This summary has been made from 'Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances'. Translated into English by W W Kibler and C W Carroll and published by Penguin Books of Harmondsworth in 1991.
Arthur is feasting at Camelot on Ascension Day when a splendid fully-armed knight enters. He tells Arthur that he holds knights, ladies and maidens from the king's lands and household prisoner and asserts that Arthur is powerless to free them while he remains alive. The knight then tells Arthur that he will release these prisoners if he is defeated by a knight who Arthur trusts. This knight must, accompanied by Queen Guinevere, follow the challenger into the forest and fight him there.
Kay tricks Arthur into allowing him to take up this challenge by threatening that he will forsake Arthur's court unless the king grants him an un-named request. Arthur foolishly agrees to allow Kay his wish, not realising that this is to answer the knight's challenge. As Kay and Guinevere prepare to follow the knight into the forest, Guinevere says in a low voice.
"Ah! My beloved (meaning Lancelot), if you knew, I don't believe you'd ever let Kay lead me even a single step away [A - P. 210]."
As Guinevere and Kay leave court, all the courtiers mourn in a way that suggests they believe their queen is going to her death. After the pair have left, Gawain admonishes Arthur for his foolishness and suggests that they be followed. This suggestion is taken up and Arthur and his knights, some in armour and others unarmed, ride after Guinevere and Kay. As they approach the forest they see Kay's riderless horse. They realise that Kay has been defeated by the splendid knight and that Guinevere has been abducted.
Gawain, who is leading, is met by an un-named knight (Lancelot) on an exhausted horse. This knight asks Gawain for one of his horses. When Gawain agrees, the knight takes a horse and rides back into the forest.
Gawain chases after the knight and, at length, discovers the horse he had given lying dead in the forest at the site of a pitched battle. Gawain goes further into the forest and chances to see the knight beside a cart. The knight is asking the dwarf driver of the cart if he has seen Guinevere pass. Without stopping, the dwarf tells the knight that, if he rides in the cart he will learn of the queen's whereabouts the next day. The knight hesitates momentarily, because carts were used as pillories for convicted criminals, then he leaps into the cart.
Gawain catches up with the cart and asks the dwarf of Guinevere's whereabouts. He rejects the dwarf's invitation to degrade himself by joining the other knight in the cart and be transported to the queen, but he does ride alongside the cart.
On their journey, the people they pass mock the 'Knight of the Cart' as a criminal. At the end of the day the dwarf brings the 'Knight of the Cart' and Gawain to a castle by a town. After the 'Knight of the Cart' has alighted from the cart, it and it's dwarf driver vanish and both knights are welcomed by the fairest girl in the country and her two beautiful attendants.
The two knights are hospitably entertained, but the hostess sits by Gawain when they eat. In the castle's hall the knights are shown two beds for themselves which lie beside a third, more splendid, bed which they are told can only be slept in by a knight who has earned the privilege. When the 'Knight of the Cart' asks why they may not sleep in this bed, the maiden tells him that one who has ridden in a cart does not even have the right to ask that question and that if he does sleep in the bed he would regret it.
Despite this warning 'Knight of the Cart' does sleep in the splendid bed and a lightning-like lance grazes his flank and sets fire to the bed, but the knight puts out the fire, throws the lance into the middle of the hall and goes back to sleep.
In the morning Gawain and the hostess are looking from a window, while the 'Knight of the Cart' is also looking out of a nearby window. They see a procession passing along a river bank in a meadow. At the head is a coffin containing a knight, accompanied by three weeping maidens. Behind this a crowd follows. At it's head is a knight who is escorting a beautiful lady on his left. The 'Knight of the Cart' recognises this beautiful lady as queen Guinevere and stares at her till she vanishes from his sight. Then he tries to throw himself from the window, but he is prevented from killing himself by Gawain.
The two knights leave their hostess and follow the procession led by the coffin, but it moves so fast they are unable to overtake it. They ride through a forest where they meet a girl at a crossroads and entreat her to give them information on Guinevere's fate. She tells them Guinevere has been taken to a land which can only be entered after 'great tribulations' have been suffered. The queen was captured by Meleagant, 'a huge and mighty knight' and son to king Bagdemagu of Gorre, who has carried Guinevere off to his father's kingdom. This kingdom is described as one 'from which no foreigner returns: in that land he must remain in exile and servitude.' Although the kingdom can normally only be entered if it's king gives permission, the girl tells the knights that there are two perilous bridges that lead to the land: 'the Underwater Bridge' is a narrow bridge that is positioned at half the depth of the strait that separates Gorre from the outside world, while the more dangerous 'Sword Bridge' has the form of a sharp sword blade. At the knights request the girl points out the two roads that will lead them to the bridges.
After the 'Knight of the Cart' gives Gawain the choice of which bridge to try, he chooses the easier 'Underwater Bridge' and leaves the Sword Bridge for his companion. The knights part company and travel towards the bridges. The story now leaves Gawain and relates 'The Knight of the Cart's' adventures.
