The Knight of the Cart
Part III: Vv. 3685 - Vv. 5594
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #24
(Vv. 3685-3954.) When Lancelot heard his name, he was not slow to turn around: he turns and sees seated up there at the window of the tower her whom he desired most in the world to see. From the moment he caught sight of her, he did not turn or take his eyes and face from her, defending himself with backhand blows. And Meleagant meanwhile attacked him as fiercely as he could, delighted to think that the other cannot withstand him now; and they of the country are well pleased too, while the foreigners are so distressed that they can no longer support themselves, and many of them fall to earth either upon their knees or stretched out prone; thus some are glad, and some distressed. Then the damsel cried again from the window: "Ah, Lancelot, how is it that thou dost now conduct thyself so foolishly? Once thou wert the embodiment of prowess and of all that is good, and I do not think God ever made a knight who could equal thee in valour and in worth. But now we see thee so distressed that thou dealest back- hand blows and fightest thy adversary, behind thy back. Turn, so as to be on the other side, and so that thou canst face toward this tower, for it will help thee to keep it in view." Then Lancelot is so ashamed and mortified that he hates himself, for he knows full well that all have seen how, for some time past, he has had the worst of the fight. Thereupon he leaps backward and so manoeuvres as to force Meleagant into a position between him and the tower. Meleagant makes every effort to regain his former position. But Lancelot rushes upon him, and strikes him so violently upon his body and shield whenever he tries to get around him, that he compels him to whirl about two or three times in spite of himself. Lancelot's strength and courage grow, partly because he has love's aid, and partly because he never hated any one so much as him with whom he is engaged. Love and mortal hate, so fierce that never before was such hate seen, make him so fiery and bold that Meleagant ceases to treat it as a jest and begins to stand in awe of him, for he had never met or known so doughty a knight, nor had any knight ever wounded or injured him as this one does. He is glad to get away from him, and he winces and sidesteps, fearing his blows and avoiding them. And Lancelot does not idly threaten him, but drives him rapidly toward the tower where the Queen was stationed on the watch. There upon the tower he did her the homage of his blows until he came so close that, if he advanced another step, he would lose sight of her. Thus Lancelot drove him back and forth repeatedly in whatever direction he pleased, always stopping before the Queen, his lady, who had kindled the flame which compels him to fix his gaze upon her. And this same flame so stirred him against Meleagant that he was enabled to lead and drive him wherever he pleased. In spite of himself he drives him on like a blind man or a man with a wooden leg. The king sees his son so hard pressed that he is sorry for him and he pities him, and he will not deny him aid and assistance if possible; but if he wishes to proceed courteously, he must first beg the Queen's permission. So he began to say to her: "Lady, since I have had you in my power, I have loved you and faithfully served and honoured you. I never consciously left anything undone in which I saw your honour involved; now repay me for what I have done. For I am about to ask you a favour which you should not grant unless you do so willingly. I plainly see that my son is getting the worst of this battle; I do not speak so because of the chagrin I feel, but in order that Lancelot, who has him in his power, may not kill him. Nor ought you to wish to see him killed; not because he has not wronged both you and him, but because I make the request of you: so tell him, please, to stop beating him. If you will, you can thus repay me for what I have done for you." "Fair sire, I am willing to do so at your request," the Queen replies; "had I mortal hatred for your son, whom it is true I do not love, yet you have served me so well that, to please you, I am quite willing that he should desist." These words were not spoken privately, but Lancelot and Meleagrant heard what was said. The man who is a perfect lover is always obedient and quickly and gladly does his mistress' pleasure. So Lancelot was constrained to do his Lady's will, for he loved more than Pyramus, (21) if that were possible for any man to do. Lancelot heard what was said, and as soon as the last word had issued from her mouth, "since you wish him to desist, I am willing that he should do so," Lancelot would not have touched him or made a movement for anything, even if the other had killed him. He does not touch him or raise his hand. But Meleagant, beside himself with rage and shame when he hears that it has been necessary to intercede in his behalf, strikes him with all the strength he can muster. And the king went down from the tower to upbraid his son, and entering the list he addressed him thus: "How now? Is this becoming, to strike him when he is not touching thee? Thou art too cruel and savage, and thy prowess is now out of place! For we all know beyond a doubt that he is thy superior." Then Meleagant, choking with shame, says to the king: "I think you must be blind! I do not believe you see a thing. Any one must indeed be blind to think I am not better than he." "Seek some one to believe thy words!" the king replies, "for all the people know whether thou speakest the truth or a lie. All of us know full well the truth." Then the king bids his barons lead his son away, which they do at once in execution of his command: they led away Meleagant. But it was not necessary to use force to induce Lancelot to withdraw, for Meleagant might have harmed him grievously, before he would have sought to defend himself. Then the king says to his son: "So help me God, now thou must make peace and surrender the Queen. Thou must cease this quarrel once for all and withdraw thy claim." "That is great nonsense you have uttered! I hear you speak foolishly. Stand aside! Let us fight, and do not mix in our affairs!" But the king says he will take a hand, for he knows well that, were the fight to continue, Lancelot would kill his son. "He kill me! Rather would I soon defeat and kill him, if you would leave us alone and let us fight." Then the king says: "So help me God, all that thou sayest is of no avail." "Why is that?" he asks. "Because I will not consent. I will not so trust in thy folly and pride as to allow thee to be killed. A man is a fool to court death, as thou dost in thy ignorance. I know well that thou hatest me because I wish to save thy life. God will not let me see and witness thy death, if I can help it, for it would cause me too much grief." He talks to him and reproves him until finally peace and good-will are restored. The terms of the peace are these: he will surrender the Queen to Lancelot, provided that the latter without reluctance will fight them again within a year of such time as he shall choose to summon him: this is no trial to Lancelot. When peace is made, all the people press about, and it is decided that the battle shall be fought at the court of King Arthur, who holds Britain and Cornwall in his sway: there they decide that it shall be. And the Queen has to consent, and Lancelot has to promise, that if Meleagant can prove him recreant, she shall come back with him again without the interference of any one. When the Queen and Lancelot had both agreed to this, the arrangement was concluded, and they both retired and removed their arms. Now the custom in the country was that when one issued forth, all the others might do so too. All called down blessings upon Lancelot: and you may know that he must have felt great joy, as in truth he did. All the strangers assemble and rejoice over Lancelot, speaking so as to be heard by him: "Sire, in truth we were joyful as soon as we heard your name, for we felt sure at once that we should all be set free." There was a great crowd present at this glad scene, as each one strives and presses forward to touch him if possible. Any one who succeeded in touching him was more delighted than he could tell. There was plenty of joy, and of sorrow too; those who were now set free rejoiced unrestrainedly; but Meleagant and his followers have not anything they want, but are pensive, gloomy, and downcast. The king turns away from the list, taking with him Lancelot, who begs him to take him to the Queen. "I shall not fail to do so," the king replies; "for it seems to me the proper thing to do. And if you like, I will show you Kay the seneschal." At this Lancelot is so glad that he almost falls at his feet. Then the king took him at once into the hall, where the Queen had come to wait for him.
