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How the corpse of the Maid of Astolat arrived to-fore King
Arthur, and of the burying, and how Sir Launcelot
offered the mass-penny.

SO by fortune King Arthur and the Queen Guenever were
speaking together at a window, and so as they looked into
Thames they espied this black barget, and had marvel
what it meant.  Then the king called Sir Kay, and showed
it him.  Sir, said Sir Kay, wit you well there is some new
tidings.  Go thither, said the king to Sir Kay, and take
with you Sir Brandiles and Agravaine, and bring me ready
word what is there.  Then these four knights departed
and came to the barget and went in; and there they found
the fairest corpse lying in a rich bed, and a poor man
sitting in the barget's end, and no word would he speak.
So these four knights returned unto the king again, and
told him what they found.  That fair corpse will I see,
said the king.  And so then the king took the queen by
the hand, and went thither.

Then the king made the barget to be holden fast,
and then the king and the queen entered with certain
knights with them; and there he saw the fairest woman
lie in a rich bed, covered unto her middle with many
rich clothes, and all was of cloth of gold, and she lay as
though she had smiled.  Then the queen espied a letter
in her right hand, and told it to the king.  Then the king
took it and said:  Now am I sure this letter will tell what
she was, and why she is come hither.  So then the king
and the queen went out of the barget, and so commanded
a certain man to wait upon the barget.

And so when the king was come within his chamber,
he called many knights about him, and said that he would
wit openly what was written within that letter.  Then the
king brake it, and made a clerk to read it, and this was
the intent of the letter.  Most noble knight, Sir Launcelot,
now hath death made us two at debate for your love.  I
was your lover, that men called the Fair Maiden of
Astolat; therefore unto all ladies I make my moan, yet
pray for my soul and bury me at least, and offer ye my
mass-penny: this is my last request.  And a clean maiden
I died, I take God to witness: pray for my soul, Sir
Launcelot, as thou art peerless.  This was all the substance
in the letter.  And when it was read, the king, the queen,
and all the knights wept for pity of the doleful complaints.
Then was Sir Launcelot sent for; and when he was come
King Arthur made the letter to be read to him.

And when Sir Launcelot heard it word by word, he
said:  My lord Arthur, wit ye well I am right heavy of
the death of this fair damosel:  God knoweth I was never
causer of her death by my willing, and that will I report
me to her own brother: here he is, Sir Lavaine.  I will
not say nay, said Sir Launcelot, but that she was both fair
and good, and much I was beholden unto her, but she
loved me out of measure.  Ye might have shewed her, said
the queen, some bounty and gentleness that might have
preserved her life.  Madam, said Sir Launcelot, she would
none other ways be answered but that she would be my
wife, outher else my paramour; and of these two I would
not grant her, but I proffered her, for her good love that
she shewed me, a thousand pound yearly to her, and to her
heirs, and to wed any manner knight that she could find
best to love in her heart.  For madam, said Sir Launcelot,
I love not to be constrained to love; for love must arise
of the heart, and not by no constraint.  That is truth,
said the king, and many knight's love is free in himself,
and never will be bounden, for where he is bounden
he looseth himself.

Then said the king unto Sir Launcelot:  It will be
your worship that ye oversee that she be interred worshipfully.
Sir, said Sir Launcelot, that shall be done as I can
best devise.  And so many knights yede thither to behold
that fair maiden.  And so upon the morn she was interred
richly, and Sir Launcelot offered her mass-penny; and all
the knights of the Table Round that were there at that
time offered with Sir Launcelot.  And then the poor man
went again with the barget.  Then the queen sent for Sir
Launcelot, and prayed him of mercy, for why that she had
been wroth with him causeless.  This is not the first time,
said Sir Launcelot, that ye had been displeased with me
causeless, but, madam, ever I must suffer you, but what
sorrow I endure I take no force.  So this passed on all
that winter, with all manner of hunting and hawking, and
jousts and tourneys were many betwixt many great lords,
and ever in all places Sir Lavaine gat great worship, so
that he was nobly renowned among many knights of the
Table Round.