The 'Knight of the Cart' rides onward deep in thought, letting his horse find it's own way. At a ford guarded by a knight, who is accompanied by a girl, his horse goes to drink at the ford. The guardian knight warns the 'Knight of the Cart' three times not to approach the ford, but is ignored as the 'Knight of the Cart' is deep in thought and does not hear. The guardian knight knocks the 'Knight of the Cart' from his horse and into the ford. When he recovers the 'Knight of the Cart' defies the guardian knight, grabs his reins and crushes his leg with his other hand to extract a promise that the guardian knight will engage 'Knight of the Cart' in a fair fight. Then the 'Knight of the Cart' knocks the guardian knight into the ford in a joust and afterwards defeats him on foot. When he prepares to kill his prostrate opponent, the guardian knight's girl promises to grant the 'Knight of the Cart' a future wish provided he allows her knight live. By this promise the 'Knight of the Cart' realises who the girl is, releases the guardian of the ford and goes on his way.
Towards evening the 'Knight of the Cart' encounters a beautiful and sumptuously attired girl who offers to lodge him provided he sleeps with her. Though unwilling to sleep with the girl, the knight's need for lodgings forces him to accept her offer. They enter a magnificent castle, where there seem to be no other occupants, and eat. The girl tells the knight to go outside and amuse himself, then to re-enter the castle when he thinks she is in bed. When the knight re-enters the castle he cannot see the girl and starts to search for her through the chambers of the castle. He hears a girl scream and rushes to the chamber the sound came from. He finds two knights and four axe-bearing men at arms on guard inside the room, while a third knight is attacking the hostess: 'holding her nearly naked across the bed'. The hostess appeals to the 'Knight of the Cart' for help. The 'Knight of the Cart' is now in a quandary for, not only is he unarmed, but he feels that he must be constant in his quest to free Guinevere. However, the realisation that it would be cowardly of him to abandon the girl decides him. He puts his head into the room and withdraws it when the two knights take sword-strokes at it. Unable to stop their blows, the two knights break their swords on the floor of the chamber. The 'Knight of the Cart' now enters the chamber and puts back the men at arms with his elbows and forearms, but one man at arms succeeds in wounding him in the shoulder with his axe. The 'Knight of the Cart' grabs the knight who is assaulting his hostess and interposes this knight between himself and the axeman who had wounded him. The axeman attempts to kill the 'Knight of the Cart' but instead beheads the knight he is holding. Now the 'Knight of the Cart' grabs the axeman's weapon, retreats to a corner and defies his attackers. At this point the girl orders the attackers away and tells the 'Knight of the Cart', 'you have defended me well sir, against my entire household.' Then the girl leads the 'Knight of the Cart' back to the castle's hall where they find that a luxurious bed has been prepared for them. The girl lays on the bed, with her clothes on, while the 'Knight of the Cart', though wounded, makes great efforts to remove his leggings so that he can keep his earlier promise. Seeing that he is unwilling to make love to her, the girl tells the 'Knight of the Cart' that she considers that his saving her has more than adequately fulfilled his earlier promise and that he now owes her nothing more. She then returns to her chamber.
In the morning the hostess tells the 'Knight of the Cart' that, if he will escort her honourably, she will accompany him on the next part of his quest. He agrees and they ride from the castle. They approach a meadow with a spring in it's middle. By the spring is a flat rock on which lies a comb of gilded ivory with blond hair entwined in it's teeth. As the girl does not wish the 'Knight of the Cart' to see this comb she attempts to take a path which leads away from the meadow. This diversion rouses the knight from his meditations on his love for Guinevere and he demands that the girl returns to their original route.
In the meadow the 'Knight of the Cart' sees the comb and and admires it's quality. When the girl tells him to give the comb to her, he assents and picks it up. He gazes on the hair entangled in the comb and the girl laughs. By appealing to the girl in the name of her lover, the 'Knight of the Cart' succeeds in persuading her to reveal the reason for her laughter. She tells him that she is sure that the comb belongs to Guinevere and that the hairs entangled in it are the queen's. At this revelation the knight swoons and almost falls from his horse. The girl dismounts and rushes to the knight's side as she does not wish him to fall from his horse. When he recovers and demands to know why she is by him. She dissimulates and tells him that her desire for the comb made her rush to his side. Then, after he has carefully removed all of Guinevere's hair from the comb and placed this next to his heart, the 'Knight of the Cart' gives the girl the comb.
