master's spear
Two good knights slain - shall hold the wondering ear,
And welcomes mean, and horns of warming ale,
At winter fires of many an after year.
Afront the dark and perilous passes lie,
Where sure death waits: behind is space to fly,
And life to win."
"Ye vex your heart in vain
To fear mine own," he said. "With life unslain
I will not turn me from this quest, until
I win it, and ask and gain your sister's will."
Now o'er the woods their earlier twilight fell
And through deep slade and hollow and dark-some dell,
A denser and an ever gloomier way,
Each following each, by narrower paths they ride;
Nor seemed that even that dreadless damsel tried
For wider space between; but yet no stay
Her gibing humour knew: "Deem not thy lance
Accepted mine," she said, "that wildering chance
The ford hath won; nor lose I faith on thee,
That plundering churls thy knightly semblance flee.
I scent the foul straw and the lousy rags
Where native in thy kennelled filth ye lay,
But two days since. Far different knights are nigh,
Than those slain fools that by the waters lie;
And when too soon their boding shields ye see,
As flies the timorous hind when antlered stags
For forest rights contend, then wilt thou flee."
And smiling, in content, her knight replied:
"Behold me flee, and then with reason chide."
Now came they where the sombre woods forbade
The further way, so close their ranks arrayed,
Save where, dark arched, the meeting boughs amid,
In shadow the guarded path its dangers hid;
And from that night-like shade of thorn and yew
Dark as the menace of death a pensel flew,
Black, from a black lance trailing, and there beside,
Draped with black silks, a huge black charger tied;
And from the thorn a black shield hung on high;
And in black arms and plumes a knight thereby
Regarded them, and spake no word. Linette
First saw him, and cried aloud to Beaumains: "Fly!
For speed may save thee. See his charger, yet
Unsaddled that stands."
And Beaumains smiled, and said:
"Ye still will have me coward."
The while they spake,
That knight came forward to her palfrey's head,
With courteous greetings fair: "I see ye bring
A champion knight your sister's cause to take,
And doubtless worthy."
"Nay," she said, "the king
Denied me any, and gave this knave instead,
Who from his kennels on broken meats was fed."
"I marvel," the black knight answered, "thus ye say,
And how he cometh so guised in knight's array.
'Tis shame that such should bear you company."
"I may not be delivered," she said, "that he
By strange mischance for other how might it be? -
Casts strong knights down before him."
"It marvels me,"
The black knight answered, "that such things may be.
How cometh that well-born knights will hold ado
With one so base?"
"It may be, if they knew
They would not; but in knight's guise he consorts me;
And so they strive, not knowing how much they deign,
And on the path he leaves them, shent or slain.
Methinks the days of well born knights are past,
And churls shall mate their ladies at the last."
"O damsel, strange thy tale, and whom ye bring
The Reed-Knight's wrath would quicken. But doth the king
So much contemn us? In the wars that were
He might recall it that we wrought our share,
As vacant seats at his great Table tell.
Yet, in his jest, the king hath chosen well.
He seems, me thinks, a likely knave and strong,
And it were shame to do him heavier wrong
Than take his armour from him and leave him free,
Or find him service in my halls. Maybe,
The king constrained him to it, though loth."
Of whom they spake, gave answer: "Ere ye deal
With arms not thine, proud knight, remains to feel
The might ye scorn."
And that knight orgulous
Answered: "O'erweening scullion, wouldst thou thus,
In pride of knighthood's husk, thy vaunt advance,
Against thy lords the deadly fall to try?
A perilous jest! And vanquished, thinkst thou then,
- Thou, whose base grasp dishonours the knightly lance -
Knight-rights to claim? Nor rather unmercied die,
Thy crow-picked bones the enduring jest of men?"
And answered Gareth again: "Whoe'er I be,
In Arthur's name I take this quest. To me
The great king gave it. Here the path I ride.
Defend it as thou wilt, or stand aside.
What recks my knighthood or mine arms to thee?
They cost thee naught."
The black knight answered: "Knave,
One chance is thine thy base born life to save.
Yield me thy lady from thee. Stand aside.
How dar'st along a noble damsel ride?"
"Thou liest," said Gareth, "better born than thou,
That will I prove upon thee."
Then great in wrath
The black knight turned him toward his steed and forth
From those dense yews his squire appeared, and brought
His helm, and barded that strong steed; and naught
They further spake, but space of vantage sought,
And hand to lance, and heel to flank they set,
And deathly on the darkening path they met
In one crashed bout, a fatal strife and short.
The black lance shivered: but Gareth his own hard drave
Unbroken, through the countering shield, and gave
A mortal wound; and that black knight, not ware
Of all his hurt, or furious of despair
And pain, arose, swang out his sword, and bare
Sir Gareth backward some brief space, until
Too fast the red stream of his life did spill
For wrath to dure, and stumbling in his stride,
Length forward, as he smote, he sank and died.
"Lord," said the dwarf, "this dead knight's arms excel
Thine own by far, and it were soothly well
That where ye ride the stouter arms ye bear."
And so, leave given, he stript the dead knight there,
And armed Sir Gareth, who left beside the way
His lighter harness, and the shield of Kay.
"Damsel," he said, "the further path is free."
"Yea, so I see it," she said, "scant thanks to thee.
I asked thee never nor own a boon unsought.
Churl's fortune thine, a nobler life to waste.
Because thy spear-head found a joint unbraced
The strife was won. Yea, even in death me-thought
He over-matched thee."
Gareth gave answer naught.
That night beneath the shadowy boughs they lay
As best might be, for darkness closed them round
In the wild land, ere sheltering roof they found,
Nor moonlight entered those dense glooms.
Showed clearer spaces soon, and easeful way,
And where a hawthorn grove gave opening wide
There passed them, mounted on a courser light,
A knight by-driving all in green. At sight
Of those black arms he halted: "Brother," he cried
"Why fail ye at your rightful place to bide?"
"Nay, nay," she said, "a kitchen knave is he,
But raised unknightly to a knight's degree
At Arthur's jest, and now thy brother hath slain,
By most mishap."
And the green knight again
Made answer: "Ill thy word, and woe the while,
When one so noble by the murderous guile
Of knave misnamed should die. I trust my blade
Shall sheathe not till this dolorous debt be paid."
"I let thee wit," said Gareth, "that knightly I
Thy brother have slain, and do thy worst defy.
Nor shame nor guile was mine."
The path nearby,
A green pavilion rose. Beside it swung
A green horn, on a blossomed hawthorn hung.
He blew it; and forth two damsels, well beseen
Fair as the flowering thorn in white and green,
Approached, and armed him at his need, and brought
A green-plumed helm, a lance, a shield inwrought
With gold and green. A mighty charger, palled
In green alike, he soon bestrode.
The while, of that vexed damsel, Gareth alike
For strife prepared. With eager haste they met.
Their lances brake: dishorsed, with swords they strike
Flame from the steel. Full soon the blades, bloodwet,
The fury of their strife proclaimed. Linette,
Seeing how they strove, but neither aught prevailed,
Soon the green knight with mocking words assailed.
"Behold," she said, "the knave the knight well-born
Endureth, and the weed exceeds the corn.
Shame is it to see."
This heard the green-clad knight,
And leapt at Gareth, and with a stroke of might
Clave the shield from him. But ere again his blade
Aloft he swung, such stroke on helm repaid
Its loss, that beaten backward to the knee,
"I yield me to thy greater might," said he.
But Gareth: "In sooth, I will thy life fordo,
Except my damsel for thy safety sue."
"God's life!" She answered with full scorn, "not I.
I would not so much in thy danger lie."
"Damsel," the green knight pleaded, "need I die,
When one fair word would save me? Knight, I own
Of thirty more the fealty. Thine alone
As mine becomes their service while I live.
Further, I will my brother's loss forgive,
And serve thee truly."
"Words ye waste in vain,
Except my damsel plead thy life to gain."
And with the word he raised his sword, and made
A semblant of the stroke, and she, dismayed,
Cried sharply to him: "Let be, thou filthy knave,
Or long repent it."
Knight, thy life to save
Is pleasure, and more to hear her plead: arise."
Then the green knight did homage, and rose; but she
Not once would lift to Gareth her angered eyes,
But turned to Pertelope: "My heart is woe,
Thy domage and thy brother's death to know.
On whom I leaned, when late these woods I rode,
For converse and escort."
"Good sooth," he said,
"Methinks thy guard leaves little need of dread;
And lodge ye in my manor halls tonight,
Myself will guide ye with the following light
My marches through."
They passed, as daylight failed,
The barriered gate of that fair hold, that thus
Was fallen to nameless knight adventurous,
With all it held, and found full welcome there.
But wroth and scornful still the damsel railed,
Nor joined the board the evening meal to share,
But spake to Pertelope, and churls enmailed,
With all who would such knaves accept, decried
Alike, till he with reasoned speech replied:
"I may not scorn the knight your jibes decry,
So late he proved the hardier knight than I;
And whether his honour of birth be shown or no,
I warn thee, damsel, that a knight I know
And nobler never I met than whom ye scorn.
So shall ye prove him at last; and likeliest born
Of loftier kings than we; and for the need
At which thy sister sent thee, the knight indeed."
"O ay," she said, "for thy new lord ye plead;
The lowlier he, God wot, the worse thy fall.
For who but fools their victors' names miscall?
For me, these strong knave-deeds I count misdone,
For me - behold, dear heaven! - He hath not won.
"Damsel," the knight replied, "yourself will say
Knight am I of some good name, and in my day
I have not been matched till now, and truth ye tell
That folly would be my speech and false as well
That spoke him scorn that won me. Well may be
Some vow shall solve it: wait thy time and see."
"Ah well!" She said, "he vaunts to keep his course;
Yet many such boasts who blare are turned perforce."
The way was through the beech woods. Overhead,
Through the white clouds, the herding wind would bare
Widths of blue heaven, and breaths of rain-sweet air
Were round them from the flowering hawthorn shed.
The pathway showed alternate light and shade:
The beechen boughs the morning breeze obeyed:
Beneath her palfrey's feet the shadow swayed:
The long green glades alight before them lay.
Nearer than yestermorn her pace she reined,
And softer-toned, as though perchance she gained
A mood more gracious from the gracious day:
"Good knave," she said, "whose mocking star so long
Hath made thee overcast proved knights and strong,
Wilt thou not turn thee yet, while life is whole,
Nor waste it striving toward a hopeless goal,
Witless to fear the fate, except ye see?
Art Lancelot? Gawain? Lamorack? Knights as they
Should likely fail to force this perilous way."
"Damsel," he smiled upon her, "who fears may flee:
The sights ye still foretell, we nowise see."
"Yet soon," she said, "full soon, such sight may be."
Then came they where, those forest depths among,
A white tower rose, wide-flanked, with ample bound
Of battlemented walls, and there around
Twice dyked, and o'er its guarded gate were hung
The fifty shields of those good knights who knew
Its lord for theirs, an argent blaze and blue,
Gold, gules, and green. Their kindred pensels flew
From pitched pavilions round a barriered field;
And there opposed them many a blazoned shield
Of challenging knights. For there, the dawn to be,
Should joyous toil of feast day jousting see.
Forth looked the lord of those white towers, and saw,
O'er that broad meadow cleared for tourney war,
A knight, a dwarf, a damsel, clear in view
Approaching rode, but not the knight he knew,
Nor read the shield to which the fronting sun
Gave alien glory: "Here," he cried, "is one
Rides errant, and while I arm me, him let none
Molest nor hinder."
From the gate he came.
His sable shield was live with leaping flame.
Red glowed his arms: red showed the embroidered vest:
A fire of feathers tossed his lofty crest:
Red sorrel was the charger, swift and strong:
Red the huge lance, steel-strengthened, keen, and long.
But when he marked the black knight's arms more near,
"How, brother, what seek ye in my marches here?"
He cried, and answer gave the maid Linette.
"No brother of thine is here: a knave misborn,
A scullion youth king Arthur sends in scorn
To force the fourfold leaguer of the way,
With whom I strive, and win me voidance none:
For false he fortuned that good knight to slay,
Sir Percard, and Sir Pertelope hath won."
Then those strong knights at once in thunder met;
And either fell, and either rose, and set
Sword against sword. Two hours they either foined,
Traced and traversed with warier wrath, or joined
As hurtling boars that blind in fury fight.
Till mocked that damsel: "Oh, thou good red knight!
Recall thy worship known, nor let this knave
So long endure thee." Hearing, hard he drave
Sir Gareth backward, who could scant oppose
Shield-shelter to those furious following blows,
Yet watched with rage controlled and deadlier will,
To wait and use the avoiding chance, until
One stroke at once that hammering hail repaid,
And his strong foe down-felled beneath him laid.
At mercy held, the fallen cried: "O knight,
Approved most noble by thy conquering might,
Be noble alike in mercy! Sink thy hand;
And all my days I render to thy command,
With all the fifty knights I lead." But he,
"No proffer of homage, nor prayer, availeth thee,
Except my damsel sue it." And; she thereon
Recalled her anger of the night foregone,
"Be not so bold, thou knave, such worth to slay."
Thereat, as one that grants a courteous plea,
"Red knight, thy life is thine. Arise I pray.
This noble damsel thank. Thy fealty,
With all thy knights, in price of life I take.
More would I soothly for this damsel's sake,
To hear her plead, and that she weeneth well."
Then entering those won towers, short tale to tell,
Sir Gareth, as meed of that stern strife achieved,
Homage of mesne lords and subject knights received,
And service meet; and when the daylight fell,
In the great hall, beneath the cressets high,
Still poured the cup, and rang the minstrelsy.
But when full light returning gave again
The freedom of the woods, he rose full fain
The further ventures of his path to try:
In spring of youth, and of the flowering year,
All paths are strange, and all strange paths are dear.
Again with morn they rode. A various way
Clear of the sheltered woods they climbed, and found
Fair and wide views that stretched from loftier ground,
And breathed sea-air, borne o'er the scented hay
Of meadows on the long down-slopes that lay.
Swept by the south sea-wind, and bending sheen,
Wide oatlands on the downs were silvery green;
And palest gold, as tresses of moonland fey,
In the deep vale the rippling wheatlands lay,
That each day darkened to the reaping day.
Through this fair land a highway, dyked and wide,
Straight course toward their further goal supplied;
But little joyed their burdened steeds that now
For mossy path and soft, and shadowy bough,
Their hooves along the white road rang: the glare
Of noonlight smote from out blue heavens and bare,
Too seldom shielded by the passing cloud.
A shorter pace their riders' care allowed,
For converse meet, to cheer a lengthened road;
But seemed. Linette's chafed mood no changing showed,
That with fresh scorn she mocked the deeds he did,
And him with wearying words unceasing chid.
"Damsel," he, said, "discourteous words ye pay
For service done, nor ever your bodings tire
At every venture met, and where are they,
These over-boasted foes ye most admire?
Their puissance and their pride of dust and mire
Are comrades now. Wilt ever my deeds mis-call?"
