The Knight of the Cart
Part IV: Vv. 5595 - Vv. 7134
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #24
(Vv. 5595-5640.) Now the crowd was assembled, including the Queen and all the ladies, the knights and the other people, and there were many men-at-arms everywhere, to the right and left. At the place where the tournament was to be, there were some large wooden stands for the use of the Queen with her ladies and damsels. Such fine stands were never seen before they were so long and well constructed. Thither the ladies betook themselves with the Queen, wishing to see who would fare better or worse in the combat. Knights arrive by tens, twenties, and thirties, here eighty and there ninety, here a hundred, there still more, and yonder twice as many yet; so that the press is so great in front of the stands and all around that they decide to begin the joust. As they assemble, armed and unarmed, their lances suggest the appearance of a wood, for those who have come to the sport brought so many lances that there is nothing in sight but lances, banners, and standards. Those who are going to take part begin to joust, and they find plenty of their companions who had come with similar intent. Still others prepare to perform other feats of chivalry. The fields, meadows, and fallow lands are so full of knights that it is impossible to estimate how many of them are there. But there was no sign of Lancelot at this first gathering of the knights; but later, when he entered the middle of the field, the herald saw him and could not refrain from crying out: "Behold him who will take the measure! Behold him who will take the measure!" And the people ask him who he is, but he will not tell them anything.
(Vv. 5641-6104.) When Lancelot entered the tournament, he was as good as twenty of the best, and he began to fight so doughtily that no one could take his eyes from him, wherever he was. On the Pomelegloi side there was a brave and valorous knight, and his horse was spirited and swifter than a wild stag. He was the son of the Irish king, and fought well and handsomely. But the unknown knight pleased them all more a hundred times. In wonder they all make haste to ask: "Who is this knight who fights so well?" And the Queen privily called a clever and wise damsel to her and said: "Damsel, you must carry a message, and do it quickly and with few words. Go down from the stand, and approach yonder knight with the vermilion shield, and tell him privately that I bid him do his `worst'." She goes quickly, and with intelligence executes the Queen's command. She sought the knight until she came up close to him; then she said to him prudently and in a voice so low that no one standing by might hear: "Sire, my lady the Queen sends you word by me that you shall do your `worst'." When he heard this, he replied: "Very willingly," like one who is altogether hers. Then he rides at another knight as hard as his horse can carry him, and misses his thrust which should have struck him. From that time till evening fell he continued to do as badly as possible in accordance with the Queen's desire. But the other, who fought with him, did not miss his thrust, but struck him with such violence that he was roughly handled. Thereupon he took to flight, and after that he never turned his horse's head toward any knight, and were he to die for it, he would never do anything unless he saw in it his shame, disgrace, and dishonour; he even pretends to be afraid of all the knights who pass to and fro. And the very knights who formerly esteemed him now hurled jests and jibes at him. And the herald who had been saying: "He will beat them all in turn!" is greatly dejected and discomfited when he hears the scornful jokes of those who shout: "Friend, say no more! This fellow will not take any one's measure again. He has measured so much that his yardstick is broken, of which thou hast boasted to us so much." Many say: "What is he going to do? He was so brave just now; but now he is so cowardly that there is not a knight whom he dares to face. The cause of his first success must have been that he never engaged at arms before, and he was so brave at his first attack that the most skilled knight dared not withstand him, for he fought like a wild man. But now he has learned so much of arms that he will never wish to bear them again his whole life long. His heart cannot longer endure the thought, for there is nothing more cowardly than his heart." And the Queen, as she watches him, is happy and well-pleased, for she knows full well, though she does not say it, that this is surely Lancelot. Thus all day long till evening he played his coward's part, and late in the afternoon they separated. At parting there was a great discussion as to who had done the best. The son of the Irish king thinks that without doubt or contradiction he has all the glory and renown. But he is grievously mistaken, for there were plenty of others as good as he. Even the vermilion knight so pleased the fairest and gentlest of the ladies and damsels that they had gazed at him more than at any other knight, for they had remarked how well he fought at first, and how excellent and brave he was; then he had become so cowardly that he dared not face a single knight, and even the worst of them could defeat and capture him at will. But knights and ladies all agreed that on the morrow they should return to the list, and the damsels should choose as their lords those who should win honour in that day's fight: on this arrangement they all agree. Then they turn toward their lodgings, and when they had returned, here and there men began to say: "What has become of the worst, the most craven and despised of knights? Whither did he go? Where is he concealed? Where is he to be found? Where shall we search for him? We shall probably never see him again. For he has been driven off by cowardice, with which he is so filled that there is no greater craven in the world than he. And he is not wrong, for a coward is a hundred times more at ease than a valorous fighting man. Cowardice is easy of entreaty, and that is the reason he has given her the kiss of peace and has taken from her all she has to give. Courage never so debased herself as to lodge in his breast or take quarters near him. But cowardice is altogether