(Vv. 3955-4030.) When the Queen saw the king holding Lancelot by the hand, she rose before the king, but she looked displeased with clouded brow, and she spoke not a word. "Lady, here is Lancelot come to see you," says the king; "you ought to be pleased and satisfied." "I, sire? He cannot please me. I care nothing about seeing him." "Come now, lady," says the king who was very frank and courteous, "what induces you to act like this? You are too scornful toward a man who has served you so faithfully that he has repeatedly exposed his life to mortal danger on this journey for your sake, and who has defended and rescued you from my son Meleagant who had deeply wronged you." "Sire, truly he has made poor use of his time. I shall never deny that I feel no gratitude toward him." Now Lancelot is dumbfounded; but he replies very humbly like a polished lover: "Lady, certainly I am grieved at this, but I dare not ask your reason." The Queen listened as Lancelot voiced his disappointment, but in order to grieve and confound him, she would not answer a single word, but returned to her room. And Lancelot followed her with his eyes and heart until she reached the door; but she was not long in sight, for the room was close by. His eyes would gladly have followed her, had that been possible; but the heart, which is more lordly and masterful in its strength, went through the door after her, while the eyes remained behind weeping with the body. And the king said privily to him: "Lancelot, I am amazed at what this means: and how it comes about that the Queen cannot endure the sight of you, and that she is so unwilling to speak with you. If she is ever accustomed to speak with you, she ought not to be niggardly now or avoid conversation with you, after what you have done for her. Now tell me, if you know, why and for what misdeed she has shown you such a countenance." "Sire, I did not notice that just now; but she will not look at me or hear my words, and that distresses and grieves me much." "Surely," says the king, "she is in the wrong, for you have risked your life for her. Come away now, fair sweet friend, and we shall go to speak with the seneschal." "I shall be glad to do so," he replies. Then they both go to the seneschal. As soon as Lancelot came where he was, the seneschal's first exclamation was: "How thou hast shamed me!" "I? How so?" Lancelot inquires; "tell me what disgrace have I brought upon you?" "A very great disgrace, for thou hast carried out what I could not accomplish, and thou hast done what I could not do."
(Vv. 4031-4124.) Then the king left them together in the room, and went out alone. And Lancelot inquires of the seneschal if he has been badly off. "Yes," he answers, "and I still am so. I was never more wretched than I am now. And I should have died a long time ago, had it not been for the king, who in his compassion has shown me so much gentleness and kindness that he willingly let me lack nothing of which I stood in need; but I was furnished at once with ever)thing that I desired. But opposed to the kindness which he showed me, was Meleagant his son, who is full of wickedness, and who summoned the physicians to him and bade them apply such ointments as would kill me. Such a father and stepfather have I had! For when the king had a good plaster applied to my wounds in his desire that I should soon be cured, his treacherous son, wishing to put me to death, had it promptly taken off and some harmful salve applied. But I am very sure that the king was ignorant of this; he would not tolerate such base and murderous tricks. But you do not know how courteous he has been to my lady: no frontier tower since the time that Noah built the ark was ever so carefully guarded, for he has guarded her so vigilantly that, though his son chafed under the restraint, he would nor let him see her except in the presence of the king himself. Up to the present time the king in his mercy has shown her all the marks of consideration which she herself proposed. She alone had the disposition of her affairs. And the king esteemed her all the more for the loyalty she showed. But is it true, as I am told, that she is so angry with you that she has publicly refused to speak with you?" "You have been told the exact truth," Lancelot replies, "but for God's sake, can you tell me why she is so displeased with me?" He replies that he does not know, and that he is greatly surprised at it. "Well, let it be as she pleases," says Lancelot, feeling his helplessness; "I must now take my leave, and I shall go to seek my lord Gawain who has entered this land, and who arranged with me that he would proceed directly to the waterbridge." Then, leaving the room, he appeared before the king and asked for leave to proceed in that direction. And the king willingly grants him leave to go. Then those whom Lancelot had set free and delivered from prison ask him what they are to do. And he replies: "All those who desire may come with me, and those who wish to stay with the Queen may do so: there is no reason why they should accompany me." Then all those, who so desire, accompany him, more glad and joyous than is their wont. With the Queen remain her damsels who are light of heart, and many knights and ladies too. But there is not one of those who stay behind, who would not have preferred to return to his own country to staying there. But on my lord Gawain's account, whose arrival is expected, the Queen keeps them, saying that she will never stir until she has news of him.
