Book Of The Morte D' Arthur
( Originally Published A Long Time Ago )
As Sir Mordred was ruler of all England, he caused letters to be made, as though they came from beyond the sea, and the letters specified that King Arthur was slain in battle with Sir Launcelot ; wherefore Sir Mordred made a parliament, and called the lords together, and there he made them to chuse him King, and so he was crowned at Canterbury, and held a feast there fifteen days. And afterward he drew him to Win-chester, and there he took Queen Guenever, and said plainly that he would wed her, which was his uncle's wife, and his father's wife : and so he made ready for the feast, and a day prefixed that they should be wedded. Wherefore Queen Guenever was passing heavy, but she durst not discover her heart; but speak fair, and agreed to Sir Mordred's will. Then she desired of Sir Mordred for to go to London, for to buy all manner of things that belonged unto the wedding : and, be-cause of her fair speech, Sir Mordred trusted her well enough, and gave her leave to go; and, when she came to London, suddenly, in all haste possible, she stuffed it with all manner of victuals, and well garnished it with men, and so kept it. Then, when Sir Mordred wist and understood how he was deceived, he was passing wrath out of measure. And, to make short tale, he went and laid a mighty siege about the Tower of London, and made many great assaults thereat, and threw many great engines unto them, and shot great guns. But all might not prevail Sir Mordred. For Queen Guenever would never, for fair speech, nor for foul, trust to come in his hands again. And then came the Bishop of Canterbury, the which was a noble clerk, and a holy man, and thus he said to Sir Mordred, "Sir, what will ye do? will ye first displease God, and after shame yourself, and all knighthood? Is not King Arthur your uncle, no further but your mother's brother, and on her himself King Arthur begat you upon his own sister, therefore how may ye wed your father's wife? "Sir," said the noble clerk, "leave this opinion, or else I shall curse you with book, bell, and candle." "Do thy worst," said Sir Mordred, "wit thou well that I utterly defy thee." "Sir," said the bishop, "I shall not fear me to do that I ought to do. Also, whereas, ye noise that my lord King Arthur is slain, it is not so; and therefore ye will make an abominable work in this land." "Peace! thou false priest," said Sir Mordred, "for and thou chafe me any more, I shall make thy head to be stricken off" So the bishop departed, and did the curse in the most effective wise that might be done. And then Sir Mordred sought the Bishop of Canterbury, for to have slain him. And when the bishop heard that, he fled, and took part of his goods with him, and went nigh unto Glastonbury, and there he was a religious hermit in a chapel, and lived in poverty, and in holy prayers. For well he understood that a mischievous war was near at hand. Then Sir Mordred sought upon Queen Guenever, by letters and messages, and by fair means and foul, for to have her come out of the Tower of London. But all this availed him not, for she answered him shortly, openly and privily, that she had lever slay herself than to be married with him. Then came word to Sir Mordred, that King Arthur had raised the siege from Sir Launcelot, and that he was coming homeward with 'a great host, for to be avenged upon Sir Mordred. Wherefore Sir Mordred made to write letters unto all the barony of this land, and much people drew unto him ; for then was the common voice among them, that with King Arthur was none other life but war and strife, and with Sir Mordred was great joy and bliss. Thus was King Arthur deprived, and evil said of ; and many there were that King Arthur had made up of nought, and had given them lands, might not say of him then a good word.
Lo ! we all Englishmen see what a mischief here was: for he that was the noblest knight and king of the world, and most loved the fellowship of noble knights and men of worship, and by him they were all upholden. Now, might not we English-men hold us content with him; lo! this was the old custom and usage of this land. And also men say, that we of this land have not yet lost nor forgotten the custom and usage. Alas ! alas ! this is a great default of us Englishmen, for there may nothing please us no term. And so fared the people at that time. For they were better pleased with Sir Mordred than they were with King Arthur ; and much people drew unto Sir Mordred, and said they would abide with him, for better and for worse. And so Sir Mordred drew with great haste to-ward Dover, for there he heard say that King Arthur would arrive; and so he thought to beat his own father from his lands : and the most part of all England held with Sir Modred, the people were so new-fangled.
AND SO, as Sir Mordred was at Dover, with his host, there came King Arthur, with a great many ships, galleys, and carracks ; and there was Sir Mordred ready, waiting upon his landing, to hinder his own father to land upon the land that he was king of. Then was there launching of great boats and small, and all were full of noble men of arms ; and there was much slaughter of gentle knights, and many a full bold baron was laid full low, on both parties. But King Arthur was so courageous, that there might no manner of knight let him to land, and his knights fiercely followed him ; and so they landed, despite Sir Mordred and all his power ; and put Sir Mordred back, that he fled, and all his people. So when this battle was done, King Arthur let bury his people that were dead : and then was the noble knight, Sir Gawaine, found in a great boat, lying more than half dead. When King Arthur wist that Sir Gawaine was laid so low, he went unto him, and there the King made sorrow out of measure, and took Sir Gawaine in his arms, and thrice he swooned : and then he came to himself again, and said, "Alas ! my sister's son, here now thou liest, the man in the world that I loved most; and now is my joy gone. For now, my nephew, Sir Gawaine, I will discover me unto your person : in Sir Launcelot and you I most had my joy and mine affiance, and now have I lost my joy of you both, wherefore all mine earthly joy is gone from me." "My uncle, King Arthur," said Sir Gawaine, "wit you well, that my death's-day is come, and all is through mine own hastiness and wilfulness ; for I am smitten upon the old wound that Sir Launcelot du Lake gave nie, of the which I feel that I must die; and if Sir Launcelot had been with you as he was, this unhappy war had never begun, and of all this I myself am causer: for Sir Launcelot and his blood, through their prowess, held all your cankered enemies in subjection and danger. And now," said Sir Gawaine, "ye shall miss Sir Launcelot : but, alas ! I would not accord with him, and there-fore," said Sir Gawaine "I pray you, fair uncle, that I may have paper, pen, and ink, that I may write unto Sir Launcelot a letter with mine own hands." And when paper and ink was brought, Sir Gawaine was set up, weakly, by King Arthur, for he had been shriven a little before, and he wrote thus:
"UNTO SIR LAUNCELOT, flower of all noble knights that ever I heard of or saw in my days.