lodged with him, and she has found a host who will honour her and serve her so faithfully that he is willing to resign his own fair name for hers." Thus they wrangle all night, vying with each other in slander. But often one man maligns another, and yet is much worse himself than the object of his blame and scorn. Thus, every one said what he pleased about him. And when the next day dawned, all the people prepared and came again to the jousting place. The Queen was in the stand again, accompanied by her ladies and damsels and many knights without their arms, who had been captured or defeated, and these explained to them the armorial bearings of the knights whom they most esteem. Thus they talk among themselves: (24) "Do you see that knight yonder with a golden band across the middle of his red shield? That is Governauz of Roberdic. And do you see that other one, who has an eagle and a dragon painted side by side upon his shield? That is the son of the King of Aragon, who has come to this land in search of glory and renown. And do you see that one beside him, who thrusts and jousts so well, bearing a shield with a leopard painted on a green ground on one part, and the other half is azure blue? That is Ignaures the well-beloved, a lover himself and jovial. And he who bears the shield with the pheasants portrayed beak to beak is Coguillanz of Mautirec. Do you see those two side by side, with their dappled steeds, and golden shields showing black lions? One is named Semiramis, and the other is his companion; their shields are painted alike. And do you see the one who has a shield with a gate painted on it, through which a stag appears to be passing out? That is King Ider, in truth." Thus they talk up in the stand. "That shield was made at Limoges, whence it was brought by Pilades, who is very ardent and keen to be always in the fight. That shield, bridle, and breast-strap were made at Toulouse, and were brought here by Kay of Estraus. The other came from Lyons on the Rhone, and there is no better under heaven; for his great merit it was presented to Taulas of the Desert, who bears it well and protects himself with it skilfully. Yonder shield is of English workmanship and was made at London; you see on it two swallows which appear as if about to fly; yet they do not move, but receive many blows from the Poitevin lances of steel; he who has it is poor Thoas." Thus they point out and describe the arms of those they know; but they see nothing of him whom they had held in such contempt, and, not remarking him in the fray, they suppose that he has slipped away. When the Queen sees that he is not there, she feels inclined to send some one to search for him in the crowd until he be found. She knows of no one better to send in search of him than she who yesterday performed her errand. So, straightway calling her, she said to her: "Damsel, go and mount your palfrey! I send you to the same knight as I sent you yesterday, and do you seek him until you find him. Do not delay for any cause, and tell him again to do his `worst'. And when you have given him this message, mark well what reply he makes." The damsel makes no delay, for she had carefully noticed the direction he took the night before, knowing well that she would be sent to him again. She made her way through the ranks until she saw the knight, whom she instructs at once to do his "worst" again, if he desires the love and favour of the Queen which she sends him. And he makes answer: "My thanks to her, since such is her will." Then the damsel went away, and the valets, sergeants, and squires begin to shout: "See this marvellous thing! He of yesterday with the vermilion arms is back again. What can he want? Never in the world was there such a vile, despicable, and craven wretch! He is so in the power of cowardice that resistance is useless on his part." And the damsel returns to the Queen, who detained her and would not let her go until she heard what his response had been; then she heartily rejoiced, feeling no longer any doubt that this is he to whom she altogether belongs, and he is hers in like manner. Then she bids the damsel quickly return and tell him that it is her command and prayer that he shall do his "best "; and she says she will go at once without delay. She came down from the stand to where her valet with the palfrey was awaiting her. She mounted and rode until she found the knight, to whom she said at once: "Sire, my lady now sends word that you shall do the `best' you can!" And he replies: "Tell her now that it is never a hardship to do her will, for whatever pleases her is my delight." The maiden was not slow in bearing back this message, for she thinks it will greatly please and delight the Queen. She made her way as directly as possible to the stand, where the Queen rose and started to meet her, however, she did not go down, but waited for her at the top of the steps. And the damsel came happy in the message she had to bear. When she had climbed the steps and reached her side, she said: "Lady, I never saw so courteous g knight, for he is more than ready to obey every command you send to him, for, if the truth be known, he accepts good and evil with the same countenance. "Indeed," says the Queen, "that may well be so." Then she returns to the balcony to watch the knights. And Lancelot without delay seizes his shield by the leather straps, for he is kindled and consumed by the desire to show his prowess. Guiding his horse's head, he lets him run between two lines. All those mistaken and deluded men, who have spent a large part of the day and night in heaping him with ridicule, will soon be disconcerted. For a long time they have had their sport and joke and fun. The son of the King of Ireland held his shield closely gripped by the leather straps, as he spurs fiercely to meet him from the opposite direction. They come together with such violence that the son of the Irish king having broken and splintered his lance, wishes no more of the tournament; for it was not moss he struck, but hard, dry boards. In this encounter Lancelot taught him one of his thrusts, when he pinned his shield to his arm, and his arm to his side, and brought him down from his horse to earth. Like arrows the knights at once fly out, spurring and pricking from either side, some to