(Vv. 4125-4262.) The news spreads everywhere that the Queen is free to go, and that all the other prisoners have been set at liberty and are free to go whenever it suits and pleases them. Wherever the people of the land gather together, they ask each other about the truth of this report, and never talk of anything else. They are very much enraged that all the dangerous passes have been overcome, and that any one may come and go as he pleases. But when the natives of the country, who had not been present at the battle, learned how Lancelot had been the victor, they all betook themselves to the place where they knew he must pass by, thinking that the king would be well pleased if they should seize Lancelot and hale him back to him. All of his own men were without their arms, and therefore they were at a disadvantage when they saw the natives of the country coming under arms. It was not strange that they seized Lancelot, who was without his arms. They lead him back prisoner, his feet lashed together beneath his horse. Then his own men say: "Gentlemen, this is an evil deed; for the king has given us his safe-conduct, and we are under his protection." But the others reply: "We do not know how that may be; but as we have taken you, you must return with us to court." The rumour, which swiftly flies and runs, reaches the king, that his men have seized Lancelot and put him to death. When the king hears it, he is sorely grieved and swears angrily by his head that they who have killed him shall surely die for the deed; and that, if he can seize or catch them, it shall be their fate to be hanged, burned, or drowned. And if they attempt to deny their deed, he will not believe what they say, for they have brought him such grief and shame that he would be disgraced were vengeance not to be exacted from them; but he will be avenged without a doubt. The news of this spread until it reached the Queen, who was sitting at meat. She almost killed herself on hearing the false report about Lancelot, but she supposes it to be true, and therefore she is in such dismay that she almost loses the power to speak; but, because of those present, she forces herself to say: "In truth, I am sorry for his death, and it is no wonder that I grieve, for he came into this country for my sake, and therefore I should mourn for him." Then she says to herself, so that the others should not hear, that no one need ask her to drink or eat, if it is true that he is dead, in whose life she found her own. Then grieving she rises from the table, and makes her lament, but so that no one hears or notices her. She is so beside herself that she repeatedly grasps her throat with the desire to kill herself; but first she confesses to herself, and repents with self-reproach, blaming and censuring herself for the wrong she had done him, who, as she knew, had always been hers, and would still be hers, if he were alive. She is so distressed at the thought of her cruelty, that her beauty is seriously impaired. Her cruelty and meanness affected her and marred her beauty more than all the vigils and fastings with which she afflicted herself. When all her sins rise up before her, she gathers them together, and as she reviews them, she repeatedly exclaims: "Alas! of what was I thinking when my lover stood before me and I should have welcomed him, that I would not listen to his words? Was I not a fool, when I refused to look at or speak to him? Foolish indeed? Rather was I base and cruel, so help me God. I intended it as a jest, but he did not take it so, and has not pardoned me. I am sure it was no one but me who gave him his death-blow. When he came before me smiling and expecting that I would be glad to see him and would welcome him, and when I would not look at him, was not that a mortal blow? When I refused to speak with him, then doubtless at one blow I deprived him of his heart and life. These two strokes have killed him, I am sure; no other bandits have caused his death. God! can I ever make amends for this murder and this crime? No, indeed; sooner will the rivers and the sea dry up. Alas! how much better I should feel, and how much comfort I should take, if only once before he died I had held him in my arms! What? Yes, certainly, quite unclad, in order the better to enjoy him. If he is dead, I am very wicked not to destroy myself. Why? Can it harm my lover for me to live on after he is dead, if I take no pleasure in anything but in the woe I bear for him? In giving myself up to grief after his death, the very woes I court would be sweet to me, if he were only still alive. It is wrong for a woman to wish to die rather than to suffer for her lover's sake. It is certainly sweet for me to mourn him long. I would rather be beaten alive than die and be at rest."
(Vv. 4263-4414.) For two days the Queen thus mourned for him without eating or drinking, until they thought she too would die. There are plenty of people ready to carry bad news rather than good. The news reaches Lancelot that his lady and sweetheart is dead. You need have no doubt of the grief he felt; every one may feel sure that he was afflicted and overcome with grief. Indeed, if you would know the truth, he was so downcast that he held his life in slight esteem. He wished to kill himself at once, but first he uttered a brief lament. He makes a running noose at one end of the belt he wore, and then tearfully communes thus with himself: "Ah, death, how hast thou spied me out and undone me, when in the bloom of health! I am undone, and yet I feel no pain except the grief within my heart. This is a terrible mortal grief. I am willing that it should be so, and if God will, I shall die of it. Then can I not die some other way, without God's consent? Yes, if he will let me tie this noose around my neck. I think I can compel death, even against her will, to take my life. Death, who covets only those who fear her, will not come to me; but my belt will bring her within my power, and as soon as she is mine, she will execute my desire. But, in truth, she will come too tardily for me, for I yearn to have her now!" Then he delays and hesitates no longer, but adjusts his head within the noose until it rests about his neck; and in order that he may not fail to harm himself, he fastens the end of the belt tightly about the saddle-bow, without attracting the attention of any one. Then he let himself slide to earth, intending his horse to drag him until he was lifeless, for he disdains to live another hour. When those who ride with him see him fallen to earth, they suppose him to be in a faint, for no one sees the noose which he had attached about his neck. At once they caught him in their arms and, on raising him, they found the noose which he had put around his neck and with which he sought to kill himself. They quickly cut the noose; but the noose had so hurt his throat that for some time he could not speak; the veins of his neck and throat are almost broken. Now he could not harm himself, even had he wished to do so; however, he is grieved that they have laid hands on him, and he almost burns up with rage, for willingly would he have killed himself had no one chanced to notice him. And now when he cannot harm himself, he cries: "Ah, vile and shameless death! For God's sake, why hadst thou not the power and might to kill me before my lady died? I suppose it was because thou wouldst not deign to do what might be a kindly deed. If thou didst spare me, it must be attributed to thy wickedness. Ah, what kind of service and kindness is that! How well hast thou employed them here! A curse upon him who thanks thee or feels gratitude for such a service! I know not which is more my enemy: life, which detains me, or death, which will not slay me. Each one torments me mortally; and it serves me right, so help me God, that in spite of myself I should still live on. For I ought to have killed myself as soon as my lady the Queen showed her hate for me; she did not do it without cause, but she had some good reason, though I know not what it is. And if I had known what it was before her soul went to God, I should have made her such rich amends as would have pleased her and gained her mercy. God! what could my crime have been? I think she must have known that I mounted upon the cart. I do not know what other cause she can have to blame me. This has been my undoing. If this is the reason of her hate, God! what harm could this crime do? Any one who would reproach me for such an act never knew what love is, for no one could mention anything which, if prompted by love, ought to be turned into a reproach. Rather, everything that one can do for his lady-love is to be regarded as a token of his love and courtesy. Yet, I did not do it for my `lady-love'. I know not by what name to call her, whether `lady-love', or not. I do not dare to call her by this name. But I think I know this much of love: that if she loved me, she ought not to esteem me less for this crime, but rather call me her true lover, inasmuch as I regarded it as an honour to do all love bade me do, even to mount upon a cart. She ought to ascribe this to love; and this is a certain proof that love thus tries his devotees and thus learns who is really his. But this service did not please my lady, as I discovered by her countenance. And yet her lover did for her that for which many have shamefully reproached and blamed him, though she was the cause of it; and many blame me for the part I have played, and have turned my sweetness into bitterness. In truth, such is the custom of those who know so little of love, that even honour they wash in shame. But whoever dips honour into shame, does not wash it, but rather sullies it. But they, who maltreat him so, are quite ignorant of love; and he, who fears not his commands, boasts himself very superior to him. For unquestionably he fares well who obeys the commands of love, and whatever he does is pardonable, but he is the coward who does not dare."