"I, Sir Gawaine, King Lot's son, of Orkney, sister's son unto the noble King Arthur, send unto thee, greeting, and let thee have knowledge, that the tenth day of May I was smitten upon the old wound which thou gayest me before the city of Benwicke; and through the same wound thou gayest me I am come unto my death-day, and I will that all the world wit that I, Sir Gawaine, knight of the Round Table, sought my death, and not through thy deserving, but it was mine own seeking; wherefore I beseech thee, Sir Launcelot, for to return again unto this realm, and see my tomb, and pray some prayer, more or less, for my soul. And that same day that I wrote this letter I was hurt to the death in the same wound, the which I had of thy hands, Sir Launcelot. For of a nobler man might I not be slain. Also, Sir Launcelot, for all the love that ever was between us, make no tarrying, but come over the sea in all the haste that thou mayest, with thy noble knights, and rescue that noble King that made thee knight, that is my lord and uncle, King Arthur, for he is full straitly bestood with a false traitor, which is my false brother, Sir Mordred, and he hath let crown himself king, and he would have wedded my lady, Queen Quenever ; and so had he done, if she had not put herself in the Tower of London. And so the tenth day of May last past, my lord and uncle, King Arthur, and we, all landed upon them at Dover, and there we put that false traitor, Sir Mordred, to 'flight; and there it misfortuned me for to be stricken upon thy stroke. And, at the date of this letter was written, but two hours and a-half before my death, written with mine own hand, and so subscribed with part of my heart's blood, and I require thee, as thou are the most famous knight of the world, that thou wilt see my tomb."
And then Sir Gawaine wept, and also King Arthur wept, and then they swooned both; and when they awaked both, the King made Sir Gawaine to receive his Saviour. And then Sir Gawaine prayed the King to send for Sir Launcelot, and to cherish him above all other knights. And so, at the hour of noon, Sir Gawaine betook his soul into the hands of our Lord God. And there the King let bury him in a chapel within the castle of Dover: ' and there, yet unto this day, all men may see the skull of Sir Gawaine, and the same wound is seen that Sir Launcelot gave him in battle. Then was it told to King Arthur that Sir Mordred had pitched a new field upon Barendown, and on the morrow the King rode thither to him, and there was a great battle between them, and much people were slain on both parts ; but at the last King Arthur's party stood best, and Sir Mordred and his party fled unto Canterbury.
AND then the King searched all towns for his knights that were slain, and made to bury them ; and those that were sore wounded he caused them to be salved with soft salve. Then much people drew unto King Arthur, and said that Sir Mordred warred on King Arthur wrongfully. And then the King drew him and with his host down unto the sea-side, westward, unto Salisbury, and there was a day assigned between King Arthur and Sir Mordred, and they should meet upon a down beside Salisbury, and not far from the sea-side ; and this day was assigned upon a Monday after Trinity Sunday, whereof King Arthur was passing glad, that he might be avenged upon that traitor, Sir Mordred. Then Sir Mordred raised much people about London, for they of Kent, Sussex, and Surrey, Essex, and Suffolk, and of Norfolk, held for the most part with Sir Mordred, and many a noble knight drew unto Sir Mordred, and unto King Arthur; but they that loved Sir Launcelot drew unto Sir Mordred.
And so, upon Trinity Sunday, at night, King Arthur dream-ed a right wonderful dream, and that was this : that him thought he sat upon a scaffold in a chair, and the chair was fast unto a wheel, and thereupon sat King Arthur, in the richest cloth of gold that might be made ; and the King thought there was under him, far from him, a hideous and a deep black water, and therein was all manner of serpents and worms, and wild beasts, foul and horrible; and suddenly the King thought that the' wheel turned upside down, and that he fell among the serpents and wild beasts, and every beast took him by a limb: and then the King cried, as he lay in his bed and slept, "Help !"
And then knights, squires, and yeomen awaked the King, and then he was so amazed, that he wist not where he was; and then he fell in a slumbering again, not sleeping, nor through waking. So King Arthur thought there came Sir Gawaine unto him verily, with a number of fair ladies with him; and so, when King Arthur saw him, he said, "Welcome, my sister's son, I weened thou hast been dead, and now. I see thee alive; much am I beholden unto Almighty Jesu. Oh! fair nephew, and my sister's son, what be these ladies that be come hither with you?" "Sir," said Sir Gawaine, "all these be the ladies for whom I have fought when I was a man living; and all these are those that I did battle for in a rightwise quarrel, and God bath given them that grace at their great prayer, because I did battle for them, that they should bring me hither to you ; thus much hath God given me leave for to warn you of your death ; for and ye fight as to-morrow with Sir Mordred, as both ye have assigned, doubt ye not ye must be slain, and the most part of your people, on both parties : and for the great grace and goodness that Almighty Jesu hath unto you, and for pity of you, and many more other good men, that there should be slain, God hath sent me unto you, of His most special grace, for to give you warning, that in no wise ye do battle as to-morrow, but that ye take a treaty for a month's day, and proffer him largely, so as to-morrow to be put in a delay ; for within a month shall come Sir Launcelot, with all his noble knights, and shall rescue you worshipfully, and slay Sir Mordred and all that ever will hold him." Then Sir Gawaine and all the ladies vanished. And anon the King called upon his knights, squires, and yeomen, and charged them lightly to fetch his noble lords and wise bishops unto him ; and when they were come, the King told, them his vision, what Sir Gawaine told him, and warned him, that if he fought on the morrow he should be slain. Then the King commanded Sir Lucan, the butler; and his brother, Sir Bedivere; and two bishops with them, and charged them in any wise if they might take a treaty for a month with Sir Mordred ; and spare not to proffer him lands and goods, as much as ye think best. So then they departed and came to Sir Mordred, where he had a grimly host of a hundred thousand men, and thereby entreated Sir Mordred long time ; and, at the last, Sir Mordred was agreed to have Cornwall and Kent by King Arthur's days, and after the days of King Arthur to have all England to his obeisance.