Now they enter a forest, taking a track that narrows until they can only ride in a single file. At the narrowest point they meet a knight who is in love with the girl accompanying the 'Knight of the Cart' and who says he wishes to carry her off. The 'Knight of the Cart' says he will defend the girl and, as there is no room to fight on the path, the challenging knight takes them to a nearby meadow he knows. In the meadow knights and ladies are playing games, watched by an elderly knight with his retinue. The gamesplayers recognise the 'Knight of the Cart' and stop their games because of the hatred they feel for any knight who has ridden in so shameful a conveyance as a cart. The 'Knight of the Cart' challenges the suitor knight to fight for the possession of the maiden. However the suitor knight is prevented from fighting by the elderly knight, the suitor's father, who has to have him physically restrained, though the suitor knight still instists he will fight the 'Knight of the Cart'. When the gamesplayers see that their overlord that regards the 'Knight of the Cart' as possessing prowess, they resume their games and say that it would be shameful not to play in his presence. Persuaded by his father, the suitor knight agrees not to fight the 'Knight of the Cart' and agrees to his father's plan of following him at a distance after he leaves.
The 'Knight of the Cart' and the girl ride on to a church, where the knight enters and prays. As he leaves he meets an elderly monk and asks him what lies inside the crypt of the church. When he learns that the crypt contains tombs, he asks to see them. Inside the crypt are tombs of fine knights and three tombs intended for three of Arthur's knights. There is also a large tomb bearing the following inscription: -
'HE WHO WILL LIFT THIS SLAB BY HIS UNAIDED STRENGTH WILL FREE ALL THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO ARE IMPRISONED IN THE LAND WHENCE NO ONE RETURNS: SINCE FIRST THEY CAME HERE, NO CLERIC OR NOBLEMAN HAS BEEN FREED. FOREIGNERS ARE KEPT PRISONER, WHILE THOSE OF THIS LAND MAY COME AND GO AS THEY PLEASE.'
The 'Knight of the Cart' lifts the tomb's slab to the amazement of the elderly monk, to whom he refuses to tell his name; saying only that he is from the kingdom of Logres. The 'Knight of the Cart' and the girl then ride away.
When they arrive at the church, the suitor knight and his father are told by the elderly monk of the feat of strength performed by the 'Knight of the Cart'. Father and son agree that it will pointless to fight a knight of such prowess and they return to their home.
As the 'Knight of the Cart' and the girl ride on she makes attempts to discover his name, which he resists. Then she leaves him.
Towards night the 'Knight of the Cart' meets a vavasour returning from a successful day of hunting and accepts this knight's offer of lodgings at his manor house. When the vavasour and his wife learn from the 'Knight of the Cart' that he is from Logres, they tell him that he, like themselves, will be imprisoned in the land in 'servitude and exile.' When the vavasour learns his surmise, that the 'Knight of the Cart' is coming to release Guinevere from 'this heathen people' is correct, he offers his sons as guides to the knight.
In the morning the 'Knight of the Cart' sets out; accompanied by two of the vavasour's sons. They come to a pass called the 'Stone Passage' at the hour of prime (0600). Here a brattice (a wooden fortification) blocks their way. On it is a knight, accompanied by men at arms bearing axes, who sneers at the 'Knight of the Cart' for having ridden in a cart. Then the two knights joust and the 'Knight of the Cart' throws the defending knight to the ground. Although the men at arms take hold of their axes, they make no move to attack the 'Knight of the Cart.' Seeing that they do not wish to injure him, the 'Knight of the Cart', with his companions, passes by them with his sword sheathed.
About the hour of nones (about 15:00) the party is offered lodgings, but the 'Knight of the Cart' refuses because acceptance of lodgings so early in the day would delay him in his quest. The prospective host explains that his property is some way ahead and will not be reached till late in the day. The 'Knight of the Cart' then agrees to accept the lodgings and his party follow their host. After they have ridden for some time they meet a squire who is galloping towards them on a horse 'as plump and round as an apple.' The squire tells them to hurry because the men of Logres have raised an army against his people ('the people of this land') and skirmishes between the forces are already occuring. He continues that a knight of prowess ('The Knight of the Cart') has invaded the land and goes wherever he wishes within it. The squire finishes by saying that the prisoners of the land hope that this knight 'will soon free them and defeat our people'. Eager to join the battle, 'Knight of the Cart' and his companions hurry after the squire, who leads them to a 'daunting fortress.' Once they enter the fortress a portcullis is closed behind them blocking their exit. The continue to follow the squire but are trapped when a door closes behind the squire.
The 'Knight of the Cart' and his party feel that they have been bewitched and the knight makes use of a magic ring, which he was given by the fairy who brought him up. The ring has the power to break any spell once the knight gazes upon it's stone. He looks at the stone and says, 'Lady, lady! By the grace of God, I greatly need you to come now to my aid.' As nothing happens he realises that they have not been bewitched, but have merely been trapped. Now the 'Knight of the Cart' and his companions come upon the barred door of a narrow and low postern, whose bar they hew through with their swords. Beyond the postern they find themselves in a meadow where a battle is raging between two forces, each of one thousand knights with many peasants supporting them.