"Ay, vaunt awhile!" She said, "strange hapsmay fall,
When base-born knaves with noble knights engage,
But nearly cometh a knight shall pay thy wage.
For save king Arthur alone, with couchen spear,
No knight of earth might match him. And art thou peer,
Base scullion, of the great king?"
"Nay surely," he said,
"And yet thy telling of fear uplifts my head;
For hath he indeed so noble and feared a name,
He will not with his hundreds at once assail
One knight, in whom he hath no cause for dread;
Nor here may failure threat too great a shame.
And should my all unproven strength prevail
The greater meed is mine. But I should stand
A naked fool to all men, now to leave
A quest where still my foughten foes I grieve."
While thus they spake, his glance arrested scanned
A city towered, in that strong light that lay,
With gleaming walls and white, short miles away.
Mown meadows, wide and fair before it lay,
With moving throngs and azure flutterings gay.
For here the lord of that fair land was fain,
When heavens were blue, and sunlight warmed the plain,
Resort with all his knights for joust and play.
With summer heaven the shine of tourney vies:
Pavilions mocked the hues of Indian skies:
The forest of lances rose a haze of blue:
The trappings of chargers showed a kindred hue:
Blue glinted hauberk and helmet: gold and blue
The blazoned shields that lined their ranks: new-mown,
The fair list-meads they rode were green alone.
"Now," spake Linette, "the noble towers ye see
Of one not least among our foes, for he
Persaunt of Ind, of those leagued knights is known,
Who by strong hand have wrought my sister's wrong;
And by sword-right to him these lands belong
Since morn we rode. The far Byzantian shore
He left, a comrade sworn, when Sagramore,
The long-eluding goal of hope to find,
A kingdom's ease to wandering life resigned.
Rarely of late their several ways have met.
On separate rule Sir Persaunt's heart he set.
Scantly he weighed the toil, and light the sin,
In lawless lands a conquered realm to win.
Though nameless ten years hence he came, today
A hundred valorous knights his word obey.
This city walled, this wide domain ye see,
By naught but by the sword-hand holdeth he.
And deemst thou in thy pride to cast him low?
Mazed am I that one so mean such boast should blow."
"Damsel," he said, "ye rule your speech too ill,
So false to chide me while I work your will."
"O, sir," she said, "I marvel whence thou art.
Bold in thy manner of speech, and bold of heart,
That have I heard and seen; and hence I pray
That you this knight avoid while well you may,
For strife and toil have worn the hardihed
Of that strong steed and thee. Full sore I dred
Mischance of bruise or weakening wound may fall
From needless contest now. This last of all
The perilous passes open lies, and why
The vain result of causeless conflict try?
Nor is he truly, whatever awhile I said,
Of half the wide fame, or the hardihed,
Of that Red Knight of the Reed-lands, who waits
To prove thy valour at my sister's gates.
But seven short miles beyond the siege is laid,
From which, by various chance too long delayed,
Let naught retard us more. The champion there
Is more than ever Sir Persaunt, past compare,
Thy worthier foe."
"Damsel, whate'er betide,
Already too near toward this knight we ride
To turn unshamed, except, his choice decide."
Their hoving while they spake, Sir Persaunt saw,
And sent fair challenge the whether in peace or war
They sought his paths? And Gareth replied thereto:
"I take no force, who ride my purposed way,
Which knight may let me, or which knight may stay.
"But Persaunt armed him when that word he knew,
Deemed all too, haughty from any nameless knight,
Who bare of tendance rode through alien lands.
"Needs must he be a strong knight of his hands
To hold such boast, we prove in strife forthright."
Hue'd as blue heaven he came. They spurred: they met.
No man that joust that viewed might soon forget
The shock when those great chargers reared and fell.
They rose: they drew. Hard smote Sir Gareth, and well
Sir Persaunt countered, and in kind repaid.
Blade rang on mail, or clashed with meeting blade;
And where the blade rang, and the linked mail broke,
The red blood spurted and spread to prove the stroke.
Thus for long hours with equal toil they strove,
Till Gareth an under-thrust unthwarted drove
Beneath his shield, that deep in Persaunt's side
Its meaning told, and left a wound too wide
For striving knight to dure, and while he swayed,
On the blue helm again the assailing blade
Smote, and he fell.
Then cried Linette: "Good knave
I charge thee of thy grace his life to save."
And spake the fallen: "All will I for life resign.
My wealth, my household, and my halls are thine;
The lands that with a hundred knights were mine,
Thy words await."
This ransom sworn, in view
Of all men there, that all men soothly knew
Their overlord from that day forth, with care
The wounded Persaunt, on his forfeit shield,
Full nigh to death, from off the bitter field
Of irretrievable loss, his liege men bare.
Sir Gareth the while, as their new lord, they led
Through shining ways, to ample halls and fair,
Within the white-walled city.
Around him spread,
Entering, a patterned pavement, all the hues
Found fairest in the gazer's eyes: he stept
Past walls of palest gold, where dazzling blues
Of halcyons crossed. The sudden fountains leapt
From dim-green pools, the pillared courts amid,
That half in dark blue-flowering foliage hid.
Strange was it all to Gareth, and strange had been
To many a wandering knight who had but seen
Of western ways, but naught he marked, for he,
Of good blood drained, and wounded oft and sore,
Not scathless that strong strife sustained, but bore
Marks of it the life to last. Most wearily
He entered that rich chamber where they led,
Hung with the tale of Phryne's fate, and spread
With silks that once the marts of Smyrna knew,
Of crocus saffron, and of Tyrian blue.
Up borne on slender shafts of marble veined,
The painted ceil, with loveliest dreaming stained,
Showed heavenward peaks, and clouds toward them deigned,
Where loose-robed oreads stooped, await to woo.
Fair couch was here, his stiffening wounds to rest,
Till with all manners of meat that liked him best
The evening meal was laid, and well refreshed
He sought his couch anew.
Sir Persaunt lay,
As closed the night of that disastrous day,
By pains of mind from pains of flesh made free.
One daughter only of his house had he,
Who now, as he, to this knave-knight belonged.
For her, even as himself, his failure wronged,
According to the custom of the land
From whence he wandered, and whose laws he knew.
Therefore to her he spake, with strait command
To heed his word, and as he willed her do.
"Daughter, the gains of all my years ye know
Defoiled and cast by this great overthrow.
My life I bought by loss of all beside:
His my spear's strength, and his thy virgin pride.
As in our wealth we lightly gave away,
So, in our loss ungrudging, needs we pay.
For though this fate hath fame and fortune reft,
So much of honour to our use is left.
And hence I charge thee that ye seek his side;
Nor be ye difficult, nor strange of cheer,
As one that yields her with reluctant fear,
But meet him with kind eyes, and smiling face,
As though ye sought indeed the churl's embrace."
So charged, his couch she sought, and silently
Despoiled her, and laid her by his side - perde,
In that dawnlight the lovelier dawn was she,
As by that knight in conquered shame she lay.
And Sir Gareth waked, turned and looked her way,
With wondering eyes, as one from dreams not free,
And charged her: "Speak, if mortal maid ye be."
"Fair lord," she said, "Sir Persaunt's daughter I."
Here of his will."
And on her eyes afraid
He gazed: "Art maid or wife?"
"Clean maid am I."
"Then come ye in your own desire, or why?"
"Nay, lord," she said, "unwillingly I came.
My father's strait command was on me laid;
Between the lesser and the greater shame,
What could I?"
"God save it," he said, "that I should do
Your noble father wrong. But get thee gone,
Lest the sweet use of beauty draw me on
To all dishonour."
"Lord," she spake, "I go
At thy command, who came not of my will."
And passed to where Sir Persaunt, sleepless still,
And tortured lay and told him: "Thus I said,
And thus again he answered, 'was I wed?
And came I freely in my own desire?'
And learning all, refused me."
And her sire
Marvelled: "Now by the splendour of God, said he
"He cometh of noble blood, who e'er he be."
More late than wont, of straitening wounds aware,
But blithe of heart to breathe the morning air,
Sun-warmed, that through the opened casement blew,
The last adventure of his trust to try,
Rose Gareth again. But first, a courteous due,
Would to the wounded Persaunt's couch repair.
Sooner Linette, who earlier rose, a nigh
That wounded knight had drawn, fair leave to take,
And counsel change; to whom the first he spake:
"Art thou not she, that fearless damsel known,
The sister of the Lady Lionore,
Who lone hast ridden to ask at Arthur's throne
Some champion to maintain her hopeless war?
Reveal, I pray thee, the name of whom ye bring,
And gotten of what famed prince or mighty king.
Last night a rumour to my couch was brought
That sprang from thee. It spoke his birth as naught,
Or some way base or shamed. A cheerless thought,
Through the long night, for one that knows the morn
Begins new life to such churl's service sworn."
"Persaunt, I know not. To the king I went,
At the High Feast of Pentecost. Methought,
Some knight, the first of many, his care had sent
Such need to meet, but lo! My tale half told,
Forward there stepped a scullion of the Court,
And claimed some boon the king, a twelve-month old,
Had rashly sworn. The boon allowed, he sought
My knight to be. The king with laughter gave
In vain I fled. Behind my path the knave,
Now armed and mounted rode. The rest ye see.
Courteous and bold in deed and speech is he;
And conquereth all. The truth I may not rede.
Nor think that knave to such high deeds should rise,
Nor knight demean him in such loathly guise."
"Ye speak a marvel. Serf and knight too wide
Doth habit and rule and honour of life divide,
For any to lightly cross from mean degree
To worship and estate, except that he
Have knight's blood in him unknowing. Recall the fame
Of Ector, not the least of Lancelot's kin,
Whose life of honour hath overlived the shame
Whereby his sire possessed in secret sin
The daughter of Agradavain unwed."
"Yea, but he did it of Merlin's craft," she said,
"'Twas sorcery all; and howsoe'er it be,
Lord's daughter born, his all but peer was she."
"Bethink ye then the byre-maid birth of Tor.
Though nothing of his high descent he knew,
The strong blood of the dark king Pellinor
Beat in him, and broke the bonds of servage through.
This scullion thine thy cause hath aided more
Already than rescuing knight hath wrought before.
Sure is it, desire alone to overget
Ignoble life, disastrous shame had met
On this stern quest he chose, except that heart
And arm were natured to his chosen part;
And well from thee may courteous words be spent
On him that doth so fully thy need content."
So spake he, faithful to a fealty sworn;
His inward heart of wrath and anguish torn.
To these came Gareth: "A laggard knight," he said,
Smiling, "ye likely while he loiters blame;
Yet trust I ere the long June-light is sped
This toil to cease."
"Beaumains." She said. "Thy name
We treat thee tell."
"Damsel, to grant thy will,
I were not loth, if both ye swear that till
The time I choose, ye will not, save I will,
And grant ye leave, reveal it ever; to still
Importunate pleas, or seeming weightier cause."
They answered: "By the faith to God we owe,
We will not show it to any."
"Then may ye know
King Lot of Orkney and the Queen Morgause
My parents were, and youngest brother am I
To Gawain and Gaheris and Agravain."
"Yea," said Linette, "we well believe. But why
The high birth hide in menial garb, that fain
Were most to tell?"
"A wayward thought was mine,
Not in the glory of my house to shine,
But of myself to stand or fall; and more,
Learnt of the gulls on Orkney's lonely shore
Was little of courtly guise or knightly lore.
Uncouthly to the royallest court I came
The world has known. I would not lightly shame
My brethren, whose high places round the king
Their deeds have won. I chose awhile to gaze
Unnoticed, and to walk acquainted ways."
"Persaunt," she said, "I plead a simple thing.
That ye shall knight my champion ere we part."
"That would I," he said, "and with no lothful heart,
If such the conqueror from the conquered take,
Nor think it shame."
And Gareth replied: "From none
More fitly were that, grace desired, than one
Whose might so late I felt, and whom I know
In all ways worthy. That I may not so
Is that already I hold that fair degree,
Of Lancelot given the time this damsel fled."
"The larger honour thence shall spring," he said,
"Than well were hoped from knighthood given of me.
Of those good knights the strength of Arthur's throne
Ye chose the noblest. Lamorack's fame is great;
And Gawain worthy of his proud estate
The king beside, and Tristram's deeds are spread,
By lovers of tales of wondrous hardihed,
To strain belief; but Lancelot stands alone,
The peerless perfect knight; and next to these
I name, in honour I count the knight that frees
This damsel's sister from her threatening dread."
"Fain were I ever with good knights named," he said.
"It well may be," the conquered knight replied.
"High mayest thou reach if this last strife ye bide;
And hence I urge that here ye wait awhile,
Nor let strong hope thy weening heart beguile
From owning that thine utmost strength is spent.
"Toward no mean foe thine arduous course is bent,
Who forty else in listed strife hath shent
Before ye came; and since his arms subdued
This lady's realm (and in no private feud,
For none was hers), two years his siege hath lain
Round her last towers, and we that watched have deemed
He might have stormed them in the most despite
Of any defenders hers, but more it seemed
He sought to hereward draw some perilous knight,
Lamorack or Lancelot, Tristram or Gawain,
So confident in his great might is he."
Then likely spake, and with more urgent plea,
Linette: "At least, within these halls remain,
Till warning word be given and brought again
From friend and foe," she pled.
Besought of both,
He yielded, haply in his heart unloth.
Then sent Linette's device the dwarf ahead,
Their coming first to show. Sir Persaunt's blue
In sign of peace he wore. The truce-days gave
An open way. Unhailed, and seen of few,
He took the sidelong path she told. It led
Through vale and down to where the loud sea-wave
Beat ever, so sheer to any tide declined
The high cliff-wall, and bending thence pursued
The sandier margin of a curving bay,
The where the Reed-Knight's hosts beneath him lay,
Tented; and pausing on the path he viewed
Their ranged extent. In vain he gazed to find
Toward the sieged towers some quiet avoiding way;
For on the far horn of that bending bay,
Reared from a lift of craggy land they rose,
And all the wide dunes of the landward side,
Save where sheer cliffs had all alike denied,
Were white with tents. The bolder part he chose;
And toward the main pavilions of their foes
Made straight his way.
A pacing sentinel
On the dune path his nearer entry barred,
Required his errand and his name to tell,
And passed his challenge on from guard to guard,
"From Persaunt, and from Persaunt's lord am I,
With words of weight." There came a pursuivant
To guide him to their lord, for he would grant
The bearer of such strange word, with no man by,
An audience sole.
The long dunes dipped and bent
And ridged, but all between the stretched extent
Of hollow and slope was white with ordered tent.
And midst them all a pile of dusky red,
A many-spaced pavilion rose. Here led
The pursuivant, and here the dwarf he bade
To enter while without himself he stayed.
So inward from the summer noon he passed.
The heavy crimson folds behind him fell.
In that deep gloom awhile he might not well
His steps discern, and paused. A voice at last,
Harsh-toned, required him of the meaning tell
Of that strange word he sent.
