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BRANCH XXVII


TITLE I

This history saith that the land of this King was full far away from the land of King Arthur, and that needs must he pass two seas or ever he should approach the first head of King Arthur's land. He arrived in Albanie with great force of men with a great navy. When they of the land knew it, they garnished them against him and defended their lands the best they might; then they sent word to King Arthur that King Madeglant was come in such manner into the land, with great plenty of folk, and that he should come presently to succour them or send them a knight so good as that he might protect them, and that in case he doth not so, the land will be lost. When King Arthur understood these tidings, it was not well with him. He asked his knights whom he might send thither. And they say, let him send Lancelot thither, for that he is a worthy knight and a kingly, and much understandeth of war, and hath in him as much loyalty as hath ever another that they know. The King maketh him come before him.


II

'Lancelot,' saith the King, 'Such affiance have I in you and in your knighthood, that it is my will to send you to the furthest corner of my land, to protect it, with the approval of my knights, wherefore I pray and require you that you do your power herein as many a time have you done already in my service. And I will give you in command forty knights.' 'Sir,' saith Lancelot, 'Against your will am I not minded to be, but in your court are there other knights full as good, or better than I, whom you might well send thither. But I would not that you should hold this of cowardize in me, and right willingly will I do your pleasure, for none ought I to serve more willingly than you.' The King giveth him much thanks of this that he saith. Lancelot departeth from the court, and taketh forty knights with him, and so cometh into the land of Albanie where King Madeglant hath arrived. When they of the land knew that Lancelot was come, great joy had they thereof in their hearts, for ofttimes had they heard tell of him and of his good knighthood. They were all at his commandment, and received him as their champion and protector.


III

King Madeglant one day issued forth of his ships to do battle against Lancelot and them of the land. Lancelot received him right stoutly, and slew many of his folk, and the more part fled and would fain have drawn them to their ships, but Lancelot and his people went after and cut a part of them to pieces. King Madeglant, with as many of his men as he might, betaketh himself to his own ship privily, and maketh put to sea the soonest he may. They that might not come to the ships remained on dry land, and were so cut up and slain. Madeglant went his way discomfited. Of ten ships full of men that he had brought he took back with him but two. The land was in peace and assured in safety. Lancelot remained there of a long space. They of the country loved him much and gave themselves great joy of his valour and his great bounty, insomuch that most of them say ofttimes that they would fain have such a knight as was he for king, by the goodwill of King Arthur, for that the land is too far away; but and if he would set there a knight or other man that might protect the land, they would take it in right good part, and he should hold the land of him, for they might not safeguard it at their will without a champion, for that land without a lord may but little avail. They of the land loved Lancelot well, as I tell you. King Arthur was at Cardoil, and so were his knights together with him. He thought to be assured in his kingdom and to live peaceably; but what time he sate at meat one day in Cardoil, behold you thereupon a knight that cometh before the Table Round without saluting him. 'Sir,' saith he, 'Where is Lancelot?' 'Sir,' saith the King to the knight, 'He is not in this country.' 'By my head,' saith the knight, 'that misliketh me. Wheresoever he be, he is your knight and of your household; wherefore King Claudas sendeth you word that he is his mortal enemy, and you also, if so be that for love of him you receive him from this day forward, for he hath slain his sister's son, Meliant of the Waste Manor, and he slew the father of Meliant likewise, but the father belongeth not to King Claudas.


IV

Meliant was the son of his sister-german, wherefore much grieveth he of his death.' 'Sir knight,' saith the King, 'I know not how the covenant may be between them as of this that you tell me, but well know I that King Claudas holdeth many a castle that King Claudas ought not of right to have, whereof he disherited his father, but meet is it that each should conquer his own right. But so much I tell you plainly, that never will I fail mine own knight and he be such as durst defend himself of murder, but and if he hath no will to do this, then well may I allow that right be done upon him. But, sith that he will not love his own death, neither I nor other ought greatly to love him and he refuse to redress his wrong. When Lancelot shall know these tidings, I know well that such is his valour and his loyalty that he will readily answer in reason, and will do all that he ought to do to clear himself of such a charge.' 'Sir,' saith the knight, 'You have heard well that I have told you. Once more, I tell you plainly, King Claudas sendeth you word that so you harbour his enemy henceforward and in such manner as you have done heretofore, he will be less than pleased with you.'


