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BRANCH XXIV


TITLE I

Here the story is silent of the kingdom, and of King Arthur and Messire Gawain that remain in the castle to maintain and guard it until they shall have garnished it of folk. Here speaketh it word of the knight's son of the Waste Manor, there whither the brachet led Messire Gawain where he found the knight that Lancelot had slain. He had one son whose name was Meliant, and he had not forgotten his father's death; rather, thereof did wrath rankle in his heart. He heard tell that Briant of the Isles had great force and great puissance, and that he warred upon King Arthur's land, insomuch as that he had already slain many of his knights. Thitherward goeth he, and is come to where Briant was in a castle of his own. He telleth him how Lancelot had slain his father in such sort, and prayeth him right courteously that he would make him knight, for that right fain would he avenge his father, and therefore would he help him in the war the best he might. Briant made much joy thereof, and made him knight in right costly sort, and he was the comeliest knight and the most valiant of his age in Briant's court, and greatly did he desire to meet with Lancelot. They marvelled much in the land and kingdom what had become of him. The more part thought that he was dead, albeit dead he was not, but rather sound and hale and whole, had it not been for the death of Queen Guenievre, whereof the sorrow so lay at his heart that he might not forget it. He rode one day amidst a forest, and overtook a knight and a damsel that made great joy together, singing and making disport. 'By God,' saith the damsel, 'If this knight that cometh here will remain, he shall have right good lodging. It is already nigh eventide, and never will he find hostel so good to-day.' 'Damsel.' saith Lancelot, 'Of good hostel have I sore need, for I am more than enough weary.' 'So be all they,' saith she, 'that come from the land of the rich King Fisherman, for none may suffer the pain and travail and he be not good knight.'


II

'Ah, damsel,' saith Lancelot, 'Which is the way to the castle whereof you speak?' 'Sir,' saith the knight, 'You will go by this cross that you see before you, and we will go by that other way, to a certain hold. Haply we shall find you at the castle or ever you depart thence.' Lancelot goeth his way and leaveth them. 'By my head,' saith the damsel to the knight, 'This that goeth there is Lancelot. He knoweth me not, albeit I know him well, and I hear that he is sore troubled of his sorrow and mis-ease. Natheless, please God, I will have vengeance of him or ever he departeth from the castle whither he goeth to harbour. He made marry perforce a knight that loved me better than aught beside, and to a damsel that he loved not a whit. And so much might he still better perceive when he saw that she ate not at his table, but was seated along with the squires, and that none did aught for her at the castle. But the knight will not abandon her for his own honour, and for that I should be blamed thereof.' The evening draweth on and Lancelot goeth toward the castle, that was right uneath to find and in an unfrequented part. He espieth it at the head of the forest, and seeth that it is large and strong, with strong barbicans embattelled, and at the entrance of the gateway were fifteen heads of knights hanging. He found without a knight that came from the forest, and asked him what castle it was, and he made answer that it was called the Castle of the Griffon. 'And why are these heads hanging at this door?' 'Sir,' saith he, 'The daughter of the lord of the castle is the fairest in the world and that is known in any kingdom, and needs must she be offered to wife to all knights that harbour within. He that can draw a sword that is fixed in a column in the midst of the hall, and fetch it forth, he shall have her of right without forfeit.'


III

'All these have made assay whose heads you see hanging at the door, but never might none of them remove the sword, and on this occasion were they beheaded. Now is it said that none may draw it forth, unless he that draweth be better knight than another, and needs must he be one of them that have been at the Graal. But, and you be minded to believe me, fair Sir,' saith the knight, 'You will go elsewhither, for ill lodging is it in a place where one must needs set body and life in adventure of death, and none ought to be blamed for escaping from his own harm. Sir, the castle is right fell, for it hath underground, at the issue of a cavern that is there, a lion and a griffon that have devoured more than half a hundred knights.' 'Sir,' saith Lancelot, 'It is evening, nor know I how I may go farther this day, for I know not whither I go sith that I know not the places nor the ways of the forest.' 'Sir,' saith the knight, 'I speak only for your own good, and God grant you depart hence, honour safe.' Lancelot findeth the door of the castle all open, and entereth in all armed, and alighteth before the master-hall. The King was leaning at the windows, and biddeth stall his horse.