After one of the vavasour's sons ascertains which side is that of Logres, the 'Knight of the Cart' and his companions join it and fight. The 'Knight of the Cart' fights with such such skill and courage that many in the force of Logres ask who he is. When they hear that he is the man who will deliver them from servitude and exile they are inspired to fight with renewed energy. As a consequence of the renewed vigour of the men of Logres, the forces of Gorre come close to collapse. Then night approaches and the forces of Gorre are saved from a total defeat by the coming darkness.
Now the allies of the 'Knight of the Cart' quarrel over which one of them is to have the honour of lodging him overnight. He prevents them from coming to blows when he tells them that their offers of lodgings honour him as much as if he had lodged with each of them.
After he has lodged at the house of a wealthy knight, the 'Knight of the Cart' travels onwards but meets with no adventures. That evening he and his companions lodge at the manor house of a knight. After they have eaten, a proud knight enters and asks which of them is the foolish knight who wishes to attempt to cross the Sword Bridge. After the 'Knight of the Cart' affirms he is that knight, the proud knight berates him for having ridden in the cart. He then offers to ferry the 'Knight of the Cart' across the strait which bounds the land of Gorre, reserving the right to take the knight's head as a toll. After the 'Knight of the Cart' has refused this offer, the proud knight demands that they fight and this challenge is accepted. On a heath outside the manor house the two knights fight so fiercely that they kill each other's horses. The fight continues on foot and the 'Knight of the Cart' redoubles his efforts when he recalls how the proud knight insulted him about his having ridden in the cart and he brings the proud knight close to defeat. Being beaten, the proud knight now asks for mercy. The 'Knight of the Cart' offers the proud knight this: provided that he will ride in a cart in his turn. The proud knight says he will do anything other than this to obtain mercy. At this point a dishevelled girl, riding at mule at utmost speed, arrives. She asks the 'Knight of the Cart' for the head of the proud knight, saying that he is 'base and faithless'. After some debate with himself as to whether he should be 'generous' to the girl or 'compassionate' to the proud knight, the 'Knight of the Cart' allows the proud knight to re-arm and fight again. He tells the proud knight that he will voluntarily handicap himself by fighting entirely from the spot where he is standing. Despite being given this advantage, the proud knight is again defeated. Now the 'Knight of the Cart' beheads him and gives his head to the girl. The girl now rides off with the head and promises the 'Knight of the Cart' that she will repay her debt to him at a time when he is in the greatest need of help.
The following morning the 'Knight of the Cart' and his two companions ride off and reach the 'Sword Bridge' towards night. This bridge is a sword blade, as long as two lances, crossing a 'black, roaring, swift and swirling water. Both ends of the bridge are fixed in tree stumps. The companions of 'Knight of the Cart' believe that they can see two lions or leopards tethered to a large rock at the far end of the 'Sword Bridge.'
Despite his companions warnings the 'Knight of the Cart' insists on attempting to cross the 'Sword Bridge' immediately. He prepares himself by removing the armour from his hands and feet so that he may grip the 'Sword Bridge' better: preferring being maimed to falling in the water and drowning. In his passage across the bridge love sustains his efforts, despite the wounds he receives to his hands knees and feet. When he reaches the other side the knights looks for the lions he thought he had seen from the other side of the water, but can see no animals. Suspecting that he has been the victim of an enchantment he raises his ring, gazes at it's stone and looks again. As he is still unable to see any animals he realises that the animals were just images created by some enchantment. Now the 'Knight of the Cart' staunches the flow of blood from his wounds with his shirt and notices a 'great tower' before him.
In this great tower king Bagdemagu and his son Meleagant have been watching the 'Knight of the Cart' cross the 'Sword Bridge.' The characters of these two men are in complete contrast. Bagdemagu is described as being 'most scrupulous and keen in every matter of honour and right and who esteemed and practiced loyalty above all othe virtues,' while Meleagant 'strove constantly to do the opposite, since disloyalty pleased him and, he never tired of baseness, treason and felony.' Bagdemagu tells Meleagant that he should now give up Guinevere to the 'Knight of the Cart', as well as welcoming and honouring him. Meleagant, who obiously thinks himself a better knight than the 'Knight of the Cart', tells his father that he will not freely relinquish Guinevere. Bagdemagu now advises his son against seeking a fight with the 'Knight of the Cart', who may wish to win a fight for possession of Guinevere to 'enhance his honour.' This argument fails to reduce Meleagant's belligerence.
Bagdemagu now rides out to the 'Knight of the Cart', welcomes him, expresses amazement at his accomplishing the crossing of the 'Sword Bridge' and offers the knight hospitality. He informs the knight of Meleagant's refusal to give up possession of Guinevere without a fight and tells him that he intends to treat the knight's wounds with the finest salves. He also assures the knight that Guinevere is sequestered and is 'safe from the lusts of men, even from that of my son.' Finally Bagdemagu promises to provide the 'Knight of the Cart' with fine arms for his fight against Meleagant and tells him that he will only be in danger from Meleagant during their fight and need fear no treachery from him at other times.