(Vv. 4415-4440.) Thus Lancelot makes his lament, and his men stand grieving by his side, keeping hold of him and guarding him. Then the news comes that the Queen is not dead. Thereupon Lancelot at once takes comfort, and if his grief for her death had before been intense and deep, now his joy for her life was a hundred thousand times as great. And when they arrived within six or seven leagues of the castle where King Bademagu was, grateful news of Lancelot was told him, how he was alive and was coming hale and hearty, and this news the king was glad to hear. He did a very courteous thing in going at once to appraise the Queen. And she replies: "Fair sire, since you say so, I believe it is true, but I assure you that, if he were dead, I should never be happy again. All my joy would be cut off, if a knight had been killed in my service."
(Vv. 4441-4530.) Then the king leaves her, and the Queen yearns ardently for the arrival of her lover and her joy. She has no desire this time to bear him any grudge. But rumour, which never rests but runs always unceasingly, again reaches the Queen to the effect that Lancelot would have killed himself for her sake, if he had had the chance. She is happy at the thought that this is true, but she would not have had it happen so for anything, for her sorrow would have been too great. Thereupon Lancelot arrived in haste. (22) As soon as the king sees him, he runs to kiss and embrace him. He feels as if he ought to fly, borne along by the buoyancy of his joy. But his satisfaction is cut short by those who had taken and bound his guest, and the king tells them they have come in an evil hour, for they shall all be killed and confounded. Then they made answer that they thought he would have it so. "It is I whom you have insulted in doing your pleasure. He has no reason to complain," the king replies; "you have not shamed him at all, but only me who was protecting him. However you look at it, the shame is mine. But if you escape me now, you will see no joke in this." When Lancelot hears his wrath, he puts forth every effort to make peace and adjust matters; when his efforts have met with success, the king takes him away to see the Queen. This time the Queen did not lower her eyes to the ground, but she went to meet him cheerfully, honouring him all she could, and making him sit down by her side. Then they talked together at length of all that was upon their hearts, and love furnished them with so much to say that topics did not lack. And when Lancelot sees how well he stands, and that all he says finds favour with the Queen, he says to her in confidence: "Lady, I marvel greatly why you received me with such a countenance when you saw me the day before yesterday, and why you would not speak a word to me: I almost died of the blow you gave me, and I had not the courage to dare to question you about it, as I now venture to do. I am ready now, lady, to make amends, when you have told me what has been the crime which has caused me such distress." Then the Queen replies: "What? Did you not hesitate for shame to mount the cart? You showed you were loath to get in, when you hesitated for two whole steps. That is the reason why I would neither address nor look at you." "May God save me from such a crime again," Lancelot replies, "and may God show me no mercy, if you were not quite right! For God's sake, lady, receive my amends at once, and tell me, for God's sake, if you can ever pardon me." "Friend, you are quite forgiven," the Queen replies; "I pardon you willingly." "Thank you for that, lady," he then says; "but I cannot tell you here all that I should like to say; I should like to talk with you more at leisure, if possible." Then the Queen indicates a window by her glance rather than with her finger, and says: "Come through the garden to-night and speak with me at yonder window, when every one inside has gone to sleep. You will not be able to get in: I shall be inside and you outside: to gain entrance will be impossible. I shall be able to touch you only with my lips or hand, but, if you please, I will stay there until morning for love of you. Our bodies cannot be joined, for close beside me in my room lies Kay the seneschal, who is still suffering from his wounds. And the door is not open, but is tightly closed and guarded well. When you come, take care to let no spy catch sight of you." "Lady," says he, "if I can help it, no spy shall see me who might think or speak evil of us." Then, having agreed upon this plan, they separate very joyfully.
(Vv. 4551-4650.) Lancelot leaves the room in such a happy frame that all his past troubles are forgotten. But he was so impatient for the night to come that his restlessness made the day seem longer than a hundred ordinary days or than an entire year. If night had only come, he would gladly have gone to the trysting place. Dark and sombre night at last won its struggle with the day, and wrapped it up in its covering, and laid it away beneath its cloak. When he saw the light of day obscured, he pretended to be tired and worn, and said that, in view of his protracted vigils, he needed rest. You, who have ever done the same, may well understand and guess that he pretends to be tired and goes to bed in order to deceive the people of the house; but he cared nothing about his bed, nor would he have sought rest there for anything, for he could not have done so and would not have dared, and furthermore he would not have cared to possess the courage or the power to do so. Soon he softly rose, and was pleased to find that no moon or star was shining, and that in the house there was no candle, lamp, or lantern burning. Thus he went out and looked about, but there was no one on the watch for him, for all thought that he would sleep in his bed all night. Without escort or company he quickly went out into the garden, meeting no one on the way, and he was so fortunate as to find that a part of the garden-wall had recently fallen down. Through this break he passes quickly and proceeds to the window, where he stands, taking good care not to cough or sneeze, until the Queen arrives clad in a very white chemise. She wore no cloak or coat, but had thrown over her a short cape of scarlet cloth and shrew-mouse fur. As soon as Lancelot saw the Queen leaning on the window-sill behind the great iron bars, he honoured her with a gentle salute. She promptly returned his greeting, for he was desirous of her, and she of him. Their talk and conversation are not of vulgar, tiresome affairs. They draw close to one another, until each holds the other's hand. But they are so distressed at not being able to come together more completely, that they curse the iron bars. Then Lancelot asserts that, with the Queen's consent, he will come inside to be with her, and that the bars cannot keep him out. And the Queen replies: "Do you not see how the bars are stiff to bend and hard to break? You could never so twist, pull or drag at them as to dislodge one of them." "Lady," says he, "have no fear of that. It would take more than these bars to keep me out. Nothing but your command could thwart my power to come to you. If you will but grant me your permission, the way will open before me. But if it is not your pleasure, then the way is so obstructed that I could not possibly pass through." "Certainly," she says, "I consent. My will need not stand in your way; but you must wait until I retire to my bed again, so that no harm may come to you, for it would be no joke or jest if the seneschal, who is sleeping here, should wake up on hearing you. So it is best for me to withdraw, for no good could come of it, if he should see me standing here." "Go then, lady," he replies; "but have no fear that I shall make any noise. I think I can draw out the bars so softly and with so little effort that no one shall be aroused."