So then were they condescended that King Arthur and Sir Mordred should meet between both their hosts, and every each of them should bring fourteen persons ; and then came this word unto King Arthur. "And then," said he, "I am glad that this is done." And so he went into the field; and when King Arthur should depart, he warned all his host, "that and they saw any sword drawn, look that ye come on fiercely, and slay that traitor, Sir Mordred, for in nowise trust him." In likewise Sir Mordred did warn his host, "that if ye see any manner of sword drawn, look that ye come on fiercely, and so slay all that ever standeth before you ; for in nowise I will not trust for this treaty, for I know well that my father will be avenged upon me." And so they were agreed and accorded thoroughly, and wine was set, and they drank. Right so came an adder out of a little heath bush, and stung a knight on the foot. And when the knight felt him stung, he looked down and saw the adder, and then he drew his sword to slay the adder, and thought of none other harm. And when the hosts on both parties saw that sword drawn, they blew beams, trumpets, and horns, and shouted grimly. And so both hosts dressed them together, and King Arthur took his horse, and said, "Alas ! this unhappy day ;" and so rode he to his part. And so Sir Mordred did in likewise, and never was there seen a more dolefuller battle in no Christian land : for there was but rushing and riding, foining and striking, and many a grim word was there spoken either to other, and many a deadly stroke. But alway King Arthur rode throughout the battle of Sir Mordred many times, and did there right nobly as a noble King should do; and at all times he never fainted. And Sir Mordred that day put him in devoir and in great peril, and thus they fought all the long day, and never stinted till the noble knights were laid to the cold ground. And ever they fought still till it was nigh night, and by that time was there a hundred thousand laid dead upon the down. Then was King Arthur wrath out of measure, when he saw his people so slain from him. Then the King looked about him, and then was he ware that of all his host, and of his good knights, were left no more alive but two knights; that were Sir Lucan, the butler, and Sir Bedivere, his brother, and they were right sore wounded. "Jesu mercy," said King Arthur, "where are all my noble knights become? Alas ! that ever I should see this doleful day : for now," said King Arthur, "I am come unto mine end. For would to God that I wist where that traitor, Sir Mordred, is, which hath caused all this mischief ?" Then was King Arthur aware where Sir Mordred leaned upon his sword among a great heap of dead men. "Now give me my spear," said King Arthur to Sir Lucan, "for yonder I have espied the traitor which hath wrought all this woe." "Sir, let him be," said Sir Lucan, "for he is unhappy ; and if ye pass this unhappy day, ye shall be right well revenged upon him. My good lord, remember well your dream that ye had this night, and what the spirit of Sir Gawaine told you this night; yet God of his great goodness hath preserved you hither, therefore, for God's sake, my lord, leave off by this ; for, blessed be God, ye have won the field, for here we be three alive, and with Sir Mordred is none alive, and if ye leave off now this wicked day of destiny is done." Betide me death, betide me life," said the King; "now I see him yonder alone, he shall never escape my hands, for at better advantage shall I never have him." "God speed you well," said Sir Bedivere. Then King Arthur gat his spear in both his hands, and ran toward Sir Mordred, crying, "Traitor, now is thy death-day come." And when Sir Mordred heard King Arthur, he ran unto him with his sword drawn in his hand, and there King Arthur smote Sir Mordred under the shield, with a foin of his spear, throughout the body more than a fathom. And when Sir Mordred felt that he had his death wound, he thrust himself with all the might that he had up to the end of King Arthur's spear with his sword, that he held in both his hands, on the side of the head, that the sword, pierced the helmet and the brain-pan. And therewith Sir Mordred fell down stark dead to the earth, and the noble King Arthur fell in a swoon to the earth, and there he swooned oftentimes. And Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere oftentimes heaved him up, and so weakly they laid him between them both unto a little chapel, not far from the sea-side. And when the King was there, he thought him well eased. Then heard they people cry in the field. "Now go thou, Sir Lucan," said the King, "and do me to write what betokeneth that noise in the field." So Sir Lucan departed, and he was greviously wounded in many places ; and so, as he went, he saw and hearkened by the moonlight, how the pilfers and robbers were come into the field, for to pilfer and rob many a noble knight of broaches and beads, of many a good ring, and of many a rich jewel. And who that were not dead all out, there they slew them for to have their harness, and their riches. And when Sir Lucan understood this work, he came unto the King as soon as he might, and told him all that he had heard and seen. "Therefore, by mine advice," said Sir Lucan, "it is best that we bring you unto some town." "I would it were so," said the King.
