Sources of Information on Solar Knights

Completed 27 October 2002.
Last Modified 5 September 2004
© Text Copyright 2004 Michael Wild

I can be reached at:- dagonet_uk 'at',uk


Arthur as a sun god as described by Morien

Before beginning this account of Arthur as a sun god, it is worth bringing to the readers attention that revealing this aspect of Arthur was not the main agenda of Owen "Morien" Morgan's book 'The Light of Britannia'. Consequently mentions of Arthur as a solar god are scattered throughout the work. However, "Morien's" picture of Arthur as a sun god is remarkably consistent. In order to validate his description of Arthur as a solar divinity, page references are given.

For Morien, Arthur was equated with "Arddir", who is described as the "gardener or husbandman of the whole earth". This horticultural analogy may be described as the expression of the beneficient rays of the sun that promote the growth of plants and the flourishing of animal life. More specifically, the name Arthur was applied to the sun at his full strength at the summer solstice. However confusion among the Druids led to the name Arthur being applied to the sun throughout the year. In parallel with this elevation of Arthur to the position of the supreme solar deity, alternative names for the sun at various stages in his yearly cycle were also retained. (pp. 15, 39). These names were Hu Gadarn, Tegid, Taliesin, Tegid Voel, Dyvnwawl Moelmud, Said-Wrn (P. 15), Gwyon Bach (P. 217) and Havgân (p. 223).

With Arthur being the solar deity, Morien viewed the twelve battles that he undertook against the Saxons (as described by Nennius) as being battles that Arthur fought through the twelve signs of the Zodiac against Avagddu: who as the personification of darkness was the opponent of Arthur the sun god (pp. 37, 181, 294). This correspondence between the quasi-historical Arthur of Nennius and the mythological Arthur of "Morien" is weakened because Nennius says that Arthur was victorious in all twelve battles. While, in "Morien's" scheme Arthur was defeated in his final battle on the river Cambula. The head wound Arthur received in this battle being a wound characteristic of that received by the failing sun of the old year (P. 178), when it's light and warmth become reduced.

The consequences of the battle on the river Cambula were twofold. Firstly Arthur's sword is thrown into the lake. An act seen by "Morien" as the taking back of Arthur's 'decrepit membrum virilis' by the supreme mother goddess (Cêd).

". . . and there came an arm and an hand above the water, and met it and caught it, and so shook it THRICE__ Triune Divinity ( \|/ )__and brandished it, and then vanished away the hand with the sword in the water."

Now the only portions of the above narrative which appertain to the solar allegory of the Druidic Arthur, are the boat, the sword Excalibur, the lake, the arm, the shakes, and the hand. The sword is the decrepit membrum virilis of Arthur's old age; the lake is the sea of Annwn (Hades); the arm and hand are those of Cêd, the consort of the Almighty and mother of the sun, rescuing the symbol of the sun's divine seminal agency from destruction, in the wreck of his corporeal destruction at sunset each December 20th.

Morgan, O., "Morien", The Light of Britannia, 1892?, P. 191

The second consequence is that Bedivere places Arthur in the barge that lately arrived at the shore.

"And when they were at the water-side, even fast by the bank, hove a little barge" (the same thing as the coracle in which Taliesin was found, only here it is the departure of the coracle for the south-west, and the old sun in it is implied), "with many fair ladies in it, and among them was a queen" (their mother Cêd was the coracle or barge itself). "And all they had black hoods" (night time). "And all they wept and shrieked when they saw King Arthur. 'Now put me into the barge,' said the King, and so they did softly. And there received him Three Queens, with great mourning, and so they set him down; and in one of their laps King Arthur laid his head. And then that Queen (the Virgin Venus) said, 'Ah, dear brother,'" (she was his sister-spouse) "'why have ye tarried so long from me? Alas! this wound in thy head hath caught over much cold.'" (The Annwn or Hades [Hell] of northern ideas is cold.) "And so they rowed from the land, and Sir Bedivere beheld all those ladies go from him.". He had lost his Phallus "sword," and consequently had now become uninteresting to them all, except to his mother (the coracle), Cêd, Ceridwen, otherwise Isis the First. . .
Then we are told the first Queen was Morwyn le Fay, the second was the Queen of North Wales, and the third was the Queen of the Waste Lands. Also there was Nimue, the Chief Lady of the Lake. The monk has been at it concealing again. Nimue is evidently the Latin Nimius, which name associated wth the Lady of the Lake signifies "Exceeding Great Lady." She is the Cêd of Druidism, the mother of Arthur, and the greater Isis of Egypt, mother of Osiris. It was her hand that received the sword Excalibur under water, and she is the restorer of Arthur as Hu Gadarn, otherwise Taliesin, Hesus the Mighty, as a babe on each December 22nd,or, according to the Julian Calendar, on December 25th. The Druidic names of the three Queens are Morwyn, Blodwen and Tynghedwen-Dyrraith, . . .

Morgan, O., "Morien", The Light of Britannia, 1892?, pp.193-4

Now is the time to explain the new characters that "Morien" has introduced into his discussion of the death of Arthur; the Sun God. These are Cêd, Morwyn, Blodwen and Tynghedwen-Dyrraith. These are the three queens of Arthur, who correspond with the three ladies of Arthur's court; Lady Enid, Lady Dywin and Lady Tegau Euvron. I exclude Venus, Isis and Osiris from this account because "Morien" mentions them as a part of his wider argument that all religions of the ancient world derived from Druidry: an agenda that is totally irrelevant to Arthur!

Cêd may be thought of as a universal and eternal mother goddess. So that she is the mother of both Arthur and the three queens who accompanied him on the barge. Her womb is often depicted as a mastless ship (known as Llong voel - naked ship, pp. 88, 143, 189, 195, 276, 420, 433), or a glass coracle (P. 103). This vessel sails upon the seas of Annwn (Chaos or Hades) that completely surrounded the world inhabited by man (pp. 11, 88, 114, 133).