relieve this knight, others to add to his distress. While some thus try to aid their lords, many a saddle is left empty in the strife and fray. But all that day Gawain took no hand at arms, though he was with the others there, for he took such pleasure in watching the deeds of him with the red painted arms that what the others did seemed to him pale in comparison. And the herald cheered up again, as he shouted aloud so that all could hear: "Here there has one come who will take the measure! To-day you shall see what he can do. To-day his prowess shall appear." Then the knight directs his steed and makes a very skilful thrust against a certain knight, whom he strikes so hard that he carries him a hundred feet or more from his horse. His feats with sword and lance are so well performed that there is none of the onlookers who does not find pleasure in watching him. Many even of those who bear arms find pleasure and satisfaction in what he does, for it is great sport to see how he makes horses and knights tumble and fall. He encounters hardly a single knight who is able to keep his seat, and he gives the horses he wins to those who want them. Then those who had been making game of him said: "Now we are disgraced and mortified. It was a great mistake for us to deride and vilify this man, for he is surely worth a thousand such as we are on this field; for he has defeated and outdone all the knights in the world, so that there is no one now that opposes him." And the damsels, who amazed were watching him, all said that he might take them to wife; but they did not dare to trust in their beauty or wealth, or power or highness, for not for her beauty or wealth would this peerless knight deign to choose any one of them. Yet, most of them are so enamoured of him that they say that, unless they marry him, they will not be bestowed upon any man this year. And the Queen, who hears them boast, laughs to herself and enjoy the fun, for well she knows that if all the gold of Arabia should be set before him, yet he who is beloved by them all would not select the best, the fairest, or the most charming of the group. One wish is common to them all -- each wishes to have him as her spouse. One is jealous of another, as if she were already his wife; and all this is because they see him so adroit that in their opinion no mortal man could perform such deeds as he had done. He did so well that when the time came to leave the list, they admitted freely on both sides that no one had equalled the knight with the vermilion shield. All said this, and it was true. But when he left, he allowed his shield and lance and trappings to fall where he saw the thickest press, then he rode off hastily with such secrecy that no one of all the host noticed that he had disappeared. But he went straight back to the place whence he had come, to keep his oath. When the tournament broke up, they all searched and asked for him, but without success, for he fled away, having no desire to be recognised. The knights are disappointed and distressed, for they would have rejoiced to have him there. But if the knights were grieved to have been deserted thus, still greater was the damsels' grief when they learned the truth, and they asserted by St. John that they would not marry at all that year. If they can't have him whom they truly love, then all the others may be dismissed. Thus the tourney was adjourned without any of them choosing a husband. Meanwhile Lancelot without delay repairs to his prison. But the seneschal arrived two or three days before Lancelot, and inquired where he was. And his wife, who had given to Lancelot his fair and well- equipped vermilion arms, as well as his harness and his horse, told the truth to the seneschal -- how she had sent him where there had been jousting at the tourney of Noauz. "Lady," the seneschal replies, "you could truly have done nothing worse than that. Doubtless, I shall smart for this, for my lord Meleagant will treat me worse than the beach-combers' law would treat me were I a mariner in distress. I shall be killed or banished the moment he hears the news, and he will have no pity for me." "Fair sire, be not now dismayed," the lady said; "there is no occasion for the fear you feel. There is no possibility of his detention, for he swore to me by the saints that he would return as soon as possible."
(Vv. 6105-6166.) (25) Then the seneschal mounts, and coming to his lord, tells him the whole story of the episode; but at the same time, he emphatically reassures him, telling how his wife had received his oath that he would return to his prison. "He will not break his word, I know," says Meleagant: "and yet I am very much displeased at what your wife has done. Not for any consideration would I have had him present at that tournament. But return now, and see to it that, when he comes back, he be so strictly guarded that he shall not escape from his prison or have any freedom of body: and send me word at once." "Your orders shall be obeyed," says the seneschal. Then he goes away and finds Lancelot returned as prisoner in his yard. A messenger, sent by the seneschal, runs back at once to Meleagant, appraising him of Lancelot's return. When he heard this news, he took masons and carpenters who unwillingly or of their own free-will executed his commands. He summoned the best artisans in the land, and commanded them to build a tower, and exert themselves to build it well. The stone was quarried by the seaside; for near Gorre on this side there runs a big broad arm of the sea, in the midst of which an island stood, as Meleagant well knew. He ordered the stone to be carried thither and the material for the construction of the tower. In less than fifty-seven days the tower was completely built, high and thick and well-founded. When it was completed, he had Lancelot brought thither by night, and after putting him in the tower, he ordered the doors to be walled up, and made all the masons swear that they would never utter a word about this tower. It was his will that it should be thus sealed up, and that no door or opening should remain, except one small window. Here Lancelot was compelled to stay, and they gave him poor and meagre fare through this little window at certain hours, as the disloyal wretch had ordered and commanded them.