"But I may not stand, my head acheth so. Ah ! Sir Launcelot," said King Arthur, "this same day have I sore missed thee ; alas ! that ever I was against thee, for now have I my death, whereof Sir, Gawaine warned me in my dream." Then Sir Lucan took up King Arthur on the one part, and Sir Bedivere on the other part, and in the lifting the King swooned. And Sir Lucan fell in a swoon with that lift, and therewith the noble knight's heart burst. And when King Arthur came to himself again, he beheld Sir Lucan how he lay foaming at the mouth. "Alas !" said King Arthur, "this is unto me a full heavy sight for to see this noble duke so to die for my sake; for he would have holpen me, that had more need of help than I have. Alas ! he would not complain him, his heart was so set for to help me. Now, Jesu, have mercy upon his soul." Then Sir Bedivere wept for the death of his brother. "Leave this weeping and mourning," said King Arthur, "for all this will not avail me; for wit thou well I might live myself, the death of Sir Lucan would grieve me evermore. But my time hieth fast," said King Arthur unto Sir Bedivere, "therefore take thou Excalibur, my good sword, and go with it unto yonder water-side; and when thou comest there, I charge thee, throw my sword into that water, and come again and tell me what thou shalt see there." "My lord," said Sir Bedivere, "your command shall be done, and lightly bring you word again." And so Sir Bedivere departed, and by the way he beheld that noble sword, where the pommel and the haft were all of precious stones. And then he said to himself, "If I throw this rich sword into the water, thereof shall never come good, but harm and loss." And then Sir Bedivere hid Excalibur under a tree, and as soon as he might, he came again unto King Arthur, and said he had been at the water, and had thrown the sword into the water. "What sawest thou there?" said the King. "Sir," said he, "I saw nothing but waves and wind." "That is untruly said of thee," said King Arthur, "therefore go thou lightly and do my command, as thou art to me life and dear, spare not but throw it in." Then Sir Bedivere returned again, and took the sword in his hand; and then he thought it sin and shame to throw away that noble sword; and so after he hid the sword. and returned again, and told the King that he had been at the water and done his command. "What saw ye there?" said the King. "Sir," said he, "I saw nothing but the water lap and waves wan." Ah ! traitor, untrue," said King Arthur, "now hast thou betrayed me two times, who would have weened that thou hast been unto me so self and dear, and thou art named a noble knight, and wouldst betray me for the rich sword ! But now go again lightly, for thy long tarrying putteth me in great jeopardy of my life, for I have taken cold; and but if thou do as I command thee, and if ever I may see thee, I shall slay thee with mine own hands, for thou wouldest for my rich sword see me dead." Then Sir Bedivere departed, and went to the sword, and lightly took it up and went to the water's side, and there he bound the girdle about the belts. And then he threw the sword into the water as far as he might, and there came an arm and a hand above the water, and met it and caught it, and so shook it thrice and brandished. And then the hand vanished away with the sword in the water.
So Sir Bedivere came again to the King, and told him what he had seen. "Alas !" said the King, "help me from hence ; for I dread me I have tarried over long." Then Sir Bedivere took King Arthur upon his back, and so went with him to the water's side; and, when they were at the water's side, even fast by the bank hovered a little barge, with many fair ladies in it : and among them all was a queen, and all they had black hoods; and they wept and shrieked when they saw King Arthur.
"Now put me into the barge," said the King. And so he did softly, and there received him three queens with great mourning; and so these three queens sat them down and in one of their laps King Arthur laid his head. And then that queen said, "Ah! dear brother, why have ye tarried so long from me? Alas ! this wound on your head hath taken overmuch cold." And so then they rowed from the land ; and Sir Bedivere be-held all those ladies go from him. Then Sir Bedivere cried, "Ah! my lord Arthur, what shall become of me now ye go from me, and leave me here alone among mine enemies ?" "Comfort thyself," said King Arthur, "and do as well as thou mayest ; for in me is no trust for to trust in : for I will into the vale of Avalon, for to heal me of my grievous wound ; and, if thou never hear more of me, pray for my soul." But ever-more the queens and the ladies wept and shrieked, that it was pitiful for to hear them : and, as soon as Sir Bedivere had lost the sight of the barge, he wept and wailed, and so took the forest, and so he went all the night; and, in the morning, he was aware, between two hills, of a chapel and a hermitage.
THEN was Sir Bedivere glad, and thither he went; and, when he came into the chapel, he saw where lay a hermit groveling upon all fours there, fast by a tomb newly graven. When the hermit saw Sir Bedivere he knew him well ; for he was, but a little before, Bishop of Canterbury, that Sir Mordred had banished away. "Sir," said Sir Bedivere, "what man is there buried that ye pray so fast for?" "My fair son," said the hermit, "I wot not verily but by deeming ; but this night, at midnight, here came a great number of ladies, which brought this dead corpse, and prayed me to bury him ; and here they offered a hundred tapers, and gave me a hundred beseants." "Alas !" said Sir Bedivere, "that was my lord, King Arthur, that here lieth buried in this chapel." Then Sir Bedivere swooned ; and, when he awoke, he prayed the hermit that he might abide with him here still, to live with fasting and prayers; "Tor from hence will I never go," said Sir Bedivere, "by my will ; but all the days of my life here to pray for my lord, King Arthur." "Ye are welcome to me," said the hermit ; "for I know you better than ye ween that I do: for ye are that bold Bedivere, and the noble duke Sir Lucan, the butler, was your own brother."