A knight he saw
Of stark regard, scarred in the wont of war,
Of visage dark and stern, hard-browed, and seret
By days of broken hopes, and nights that brought
Siege of unwelcome and disordering thought,
To one too noble for the end he sought,
And might not win. So, thought the dwarf, afore
Had Uther gloomed, and all men round him feared.
Withal, of stature great and strong was he,
A leader of men. A belted cloak he wore
Of dusky crimson: through the falling fold
The glint of mail.
The dwarf of heart was bold;
'Twas he that served Sir Lanceor, long of old,
And Balyn for his death defied: "To thee,"
He answered. "Is the word I bring, that thou
Shouldst leave this siege, and yield to whom is now
Thy lord as mine, though late the lowliest he
In Arthur's halls. For when that damsel came,
A champion for her sister's cause to claim,
The king among his meanest chose, and sent
A knight enough to all her need content,
Though late his days in menial toils were spent."
He answered: "She may count her labour as naught
Such nameless knight to bring; for had she brought
Lancelot or Tristram, Lamorack or Gawain,
I might have matched him."
"He is not any of these,"
The dwarf replied, "yet the black knight he hath slain,
And two beside, and in plain battle hath won
The green knight, and the red knight, and the blue."
"I care not whom he be. That Persaunt's knees
Bent to him is naught. Myself, I reck me none
But those I named."
Boldly the dwarf: "But few
Thine heart accounts, and yet with heaven is all,
And loftiest vaunt may meet the lowliest fall."
From that rich gloom again the blinding day,
Issuing he knew. The waiting pursuivant
Led forward to the castle gate his way.
With parley here the lighter drawbridge fell;
A wicket in the looped embrasure swung,
And clanged behind him, barred and stanchioned well.
There was a rounded turret chamber, hung
With arras wrought of Merlin's fantasy,
That Lionore loved in summer heats, for high
To those great winds that roam the changeful sky
Its fourfold casements stirred, and outward gave
Sight of wide leagues of never-resting wave,
And lengthening lines of coast and inlands fair.
And in her lonelier mood, and oft, and ere
Lord of blue heaven the sun had left the sea,
Hither would she climb the dawn to meet; and here
She bade the dwarf be brought.
With bended knee
He reverenced whom his master served, though she
Small state required in her last towers beset,
Nor distance from her following held; nor yet
Linette's lithe grace and lively glance and bold
Her bearing showed. The sorrow of year on year
Of strife unsought, from loss to loss that led:
The nearer grief of straitened days: the fear
Through the still sage night the sudden noise to hear
The storming of those leaguered walls that told,
Wherefrom, but by the stormful seas she fled,
No rest remained, her earlier force had spent,
And thinned her youth and paled. Yet while he bent
In reverence at her feet his word to say,
No knight he thought could long a lovelier may,
If once the kindness in her eyes were glad.
"Lady," he said, "thy sister greeteth thee,
Her near return to tell."
"Good dwarf," said she,
"Reveal me how she fares - what grace she had
At Arthur's court - and if she brings and who
Sufficient this strife to take, which else shall be
The grief of death to him, and more to me,
The beacon of wreck to all that once I knew."
"Lady, he is a likely knight and fair,"
The dwarf replied, "and noble and young; his hair
A cloak of gold around him. Tall is he;
For damsel's longing meet, and nurtured well;
Of Orkney born, but more I may not tell."
"But all the holden ways how wonned he through?"
"He passed them as a noble knight should do.
For first the brothers he slew who held their ward
Beside the passage of the perilous ford."
("Good knights were both," she said, "but trained to use
The customs of the murderous line of Breuse.")
"Then the black knight, in strife dismounted, slew;
And next he did the green-clad knight subdue;
And the red-knight alike, and overthrew
Last that strong bearer of the blazons blue."
"Then," said she, "hath he fought and over-thrown
Persaunt of Ind, whose knightly name is known
Among the noblest?"
"Yea," the dwarf replied,
"These hath he overturned, and more beside.
For first he countered Kay, and left as dead;
And 'gainst Sir Lancelot next with hardihed
Long space his powers he proved in equal fight,
Till Lancelot learned his name, and made him knight."
"Dwarf," she replied, "glad words to me ye bring,
As when long winter wakes to laughing spring;
Already that in my lifted heart I see
Peace to these lands restored, and they to me;
And freedom from these irking walls to ride;
And power to gift again those friends allied
Who by my loss have fallen. Be thine to take
Greeting to this good knight, and charge him make
A nearer night's abode, that first my care
Shall fitly ordered for his ease prepare.
Thyself until the coming night be sped
Shalt here remain, and with the morning tread
A different path from that ye came, whereby
There dwells a hermit in the woods, and he
Though spent in prayer he lives, glad host shall be
To him that cometh this needful strife to try."
All as she willed was done. The dwarf remained
Till morn, and of the Reed-Knight's leave returned
A guided way. The woodland path he leamed
That ended at that lonely hermitage;
And soon the halcyon-bannered towers regained,
And told his faring, and the word he brought,
That in set lists await, at prime of day,
For mortal strife prepared, to lose or slay,
Either for wound or prayer according naught,
The Red-Knight of the Reed-Lands, known of men,
The victor hailed of forty strifes afore,
Would Arthur's champion meet.
Delay no more
Would Gareth. There rose for arms and steeds the call.
Forth from the porch of that white-gleaming hall,
Out from the white-walled city of Persaunt, then
To end this quest they rode. At even fall
They reached that hermitage. Within was spread
A fair repast. Choice meats and wheaten bread,
And sun-touched fruits were there, on service all
Chased gold; and wine rich-flagoned, with high device
Of bannered hosts wrought round it: Lionore's; gift.
Therewith a missive that her hand had penned,
'At mortal pass,' she wrote, 'few words suffice.
Accept this offering at my hand, and own
A fitter than a fairer gift I send,
To one so soon the dreadful lance to lift
In strife that death determines. O my knight,
Unknown, be fearless in that strife and strong,
Flowers later to the Victor's crest belong.'
The summer night was past. The day newborn
Arose beneath the lifted wings of morn;
As early they. Before.the wayside shrine
Took from the hermit's hands the Mystic Wine:
The Body of God they shared; then brake their fast;
And ere the time of matin-bells was past
Had reached and halted on a rising brow
Of seaward cliffs. Beneath their sight at last
There lay, begirt with warlike walls and wide,
And deeply dyked upon the landward side,
The straitened towers they sought: "Behold ye now,"
She said, "where last my sister's power denies
This urgent foe, that save her rescue lies
In thee, shall fall."
Below the cliffs was spread
A space of dunes around the in curving bay.
Here with scant guard, as truce allowed, there lay
Her tented foes. Where to a bolder head
The tongued land rose, beneath the seaward side
Of those wide towers, there stretched a sheltered quay,
Whereby the offerings of the partial sea
Were landed, and the castle's need supplied.
Barques of far lands, that thither had laboured long,
Storm-strained, but havened now, were warped along
The quay: blithe through the shrouds the sea-wind sang:
Strange tongues were heard, and mariners' voices rang
With Hail and Ho. The wind-borne cries they heard;
And constant through the changing sounds recurred
The long slow lift, the heavy resonant fall
Of breakers, striving with the strong sea-wall.
But inward bent their path again, and down
Through screening pines, to tangled brushwood brown
And sinking still to where nearhand they rode
A black morass. A sluggish water flowed,
Drained from it, and looped upon the marshy plain
A grove of oaks; and there, the leaves among,
Two score good knights in shameful ending hung,
Their arms beside. The bones of some long slain
Sunlight and rain and wind had bleached and stained;
Some ghastlier yet the mouldering flesh retained.
Abashed was Gareth: "What mean these arms," he said,
"That hang unseemly by the caitiff dead?"
"These be no felons, but knights reputed fair
Who in thy danger died. Ye can but share
Their shame, but if bold heart shall overbear
A ruthless foe."
Her words no answer found
From him that heard. The marshy path they wound
In glooming silence now, and overhead
The death-chains creaked, the croaking raven fed.
But now where that dark water found its way
To seaward through the breeching cliffs, and met
The salt tide-levels, they came. Before them lay
The hostile camp. A wizened thorn, and wet
With sea sprays blown along the windy shore,
Was here, and from a branch projecting swung
An ivory horn of one great tusk wrought,
Which he that list might blow, as those before
Had blown, good knights, though now their deaths were curst
With shame, he thought, and paused not for the thought,
But blew it full loud.
Already the lists were set,
In space prepared beneath the walls, where erst
The tyrant of that siege had overset
So many afore, and when that sound was heard
Wide through the waiting crowd the murmur stirred,
And all the walls and forticed towers were lined
With watchers; and in the clear list-space await,
The strong Reed-Knight his restless charger sate.
"Now," said she, "behold, and let thy heart be light
And glad, for yonder is thy deadly foe;
And here the field of honour or loss, and lo!
Where from her lattice my sister leans to know
The looked-for coming of the high king's knight,
Her hope relies."
And Gareth replied: "This strife
I asked and have, and but with parting life
I part not from it. Though mazed of mind am I
That any there be of knighthood strong and bold,
Such shameful custom in his heart to hold."
"Nay, but bethink ye yet. O, Gareth!" She said,
"Of this last chance my doubtful heart is dred.
Thou art matched of none - thou art proven first - but here
Might any bold knight of all abate his cheer,
Such shameful doom awaits his overthrow.
A nameless knight ye came hath barred ye none -
Leigance and lands and honour thy lance hath won;
And through thy valour, and thy warlike deeds,
The compassed paths are free - my sister's needs
Are shown - together we will re-seek the king -
A thousand eager spears shall Arthur bring
To slay him."
"Nay," said he, "as Christ me save at last,
I will adventure."
With the word he cast
The lance-thong loose, and drest his shield, and drew
The reins together in his left hand. Well knew
The noble steed the meaning of it, and high
Tossed his steeled head, the coming field to view,
That other strifes recalled. For well knew he
The thronging crowd - the barriered space and bare -
The pause till loud the calling clarion blew -
The word - the spur - the shining point before -
The flying dust behind - the shock that bore
Or those or they.
Now toward the lists they drew,
Close under those dark towers where Lionore
Leaned forth, the bearing of her knight to know,
As oft - how oft, she sighed - she leaned afore.
She marked the mighty steed, the arms he wore
In victor's right, the careless ease and skill
His riding showed, the greatness and the grace
His aspect bore, as halting, ware and still,
At the list-end he reined, his foe to face.
But now the signal clarion sounded shrill,
Waked to swift life, a thunderous bolt he gleamed.
The tawny mane of hair behind him streamed,
No casque could cover. As down the lists he charged,
Her Perseus some descended Sun-god seemed.
Love waked unware, and hope her heart enlarged.
They crashed: the rearing steeds, the spears up-flung,
Oft had she seen, but not beheld as now
The like event. Clearcast from either selle
In full career, these strong knights backward fell,
Rolled in the reddening dust, and neither stirred;
But through the expectant hundreds passed a word
Of wonder and doubt.
Sore hurt, and bruised, and wroth
Such fall that so should any fate allow,
Heavily the Reed-Knight rose at last, and forth
Swung the great sword that most his might relied
To end his foe; and nigh too late aware
Of that near death rose Gareth. A moment wide,
Ere yet they closed, his glance he cast to where
She watched whose fate to his this strife allied;
And, as men will, the thing he sought he saw,
So that to him the Lady Lionore,
Was loveliest of all ladies of all lands.
'And to be won with hewing of mortal hands,'
The thought leapt in him, and with the thought his blade
Swept circling down. A dreadful path it made,
By fending shield and turning sword unstayed:
Red wound it gave. But unsubdued his foe
Gave stroke on perilous stroke that wound to pay.
Not Persaunt fought as he fought; keen and ware,
Stronger and wilier he, and old in war,
Adept in cautious use and swift to dare,
With feint at helm and sudden foining low.
So fought they all the fervid noon of day,
Ceaseless. Large cantals of their arms were gone,
Strewn round them. Shoulder and side hewn naked shone
Or dulled with blackening bruise, or streaked with gore.
And still their weary wildered eyes before
The leaping light of those great swords, and still
With weakening strength belike, but tameless will,
Their shifting shields opposed the death to be.
Nor mortal hurt was theirs, nor might they yield,
Though faint to death, with life and fame in fee.
So fought they, till blurred sight and failing knee
His waning strength the Reed-Knight told, and all
The shame and ruin that must belong his fall
Suddenly his boding heart betrayed, and he
One last and desperate stroke achieved: the shield
Turned it: and Gareth countering swift and well
Thrust at the helm: his out-wearied foeman fell.
"I yield." From out the hollow helm the word
That ended that toiled quest the victor heard,
But paused not with his fatal point the more,
The helm to loose the fallen knight to slay.
"Bethink," he said, "of those ye slew before,
Pitiless, and hung in felon shame, when they
Fallen at the point of thy sword's mercy lay."
"Yet hold thine hand awhile, and learn," he cried,
"The vows that held me bound, by which they died."
"Years past," he said, "a damsel I
Loved well, who would not grant, nor yet deny
The goal of love, but ever with doubting eyes
Looked and delayed. A brother of known emprise
Was hers, and he from Arthur's earliest war
Held with the Kings, and on their part he saw
Loss following loss, the while himself he made
A name that grew. He joined a venturous raid
That saw the walls of Camelot ere it turned.
A trail of wasted steads and strongholds burned
They left; but parted in a hard retreat,
Oppressed on every side by thronging foes,
At last, outnumbered, overborne, this knight
Was captured, and thereon, with scant respite,
- These said by Gawain's rule, by Lancelot's those -
Being falsely judged to bear a traitor's name,
Was doomed, and hanged therefor, in utterest shame.
This news I heard, and deemed, her guardian dead,
Herself left lone, the maid would lightlier wed;
But when I asked her: 'Damsel, wherefore bide
Unmated longer, while the unturning tide
Of life flows past us?' 'Thinkst thou then,' she said,
'So soon, so lightly, I forget the dead,
Unvenged, dishonoured? Surely nay, but now,
If love be thine, I'll grant thee vow for vow,
That shame for shame shall be, and wrong for wrong.
Venge thou my loss. To plead my mercy bring
The knight held dearest of the hated king,
Gawain or Lancelot, that themselves may know
The cruel doom that will no mercy show,
And feel it as he felt it erst; and then,
And ever, and to all ends desired of men
Thine am I.' This charge she laid: this hope she gave.
Against the legions that thy part belong,
The power of Arthur, could my force contend
In forward war? Could any single glaive
Pierce through to where those honoured knights and strong
Tread the king's halls? As holden captives rend
Their bodies while the Table gazed? Return
Through all Logre with such a prey? The thought
Were folly. In deaths of lesser knights I sought
To cast a lure, to these wild lands to bring
Such chosen champion of the injured king
As first he deemed; nor doubted aught to earn
My pledged reward who long had all excelled,
Or joined in mortal strife or jousting play.