IV

Lancelot is entered into the hall, and findeth knights and damsels at the tables and playing at the chess, but none did he find to salute him nor make him cheer of his coming save the lord only, for such was the custom of the castle. The lord bade him be disarmed. 'Sir,' saith he, 'Right well may you allow me wear my arms, for they be the fairest garniture and the richest I have.' 'Sir,' saith the lord of the castle, 'No knight eateth armed within yonder, but he that cometh armed in hither disarmeth himself by my leave. He may take his arms again without gainsay, so neither I nor other desire to do him a hurt.' With that two squires disarm him. The lord of the Castle maketh bring a right rich robe wherein to apparel him. The tables were set and the meats served. The damsel issued forth of her chamber and was accompanied of two knights as far as the hall. She looketh at Lancelot, and seeth that he is a right comely knight, and much liketh her of his bearing and countenance, and she thinketh to herself that sore pity would it be so comely knight should have his head smitten off.


V

Lancelot saluted the damsel and made great cheer, and when they had eaten in hall, forthwith behold you, the damsel where she cometh that Lancelot overtook in the forest with the knight. 'Sir,' saith she to the lord of the castle, 'You have harboured this night your deadly enemy that slew your brother at the Waste Manor.' 'By my faith,' saith the lord of the manor, 'I think not so, for him would I not have harboured, nor will I not believe it for true until such time as I have proved it. Sir,' saith he to Lancelot, 'Make the demand that the others make!' 'What is it?' saith Lancelot. 'See there my daughter! Ask her of me, and if you be such as you ought to be, I will give her to you.' 'Sir,' saith Lancelot, 'No knight is there in the world so good but ought to plume him upon having her to wife, so always she were willing, and, so I thought that you would be willing to give her to me, I would willingly ask you.' Lancelot spake otherwise than as he thought, for the departing of the Queen and the sorrow thereof lay so at his heart that never again might he lean upon any love in the world, neither of dame nor damsel. He asked his daughter of the knight of the castle, and came before him to save the custom so that he might not have blame thereof. And he showed him the sword that is in the column, all inlaid with gold. 'Go,' saith he, 'and fulfil the custom, as other knights have done.' 'What is it?' saith Lancelot. 'They might not draw forth the sword from this column, and so failed of my daughter and of their lives.' 'Lord God,' saith Lancelot, 'Defend me from this custom!' And he cometh toward the column as fast as he may, and seizeth the sword with both hands. So soon as he touched it, the sword draweth it forth with such a wrench that the column quaked thereof. The damsel was right joyful thereat, albeit she misdoubted the fellness and cruelty of her father, for never yet had she seen knight that pleased her so much to love as he. 'Sir,' saith the other damsel, 'I tell you plainly, this is Lancelot, the outrageous, that slew your brother. Natheless, is it no lie that he is one of the best knights of the world, albeit by the stoutness of his knighthood and his valour many an outrage hath he done, and more shall he yet do and he escape you, and, so you will believe me, you will never allow him to depart thus; sith that and you kill him or slay him you will save the life of many a knight.' The daughter of the lord of the castle is sore displeased of the damsel for this that she saith, and looketh at Lancelot from time to time and sigheth, but more durst she not do. Much marvelleth she, sith that Lancelot hath drawn the sword forth of the column, that he asketh her not of her father as his own liege woman, but he was thinking of another thing, and never was he so sorrowful of any lady as he was for the Queen. But whatsoever thought or desire he may have therein, he telleth the lord of the castle that he holdeth him to his covenant made at such time as the sword was still fixed in the column. 'I have a right not to hold thereto,' saith the lord of the castle, 'Nor shall I break not my vow and I fail you herein; for no man is bound to give his daughter to his mortal enemy. Sith that you have slain my brother, you are my mortal enemy, and were I to give her to you, she ought not to wish it, and were she to grant you her love she would be a fool and a madwoman.' Right sorrowful is the damsel or this that she heareth her father say. She would fain that Lancelot and she were in the forest, right in the depth thereof. But Lancelot had no mind to be as she was thinking. The lord of the castle made guard the gateway of the castle well, in such sort that Lancelot might issue therefrom on no side. Afterward he bade his knights privily that they take heed on their lives that they be all ready on the morrow and all garnished of their arms, for that it was his purpose to smite off Lancelot's head and hang it above all the others.


