Here the story is silent of Lancelot, and saith that Messire Gawain goeth a great pace riding, and prayeth God that He will so counsel him that he may find the knight. He rideth until the day cometh to decline, and he lay in the house of a hermit in the forest, that lodged him well.
"Sir," saith the hermit to Messire Gawain, "Whom do you go seek?"
"Sir," saith he, "I am in quest of a knight that I would see right gladly."
"Sir," saith the hermit, "In this neighbourhood will you find no knight."
"Wherefore not?" saith Messire Gawain, "Be there no knights in this country?"
"There was wont to be plenty," saith the hermit, "But now no longer are there any, save one all alone in a castle and one all alone on the sea that have chased away and slain all the others."
"And who is the one of the sea?" saith Messire Gawain.
"Sir," saith the hermit, "I know not who he is, save only that the sea is hard by here, where the ship runneth oftentimes wherein the knight is, and he repaireth to an island that is under the castle of the Queen of the Maidens, from whence he chased an uncle of his that warred upon the castle, and the other knights that he had chased thence and slain were helping his uncle, so that now the castle is made sure. And the knights that might flee from this forest and this kingdom durst not repair thither for the knight, for they dread his hardiment and his great might, sith that they know well they might not long endure against him."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "Is it so long a space sithence that he hath haunted the sea?"
"Sir," saith the hermit, "It is scarce more than a twelvemonth."
"And how nigh is this to the sea?" saith Messire Gawain.
"Sir," saith the hermit, "It is not more than two leagues Welsh. When I have gone forth to my toil, many a time have I seen the ship run close by me, and the knight, all armed, within, and meseemed he was of right great comeliness, and had as passing proud a look as any lion. But I can well tell you never was knight so dreaded in this kingdom as is he. The Queen of the Maidens would have lost her castle ere now but for him. Nor never sithence that he hath chased his uncle from the island, hath he entered the Queen's castle even once, but from that time forth hath rather rowed about the sea and searched all the islands and stricken down all the proud in such sort that he is dreaded and warily avoided throughout all the kingdoms. The Queen of the Maidens is right sorrowful for that he cometh not to her castle, for so dear she holdeth him of very love, that and he should come and she might keep him so that he should never issue forth again, she would sooner lock him up with her there safe within."
"Know you." saith Messire Gawain, "what shield the knight beareth?"
"Sir," saith the hermit, "I know not now to blazon it, for nought know I of arms. Three score years and more have I been in this hermitage, yet never saw I this kingdom before so dismayed as is it now."
Messire Gawain lay the night therewithin, and departed when he had heard mass. He draweth him as nigh the sea as he may, and rideth along beside the shore and many a time draweth rein to look forth if he might see the knight's ship. But nowhere might he espy it. He hath ridden until he cometh to the castle of the Queen of the Maidens. When she knew that it was Messire Gawain, she made thereof great joy, and pointed him out the island whither Perceval had repaired, and from whence he had driven his uncle.
"Sir," saith she to Messire Gawain, "I plain me much of him, for never hath he been fain to enter herewithin, save the one time that he did battle with his uncle, but ever sithence hath he made repair to this island and rowed about this sea."
"Lady," saith Messire Gawain, "and whereabout may he be now?"
"Sir, God help me," saith she, "I know not, for I have not seen him now of a long space, and no earthly man may know his intent nor his desire, nor whitherward he may turn."
Messire Gawain is right sorrowful for that he knoweth not where to seek him albeit he hath so late tidings of him. He lay at the castle and was greatly honoured, and on the morrow he heard mass and took leave of the Queen, and rideth all armed beside the seashore, for that the hermit had told him, and the Queen herself, that he goeth oftener by sea than by land. He entereth into a forest that was nigh the sea, and seeth a knight coming a great gallop as if one were chasing him to slay him.
"Sir knight," saith Messire Gawain, "Whither away so fast?"
"Sir, I am fleeing from the knight that hath slain all the others."
"And who is the knight?" saith Messire Gawain.
"I know not who he is," saith the knight, "But and you go forward you are sure to find him."
"Meseemeth," saith Messire Gawain, "that I have seen you aforetime."