It was to Cêd that Arthur's soul fled, perhaps in the guise of a wren, after his body had been destroyed in his final battle of the solar year against Avagddu. A battle that culminated in Arthur's defeat and the flight of his soul at sunset (1600 hrs) on December 20th (P. 200). After his flight, Arthur found refuge in the womb of Cêd and remained here for forty hours. During this time he was physically restored by the tripartite word of the the Almighty Celi (symbolised by \|/ - see above) and emerged from Cêd's womb at sunrise (0800 hrs) on December 22nd (pp. 82, 201, 125, 126). These events took place when the Sun is at the southernmost point (the Tropic of Capricorn) in it's annual journey. Thereafter, the Sun (Arthur) gradually rose in the sky until the vernal equinox (March 21st), also called Alban Eilir (P. 49), when it is above the equator.

It is at this point in the solar year that Arthur takes his bride, who is called Morwyn. Unfortunately "Morien" gives a number of variations of this name. Those of most interest are Môrgwen la Fai (P. 16), Morwen la Fai (P. 51) and Morwyn le Fay (P. 194), from which names he identifies Arthur's bride with the Morgan le Fay we are familiar with from Arthurian literature. As Morwyn is an emanation of the universal mother goddess (Cêd), who lies in the sea of Annwn, another name for her is Gwen y Mor__The Sacred One of the Sea (pp. 14, 35, 57, 192). She is also known as the Queen of East Wales because her husband, Arthur__the Sun, rises in the due east on March 21st__their wedding day.

At the vernal equinox, Morwyn personifies the earth as a garden, being the source of all agricultural produce (P. 233). While, as she has the same mother as Arthur__the Sun, Cêd, she is called his 'sister-spouse' (P. 51). This marriage between Morwyn and Arthur is seen as a marriage between the passive potential of the garden of the earth to produce and of the Sun, who is viewed as the active cultivator of the earth's garden (P. 233).

At the vernal equinox (March 21st) Arthur reaches maturity, and is then married to Mor'wyn, the Earth; described poetically as the Holy Maiden of the Sea Foam, or Venus, otherwise Aphrodite. The result of their union is the seed germs of the earth's ovary receiving from him (the sun) fertilising influence, and they instantly begin to germinate. The process of development continues, under the fostering influence of the Father1, by the agency of the sun and of Cêd, through the agency of Venus, Holy Maiden of the Sea Foam.

1That is Celi.

Morgan, O., "Morien", The Light of Britannia, 1892?, P. 14.

Morwyn , in her guise of 'Holy Maiden of the Sea Foam' is identical to the Lady Enid (Soul) (P. 16) of Arthur's court. She is said to be the daughter of Niwl (mist).

The first shows Enid as the daughter of warm Humidity. . . Niwl (mist) is the joint influence of the Eternal Father Celi and the Eternal Mother Cêd The passive exhalation arises from Cêd through the earth; the masculine or active principle passes from Celi through the sun, which imparts the fertilising influence to humidity, which communicates it to the seed germs, causing them to frucify and develop.

Morgan, O., "Morien", The Light of Britannia, 1892?, P. 17.

At the summer solstice (June 21st), also called Alban Hevin (P. 49), Arthur is at his full strength and Morwyn transforms into Blodwen (Flora): the second sister-spouse of Arthur. She is called the Queen of North Wales because the sun rises in the north-east at the summer solstice (p. 51).

the summer solstice (June 21st), when he is in the full effulgence of his strength and his wife is now in her bloom, and is called Blodwen (Holy Flora).

Morgan, O., "Morien", The Light of Britannia, 1892?, P. 15

"Morien" additionally equates Flora with Gwenyver. Whose name he analyses as follows: Gwen (Holy), 'Wy (Water) and Mêr mutated to Vêr (Essence). Hence the name Gwenyver means Holy__Water__Essence. This alludes to to "the sap of the earth streaming up in vegetation and trees under the influence of the heat left in the atmosphere at night, after the disappearance of the day sun, and called the nocturnal sun" (P. 16).

Blodwen corresponds to the Lady Dywin (to make fair) of Arthur's court. She 'signifies the earth's surface in summer' (P. 17).

With the autumnal equinox (Alban Elwed, P. 49) on September the 23rd, Arthur's sister spouse undergoes another transformation to become Tynghedwen (Holy Fortune). A name that refers to the ripening crops of September: which are regarded as the offspring of the earth.

Tynghedwen is equated with the Lady Tegau Eurvron of Arthur's court. She is described as follows.

Tegau Eurvron signifies the earth's surface at harvest-time (Ceres). Tegau signifes to beautify. Eurvron signifies Golden Breasted, and implies the golden ripened fruits of the earth. Her symbols are a variegated-dyed mantle, a golden goblet, and a knife. Her beautiful mantle signifies the charming dyes of the earth's produce; her golden goblet, the liquor-producing fruits of the earth; her knife, the cutting operations of harvest-time.

Morgan, O., "Morien", The Light of Britannia, 1892?, P. 17.

Tynghedwen is given a second quality, Dyrraith (barren) that emphasises that she is not only the goddess of fructification, but is also the goddess of the world in the cold and barren days of winter. The Dyrraith aspect is barren due to failure of the emasculated Arthur of the Winter Solstice to fertilise her seeds. Besides barrenness, the Dyrraith quality is also credited with being a fierce defender of her offspring. This instinct to defend her offspring, without giving any concern for her own safety, having been implanted into all mothers by the goddess Cêd (p.8).

Under the name Tynghedwen-Dyrraith, this third of Arthur's sister-spouses, is also known as the Queen of the Desert Places (P. 51) or Queen of the Waste Places (P. 194). In this guise she is, with her sisters (the Queen of East Wales __ Môrgwen la Fai and the Queen of North Wales __ Blodwen), one of the three queens who accompany the wounded Arthur on his final trip on the barge (a manifestation of the goddess Cêd) to Avalon.