Then Sir Bedivere told the hermit all as ye heard before. Sir Bedivere abode there still with the hermit, which had been before the Bishop of Canterbury : and there Sir Bedivere put upon him poor clothes, and served the hermit full lowly in fasting and in prayers. This of King Arthur I find no more written in my copy of the certainty of his death ; but thus was he led away in a barge, wherein were three queens; that one was King Arthur's sister, Morgan le Fay; the other was the Queen of Northgalis; and the third was the Queen of the Waste Lands. And there was Nimue, the chief Lady of the Lake, which had wedded Sir Pelleas, the good knight. And this lady had done much for King Arthur ; for she would never suffer Sir Pelleas to be in any place whereas he should be in danger of his life : and so he lived to the uttermost of his days with her in great rest. More of the death of King Arthur could I never find, but that ladies brought him unto the burials. And so one was buried here, that the hermit bear witness, that sometimes was Bishop of Canterbury; but yet the hermit knew not of a certain that it was verily the body of King Arthur. For this tale Sir Bedivere, knight of the Round Table, made it plainly to be written.
SOME men yet say, in many parts of England, that King Arthur is not dead ; but had by the will of our Lord Jesu Christ into another place: and men say that he will come again, and he shall win the holy cross. I will not say that it shall be so; but rather I will say, that here in this world he changed his life. But many men say that there is written upon his tomb this verse :
Hic facet Arthurus rex quondam, rexrque futurus.
Thus leave we here Sir Bedivere with the hermit, that dwelled that time in a chapel beside Glastonbury, and there was his hermitage; and so they lived in prayers,, and fastings, and great abstinence. And when Queen Guenever understood King Arthur, was slain, and all the noble knights, Sir Mordred and all the remnant, then she stole away, and five ladies with her: and so she went to Almesbury, and there she let make herself a nun, and wore white clothes and black: and great penance she took, as ever did sinful lady in this land, and never creature could make her merry, but lived in fastings, prayers, and alms deeds, that all manner of people marvelled how virtuously she was changed. Now leave we Queen Guenever in Almesbury, that was a nun in white clothes and in black, and there she was abbess and ruler as reason would : and turn we from her, and speak we of Sir Launcelot du Lake.
SIR LAUNCELOT heard in his country that Sir Mordred was crowned king in England, and made war against King Arthur, his own father, and would not let him to land in his own land. Also it was told Sir Launcelot how that Sir Mordred had laid siege about the Tower of London, because the Queen would not wed him. Then was Sir Launcelot wondrous wrath, and said to his kinsmen, "Alas ! that double traitor, Sir Mordred ! now I repent me that he escaped my hands ; for much shame hath he done to my lord, King Arthur : for I feel, by the letter of Sir Gawaine, that my lord, King Arthur, is right hard be-stead. Alas !" said Sir Launcelot, "that ever I should live to hear that most noble King, that made me knight, thus to be beset by his subjects in his own realm ; and this doleful letter, that my lord, Sir Gawaine, hath sent me before his death, praying me to see his tomb, wit ye well his doleful words shall never go from my heart. for he was a full noble knight that ever was born ; and in an unhappy hour was I born, that ever a wretch should have that mishap to slay Sir Gawaine, and Sir Gaheris, the good knight, and mine own friend, Sir Gareth, that noble knight.
"Alas ! may I say, that I am unhappy," said Sir Launcelot, "that ever I should do thus unhappily ! Alas ! might I never have hap to slay that traitor, Sir Mordred?" "Leave your complaints," said Sir Bors, "and first revenge you of the death of Sir Gawaine, and it will be well done that ye go to see Sir Gawaine's tomb ; and, secondly, that ye revenge my lord, King Arthur, and Queen Guenever." "I thank you," said Sir Launcelot, "for ever ye. will my worship."
Then they made them ready in all the haste that might be, with ships and galleys, with Sir Launcelot and his host, for to pass into England : and so he passed over the sea, and arrived at Dover; and there he landed with seven kings; and the number of their men of arms was hideous to behold. Then Sir Launcelot inquired of the men of Dover where King Arthur was become?
Then the people told him how that he was slain with Sir Mordred, and a hundred thousand died upon a day; and how Sir Mordred gave King Arthur there the first battle at his landing, and there was the good knight, Sir Gawaine, slain; and, on the morrow, Sir Mordred fought with King Arthur upon Barendown, and there King Arthur put Sir Mordred to the worst. "Alas !" said Sir Launcelot, "this is the heaviest tidings that ever came to me. Now, fair sir," said Sir Launcelot, "I beseech you show me the tomb of Sir Gawaine."
And then certain people of the town brought him to the castle of Dover, and showed him the tomb of Sir Gawaine. Then Sir Launcelot kneeled. down and wept, and prayed full heartily for his soul ; and that night he made a dole. And all they that would come had as much flesh, fish, wine and ale, as they might eat and drink; and every man and woman had twelvepence, come who would. Thus, with his own hands, dealed he his money in a mourning gown ; and ever he wept, and prayed them to pray for the soul of Sir Gawaine. And, on the morrow, all the priests and clerks that might be gotten in the country were there, and sung mass of requiem. And there Sir Launcelot offered first, and he offered a hundred pounds : and then the seven kings offered forty pounds each; and the offering endured from the morning to night : and Sir Launcelot lay two nights upon his tomb in prayers and in weeping; then, on the third day, Sir Launcelot called unto him the kings, dukes, earls, barons, and knights, and thus he said —"My fair lords, I thank you all of your coming hither into this country with me : but we come too late, and that shall repent men while I live ; but against death there may no man rebel. But sith it is so," said Sir Launcelot, "I will myself ride and seek my lady, Queen Guenever; for, as I heard say, she hath had much pain and great disease : and I have heard say, that she is fled to the west country. Therefore, ye all shall abide me here; and, but if I come again within fifteen days, then take your _ships, and depart into your countries ; for I will do as I have said to you."