"Sir," saith he, "So have you! I am the Knight Coward that you met in the forest there where you conquered the knight of the shield party black and white, and I am man of the Damsel of the Car. Wherefore I pray you for God's sake that you do me no hurt, for the knight that I found down yonder hath a look so fierce that I thought I was dead when I saw it."
"Need you fear nought of me," saith Messire Gawain, "For I love your damsel well."
"Sir," saith the knight, "I would that all the other knights would say as much in respect of me, for no fear have I save for myself alone."
Messire Gawain departeth from the knight, and goeth his way amidst the forest that overshadowed the land as far as the seashore, and looketh forth from the top of a sand-hill, and seeth a knight armed on a tall destrier, and he had a shield of gold with a green cross.
"Ha, God," saith Messire Gawain, "Grant that this knight may be able to tell me tidings of him I seek!"
Thitherward goeth he a great gallop, and saluteth him worshipfully and he him again.
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "Can you tell me tidings of a knight that beareth a shield banded of argent and azure with a red cross?"
"Yea, Sir," saith the knight, "That can I well. At the assembly of the knights may you find him within forty days."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "Where will the assembly be?"
"In the Red Launde, where will be many a good knight. There shall you find him without fail."
Thereof hath Messire Gawain right great joy, and so departeth from the knight and the knight from him, and goeth back toward the sea a great gallop. But Messire Gawain saw not the ship whereinto he entered, for that it was anchored underneath the cliff. The knight entered thereinto and put out to sea as he had wont to do. Howbeit Messire Gawain goeth his way toward the Red Launde where the assembly was to be, and desireth much the day that it shall be. He rideth until he cometh one eventide nigh to a castle that was of right fair seeming. He met a damsel that was following after a dead knight that two other knights bare upon a horse-bier, and she rode a great pace right amidst the forest. And Messire Gawain cometh to meet her and saluteth her, and she returned the salute as fairly as she might.
"Damsel," saith Messire Gawain, "Who lieth in this bier?"
"Sir, a knight that a certain man hath slain by great outrage."
"And whither shall you ride this day?"
"Sir, I would fain be in the Red Launde, and thither will I take this knight, that was a right worshipful man for his age."
"And wherefore will you take him there?" saith Messire Gawain.
"For that he that shall do best at the assembly of knights shall avenge this knight's death."
The damsel goeth her way thereupon. And Messire Gawain goeth to the castle that he had seen, and found none within save only one solitary knight, old and feeble, and a squire that waited upon him. Howbeit, Messire Gawain alighteth at the castle. The Vavasour lodged him well and willingly, and made his door be well shut fast and Messire Gawain be disarmed, and that night he showed him honour as well as he might. And when it came to the morrow and Messire Gawain was minded to depart thence, the Vavasour saith to him, "Sir you may not depart thus, for this door hath not been opened this long while save only yesterday, when I made it be opened before you, to the intent that you should meet on my behalf a certain knight that is fain to slay me, for that the King of Castle Mortal hath had his hold herewithin, he that warreth on the Queen of the Maidens. Wherefore I pray you that you help me to defend it against the knight."
"What shield beareth he?" saith Messire Gawain.
"He beareth a golden shield with a green cross."
"And what sort of knight is he?" saith Messire Gawain.
"Sir," saith the Vavasour, "A good knight and a hardy and a sure."
"By my faith," saith Messire Gawain, "And you can tell me tidings of another knight whereof I am in quest, I will protect you against this one to the best I may, and if he will do nought for my prayer, I will safeguard you of my force."
"What knight, then, do you seek?" saith the Vavasour.
"Sir, a knight that is called Perceval, and he hath carried away from the court of King Arthur a shield banded argent and azure with a red cross on a band of gold. He will be at the assembly in the Red Launde. These tidings had I of the knight you dread so much."