For "Morien", Arthur as the sun posseses a dual personality. He is a horticulturalist whose marriage to a changing triple earth goddess makes him the active agent that fertilises and fructifies the earth. Then he also is a warrior who, throughout the year, fights battles against the forces of darkness (symbolised by Avagddu) which ultimately defeat him and kill his physical body at the winter solstice (Alban Arthan, P. 49). After the winter solstice Arthur is reborn and gradually increases in strength until the spring equinox; a period of the year that is under the domination of Avagddu (P. 155).

The Beheading game in Bricriu's Feast

Briciu Poison Tounge holds a great feast for Conchobar mac Nessa of Emain Macha and all his Red Branch warriors. Bricriu, in keeping with his character, ponders how he may forment a quarrel among the Ulstermen and decides that the apportioning of the Champion's Portion at his feast would provide an ideal opportunity. He therefore talks up the value of the Champion's Portion of his house.

"Sooth, if the Champion's Portion of my house be thine, the championship of Emain is thine forever. The Champion's Portion of my house is worth contesting, for it is not the portion of a fool's house," said Bricriu. "Belonging to it is is a cauldron full of generous wine, with room enough for three of the valiant heroes of Ulster; furthermore a seven-year-old boar; nought has entered its mouth since it was little save fresh milk and fine meal in springtime, curds and sweet milk in summer, the kernel of nuts and wheat in autumn, beef and broth in winter; a cow-lord full seven-year-old; since it was a little calf neither heather nor twig tops have passed its lips, nought but sweet milk and herbs, meadow-hay and corn. Add to this five-score cakes of wheat cooked in honey. Five-and-twenty bushels, that is what was supplied for these five-score cakescfour cakes from each bushel.

Ancient Irish Tales, ed. Cross, T. P., Slover, C. H., Barnes and Noble: New York 1996 (1936), P. 256.

Bricui now stirs up emnity between the three champions of Ulster (Leogaire, Conall the Victorious and Cu Chulainn), by suggesting that each is solely worthy to have the Champion's Portion. Having stirred up a quarrel between these three heroes, Bricriu now forments another among the wives of the heroes (Fedelm Fresh-Heart, Lendabair and Emer) over who should be the first to enter the banqueting hall. It is now decided that the three heroes go to Cur Roi mac Dairi to decide the issue. Although Cu Chulainn wins the contest with Curoi, his victory is discounted as he is said to have had the aid of his friends from the fairy world. Next, the heroes are sent to Ailill and Mebd (the King and Queen of Munster) at Cruachan. They, diplomatically, give each a cup which they assert is a token that each is the Champion of Ulster: however Cu Chulainn's cup is the most precious. When these cups are displayed before Conchobar, Cu Chulainn's is discounted on the pretext that he bought it. There are various other tests, until the heroes are sent to the stronghold of Cu Roi. Here each defends to stronghold for a night, with Cu Chulainn being only one who is victorious. He kills twenty seven attackers and collects their heads, a lake monster attacking the fort and defeats a giant (Cu Roi) from whom he extracts a promise that he will enjoy: -

The sovreignty of Erin's heroes be henceforth mine,
The Champion's Portion without dispute,
The precedence to my wife over the Ulster ladies forever.

Ancient Irish Tales, ed. Cross, T. P., Slover, C. H., Barnes and Noble: New York 1996 (1936), P. 275.

Although Cu Roi gives his judgement in Cu Chulainn's favour, his judgement is discounted on the slender grounds that it did not apply to Emain Macha. The issue is finally decided in Cu Chulainn's favour by a beheading game at Emain Macha

One day the Ulstermen were in Emain Macha, fatigued after the gathering and the games, Conchobar and Fergus mac Roig, with the Ulster nobles as well, proceeded from the playing field outside and seated themselves in the Red Branch of Conchobar. Neither Cu Chulainn nor Conall the Victorious nor Loegaire the Triumphant were there that night. But the hosts of Ulster's heroes were there. As they were seated, it being eventide, and the day drawing to a close, they saw a big uncouth fellow of exceeding ugliness drawing nigh them into the hall. To them it seemed as if none of the Ulstermen would reach half his height. Horrible and ugly was the carle's disguise. Next to his skin he wore an old hide with a dun mantle around him, and over him a great spreading club-tree branch the size of a winter-shed under which thirty bullocks could find shelter. Ravenous yellow eyes he had, protruding form his head, each of the twain the size of an ox-vat. Each finger was as thick as a person's wrist. In his left hand he carried a stock, the burden for twenty yoke of oxen. In his right hand was an axe weighing thrice fifty glowing molten masses of metal. Its handle would require a yoke of six to move it. Its sharpness such that it would lop off hairs, the wind blowing them against its edge.

In that guise he went and stood by the fork-beam beside the fire. "Is the hall lacking room for you," said Dubtach Chafer-tounge to the uncouth clodhopper (bachlach), "that ye find no other place than the fork-beam, unless ye wish to be an illumination to the house?__only sooner will a blaze be to the house than the brightness to the household."

"Whatever property may be mine, you will agree that no matter how big I am the household will be lighted, while the hall will not be burned. That however, is not my sole function; I have others as well. But neither in Erin nor in Alba nor in Europe nor in Europe nor in Africa nor in Asia, including Greece, Scythia, the Isles of Gades, the Pillars of Hercules, and Bregon's Tower have I accomplished the quest on which I have come, nor a man to do me fair play regarding it. Since ye Ulstermen have excelled all the peoples of these lands in strength, prowess and valor; in rank, magnanimity, and dignity; in truth, generosity, and worth, get one among you to grant the boon I ask."

"In truth, it is not just the honor of a province be carried off," said Fergus mac Roig, "because of one man who fails in keeping his word of honour. Death certainly is not a whit nearer to him than to you."

"It is not that I shun it."

"Make thy quest known to us, then," said Fergus.

"Only if fair play is offered me willI tell it."

"It is right to give fair play," said Sencha son of Ailill, "for it is not seemly for a great people to break a mutual covenant over any unknown individual. It seems to us, furthermore, that if you at last find a person such as you seek, you will find him here."