V

With that the knight departeth, and the King remaineth at Cardoil. He sendeth for Briant of the Isles, his seneschal, and a great part of his knights, and demandeth counsel of them what he may do. Messire Ywain saith that he killed Meliant in the King's service, as one that warred upon his land, albeit the King had done him no wrong, and had so made common cause with the King's enemies without demanding right in his court. Nor never had Meliant appealed Lancelot of murder nor of treason, nor required him of the death of his father. Rather, Lancelot slew him in open war, as one that warred upon his lord by wrong. 'Sir,' saith Messire Ywain to the King, 'Howsoever Lancelot might have wrought in respect of Meliant, your land ought not to be called to account, for you were not in the kingdom, nor knew not that either had done other any wrong, and therefore say I that King Claudas will do great wrong and he bring plaint or levy war against you on this account.' 'Messire Ywain,' saith Briant of the Isles, 'matter of common knowledge is it that Lancelot slew the lord of the Waste Manor and Meliant his son after the contention that was betwixt King Arthur and me. But, after that he had slain the father, he ought of right to have taken good heed that he did no wrong to the son, but rather ought he to have sought peace and accord.'


VI

'Briant,' saith Messire Gawain, 'Lancelot is nor here; and, moreover, he is now on the King's business. Well know you that Meliant came to you and that you made him knight, and that thereafter he warred upon the King's land without reasonable occasion. The King was far away from the land as he that made pilgrimage to the Graal. He was told tidings that his land was being put to the worse, and he sent Lancelot to protect it. He accordingly maintained the war as best he might until such time as the King was returned. Meliant knew well that the King was come back, and that never had he done wrong to none in his court that wished to demand right therein. He neither came thither nor sent, either to do right or to demand right, whether he did so for despite or whether it was for that he knew not how to do it. In the meanwhile he warred upon the King, that had never done him a wrong nor refused to do him a right. Lancelot slew him in the King's war and upon his land in defence thereof. There was peace of the war, as was agreed on between you and the King, but and if any should therefore hold Lancelot to blame of the death of Meliant, meseemeth that therein is he wrong. For the others are not held to answer for them that they slew; but and if you wish to say that Lancelot hath not slain him with reason, howsoever he may have wrought aforetime in respect of his father, I am ready to maintain his right by my body on behalf of his.'


VII

'Messire Gawain,' saith Briant of the Isles, 'You will not as at this time find none that will take up your gage on account of this affair, nor ought any to make enemies of his friends, nor ought you to counsel me so to do. King Madeglant warreth upon him and King Claudas maketh war upon him also. They will deliver attacks enough. But I should well allow, for the sake of saving his land and keeping his friends, that the King should suffer Lancelot to remain at a distance from his court for one year, until tidings should have come to King Claudas that he had been bidden leave thereof, so as that King Arthur might have his good will and his love.' Sagramors li Desirous leapeth forward. 'Briant of the Isles,' saith Sagramors, 'Ill befall him that shall give such counsel to a lord or his knight, and the knight have well served his lord, albeit he may have slain in his wars a knight without murder and without treason, that he should give him his leave! Right ill will Lancelot hitherto have bestowed his services, and the King on this account give him his leave! After that, let King Claudas come! Let him lay waste and slay, and right great worship shall King Arthur have thereof! I say not this for that Lancelot hath need be afeared of King Claudas body to body, nor of the best knight in his land, but many things befall whereof one taketh no heed; and so King Arthur give leave to Lancelot from his court, it will be counted unto him for cowardize, and neither I nor you nor other knight ought never more to have affiance in him.' 'Lord,' saith Briant of the Isles, 'Better would it avail the King to give Lancelot leave for one year, than it would to fight for him ten years and have his land wasted and put to the worse.'


VIII

Thereupon, behold you! Orguelleux of the Launde come, that had not been at the court of a long time, and it had been told him whereof these words were. 'Briant,' saith Orguelleux of the Launde, 'Evil fare the knight that would fain grieve and harm with their lord them that have served him well! Sith that Lancelot is not here, say nought of him that ought not to be said. The court of King Arthur hath been as much renowned and made honoured by Lancelot as by ever another knight that is in it, and, but for him, never would his court have been so redoubted as it is. For no knight is there so cruel to his foes nor so redoubted throughout all Great Britain as is Lancelot, and, for that King Arthur loveth you, make him not that he hate his knights, for such four or such six be there in his castle as may depart therefrom without returning, the loss whereof should scarce be made good by us. Lancelot hath well served the King aforetime, and the King well knoweth how much he is worth; and if so be that King Claudas purposeth to war on King Arthur for Lancelot's sake, according as I have heard, without any reason, and King Arthur be not more craven than he wont to be, he may well abide his warfare and his strife so treason harm him not. For so many good knights hath King Arthur yet, that none knoweth such knights nor such King in the world beside.'



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