VI

The daughter of the lord knew these tidings and was right sorrowful thereof, for she thinketh never more to have joy at heart and he shall be slain in such manner. She sendeth him greeting by her own privy messenger, as she that loveth him better than aught else living in the world, and so biddeth and prayeth him be garnished of his arms, and ready to protect his life, for that her father is fain to smite off his head. 'Sir,' saith the messenger, 'Your force would avail you nought as against my lord, for to-morrow there will be a dozen knights all armed at the issue of the gate whereby you entered to-night, and he saith that he purposeth to cut off your head there where he cut the heads off the other knights. Without the gate there will likewise be another dozen knights all armed. No knight is there in the world so good as that he might issue forth of this castle through the midst of these four and twenty knights, but my lady sendeth you word that there is a cavern under this castle that goeth therefrom underground as far as the forest, so that a knight may well pass thereby all armed, but there is therein a lion, the fiercest and most horrible in the world, and two serpents that are called griffons, that have the face of a man and the beaks of birds and eyes of an owl and teeth of a dog and ears of an ass and feet of a lion and tail of a serpent, and they have couched them therewithin, but never saw no man beasts so fell and felonous. Wherefore the damsel biddeth you go by that way, by everything that you have ever loved, and that you fail her not, for she would fain speak with you at the issue of the cavern in an orchard that is nigh a right broad river not far from this castle, and will make your destrier be brought after you underground.' 'By my head,' saith Lancelot, 'And she had not conjured me in such sort, and were it not for love of herself, I would have rather set myself in hazard with the knights than with the wild beasts, for far father would I have delivered myself from them, and so I might, than go forth in such-wise.' 'She sendeth you word,' saith the messenger, 'that so you do not thus, no further trouble will she take concerning you. She doth it of dread lest she lose your love; and here behold a brachet that she sendeth you by me that you will carry with you into the cavern. So soon as you shalt see the serpent griffons that have couched them therein, you shall show them this and cast her down before them. The griffons love her as much as one beast may love another, and shall have such joy and such desire to play with the brachet that they will leave you alone, and have such good will toward you that they will not look at you after to do you any hurt. But no man is there in the world, no matter how well soever he were armed, nor how puissant soever he were in himself, might never pass them otherwise, but he should be devoured of them. But no safeguard may you have as against the lion but of God only and your own hardiment.' 'Tell my damsel,' saith Lancelot, 'that all her commandment will I do, but this cowardize resembleth none other, that I shall go fight with beasts and leave to do battle with knights.' This was then repeated to the damsel, that marvelled her much thereat, and said that he was the hardiest knight in the world.


