Here the story is silent of Messire Gawain and beginneth to speak of Lancelot, that entereth into a forest and rideth with right great ado and meeteth a knight in the midst of the forest that was coming full speed and was armed of all arms.
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "Whence come you?"
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "I come from the neighbourhood of King Arthur's Court."
"Ha, Sir, can you tell me tidings of a knight that beareth a green shield such as I bear? If so, he is my brother."
"What name hath he?" saith Lancelot.
"Sir," saith he, "His name is Gladoens, and he is a good knight and a hardy, and he hath a white horse right strong and swift."
"Be there other knights in your country that bear such arms as your shield and his besides you and he?"
"Certes, Sir, none."
"And wherefore do you ask?" saith Lancelot.
"For this, that a certain man hath reft him of one of his castles for that he was not there. Howbeit, I know well that he will have it again through his good knighthood."
"Is he so good knight?" saith Lancelot.
"Certes, Sir, yea! He is the best of the Isles of the Moors."
"Sir, of your mercy, lower your coif."
He quickly thereon lowereth his coif, and Lancelot looketh at him in the face. "Certes, Sir Knight," saith he, "you very much resemble him."
"Ha, Sir," saith the knight, "Know you then any tidings of him?"
"Certes, Sir," saith he, "Yea! and true tidings may I well say, for he rode at my side five leagues Welsh, nor never saw I one man so like another as are you to him."
"Good right hath he to resemble me," saith the knight, "for we are twins, but he was born first and hath more sense and knighthood than I; nor in all the Isles of the Moors is there damsel that hath so much worth and beauty as she of whom he is loved of right true love, and more she desireth to see him than aught else that liveth, for she hath not seen him of more than a year, wherefore hath she gone seek her prize, my brother, by all the forests of the world. Sir," saith the knight, "Let me go seek my brother, and tell me where I may find him."
"Certes," saith Lancelot, "I will tell you though it grieve me sore."
"Wherefore?" saith the knight, "Hath he done you any mis-deed?"
"In no wise," saith Lancelot, "Rather hath he done so much for me that I love you thereof and offer you my service."
"Sir," saith the knight, "I am going my way, but for God's sake tell me where I shall find my brother."
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "I will tell you. This morning did I bid his body farewell and help to bury him."
"Ha, Sir," saith the knight, "Do you tell me true?"
"Certes," saith Lancelot, "True it is that I tell you."
"Is he slain then, my brother?" saith the knight.
"Yea, and of succouring me," saith Lancelot.
"Ha, sir," saith the knight, "For God's sake tell me nought that is not right."
"By God, Sir," saith he, "Sore grieved am I to tell it you, for never loved I knight so much in so brief a time as I loved him. He helped to save me from death, and therefore will I do for you according to that he did for me."
"Sir," saith the knight, "If he be dead, a great grief is it to myself, for I have lost my comfort and my life and my land without recovery."
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "He helped me to save my life, and yours will I help to save henceforth for ever and so be that I shall know of your jeopardy."
The knight heareth that his brother is dead and well believeth Lancelot, and beginneth to make dole thereof the greatest that was ever heard. And Lancelot saith to him, "Sir Knight, let be this dole, for none recovery is there; but my body do I offer you and my knighthood in any place you please, where I may save your honour."
"Sir," saith the knight, "With good will receive I your help and your love, sith that you deign to offer me the same, and now have I sorer need of them than ever. Sir," saith the knight, "Sith that my brother is dead, I will return back and bear with my wrong, though well would he have amended it had he been on live."
"By my head," saith Lancelot, "I will go with you, that so may I reward you of that he hath done for me. He delivered his body to the death for me, and in like manner freely would I fain set mine own in jeopardy for love of you and of him."
"Sir," saith the knight, "Right good will do I owe you of this that you say to me, so your deeds be but the same herein."
"Yea, so help me God," saith Lancelot, "The same shall they be, if God lend me the power."
With that, they go on their way together, and the knight comforteth him much of that which Lancelot hath said to him, but of the death of his brother was he right sorrowful. And they ride until they come to the land of the Moors; then espy they a castle upon a rock, and below was a broad meadow-land.
"Sir," saith the Knight of the Green Shield to Lancelot, "This castle was my brother's and is now mine, and much it misliketh me that it hath fallen to me on this wise. And the knight that reft it of my brother is of so great hardihood that he feareth no knight on live, and you will presently see him issue forth of this castle so soon as he shall perceive you."