(Vv. 4651-4754.) Then the Queen retires, and he prepares to loosen the window. Seizing the bars, he pulls and wrenches them until he makes them bend and drags them from their places. But the iron was so sharp that the end of his little finger was cut to the nerve, and the first joint of the next finger was torn; but he who is intent upon something else paid no heed to any of his wounds or to the blood which trickled down. Though the window is not low, Lancelot gets through it quickly and easily. First he finds Kay asleep in his bed, then he comes to the bed of the Queen, whom he adores and before whom he kneels, holding her more dear than the relic of any saint. And the Queen extends her arms to him and, embracing him, presses him tightly against her bosom, drawing him into the bed beside her and showing him every possible satisfaction; her love and her heart go out to him. It is love that prompts her to treat him so; and if she feels great love for him, he feels a hundred thousand times as much for her. For there is no love at all in other hearts compared with what there is in his; in his heart love was so completely embodied that it was niggardly toward all other hearts. Now Lancelot possesses all he wants, when the Queen voluntarily seeks his company and love, and when he holds her in his arms, and she holds him in hers. Their sport is so agreeable and sweet, as they kiss and fondle each other, that in truth such a marvellous joy comes over them as was never heard or known. But their joy will not be revealed by me, for in a story, it has no place. Yet, the most choice and delightful satisfaction was precisely that of which our story must not speak. That night Lancelot's joy and pleasure were very great. But, to his sorrow, day comes when he must leave his mistress' side. It cost him such pain to leave her that he suffered a real martyr's agony. His heart now stays where the Queen remains; he has not the power to lead it away, for it finds such pleasure in the Queen that it has no desire to leave her: so his body goes, and his heart remains. But enough of his body stays behind to spot and stain the sheets with the blood which has fallen from his fingers. Full of sighs and tears, Lancelot leaves in great distress. He grieves that no time is fixed for another meeting, but it cannot be. Regretfully he leaves by the window through which he had entered so happily. He was so badly wounded in the fingers that they were in sorry, state; yet he straightened the bars and set them in their place again, so that from neither side, either before or behind, was it evident that any one had drawn out or bent any of the bars. When he leaves the room, he bows and acts precisely as if he were before a shrine; then he goes with a heavy heart, and reaches his lodgings without being recognised by any one. He throws himself naked upon his bed without awaking any one, and then for the first time he is surprised to notice the cuts in his fingers; but he is not at all concerned, for he is very sure that the wound was caused by dragging the window bars from the wall. Therefore he was not at all worried, for he would rather have had both arms dragged from his body than not enter through the window. But he would have been very angry and distressed, if he had thus injured and wounded himself under any other circumstances.
(Vv. 4755-5006.) In the morning, within her curtained room, the Queen had fallen into a gentle sleep; she had not noticed that her sheets were spotted with blood, but she supposed them to be perfectly white and clean and presentable. Now Meleagant, as soon as he was dressed and ready, went to the room where the Queen lay. He finds her awake, and he sees the sheets spotted with fresh drops of blood, whereupon he nudges his companions and, suspicious of some mischief, looks at the bed of Kay the seneschal, and sees that his sheets are blood-stained too, for you must know that in the night his wounds had begun to bleed afresh. Then he said: "Lady, now I have found the evidence that I desired. It is very true that any man is a fool to try to confine a woman: he wastes his efforts and his pains. He who tries to keep her under guard loses her sooner than the man who takes no thought of her. A fine watch, indeed, has been kept by my father, who is guarding you on my behalf! He has succeeded in keeping you from me, but, in spite of him, Kay the seneschal has looked upon you last night, and has done what he pleased with you, as can readily be proved." "What is that?" she asks. "Since I must speak, I find blood on your sheets, which proves the fact. I know it and can prove it, because I find on both your sheets and his the blood which issued from his wounds: the evidence is very strong." Then the Queen saw on both beds the bloody sheets, and marvelling, she blushed with shame and said: "So help me God, this blood which I see upon my sheets was never brought here by Kay, but my nose bled during the night, and I suppose it must be from my nose." In saying so, she thinks she tells the truth. "By my head," says Meleagant, "there is nothing in what you say. Swearing is of no avail, for you are taken in your guilt, and the truth will soon be proved." Then he said to the guards who were present: "Gentlemen, do not move, and see to it that the sheets are not taken from the bed until I return. I wish the king to do me justice, as soon as he has seen the truth." Then he searched until he found him, and failing at his feet, he said: "Sire, come to see what you have failed to guard. Come to see the Queen, and you shall see the certain marvels which I have already seen and tested. But, before you go, I beg you not to fail to be just and upright toward me. You know well to what danger I have exposed myself for the Queen; yet, you are no friend of mine and keep her from me under guard. This morning I went to see her in her bed, and I remarked that Kay lies with her every night. Sire, for God's sake, be not angry, if I am disgruntled and if I complain. For it is very humiliating for me to be hated and despised by one with whom Kay is allowed to lie." "Silence!" says the king; "I don't believe it." "Then come, my lord, and see the sheets and the state in which Kay has left them. Since you will not believe my words, and since you think I am lying, I will show you the sheets and the quilt covered with blood from Kay's wounds." "Come now," says the king, "I wish to see for myself, and my eyes will judge of the truth." Then the king goes directly to the room, where the Queen got up at his approach. He sees that the sheets are blood-stained on her bed and on Kay's alike and he says: "Lady, it is going badly now, if what my son has said is true." Then she replies: "So help me God, never even in a dream was uttered such a monstrous lie. I think Kay the seneschal is courteous and loyal enough not to commit such a deed, and besides, I do not expose my body in the market-place, nor offer it of my own free will. Surely, Kay is not the man to make an insulting proposal to me, and I have never desired and shall never desire to do such a thing myself." "Sire, I shall be much obliged to you," says Meleagant to his father, "if Kay shall be made to atone for this outrage, and the Queen's shame thus be exposed. It devolves upon you to see that justice is done, and this justice I now request and claim. Kay has betrayed King Arthur, his lord, who had such confidence in him that he entrusted to him what he loved most in the world." "Let me answer, sire," says Kay, "and I shall exonerate myself. May God have no mercy upon my soul when I leave this world, if I ever lay with my lady! Indeed, I should rather be dead than ever do my lord such an ugly wrong, and may God never grant me better health than I have now but rather kill me on the spot, if such a thought ever entered my mind! But I know that my wounds bled profusely last night, and that is the reason why my sheets are stained with blood. That is why your son suspects me, but surely he has no right to do so." And Meleagant answers him: "So help me God, the devils and demons have betrayed you. You grew too heated last night and, as a result of your exertions, your wounds have doubtless bled afresh. There is no use in your denying it; we can see it, and it is perfectly evident. It is right that he should atone for his crime, who is so plainly taken in his guilt. Never did a knight with so fair a name commit such iniquities as this, and yours is the shame for it." "Sire, sire," says Kay to the king, "I will defend the Queen and myself against the accusation of your son. He harasses and distresses me, though he has no ground to treat me so." "You cannot fight," the king replies, "you are too ill." "Sire, if you will allow it, I will fight with him, ill as I am, and will show him that I am not guilty of the crime which he imputes to me." But the Queen, having secretly sent word to Lancelot, tells the king that she will