THEN came Sir Bors de Ganis, and said, "My lord, Sir Launcelot, what think ye to do? Now to ride in this realm, wit ye well ye shall find few friends." Be as it may," said Sir Launcelot, "keep you still here ; for I will forth on my journey, and neither man nor child go with me." So it was no boot to strive ; but he departed and rode westward, and there he sought seven or eight days, and at the last he came upon a nunnery. And then was Queen Guenever aware of Sir Launcelot as he walked in the cloister ; and, when she saw him there, she swooned three times, that all the ladies and gentle-women had work enough for to hold the Queen up. So, when she might speak, she called the ladies and gentlewomen unto her: "Ye marvel, fair ladies, why I made this cheer. Truly," said she, "it is for the sight of that knight who is yonder ; wherefore, I pray you all to call him unto me." And when Sir Launcelot was brought unto her, then she said, "Through this knight and me all the woe was wrought, and the death of the most noble knights of the world; for through our love that we have loved together is my most noble lord slain ; therefore, wit thou well, Sir Launcelot, I am set in such a plight to get my soul's health ; and yet I trust, through God's grace, that after my death for to have the sight of the blessed face of Jesu Christ, and at the dreadful day of doom to sit on his right side: for as sinful creatures as ever was I are saints in heaven.
"Therefore, Sir Launcelot, I require thee, and beseech thee heartily, for all the love that ever was between us two, that thou never look me more in the visage ; and furthermore I command thee, on God's behalf, right straightly that thou forsake my company, and that unto thy kingdom shortly thou return again, and keep well thy realm from war and wreck. For as well as I have loved thee, Sir Launcelot, now mine heart will not once serve me to see thee ; for through me and thee are the flower of kings and knights destroyed, therefore, Sir Launcelot, go thou unto thy realm, and there take thee a wife, and live with her in joy and bliss; and I beseech you heartily pray for me unto our Lord God, that I may amend my mis-living."
"Now, sweet madam," said Sir Launcelot, "would ye that I should now return again into my country, and there to wed a lady? Nay, madam, wit ye well that I will never while I live ; for I shall never be so false to you of that I have promised, but the same destiny that ye have taken you unto I will take me unto, for to please God, and especially to pray for you."
"If thou wilt do so," said the Queen, "hold thy promise; but I may not believe but that thou wilt return to the world again." "Ye say well," said he ; "yet wist me never false of my promise, and God defend but that I should forsake the world like as ye have done; for in the quest of the Sancgreal I had forsaken the vanities of the world, had not your lord been : and if I had done so at that time with my heart, will, and thought, I had passed all the knights that were in the quest of the Sancgreal, except Sir Galahad, my son. And, therefore, my lady, Dame Guenever, since ye have taken you unto perfection, I must needs take me unto perfection of right. For I take record of God in you have I had mine earthly joy ; and if I had found you so disposed now, I had cast me for to have had you unto mine own realm and country.
"BUT since I find you thus disposed, I endure you faithfully that I will take me to penance, and pray, while my life lasteth, if I may find any good hermit, either grey or white, that will receive me; wherefore, madam, I pray you kiss me once, and never more." "Nay," said the Queen, "that shall I never do; but abstain you from such things." And so they departed; but there was never so hard-hearted a man but he would have wept to see the sorrow that they made: for there was a lamentation as though they had been stung with spears, and many times they swooned. And the ladies bare the Queen to her chamber, and Sir Launcelot went and took his horse, and rode all day and all that night in a forest, weeping; and at the last he was aware of a hermitage, and a chapel that stood between two cliffs, and then he heard a little bell ring to mass, and thither he rode, and alighted, and tied his horse to the gate, and heard mass. And he that sung the mass was the Bishop of Canterbury; both the bishop and Sir Bedivere knew Sir Launcelot, and they spake together after mass. But when Sir Bedivere had told him his tale all whole, Sir Launcelot's heart almost burst for sorrow; and Sir Launcelot threw away his armour, and said, "Alas! who may trust this world?"
And then he kneeled down on his knees, and prayed the bishop for to shrive him and assoil him : and then he besought the bishop that he might be his brother. Then the bishop said, "I will gladly." And then he put a habit upon Sir Launcelot ; and there he served God, day and night, with prayers and fastings.
Thus the great host abode at Dover; and then Sir Lionel took fifteen lords with him, and rode to London to seek Sir Launcelot; and there Sir Lionel was slain, and many of his lords. Then Sir Bors de Ganis made the great host to go home again unto their own country; and Sir Bors, Sir Ector de Maris, Sir Blamor, Sir Bleoberis, and with more other of Sir Launcelot's kin, took on them to ride through all England to seek Sir Launcelot.
So Sir Bors rode so long till he came unto the same chapel where Sir Launcelot was ; and so Sir Bors heard a little bell that rang to mass, and there he alighted, and heard mass. And when mass was done, the bishop, Sir Launcelot, and Sir Bedivere came unto Sir Bors; and when he saw Sir Launcelot in that manner of clothing, then he prayed the bishop that he might be in the same suit: and so there was a habit put upon him, and there he lived in prayers and fasting. And within half-a-year there was come Sir Galihud, Sir Galihodin, Sir Bleoberis, Sir Villiers, Sir Clarrus, and Sir Galahautine : so these seven noble knights abode there still. And when they saw that Sir Launcelot had taken him unto such perfection, they had no list to depart, but took such a habit as he had. Thus they endured in great penance five years, and then Sir Launcelot took the habit of priesthood, and twelve months he sung the mass. And there was none of these other knights but that they read in books, and helped for to sing mass, and ring bells, and did lowly all manner of service. And so their horses went where they would ; for they took no regard in worldly riches : for when they saw Sir Launcelot endure such penance, in prayer and fasting, they took no force what pain they endured, for to see the noblest knight of the world take such abstinence, so that he waxed full lean. And thus upon a night there came a vision unto Sir Launcelot, and charged him, in remission of all his sins, to haste him toward Almesbury, "and by that time thou come there thou shall find Queen Guenever dead; and, therefore, take thy fellows with thee, and also purvey thee a horse-bier, and bring you the corpse of her, and bury it by her lord and husband, the noble King Arthur." So this vision came thrice unto Sir Launcelot in one night.