And so, vow-bound, long time this use I held,
Kneeling, to the victor's feet,
And all unarmed, in proof of peace, as thus
The fallen spake, his lords in fair intreat
Approached: "O nameless knight adventurous,
Until ye first the gains of mercy weigh,
Lift not thy sword this noble prince to slay.
His life, though justly thine, were spilt at cost
Of lawless days to be. But if he yield,
Many are the towers and wide the including field
His fealty brings, and ours, which else were lost
To Arthur's peace, and thee."
"Fair lords," he said
"Fain would I grant it. Yet how evil sped
The unguilty knights his sword subdued before.
And guilt is guilt, though mercy plead the more,
In that he wrought it of that lady's hest,
And therefore, mercy and justice to fulfil,
The one he wronged shall judge it, and if she will
Forgiveness grant, or penance, as like her best.
So that her land he render, and all requites
The trespass of this siege, and then those knights,
Sir Lancelot and Sir Gawain, at the Court
Of Arthur seek, and in full hall confess
The fault he purposed, and the wrongs he wrought;
That pardon may be to him who pardoned naught,
And mercy to a knight known merciless."
A fair pavilion on the high cliff brow
For Gareth's use was reared. His ruling now
Must all men round him wait. But naught would he
Of service, saving of the dwarf he brought.
For not that damsel famed of Brittany
More wise of wounds he deemed, and not for naught
The Reed-Knight's sword had smitten on helm and side,
While the long hours of mortal toil were tried.
Twelve days from that great strife had Gareth lain
His wounds to close, with eager heart full fain
On whom he long had served to wait; for though
Each day she sought her grateful care to show
With meats of choice, with fruits delectable,
With ever seeking of his ease to know,
Herself she came not. Hours, he thought, too full
Her new-felt freedom found, and toils of weight,
Perchance, and suitors at her opened gate
With various pleas her time constrained, but he
The lone hours lived, with but the thought to see
On whom he spent his longing, fainly blind.
With strength returned at last, this hope to find,
Forth armed he came: the waiting charger clomb:
Toward those dark towers of strife, her freed abode,
Beneath the blue sea-heaven's unbroken dome,
Slow-pacing, down the long cliff-path he rode.
The seagulls screamed beneath him, wheeling free,
In joyance of their wide realms of wind and sea,
But naught of these he knew, nor nearer heard
Murmur of leaves, nor voice of calling bird.
Before him, while he rode, his sight was set
On those sea-circled walls, his heart the debt
Their lady owed to claim; but while he gazed,
The ponderous gratings fell, the bridge was raised.
He reined before a hostile moat and wide,
And from a casement in the tower's high side,
The Lady Lionore, veiled, but surely she,
Leaned forth and spake.
"My knight, if mine ye be,
Wilt thou my will?"
"In all thou wilt," said he,
"I live to serve."
"Then light the charge I lay,
That twelve short months ye ride as list ye may,
And twelve months hence be here our trysting day."
"O lady," he said, "the boon ye now deny,
That with the best blood of my body have I
Bought from thee."
"And ye shall find my word is true,
And all ye seek of mine be yours to do
Your all desire. Assure ye it shall not fail.
And more shall work it to thine own avail,
Than here to meet thee now. The fleeting space
Of months shall soon return our meeting place."
He turned his charger then: she watched him trace
The path he came: his dwarf he called: and so
Rode forth, again an errant course to know.
Not long had Gareth, from that cold thanking turned,
The toil of those who take love's leading learned,
Required by her a friendless road to ride
Whose grace his offered life had earned, before
She heard, in joyless mood the while she sighed,
The trumpet at her gates of Gringamor,
Her brother. He held a lonely tower, amid
Entangling brakes and baffling marshes hid;
Forth raiding oft her straggling foes to slay.
Hard ridden by many a league of woodland way,
And by the high coast road, since first he heard
Told of the Reed-Knight's fall the rumoured word,
With twenty spears he came. Fit greeting said:
"O sister," he cried, "and is thy threatening dread,
For life and land thy waiting suitor now?
Relate his fall desired, of whom and how
His pride was laid. Ye scarce could grant him more
Than thanks require who won him."
A nameless knight is he to whom we owe
The thanks ye tell. A few short hours ago
I turned him from my gates denied, and yet
Remains the weight of this enduring debt,
To whom we know not, or if knows Linette,
She will not say. Ye know the price I set,
At point of need, on this deliverance won.
That boon to claim, when twelve short months: are done.
Or else refuse for other meed, as best
His choice prefer, shall here this knight return;
And wouldst an easy toil my thanks to earn,
Now hearken. Longer here I may not rest.
With morn I purpose to thy hold to ride,
Till summer heats are done. While there I bide,
Shalt thou the traces of this knight pursue
In secret wise, the which ye well may do,
Who knowest the land he rides, as else but few;
And when the fierce heat at the height of day
Beats on him, who rides such path as nowhere leads,
Rest will he surely on the wearying way,
And likeliest sleep, and thou by craft or speed
Shall seize his dwarf, and seek thine hold, and we
Shall learn of what great name his strength maybe,
And in what land his real abiding is.
I pray thee this thing of thy love, for this
I may not rest not knowing."
"O sister," he said,
"I have seen thee when the stricken field we fled
I have seen thee take the swollen ford, the while
The shafts around thee fell, and seen thee smile
To take it, though the hastened coursers swerved;
But never have seen as now thine heart unnerved
At naught ye know. Ere yon pale moon be spent
The dwarf I bring ye: rest thine heart content."
Careless of those fair lands that round him lay,
His dangered life had freed, regardless all
Of those wide fiefs he won, with tower and hall
That owned his will, whose forfeit wealth might call
A hundred damsels to his most desire,
Turned Gareth from those denying walls. No ire
Possessed his heart, nor any gall of wrong,
That one well served should seem of heart ingrate,
But sorrow of love delayed; for fancy strong,
In love most blind, on whom he knew not, spent
His longing youth, and left his sole intent
Only from those delivered lands to ride;
As though perchance the moving days would glide
More swiftly from him. To hold no course he tried,
But where fair prospects showed, or paths were good
He turned, or where the pasturing charger would.
So wandering, when the ruthless noon was high,
For loss of heat, a willowed stream he found,
And in the cool shade stretched and slept. Around
Were late-mown meads, and frequent vales. Anigh
A white flock strayed, but naught the drowsing herd
Regarded where he dreamed, nor heeded he
When pacing o'er the soft grass silently,
As the ware archer stalks the feeding game,
From oak to oak a blue-roan courser came,
A guiding knight beside her. Scarcely stirred
The timid sheep aside, so quiet they passed,
And gained the willow-shadowed stream at last.
A wary knight was Gringamor; though blithe
In hazard at the call of need was he,
And oft had cheered his heartened ranks to see
His gay regard, by desperate odds beset.
When forth he fared that dwarf by sleight to get
Scarce armed he rode, a courser light and lithe
He chose, for flight than shocks of strife more fit;
Took cautious trail, and rode some days un-guessed
In the close rear of those he traced, content
That toward his walls their wandering course was bent.
And when beside that willowed stream they lit,
Lured by cool shade that called to easeful rest,
He deemed the end of that long chase to test.
Slept Gareth in the noonday heat; a nigh
The dwarf, on whom a watchful charge was laid,
Drowsed into dreams. A rude awaking made
The grasp of Gringamor. A startled cry
Of warning for his lord, and then for aid
At urgent need, Sir Gareth aroused; around
A wildered glance he threw; the flying sound
Of hoof-beats dulled on summer turf he heard;
And all at once he saw that while he slept
Had been. Wide-wakened now, in wrathful haste
His steed he caught, his loosened arms he braced,
Swung to the selle, and hard pursuit he spurred.
But light and swift as wings the homing bird,
Her flying pace that blue-roan courser kept,
And fled by such known paths, the chase to foil,
As mired the following steed, whose burdened toil,
Neither stout heart, nor hurrying spur that sank
With sharp impatience in the labouring flank,
To equal speed could bring. The later day
Beheld him wandering in a pathless way,
His steed outworn; his fleeter quarry fled
He knew not where; and wide around him spread
Uncoultered wastes of brake and marsh and slough,
Where of black swine a scattered herd were fed.
Here paused Sir Gareth, well pleased of heart to see,
Near-resting on a great oak's fallen bough,
The swine-herd. Bent in wizened age was he,
And gnarled and twisted as an orchard tree
With humours of the marsh. Some tidings now
Of whom he sought to gain: "Old churl," he said,
"While watched ye by the herd, hast seen a knight
Fast fleeing, and mounted on a courser light? -
A blue-roan courser, swallow-swift, and trained
With gathered feet the shaking bog to leap,
And through the trackless marsh sure paths to keep;
A darkclad knight and tall; a dwarf constrained
Before him borne?"
The churl, the while he spake,
(He was a house-born serf to Gringamor),
Uprose, and leaning on the staff he bore,
While the splashed knight and hard-breathed steed he eyed,
Laughed out, and still with wrinkled mirth, replied:
"Yea, lord in sooth, that knight but late I saw,
Past riding our gay lord Sir Gringamor,
With such a mourning dwarf; and save ye ride
So fast in friendship on his trace, to bide
Were wiser while ye may. For jacent stands,
A lake's width from the bordering brake, his tower.
Compassed ye ride by those who own his power;
And he beside so perilous of his hands,
That even the knight renowned of the Reed Lands,
Though vexed by rescue, and swift-striking raid,
Where late he sieged, to deal his wrath delayed.
Where lies his hold? In pathless marsh it lies."
"Yet were I lightly there, with thee to guide."
"Yet ere I lead thee, lord, thou long shalt bide.
Nor mayest thou find a path, where no man may,
But fearful in the treacherous swamp he dies;
For strange and secret winds the only way."
"Now shalt thou lead me thither, lest my sword
Thy life should reach."
"Nay, lord, thy wrath may slay;
Yet would I not their private path betray."
"Now peace be thine," said Gareth, "a wrongful word
Ye well rebuke." A coin of gold he gave.
"Yet will I find him at last." Again he spurred,
Till the close brake he cleared. From where he gazed
High to his sight those towers, nor distant, seemed;
But laked in marshes where the wildfowl screamed
In countless clouds, his nearer riding raised.
Such was the hold of Gringamor. A keep
Square-built upon a knoll of land; and deep
Three sides the lake, and one the moat, below,
The whole engirt, and out beyond the lake
Stretched the great marsh toward the bordering brake;
Nor causeway crossed, nor path appeared around
The outmost limits of the fortressed mound.
Was reared a spiked stockade and strong, that so
Might no firm ground be left a camping foe,
Though the broad marsh were won. This outward wall
Closed a wide space of garth and orchard, all
To ordered bearing tamed, through peaceful years,
While the loud discords of the land were fears
That came not nigh.
The wars of Vortigern,
The lawless days from Uther's end that came:
The raidings from the heathen north: the strife
Of king and king, with ruin of land and life,
A hundred years had lit the nights with flame,
And strewn the fields with slaughter. Storm and sack
Walled cities knew. In ruins scorched and black
Many a proud tower lay. But showed that garden close
Still the sweet blooming of the guelder-rose,
And changeful only to the changeful day
The quiet green lawns and dreaming orchards lay,
And its fair lilies, virgin-white, and meet
To lay with hands of prayer at Mary's feet,
Untrampled grew. Such boon the marshes gave
To that lone hold and strait demesne, and those
Who more than venturous ways its safety chose.
Short space paused Gareth, that warning waste to heed.
Too wroth of heart for care of peril, he drave
Forthright for those sought towers his warier steed.
Perchance some deal the long June lights had dried
The deeper ways, perchance were signs, unseen
Of Gareth, of where the lighter chase had been,
That guidance to the charger's path supplied.
For oft he stayed in snorting fear, and oft
Tossed with fresh pride his haughty crest aloft,
As backward from the sucking marsh he drew
His mighty limbs, and with good heart anew
Shouldering he broke the treacherous boskage through;
Or in the reeded waters plunged, and gained
A safer way than that which fairer feigned.
Sure it is at last, though nigh with strength foredone,
Fouled to the plume, the castle gates they won.
With that light-captured dwarf had Gringamor,
More soon than Gareth, from lighter toil returned,
Where waited in her chamber Lionore.
And there, that there might all she willed be learned,
The dwarf he led.
"Sister, a simple theft
Has brought thy will. His angered lord I left
Long miles away; for in such wrath he rode
As plunged him blindly, where no pathway showed,
In marsh and mire. A sorry sight, I vow,
And lightly shent, thy victor-champion now."
Now when the dwarf that damsel marked, he deemed
Some gentler purpose than their violence seemed
Was hers; but with their meaning shown, to hold
Him there constrained, until the name he told
Of whom he served, he answered, brief and bold:
"Lady, thy will be thine, and thine the shame,
Who seek in such foul wise to gain the name
Himself withheld, who broke thy bondage free.
Last-born of Orkney's royal line is he:
A child of Lot: Sir Gareth his name. For ye,
Well were it for thy peace to let me back,
Or he that surely cometh shall work ye wrack,
That ye shall much repent, if more delay
Or further wrong be mine, that blood shall pay."
"Then must we meet his wrath as best we may.
Not lightly here he cometh." Laughed Gringamor,
"But let the meal be called; that long I more
Than feared I ever for mortal knight."
Who from the dwarf's rebuke her glance had turned,
Lionore, who through the casement gazed, replied,
With quieter speech: "Good brother, the thanks ye earned
I gladly pay; and if again I ask,
Than this thy kindness shown, a harder task,
(For marked she winding through the marshes wide
Whom well she knew) - it were not vain" - nor more
Her secret thought she told, for sharply spake,
With hand on steel, the good knight Gringamor:
"Methinks himself he cometh. The fiend him take!
I thought not any unled, by mire and brake,
Through such foul ways could win. Ho, varlets there!
Let the bridge lie, and leave the courtyard bare,
For wrath may blindly take a plainer snare,
And stoutly close the inward gates; mayhap,
The hunter here shall feel the girding trap;
And bid them at the winches stand prepared
To fall the gratings when the hunt is snared.
And there may wait this headlong knight, until
We tame him, sister, to what end we will."
But answer gave him Lionore: "Surely no:
We may not him to whom such debt we owe
With craft repay. Recall, he doth not know
Whom here we be, in this strange tower, unless
Linette were seen, and here, in no duress,
But welcomed guest such wanderer well may stay.
Yea, ye shall work it in my purposed way.
Restore the dwarf unwronged, his peace entreat,
That we may here as chancing strangers meet;
For in such guise to know him my heart is fain."
"Sister," he answered, "now I know thy will,
I may but work it till it change again."
By this, loud raging in the court below,
Sir Gareth they heard: "O, thieving coward," he cried,
"Must I forth drag thee, hound, from where ye bide,
And beat thy craven bones, too mean to slay?"
Gay laughed Sir Gringamor: "Now, sooth to say,
Thy favoured champion hath a gentle way."
And laid his sword aside, and down the stair,
And to the courtyard came, and Gareth he there
Met with fair words: "Whatever I wrought of ill,
God's life! I will amend it to thy will;
And therefore mayst thou 'light, and of thy grace,
Make for thine ease my halls thy biding place."