VII

Lancelot armed him toward daybreak, and had his sword girt, his shield at his neck, and his spear in his hand. So he entered into the cavern, all shamefast, and the brachet followeth after, that he deigned not to carry, and so cometh he to the place where the griffons were. So soon as they heard him coming they dress them on their feet, and then writhe along as serpents, then cast forth such fire, and so bright a flame amidst the rock, as that all the cavern is lighted up thereof, and they see by the brightness of light of their jaws the brachet coming. So soon as they have espied her, they carry her in their claws and make her the greatest cheer in the world. Lancelot passeth beyond without gainsay, and espieth, toward the issue of the cavern, the lion that was come from the forest all famished. He cometh thither right hardily, sword drawn. The lion cometh toward him, jaws yawning, and claws bared, thinking to fix them in his habergeon, but Lancelot preventeth him and smiteth him so stoutly that he cutteth off thigh and leg together. When the lion feeleth himself thus maimed, he seizeth him by the teeth and the claws of his fore feet and rendeth away half the skirt of his habergeon. Thereupon Lancelot waxeth wroth. He casteth his shield to the ground and approacheth the lion closer. He seeth that he openeth his jaws wide to avenge himself, and thrusteth his sword the straightest he may into his gullet, and the lion giveth out a roar and falleth dead. The damsel, that had come into the cavern, heareth that the lion is dead.


VIII

Lancelot issued forth and so cometh into the orchard beside the forest, and wiped his sword on the freshness of the green grass. Thereupon behold you the damsel that cometh. 'Sir,' saith she to Lancelot, 'Are you wounded in any place?' 'Damsel, nowhere, thank God!' Another damsel leadeth a horse into the orchard. The damsel of the castle looketh at Lancelot. 'Sir,' saith the damsel, 'Meseemeth that you are not over joyous.' 'Damsel,' saith he, 'If I be not, I have good right, for I have lost the thing in the world that most I loved.' 'And you have won me,' saith she, 'so you remain not here, that am the fairest damsel in this kingdom, and I have saved you your life for this, that you grant me your love, for mine own would I fain give unto you.' 'Gramercy, damsel,' saith Lancelot, 'Your love and your good will fain would I have; but neither you nor none other damsel ought not to have affiance in me, and I might so soon set carelessly aside the love to whom my heart owed its obedience, for the worthiness and the courtesy that were lodged in her. Nor never hereafter, so long as I live, shall I love none other in like manner; wherefore all others commend I to God, and to yourself, as for leave-taking to one at whose service I fain would be; I say that if you shall have need of me, and so I be in place and free, I will do all I may to protect your honour.'


IX

'Ha, God!' saith the damsel, 'How am I betrayed, sith that I am parted from the best knight in the world! Lancelot, you have done that which never yet no knight might do! Now am I grieved that you should escape on such wise, and that your life hath been saved in this manner by me. Better should I love you mine own dead, than another's living. Now would I fain that you had had your head smitten off, and that it were hanging with the others! So would I solace myself by beholding it!' Lancelot took no account of that he heard, for the grief that lay at his heart of the Queen. He mounteth on his horse and issueth forth of the orchard by a postern gate, and entereth into the forest, and commendeth him to God. The lord of the Castle of the Griffons marvelleth much that Lancelot delayeth so long. He thinketh that he durst not come down, and saith to his knights, 'Let us go up and cut off his head, sith that he durst not come down.' He maketh search for him all through the hall and the chambers, but findeth him not. 'He hath gone,' saith he, 'through the cavern, so have the griffons devoured him.' So he sendeth the twain most hardy of his knights to see. But the brachet had returned after the damsel, whereof the griffons were wroth, and they forthwith seized on the two knights that entered into their cavern and slew them and devoured.



X

When the lord of the castle knew it, he went into the chamber where his daughter was, and found her weeping, and thinketh that it is for the two knights that are dead. News is brought him that the lion is dead at the issue of the cavern, and thereby well knoweth he that Lancelot is gone. He biddeth his knights follow after him, but none was there so hardy as that he durst follow. The damsel was right fain they should go after him, if only they might bring him back to the castle, for so mortally was she taken of his love that she thought of none other thing. But Lancelot had her not in remembrance, but only another, and rode on sadly right amidst the forest, and looked from time to time at the rent the lion had made in his habergeon. He rideth until he is come toward evening to a great valley where was forest on the one side and the other, and the valley stretched onward half a score great leagues Welsh. He looketh to the right, and on the top of the mountain beside the valley he seeth a chapel newly builded that was right fair and rich, and it was covered of lead, and had at the back two quoins that seemed to be of gold. By the side of this chapel were three houses dight right richly, each standing by itself facing the chapel. There was a right fair grave-yard round about the chapel, that was enclosed at the compass of the forest, and a spring came down, full clear, from the heights of the forest before the chapel and ran into the valley with a great rushing; and each of the houses had its own orchard, and the orchard an enclosure. Lancelot heareth vespers being chanted in the chapel, and seeth the path that turned thitherward, but the mountain is so rugged that he could not go along it on horseback. So he alighteth and leadeth his horse after him by the reins until he cometh nigh the chapel.