THEN Sir Launcelot rose up ere it was day, and told the hermit thereof. "It is well done," said the hermit ; "look that ye disobey not this vision." Then Sir Launcelot took his seven fellows with him, and on foot they went from Glastonbury, the which is little more than thirty miles : and thither they came within two days, for they were weak and feeble to go. And when Sir Launcelot was come to Almesbury, within the nunnery, Queen Guenever died but half-an-hour before; and the ladies told Sir Launcelot, that Queen Guenever had told all ere she died, "that Sir Launcelot had been a priest near twelve months, and hither he cometh, as fast as he may, for to fetch 'my corpse; and beside my lord, Sir Arthur, he shall bury me." Wherefore the Queen said, in hearing of them all, "I beseech Almighty God, that I may never have power to see Sir Launcelot with my worldly eyes." "And this," said all the ladies, "was ever her prayer all those two days, until she was dead." Then Sir Launcelot saw her visage; but he wept not greatly, but sighed. And so he did all the observance of the service himself, both the dirge at night, and the mass on the morrow ; and there was ordained a horse-bier : and so with a hundred torches ever burning about the corpse of the Queen. And ever Sir Launcelot with his seven fellows went about the bier, singing and reading 'many a holy and devout orison, and frankincense upon the corpse incensed. Thus Sir Launcelot and his seven fellows went on foot from Almesbury until they came to Glastonbury ; and when they were come to the chapel and the hermitage, there she had a dirge with great devotion ; and on the morrow the hermit, that was sometime Bishop of Canterbury, sung the mass of requiem, with great devotion ; and Sir Launcelot was the first that offered, and then offered all his seven fellows : and then she was wrapped in seared cloths of reins, from the top to the toe, in thirty fold, and then she was put in a web of lead, and after in a coffin of marble. And when she was put into the earth, Sir Launcelot swooned, and lay long upon the ground, while the hermit came and awaked him, and said, "Ye are to blame, for ye displease God with such manner of sorrow-making." "Truly," said Sir Launcelot, "I trust I do not displease God, for he knoweth well mine intent, for my sorrow was not, nor is not for any rejoicing of sin; but my sorrow may never have an end. For when I remember and call to mind her beauty, her bounty, and her nobleness, that was as well with her King, my lord Arthur, as with her ; and also when I saw the corpse of that noble King, and noble Queen, so lie together in that cold grave, made of earth, that sometime were so highly set in most honourable places, truly mine heart would not serve me to sustain my wretched and careful body also. And when I re-member me how I, through my default, and through my presumption and pride, that they were both laid full low, the which were peerless that ever were living of Christian people. Wit ye well," said Sir Launcelot, "this remembered of their kindness, and of mine unkindness, sunk and impressed so in my heart, that all my natural strength failed me, so that I might not sustain myself."
THEN Sir Launcelot, ever after, eat but little meat, nor drink, but continually mourned until he was dead ; and then he sickened more and more, and dried and dwindled away. For the bishop, nor none of his fellows, might not make him to eat, and little he drank, that he was soon waxed shorter by a cubit than he was, that the people could not know him. For ever-more, day and night, he prayed, but needfully, as nature required; sometimes he slumbered a broken sleep, and always he was lying grovelling upon King Arthur's and Queen Gueneever's tomb ; and there was no comfort that the bishop, nor Sir Bors, nor none of all his fellows, could make him ; it availed nothing.
Oh ! ye mighty and pompous lords, shining in the glory transitory of this unstable life, as in reigning over great realms and mighty great countries, fortified with strong castles and towers, edified with many a rich city ; yea also, ye fierce and mighty knights, so valiant in adventurous deeds or arms ; behold ! behold ! see how this mighty conqueror, King Arthur, whom in his human life all the world doubted; see also, the noble Queen Guenever, which sometime sat in her chair, adorned with gold, pearls, and precious stones, now lie full low in obscure foss, or pit, covered with clods of earth and clay. Behold also this mighty champion, Sir Launcelot, peer-less of all knighthood; see now, how he lieth grovelling upon the cold mould; now being so feeble and faint, that some-time was so terrible. How, and in what manner, ought ye to be so desirous of worldly honour so dangerous. Therefore methinketh this present book is right necessary often to be read; for in it shall ye find the most gracious, knightly, and virtuous war, of the most noble knights of the world, whereby they gat a praising continually. Also me seemeth, by the oft reading thereof, ye shall greatly desire to accustom yourself in following of those gracious knightly deeds ; that is to say, to dread God and to love righteousness, faithfully and courageously to serve your sovereign prince; and the more that God hath given you the triumphal honour, the meeeker ought ye to be, ever fearing the unstableness of this deceitful world. And so I pass over and turn again unto my matter.
So within six weeks after, Sir Launcelot fell sick, and lay in his bed, and then he sent for the bishop, that there was hermit, and all his true fellows. Then Sir Launcelot said, in dreary tone, "Sir Bishop, I pray you that ye will give me all my rights that belongeth unto a Christian man." "It shall not need you," said the hermit and his fellows ; "it is but a heaviness of your blood ye shall be well amended by the grace of God tomorrow."