"Conchobar I put aside," said he, "for the sake of his sovreignty, and Fergus mac Roig also on account of his like privilege. These two excepted, come whosoever of you that may dare, that I may cut off his head tonight, he mine tomorrow night."

"Sure there is no warrior here," said Dubtach, "after these two."

"By my troth there will be at this moment," cried Munremur mac Gerrcind as he spring on to the floor of the hall. The strength of Munremur was as the strength of a hundred warriors, each arm having the the might of a hundred "centaurs." "Bend down bachlach," said Munremur, "that I may cut off thy head tonight, thou to cut off mine tomorrow."

"Were that the object of my quest I could get it anywhere," said the bachlach; "let us act according to our covenant__I to cut off your head tonight, you to avenge it tomorrow night."

"By my people's gods," said Dubtach Chafertounge, "death is thus for thee no pleasant prospect, should the man killed tonight attack thee on the morrow. It is given to thee alone if thou hast the power, being killed night after night, and to avenge it the next day."

"Truly I will carry out what you all as a body agree upon by way of counsel, strange as it may seem to you," said the bachlach. He then pledged the other to keep his troth in this contention as to fulfilling his tryst on the morrow.

With that Munremur took the axe from the bachlach's hand. Seven feet apart were its two angles. Then the bachlach put his neck across the block. Munremur dealt a blow across it with the axe until it stood in the block beneath, cutting off the head so that it lay by the base of the fork-beam, the house being filled with the blood.

Straightway the bachlach rose, recovered himself, clasped his head, block, and axe to his breast, and made his exit form the hall with blood streaming from his neck. It filled the Red Branch on every side. Great was the people's horror, wondering at the marvel that had appeared to them. "By my people's gods," said Dubtach Chafertounge, "if the bachlach, having been killed tonight, come back tomorrow, he will not leave a man alive in Ulster."

The following night he returned, and Munremur shirked him. Then the bachlach began to urge his pact with Munremur. "Truly it is not right for Munremur not to fulfill his covenant with me."

That night however, Loegaire the Triumphant was present. "Who of the warriors that contest Ulster's Champion's Portion will carry a covenant with me tonight? Where is Loegaire the Triumphant?" said he.

"Here said Loegaire. He pledged him, too, yet Loegaire did not keep his agreement. The bachlach returned on the morrow and similarly pledged Conall Cernach, who came not as he had sworn.

The fourth night the bachlach returned, and fierce and furious was he. All the ladies of Ulster came that night to see the strange marvel that had come to the Red Branch. That night Cu Chulainn was there also. Then the bachlach began to upbraid them. "Ye men of Ulster, your valor and prowess are gone. Your warriors greatly covet the Champion's Portion, yet are unable to contest it. Where is that mad fellow called Cu Chulainn? I would like to know whether his word is better than the others."

"No covenant do I desire with you," said Cu Chulainn.

"Likely is that, thou wretched fly; greatly dost thou fear to die." Whereupon Cu Chulainn sprang towards him and dealt him a blow with the axe, hurling his head to the top rafter of the Red Branch until the whole hall shook. Cu Chulcainn then again caught up the head and gave it blow with the axe and smashed it. Thereafter the bachlach rose up.

On the morrow the Ulstermen were watching Cu Cuchainn to see whether he would shirk the bachlach as the other heroes had done. As Cu Chulainn was awaiting the bachlach they saw that great dejection seized him. It would have been fitting had they sung his dirge. They felt sure that his life would last only until the bachlach came. Then said Cu Chulainn with shame to Conchobar, "Thou shalt not go until my pledge to the bachlach is fulfilled; for death awaits me, and I would rather have death with honor."

They were there as the day was closing and they saw the bachlach approaching. "Where is Cu Chulainn?" said he.

"Here I am," he replied

"Thou art dull of speech tonight, unhappy one; greatly you fear to die. Yet, though great your fear, death you have not shirked."

Thereafter Cu Chulainn stretched his neck across the block, which was such that his neck reached but half way. "Stretch out thy neck, thou wretch," cried the bachlach.

Thou art keeping me in torment," said Cu Chulainn; "dispatch me quickly. Last night, by my troth, I tormented thee not. Verily I swear that if thou torment me I will make myself as long as a crane above you."

"I cannot slay thee," said the bachlach, "what with the shortness of your neck and your side and the size of the block."

Then Cu Chulainn stretched out his neck so that a warrior's foot would have fitted between any two of his ribs; his neck he stretched until his head reached the other side of the block. The bachlach raised his axe until it reached the roof-tree of the house. The creaking of the old hide that was about him and the crashing of the axe__both his arms being raised aloft with all his might__were as loud as the loud noise of a wood tempest-tossed in a night of storm. Down it came then on his neck__its blunt side below, all the nobles of Ulster gazing upon them.

"O Cu Chulainn, arise! Of the warriors of Ulster and Erin, no matter their mettle, none is found to compare with thee in valor, bravery, and truthfulness. The sovreignty of the heroes of Ulster to thee from this hour forth and the Champion's portions undisputed, and to thy wife the precedence always of the ladies of Ulster in the Mead-Hall. And whosoever shall lay wager against thee from now, as my tribe swears I swear, all his life he will be in danger." Then the bachlach vanished. It was Cu Roi mac Dairi who in that guise had come to fulfill the promise he had given to Cu Chulainn.

Ancient Irish Tales, ed. Cross, T. P., Slover, C. H., Barnes and Noble: New York 1996 (1936), P. 277-280.