(Vv. 6167-6220.) Now Meleagant has carried out all his purpose, and he betakes himself to King Arthur's court: behold him now arrived! And when he was before the King, he thus spoke with pride and arrogance: "King, I have scheduled a battle to take place in thy presence and in thy court. But I see nothing of Lancelot who agreed to be my antagonist. Nevertheless, as my duty is, in the hearing of all who are present here, I offer myself to fight this battle. And if he is here, let him now step forth and agree to meet me in your court a year from now. I know not if any one has told you how this battle was agreed upon. But I see knights here who were present at our conference, and who, if they would, could tell you the truth. If he should try to deny the truth, I should employ no hireling to take my place, but would prove it to him hand to hand." The Queen, who was seated beside the King, draws him to her as she says: "Sire, do you know who that knight is? It is Meleagant who carried me away while escorted by Kay the seneschal; he caused him plenty of shame and mischief too." And the King answered her: "Lady, I understand; I know full well that it is he who held my people in distress." The Queen says no more, but the King addresses Meleagant: "Friend," he says, "so help me God, we are very sad because we know nothing of Lancelot." "My lord King," says Meleagant, "Lancelot told me that I should surely find him here. Nowhere but in your court must I issue the call to this battle, and I desire all your knights here to bear me witness that I summon him to fight a year from to-day, as stipulated when we agreed to fight."
(Vv. 6221-6458.) At this my lord Gawain gets up, much distressed at what he hears: "Sire, there is nothing known of Lancelot in all this land," he says; "but we shall send in search of him and, if God will, we shall find him yet, before the end of the year is reached, unless he be dead or in prison. And if he does not appear, then grant me the battle, and I will fight for him: I will arm myself in place of Lancelot, if he does not return before that day." "Ah," says Meleagant, "for God's sake, my fair lord King, grant him the boon. I join my request to his desire, for I know no knight in all the world with whom I would more gladly try my strength, excepting only Lancelot. But bear in mind that, if I do not fight with one of them, I will accept no exchange or substitution for either one." And the King says that this is understood, if Lancelot does not return within the time. Then Meleagant left the royal court and journeyed until he found his father, King Bademagu. In order to appear brave and of consideration in his presence, he began by making a great pretence and by assuming an expression of marvellous cheer. That day the king was holding a joyous court at his city of Bade; (26) it was his birthday, which he celebrated with splendour and generosity, and there were many people of divers sorts gathered with him. All the palace was filled with knights and damsels, and among them was the sister of Meleagant, of whom I shall tell you, farther on, what is my thought and reason for mentioning her here. But it is not fitting that I should explain it here, for I do not wish to confuse or entangle my material, but rather to treat it straight forwardly. Now I must tell you that Meleagant in the hearing of all, both great and small, spoke thus to his father boastingly: "Father," he says, "so help me God, please tell me truly now whether he ought not to be well-content, and whether he is not truly brave, who can cause his arms to be feared at King Arthur's court?" To this question his father replies at once: "Son," he says, "all good men ought to honour and serve and seek the company of one whose deserts are such." Then he flattered him with the request that he should not conceal why he has alluded to this, what he wishes, and whence he comes. "Sire, I know not whether you remember," Meleagant begins, "the agreements and stipulations which were recorded when Lancelot and I made peace. It was then agreed, I believe, and in the presence of many we were told, that we should present ourselves at the end of a year at Arthur's court. I went thither at the appointed time, ready equipped for my business there. I did everything that had been prescribed: I called and searched for Lancelot, with whom I was to fight, but I could not gain a sight of him: he had fled and run away. When I came away, Gawain pledged his word that, if Lancelot is not alive and does not return within the time agreed upon, no further postponement will be asked, but that he himself will fight the battle against me in place of Lancelot. Arthur has no knight, as is well known, whose fame equals his, but before the flowers bloom again, I shall see, when we come to blows, whether his fame and his deeds are in accord: I only wish it could be settled now!" "Son," says his father, "thou art acting exactly like a fool. Any one, who knew it not before, may learn of thy madness from thy own lips. A good heart truly humbles itself, but the fool and the boastful never lose their folly. Son, to thee I direct my words, for the traits of thy character are so hard and dry, that there is no place for sweetness or friendship. Thy heart is altogether pitiless: thou art altogether in folly's grasp. This accounts for my slight respect for thee, and this is what will cast thee down. If thou art brave, there will be plenty of men to say so in time of need. A virtuous man need not praise his heart in order to enhance his deed; the deed itself will speak in its own praise. Thy self- praise does not aid thee a whit to increase in any one's esteem; indeed, I hold thee in less esteem. Son, I chasten thee; but to what end? It is of little use to advise a fool. He only wastes his strength in vain who tries to cure the madness of a fool, and the wisdom that one teaches and expounds is worthless, wasted and unemployed, unless it is expressed in works." Then Meleagant was sorely enraged and furious. I may truly say that