This story saith that Briant would have been wroth with a will against Orguelleux of the Launde, had it not been for the King, and Orguelleux against him, for Orguelleux heeded no danger when anger and ill-will carried him away. Therewithal the talk came to an end. When the King learnt the tidings that Madeglant was discomfited and that the land of Albanie was in peace, he sent word to Lancelot to return back. They of the land were very sorrowful when he departed, for great affiance had they in his chivalry. So he came back thither where King Arthur was. All they of the land made a great joy, for well loved was he of many, nor were there none that hated him save of envy alone. They told him the tidings of King Claudas, and also in what manner Briant had spoken. Lancelot took no notice outwardly, as he that well knew how to redress all his grievances. He was at the court of a long while, for that King Claudas was about to send over thither some one of his knights. Briant of the Isles would fain that the King should have given him his leave, for more he hated him than ever another knight in the court, sith he it was that many a time had harmed him more than any other. By Briant's counsel, King Claudas sent his knight to King Arthur's court, wherein did he not wisely, for that he thereby renewed a matter whereof afterward came right great mischief, as this title witnesseth.
Madeglant of Oriande heard say that Lancelot was repaired back, and that the land of Albanie was all void save for the folk of the country. He maketh ready his navy at once and cometh back to the land in great force. He burneth the land and layeth it waste on every side, and doth far worse therein than he did aforetime. They of the land sent over to King Arthur and told him of their evil plight, warning him that, and he send them not succour betimes, they will leave the land and yield up the castles, for that they might not hold them longer. He took counsel, the King with his knights, whom he might send thither, and they said that Lancelot had already been there and that now another knight should be sent thither. The King sent thither Briant of the Isles, and lent him forty knights. Briant, that loved not the King in his heart, came into the land, but only made pretence of helping him to defend it. One day fell out a battle betwixt Madeglant and Briant and all their men. Briant was discomfited, and had many of his knights killed. Madeglant and his people spread themselves over the land and laid the towns in ruins and destroyed the castles, that were disgarnished, and put to death all them that would not believe in their gods, and cut off their heads.
All they of the land and country longed with sorrow for Lancelot, and said that had he remained there, the land would not have been thus destroyed, nor might they never have protection of no knight but of him alone. Briant of the Isles returned back, as he that would the war against King Arthur should increase on every side, for, what good soever the King may do him, he loveth him not, nor never will so long as he is on live. But no semblant thereof durst he show, for, sith that the best of his knights had been slain in the battle, so had he no power on his side, as against Lancelot and the good knights of his fellowship, whereof he would fain that there had been not one.
King Arthur was at Cardoil on one day of Whitsuntide. Many were the knights that were come to this court whereof I tell you. The King was seated at meat, and the day was fair and clear, and the air clean and fresh. Sagramors li Desirous and Lucan the Butler served before the King. And what time they had served of the first meats, therewithal behold you, a quarrel, like as it had been shot from a cross-bow, and striketh in the column of the hall before the King so passing strong that there was not a knight in the hall but heard it when it struck therein. They all looked thereat in great wonderment. The quarrel was like as it were of gold, and it had about it a many costly precious stones. The King saith that quarrel so costly cometh not from a poor place. Lancelot and Messire Gawain say that never have they seen one so rich. It struck so deep in the column that the iron point thereof might not be seen, and a good part of the shaft was also hidden. Thereupon, behold you, a damsel of surpassing great beauty that cometh, sitting on a right costly mule, full well caparisoned. She had a gilded bridle and gilded saddle, and was clad in a right rich cloth of silk. A squire followed after her that drove her mule from behind. She came before King Arthur as straight as she might, and saluted him right worshipfully, and he made answer the best he might.
"Sir," saith she, "I am come to speak and demand a boon, nor will I never alight until such time as you shall have granted it to me. For such is my custom, and for this am I come to your court, whereof I have heard such tidings and such witness in many places where I have been, that I know you will not deny me herein."
"Damsel, tell me what boon you would have of me?"
"Sir," saith she, "I would fain pray and beseech you that you bid the knight that may draw forth this quarrel from this column go thither where there is sore need of him."
"Damsel," saith the King, "Tell me the need."
"Sir," saith she, "I will tell it you plainly when I shall see the knight that shall have drawn it forth."
"Damsel," saith the King, "Alight! Never, please God, shall you go forth of my court denied of that you ask."