Lancelot and the knight ride until they draw nigh the castle. And the knight looketh in the way before him, and seeth a squire coming on a hackney, that was carrying before him a wild boar dead. The Knight of the Green Shield asketh him whose man he is, and the squire maketh answer: "I am man of the Lord of the Rock Gladoens, that cometh there behind, and my lord cometh all armed, he and others, for the brother of Gladoens hath defied him on behalf of his brother, but right little recketh my lord of his defiance."
Lancelot heareth how he that is coming is the enemy of him to whom had he been alive, his love most was due. The Knight of the Green Shield pointed him out so soon as he saw him.
"Sir," saith he to Lancelot, "Behold him by whom I am disherited, and yet worse would he do to me and he knew that my brother were dead."
Lancelot, without saving more, so soon as he had espied the Knight of the Rock, smiteth his horse with his spurs and cometh toward him. The Lord of the Rock, that was proud and hardy, seeth Lancelot coming and smiteth with his spurs the horse whereon he sitteth. They come with so swift an onset either upon other that they break their spears upon their shields, and hurtle together so sore that the Knight of the Rock Gladoens falleth over the croup of his horse. Lancelot draweth his sword and cometh above him, and he crieth him mercy and asketh him wherefore he wisheth to slay him? Lancelot saith for the sake of Gladoens from whom he hath reft his land and his castle. "And what is that to you?" saith the knight. "Behoveth his brother challenge me thereof."
"As much it behoveth me as his brother," saith Lancelot.
"For this," saith Lancelot, "That as much as he did for me will I do to you."
He cutteth off his head and giveth it incontinent to the Knight of the Green Shield.
"Now tell me," saith Lancelot, "Sith that he is dead, is he purged of that whereof you appeached him?"
"Sir," saith the knight, "I hold him rightly quit thereof, for, sith that he is dead, all claim on behalf of his kindred is abated by his death."
"And I pledge you my faith loyally," saith Lancelot, "as I am a knight, that never shall you be in peril nor in jeopardy of aught wherein I may help you, so I be in place and free, but my help shall you have for evermore, for that your brother staked his life to help me."
Lancelot and the knight lay the night at the Rock Gladoens, and the Knight of the Green Shield had his land at his pleasure, and all were obedient to him. And the upright and loyal were right glad, albeit when they heard the tidings of Gladoens' death they were right sorrowful thereof. Lancelot departed from the castle on the morrow, and the knight remained therein, sorrowful for his brother that he had lost, and glad for the land that he had gotten again. Lancelot goeth back right amidst the forest and rideth the day long, and meeteth a knight that was coming, groaning sore. And he was stooping over the fore saddle-bow for the pain that he had. He meeteth Lancelot and saith to him: "Sir, for God's sake, turn back, for you will find there the most cruel pass in the world there where I have been wounded through the body. Wherefore I beseech you not go thither."
"What pass is it then?" saith Lancelot.
"Sir," saith he, "It is the pass of the Castle of Beards, and it hath the name of this, that every knight that passeth thereby must either leave his beard there or challenge the same, and in such sort have I challenged my beard that meseemeth I shall die thereof."
"By my head," saith Lancelot, "I hold not this of cowardize, sith that you were hardy to set your life in jeopardy to challenge your beard, but now would you argue me of cowardize when you would have me turn back. Rather would I be smitten through the body with honour, so and I had not my death thereof, than lose with shame a single hair of my beard."
"Sir," saith the knight, "May God preserve you, for the castle is far more cruel than you think, and God guide the knight that may destroy the evil custom of the castle, for right shameful is the custom to strange knights that pass thereby."
Lancelot departeth from the knight and cometh toward the castle. Just as he had passed over a great bridge, he looketh about and seeth two knights come all armed to the entrance of the castle, and they made hold their horses before them, and their shields and spears are before them leaning against the wall. Lancelot looketh at the gateway of the castle and seeth the great door all covered with beards fastened thereon, and heads of knights in great plenty hung thereby. So, as he was about to enter the gate, two knights issue therefrom over against him.
"Sir," saith the one, "Abide and pay your toll!"
"Do knights, then, pay toll here?" saith Lancelot.