Thereupon, whilst Messire Gawain was thus speaking to the Vavasour, behold you the Knight of the Golden Shield, that draweth rein in the midst of a launde that was betwixt the castle and the forest. The Vavasour seeth him from the windows of the hall, and pointeth him out to Messire Gawain. Messire Gawain goeth and mounteth on his destrier, his shield at his neck and his spear in his fist, all armed, and issueth forth of the door when it had been unfastened, and cometh toward the knight, that awaited him on his horse. He seeth Messire Gawain coming, but moveth not, and Messire Gawain marvelleth much that the knight cometh not toward him, for him thinketh well that the Vavasour had told him true. But he had not, for never had the knight come thither to do the Vavasour any hurt, but on account of the knights that passed by that way that went to seek adventure, for right glad was he to see them albeit he was not minded to make himself known unto any. Messire Gawain looketh before him and behind him and seeth that the door was made fast and the bridge drawn up so soon as he was departed thence, whereof he marvelled much and saith to the knight, "Sir, is your intent nought but good only?"
"By my head," saith he, "Nought at all, and readily will I tell it you."
Thereupon, behold you a damsel that cometh a great pace, and held a whip wherewith she hurrieth her mule onward, and she draweth rein there where the two knights were.
"Ha, God!" saith she, "shall I ever find one to wreak me vengeance of the traitor Vavasour that dwelleth in this castle?"
"Is he then traitor?" saith Messire Gawain.
"Yea, Sir, the most traitor you saw ever! He lodged my brother the day before yesterday, and bore him on hand at night that a certain knight was warring upon him for that the way whereby the knights pass is here in front of this place, and lied to him so much as that my brother held him in covenant that he would assault a certain knight that he should point out to him, for love of him. This knight came passing hereby, that had no thought to do hurt neither to the Vavasour nor to my brother. The knight was right strong and hardy, and was born at the castle of Escavalon. My brother issued forth of the castle filled with fool-hardiness for the leasing of the Vavasour, and ran upon the knight without a word. The knight could do no less than avenge himself. They hurtled together so sore that their horses fell under them and their spears passed either through other's heart. Thus were both twain killed on this very piece of ground."
"The Vavasour took the arms and the horses and put them in safe keeping in his castle, and the bodies of the knights he left to the wild beasts, that would have devoured them had I not chanced to come thither with two knights that helped me bury them by yonder cross at the entrance of the forest."
"By my head," saith Messire Gawain, "In like manner would he have wrought me mischief had I been minded to trust him; for he bore me in hand that this knight was warring upon him, and besought me that I should safeguard him against him. But our Lord God so helped me that I intermeddled not therein, for lightly might I have wrought folly."
"By the name of God," saith the other, "Meseemeth it clear that the Vavasour would fain that knights should kill each other."
"Sir," saith the damsel, "You say true; it is of his covetise of harness and horses that he entreateth the knights on this-wise."
"Damsel," saith Messire Gawain, "Whither go you?"
"Sir," saith she, "After a knight that I have made be carried in a litter for the dead."
"I saw him," saith he, "pass by here last night, full late last night."
The knight taketh leave of Messire Gawain, and Messire Gawain saith that he holdeth himself a churl in that he hath not asked him of his name. But the knight said, "Fair Sir, I pray you of love that you ask not my name until such time as I shall ask you of yours."
Messire Gawain would ask nought further of the knight, and the knight entered into the Lonely Forest and Messire Gawain goeth on his way. He meeteth neither knight nor damsel to whom he telleth not whom he goeth to seek, and they all say that he will be in the Red Launde. He lodged the night with a hermit. At night, the hermit asked Messire Gawain whence he came?
"Sir, from the land of the Queen of the Maidens."
"Have you seen Perceval, the Good Knight that took the shield in King Arthur's court and left another there?"
"No, certes," saith Messire Gawain, "Whereof am I right sorrowful. But a knight with a shield of gold and a green cross thereon told me that he would be at the Red Launde."
"Sir," saith the hermit, "you say true, for it was he himself to whom you spake. Tonight is the third night since he lay within yonder, and see here the bracket he brought from King Arthur's court, which he hath commanded me to convey to his uncle, King Hermit."
"Alas!" saith Messire Gawain, "What ill chance is mine if this be true!"
"Sir," saith the hermit, "I ought not to lie, neither to you nor other. By the brachet may you well know that this is true."