present a knight who will defend the seneschal, if Meleagant dares to urge this charge. Then Meleagant said at once: "There is no knight without exception, even were he a giant, whom I will not fight until one of us is defeated." Then Lancelot came in, and with him such a rout of knights that the whole hall was filled with them. As soon as he had entered, in the hearing of all, both young and old, the Queen told what had happened, and said: "Lancelot, this insult has been done me by Meleagant. In the presence of all who hear his words he says I have lied, if you do not make him take it back. Last night, he asserted, Kay lay with me, because he found my sheets, like his, all stained with blood; and he says that he stands convicted, unless he will undertake his own defence, or unless some one else will fight the battle on his behalf." Lancelot says: "You need never use arguments with me. May it not please God that either you or he should be thus discredited! I am ready to fight and to prove to the extent of my power that he never was guilty of such a thought. I am ready to employ my strength in his behalf, and to defend him against this charge." Then Meleagant jumped up and said: "So help me God, I am pleased and well satisfied with that: no one need think that I object." And Lancelot said: "My lord king, I am well acquainted with suits and laws, with trials and verdicts: in a question of veracity an oath should be taken before the fight." Meleagant at once replies: "I agree to take an oath; so let the relics be brought at once, for I know well that I am right." And Lancelot answers him: "So help me God, no one who ever knew Kay the seneschal would doubt his word on such a point." Then they call for their horses, and ask that their arms be brought. This is promptly done, and when the valets had armed them, they were ready for the fight. Then the holy relics are brought forth: Meleagant steps forward, with Lancelot by his side, and both fall on their knees. Then Meleagant, laying his hands upon the relics, swears unreservedly: "So help me God and this holy relic, Kay the seneschal lay with the Queen in her bed last night and, had his pleasure with her." "And I swear that thou liest," says Lancelot, "and furthermore I swear that he neither lay with her nor touched her. And may it please God to take vengeance upon him who has lied, and may He bring the truth to light! Moreover, I will take another oath and swear, whoever may dislike it or be displeased, that if I am permitted to vanquish Meleagant to-day, I will show him no mercy, so help me God and these relics here!" The king felt no joy when he heard this oath.
(Vv. 5007-5198.) When the oaths had been taken, their horses were brought forward, which were fair and good in every way. Each man mounts his own home, and they ride at once at each other as fast as the steeds can carry them; and when the horses are in mid-career, the knights strike each other so fiercely that there is nothing left of the lances in their hands. Each brings the other to earth; however, they are not dismayed, but they rise at once and attack each other with their sharp drawn swords. The burning sparks fly in the air from their helmets. They assail each other so bitterly with the drawn swords in their hands that, as they thrust and draw, they encounter each other with their blows and will not pause even to catch their breath. The king in his grief and anxiety called the Queen, who had gone up in the tower to look out from the balcony: he begged her for God's sake, the Creator, to let them be separated. "Whatever is your pleasure is agreeable to me," the Queen says honestly: "I shall not object to anything you do." Lancelot plainly heard what reply the Queen made to the king's request, and from that time he ceased to fight and renounced the struggle at once. But Meleagant does not wish to stop, and continues to strike and hew at him. But the king rushes between them and stops his son, who declares with an oath that he has no desire for peace. He wants to fight, and cares not for peace. Then the king says to him: "Be quiet, and take my advice, and be sensible. No shame or harm shall come to thee, if thou wilt do what is right and heed my words. Dost thou not remember that thou hast agreed to fight him at King Arthur's court? And dost thou not suppose that it would be a much greater honour for thee to defeat him there than anywhere else?" The king says this to see if he can so influence him as to appease him and separate them. And Lancelot, who was impatient to go in search of my lord Gawain, requests leave of the king and Queen to depart. With their permission he goes away toward the water-bridge, and after him there followed a great company of knights. But it would have suited him very well, if many of those who went had stayed behind. They make long days' journeys until they approach the water-bridge, but are still about a league from it. Before they came in sight of the bridge, a dwarf came to meet them on a mighty hunter, holding a scourge with which to urge on and incite his steed. In accordance with his instructions, he at once inquired: "Which of you is Lancelot? Don't conceal him from me; I am of your party; tell me confidently, for I ask the question for your good." Lancelot replies in his own behalf, and says: "I am he whom thou seekest and askest for." "Ah," says the dwarf, "frank knight, leave these people, and trust in me. Come along with me alone, for I will take thee to a goodly place. Let no one follow thee for anything, but let them wait here; for we shall return presently." He, suspecting no harm in this, bids all his men stay there, and follows the dwarf who has betrayed him. Meanwhile his men who wait for him may continue to expect him long in vain, for they, who have taken and seized him, have no desire to give him up. And his men are in such a state of grief at his failure to return that they do not know what steps to take. They all say sorrowfully that the dwarf has betrayed them. It would be useless to inquire for him: with heavy hearts they begin to search, but they know not where to look for him with any hope of finding him. So they all take counsel, and the most reasonable and sensible agree on this, it seems: to go to the passage of the water-bridge, which is close by, to see if they can find my lord Gawain in wood or plain, and then with his advice search for Lancelot. Upon this plan they all agree without dissension. Toward the water-bridge they go, and as soon as they reach the bridge, they see my lord Gawain overturned and fallen from the bridge into the stream which is very deep. One moment he rises, and the next he sinks; one moment they see him, and the next they lose him from sight. They make such efforts that they succeed in raising him with branches, poles and hooks. He had nothing but his hauberk on his back, and on his head was fixed his helmet, which was worth ten of the common sort, and he wore his iron greaves, which were all rusty with his sweat, for he had endured great trials, and had passed victoriously through many perils and assaults. His lance, his shield, and horse were all behind on the other bank. Those who have rescued him do not believe he is alive. For his body was full of water, and until he got rid of it, they did not hear him speak a word. But when his speech and voice and the passageway to his heart are free, and as soon, as what he said could be heard and understood, he tried to speak he inquired at once for the Queen, whether those present had any news of her. And they replied that she is still with King Bademagu, who serves her well and honourably. "Has no one come to seek her in this land?" my lord Gawain then inquires of them. And they answer him: "Yes, indeed." "Who?" "Lancelot of the Lake," they say, "who crossed the sword-bridge, and rescued and delivered her as well as all the rest of us. But we have been betrayed by a pot-bellied, humpbacked, and crabbed dwarf. He has deceived us shamefully in seducing Lancelot from us, and we do not know what he has done with him." "When was that?" my lord Gawain inquires. "Sire, near here this very day this trick was played on us, while he was coming with us to meet you." "And how has Lancelot been occupied since he entered this land?" Then they begin to tell him all about him in detail, and then they tell him about the Queen, how she is waiting for him and asserting that nothing could induce her to leave the country, until she sees him or hears some credible news of him. To them my lord Gawain replies: "When we leave this bridge, we shall go to search for Lancelot." There is not one who does not advise rather that they go to the Queen at once, and have the king seek Lancelot, for it is their opinion that his son Meleagant has shown his enmity by having him cast into prison. But if the king can learn where he is, he will certainly make him surrender him: they can rely upon this with confidence.