The 'Knight of the Cart' tells Bagdemagu that he is willing to fight with Meleagant at once, using the arms that he is wearing, as his wounds are not causing him pain. Bagdemagu counsels him to wait for two or three weeks until his wounds have healed and insists that he could never let 'Knight of the Cart' fight in the arms he is wearing. The 'Knight of the Cart' replies that he will delay fighting till the following morning to please the king. Now Bagdemagu has the 'Knight of the Cart' shown to lodgings. Bagdemagu also makes an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Meleagant withdraw his challenge to the 'Knight of the Cart'. Lastly Bagdemagu provides the 'Knight of the Cart' with a powerful charger and good quality weapons, and has his wounds treated by the finest doctor in his lands.
News that the 'Knight of the Cart' has crossed the Sword Bridge spreads quickly and knights and people have thronged to Bagdemagu's castle during the night. In the morning the 'Knight of the Cart' is led out to the square before the keep, which is filled with people from the kingdom of Logres. Maidens from Arthur's kingdom have fasted for three days and have both worn hairshirts and have gone barefoot so that God will give strength and courage to the 'Knight of the Cart'. In contrast, the inhabitants of the land of Gorre have prayed for Meleagant's victory.
When both combatants are in the square before prime (0600), Bagdemagu makes a final fruitless attempt to procure a peace between them. Then he escorts Guinevere to a viewing tower where they both can watch the fight, in the company of people from both their lands.
When they joust, the 'Knight of the Cart' and Meleagant overthrow each other then fight on foot. Now, because of his wounded hands, the 'Knight of the Cart' begins to weaken and his defeat is expected. A maiden watching from the viewing tower realises that the 'Knight of the Cart' has taken on this fight for the sake of Guinevere and she believes that he would fight with renewed vigour if he knew that the queen was watching him from the viewing tower. Then the maiden asks Guinevere if she knows the knight's name and the queen replies that she believes it to be Lancelot of the Lake. The maiden then shouts out, 'Lancelot! turn around and see who is watching you!'
Lancelot turns to the viewing tower and sees Guinevere there. He stares at her and defends himself from Meleagant using sword strokes behind his back. This action that brings joy to the men of Gorre and despair to the men of Logres. The maiden now shouts at Lancelot again, berating him for his foolishness and telling him to reposition himself so he can both fight Meleagant and be inspired to fight well by the sight of Guinevere.
Lancelot now manoevres Meleagant between himself and the viewing tower, then repeatedly forces him back towards the tower. However, whenever he comes so close to the tower that he can no longer see Guinevere, he retreats. Knowing his son is close to being defeated and killed, Bagdemagu makes an appeal to Guinevere. He asks her have Lancelot spare Meleagant's life as an expression of gratitude for the kindness and hospitality he has shown to her. Guinevere's assent to this proposal is heard by Lancelot and he stops fighting, but Meleagant continues to attack him though Lancelot does not resist him in any way.
When Bagdemagu attempts to stop the cowardly attack by Meleagant, the latter insists that he is winning the fight against Lancelot and has to be dragged away. Meleagant demands that the fight continues, but eventually Bagdemagu persuades him to agree to a truce. The terms of this truce are that Meleagant will return Guinevere provided that Lancelot will agree to fight him again within a year at the court of king Arthur. If Meleagant wins this second fight, Guinevere is to return with him to the land of Gorre. Both Lancelot and Guinevere agree to these terms.
Lancelot receives thanks from all the citizens of Logres who have been kept captive in the land of Gorre as they are now free to leave. It being the custom of Gorre that when one captive leaves the land all other captives are free to leave.
At his own request, Lancelot is taken by Bagdemagu into the presence of Guinevere. However, much to Lancelot's distress, the queen snubs him without giving any explanation for her behaviour. Next Lancelot is taken to see Kay the seneschal, who is still suffering from the wounds he had received when he was defeated by Meleagant during the abduction of Guinevere.
Kay says he has been shamed by Lancelot, who has succeeded where he has failed. He also reveals that while Bagdemagu is making the utmost effort to heal his wounds, Meleagant is counteracting the effects of this treatment by having poisoned ointments applied to Kay's wounds. Kay says that Bagdemagu has kept Guinevere safe from the attentions of Meleagant and has treated her well. He tells Lancelot that he cannot guess why the queen has snubbed him.
Lancelot now expresses his intention to fulfil an earlier promise he made to seek Gawain at the 'Underwater Bridge.' He departs form Bagdemagu's castle accompanied by a party of the citizens of Logres, all unarmed. Others from Logres remain with Guinevere, who intends to stay in Gorre until she has met Gawain.