XI

There were three hermits therewithin that had sung their vespers, and came over against Lancelot. They bowed their heads to him and he saluted them, and then asked of them what place was this? And they told him that the place there was Avalon. They make stable his horse. He left his arms without the chapel and entereth therein, and saith that never hath he seen none so fair nor so rich. There were within three other places, right fair and seemly dight of rich cloths of silk and rich corners and fringes of gold. He seeth the images and the crucifixes all newly fashioned, and the chapel illumined of rich colours; and moreover in the midst thereof were two coffins, one against the other, and at the four corners four tall wax tapers burning, that were right rich, in four right rich candlesticks. The coffins were covered with two pails, and there were clerks that chanted psalms in turn on the one side and the other. 'Sir,' saith Lancelot to one of the hermits, 'For whom were these coffins made?' 'For King Arthur and Queen Guenievre.' 'King Arthur is not yet dead,' saith Lancelot. 'No, in truth, please God! but the body of the Queen lieth in the coffin before us and in the other is the head of her son, until such time as the King shall be ended, unto whom God grant long life! But the Queen bade at her death that his body should be set beside her own when he shall end. Hereof have we the letters and her seal in this chapel, and this place made she be builded new on this wise or ever she died.'


XII

When Lancelot heareth that it is the Queen that lieth in the coffin, he is so straitened in his heart and in his speech that never a word may he say. But no semblant of grief durst he make other than such as might not be perceived, and right great comfort to him was it that there was an image of Our Lady at the head of the coffin. He knelt down the nighest he might to the coffin, as it had been to worship the image, and set his race and his mouth to the stone of the coffin, and sorroweth for her right sweetly. 'Ha, Lady,' saith he, 'But that I dread the blame of the people, never again would I seek to depart from this place, but here would I save my soul and pray for yours; so would it be much recomforting to me that I should be so nigh, and should see the sepulchre wherein your body lieth that had so great sweetness and bounty. God grant me of your pleasure, that at my death I may still be a-nigh, and that I may die in such manner and in such place as that I may be shrouded and buried in this holy chapel where this body lieth.' The night cometh on. A clerk cometh to the hermits and saith, 'Never yet did no knight cry mercy of God so sweetly, nor of His sweet Mother, as did this knight that is in the chapel.' And the hermits make answer that knights for the most part do well believe in God. They come to the chapel for him and bid him come thence, for that meat is ready and he should come to eat, and after that go to sleep and rest, for it is full time so to do. He telleth them that as for his eating this day it is stark nought, for a desire and a will hath taken him to keep vigil in the chapel before one of the images of Our Lady. No wish had he once to depart thence before the day, and he would fain that the night should last far longer than it did. The good men durst not force him against his will; they say, rather, that the worshipful man is of good life who will keep watch in such manner throughout the night without drink or meat, for all that he seemeth to be right weary.