Caradoc in the beheading game

When the service was complete, they returned to the hall, and the servants prepared the cloths and spread the tables with bread,wine and precious knives, and gold and silver cups and chalices. I couldn't describe all the wealth of plate even if someone threatened to cut off my nose! The tables were elegantly spread indeed. The brave knights passed the time agreeably with the King, and every one of them honoured him. Sir Kay, wearing no mantle, came out of a room and crossed the hall towards the King, holding a small baton in his hand. 'My lord,' he said, 'when it pleases you, it will be time for you to take the water.' (7128)

'Kay,' replied the King, 'don't be in such a hurry! By all God's saints, you know very well that as long as I been holding royal court I have never eaten, and the water will never be distributed before some cause for wonder has been seen. I do not want to begin now!' (7136)

Even as they spoke, a knight on a grey horse came through the door. His horse was carrying him quickly and he rode along singing a little song. He was wearing a hat because of the great heat (this incident took place "in May, in the summer season") and an ermine robe, and over it he had girded on a sword with a fine silk strap, which soon would have cut off his head! He rode right up to the King and said. 'May God protect you, Your Majesty, the best and greatest king on earth! I have come to ask you for a gift, it it pleases you to give it to me.' (7153)

'Welcome my friend,' said the King, 'I greet you in return. When I have heard what gift you want to ask of me, you may be sure it won't be refused.' (7158)

'I do not want to deceive you, Your Majesty. The gift that I ask for is to receive a blow on the neck in exchange for another.' (7161)

'What? You'll have to explain that to me.' (7162)

I will tell you, Your Majesty: here in your presence, I will give this sword to a knight. If he can cut off my head with a single stroke, let him strike away. If I can recover from the blow, let him accept one from me in turn, a year from now, here in your presence.' (7170)

'By Saint John,' said Kay, 'I wouldn't so that for all the wealth in Normandy! Sir Knight, a man would be a fool to strike you on those terms!' (7174)

The knight dismounted. 'Your Majesty,' he said, 'I seek the gift from you. If you refuse it to me, it will be reported throughout the world. I will surely know how to reveal that at your court I failed to find a little gift I was seeking __ and I have come a long way to obtain it from you.' (7182)

He drew his sword from the scabbard. The King looked pensive, and everyone, great and small, was amazed. They wondered in their hearts what honour they could win by striking him. Caradoc, who had just become a knight, could bear it no more; he threw off his mantle at once, rushed towards the knight, and took the steel blade in his hand. The other man asked him one of his questions: 'Have you been chosen as the best knight?' (7194)

'Certainly not, just the biggest fool!' (7195)

The knight placed his head on a table and stretched out his neck. You may be sure that the King and all the nobles of the court were very disturbed. Sir Yvain almost ran up to grab the sword from his hands: but nothing came from that, he won't take it from him! Caradoc raised the sword and delivered such a blow that the sword plunged into the table. The knight's head flew off, no small distance, but the body followed it so closely that before anyone was aware of it, the body had retieved its head and placed it back in its proper place. The knight leaped up in their midst in front of the King, perfectly safe and sound. 'Your Majesty,' he said, 'do not be false now! Since I have received such a neck blow, another must be received in turn from me, at your court a year from today.' (7217)

The King did not delay, he ordered all his lords to be present again at his court the next year, in that same place and on exactly the same day. 'Caradoc,' said the knight, ' you have given a hard blow to my neck in the presence of the King: one year from today, you will receive mine in return.' (7227)

Then the knight set out on his way and departed from the court, and the King remained in sad and troubled thought. No one could describe the sorrow of the ladies and the knights: they hardly laughed at all during the meal and all the court was dumbfounded. Caradoc was not upset, but said: 'Give up your sorrow, uncle; now it depends entirely on God.' (7238)

Many eyes shed tears for Caradoc. The court was announced for Cardueil the next year, at Pentecost. Caradoc, the King of Vannes and his wife Lady Ysave (the parents of Caradoc) heard this painful news, and felt such great sorrow for their beloved child that no one could recount or describe the despair and torment they suffered all that year. Caradoc stayed at the court of his uncle the King, caring little for his life, but going out in search of adventures. Never in your life have you heard of any one knight perorming as many acts of prowess as he did during that one year. He was spoken about in many places; everyone who saw him mourned and wept for him. The end of the year did not delay, and they had to reassemble at the court. Everyone who had heard about it came there by land and sea to witness these marvels, but many maidens and ladies, and even King Caradoc and his wife, were so sorrowful they didn't dare come. You may be sure, however, that they were far from idle on that day they performed many acts of charity and good deeds on Caradoc's behalf so that God, who surpasses all good things, would preserve him from all shame that day. (7272)

It was the day of Pentecost, and Caradoc was very troubled and disturbed by the adventure that was threatening his life. The whole court was assembled and the processions were completed, the masses had been sung in the churches and the water was distributed for the meal. the knight arrived on a horse, with his sword at his side; his face was not fresh-coloured, but red with the heat. 'Yor Majesty,' he said, ' May God protect you.' (7284)

'My friend, may God bless you as well.' (7285)

'Caradoc, I can't see you: come forward, and you'll get your reward! Present your head to me at once. Just as I offered you mine before, now it's proper for people to see how I can strike with my sword, and so you will receive your neck-blow! (7292)

Caradoc understood that his task was awaiting him. He removed his mantle, leapt forward, and offered his head to the knight at once, saying, 'Dear lord, now you have me;do the best you can.' (7298)

'Sir knight,' said the King, 'do not be so uncourtly as to refuse to take ransom for him.' (7301)

'Ransom? Name the gift to me.' (7302)

'I will do so gladly. I will give you a large ransom. Without a lie, I will give you all the plate to be found in my court, no matter who brought it, and a knight's full equpment, because he is my nephew and I hold him very dear.' (7310)

'I will certainly not accept that! I will take his head at once, and nothing else will happen.' (7213)

'I will say more to you. I will give you all the treasures whether precious stones, silver or gold, to be found in my land, in Brittany or England or in all my kingdom!' (7319)

'I will certainly not accept that. Rather I will cut off his head. You may think me cruel, but I will take his head at once, he cannot escape me. Nothing else will happen!' (7235)

'And yet i will add something more still . . .' (7326)