As they journey towards the 'Underwater Bridge' Lancelot and his companions are surprised to be met by a party of armed men who take them prisoner. These are inhabitants of the land of Gorre who, despite having heard that the borders of their country have been broken open after Lancelot's feat of crossing the 'Sword Bridge', believe that king Bagdemagu will be pleased if they make Lancelot their captive.
A rumour that Lancelot has been captured and killed reaches Bagdemagu, who threatens to execute those who are guilty of this crime. When Guinevere hears this rumour she is so distressed that she attempts to commit suicide by self-strangulation, then changes her mind. The anguish Guinevere feels for having rejected Lancelot continues and causes her to lose her good looks. While her refusal of all food and drink bring her to a moribund state which those around her mistake for death.
Now Lancelot is brought news of Guinevere's supposed death. In his distress he attempts to commit suicide by tying one end of a belt around his neck, tying the other end to the horn of his saddle and throwing himself off his horse so that he will be strangled as he is dragged along. However those accompanying Lancelot save his life. Word now reaches Lancelot that Guinevere is still alive, to his great joy. As Lancelot and his captors near Bagdemagu's castle, news that Lancelot is still alive reaches it and is welcomed by Guinevere.
Lancelot is welcomed to Bagdemagu's court by Guinevere, who explains that she had earlier slighted him because he had hesitated before he had entered the cart driven by the dwarf. This showed that he had allowed his fear of the shame that would adhere to him for riding in the cart to outweigh the devotion he owed to his beloved lady (Guinevere). Forgiven, Lancelot says he wishes to speak to Guinevere more intimately and she tells him to come to a barred window overlooking an orchard at night, where they may talk without any fear of being overheard. This is the only way they can speak because Guinevere's chamber is locked and guarded and the wounded Kay shares it with her.
That night Lancelot enters the orchard over a fallen wall and comes to the assigned window. Here Guinevere is waiting for him clad in a white shift covered with a red fur trimmed mantle. They hold hands and talk, but their desire to be with each other is frustrated by the thick iron bars of the window. With Guinevere's agreement, Lancelot bends the iron bars and removes them from the window. In doing this he cuts some fingers badly, though his passion prevents him from either feeling pain or noticing the flowing blood. He enters the queen's bedchamber, passing the sleeping Kay, and he and Guinevere enjoy a night of lovemaking. When he wakes the following morning, Lancelot fails to notice that his hand has bled onto the queen's bedlinen. Then Lancelot leaves the bedchamber, successfully replaces the iron bars in the window and returns to his own bed without being detected. Only now does he notice that he has wounded his hand.
In the morning Meleagant and his retainers enter Guinevere's chamber. Here they notice blood on both Guinevere's and Kay's bedlinen. Although Guinevere insists that her nose bled during the night, Meleagant accuses the two of adultery. Meleagant then brings his father (Bagdemagu) to Guinevere's chamber, repeats his accusation and insists that Kay undertakes a judicial combat with him to decide who is right. Kay says that he knows that his wounds opened in the night, but is nonetheless willing to fight with Meleagant immediately. Now Guinevere, who has secretly sent for Lancelot, tells Bagdemagu that she has a knight who is willing to fight in Kay's place, if Meleagant is willing to accept the substitution. After Meleagant agrees both he and Lancelot swear on holy relics that they will prove themselves right in single combat.
When they joust, the two knights break their spears and throw each other to the ground. They continue their fight on foot with great animosity. Seeing the fighters mutual hatred, Bagdemagu asks Guinevere to agree that the fight be stopped and the two knights separated. Lancelot hears the queen's assent and ceases fighting. However, Meleagant continues to attack Lancelot, who does not resist. Bagdemagu separates Meleagant from Lancelot, though his son insists that the fight must continue. However Bagdemagu persuades him that it will be more to his honour if he defeats Lancelot at the future fight, arranged to take place at Arthur's court in a years time.
After receiving the permission of Bagdemagu and Guinevere, Lancelot departs with a body of knights to seek Gawain. When a dwarf approaches the party and tells Lancelot to have his companions wait for him, Lancelot willingly follows the dwarf to a promised 'very wonderful place.' However, Lancelot is captured and imprisoned by one of Meleagant's seneschals. When he fails to return, his companions discuss their course of action. As they do not know in which direction to search they decide to go to the nearby 'Underwater Bridge' to find Gawain and then to seek Lancelot with his help. They rescue Gawain, who is close to drowning, then discuss their plans to seek Lancelot with him. They fear that Lancelot has been kidnapped by Maleagant and hope that Bagdemagu may be able to secure his release. Bagdemagu knows nothing of Lancelot's fate and sends out searchers to find him. Searching continues until a letter, purporting to come from Lancelot, is received at Bagdemagu's court relating that Lancelot is now at Arthur's court. Happy that Lancelot is safe, Guinevere, Gawain, Kay and their retinue return to Arthur's court. Here Gawian is hailed as the liberator of Guinevere and the captives from Logres. He, corrects this mistake by naming Lancelot as the true liberator and asserting that Lancelot is at Arthur's court. Information that Lancelot is not in Arthur's realms, and that his whereabouts are unknown, makes Gawain and his companions realise that the letter they had trusted at Bagdemagu's court was a forgery.