XIII

Lancelot was in the chapel until the morrow before the tomb. The hermits apparelled them to do the service that they chanted each day, mass for the soul of the Queen and her son. Lancelot heareth them with right good will. When the masses were sung, he taketh leave of the hermits and looketh at the coffin right tenderly. He commendeth the body that lieth therein to God and His sweet Mother; then findeth he without the chapel his horse accoutred ready, and mounteth forthwith, and departeth, and looketh at the place and the chapel so long as he may see them. He hath ridden so far that he is come nigh Cardoil, and findeth the land wasted and desolate, and the towns burnt, whereof is he sore grieved. He meeteth a knight that came from that part, and he was wounded full sore. Lancelot asketh him whence he cometh, and he saith, 'Sir, from towards Cardoil. Kay the Seneschal, with two other knights, is leading away Messire Ywain li Aoutres toward the castle of the Hard Rock. I thought to help to rescue him, but they have wounded me in such sort as you see.' 'Are they ever so far away?' saith Lancelot. 'Sir, they will pass just now at the head of this forest; and so you are fain to go thither, I will return with you right willingly and help you to the best I may.' Lancelot smiteth his horse with the spurs forthwith, and the knight after him, and espieth Kay the Seneschal, that was bringing Messire Ywain along at a great pace, and had set him upon a trotting hackney, for so he thought that none would know him. Lancelot overtaketh him and crieth, 'By my head, Kay the Seneschal, shame had you enough of that you did to King Arthur when you slew his son, and as much more ought you now to have of thus warring upon him again!' He smiteth his horse of his spurs, lance in rest, and Kay the Seneschal turneth toward him, and they mell together with their spears on their shields, and pierce them in such sort that an ells-length of each shaft passeth through beyond.


XIV

The lances were strong so as that they brast not. They draw them back to themselves so stoutly and come together so fiercely that their horses stagger and they lose the stirrups. Lancelot catcheth Kay the Seneschal at the passing beyond, in the midst of the breast, and thrusteth his spear into him so far that the point remained in the flesh, and Kay to-brast his own; and sore grieved was he when he felt himself wounded. The knight that was wounded overthrew one of the two knights. Kay is on the ground, and Lancelot taketh his horse and setteth Messire Ywain li Aoutres thereupon, that was right sore wounded so as that he scarce might bear it. Kay the Seneschal maketh his knight remount, and holdeth his sword grasped in his fist as though he had been stark wood. Lancelot seeth the two knights sore badly wounded, and thinketh that and he stay longer they may remain on the field. He maketh them go before him, and Kay the Seneschal followeth them behind, himself the third knight, that is right wroth of the wound he feeleth and the blood that he seeth. Lancelot bringeth off his knights like as the wild-boar goeth among the dogs, and Kay dealeth him great buffets of his sword when he may catch him, and Lancelot him again, and so they depart, fencing in such sort.


XV

When Kay the Seneschal seeth that he may not harm him, he turneth him back, full of great wrath, and his heart pricketh to avenge him thereof and he may get at him, for he is the knight of the court that most he hateth. He is come back to the Castle of the Hard Rock. Briant of the Isles asketh him who hath wounded him in such sort, and he telleth him that he was bringing thither Ywain li Aoutres when Lancelot rescued him. 'And the King,' saith Briant, 'Is he repaired thither?' 'I have heard no tidings of him at all,' saith Kay, 'For no leisure had I to ask of any.' Briant and his knights take much thought as concerning Lancelot's coming, for they are well persuaded that Lancelot hath come for that the King is dead and Messire Gawain, whereof they make right great joy. Kay the Seneschal maketh him be disarmed and his wound searched. They tell him he need not fear it shall be his death, but that he is right sore wounded.


XVI

Lancelot is entered into the castle of Cardoil, and his wounded knights withal, and findeth the folk in sore dismay. Great dole make they in many places and much lamentation for King Arthur, and say that now nevermore may they look for succeur to none, and he be dead and Messire Gawain. But they give Lancelot joy of that he hath rescued Messire Ywain li Aoutres, and were so somewhat comforted and made great cheer. The tidings thereof came to the knights that were in the castle, and they all come forward to meet him save they that were wounded, and so led him up to the castle, and Messire Ywain with him and the other knight that was wounded. All the knights of the castle were right glad, and ask him tidings of King Arthur, and whether he were dead or no. And Lancelot telleth them that he was departed from him at the Palace Meadow, where he won the white destrier and the crown of gold there where the tidings were brought to him that Queen Guinievre was dead.