The knight raised his hand and prepared to strike. The King saw this and fainted with sorrow. Caradoc shouted angrily. 'Why do you not strike, dear lord? You are making me die twice, by taking so long to strike. Now I believe that you are a great coward!' (7333)

For her part the Queen came out of her room with a hundred ladies and maidens of great beauty to entreat the knight. 'Sir Knight, she said, 'do not touch him. It would be a sin and a great pity if he were killed. In God's name have mercy on him! If you spare his life for me you will be well rewarded. Take my advice and you will profit from it! Will you do something for me? Grant me this much: release the King's nephew Caradoc from this neck blow. A large ransom will be paid for it! You see here many young ladies with pleasing bodies and many beautiful maidens you can have them all! Let him go, and you'll be acting wisely. (7354)

'My lady,' the knight replied, 'I will not take all the ladies in the world or any other payment but his life! If you do not dare to watch, go back and stay in your room.'(7359)

The Queen covered her head and began her lamentations again. She went back to her room with the ladies of the country. They all felt such extreme sorrow that they almost died. Neither the KIg nor any of his knights knew what to do, but displayed such grief that no mortal man could describe it. (9371)

Caradoc approached a table and laid his head on top of it; the knight raised his sword, and struck him with the flat of it without doing him the least harm! 'Caradoc,' he said, 'get up now. It would be a great pity and an outrage if I killed you. Come and talk with me alone; I want to have a few words with you.' (7380)

He spoke to him privately: 'Do you know why I didn't kill you? You are my son and I am your father.' (7383)

'I will certainly defend my mother,' said Caradoc. 'She is not and never has been your lover and she never did anything she shouldn't!' (7387)

The knight told him to be quiet. He recounted all the story to him how he lay with Ysave for three nights. It would certainly be too tiresome for me to tell it to you all over again. Caradoc wanted to fight with him, for the words he heard caused him uncommon sorrow. 'Knight,' he said, 'you are boasting about a lie, you never deceived my father, you never lay with my mother, and you never did anything to her so that she bore me or anyone else! If you dare to say it agian, I will make you regret it!' The knight paid no attention to him; he mounted his horse at once, took his leave, and went on his way. (7408)

The story that was "too tiresome" for the narrator to retell was as follows. Caradoc, King of Vannes, came to Arthur's court at Quinilli and asked the king for a wife. The king gave him Ysave of Carahés, his neice. Unfortunately a knight who was also an enchanter, Eliavrés, was at court and developed a passion for Ysave. He contrived it that he slept with her for the first three nights of her marriage, while his enchantments ensured that King Caradoc slept successively with a greyhound, a sow and a mare, believing each to be his wife. From the liaison of Ysave and Eliavrés, Caradoc was conceived.

Caradoc, in Three Arthurian Romances, trans. Arthur, R. G., Dent 1996, pp. 11-15.

Caradoc and Aalardin du Lac's magical pavilion

Finally they (Caradoc, Aalardin du Lac, Guinier, and Cador) arrived at a pavilion pitched by a riverbank. It was magnificent, with so much gold and silver that people wouldn't believe me if I wanted to describe it. All around, the meadow was flourishing and the banks were charming and agreeable. That place delighted Caradoc because it was pleasant, and the great joy of the birds he heard singing in the woods eased his sorrows. (7938)

'Ah, God glorious celestial King,' he said, 'how beautiful the place is, and how beloved of God is the man who is its master!' (7942)

He had just finished saying this when he heard a carol beautifully sung by some maidens who were complaining about their lovers. Then he heard another marvel which made him joyful again and attracted his attention even more: at the entrance to the pavilion there were two magical statues of gold and silver. One closed the door of the pavilion and the other opened it there was no other porter. They also served another function: one statue was adept at playing the harp, and the statue in the other side held a javelin in its hand. It never saw a churl enter without striking him at once with a heavy blow. The other statue, which held the harp, had as its custom that no self-styled virgin could hide it if she had lost her virginity. As soon as she came to the entrance, the harp played out of tune, and one of its strings would break. The pavilion was strewn with fresh herbs and rushes and with flowers of aromatic plants, in order to perfume the air for their lord. It was so beautiful that no mortal man could describe it. (7976)

Caradoc heard the great merriment of all the men and women in the pavilion. Ladies and knights were singing, and lads and many beautiful maidens were amusing themselves in the meadow.. Caradoc asked Aalardin if he knew who owned this beautiful pavilion. (7986)

'My lord,' Aalardin replied, 'I am the nearest neighbour to the lord of the pavilion, for it has no other lord but me! You may therefore know truly that I am taking you to my own dwelling. The people who are singing are all my men and and my vassals. When you enter the pavilion, you will see my great wealth; and you will see my sister __ may God give her joy and honour __ whom I love as much as myself.' (7999)

Out of the pavilion came all the men and women, great and small, to do honour to their lord. The maiden held his stirrup. All the others came to help the wounded knight ( this was Cador whose leg had been broken in his attempt to defend his sister Guinier from Aalardin) to dismount, and carried him very gently into the pavilion. Now he was comforted, for as soon as he heard the melody of the harp __ don't think it's a lie __ his spirits revived as if he had awakened from a dream. They were all astonished at that. He found such joy in the sweet music that he forgot his pain. Then Aalardin summoned his beautiful sister, the Maiden of the Pavilion __ I never heard any other name for her. 'Dear sister,' he said, 'I pray you, care for these knights as if for myself, and please, dear sister, look after this maiden. Devote all your efforts to healing these knights, for the good of your brother, and as for myself __ for I am grieviously wounded __ help me! (Both Aalardin and Caradoc had been wounded when Caradoc rescued Guinier from Aalardin) (8030)

That is what he asked his sister, and she performed her duty well, because she made them healthy again. But I do not wish to lengthen my story or delay by telling you how the lords were healed. The Maiden of the Pavilion honoured and cherished the beautiful Guinier so much that I would have be worn out before I had said enough about it. They passed that week in great joy, and you have often heard less pleasant visits described. Caradoc, Aalardin and Cador pledged their faith that they would be companions all the days of their lives, and that is the end of it. Aalardin made amends to the beautiful Guinier for having done violence to her. (8052)