During Guinevere's captivity in the Land of Gorre, ladies and maidens without husbands had decided to organise a tournament at Noauz which would test prospective husbands. After Guinevere had returned to Arthur's court, the king granted the request of the ladies and maidens that she attend this tournament, provided Guinevere was willing. After the queen agrees to attend the tournament news of it is spread.
News of the forthcoming tournament reaches the castle where Lancelot is imprisoned and he is disconsolate as he will be unable to attend. His misery is seen by the wife of the seneschal of this castle. When she learns the reason for his unhappiness, she says that she would willingly let Lancelot attend the tournament if she did not fear the punishment she and her husband would be sure to receive from Meleagant. When Lancelot says he will take a binding oath, on the 'Holy Church', to return to his imprisonment once the tournament has finished, she relents and agrees to allow him to attend. Then the lady gives Lancelot her husband's magnificent red armour with his superb horse, and Lancelot sets off for the tournament at Noauz.
Lancelot enters the field on the first day of the tournament and excels all the other knights present. Though he is disguised by his armour, Lancelot is recognised by Guinevere. She sends him a message by a maiden that he must fight badly. Subservient to the wishes of his lady, Lancelot does this and earns himself the name for being the most cowardly knight at the tournament.
Lancelot does not appear at the second day of the tournament and Guinevere again sends her maiden to him with a message. The maiden finds Lancelot at his lodgings and again tells him to fight badly if he wishes to retain the love of Guinevere. Lancelot acquiesces, sends thanks to Guinevere and enters the tournament. When Guinevere hears from her maiden of Lancelot's complete submission to her will she realises that the love between them is mutual. Again, Guinevere sends her maiden to Lancelot, this time the message she bears is that he fight with the utmost courage. For the remainder of the day Lancelot fights so fiercely that he overpowers all the knights he fights. At the end of the day's fighting Lancelot throws away his lance, shield and horse trappings and, obedient to his oath, returns with speed to his imprisonment.
The seneschal has arrived at his castle two to three days before Lancelot returns from the tournament at Nouaz. From his wife he learns the reason for Lancelot's absence and of his promise to return to his incarceration once the tournament has ended. The seneschal now tells Meleagant. Though troubled that Lancelot has attended the tournament, Meleagant is confident that Lancelot will keep his oath and will return to his imprisonment. So he tells the seneschal to strictly imprison Lancelot when he does return and to inform him immediately.
When the seneschal returns to his castle he finds Lancelot has returned and he carries out Meleagant's orders regarding him. Now, within two months, Meleagant has a strong and tall tower built on an island which lies on a broad inlet which penetrates the coastline of Gorre. Here Lancelot is brought and is immured. The doorway of the tower is blocked up and the masons who constructed the tower are sworn to secrecy. Only a small high window is left open and Lancelot is supplied with a rope with which he is able to haul up the small portions of poor food (stale barley bread and stagnant water), which soldiers bring to him at fixed hours.
Having imprisoned Lancelot, Meleagant goes to Arthur's court and proclaims that he has come to fight Lancelot there, as had been arranged earlier in the land of Gorre. Arthur informs Meleagant that he has no news of Lancelot's whereabouts. Meleagant replies that the combat can only take place at Arthur's court and formally summons Lancelot to be there to fight him within a year.
Gawain asserts that Lancelot is not within the land of Logres and adds that he will be sought. He also requests that, if Lancelot cannot be found, he be allowed to fight Meleagant in his place. Meleagant replies that, if he cannot test his strength against Lancelot, Gawain is the only other knight he is willing to accept as an opponent. Arthur agrees to grant the challenge to Gawain if Lancelot cannot be found.
Having made these arrangements, Meleagant goes to Bath where his father (Bagdemagu) is holding a birthday celebration. He arrogantly tells Bagdemagu that that he has been at Arthur's court to fulfil the agreement he had made to fight Lancelot there and asserts that, as Lancelot was not at the court, he must have fled from the fight like a coward. He continues by saying that Gawain has promised to take over the fight if Lancelot does not appear, at the end of the year period as had previously been arranged in Gorre. So that before 'the elderflowers bloom' (that is in springtime) Meleagant will discover whether Gawain's prowess matches his reputation.
Bagdemagu now accuses his son of being a bragging fool whose brutal character has not the capacity for gentility, friendship or for mercy. He adds that these defects will lead to Meleagant's downfall. This criticism, which he feels is totally unjustified, enrages Meleagant and breaks the last bond that existed between him and his father. Meleagant tells his father he can see no reason for the criticism. Now Bagdemagu says he cannot see how Lancelot, who is esteemed by all but Meleagant, would flee the latter and that he believes Lancelot would only be prevented from keeping to his agreement to fight Meleagant by either death or imprisonment.