But Gareth: "My dwarf! My dwarf!"
"Is safe and here,
And waits thy will, for when constrained he told
Thy lineage, and thy noble deeds and bold,
These lands so late have seen, my heart fore-thought
The wrong I compassed first in careless sport."
Then forward came the dwarf his horse to take:
"O, fellow," Sir Gareth him answered, "for thy sake
More toil was mine than ever I wrought to free
The Perilled Hold." For mired and drenched was he
From plume to spur, and that great charger showed
The like foul tokens of the labouring road.
Then, while the dwarf the neighing charger led
To those long stalls the inner court that lined,
Ease after toil from willing hands to find
Was tendance called, and damsels' gentle hands
Unlaced the helm, and loosed the buckler's bands;
His wearied limbs the cumbering harness shed;
And water in fair-shining bowls they brought,
Of silver all, some Roman craftsman wrought
In days agone; and robes for banquet fit
When lords of worth with well born ladies sit,
In the high places of the marshalled hall.
To Gareth now, in seemlier guise arrayed,
Fair spake that knight, and fainly sought to show
His altered will, and in smooth phrase he prayed
His grace, as guest desired, unthinking all
That late had been, and o'er the waiting board
To deign the ladies of his halls to know.
Not long of ire was Gareth. In light accord
He answered: "Yea, the grace of meat ye owe,
And well may pay." So to the feast they came,
In the high-built banquet hall. A graceful dame
And young, his wife, was there, her princely guest
To greet; and like the dusking violet drest
In those dark twilight greens that liked her best,
And girded in great pearls, a prince's dower,
Was Lionore. None from her quiet mien had guessed
How in her heart the rose of hope aflower
Strove with cold fears to face that meeting-hour.
In gracious phrase, but coldly courteous, she
Her greeting spake to stranger knight, and he
Not knew her at all, but thought, 'Christ's mercy be!
I would my lady were as fair as she,
Or she were mine the rather,' and gazed as though
Some weird-wrought charm his fettered eyes beguiled,
That all men round, the while he knew not, smiled.
So closed, in mirth and feast and beaker's flow,
The striving day. At whiles, a minstrel sang
Some chaunt of love, or war's wild-sounding lay,
Or death's lament. At whiles, with jest and play
The hall was loud, the spoil-hung rafters rang;
And still in all to Gareth, his rank confest,
Was honour paid alike as prince and guest.
Much of his late-done deeds they asked and praised,
But most that wild marsh ride their marvel raised,
That weight of steed and armoured knight unled,
In safety might the watery spaces thread
Round that lone hold, where, in the trackless marsh,
The gliding snake, the bittern booming harsh,
Were lords before. But Gareth unthought replies
To words half-heard returned, the while his eyes
Not left her, whom he knew not, yet that he
Loved instant. Well her glad heart knew it, while naught
Her glance allowed, but in her secret thought
Rejoiced she now her chosen knight to see
At her near hand, and bound in love's swift spell,
A nameless damsel's thrall. 'Did I not well?'
So sang her thought, 'Did I not more than well?
Shall I not win him, and of myself alone,
Ere the great wealth and ere the debt be shown?
Yea, he shall take me at last, or no man will,
Till death's embrace. O beating heart be still!
What lover as mine hath been, or now doth be?
Not Merlin, for all his wisdom. Nay, perde,
Fiend-born. The mirthless Lancelot? Nay, not he.
Not Arthur's self. Fate to his high degree
By God's weird called him; but my knight unknown
Cast his birth from him, and by his worth alone
His honoured place is won.'
Her heart awake
Exultant sang. Love in their meeting eyes
His answered signals knew, who stoops to take
His tribute where he will, but most above.
All callings waken to the call of love.
For else how came that Pelleas, fallen first
In that that false lure Ettard's vain beauty spread,
When Nimue loved, of her more love was led
All baser bondage through? Or Merlin erst
Had given all heaven to earn that damsel's kiss,
And yet, for all his wisdom, woo'd amiss?
While yet with revel and dance the hall was gay,
Though night without from morn's first lances fled,
To her own chamber, tired of feast and play,
Did Lionore pass. Disordered all it lay,
With arrasene and broidering silks bespread,
The task unthought, since, half a life away,
There Gringamor the captive dwarf had led,
So few short hours of flying time before.
Here came Linette, who from the feast had stayed,
And later, from the hall, Sir Gringamor.
"O sister," he said, "this prince in all men's gaze,
His heart and longing at thy feet he lays;
And need we more in careful words conceal
The truth that should with swift troth-plighting seal
A bond that well for all thy friends were made?"
"Nay," said she, "ye shall but plead his longer stay,
As wished of all, nor more thyself reveal."
Back to the hall went Gringamor. The day
Faint-entering now the orient windows through,
The cresset lights had paled. A harp yet rang,
The dying mirth to cheer.
"Lord prince," said he,
"Ye may not greatly care that all men see
The looks that on my sister's face ye cast;
And seek ye love's desire (such loves as last),
Perchance herself she would not greatly chide,
If her true thought were shown. While here ye bide,
I would ye know ye will not lightly tire
The welcome first we gave, nor find untried
Such revels to thy delight as here we may,
Contained in these poor towers and lone; and she,
Her worship saved, in all thou wilt shall be
Thy comrade of the hour."
"If sooth ye say,"
Gave answer Gareth, "a knight more glad than I
The world not holds; and wandering no sure way,
And pledged a twelve months in these wilds to stay,
Fain would I bide to prove thy sister's will,
And thank thy friendship shown."
"If equal skill,"
Laughed Gringamor, "and conquering might thine
With damsel's heart as in the doubtful fray,
The test is here. Mark from the oriel where
The long garth lies below. A postern stair
Leads to it; and seek ye in this far retreat
Where the flowered lawns with bowering orchard meet,
Oft there she walks, when dawn among the leaves
To Lionore then returned he spake:
"Lo, sister, if the orchard path ye take,
There may ye meet a knight who yet believes
Chance strangers we, for some short hours, ere yet
The dwarf must tell it."
In faintest dawn they met.
The grass beneath their feet was green and deep,
And in the white mist of the morn asleep
The ghostly orchard lay.
The word she led
To those late strifes he won: "Men tell," she said,
"That more than lordship and great lands are thine
By these devoirs: that whom ye freed to wed
Ye purpose, and her heart accords."
He answered. "Naught they know. No bond is mine.
Believe, that whom I freed I scarce have seen;
My entering at her gates herself denied.
If more in mine intent or hope hath been,
I dreamed, and with the dawn the dream is fled."
"All spake her at the last the plighted bride
Of him that should that rescue reach." she said.
"They spake her honour and all knighthood wrong,
Whose swords for right are drawn; the joyous breath
Of battle only in the gage of death,
Nor larger issues, may to strife belong.
Whate'er I dreamed, to claim beyond her will,
I thought not ever, and in full freedom still,
And in no dream, but in the waking day,
My sword and service at the feet to lay
Of one more near, with single purpose now,
My heart, beyond all words, desires."
If whom ye served, and whom to serve ye seek
Be one? And whom ye left that now ye speak?
Who from the thrall of that long siege hath sought
Her childhood's home awhile? If more the thought
Of orchards where fed birds in winter sing,
And lawns that bear the chalice-flowers of spring,
And guelder-bowers the sweet mid-season bends
Bloom-laden: where the heaven-wide dawn ascends
Unbroken, and the light of sunset eves
O'er the long marsh its changing splendour weaves,
Was hers, than in the place of power regained
To rule; and here, and by this strangeness feigned,
Hath lightly from thy lips her freedom won,
That most she longed?"
She ceased, but answer none
Found Gareth awhile, amazed, till came Linette,
In proof of all: "I would not if I might" -
At last he spake - "in any count of debt
Require thee of thy love, nor such requite
Could honour ask or grant. But all forget
That hath been; search thou in thy heart, and see
If no love lies therein, nor love may be
To whom ye feared, not knowing."
Her lifted eyes,
Answered: "Dear lord, my troth is thine," she said,
"While the life last, and longer; for wert thou dead
No man should have me. Lured in love's devise,
I did but seek to win thy heart, unled
By aught but love. I would not gladly wed,
Though to content mine own desire, who came
As meed of valorous deeds a hand to claim
That in repute of wealth alone he knew."
And answered Gareth again: "As God is true,
I seek thee for thyself alone, as erst
I sought a dream of errant fancy nurst.
I dreamed, and waked to find the dream is true."
So, in this heaven new-found, brief days and few,
The freedoms of the bond of love they knew,
While summer slept around that secret hold.
Short seemed the day, and long the loveless night,
And every parted hour a lost delight,
Till came a trumpet at their gates that told
A herald, guided o'er the marsh, to bring
An urgent word to Lionore from the king.
The while high deeds and love's elusive lure
Drew Gareth, content in perilled paths and dure,
For test of knightly worth, awhile to tread,
Till found he that dire road at last that led,
When least he hoped, to haven sought and sure,
South-bound, beyond the furthest Hebrides,
And beating west to meet the clearer seas,
A strong-oared galliot came. Well worth the while,
That outward far they beat from strait and isle,
Though winds were light, and oft reluctant oar
They laboured, lest the strong tides backward bore
Their gradual way. For when no more they saw
White reef or loom of land, at evenfall,
The east wind vanquished heaven and smote the sea,
Battling against her moon-led tides, and she
Rose rebel, and roared in flying strife, with all
Her tossed white plumes and glittering points war.
Loose to the wind the trembling barque they gave:
Ever behind it piled the whelming wave:
And like a wounded bird that struggling flees,
With one drooped wing it fled the following seas.
Two days the storm the shielded bulwarks beat.
The barque far driven of waves too fierce to meet
Left the known world for chartless wastes. At last,
When somewhat of the storm's first wrath was past,
With daring helm against the wind they wore,
Dropped the long yard down from the bended mast,
And out again they cast the toiling oar,
And backward fought the flying course they drave.
Strained of the gale, and of the beating wave,
Though manned of coast-born kerns and builded well,
Hardly the barque the heaving waters clave;
Down the dark slopes as toward its grave it slid,
Laboured the long sea-hollows, and met the swell
With sullen lift, the high-beaked prow that hid
In sweeping seas. At length the land they hailed;
Hauled the great sheet aloft, and southward sailed
With wind abeam: the oars aboard they drew:
With larger force the washing hold they baled;
Hope of fair haven in their hearts anew,
They sailed the varying coasts of wild Strathclyde;
With fear they watched lone Mona's mystic shore;
Beat round Surluse, and passed the cliffs of Gore,
And came at length to where the rising tide
Entered Usk-mouth. They saw the long-ships ride
At anchor, gardant. Terraced gardens gay,
And wooded slopes arose on either side,
As slow they oared that crowded waterway,
Where shallops slim, and painted barges plied,
Till under grey Caerleon's time-eaten walls
They came, and turning on the tidal flow,
Shipped the long-wearied oars at last, and so,
With noise of hawsers flung, and seamen's calls,
Swung to the quay.
The warden of the shore
Marked the high standard that the halliards bore,
And meetly there with all observance met
The landing of the Queen Morgause. She came
From where King Lot, the lawless north to tame,
His towers on Orkney's steeper shore had set.
Some high boon from her brother's hand to claim,
Or urgent tale and dire of wasting war,
Such perilled voyage must show. One told the king
She came. Well knew he that no light cause would bring
That Queen to meet him in those towers that saw
Their earlier love.
In the great hall they met,
As when she came on that first embassage,
Guile-born, and burdened with a kingdom's woe.
But colder greetings now, and words more slow.
Were theirs, who no wise dared recall, nor yet
Might in fair speech their conscious hearts forget
The earlier day.
As the long hall she paced
In converse with the king, while all displaced
Before them where they trode, of envious age,
Showed that fair queen no proof, though mother was she
Of mighty sons, in childhood erst, and those
Sweet-seeming eyes no years of grief could dim,
Glanced Arthur's halls again, as when to him
Before, a lure contrived of treasoned foes,
They beaconed that strange wreck that neither knew.
As over that gay scene her glance she threw,
Down the clear space there passed, for riding mailed,
But helmless yet, a goodly knight to see,
Though, as his sire, of seldom mirth was he,
As though his nearing doom his heart foreknew,
Dark king's heir. She marked his bearing high,
And looked on Lamorack, and the weird prevailed
That Merlin told in his dark redes; for she,
Sad queen of sorrows, doomed the bane to be
Of all she loved, and doomed at last to die
At violent hands of those whose life she gave,
Destined she came a flower-soft way to tread,
As fate willed fair, one deathward joy to know,
Ere the near darkness fell.
"By perilous wave,"
So spake the king when greetings meet were said,
"And lawless chance of many a pirate isle,
And lairs of havened foes await, whose wile
Or force had gladly siezed a hostage dear,
In one poor galliot's guard why sailed ye here,
With no foreword to caIl my navies forth
To line thy purposed way? Or wiselier planned,
A path had Caradoc cleared through Lothian land,
Thine old domain. Some fear in that wild north,
Where lonely in thine eyrie heights ye dwell,
Beyond the wont of days, thy steps foretell,
Though but last moon the messaged word was well
That southward came."
"Of all this naught," she said.
"My captains' wards are sure, my towers are strong,
Thy name my most assured defence. No wrong
Of victoring foes I tell. Thy sister keeps
Her charge; though oft from night's dark anvil leaps
A spark of war, and oft the long-ships ride
Anchored beneath us, till the turning tide
Release them southward. Mine a nearer dread.
- O brother, what do ye with my sons?"
And he: -
"I hold them in honour, as their deeds require,
None closer to my throne. What tidings dire,
And haply false, have brought thee?"
"Nay," she said,
"Sure tidings mine. Where rests my youngest? He
The last I sent. His deeds that worship thee,
Ignobly, midst thy meanest serfs are done."
"Sister," the king gave answer, "sweet Morgause,
What wrong is here that lacks all likely cause?
Content thy heart, I knew him not thy son.
Nameless he came, if whom I think he be,
And as his chosen boon thrall-tasks he took,
And in the time he chose he cast them by,
When to his charge I gave adventure high,
His most desire. His fair return we look
There came to Arthur, while they spake,
The Keeper of the Gates.
"Lord king," said he,
"A scout inriding tells that hereward be
A force of spears. Unseen, he watched them make
The osier ford. Their ordered points he told:
Five score and three. The backward pensels blew
Wide in the wind, but naught of these he knew,
A halcyon azure, on a ground of gold,
They showed, and armed were all and trapped in blue.
"When later through the screening trees he gazed
From loftier ground, a cloud of dust upraised
On the far skyline spake of spears behind
In heavier rank. He paused no more to bring
His tale. The outer gates forthright I barred,
And bade thy trumpets call the larger guard,
Ere here I came in haste to further find
"Good friend," with laughing eyes the king
And kindly grasp on Brastias' arm, replied,
"Recall thy guards, and let the gates be wide.