Lucan the Butler taketh her between his arms and setteth her to the ground, and her mule is led away to be stabled. When the damsel had washen, she was set in a seat beside Messire Ywain, that showed her much honour and served her with a good will. He looked at her from time to time, for she was fair and gentle and of good countenance. When they had eaten at the tables, the damsel prayeth the King that he will hasten them to do her business.
"Sir," saith she, "Many a good knight is there within yonder, and right glad may he be that shall draw it forth, for I tell you a right good knight is he, sith that none may achieve this business save he alone."
"Fair nephew," saith the King, "Now set your hand to this quarrel and give it back to the damsel."
"Ha, sir," saith he, "Do me not shame! By the faith that I owe you, I will not set my hand forward herein this day, nor ought you to be wroth hereof. Behold, here have you Lancelot with you, and so many other good knights, that little worship should I have herein were I to set myself forward before them."
"Messire Ywain," saith the King, "Set your hand hereto! It may be that you think too humbly of yourself herein."
"Sir," saith Messire Ywain, "Nought is there in the world that I would not do for you, but as for this matter I pray you hold me excused."
"Sagramors, and you, Orguelleux of the Launde, what will you do?" saith the King.
"Sir," say they, "When Lancelot hath made assay, we will do your pleasure, but before him, so please you, we will not go."
"Damsel," saith the King, "Pray Lancelot that he be fain to set his hand, and then the rest shall go after him if needs be."
"Lancelot," saith the damsel, "By the thing that most you love, make not mine errand bootless, but set your hand to the quarrel and then will the others do that they ought of right to do. For no leisure have I to tarry here long time."
"Damsel," saith Lancelot, "Ill do you, and a sin, to conjure me for nought, for so many good knights be here within, that I should be held for a fool and a braggart and I put myself forward before all other."
"By my head," saith the King, "Not so! Rather will you be held as a knight courteous and wise and good, as now you ought to be, and great worship will it be to yourself and you may draw forth the quarrel, and great courtesy will it be to aid the damsel. Wherefore I require you, of the faith you owe me, that you set your hand thereto, sith that the damsel prayeth you so to do, before the others."
Lancelot hath no mind to disobey the King's commandment; and he remembered that the damsel had conjured him by the thing that most he loved; nor was there nought in the world that he loved so much as the Queen, albeit she were dead, nor never thought he of none other thing save her alone. Then standeth he straight upright, doth off his robe, and cometh straight to the quarrel that is fixed in the column. He setteth his hand thereunto and draweth it forth with a right passing strong wrench, so sturdily that he maketh the column tremble. Then he giveth it to the damsel.
"Sir," saith she to King Arthur, "Now is it my devoir to tell you plainly of my errand; nor might none of the knights here within have drawn forth the quarrel save only he; and you held me in covenant how he that should draw it forth should do that which I shall require of him, and that he might do it, nor will I pray nor require of him nought that is not reason. Needs must he go to the Chapel Perilous the swiftest he may, and there will he find a knight that lieth shrouded in the midst of the chapel. He will take of the cloth wherein he is shrouded and a sword that lieth at his side in the coffin, and will take them to the Castle Perilous; and when he shall there have been, he shall return to the castle where he slew the lion in the cavern wherein are the two griffons, and the head of one of them shall he take and bring to me at Castle Perilous, for a knight there lieth sick that may not otherwise be healed."
"Damsel." saith Lancelot, "I see that you reckon but little of my life, so only that your wish be accomplished."
"Sir," saith she, "I know as well as you what the enterprise is, nor do I no whit desire your death, for, and were you dead, never would the knight be whole for whose sake you undertake it. And you will see the fairest damsel that is in any kingdom, and the one that most desireth to see you. And, so you tarry not, through her shall you lightly get done that you have to do. See now that you delay it not, but do that is needful swiftly sith that it hath been laid upon you, for the longer you tarry, the greater will be the hazard of mischance befalling you."
The damsel departeth from the court and taketh her leave and goeth her way back as fast as she may, and saith to herself: "Lancelot, albeit you have these pains and this travail for me, yet would I not your death herein, but of right ought I to rejoice in your tribulation, for into two of the most perilous places in the world are you going. Greatly ought I to hate you, for you reft me of my friend and gave him to another, and while I live may I never forget it."
The damsel goeth her way, and Lancelot departeth from the court and taketh leave of the King and of all the others. He issueth forth of Cardoil, all armed, and entereth into the forest that is deep, and so goeth forth a great pace, and prayeth God guide him into safety.