never could you see a mortal man so full of anger as he was; the last bond between them was broken then, as he spoke to his father these ungracious words: "Are you in a dream or trance, when you say that I am mad to tell you how my matters stand? I thought I had come to you as to my lord and my father; but that does not seem to be the case, for you insult me more outrageously than I think you have any right to do; moreover, you can give no reason for having addressed me thus." "Indeed, I can." "What is it, then?" "Because I see nothing in thee but folly and wrath. I know very well what thy courage is like, and that it will cause thee great trouble yet. A curse upon him who supposes that the elegant Lancelot, who is esteemed by all but thee, has ever fled from thee through fear. I am sure that he is buried or confined in some prison whose door is barred so tight that he cannot escape without leave. I should surely be sorely grieved if he were dead or in distress. It would surely be too bad, were a creature so splendidly equipped, so fair, so bold, yet so serene, to perish thus before his time. But, may it please God, this is not true." Then Bademagu said no more; but a daughter of his had listened attentively to all his words, and you must know that it was she whom I mentioned earlier in my tale, and who is not happy now to hear such news of Lancelot. It is quite clear to her that he is shut up, since no one knows any news of him or his wanderings. "May God never look upon me, if I rest until I have some sure and certain news of him!" Straightway, without making any noise or disturbance, she runs and mounts a fair and easy-stepping mule. But I must say that when she leaves the court, she knows not which way to turn. However, she asks no advice in her predicament, but takes the first road she finds, and rides along at random rapidly, unaccompanied by knight or squire. In her eagerness she makes haste to attain the object of her search. Keenly she presses forward in her quest, but it will not soon terminate. She may not rest or delay long in any single place, if she wishes to carry out her plan, to release Lancelot from his prison, if she can find him and if it is possible. But in my opinion, before she finds him she will have searched in many a land, after many a journey and many a quest, before she has any news of him. But what would be the use of my telling you of her lodgings and her journeyings? Finally, she travelled so far through hill and dale, up and down, that more than a month had passed, and as yet she had learned only so much as she knew before -- that is, absolutely nothing. One day she was crossing a field in a sad and pensive mood, when she saw a tower in the distance standing by the shore of an arm of the sea. Not within a league around about was there any house, cottage, or dwelling- place. Meleagant had had it built, and had confined Lancelot within. But of all this she still was unaware. As soon as she espied the tower, she fixed her attention upon it to the exclusion of all else. And her heart gives her assurance that here is the object of her quest; now at last she has reached her goal, to which Fortune through many trials has at last directed her.
(Vv. 6459-6656.) The damsel draws so near to the tower that she can touch it with her hands. She walks about, listening attentively, I suppose, if perchance she may hear some welcome sound. She looks down and she gazes up, and she sees that the tower is strong and high and thick. She is amazed to see no door or window, except one little narrow opening. Moreover, there was no ladder or steps about this high, sheer tower. For this reason she surmises that it was made so intentionally, and that Lancelot is confined inside. But she resolves that before she tastes of food, she will learn whether this is so or not. She thinks she will call Lancelot by name, and is about to do so when she is deterred by hearing from the tower a voice which was making a marvellously sad moan as it called on death. It implores death to come, and complains of misery unbearable. In contempt of the body and life, it weakly piped in a low, hoarse tone: "Ah, fortune, how disastrously thy wheel has turned for me! Thou hast mocked me shamefully: a while ago I was up, but now I am down; I was well off of late, but now I am in a sorry state; not long since thou didst smile on me, but now thy eyes are filled with tears. Alas, poor wretch, why didst thou trust in her, when so soon she has deserted thee! Behold, in a very little while she has cast thee down from thy high estate! Fortune, it was wrong of thee to mock me thus; but what carest thou! Thou carest not how it may turn out. Ah, sacred Cross! All, Holy Ghost! How am I wretched and undone! How completely has my career been closed! Ah, Gawain, you who possess such worth, and whose goodness is unparalleled, surely I may well be amazed that you do not come to succour me. Surely you delay too long and are not showing courtesy. He ought indeed to receive your aid whom you used to love so devotedly! For my part I may truly say that there is no lodging place or retreat on either side of the sea, where I would not have searched for you at least seven or ten years before finding you, if I knew you to be in prison. But why do I thus torment myself? You do not care for me even enough to take this trouble. The rustic is right when he says that it is hard nowadays to find a friend! It is easy to rest the true friend in time oú need. Alas! more than a year has passed since first I was put inside this tower. I feel hurt, Gawain, that you have so long deserted me! But doubtless you know nothing of all this, and I have no ground for blaming you. Yes, when I think of it, this must be the case, and I was very wrong to imagine such a thing; for I am confident that not for all the world contains would you and your men have failed to come to release me from this trouble and distress, if you were aware of it. If for no other reason, you would be bound to do this out of love for me, your