I would not friend or distant stranger show
In this device a face of fear, as though
Caerleon itself might doubt a raiding foe.
But marshal in good rank thy spears await,
In the walled yard, their bridled steeds beside,
And warn the archers at the water-gate,
That all be ware; and forth Geraint shall ride
With front of peace, and parleying trump, and pride
Of pursuivant, those nearing bands to meet,
And fitly foes defy, or friendship greet."
So charged Geraint the king, and forth he rode,
In shine of steel and sheen of cramasie,
No girl in that great court more blithe, to feel
O'er his huge limbs, and o'er the woven steel
The crimson silks a flow. With flutter and stir,
Tossed manes, and tramping hooves, and trumpeter
Sounding, along the narrow street he sped.
Geraint was he of whom the tale was told,
So woodly on the damsel whom he wed
His heart was set, that her sure love to hold,
In those gay silks himself desired he clad
Beyond her will her quieter grace, and then,
To hide her fairness from desire of men,
His restless longing urged his heart, that he,
A mighty man of voice and sword, retired
To secret towers between the wild and sea,
Forgetting for her the fierce delight he had
In splendour of arms, and shocks of tournament,
And mortal risks of war. His thoughts he spent
Her passing days to please, till falsely ired
By sleep's half hearing of a word half meant,
Would naught of speech, but bade her ride attired
In meanest garb before him, while that he
Taking such paths as chance unreasoned led,
In wrathful silence rode. Strange haps were theirs
In lonely ways, and warning oft she gave
Unthanked, who first the threatening fear could see,
At perilous pass his life to guard.
Too greatly, asks his fall. A sword point drave,
In one great bout, beneath his failing shield,
The draining wound some while his pride concealed
Till witless from his steed he rolled, and there,
The while she strove his hurt to staunch, there came,
(Not yet had Arthur cleansed the western land),
A bandit riding with a lawless band.
A damsel, and a warrior seeming-slain,
And richly armed, his glance espied, and twain
He called, and charged them that dead man to bear
Back to his hall, and he the damsel there
Himself conveyed, and with fain words desired
Her favour. Fair as seldom seen was she,
Though garbed in no rich guise, and stained and mired
With riding in rough ways. Not used was he
To take repulse from those of mean degree
His fancy sought. But when she wept, and prayed
Only his grace her wounded lord to aid,
Thereat in ire to cease her wearying plaint,
He led to where his followers bore Geraint
And left him. Seeming there a dead man lay
Cast on his shield; he had not moved since morn.
And she, regarding with a glance forlorn,
Shrank with fresh dread, for then Geraint he knew,
And now beheld her with regard amazed.
A cruel smile and slow, the while he gazed,
Of his dark thought was born. "God's doom!" he said
(Hard on a shrinking arm his grasp he laid),
"Is this slain knight the mighty prince ye wed,
That with a hundred spears was wont to ride?
This draggled gown the gay brocades his bride
Would boast? The priceless silks his wont to give?
Well, let the dead man lie! For we that live
The larger joy. A living dog - ye know
The word. Who may not when her meed she may,
Belike shall prove at last the lighter prey.
The joy ye feel ye need not shrink to show,
For this fair meeting-time. Wilt answer naught?
Nay, ye shall tell me how his death ye wrought,
And we will drink his end. The feast is spread.
We wait thee at the board."
At this she said,
Low-voiced, and speaking from the cold despair
That darkened with the thought: 'He would not dare,
Except that my dear lord were surely dead.' -
"I will not look at wine nor taste of bread
Till death, except my lord shall rise and share."
"O fool!" he said, "dost think the dead man there
Regards thee or thy vow? But thou shalt learn
In pleasing those who live thy more concern.
I will not wailing in my halls from those
My favours know. Thy heart may well rejoice;
For I will set thee first. Hast yet no voice
For thanking that my fancy deigns? Shall blows
More potent prove to wake thee to my will?"
And smote her on the cheek.
More ware than hate or fear, his warning gave.
Out from the shield the dead man leapt, and clave
Limours, even to the mocking mouth. He fell,
Not knowing his end; and wild his followers fled
In panic from the dead man risen, until
The banquet hall was bare.
Whate'er was said,
As forth they passed, his wrong he owned, or she
Of her more love, without reproach, forgave
Her foolish lord. A finer trust, maybe,
A closer bond was born. Whate'er he learned,
Wound-healed, to Camelot soon his steps he turned,
And serving there, or in his own domain,
Approved his worth in all men's eyes, and earned
A place at Arthur's Table late left bare,
When came the dolorous news of Ireland's heir,
By Tristram, in that Cornish island slain.
Now outward rode Geraint, till came to view
Sir Persaunt, with a hundred spears in train.
The long rank from the narrow path's constrain
Debouched, a lengthening blaze of gold and blue,
And burnished steel that back the sunlight glanced:
His household knights.
Sir Persaunt, ere they met,
Geraint surveyed, some space alone advanced
In proof of peace. A noble knight, though yet
Wound-weakened, worthy of honour, his glance appraised;
And greeting with frank words and vizor raised
He gave, and what fair chance the path had set
Of guests of worth to Arthur's gates desired.
Then Persaunt spake: "Fair lord, no guests we,
But conquered men. Our victor's word required
That here to Arthur's peace we yield. Ye see
The strength I rendered when my life I won,
Forfeit beneath the stronger sword of one
Called Beaumains, hence but late of Arthur sent."
"I speak not for the king," Geraint replied,
"Yet to his cause so fair a band ye bring
Of yielden men, that well methinks the king
May welcome, nor the chance too greatly chide
That late to aid his foes thy force was spent.
- But whence are these?"
For while they spake there drew
A darker rank behind the gleaming blue,
Dull green, late summer's dulled larch-green, in hue,
The spears of Pertelope.
A further line
Defiled, and longer in their rear, the force
Led of that white tower's lord, Perimones.
Of various shields, but plumes and lances red
They showed in sign of whom they served. Blood-red
The leaping flames along their pencels spread.
Amazed, Geraint their gathering number sees.
"These spears" - Sir Persaunt spake - "are naught of mine.
Sir Beaumains won them in like tourney-course
To that self-sought in which myself I fell.
But these are few. Not yet the generous source
This stream hath spent."
For in the rear were seen
Seeming an endless line of lances sheen,
In marshalled order fair, and stern of mien,
That forth the Red-Knight of the Reed-Lands led.
Shielded and helmed and trapped in dusky red,
As winter bracken where the frost hath been,
Dark glowed their line against the woodland green,
When rightward of Sir Persaunt's rank they drew.
Then forward to Geraint the leaders came,
And instance of their fall and rank and name
Gave each, and while their followers paused await,
He led them through grey wall and brazened gate,
Along the thronged and curious street, and so
To Arthur's hall, where many a good knight knew,
And welcomed to his mood an earlier foe.
And thus before the waiting king they came,
Where all was told, and they, but Persaunt, learned
Their victor's name.
"I marvel," said the king,
"That he who from my throne such thank hath earned
Himself delays; and wherefore hear I naught
Of that stout knight Sir Percard? Since he fought
Against us, gathering back their broken wing
So hardly, when king Ban at Duglas clave
The twelve kings' centre (Benoic, vert and or,
Charging behind him), and the failing war
Ceased; and the heathen horde to coast and cave
Fled from us - with that lost strife his faring died
From speech of men. But deemed I ever with these
He held;" and spake he to Perimones,
"Are ye not brothers?" and he the king replied,
"Yea; the Black Knight was he, in bond allied
Against thee. Beaumains slew him. Not he thy friend
Was ever; nor here had bent, his life to gain."
Answered the king: "Whatever part he chose
His choosing graced, his aid advanced, and fain
Am I that noble as he were all my foes.
But hear me for yourselves; the while ye live
In fealty to Sir Gareth, to each I give
The freedom of the Court; and so ye learn
The laws of mercied rule, and justice stern,
That guide our ways, and so the realm ye serve,
Regardless of the ended days, deserve
Well may ye at our great Table seats at last,
Where all in honour are one. Reed-Knight, to thee
A new name give I, Sir Ironside, that the past
May die, forgotten. To whom ye wronged, I will
That ye shall pray their grace to overget
Ceased evil, frustrate. Noble knights are they,
Who know forgiveness takes, not grants a debt;
And losers most are those the least who pay.
- But speak ye naught of Gareth, the where he wends?"
And answered Ironside: "Lord, the strife we had
Not bloodless ceased. Awhile, as one that mends
Sore wounds, his tent he kept. His dwarf forbad
All audience, save to those with gifts that came
From whom he freed. Myself, who owned the shame
Of that defeat, by youthful strength excelled,
Less wounded rose from where his might had felled
An older and a warier-fighting foe.
My days I gave to work his hests, and so
Rendering my power to her I sieged, I took
In few days' space the hereward path. Delayed
At Persaunt's towers, whose wound might nowise brook
An earlier road, some time perforce I stayed,
Where tidings came that Beaumains, risen, had sought
The Lady Lionore's gates, who granting naught
Of favour for his larger gift bestowed,
Denied him entrance. More I might not know.
Men tell that to the inland wild he rode."
Then rose Gaheris, and called his arms, and fain
Rose Gawain in like mood, and Agravain
Thereafter, each his brother to seek, but spake
Sir Baudwin's wisdom hoar: "Ere yet ye take
Blind path, recall thy woodcraft; would ye go
On the cold trail, or watch the waiting doe,
The stag to snare? While easeful here ye bide,
If send the king a summoning trump, to ride
To those sea towers of warring damsels held,
Ye well may learn the thing ye seek, for seld
Delivering knight from his won damsel's call
This counsel given, applauded all
Who heard: the king approved: the charge was said.
Forth with the hour a fitting troop were sped.
The golden light of evening on the lawns
Was levelling through the linden boles, and made
Of light-moved aspen boughs a quivering shade;
And that fair star that summer dusks and dawns
Makes lovelier than themselves, still watched un-seen
The sunset hours.
Within the linden screen,
With words contenting on themselves to dwell,
And ways of their late separate lives to tell,
Regardless of the passing hours were they,
Lionore and Gareth. To her mood he told
Of wars and wonders learnt from sages old,
Of that wild land in northern mists that lay.
Dim tales of Gods on earth in Odin's war:
The wiles of Loke: the thunder throne of Thor:
The Great White Worm that twisteth evermore
Round the doomed world: the mystic northern lore
That strove with Christ along the Baltic shore.
And when she asked him: "In thine Orkney, say,
Are none that yet to Asgard heroes pray,
Nor yet their ravening warships vex ye more?"
"Nay," said he, "my fathers held, great Gods are they;
But Christ is mightier, as the later day
At Badon showed; and heathen raid and wrong
Not oft hath siezed our shores, nor held them long,
Since owned the isles the fear of Arthur's sway.
Though sometimes, like a seeking bird of prey,
On the dawn-line a long-beaked galliot lay,
But seldom vext us: further south they found
In wealthier lands than ours, such hunting ground
As more they loved, the price of strife to pay."
While thus they spake, the shrilling trumpet brought,
The word that called her thence to Arthur's court,
And instinct counsel of her love she sought.
"Dear lord," she said, "what shall I? For rede I well,
The king and thy queen-mother would have me tell
The where ye be. Or wilt thou that we ride
Together, and meet them there, and side by side
Inform them of thy will?"
He answered: "Nay,
For I would win thee in the princelier way,
From all men's hands, in all men's sight; and so
I rede that separate to the Court ye go,
And if they ask of where the while I be,
Reveal it naught. But ye shall here proclaim,
Or under thine own towers, a tourney high,
That those that will may strive thy hand to claim,
From dawn to darkening hours. Nor doubt that I
Will hold thee single from the world's desire;
And win thee, lifted in the world's acclaim,
Wide as man's speech is known; and leave thy name
A star, not Nimue's nor Iseult's more high.
Yea, though death barred, God granting, this would I."
"Faint heart," she said, "then must I lonely ride?
And wilt thou thus my granted love deny?
Dost fear thy queen a foolish choice may chide?
Shall all be lost a further chance to try?
Well, as thou wilt! Who knowest that slave am I
To all thy thought. I will doubt nothing. But this
Grant me, who only in thy favour live,
Lest sorrow long for our short mirth we pay,
The tourney prize be mine to choose and give;
Not as thou sayest. But I will there purvey
A princely guerdon for the victor named:
A crown of curious art: a tercel tamed
And gentled to the hand, and lightly worth
A king's release. No pride of wealth or birth
Were uncontent to win it."
This boon to grant
Accorded Gareth, who longed of aught on earth
To please her most, and with that pursuivant,
She rode, and royal spears, and there beside
Her own gay pennons, in recruited pride.
Thus to Caerleon she came; and questioned there
By Morgause and the king, to all declare
Of Gareth, and where he wended: "Yea," said she,
"He came, and of thy foes the land is free.
But errant knights ye may not trace nor bar,
For wide as migrant birds their wanderings are,
Not to be known of any. But this will I,
At the near feast. My heralds, wide and far,
A tourney at my seaward towers shall blow,
Where those who take my part shall all defy
Thy Table's strength. Nor need ye doubt that so
Shall this young knight be drawn, to overthrow
What knights he may; and in my hand shall rest
Fit prize to find for him that striveth best."
"Lady," the king replied, "short time is thine,
To range thy side to meet such knights as mine;
Yet for its purposed end it likes me well,
For here in sloth we tire; and sooth to tell,
Are more than few that when this chance they know
Will join thy league with joyful hearts, to show
They are no way less than these; and in my name
Shall herald at thy herald's side proclaim
A seven days' truce to every outland foe,
That he may gain thy land who wills, and go
In safety when this gentle joust is through."
Short space had Lionore left, her needs to do
Ere that near Feast; but when in swift return
The homeward path she took, around her drew
The conquered knights of Gareth, her will to learn,
With tender of strong spears. His wound un-healed,
Sir Persaunt knightly claimed the unequal field.
"O friends," she said, "I thank your eager pains;
For knights the noblest that the world contains
On Arthur's part will come, and these to meet
With spears too few, were but to make defeat
Sure, ere the tourney trumpets sound. Remains
Yet space of hastening days to wide proclaim
Occasion offering for such knights as dare
Against the Table's pride their pride compare,
And join belike such force as may not shame
The vaunt of challenge."
This so well did they,
That ere the Feast-dawn rose, short weeks away,
At Lionore's call to meet that tourney-day,
Bold Palomides and his brethren came;
Grumor, and that wild knight, Northumbria's heir;
And Caradoc of the Dolorous Tower; with him
Dark Turquin: brethren huge of girth and limb
Were these, of lawless life and evil will
To Arthur's rule. To work his Table ill
Their first desire. And many of cleaner name,
Though none more feared, to join that tourney came,
From ford and fell, from wastes and marshes wide,
From crag-built tower, from forest, and border-side,
From Reged, and Listonaise, and wild Strathclyde,
And Lyonesse and the isles. Proved knights of these,
First-held of Lyonesse and of Cornwall, came
Sir Tristram, bent to prove a wider fame
In more contest. His friends of less degrees,
But good knights all, a tourney place to claim,
Red Sadoc, Dinas, Arnold, Gautier, came.