"Yea!" say the knights, "All they that have beards, and they that have none are quit. Sir, now pay us yours, for a right great beard it is, and thereof have we sore need."
"For what?" saith Lancelot.
"I will tell you," saith the knight. "There be hermits in this forest that make hair-shirts thereof."
"By my head," saith Lancelot, "Never shall they have hair-shirt of mine, so I may help it."
"That shall they," say the knights, "Of yours as of the other, or dearly shall you pay therefor!"
Right wroth waxeth Sir Lancelot, and cometh to the knight, and smiteth him with his spear amidst the breast with such a thrust that it passeth half an ell beyond, and overthroweth him and his horse together. The other knight seeth his fellow wounded to the death, and cometh towards him with a great sweep and breaketh his spear upon his shield. Howbeit, Lancelot beareth him to the ground right over his horse-croup and maketh him fall so heavily that he breaketh one of his legs. The tidings are come to the Lady of the Castle that a knight hath come to the pass that hath slain one of her knights and wounded the other. The Lady is come thither, and bringeth two of her damsels with her. She seeth Lancelot that is fain to slay the knight that lieth wounded on the ground.
"Sir," saith the Lady to Lancelot, "Withdraw yourself back and slay him not, but alight and speak to me in safety."
"Lady," saith one of the maidens, "I know him well. This is Lancelot of the Lake, the most courteous knight that is in the court of King Arthur."
He alighteth and cometh before the Lady. "Lady," saith he, "what is your pleasure?"
"I desire," saith she, "that you come to my hostel to harbour, and that you make me amends of the shame you have done me."
"Lady," saith Lancelot, "Shame have I never done you nor shall do, but the knights took in hand too shameful a business when they were minded to take the beards of stranger knights by force."
"Sir," saith she, "I will forego mine ill-will on condition that you harbour herewithin to-night."
"Lady," saith Lancelot, "I desire not your ill-will, wherefore will I gladly do your pleasure."
He setteth him within the castle and maketh his horse be led in after him, and the Lady hath the dead knight brought into the chapel and buried. The other she biddeth be disarmed and clothed and commandeth that his wounds be searched. Then maketh she Lancelot be disarmed and clad right richly in a good robe, and telleth him that she knoweth well who he is.
"Lady," saith Lancelot, "It is well for me."
Thereupon they sit to eat, and the first course is brought in by knights in chains that had their noses cut off; the second by knights in chains that had their eyes put out; wherefore they were led in by squires. The third course was brought in by knights that had but one hand and were in chains. After that, came other knights that had each but one foot and brought in the fourth course. At the fifth course came knights right fair and tall, and each brought a naked sword in his hand and presented their heads to the Lady.
Lancelot beheld the martyrdom of these knights, and sore misliking had he of the services of such folk. They are risen from meat and the lady goeth to her chamber and sitteth on a couch.
"Lancelot," saith the Lady, "you have seen the justice and the lordship of my castle. All these knights have been conquered at the passing of my door."
"Lady," saith Lancelot, "foul mischance hath befallen them."
"The like mischance would have befallen you had you not been knight so good. And greatly have I desired to see you this long time past. And I will make you lord of this castle and myself."
"Lady," saith he, "the lordship of this castle hold I of yourself without mesne, and to you have I neither wish nor right to refuse it. Rather am I willing to be at your service."
"Then," saith she, "you will abide with me in this castle, for more do I love you than any other knight that liveth."
"Lady," saith Lancelot, "Gramercy, but in no castle may I abide more than one night until I have been thither whither behoveth me to go."
"Whither are you bound?" saith she.
"Lady, saith he, "to the Castle of Souls."
"Well know I the castle," saith she. "The King hath the name Fisherman, and lieth in languishment on account of two knights that have been at his castle and made not good demand. Would you fain go thither?" saith the Lady.
"Yea," saith Lancelot.
"Then pledge me your faith that you will return by me to speak to me, so the Graal shall appear to you and you ask whereof it serveth."
"Yea, truly, saith Lancelot, "were you beyond sea!"
"Sir," saith one of the damsels, "So much may you well promise, for the Graal appeareth not to no knight so wanton as be ye. For you love the Queen Guenievre, the wife of your lord, King Arthur, nor so long as this love lieth at your heart may you never behold the Graal."