companion. But it is idle to talk about it -- it cannot be. Ah, may the curse and the damnation of God and St. Sylvester rest upon him who has shut me up so shamefully! He is the vilest man alive, this envious Meleagant, to treat me as evilly as possible!" Then he, who is wearing out his life in grief, ceases speaking and holds his peace. But when she, who was lingering at the base of the tower, heard what he said, she did not delay, but acted wisely and called him thus: "Lancelot," as loudly as she could; "friend, up there, speak to one who is your friend!" But inside he did not hear her words. Then she called out louder yet, until he in his weakness faintly heard her, and wondered who could be calling him. (27) He heard the voice and heard his name pronounced, but he did not know who was calling him: he thinks it must be a spirit. He looks all about him to see, I suppose, if he could espy any one; but there is nothing to be seen but the tower and himself. "God," says he, "what is that I heard? I heard some one speak, but see nothing! Indeed, this is passing marvellous, for I am not asleep, but wide awake. Of course, if this happened in a dream, I should consider it an illusion; but I am awake, and therefore I am distressed." Then with some trouble he gets up, and with slow and feeble steps he moves toward the little opening. Once there, he peers through it, up and down and to either side. When he had looked out as best he might, he caught sight of her who had hailed him. He did not recognise her by sight. But she knew him at once and said: "Lancelot, I have come from afar in search of you. Now, thank God, at last I have found you. I am she who asked of you a boon as you were on your way to the sword-bridge, and you very gladly granted it at my request; it was the head I bade you cut from the conquered knight whom I hated so. Because of this boon and this service you did me, I have gone to this trouble. As a guerdon I shall deliver you from here." "Damsel, many thanks to you," the prisoner then replied; "the service I did you will be well repaid if I am set at liberty. If you can get me out of here, I promise and engage to be henceforth always yours, so help me the holy Apostle Paul! And as I may see God face to face, I shall never fail to obey your commands in accordance with your will. You may ask for anything I have, and receive it without delay." "Friend, have no fear that you will not be released from here. You shall be loosed and set free this very day. Not for a thousand pounds would I renounce the expectation of seeing you free before the datum of another day. Then I shall take you to a pleasant place, where you may rest and take your ease. There you shall have everything you desire, whatever it be. So have no fear. But first I must see if I can find some tool anywhere hereabouts with which you might enlarge this hole, at least enough to let you pass." "God grant that you find something," he said, agreeing to this plan; "I have plenty of rope in here, which the rascals gave me to pull up my food -- hard barley bread and dirty water, which sicken my stomach and heart." Then the daughter of Bademagu sought and found a strong, stout, sharp pick, which she handed to him. He pounded, and hammered and struck and dug, notwithstanding the pain it caused him, until he could get out comfortably. Now he is greatly relieved and glad, you may be sure, to be out Of prison and to get away from the place where he has been so long confined. Now he is at large in the open air. You may be sure that he would not go back again, were some one to gather in a pile and give to him all the gold there is scattered in the world.
(Vv. 6657-6728.) Behold Lancelot now released, but so feeble that he staggered from his weakness and disability. Gently, without hurting him, she sets him before her on her mule, and then they ride off rapidly. But the damsel purposely avoids the beaten track, that they may not be seen, and proceeds by a hidden path; for if she had travelled openly, doubtless some one would have recognised them and done them harm, and she would not have wished that to happen. So she avoided the dangerous places and came to a mansion where she often makes her sojourn because of its beauty and charm. The entire estate and the people on it belonged to her, and the place was well furnished, safe, and private. There Lancelot arrived. And as soon as he had come, and had laid aside his clothes, the damsel gently laid him on a lofty, handsome couch, then bathed and rubbed him so carefully that I could not describe half the care she took. She handled and treated him as gently as if he had been her father. Her treatment makes a new man of him, as she revives him with her cares. Now he is no less fair than an angel and is more nimble and more spry than anything you ever saw. When he arose, he was no longer mangy and haggard, but strong and handsome. And the damsel sought out for him the finest robe she could find, with which she clothed him when he arose. And he was glad to put it on, quicker than a bird in flight. He kissed and embraced the maid, and then said to her graciously: "My dear, I have only God and you to thank for being restored to health again. Since I owe my liberty to you, you may take and command at will my heart and body, my service and estate. I belong to you in return for what you have done for me; but it is long since I have been at the court of my lord Arthur, who has shown me great honour; and there is plenty there for me to do. Now, my sweet gentle friend, I beg you affectionately for leave to go; then, with your consent, I should feel free to go." "Lancelot, fair, sweet dear friend, I am quite willing," the damsel says; "I desire your honour and welfare above everything everywhere." Then she gives him a wonderful horse she has, the best horse that ever was seen, and he leaps up without so much as saying to the stirrups "by your leave": he was up without considering them. Then to God, who never lies, they commend each other with good intent.