But while that wide the announcing trumpets blew,
And knights and kings towards the assembly drew,
Lionore to those marsh towers returned again,
Where waited Gareth in fretted patience fain
For this great tourney-test his heart had planned.
The path she chose that left the wilder land
Untraversed; north from her sea towers it lay,
Through Persaunt's rule, the longer, surer way.
A scene of dazzling lights, and breaking rain,
And following blue was hers. Such skies as when,
By that same path, a knight unheard of men,
Her champion there her sister brought, but soon
Had changed it from the flowering lure of June.
The elder thickets closed a denser screen;
The sunlit oaklands glowed a duskier green;
Nor in the wide fields of the open way,
As when they rode beneath the falling may,
Purple and silver sheen, and green and grey,
The seeding grasses blew.
A byeway here
Her riders knew, that brought, when eve was near,
Dark-risen against the wide marsh-sunset clear,
Her brother's towers to view.
Some space of restful days they stayed, till near
The Feast Day drew. Then Gareth rose, and spake
His purpose wide a separate path to take,
To join as some mean knight unnamed of men
The ranks that 'gainst the Table ranged, "and when
My helm ye see, (if some strange helm ye know
For mine), drive forward through the strife, believe
There is no strength of steel but love should cleave
Clear through it; no bond but mightier love should break."
She answered: "Nay, I was wont never to fear
When the glad tourney met, but joyed to hear
The rush of chargers and the fewtred spear,
With clangour and shock and splendid deeds fulfil
The expected day, and strength is thine, and skill
And valour beyond the accustomed use, to meet
The hurtling chance of war; and I was born
Of such strong race as ever hath called it scorn
From danger's lure to turn reluctant feet.
No fearful maid hath won thy heart to shame
A nobler will. But sooth of old was said,
The closer to the founts of joy we tread,
The nearer to the fruited boughs we reach,
The more such stroke of adverse fate we dred
As loses all at last; and since ye came
Where my poor towers above the straitened beach
Of all my lands remained, and hardly they,
And the long night of fear at once was day,
A shadow, by the shining of thy spear
Unsubstanced: since in memoried days more dear,
In these green bowers we met, and meeting here,
Love gave our lives a worth not dreamed before,
My heart enrapt in this reverse of woe,
Behold, a fear is mine not felt of yore
In most extreme."
"Content thee, sweet," he said
"Thy woes are all behind: thy joys ahead.
God grant it ever."
But when his foot was set
To stirrup, again with lingering words they met.
"O Gareth," she said, "and would ye giftless go?
Dost ask no scarf or fluttering sleeve to show
Thy leigance here?"
He answered: "Nay, forgive,
That men should learn too soon thy pledged intent,
Ere the thronged tourney join."
"But I would give
Such gift," she said, "as shall thy doubt prevent.
This ring of old from faery venture came,
And faery light moves in it, a changing flame;
And as the flames leap, and the lights transpose,
With gleam of like-lit hues the wearer glows.
And in the ring this larger virtue lies,
That whoso wears, within him the quick blood dries,
And flows not from his wounds, though deep they be."
Sir Gringamor a strong bay courser gave
For change of steed, lest of long path foredone
His charger fail when mortal need had he;
And sure proved arms, and therewithal a glaive
His father from a heathen tyrant won.
Down the straight blade a twisted rune was bent
That Merlin's lore had faltered. Few but none
Were princelier furnished for that tournament.
It was the Feast of the Assumption, when
The Mother of God laid down her mortal state,
And at the left hand of the Father sate,
To plead before His throne the doles of men.
Mid-summer heats, with threats of thunder, lay
On the wide dunes, and o'er the shining bay.
Along the out-curving coast the dunes were bare,
But near the late-sieged walls of Lionore, there
A hundred decked pavilions rose in view.
For where of late the Reed-Knight's tents prevailed,
The Table camped. As that fair morn ensued,
A hundred knights forth issuing, helmed and mailed,
Their waiting chargers gained, and iris-hued
Their painted symbols shone, their pensels blew,
Sure of strong steed, and sure of tested steel,
Elate of heart the proof of strength to feel.
In shattering impact on a friendly foe,
Toward the appointed lists were thronging in
The mightiest names of Arthur.
High nobles of the lines of Bors and Ban
Lords of far Gaul, and spears Armorican
First rode, their various arms engrouped below
His own blue lions; and Orkney's regal line
Were next; and many a lord of Trent and Tyne;
Home spears of Camelot, and of fair Logre,
Of Servage, and the Coast, and Winchelsea;
Caradoc of Scotland Urience, lord of Gore;
Dodinas, and that fain prince Sir Sagramore;
Brandiles; Brewnor; Dinadan's silver shield;
The Haut Prince with his subject knights in field;
Ewaine fey-born, and Griflet fils de Dieu;
The sons of Pellinor, Mador de la Port;
And Baudemagus there behind them drew,
Who to the Court came never, so strait his vow,
Since Tor was in his place preferred; but now
Occasion offering, as his wont, he sought
His worth to show. Of good knights loved was he,
And greeted fitly to his high degree.
Beneath the castle walls the lists were set.
The castle knights in shadowing gates as yet
Their numbers hid, the while the Table's might
Rejoiced the king to view. A goodly sight
They filed their ranks before his lifted seat.
Then in the silence of the marshalled pause,
The heralds loud proclaimed the tourney laws
That ruled the day.
Then first Northumbria's heir,
Encountering Sagramore Desirous there
Reeling alike from equal joust and fair
With splintered spears recoiled. Were next to meet
Gawain and Palomides; neither seat
These knights against their common shock sustained:
In kindred fate they fell. Then vantage gained
The Christianed brethren of the Pagan knight
Against Gaheris and proud Agravain;
And glorying in the castle's gain came forth
Brian of the Isles, and Grumor of the North,
But backward soon a limping loss they bore,
Cast from the spears of Aglovale and Tor.
So strove awhile, till summer noonday's height
Declined in heaven, with varying change of gain,
Against the Table's strength, as valorous men,
The castle knights, till numbers fewed, and then
Turquin and Caradoc of the Dolorous Tower
Came forth, two brethren of repute so dread,
Awhile it seemed that none would meet their power,
Which many a noble name had captived led.
Their hearts no tourney test, but mortal war
Preferred. This shameful pause of tourney saw
Pellinor's strong sons, and entering side by side,
Lamorack and Percival, the joust they tried;
Nor vainly for the Table's fame they toiled,
Though from the sundering shock their steeds recoiled,
Their seats they held, and their good lances drave
So well, that all they felt they largelier gave.
Then came Sir Arnold and Sir Gautier; they
Encountering with Brandiles and with Kay,
Either for Cornwall brake an equal spear.
Then Tristram entered with those knights his friends,
Sir Sadoc and Sir Dinas. Tristram first,
Against the war-proved might of Bedivere
Riding victorious course his fame extends.
But next Sir Sadoc and Sir Dinas fell,
Chargers and struggling knights at once, so well
Ewaine, and that good knight of Winchelsea,
Sir Tristram's and the castle's gain reverst;
And Persaunt too before Sir Lancelot fell;
Yet the Green Knight bore down Sir Lionel,
And 'gainst Sir Ector rode Perimones
An equal joust.
But spite such toils as these,
Still the strong spears of Arthur congregate
Unwearied; still the heralds' call they wait,
Alert and sure; while for the castle there stands
Sir Gareth, who with the Knight of the Reed Lands
Their last reserves remain.
Their foes, the knights of Arthur, emulous,
For earliest course contend, as judged their pride
Short tourney could the castle's knights provide.
Awhile it seemed that thus the event should show,
For Bors against the Reed-Knight rode, and though
Backward they reeled in one like overthrow,
And the Reed-Knight to claim the joust was fain,
Too bruised he rose some space to joust again.
But Gareth raged those famous names among,
For Bleoberis first outmatched he flung,
And the fine force of Galihodin quelled,
And might for might Sir Galihud hard he felled,
And Dinadan next and Brewnor both excelled,
And 'gainst Sir Sagramore sure seat he held,
And Dodinas in clear field he overthrew.
These with one spear he flung, and no man knew
His sure device, who changed in green and blue,
And argent guise and gules. He overthrew
King Anguish next: saddle and knight he bore
To earth at once; and Caradoc's pride he won,
Even he, and Urience of the land of Gore,
And Baudemagus, and his deadlier son.
Then that Haut Prince who only sought the best,
Seeing these great deeds he did, put lance to rest,
Spurred toward him through the lists, and cried on high:
"O knight of varying hues, who doest defy
So many of all our strongest, bruised and shent,
I pray thee joust with me." Sir Gareth heard.
Thence for his weightiest proven spear he sent.
His noble war horse, reined but seldom spurred,
Felt the sharp pricks, and roused his wearying pride.
Down the clear lists their thunderous course they ride:
Like thunderous storm in covering dust they meet:
The expectant crowd in waiting wonder bide:
The uprearing chargers both regain their feet.
An equal course it seemed, until was seen
How the Haut Prince in seat uncertain swayed,
And how his casque, where Gareth's lance had been,
Was riven aside. Forth rushed, their lord to aid
A score of subject knights. A sure retreat
Their generous numbers gave, but Gareth none
Withstood: content to hold the lists he won.
Then spake king Arthur to Sir Lancelot:
"These changing hues conceal a knight, God wot,
That few might match. Hast marked how many of those,
Thy famous house, he fells, and wilt thou not
Take lance anew, and for our part oppose
A knight from whom may honour well be won
By even thee?"
But Lancelot answered: "None
May call me slow to seek where honour dwells,
But doubts my thought of honour offering now.
Such tale of foundered steeds and vacant selles
Surpassing labour shows. It well may be
This knight doth pass his previous strength that he
Loves and is loved, and in that need excels
His natural might: and naught of honour I see
For any, of such great deeds grown emulous,
To enter freshly these strewn lists, and thus
With force conserved to fling the wearier knight,
His victor courses all to overthrow
By loss at last; and therefore, if I might, -
The which God knoweth. not I - I would not so."
Then swords were drawn, and general tourney blew,
And many a vanquished knight refreshed, anew
Sought honour so late denied, and through the press
The shields of earlier victors, to redress
His loss before. From out the eager van,
First Palomides rode, and strife began
With Bleoberis, who, with careful skill,
Against the furious onfall fenced, until
Behind he heard the thundering ranks, and then
Spurred chargers and the meeting tides of men
Closed, clashed and swayed, and each from either hid,
And bore them far the eddying whirl amid.
Confusion wide the deafening lists contained.
Sank knights unseen, or strife unheeded, gained.
There the Reed Knight with Lamorack clashed, and there
Sir Tristram in strong onset overbare
Lord Gawain's sevenfold might - dismounted long,
And soiled, he stumbled in that fluctuant throng.
Lancelot at Turquin smote, and he repaid
In equal kind, and Caradoc pressed in aid,
And hard Sir Lancelot on both sides assailed.
Yet nothing thereat his high repute he failed,
Nor gained they ground upon him. This combat drew
The gaze of all beholders: all men knew
The fell repute of fear those brethren bore.
But he, however in truth his strength he strained,
Sometime with semblant ease their strife sustained,
And wounding strokes returned with strokes as sore.
May no man speak which knight had longest dured,
For Gareth rode between. In might assured,
He broke their strife apart; but never a blow
He smote at Lancelot. Guised in varying show,
An azure knight he hurled his horse between,
And swerved aside a glint of glimmering green,
And forward thence in russet gold he rode.
This courteous aid that gave a seeming foe,
And parted in the press, and strook no blow,
Sir Lancelot marked, and in his heart he deemed,
Beaumains he knew, whate'er his changing seemed.
But Gareth far hewed that crowded strife amid,
And tireless deeds of such devoir he did,
That Tristram, wondering as he watched him ride,
Persaunt and Ironside called and spake aside:
"Know ye this knight, that through the lists doth ride
In restless might, of colours that shine and change,
All hues of heaven's strong bow? Such arduous pains
He needless dures: he ceaseth never as we,
Twixt bouts of strife, to vigour and breath re-gain,
But where another would rest from reaped success,
Instant he offers anew his proved noblesse,
And from fresh venture wrests more mastery.
So here doth never another save Lancelot."
"Now, verily," spake Sir Ironside, "know ye not?"
"Nay, in good faith," he said.
"The knight is he
The lady of the castle that loves, and she
In the like mood desires. Myself, perde,
And Persaunt earlier, and his brethren three,
To reach her need, in mortal strife he won.
Nameless he rose by spirit adventurous:
Called at the Court Sir Beaumains: proved a son
Of old King Lot, and brother to Gawain thus.
A child in years he seems: a giant in might:
Sir Lancelot knew him the first, and made him knight."
Then counselled Tristram that they rode as one,
To guard his course against mischance, that none
Might wrest his honour by some late emprise.
But Gareth, who moved in changing light concealed,
The while they spake, had left the encumbered field,
Urged by strong thirst, and riding past the rise,
Of those long dunes, his furnished dwarf espies,
Who waited where he told, and while he laved
In the salt tide, and drank the water fair
Which brought the dwarf, he gave for greater care
The priceless ring, and he, who lightly braved
A later wrath to gain his earlier way,
Returned it not when Gareth in eager haste
Re-entered, in the conquered arms he won,
The striving lists. Were shining splendours none
To hide him now. But riding and mien - the sway
Of body and blade - the swinging mane of hair -
Proclaimed him that good knight so well that graced
The earlier jousts. And in the concourse there
Were those of old the Black Knight's arms that knew,
And passed a word from whence a murmur grew
Of: "Beaumains," gathering to a thunderous cry
Of: "Gareth! Gareth!" That rose and swelled on high
From barriers thronged and crowded walls. The lord
Of that strong joust alike with lance and sword
They hailed him. Signed at this the king to cease
The failing strife. Down sank the instant blade;
For succour of wound or fallen steed to aid
The striving knights contend in equal peace.
But Gareth, enchafed his secret name was known
Before his time, to ride some space alone
Resolved, and through the out-thronging lists, and through
The jostling of the straight and warded way
That backward to the knights' pavilions led,
He passed, in that confusion marked of few,
Where wounded knights, and knights discomfited,
Their own retreating sought; nor heeded they
The cries they left, the where the king's award
With call of trumpet the heralds long proclaimed,
And chosen victor of the strife they named:
"Gareth of Orkney, knight of Lancelot made,
Deliverer of the passes and the ford,
Breaker of that long sieging, overlord
Of Ironside, Persaunt, and Perimones,
And Pertelope, with all their lands," they cried,
"Approach thy prize to hear."
But none replied,
Nor Lionore told, although she longed, the way
Her watchful glance had followed.
With short delay
His wrath upon the waiting dwarf to spend,
For that shrewd wile that showed him; then to send
A backward word to Lionore, brief that told
His soon return, the long cliff path he clomb,
Paused on the height a space at ease to view
The gay-thronged beach, the line of whitening foam
That led the advancing tide's reflected blue,
And turned his steed toward the lonlier wold.