XVII

'Then you tell us of a truth that the King is on live, and Messire Gawain?' 'Both, you may be certain!' saith Lancelot. Thereupon were they gladder than before. They told him of their own mischance, how Briant of the Isles had put them to the worse, and how Kay the Seneschal was with him to do them hurt. For he it is that taketh most pains to do them evil. 'By my head,' saith Lancelot, 'Kay the Seneschal ought of right to take heed and with-hold him from doing you ill, but he departed from the field with the point of my spear in him when I rescued Messire Ywain.'


XVIII

The knights are much comforted of the coming of Lancelot, but he is much grieved that he findeth so many of them wounded. Meliant of the Waste Manor is at the castle of the Hard Rock, and good fellow is it betwixt him and Kay the Seneschal. He is right glad of the tidings he hath heard, that Lancelot is come, and saith that he is the knight of the world that most he hateth, and that he will avenge him of his father and he may meet him. There come before the castle of Cardoil one day threescore knights armed, and they seize upon their booty betwixt the castle and the forest. Lancelot issueth forth all armed, and seven of the best of the castle with him. He cometh upon them after that they have led away their plunder. He overtaketh one knight and smiteth him with his spear right through the body, and the other knights make an onset upon the others and many to-brake their spears, and much clashing was there of steel on armour; and there fell at the assembly on one side and the other full a score knights, whereof some were wounded right sore. Meliant of the Waste Manor espied Lancelot, and right great joy made he of seeing him, and smiteth him so stout a buffet on the shield that he to-breaketh his spear.


XIX

Lancelot smiteth him amidst the breast so grimly that he maketh him bend backwards over the saddle behind, and so beareth him to the ground, legs uppermost, over his horse's croup, and trampleth him under his horse's feet. Lancelot was minded to alight to the ground to take him, but Briant of the Isles cometh and maketh him mount again perforce. The numbers grew on the one side and the other of knights that came from Cardoil and from the Hard Rock. Right great was the frushing of lances and the clashing of swords and the overthrow of horses and knights. Briant of the Isles and Lancelot come against each other so stoutly that they pierce their shields and cleave their habergeons, and they thrust with their spears so that the flesh is broken under the ribs and the shafts are all-to-splintered. They hurtle against each other so grimly at the by-passing that their eyes sparkle as it were of stars in their heads, and the horses stagger under them. They hold their swords drawn, and so return the one toward the other like lions. Such buffets deal they upon their helms that they beat them in and make the fire leap out by the force of the smiting of iron by steel. And Meliant cometh all armed toward Lancelot to aid Briant of the Isles, but Lucan the Butler cometh to meet him, and smiteth him with his spear so stoutly that he thrusteth it right through his shield and twisteth his arm gainst his side. He breaketh his spear at the by-passing, and Meliant also breaketh his, but he was wounded passing sore.


XX

Thereupon he seizeth him by the bridle and thinketh to lead him away, but the knights and the force of Briant rescue him. The clashing of arms lasted great space betwixt Briant of the Isles and Lancelot, and each was mightily wrath for that each was wounded. Either seized other many times by the bridle, and each was right fain to lead the other to his own hold, but the force of knights on the one side and the other disparted them asunder. Thus the stour lasted until evening, until that the night sundered them. But Briant had nought to boast of at departing, for Lancelot and his men carried off four of his by force right sore wounded, besides them that remained dead on the field. Briant of the Isles and Meliant betook them back all sorrowful for their knights that are taken and dead. Lancelot cometh back to Cardoil, and they of the castle make him right great joy of the knights that they bring taken, and say that the coming of the good knight Lancelot should be great comfort to them until such time as King Arthur should repair back and Messire Gawain. The wounded knights that were in the castle turned to healing of their wounds, whereof was Lancelot right glad. They were as many as five and thirty within the castle. Of all the King's knights were there no more save Lancelot and the wounded knight that he brought along with him.


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