Lancelot heard the damsel and blushed of despite.
"Ha, Lancelot," saith the Lady, "Love you other than me?"
"Lady," saith he, "the damsel may say her pleasure."
Lancelot lay the night at the castle, and right wroth was he of the damsel that calleth the love of him and the Queen disloyal. And the morrow when he had heard mass, he took leave of the Lady of the Castle, and she besought him over and over to keep his covenant, and he said that so would he do without fail. Therewithal he issueth forth of the castle and entereth into a tall and ancient forest, and rideth the day long until he cometh to the outskirt of the forest, and seeth a tall cross at the entrance of a burying-ground enclosed all round about with a hedge of thorns. And the way lay through the burying ground. Lancelot entered therein and the night was come. He seeth the graveyard full of tombs and sepulchres. He looketh behind and seeth a chapel wherein were candles burning. Thitherward goeth he, and passeth beyond without saying aught more by the side of a dwarf that was digging a grave in the ground.
"Lancelot," saith the dwarf, "you are right not to salute me, for you are the man of all the world that most I hate; and God grant me vengeance of your body. So will He what time you are stricken down here within!"
Lancelot heard the dwarf, but deigned not to answer him of nought. He is come to the chapel, and alighteth and maketh fast the bridle of his horse to a tree, and leaneth his shield and spear without. After that he entereth into the chapel, and findeth a damsel laying out a knight in his winding-sheen. As soon as Lancelot was entered therewithin the wounds of the knight were swollen up and began to bleed afresh.
"Ha, Sir Knight, now see I plainly that you slew him that I am wrapping in his windingsheet!"
Thereupon, behold you, two knights that are carrying other two knights dead. They alight and then set them in the chapel. And the dwarf crieth out to them: "Now shall it be seen how you avenge your friends of the enemy that fell upon you!"
The knight that had fled from the forest when Messire Gawain came thither where the three lay dead, was come therewithin and knew Lancelot, whereupon saith he: "Our mortal enemy are you, for by you were these three knights slain."
"Well had they deserved it," saith Lancelot, "and in this chapel am I in no peril of you, wherefore as at this time will I depart not hence, for I know not the ways of the forest."
He was in the chapel until the day broke, when he issued forth thereof, and sore it weighed upon him that his horse was still fasting. He taketh his arms and is mounted. The dwarf crieth out aloud: "What aileth you?" saith he to the two knights, "Will you let your mortal enemy go thus?"
With that the two knights mount their horses and go to the two issues of the grave-yard, thinking that Lancelot is fain to flee therefrom; but no desire hath he thereof, wherefore he cometh to the knight that was guarding the entrance whereby he had to issue out, and smiteth him so stiffly that he thrusteth the point of his spear right through his body. The other knight that was guarding the other entrance, that had fled out of the forest before, had no mind to avenge his fellow, and fled incontinent so fast as he might. And Lancelot taketh the horse of the knight he had slain and driveth him before him, for he thinketh that some knight may haply have need thereof. He rideth on until he cometh to a hermitage in the forest where he alighteth and hath his horses stabled, and the Hermit giveth them of the best he hath. And Lancelot heard mass, and afterward are a little and fell on sleep. Thereafter, behold you, a knight that cometh to the Hermit and seeth Lancelot that was about to mount.
"Sir," saith he, "Whither go you?"
"Sir Knight," saith Lancelot, "thither shall I go where God may please; but you, whitherward are you bound to go?"
"Sir, I go to see one of my brethren and my two sisters, for I have been told that he hath fallen on such mishap as that he is called the Poor Knight, whereof am I sore sorrowful."
"Certes," saith Lancelot, "poor he is, the more the pity! Howbeit, will you do him a message from me?"
"Sir," saith the knight, "Right willingly!"
"Will you present him with this horse on my behalf, and tell him how Lancelot that harboured with him hath sent it?"
"Sir," saith the knight, "Right great thanks, and blessed may you be, for he that doth a kindness to a worshipful man loseth it not."
"Salute the two damsels for me," saith Lancelot.
"Sir, right willingly!"
The knight delivereth the horse to his squire, and taketh leave of Lancelot.