"My fair lords," said Sir Launcelot, "wit ye well, my careful body will into the earth; I have warning more than I will now say; therefore, I pray you, give me my rights." So when he was houseled and eneled, and had all that a Christian man ought to have, he prayed the bishop that his fellows might bear his body unto Joyous Gard.
"Some men say Alnwick, and some men say to Bamborow ; howbeit," said Sir Launcelot "me repenteth sore; but I made mine avow afore time, that in Joyous Gard I would be buried ; and, because of breaking of mine vow, I pray you all lead me thither." Then was there weeping and wringing of hands among his fellows. So, at the season of the night, they went all to their beds; for they all lay in one chamber. So after midnight, against day, the bishop that was hermit, as he lay in his bed asleep, he fell on a great laughter and therewith the fellowship awoke, and came unto the bishop, and asked him what he ailed? "Ah! Jesu, mercy," said the bishop," "why did ye awake me? I was never in all my life so merry, and so well at ease." "Why, wherefore?" said Sir Bars. "Truly," said the bishop, "here was Sir Launcelot with me, with more angels than ever I saw men upon one day; and I saw the angels heave up Sir Launcelot towards heaven, and the gates of heaven opened against him." "It is but the troubling of dreams," said Sir Bors ; "for I doubt not Sir Launcelot aileth nothing but good." "It may well be," said the bishop ; "go ye to his bed, and then shall ye prove the truth."
So when Sir Bors and his fellows came to his bed, they found him stark dead, and he lay as he had smiled ; and the sweetest savour about him that ever they smelled. Then was there weeping and wringing of hands, and the greatest dole they made that ever made men. And on the morrow the bishop sung his mass of requiem, and after, the bishop and all those knights put Sir Launcelot in the same horse-bier that Queen Guenever was laid in, before that she was buried.
And so the bishop and they altogether went with the corpse of Sir Launcelot daily, till they came unto Joyous Gard, and ever they had a hundred torches burning about him.
And so, within fifteen days, they came to joyous Gard, and there they laid his corpse in the body of the quire, and sung and read many psalters and prayers over him, and about him; and ever his visage was laid open and naked, that all folk might behold him. For such was the custom in those days, that all men of worship should so lie with open visage, till that they were buried. And right thus, as they were at their service, there came Sir Ector de Maris, that had sought seven years all England, Scotland, and Wales, seeking his brother Sir Launcelot.
AND when Sir Ector de Maris heard such noise and light in the quire of joyous Gard, he alighted, and put his horse away from him, and came into the quire, and there he saw men sing the service lamentably. And all they knew Sir Ector, but he knew not them. Then went Sir Bots unto Sir Ector, and told him how there lay his brother Sir Launcelot dead.
And then Sir Ector threw his shield, his sword, and his helm from him; and when he beheld Sir Launcelot's visage, he fell down in a swoon ; and when he awoke, it were hard for any tongue to tell the doleful complaints that he made for his brother. "Ah! Sir Launcelot," said he, "thou wert head of all Christian knights. And now, I dare say," said Sir Ector, "that Sir Launcelot, there thou liest, thou were never matched of none earthly knight's hands ; and thou wert the courtliest knight that ever bear shield : and thou were the truest friend to thy lover that ever bestrode horse; and thou wert the truest lover of a sinful man that ever loved woman; and thou wert the kindest man that ever struck with sword; and thou wert the goodliest person that ever came among press of knights; and thou wert the meekest man, and the courtliest knight that ever bear shield ; and thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest.
Then there was weeping and dolor out of measure. Thus they kept Sir Launcelot's corpse above the ground fifteen days, and then they. buried it with great devotion. And then at leisure they went all with the Bishop of Canterbury unto his hermitage, and there they were together more than a month. Then Sir Constance (which was Sir Cador's son, of Cornwall) was chosen King of England; and he was a full noble knight, and worshipfully he ruled this realm. And then this King Constantine sent for the Bishop of Canterbury, for he heard say where he was, and so he was restored unto his bishopric, and left that hermitage. And Sir Bedivere was there ever still a hermit unto his life's end. Then Sir Bors de Ganis, Sir Ector de Maris, Sir Galahautine, Sir Galihud, Sir Galihodin, Sir Blamor, Sir Bleoberis, Sir Villiers le Valiaunt, Sir Clarrus of Claremount, all these knights drew them to their countries : howbeit King Constantine would have had them with him, but they would not abide in this realm, and there they lived in their countries as holy men. And some English books make mention, that they never went out of England after the death of Sir Launcelot, but that was favour of poets.
For Sir Bors, Sir Ector, Sir Blamore, and Sir Bleoberis went into the Holy Land, thereas Jesu Christ was both quick and dead, anon as they had established their lands. For Sir Launcelot commanded them so to do, or ever he passed out of this world. And these four knights did many battles upon the miscreants and Turks and there they died upon Good Friday for God's sake.
Here is the end of the whole book of King Arthur, and of his Noble Knights of the Round Table : that, when they were whole together, there was ever a hundred and forty ; also here is the end of the death of King Arthur. I pray you all, gentle-men and gentlewomen, that read this book of King Arthur and his knights, from the beginning to the ending, pray for me, while I am alive, that God send me good deliverance. And, when I am dead, I pray you all pray for my soul. For this book was finished the ninth year of the reign of King Edward the Fourth, by Sir Thomas Malory, Knight, as Jesu help me, for his great might, as he is the servant of Jesu, both day and night.
Thus endeth this noble and joyous book, entitled La Mort D' Arthur, notwithstanding it treateth of the birth, life, and acts of the said King Arthur, and of his Noble Knights of the Round Table, and their marvelous conquests and adventures, the achieving of the Holy Sancgreal, and, in the end, the dolorous death and departing out of this world of them all.