Hereupon the story is silent of Messire Gawain and Meliot and speaketh of King Claudas that hath assembled a great folk by the counsel of Briant of the Isles to come into the land of King Arthur, for he knoweth that it is disgarnished of the good knights that wont there to be, and he knoweth all the secret plottings of the court and what power King Arthur hath withal. He draweth toward his land the nighest he may, and hath won back the kingdom of Oriande all at his will. But they of Albanie still hold against him and challenge the land the best they may. Tidings thereof come to the court of King Arthur, and they of the country sent him word that so he send them not succour betimes they will yield up the land to King Claudas, and oftentimes they long after Lancelot, and say that so they had a defender like him, the islands would be all at peace. The King sent Briant of the Isles thither many times, that ever incontinent returned thence discomfit, but never sent he thither him that should have power to protect the land against King Claudas. King Arthur was sore troubled, for no witting had he of Messire Gawain nor Messire Ywain nor of others whereby his court had use of right to be feared and dreaded and of high renown throughout all other kingdoms. The King was one day in the hall at Cardoil, right heavy; and he was at one of the windows, and remembered him of the Queen and of his good knights that he wont to see oftener at court, whereof the more part were dead, and of the adventures that wont to befall therein whereof they saw none no longer. Lucan the Butler seeth him right heavy and draweth nigh unto him quietly.
"Sir," saith he, "Meseemeth you are without joy."
"Lucan," said the King, "Joy hath been somewhat far from me sithence that the Queen hath been dead, and Gawain and the other knights have held aloof from my court so that they deign come hither no longer. Moreover, King Claudas warreth upon me and conquereth my lands so that no power have I to rescue me for default of my knights."
"Sir," saith Lucan, "Herein is there nought whereof you have right to accuse any save yourself alone. For you have done evil unto him that hath served you, and good unto them that are traitors to you. You have one of the best knights in the world and the most loyal in your prison, wherefore all the other hold them aloof from your court. Lancelot had served you well by his good will and by his good knighthood, nor never had he done you any disservice whereof you might in justice have done him such shame; nor never will your enemies withhold them from you nor have dread of you save only through him and other your good knights. And know of a truth that Lancelot and Messire Gawain are the best of your court."
"Lucan," saith King Arthur, "So thought I ever again to have affiance in him, I would make him be set forth of my prison, for well I know that I have wrought discourteously toward him; and Lancelot is of a great heart, wherefore would he not slacken of his despite for that which hath been done unto him until such time as he should be avenged thereof, for no king is there in the world, how puissant soever he be, against whom he durst not well maintain his right."
"Sir," saith Lucan, "Lancelot well knoweth that and you had taken no counsel but your own, he would not have been thus entreated, and I dare well say that never so long as he liveth will he misdo in aught towards you, for he hath in him much valour and loyalty, as many a time have you had good cause to know. Wherefore, and you would fain have aid and succour and hold your realm again, behoveth you set him forth of the prison, or otherwise never will you succeed herein, and, if you do not so, you will lose your land by treason."
The King held by the counsel of Lucan the Butler. He made bring Lancelot before him into the midst of the hall, that was somewhat made ean of his being in prison, but he bore him as he wont, nor might none look at him to whom he seemed not to be good knight. "Lancelot," saith the King, "How is it with you?"
"Sir," saith he, "It hath been ill with me long time, but, please God, it shall be better hereafter."
"Lancelot," saith the King, "I repent me of this that I have done to you, and I have bethought me much of the good services I have found in you, wherefore I will do you amends thereof at your will, in such sort as that the love between us shall be whole as it was tofore."
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "Your amends love I much, and your love more than of any other; but never, please God, will I misdo you for aught that you may have done to me, for it is well known that I have not been in prison for no treason I have done, nor for no folly, but only for that it was your will. Never will it be reproached me as of shame, and, sith that you have done me nought whereof I may have blame nor reproach, my devoir it is to withhold me from hating you; for you are my lord, and if that you do me ill, without flattery of myself the ill you do me is your own; but, please God, whatsoever you have done me, never shall my aid fail you, rather, everywhere will I set my body in adventure for your love, in like sort as I have done many a time."
In the court of King Arthur was right great joy of the most part when they heard that Lancelot was set forth of prison, but not a whit rejoiced were Briant and his folk. The King commanded that Lancelot should be well cared for and made whole again, and that all should be at his commandment. The court was all overjoyed thereof, and they said: now at last might the King make war in good assurance. Lancelot was foremost in the King's court and more redoubted than was ever another of the knights. Briant of the Isles came one day before the King.
"Sir," saith he, "Behold, here is Lancelot that wounded me in your service, wherefore I will that he know I am his enemy."
"Briant," saith Lancelot, "And if that you deserved it tofore, well may you be sorry thereof, and sith that you wish to be mine enemy, your friend will I not be. For well may I deem of your love according as I have found it in you."
"Sir," saith Briant to the King, "You are my lord, and I am one you are bound to protect. You know well that so rich am I in lands and so puissant in friends that I may well despise mine enemy, nor will I not remain at your court so long as Lancelot is therein. Say not that I depart thence with any shame as toward myself. Rather thus go I hence as one that will gladly avenge me, so I have place and freedom, and I see plainly and know that you and your court love him far better than you love me, wherefore behoveth me take thought thereof."
"Briant," saith the King, "Remain as yet, and I will make amends for you to Lancelot, and I myself will make amends for him to you."
"Sir," saith Briant, "By the faith that I owe to you, none amends will I have of him nor other until such time as I have drawn as much blood of his body as did he of mine, and I will well that he know it."
With that Briant departeth from the court all wrathful, but if that Lancelot had not feared to anger the King, Briant would not have ridden a league English or ever he had followed and forced him to fight. Briant goeth toward the Castle of the Hard Rock, and saith that better would it have been for the King that Lancelot were still in prison, for that such a plea will he move against him and he may bring it to bear, as that he shall lose thereof the best parcel of his land. He is gone into the land of King Claudas, and saith that now at last hath he need of his aid, for Lancelot is issued forth of the King's prison and is better loved at court than all other, so that the King believeth in no counsel save his only. King Claudas sweareth unto him and maketh pledge that never will he fail him, and Briant to him again.