Thereupon, Lancelot departeth from the hermitage and rideth on until he cometh forth of the forest, and findeth a waste land, a country broad and long wherein wonned neither beast nor bird, for the land was so poor and parched that no victual was to be found therein. Lancelot looketh before him and seeth a city appear far away. Thither rideth he full speed and seeth that the city is so great that it seemeth him to encompass a whole country. He seeth the walls that are falling all around, and the gates ruined with age. He entereth within and findeth the city all void of folk, and seeth the great palaces fallen down and waste, and the great grave-yards full of sepulchres, and the tall churches all lying waste, and the markets and exchanges all empty. He rideth amidst the streets, and findeth a great palace that seemeth him to be better and more ancient than all the others. He bideth awhile before it and heareth within how knights and ladies are making great dole. And they say to a knight: "Ha, God, sore grief and pity is this of you, that you must needs die in such manner, and that your death may not be respited! Sore hatred ought we to bear toward him that hath adjudged you such a death."
The knights and ladies swoon over him as he departeth. Lancelot hath heard all this and much marvelleth he thereof, but nought thereof may he see.
Thereupon, lo you, the knight that cometh down into the midst of the hall, clad in a short red jerkin; and he was girt with a rich girdle of gold, and had a rich clasp at his neck wherein were many rich stones, and on his head had he a great cap of gold, and he held great axe. The knight was of great comeliness and young of age. Lancelot seeth him coming, and looketh upon him right fainly when he seeth him appear. And the knight saith to him, "Sir, alight!"
"Certes," saith Lancelot, "Willingly."
He alighteth and maketh his horse fast to a ring of silver that was on the mounting-stage, and putteth his shield from his neck and his spear from his hand.
"Sir," saith he to the knight, "What is your pleasure?"
"Sir, needs must you cut me off my head with this axe, for of this weapon hath my death been adjudged, but and you will not, I will cut off your own therewith."
"Hold, Sir," saith Lancelot, "What is this you tell me?"
"Sir," saith the knight, "you must needs do even as I say, sith that you are come into this city."
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "Right foolish were he that in such a jeopardy should not do the best for himself, but blamed shall I be thereof and I shall slay you when you have done me no wrong."
"Certes," saith the Knight, "In no otherwise may you go hence."
"Fair Sir," saith Lancelot, "So gentle are you and so well nurtured, how cometh it that you take your death so graciously? You know well that I shall kill you before you shall kill me, sith that so it is."
"This know I well for true," saith the Knight, "But you will promise me before I die, that you will return into this city within a year from this, and that you will set your head in the same jeopardy without challenge, as I have set mine."
"By my head," saith Lancelot, "Needeth no argument that I shall choose respite of death to dying here on the spot. But I marvel me of this that you are so fairly apparelled to receive your death."
"Sir," saith the Knight, "He that would go before the Saviour of the World ought of right to apparel him as fairly as he may. I am by confession purged of all wickedness and of all the misdeeds that ever I have committed, and do repent me truly thereof, wherefore at this moment am I fain to die."
Therewithal he holdeth forth the axe, and Lancelot taketh it and seeth that it is right keen and well whetted.
"Sir," saith the Knight, "Hold up your hand toward the minster that you see yonder."
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "Willingly."
"Thus, then, will you swear to me upon the holy relics that are within this minster, that on this day year at the hour that you shall have slain me, or before, you yourself will come back here and place your head in the very same peril as I shall have placed mine, without default?"
"Thus," saith Lancelot, "do I swear and give you thereto my pledge."
With that, the Knight kneeleth and stretcheth his neck as much as he may, and Lancelot taketh the axe in his hands, and then saith to him, "Sir Knight, for God's sake, have mercy on yourself!"
"Let cut off my head!" saith the Knight, "For otherwise may I not have mercy upon you!"
"In God's name," saith Lancelot, "fain would I deny you!"
With that, he swingeth the axe and cutteth off the head with such a sweep that he maketh it fly seven foot high from the body. The Knight fell to the ground when his head was cut off, and Lancelot flung down the axe, and thinketh that he will make but an ill stay there for himself. He cometh to his horse, and taketh his arms and mounteth and looketh behind him, but seeth neither the body of the Knight nor the head, neither knoweth he what hath become of them all, save only that he heard much dole and a great cry far off in the city of knights and ladies, saying that he shall be avenged, please God, at the term set, or before. Lancelot hath heard and understood all that the knights say and the ladies, and issueth forth of the city.