Caradoc, in Three Arthurian Romances, trans. Arthur, R. G., Dent 1996, pp. 22-24

Caradoc and Aalardin du Lac's magical shield

They rode through the forest until they came upon a wild boar. They spent all day pursuing it, and followed it till nightfall. No matter, they thought they could harass the boar until they manoevred it into a place where they could manage to catch it. But the boar tricked them, and slipped into a thicket; it found a swamp where it could lie down and wallow about. Why should I take the trouble to tell you about the boar when the men taking all that trouble to catch it couldn't succeed? Between the night and the threatening thunder and lightning of a storm that broke at nightfall, they were forced to flee in great haste. There was so much thunder and lightning that it seemed to them that the skies were split, and it was so dark that none of them could see anything, except when a flash of lightning allowed them to see around themselves. They wished they were in the city, protected from such troubles. (12006)

The King (Arthur) and all his lords spurred their horses and went off in great haste. They would rather have been at Caerlion, for they had no better refuge. Caradoc became separated from them and followed a different path, until he noticed a knight riding along alone on his horse. The knight was tall and handsome: strange to say, he was surounded by a flock of birds singing different melodies. Caradoc saw all the birds, singing very sweetly, pressing around him. They made such a joyful noise that Caradoc never heard such bird songs in all his life. The man was surrounded with a bright light, like a brilliant ray of the sun. No rain was falling on him, and for him the weather was always fine. The whole road he travelled was illuminated. Caradoc was completely astonished: he marvelled at the tall knight, so elegant and so handsome, at the brightness and at the birds he saw surrounding the man. He began to hurry his horse, for he wanted to accompany the knight if he could. But no matter how much he spurred his horse, he could not get near him, and it was almost midnight. (12041)

Don't think that it didn't bother Caradoc that he couldn't catch up with this man he was pursuing so eagerly. And when he couldn't keep up with him, it bothered him that it was raining on him __ and even more that it was not raining on the other man! They went along like that until they arrived at a great house. The door was open and there was a beautiful fire: it was a fine place! The knight went in and Caradoc followed. The hall was beautiful and there were many people there. When they saw their lord, the servants rushed to hold his stirrup. He dismounted and they welcomed him, and were surprised that Caradoc did not dismount. The knight took the reins of his horse: 'My friend,' he said, 'get down.' (12063)

'Here me, Sir Knight! I do not want to dismount here until you have told me who you are and what your name is.' (12068)

'My friend, my name is Aalardin. My father's name is Guinacalc and I am Aalardin du Lac. this house belongs to me, and now it would be right and proper for you to tell me your name.' (12073)

It will not be concealed from you. I am Caradoc Briebras, whose arm was gripped by a snake for more than two full years, and I am King Arthur's nephew.' (12078)

Aalardin heard and took him in his arms without letting him touch the stirrups. There were plenty of men to take his horse, care for it and give it plenty of oats. The two companions loved each other and rejoiced with each other. They were so delighted to see each other, you may be sure, that they kissed an hugged each other over and over before either one could speak. Aalardin, still kissing and hugging Caradoc, spoke first. 'My companion, you have gone a long time without coming to see me. God knew what I wanted, and how to fulfil my desire! It's clear that He had pity upon me, for if he had not wished it to rain today and if He had not caused you to leave the road to the city, I would have never been able to have you here. But, God be praised, I have you now! You may be sure that place is not close to Caerlion: no man on God's earth could get there in two days. So please stay with me a good long while, for I love you truly, God help me! This place is most delightful, as you will see tomorrow.' (12115)

They took Caradoc's cape and wrapped him in a mantle, and Aalardin led him off by the hand. The fire was big and the dinner and the room were beautiful and ample. All the knights and beautiful ladies rejoiced with Caradoc. Then Aalardin's wife, the beautiful Guigenor (a neice of King Arthur's), came in more beautiful than any other lady. She had come out of her room, most attractively clothed and welcomed Caradoc joyfully. If I had all dyI could not repeat to you all the words they spoke, and they could not be written down. I tell you that their joy was perfect, although they were not speaking about joyous things. I won't describe it all, but I know that nothing they had done since they had last met went unreported. The dinner was ready and the ladies and knights washed and took their places to eat and drink. The servants waited on them as they should, and the guests had plenty to eat. When they had finished eating and drinking, it was almost time to go to bed. They asked for wine, received it, and then they went to lie down, and slept until daybreak. Caradoc remained there an entire week. King Arthur was very sad, because he though he had lost him. (12155)

Aalardin had a shield with a boss made of pure gold. No other treasure had such powers, for I can tell you that one could model that gold as if it were wax. Don't think it'aa fantasy, but if a man lost an ear or nose, the gold had the property of adjusting itself perfectly to it so that nothing was lacking, as if Nature herself had fashioned it to the best of her ability. Aalardin called Caradoc aside and said to him. 'Companion, I love you, and if it were necessary, I would endure sufferings and pains for you. They say that your beautiful wife Guinier is missing the tip of one breast, for her brother cut it off when he took vengeance on the serpent for you. Do not be upset, but take the tip of the boss and apply it to her breast. You don't have to do anything more: you will see that the gold will take hold of it and stick there precisely as if Nature had put all her efforts into it. (12186)

he had his shield brought to him. It was made of pure gold with an azure band across it, and the cord was made of crimson silk. 'Caradoc,' said Aalardin, 'my dear friend, no craftsman in the country could fashion such a boss, no matter how much he tried. Just as gold is worth more than silver, the gold of this shield-bosse is more valuable than any other, I am sure. It has a marvellous property: if a knight who has had half of his nose cut off should put the same amount of this gold on it, the gold would fasten there at once and never come loose: no one could ever take it away. You may have it, my lord, if you wish.' (12205)

'I will take it, dear sweet lord, with much gratitude.' (12207)

'Caradoc,' said Aalardin, 'you have spoken well. I am sure that she has a use for it!' He had the boss of the shield removed and gave it generously to the King. Caradoc took it and went away, and travelled until he reached the court.