(Vv. 5199-5256.) They all agreed upon this plan, and started at once upon their way until they drew near the court where the Queen and king were. There, too, was Kay the seneschal, and that disloyal man, full to overflowing of treachery, who has aroused the greatest anxiety for Lancelot on the part of the party which now arrives. They feel they have been discomfited and betrayed, and they make great lament in their misery. It is not a gracious message which reports this mourning to the Queen. Nevertheless, she deports herself with as good a grace as possible. She resolves to endure it, as she must, for the sake of my lord Gawain. However, she does not so conceal her grief that it does not somewhat appear. She has to show both joy and grief at once: her heart is empty for Lancelot, and to my lord Gawain she shows excessive joy. Every one who hears of the loss of Lancelot is grief-stricken and distracted. The king would have rejoiced at the coming of my lord Gawain and would have been delighted with his acquaintance; but he is so sorrowful and distressed over the betrayal of Lancelot that he is prostrated and full of grief. And the Queen beseeches him insistently to have him searched for, up and down throughout the land, without postponement or delay. My lord Gawain and Kay and all the others join in this prayer and request. "Leave this care to me, and speak no more of it," the king replies, "for I have been ready to do so for some time. Without need of request or prayer this search shall be made with thoroughness." Everyone bows in sign of gratitude, and the king at once sends messengers through his realm, sagacious and prudent men-at-arms, who inquired for him throughout the land. They made inquiry for him everywhere, but gained no certain news of him. Not finding any, they come back to the place where the knights remain; then Gawain and Kay and all the others say that they will go in search of him, fully armed and lance in rest; they will not trust to sending some one else.
(Vv. 5257-5378.) One day after dinner they were all in the hall putting on their arms, and the point had been reached where there was nothing to do but start, when a valet entered and passed by them all until he came before the Queen, whose cheeks were by no means rosy! For she was in such mourning for Lancelot, of whom she had no news, that she had lost all her colour. The valet greeted her as well as the king, who was by her side, and then all the others and Kay and my lord Gawain. He held a letter in his hand which he gave to the king, who took it. The king had it read in the hearing of all by one who made no mistake in reading it. The reader knew full well how to communicate to them what was written in the parchment: he says that Lancelot sends greetings to the king as his kind lord, and thanks him for the honour and kindness he has shown him, and that he now places himself at the king's orders. And know that he is now hale and hearty at King Arthur's court, and he bids him tell the Queen to come thither, if she will consent, in company with my lord Gawain and Kay. In proof of which, he affixed his signature which they should recognise, as indeed they did. At this they were very happy and glad; the whole court resounds with their jubilation, and they say they will start next day as soon as it is light. So, when the day broke, they make ready and prepare: they rise and mount and start. With great joy and jubilee the king escorts them for a long distance on their way. When he has conducted them to the frontier and has seen them safely across the border, he takes leave of the Queen, and likewise of all the rest. And when he comes to take his leave, the Queen is careful to express her gratitude for all the kindness he has shown to her, and throwing her arms about his neck, she offers and promises him her own service and that of her lord: no greater promise can she make. And my lord Gawain promises his service to him, as to his lord and friend, and then Kay does likewise, and all the rest. Then the king commends them to God as they start upon their way. After these three, he bids the rest farewell, and then turns his face toward home. The Queen and her company do not tarry a single day until news of them reaches the court. King Arthur was delighted at the news of the Queen's approach, and he is happy and pleased at the thought that his nephew had brought about the Queen's return, as well as that of Kay and of the lesser folk. But the truth is quite different from what he thinks. All the town is cleared as they go to meet them, and knights and vassals join in shouting as they approach: "Welcome to my lord Gawain, who has brought back the Queen and many another captive lady, and has freed for us many prisoners!" Then Gawain answered them: "Gentlemen, I do not deserve your praise. Do not trouble ever to say this again, for the compliment does not apply to me. This honour causes me only shame, for I did not reach the Queen in time; my detention made me late. But Lancelot reached there in time, and won such honour as was never won by any other knight." "Where is he, then, fair dear sire, for we do not see him here?" "Where?" echoes my lord Gawain; "at the court of my lord the King, to be sure. Is he not?" "No, he is not here, or anywhere else in this country. Since my lady was taken away, we have had no news of him." Then for the first time my lord Gawain realised that the letter had been forged, and that they had been betrayed and deceived: by the letter they had been misled. Then they all begin to lament, and they come thus weeping to the court, where the King at once asks for information about the affair. There were plenty who could tell him how much Lancelot had done, how the Queen and all the captives were delivered from durance by him, and by what treachery the dwarf had stolen him and drawn him away from them. This news is not pleasing to the King, and he is very sorry and full of grief; but his heart is so lightened by the pleasure he takes in the Queen's return, that his grief concludes in joy. When he has what he most desires, he cares little for the rest.