A daughter of Bagdemagu's, who is present, feels that Lancelot must have been imprisoned somewhere and resolves to determine what has happened to him. Accordingly, she quietly leaves the celebrations, mounts her 'elegant and sure-footed mule' and sets out to search for Lancelot. Having no notion of where Lancelot might be, she rides around at random for a long time. At last she sees a shoreside tower beside an inlet (the tower was earlier said to be located on an island). She rides up to the tower and circles it, listening for a voice that will show if it is occupied. When she notices that it has no doorway or other entrance and only one small window, she deduces that the tower was built as a prison and suspects that Lancelot lies imprisoned inside it. She hears the weak and sad voice of Lancelot from inside the tower asking for death, bemoaning his fate of being imprisoned for more than 'a year' (sic) and damning Meleagant for imprisoning him in the tower.
The girl shouts to Lancelot that she is his friend and asks him to reply. At first her shouts elicit no response from Lancelot, who is delerious and weak. Eventually Lancelot realises that he is being called by a person outside the tower and struggles to the tower's single narrow window, from which he sees the girl but he fails to recognise her. She then identifies herself to him as the girl whose request he had fulfilled when he gave her the head of the knight whom he had defeated shortly before he crossed the 'Sword Bridge'. Then she tells him that her gratitude for that service has led her to search him out. Lancelot says that this earlier service to the girl will be returned more than adequately if she frees him from his imprisonment. Indeed, if she does free him, he will be so deeply indebted to her that he will fulfil any request she might make if it be in his power to do so.
The girl finds a pickaxe that Lancelot pulls into the tower, using the rope by which he hauls up his meagre daily supply of food. Then, despite his weakness, Lancelot breaks out of the tower. The girl puts Lancelot up before her on her mule and takes him, by unfrequented paths, to a secluded castle that belongs to her. Here Lancelot recuperates and is restored to his full strength. When well, he thanks his hostess for her assistance and says he gives her his heart, body, service and possessions. He tells her that he has been too long from the court of Arthur, where he has much to do. Lancelot's hostess affirms her affection for him and grants his request that he be allowed to leave for Arthur's court, as she seeks only those things that will be to his honour and good.
As he rides towards Arthur's court, Lancelot swears he will kill Meleagant to avenge the evil Meleagant has done him through treacherous and dishonourable conduct. Meanwhile, at Arthur's court, the time for the fight between Meleagant and Lancelot arrives and, as Lancelot has not appeared, Gawain prepares to fight Meleagant in his place. As Gawain is being armed, Lancelot arrives before him and is warmly greeted by Gawain. The court, from Arthur downwards, also joyfully greet Lancelot when they hear of his arrival. Though Guinevere, despite the love she feels for Lancelot in her heart, restrains herself from giving any physical demonstration of her affection until a more private moment.
Arthur tells Lancelot that searches had been undertaken for him in both 'winter and summer'. In reply Lancelot relates the facts of his imprisonment by Meleagant and swears he will fight to avenge the unremitting cruelty he has suffered at Meleagant's hands. Then Gawain offers to exact revenge on Lancelot's behalf as he is already armed and mounted, but Lancelot emphatically refuses this offer and arms himself in the armour Gawain is wearing.
Meleagant is amazed and disheartened when Lancelot appears at court. He realizes the tower Lancelot had been imprisoned in was so strong that escape was impossible and that Lancelot must have had outside help to escape form it. However he musters his courage and asks that their battle start soon.
Arthur requests that the battle between Lancelot and Meleagant take place on a fair heath by his tower. On this heath is a magnificent sycamore tree, which had been planted in the time of Abel, surrounded by a lush carpet-like field of grass that is always green. A spring flows vigourously from beneath the sycamore, through a pipe of the purest gold, then runs over a bed of beautiful stones that shine like silver. The stream fed by the spring flows across the heath and down into a valley between two woods.
Meleagant and Lancelot now joust. In their first pass they pierce each other's shields with their lances. In succeeding passes they continue to damage each other's shields, even striking though armour to the flesh. At last they break the girths of each other's saddles and both fall to the earth. As they prepare to fight with swords, Lancelot becomes more confident as he knows that he is a more skilled swordsman than Meleagant. As they fight Lancelot severs Meleagant's right arm. In desperation Meleagant rushes Lancelot, to take him by surprise and overthrow him. However, Lancelot is prepared for this surprise attack and slashes Meleagant's abdomen. Then Lancelot drives the nasal of Meleagant's helmet into his mouth breaking three teeth. At this stage in the fight Meleagant is so enraged by his hatred of Lancelot that he cannot speak: not even to ask for mercy. Finally Lancelot beheads Meleagant.
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