"Sir," saith Messire Gawain, "Of custom beareth he no such shield."
"I know well," saith the hermit, "what shield he ought to bear, and what shield he will bear hereafter. But this doth he that he may not be known, and this shield took he in the hermitage of Joseus, the son of King Hermit, there where Lancelot was lodged, where he hanged the four thieves that would have broken into the hermitage by night. And within there hath remained the shield he brought from King Arthur's court, with Joseus the son of my sister, and they are as brother and sister between the twain, and you may know of very truth that albeit Joseus be hermit, no knight is there in Great Britain of his heart and hardiment."
"Certes," saith Messire Gawain, "It was sore mischance for me that I should see him yesterday before the castle where the knights pass by, and speak to him and ask him his name, but he besought me that I should not ask him his name until such time as he should ask me mine; and with that he departed from me and entered into the forest, and I came hitherward. Now am I so sorrowful that I know not what I may do for the best, for King Arthur sendeth me in quest of him, and Lancelot hath also gone to seek him in another part of the kingdom of Logres. But now hath too great mischance befallen me of this quest, for twice have I seen him and found him and spoken to him, and now have I lost him again."
"Sir," saith the hermit, "He is so close and wary a knight, that he is fain never to waste a word, neither will he make false semblant to any nor speak word that he would not should be heard, nor do shame of his body to his knowledge, nor carnal sin, for virgin and chaste is he and doth never outrage to any."
"I know well," saith Messire Gawain, "that all the valours and all the cleannesses that ought to be in a knight are in him, and therefore am I the more sorrowful that I am not of them that he knoweth, for a man is worth the more that hath acquaintance with a good knight."
Messire Gawain lay the night in the hermit's house, right sorrowful, and in the morning departed when he had heard mass. Josephus the good clerk witnesseth us in this high history that this hermit had to name Josuias, and was a knight of great worship and valour, but he renounced all for the love of God, and was fain to set his body in banishment for Him. And all these adventures that you hear in this high record came to pass, Josephus telleth us, for the setting forward the law of the Saviour. All of them could he not record, but only these whereof he best remembered him, and whereof he knew for certain all the adventures by virtue of the Holy Spirit. This high record saith that Messire Gawain hath wandered so far that he is come into the Red Launde whereas the assembly of knights should be held. He looketh and seeth the tents pitched and the knights coming from all quarters. The most part were already armed within and before their tents. Messire Gawain looketh everywhere, thinking to see the knight he seeketh, but seemeth him he seeth him not, for no such shield seeth he as he beareth. All abashed is he thereof, for he hath seen all the tents and looked at all the arms. But the knight is not easy to recognise, for he hath changed his arms, and nigh enough is he to Messire Gawain, albeit you may well understand that he knoweth it not. And the tournament assembleth from all parts, and the divers fellowships come the one against other, and the melly of either upon other as they come together waxeth sore and marvellous. And Messire Gawain searcheth the ranks to find the knight, albeit when he meeteth knight in his way he cannot choose but do whatsoever a knight may do of arms, and yet more would he have done but for his fainness to seek out the knight. The damsel is at the head of the tournament, for that she would fain know the one that shall have the mastery and the prize therein.
The knight that Messire Gawain seeketh is not at the head of the fellowships, but in the thickest of the press, and such feats of arms doth he that more may no knight do, and smiteth down the knights about him, that flee from him even as the deer-hound fleeth from the lion.
"By my faith," saith Messire Gawain, "sith that they have lied to me about the knight, I will seek him no more this day, but forget my discontent as best I may until evening."