(Vv. 6729-7004.) Lancelot was so glad to be on the road that, if I should take an oath, I could not possibly describe the joy he felt at having escaped from his trap. But he said to himself repeatedly that woe was the traitor, the reprobate, whom now he has tricked and ridiculed, "for in spite of him I have escaped." Then he swears by the heart and body of Him who made the world that not for all the riches and wealth from Babylon to Ghent would he let Meleagant escape, if he once got him in his power: for he has him to thank for too much harm and shame! But events will soon turn out so as to make this possible; for this very Meleagant, whom he threatens and presses hard, had already come to court that day without being summoned by any one; and the first thing he did was to search until he found my lord Gawain. Then the rascally proven traitor asks him about Lancelot, whether he had been seen or found, as if he himself did not know the truth. As a matter of fact, he did not know the truth, although he thought he knew it well enough. And Gawain told him, as was true, that he had not been seen, and that he had not come. "Well, since I don't find him," says Meleagant, "do you come and keep the promise you made me: I shall not longer wait for you." Then Gawain makes answer: "I will keep presently my word with you, if it please God in whom I place my trust. I expect to discharge my debt to you. But if it comes to throwing dice for points, and I should throw a higher number than you, so help me God and the holy faith, I'll not withdraw, but will keep on until I pocket all the stakes." (28) Then without delay Gawain orders a rug to be thrown down and spread before him. There was no snivelling or attempt to run away when the squires heard this command, but without grumbling or complaint they execute what he commands. They bring the rug and spread it out in the place indicated; then he who had sent for it takes his seat upon it and gives orders to be armed by the young men who were standing unarmed before him. There were two of them, his cousins or nephews, I know not which, but they were accomplished and knew what to do. They arm him so skilfully and well that no one could find any fault in the world with them for any mistake in what they did. When they finished arming him, one of them went to fetch a Spanish steed able to cross the fields, woods, hills, and valleys more swiftly than the good Bucephalus. (29) Upon a horse such as you have heard Gawain took his seat -- the admired and most accomplished knight upon whom the sign of the Cross was ever made. Already he was about to seize his shield, when he saw Lancelot dismount before him, whom he was not expecting to see. He looked at him in amazement, because he had come so unexpectedly; and, if I am not wrong, he was as much surprised as if he had fallen from the clouds. However, no business of his own can detain him, as soon as he sees Lancelot, from dismounting and extending his arms to him, as he embraces, salutes and kisses him. Now he is happy and at ease, when he has found his companion. Now I will tell you the truth, and you must not think I lie, that Gawain would not wish to be chosen king, unless he had Lancelot with him. The King and all the rest now learn that, in spite of all, Lancelot, for whom they so long have watched, has come back quite safe and sound. Therefore they all rejoice, and the court, which so long has looked for him, comes together to honour him. Their happiness dispels and drives away the sorrow which formerly was theirs. Grief takes flight and is replaced by an awakening joy. And how about the Queen? Does she not share in the general jubilee? Yes, verily, she first of all. How so? For God's sake, where, then, could she be keeping herself? She was never so glad in her life as she was for his return. And did she not even go to him? Certainly she did; she is so close to him that her body came near following her heart. Where is her heart, then? It was kissing and welcoming Lancelot. And why did the body conceal itself? Why is not her joy complete? Is it mingled with anger or hate? No, certainly, not at all; but it may be that the King or some of the others who are there, and who are watching what takes place, would have taken the whole situation in, if, while all were looking on, she had followed the dictates of her heart. If common-sense had not banished this mad impulse and rash desire, her heart would have been revealed and her folly would have been complete. Therefore reason closes up and binds her fond heart and her rash intent, and made it more reasonable, postponing the greeting until it shall see and espy a suitable and more private place where they would fare better than here and now. The King highly honoured Lancelot, and after welcoming him, thus spoke: "I have not heard for a long time news of any man which were so welcome as news of you; yet I am much concerned to learn in what region and in what land you have tarried so long a time. I have had search made for you up and down, all the winter and summer through, but no one could find a trace of you." "Indeed, fair sire," says Lancelot, "I can inform you in a few words exactly how it has fared with me. The miserable traitor Meleagant has kept me in prison ever since the hour of the deliverance of the prisoners in his land, and has condemned me to a life of shame in a tower of his beside the sea. There he put me and shut me in, and there I should still be dragging out my weary life, if it were not for a friend of mine, a damsel for whom I once performed a slight service. In return for the little favour I did her, she has repaid me liberally: she has bestowed upon me great honour and blessing. But I wish to repay without delay him for whom I have no love, who has sought out and devised for me this shame and injury. He need not wait, for the sum is all ready, principal and interest; but God forbid that he find in it cause to rejoice!" Then Gawain said to Lancelot: "Friend, it will be only a slight favour for me, who am in your debt, to make this payment for you. Moreover, I am all ready and mounted, as you see. Fair, sweet friend, do not deny me the boon I desire and request." But Lancelot replies that he would rather have his eye plucked out, or even both of them, than be persuaded to do this: he swears it shall never be so. He owes the debt and he will pay it himself: for with his own hand he promised it. Gawain plainly sees that nothing he can say is of any avail, so he loosens and takes off his hauberk from his back, and completely disarms himself. Lancelot at once arms himself without delay; for he is impatient to settle and discharge his debt. Meleagant, who is amazed beyond measure at what he sees, has reached the end of his good fortunes, and is about to receive what is owing him. He is almost beside himself and comes near fainting. "Surely I was a fool," he says, "not to go, before coming here, to see if I still held imprisoned in my tower him who now has played this trick on me. But, God, why should I have gone? What cause had I to think that he could possibly escape? Is not the wall built strong enough, and is not the tower sufficiently strong and high? There was no hole or crevice in it, through which he could pass, unless he was aided from outside. I am sure his hiding-place was revealed. If the wall were worn away and had fallen into decay, would he not have been caught and injured or killed at the same time? Yes, so help me God, if it had fallen down, he would certainly have been killed. But I guess, before that wall gives away without being torn down, that all the water in the sea will dry up without leaving a drop and the world will come to an end. No, that is not it: it happened otherwise: he was helped to escape, and could not have got out otherwise: I have been outwitted through some trickery. At any rate, he has escaped; but if I had been on my guard, all this would never have happened, and he would never have come to court. But it's too late now to repent. The rustic, who seldom errs, pertinently remarks that it is too late to close the stable when the horse is out. I know I shall now be exposed to great shame and humiliation, if indeed I do not suffer and endure something worse. What shall I suffer and endure? Rather, so long as I live, I will give him full measure, if it please God, in whom I trust." Thus he consoles himself, and has no other desire than to meet his antagonist on the field. And he will not have long to wait, I think, for Lancelot goes in search of him, expecting soon to conquer him. But before the assault begins, the King bids them go down into the plain where the tower stands, the prettiest place this side of Ireland for a fight. So they did, and soon found themselves on the plain below. The King goes down too, and all the rest, men and women in crowds. No one stays behind; but many go up to the windows of the tower, among them the Queen, her ladies and damsels, of whom she had many with her who were fair.