No nobler ever the watered vales have bred
Than that good steed, in pride and hardihed,
That Gareth rode that day, but many a course
Ridden at strained speed, that jarred with severing force,
And later, in the throng of tourney press,
Sharp pause, sudden turn, swift swerve in wariness,
Obedient instant to the rider's will.
Had wearied sinew and nerve; and when the rein
He felt, that turned him to the naked plain,
From hopes of kindly stall and roofs of men,
In paths unsearched a proofless chance to try,
Is marvel naught that lagging pace he showed,
As Gareth still toward the wilder road
Controlled his steps, where rose no harbouring nigh,
Till daylight failed to guide their ways, and then,
As to black night with deeper shades inform,
Ceased the faint light of stars. Low-gathering storm
Above the branches closed, and hid the sky.
Then the dense dark the wildering lightnings tore,
And echoing thunders spake, and still the more
Behind the light the blinding darkness fell.
Soon from the rider's hand the loosened rein
Bade the good steed his choosing take, for vain
Were guidance more, who served his trust so well
That soon the sound of lapping waters fell
On Gareth's watchful sense, a moat that told,
And voices in the night were overhead
Of warders changing on a wall unseen.
To these he hailed: "If dwells in this lone hold
A Christian host," he cried, "of board and bed
A knight of Orkney craves his grace."
The warder from the wall in godless wise
Replied: "Thou knight of Orkney, get thee gone,
We hold no hostel here."
"False knave," he said,
"Not so far hence the use of daylight lies
But I can bide, and in due season slay
Who in such ribald mood would turn away
A wanderer from the outer dark who cries;
His lord's appeal unsought."
Then torches shone,
And inward voices called, and soon was seen
A lady in the flickering light that stood,
Above the wall's black height.
"Unknown," she said,
"Ye will not lightly find a dearer bed
Than here ye seek, if Arthur's knight ye be.
Against ye all my absent lord is wood,
And entering here unyielden, sooth I ween,
His like return thy speedy death should see."
"O lady," he said, "no fear of mortal knight
Shall hold me from this one hope of rest tonight;
And if I yield me to him, the when we meet
It may but lead him to his more defeat,
For I myself will rescue the first I may."
With caution lest more foes the darkness bred,
On this compact was entrance shown: they led
Where Gareth might now from wearied limbs discard
The chafe and bond of harness, stained and scarred
In the much conflict of the toiling day.
Nor long the while ere sunk in dreamless rest
Safe-guarded that strange tower its nameless guest.
Returning morn, with Gareth's absence shown,
Forth riding from the tented beach beheld
Lord Gawain, mailed. Sir Gareth's path had known
From where he watched unseen, a woodman eld,
While seated on a mighty oak he felled,
Earned meed of ease with nearing eve to take.
This marking told, had Gawain deemed that so
Short toil should serve his brother's goal to know,
And soon return persuade, and so to make
In surer peace his search, aside he laid
His white ger-falcon, and the different shield
Of less-known comrade bore, that thus concealed
No sign except he willed his name should show,
For wared he in that land an earlier foe,
That lightly, knowing, had his life betrayed.
But long ere Gawain reached that harbouring tower
Had Gareth risen, and held a pathless way,
Climbed for wide view, and when the noonday hour
From loftiest heaven declined, around him lay
High moors and wide and vacant, wild and clean,
Wind-swept, sun-beaten; and far to westward seen,
Beyond the reaches of the rising fell,
Mist-blurred in heaven, a craggy height of hill.
And upward he to that scarred height and bare,
Its airiest point to gain, attempted still,
Toiling his burdened steed. For thought he there
To search the path he came in wide survey,
That storm before and wildering night misled;
And thence return to take his speediest way,
Where love, from his swift-passing ire drawn free,
Constrained him in desire, that all his will
Bent to the bond. From that steep vantage won
His end he gained, and heartened now to see
Where lay those towers beside the distant sea,
The long descent at dangered speed he made;
Left the bare fells, and rode by stream and glade
A hastened way, till by foul chance he met
That lord to whom he owed ungrateful debt
For harbour of the night, with following train
Who homeward rode; and when strange knight he knew
Ride lonely in those wilds, where came but few,
Save in strong band, he turned to cross his way,
And hailed: "Thou wandering knight, I charge ye stay,
And render here thy name, and that ye do
In land not thine."
And Gareth: "If lord ye be
Of this wild land, my plighted word I gave
That I would yield me where we met, for so
Gained I thy shelter in much need, but know
That Arthur's knight am I, and deem ye now
To servage claim, or my free path to stay,
I will my rescue seek the first I may."
Answered Le Rowse: "I know not whom ye be;
But Arthur's name ye take, and that to me
Requires no more, for on thy part is none
But I would hold in vantage, thus foredone.
Yield shalt thou in sooth, or here thy life I slay,
Though in such pride ye speak as though, God wot,
Ye bore the conquered shield of Lancelot,
Or his so late the Perilled Hold that won."
"I conquered neither, nay, nor likely may,"
Laughed Gareth, "yet fear thee naught, nor more than they
Would pass thee, to our cause so loud a foe.
But while with meats of thine my strength is fed,
I would that on our separate ways we go
In peace allowed."
"Except ye yield," he said,
"Thy use of meat is through. Who eat my bread,
Ate once, eat ever."
Said Gareth: "Now witness all,
That last this strife who last, or fall who fall,
I sought it never."
With that, in swift prepare
He turned, and charged, and shocked, and overbare
That knight before his followers roused; and they
Seeing their lord fall, and in no emulous mind
Themselves the brunt of that shown force to find,
Some paces forward by their bolder rear
Impelled, and by their own impeding press
Baulked of sure aim, such lance they drave as snapt
On meeting steel, and learnt their cause to fear
The deadly point of that uncumbered spear
That picked its death. From which they broke, and drew
Some space apart, and counsel made that two
From either side should charge, and aiming low
Slay the strong steed, that o'er a fallen foe
Their following hooves should beat, and all fordo.
This felon wile they tried, for there was none
Among them knightly, wide in arc they spread
To half surround, and turning inward sped,
Converging on him. He avoided three, but one
Low lance-head glanced on cuish and girth, and through
The charger's side it thrust full deep, that he
Sank with one cry. But Gareth offleapt, and swang
Out sword, in gust of bitter wrath to see
That gallant steed so fallen, and forward sprang
Upon them instant, in such haste to slay,
That not they rode him down, but either way
Swerved from the shock, not yet so swift but who
The coward thrust gave, and two beside were cast
As carrion down beside that nobler dead.
Following those craven ranks, that scattering fled,
Till more pursuit were vain as grief, at last,
His urgent end recalled, the best from those
Unridered steeds, a warhorse of might, he chose,
And sought again his hindered path, and ere
Day dusked, had whence he left returned, but where
Stretched that slain steed, Lord Gawain seeking drew,
And owned it Gareth's, and when its wound he knew,
The foul side-thrust that slew it, and saw not there
Aught else of whom he sought, but dead men lie
That strong blows ended, doubt of what might be
So roused his thought to haste and wrath, that he
Pressed at such speed, and took the trace so nigh
That Gareth rode, that soon himself in view
Beheld; and well the sable shield he knew,
And judged, in ire for calm resolve too blind,
That there the victor of that strife behind,
Bore the won arms of Gareth, and loud he cried
While yet some space apart: "False knight, abide,
Defend ye for that shield not thine, or die."
And Gareth heard and turned. The speed he saw,
And thought no friend from out that wilderness,
Nor thus that friendship on his path should press,
Nor that strange shield Lord Gawain bore might tell.
But swift and hard he charged, and fierce as he
Came Gawain on him, and those strong spears too well
Aimed when they shocked, unbreaking, cast them wide.
Not Gareth such fall from Persaunt's spear had felt.
Nor light the fall, nor light the wound he dealt.
Nor light the wound he knew. Along his side
Reddened the rent mail. From ground he rose, and drew,
In haste reverse unthought to overget
By sleight of sword, but sleight of sword he met
That hardly with swift shield he turned, and knew
No easy knight were here for light ado,
But peril most dire to fame and life alike,
Save that for all he hoped his strength should strike,
Beyond his need in any bout before.
And Gawain from that fall confirmed the more,
His brother's victor in such might to know,
In deadliest purpose pressed that strife, that so
In mutual blood, belike, their suns had set,
But there, well chanced, near-riding passed Linette,
And loud she cried while yet some space away:
"O Lord Sir Gawain, whom ye seek ye slay."
And backward at the word he stept, and threw
The sword far from him, and knelt, in haste to stay
The blinded wrong he did. And Gareth, amazed
That one to-fore so fierce such grace should do,
Sank sword alike, and in short space he knew
How near avoid by reckless haste had they
From evil past retrieve; and Gawain raised
With eager hands, and greeted fair, and spake
His own impute of that mischance, and so
Spake Gawain in more keen reproach, that he
False strife from such unheedful wrath should make
To whom he sought.
But came a murmuring low
And distant of some moving host - and then
Loud from the woods the noise of marching men
Disturbed them from themselves, and spake Linette:
"I ride not lone, as like ye thought, but near
Is Arthur's force, to Camelot bourn, that here
Ye need but wait to see." And as she said
Came that great train, by marshalled lances led,
And midmost, kings and knights and ladies set
In ordered state and gay.
And Arthur heard.
And halted all: "Here let my Court be stayed,
And here in haste the needful banquet laid
For these wound-weary knights."
At the king's will, that wide ere even-close
Filled the green glades, and stilled the singing shaws,
As under those low boughs in crowding came
Damsel and knight and minstrel, lord and dame,
With clamour of squires and thralls and servitors,
And neighing of steeds to clearer pastures led.
Till soon was seen, the shadowing boughs below,
And dim blue heaven, the sylvan banquet spread.
But when two days had been of rest and cheer,
Spake Arthur to Linette: "While here we be,
I marvel that thy sister comes not near
To greet me, or the knight that holds her dear,
And hath so greatly toiled her love to gain."
And answer gave Linette: "She were full fain
And swiftly here, if here her knight she knew,
And ere he sued her love his love to sue,
If time allowed, with both alike intent."
Thereat the king: "Let ready word be sent
To bring her, that my nephew's will be known."
And ere full-orbed the crescent moon had grown,
She came, with no lost hour, but strong escort
Of lances round her, in resume of state;
And found fair welcome in that woodland court,
In honour of place allowed to greet her set.
In that bright throng of queens and ladies there
Not Gareth alone had sought her. Peerless fair
She showed of any; so love, that thralled her, through
Shades of past griefs had flowered her body's grace,
And earlier youth renewed in form and face,
As Gareth there in all men's sight she met.
To whom the king: "Would seem, not all ingrate
The damsel of thy rescue comes, her debt
To likely grant; and wouldst her converse dear
For short delight of summer days to take,
Or sworn in bonds that only death should break
"My lord," Sir Gareth replied, "above
All gifts of earth or heaven I long her love."
"Lady," he said, "thy travailled knight's desire
May well like answer from thy heart require."
"Most noble lord, my king," the damsel said,
"My lord Sir Gareth I would the liever wed
Than any king christened or prince, and if not he
No man of any that liveth my lord shall be."
"God's truth," Sir Gareth replied, "excepting thee
No damsel ever shall my heart rejoice."
And Arthur laughing: "Blows the wind that way?
Now for my crown I would not change nor stay
The strong accords ye tell."
And likewise spake
The Queen Morgause, with gracious words and glad
Including to her own whose doubtful star
Sir Gareth had led, through dangers dark and far,
To honour so high.
But while they spake Linette
And he, Gaheris, that first at Arthur's court
Her glance to take her sister's cause had sought,
Again, in that bright throng of courtiers, met
From severing ways. A goodly knight to see;
Not large as Gareth, but most assured of mien,
In all his motions light, and swift, and sheen,
Agaze at life with ruthless glance and keen,
The very falcon of his house was he.
Now lit that glance a softer gleam to see
The damsel most his life desired; and she
Smiled on him, and said: "O failing knight and slow,
I ever meet thee when no needs I know."
"Nay, leave thy japes and hear me. For thy sake
There were no danger that I might not take.
I say not, For a single crimson thread
That veins the deep gold of thy girdle shed
My life were thine. I say not, O, my sweet,
For leave to kiss the dust between thy feet
My thanks were due. Nor think such loves endure
As by such luring gain their goal. For me,
My sword strikes straight: my spoken word is sure;
And all my hope and all my heart to thee
Turn ever. Believe my plainer word - above
All damsels living I desire thy love.
I say not thou art fairest, but before
All damsels fairest found I long thee more
Than any or dreamed or known. We are not weak,
Turned of faint airs, and more than both were we
Mated. Consent thou to it, and we will seek
Together what life can give. Accord thy mind,
Were hard than mine a surer faith to find."
"Yea, I will wed thee," she said, "so ill ye woo,
It were the lighter toil to hold thee true."
And laughed, and left him.
Spake the king the while
That camp to break. For many a woodland mile
Was yet to pass ere Camelot's walls should see
Their looked return; and gave command to bear
Word to Kin-Kenadon's wide sea-towers, that there
The following moon should feast of bridal be
With royal state arrayed, for there would he
In three weeks' space arrive, with all his Court
That feast to grace, and there should all resort
Who fealty owed, or leigance sworn, and they,
Not least, whom late Sir Gareth's lance had won,
And lives allowed, their loyal debt to pay.
But wherefore more an ended theme prolong?
The deadly quest achieved, and Lionore's wrong
Reversed, and more than all he purposed done,
Were well some space the toils of life were stayed,
For some short moons its wonted cares delayed,
While to her heart the ended days became,
With all their weight of grief and loss and shame,
Vague as a dream from rising dawn that flies,
As vapour from the shining steel that dries,
Dimmed and dissolved; and ease of life despised
For larger ends, and loftier deeds emprised
So brought him where had weakness failed, to where
Love but itself allowed, while dusk and light
Alternate changed toward their near delight,
Till the last darkness died, and dawn regained
Deserted heaven, and that fair bridal day
Rose, and the daystar died in light away,
As in the paradise of God contained,
And stirred upon the windier moors, and on
The bare sand-wastes around Kin-Kenadon,
The wide-camped concourse which that festal drew.
So reached they haven clear from shoal and tide,
And tempests of deep ways, and night allied
Against them, over past; nor recked they here
Ceased ills; nor shadowing thought of later fear
Their joys dis-eased; for all that life may give
Most worth was theirs. Nor she her earlier grave
Forethought, nor he the wound that Lancelot gave
At Carlisle, at the last. Such lives to live
Shall learn who reach, that all things else were vain
In that compare, nor power to thwart their gain
In death's lost empire lies. Love emulate
Of his own triumphs in dead days foregone,
In blood recurrent on the scroll of fate
Illumes it ever. Again the dream is true.
Again, to each, the well worn path is new.
End of Chapter XIII