(Vv. 5379-5514.) While the Queen was out of the country, I believe, the ladies and the damsels who were disconsolate, decided among themselves that they would marry, soon, and they organised a contest and a tournament. The lady of Noauz was patroness of it, with the lady of Pomelegloi. They will have nothing to do with those who fare ill, but they assert that they will accept those who comport themselves well in the tournament. And they had the date of the contest proclaimed s long while in advance in all the countries near and far, in order that there might be more participants. Now the Queen arrived before the date they had set, and as soon as the ladies heard of the Queen's return, most of them came at once to the King and besought him to grant them a favour and boon, which he did. He promised to do whatever they wished, before he knew what their desire might be. Then they told him that they wished him to let the Queen come to be present at their contest. And he who was not accustomed to forbid, said he was willing, if she wished ir so. In happy mood they go to the Queen and say to her: "Lady, do not deprive us of the boon which the King has granted us." Then she asks them: "What is that? Don't fail to tell!" Then they say to her: "If you will come to our tournament, he will not gainsay you nor stand in the way." Then she said that she would come, since he was willing that she should. Promptly the dames send word throughout the realm that they are going to bring the Queen on the day set for the tournament. The news spread far and near, here and there, until it reached the kingdom whence no one used to return -- but now whoever wished might enter or pass out unopposed. The news travelled in this kingdom until it came to a seneschal of the faithless Meleagant may an evil fire burn him! This seneschal had Lancelot in his keeping, for to him he had been entrusted by his enemy Meleagant, who hated him with deadly hate. Lancelot learned the hour and date of the tournament, and as soon as he heard of it, his eyes were not tearless nor was his heart glad. The lady of the house, seeing Lancelot sad and pensive, thus spoke to him: "Sire, for God's sake and for your own soul's good, tell me truly," the lady said, "why you are so changed. You won't eat or drink anything, and I see that you do not make merry or laugh. You can tell me with confidence why you are so sad and troubled." "Ah, lady, for God's sake, do not be surprised that I am sad! Truly, I am very much downcast, since I cannot be present where all that is good in the world will be assembled: that is, at the tournament where there will be a gathering of the people who make the earth tremble. Nevertheless, if it pleased you, and if God should incline your heart to let me go thither, you might rest assured that I should be careful to return to my captivity here." "I would gladly do it," she replied, "if I did not see that my death and destruction would result. But I am in such terror of my lord, the despicable Meleagant, that I would not dare to do it, for he would kill my husband at once. It is not strange that I am afraid of him, for, as you know, he is very bad." "Lady, if you are afraid that I may not return to you at once after the tournament, I will take an oath which I will never break, that nothing will detain me from returning at once to my prison here immediately after the tournament." Upon my word," said she, "I will allow it upon one condition." "Lady, what condition is that?" Then she replies: "Sire, upon condition that you wilt swear to return to me, and promise that I shall have your love." "Lady, I give you all the love I have, and swear to come back." Then the lady laughs and says: "I have no cause to boast of such a gift, for I know you have bestowed upon some one else the love for which I have just made request. However, I do not disdain to take so much of it as I can get. I shall be satisfied with what I can have, and will accept your oath that you will be so considerate of me as to return hither a prisoner."
(Vv. 5515-5594.) In accordance with her wish, Lancelot swears by Holy Church that he will return without fail. And the lady at once gives him the vermilion arms of her lord, and his horse which was marvellously good and strong and brave. He mounts and leaves, armed with handsome, new arms, and proceeds until he comes to Noauz. He espoused this side in the tournament, and took his lodging outside the town. Never did such a noble man choose such a small and lowly lodging-place; but he did not wish to lodge where he might be recognised. There were many good and excellent knights gathered within the town. But there were many more outside, for so many had come on account of the presence of the Queen that the fifth part could not be accommodated inside. For every one who would have been there under ordinary circumstances, there were seven who would not have come excepting on the Queen's account. The barons were quartered in tents, lodges, and pavilions for five leagues around. Moreover, it was wonderful how many gentle ladies and damsels were there. Lancelot placed his shield outside the door of his lodging-place, and then, to make himself more comfortable, he took off his arms and lay down upon a bed which he held in slight esteem; for it was narrow and had a thin mattress, and was covered with a coarse hempen cloth. Lancelot had thrown himself upon the bed all disarmed, and as he lay there in such poor estate, behold! a fellow came in in his shirt-sleeves; he was a herald-at-arms, and had left his coat and shoes in the tavern as a pledge; so he came running barefoot and exposed to the wind. He saw the shield hanging outside the door, and looked at it: but naturally he did not recognise it or know to whom it belonged, or who was the bearer of it. He sees the door of the house standing open, and upon entering, he sees Lancelot upon the bed, and as soon as he saw him, he recognised him and crossed himself. And Lancelot made a sign to him, and ordered him not to speak of him wherever he might go, for if he should tell that he knew him, it would be better for him to have his eyes put out or his neck broken. "Sire," the herald says, "I have always held you in high esteem, and so long as I live, I shall never do anything to cause you displeasure." Then he runs from the house and cries aloud: "Now there has come one who will take the measure! (23) Now there has come one who will take the measure!" The fellow shouts this everywhere, and the people come from every side and ask him what is the meaning of his cry. He is not so rash as to answer them, but goes on shouting the same words: "Now there has come one who will take the measure!" This herald was the master of us all, when he taught us to use the phrase, for he was the first to make use of it.
Go to Part IV
NOTE: Endnotes supplied by Prof. Foerster are indicated by "(F.)"; all other endnotes are supplied by W.W. Comfort.
(21) The classic love-story of Pyramus and Thisbe, told by Ovid et al., was a favourite in the Middle Ages.
(22) Here he have the explanation of Guinevere's cold reception of Lancelot; he had been faithless to the rigid code of courtesy when he had hesitated for even a moment to cover himself with shame for her sake.
(23) The expression "or est venuz qui aunera", less literally means "who will defeat the entire field". Though Chretien refers to the expression as a current proverb, only two other examples of its use have been found. (Cf. "Romania", xvi. 101, and "Ztsch. fur romanische Philologie", xi. 430.) From this passage G. Paris surmised that Chretien himself was a herald-at-arms ("Journal des Savants", 1902, p. 296), but as Foerster says, the text hardly warrants the supposition.