(Vv. 7005-7119.) In the field there stood a sycamore as fair as any tree could be; it was wide-spread and covered a large area, and around it grew a fine border of thick fresh grass which was green at all seasons of the year. Under this fair and stately sycamore, which was planted back in Abel's time, there rises a clear spring of water which flows away hurriedly. The bed of the spring is beautiful and as bright as silver, and the channel through which the water flows is formed, I think, of refined and tested gold, and it stretches away across the field down into a valley between the woods. There it pleases the King to take his seat where nothing unpleasant is in sight. After the crowd has drawn back at the King's command, Lancelot rushes furiously at Meleagant as at one whom he hates cordially, but before striking him, he shouted with a loud and commanding voice: "Take your stand, I defy you! And take my word, this time you shall not be spared." Then he spurs his steed and draws back the distance of a bow-shot. Then they drive their horses toward each other at top speed, and strike each other so fiercely upon their resisting shields that they pierced and punctured them. But neither one is wounded, nor is the flesh touched in this first assault. They pass each other without delay, and come back at the top of their horses: speed to renew their blows on the strong, stout shields. Both of the knights are strong and brave, and both of the horses are stout and fast. So mighty are the blows they deal on the shields about their necks that the lances passed clean through, without breaking or splintering, until the cold steel reached their flesh. Each strikes the other with such force that both are borne to earth, and no breast-strap, girth, or stirrup could save them from falling backward over their saddle-bow, leaving the saddle without an occupant. The horses run riderless over hill and dale, but they kick and bite each other, thus showing their mortal hatred. As for the knights who fell to earth, they leaped up as quickly as possible and drew their swords, which were engraved with chiselled lettering. Holding their shields before the face, they strive to wound each other with their swords of steel. Lancelot stands in no fear of him, for he knew half as much again about fencing as did his antagonist, having learned it in his youth. Both dealt such blows on the shield slung from their necks, and upon their helmets barred with gold, that they crushed and damaged them. But Lancelot presses him hard and gives him a mighty blow upon his right arm which, though encased in mail, was unprotected by the shield, severing it with one clean stroke. And when he felt the loss of his right arm, he said that it should be dearly sold. If it is at all possible, he will not fail to exact the price; he is in such pain and wrath and rage that he is well-nigh beside himself, and he has a poor opinion of himself, if he cannot score on his rival now. He rushes at him with the intent to seize him, but Lancelot forestalls his plan, for with his trenchant sword he deals his body such a cut as he will not recover from until April and May be passed. He smashes his nose-guard against his teeth, breaking three of them in his mouth. And Meleagant's rage is such that he cannot speak or say a word; nor does he deign to cry for mercy, for his foolish heart holds tight in such constraint that even now it deludes him still. Lancelot approaches and, unlacing his helmet, cuts off his head. Never more will this man trouble him; it is all over with him as he falls dead. Not a soul who was present there felt any pity at the sight. The King and all the others there are jubilant and express their joy. Happier than they ever were before, they relieve Lancelot of his arms, and lead him away exultingly.
(Vv. 7120-7134.) My lords, if I should prolong my tale, it would be beside the purpose, and so I will conclude. Godefroi de Leigni, the clerk, has written the conclusion of "the Cart"; but let no one find fault with him for having embroidered on Chretien's theme, for it was done with the consent of Chretien who started it. Godefroi has finished it from the point where Lancelot was imprisoned in the tower. So much he wrote; but he would fain add nothing more, for fear of disfiguring the tale.
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NOTE: Endnotes supplied by Prof. Foerster are indicated by "(F.)"; all other endnotes are supplied by W.W. Comfort.
(24) The evident satisfaction with which Chretien describes in detail the bearings of the knights in the following passage lends colour to Gaston Paris' conjecture that he was a herald as well as a poet.
(25) According to the statement made at the end of the poem by the continuator of Chretien, Godefroi de Leigni, it must have been at about this point that the continuator took up the thread of the story. It is not known why Chretien dropped the poem where he did.
(26) Bade = Bath. (F.)
(27) The situation recalls that in "Aucassin et Nicolette", where Aucassin confined in the tower hears his sweetheart calling to him from outside.
(28) The figure is, of course, taken from the game of throwing dice for high points. For an exhaustive account of dice- playing derived from old French texts, cf. Franz Semrau, "Wurfel und Wurfelspiel in alten Frankreich", "Beiheft" 23 of "Ztsch. fur romanische Philologie (Halle, 1910).
(29) Alexander's horse.