He seeth the knight, but knoweth him not, for he had a white shield and cognisances of the same. And Messire Gawain cometh to him as fast as his horse may carry him, and the knight toward Messire Gawain. So passing stoutly they come together that they pierce their shields below the boss. Their spears were so tough that they break not, and they draw them forth and come together again so strongly that the spears wherewith they smote each other amidst the breast were bended so that they unriveted the holdfasts of their shields, and they lost their stirrups, and the reins fly from their fists, and they stagger against the back saddlebows, and the horses stumbled so as that they all but fell. They straighten them in saddle and stirrup, and catch hold upon their reins, and then come together again, burning with wrath and fury like lions, and either smiteth on other with their spears that may endure no longer, for the shafts are all to-frushed as far as the fists in such sort that they that look on marvel them much how it came to pass that the points had not pierced their bodies. But God would not that the good knights should slay each other, rather would He that the one should know the true worth of the other. The habergeons safeguarded not their bodies, but the might of God in whom they believed, for in them had they all the valour that knight should have; and never did Messire Gawain depart from hostel wherein he had lien, but he first heard mass before he went if so he might, nor never found he dame nor damsel discounselled whereof he had not pity, nor did he ever churlishness to other knight, nor said nor thought it, and he came, as you have heard, of the most holy lineage of Josephus and the good King Fisherman.
The good knights were in the midst of the assembly, and right wrathful was the one against the other, and they held their swords naked and their shields on their arms and dealt each other huge buffets right in the midst of the helms. The most part of the knights come to them and tell them that the assembly waiteth for them to come thereunto. They have much pains to part them asunder, and then the melly beginneth again on all sides, and the evening cometh on that parteth them at last. And on this wise the assembly lasted for two days. The damsel that brought the knight on a bier in a coffin, dead, prayed the assembly of all the knights to declare which one of all the knights had done the best, for the knight that she made be carried might not be buried until such time as he were avenged. And they say that the knight of the white shield and the other with the shield sinople and the golden eagle had done better than all the other, but, for that the knight of the white shield had joined in the melly before the other, they therefore would give him the prize; but they judged that for the time that Messire Gawain had joined therein he had not done worse than the other knight. The damsel seeketh the knight of the white shield among the knights and throughout all the tents, but cannot find him, for already hath he departed. She cometh to Messire Gawain and saith: "Sir, sith that I find not the knight of the white shield, you are he that behoveth avenge the knight that lieth dead in the litter."
"Damsel," saith Messire Gawain, "Do me not this shame, for it hath been declared that the other knight hath better done herein than I."
"Damsel, well you know that no honour should I have thereof, were I to emprise to do that whereof you beseech me, ~for you have said that behoveth none to avenge him, save only that hath borne him best at this assembly, and that is he of the white shield, and, so God help me, this have I well felt and proven."
The damsel well understandeth that Messire Gawain speaketh reason.
"Ha, Sir," saith she, "He hath already departed hence and gone into the forest, and the most divers-seeming knight is he and the best that liveth, and great pains shall I have or ever I find him again."
"The best?" saith Messire Gawain; "How know you that?"
"I know it well," saith she, "for that in the house of King Fisherman did the Graal appear unto him for the goodness of his knighthood and the goodness of his heart and for the chastity of his body. But he forgat to ask that one should serve thereof, whence hath sore harm befallen the land. He came to the court of King Arthur, where he took a shield that none ought to bear save he alone. Up to this time have I well known his coming and going, but nought shall I know thereof hereafter for that he hath changed the cognisance of his shield and arms. And now am I entered into sore pain and travail to seek him, for I shall not have found him of a long space, and I came not to this assembly save for him alone."
"Damsel," saith Messire Gawain, "You have told me tidings such as no gladness have I thereof, for I also am seeking him, but I know not how I may ever recognise him, for he willeth not to tell me his name, and too often changeth he his shield, and well I know that so I shall ever come in place where he hath changed his cognisance, and he shall come against me and I against him, I shall only know him by the buffets that he knoweth how to deal, for never in arms have I made acquaintance with so cruel a knight. But again would I suffer sorer blows than I have suffered yet, so only I might be where he is."
"Sir," saith the damsel, "What is your name?"
"Damsel," saith he, "I am called Gawain."
With that he commendeth the damsel to God, and goeth his way in one direction and the damsel in another, and saith to herself that Perceval is the most marvellous knight of the world, that so often he discogniseth himself. For when one seeth him one may recognise him not. Messire Gawain rideth amidst the forest, and prayeth the Saviour lead him into such place as that he may find Perceval openly, in such sort that he may have his acquaintance and his love that so greatly he desireth.