Caradoc, in Three Arthurian Romances, trans. Arthur, R. G., Dent 1996, pp. 76-79.

Marhaus defeats Gawain, despite his magically increased strength.

...and either (Gawaine and Marhaus) came unto other eagerly, and smote together with their swords that their shields flew in cantels, and they bruised their helms and their hauberks, and wounded either other. But Sir Gawaine from it passed nine of the clock waxed ever stronger and stronger, for then it came to the hour of noon, and thrice his might was increased. All this espied Sir Marhaus and had great wonder how his might increased, and so they wounded other passing sore. And then when it was past noon, and when it drew toward evensong, Sir Gawaine's strength feebled, and waxed passing faint that unnethes he might dure any longer, and Sir Marhaus was then bigger and bigger. Sir knight, said Sir Marhaus, I have well felt that ye are a passing good knight and a marvellous man of might as ever I felt any, while it lasteth, and our quarrels are not great, and therefore it were a pity to do you hurt, for I feel you are passing feeble.

Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte D'Arthur, Book IV, Chap. XVIII, Dent, 1953 (1906), P.114.

Gawain's increasing strength in his fight with Lancelot.

THEN Sir Gawaine and Sir Launcelot departed a great way in sunder, and then they came together with all their horses' might as they might run, and either smote other in middes of their shields; but the knights were so strong, and their spears so big, that their horses might not endure their buffets, and so their horses fell to earth; and then they avoided their horses, and dressed their shields before them. Then they stood together and gave many sad strokes on divers places of their bodies, that the blood brast out on many sides and places. Then had Sir Gawaine such a grace and gift that an holy man had given to him, that every day in the year, from underne till high noon, his might increased those three hours as much as thrice his strength, and that caused Sir Gawaine to win great honour. And for his sake King Arthur made an ordinance, that all manner of battles for any quarrels that should be done afore King Arthur should begin at underne; and all was done for Sir Gawaine's love, that by likelihood, if Sir Gawaine were on the one part, he should have the better in battle while his strength endureth three hours; but there but few knights that time living that knew this advantage that Sir Gawaine had, but King Arthur all only. Thus Sir Launcelot fought with Sir Gawaine, and when Sir Launcelot felt his might evermore increase, Sir Launcelot wondered and dread him sore to be shamed. For as the French book saith, Sir Launcelot weened, when he felt Sir Gawiane double his strength, that he had been a fiend and none earthly man; wherefore Sir Launcelot traced and traversed, and covered himself with his shield, and kept his might and his braide (movement) during three hours; and that while Sir Gawaine gave him many sad brunts, and many sad strokes, that all the knights that beheld Sir Launcelot marvelled how that he might endure him; but full little understood they that travail that Sir Launcelot had for to endure him. And then when it was past noon Sir Gawaine had no more but his own might. When Sir Launcelot felt him to come down, then he stretched him up and stood near Sir Gawaine, and said thus: My lord Sir Gawaine, now I feel ye have done; now my lord Sir Gawaine, I must do my part, for many great and grievous strokes I have endured you this day with great pain. Then Sir Launcelot doubled his strokes and gave Sir Gawaine such a buffet on the helmet that he fell down on his side, and Sir Launcelot withdrew him from him. Why withdrawest thou thee? said Sir Gawaine; now turn again false traitor knight, and slay me, for an thou leave me thus, when I am whole I shall do battle with thee again. I shall endure you, Sir, by God's grace, but wit thou well Sir Gawaine, I will never smite a felled knight. And so Sir Launcelot went into the city; and Sir Gawaine was borne into King Arthur's pavilion, and leeches were brought to him and searched and salved with sweet ointments.

Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte D'Arthur, Book XX, Chap. 21, Dent 1953 (1906) P.375-76.

The increasing strength of Sir Ironside.

And also there was fast by a sycamore tree, and there hung an horn, the greatest that ever they saw, of an elephants bone; and this Knight of the Red Laundes had hanged it up there, that if there came any errant-knight, he must blow that horn, and then will he make him ready and come to him to do battle. But, sir, I pray you, said the damosel Linet, blow ye not the horn till it be high noon, for now it is about prime, and now increaseth his might, that as men say he hath seven men's strength.

Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte D'Arthur, Book VII, Chap.XV, Dent, 1953 (1906), P. 203.

And sir, now I (Sir Ironside) will tell that every day my strength increaseth till noon, and all this time have I seven men's strength.

Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte D'Arthur, Book VII, Chap. XVII, Dent, 1953 (1906) P. 207.

Sir Gawayne and the Green Knight

At Camelot, in all mirth and jollity, King Arthur kept Christmas with his knights of the Round Table. When they sat down to dinner on New Year's Day, the king looking around upon that goodly brotherhood, was moved to wish aloud that soon they might hear of some marvellous adventure to spice their feast. Scarcely had he spoken, when, as the first course was served, there rode into the hall a knight unknown to the eyes turned upon him in astonishment.

He was the tallest man anyone there had ever beheld, and the strangest in guise and looks. His face was as fierce as his limbs were stalwart; his red eyes glowed out of a shock of bristly hair; and over his broad chest hung a beard big as a bush. From head to foot he was dressed in green, coat, hood and hose, only his spurs being of bright gold. His horse, too, was green as grass, its mane knotted with gold threads, its tail tied with a jewelled green band, its green trappings hung with golden bells. He wore no armour, and bore neither spear nor shield, but in one hand a green holly bough, in the other a huge axe, sharp as a razor, its handle and its head richly chased in gold and green. Never before had been seen at Arthur's court such a man, nor such a steed. All sat dumbfounded, as he gazed around as if asking who might be chief of the company. Then Arthur was first to address him courteously.

"Light down from horse sir, and sit with us at our feast, if so please thee."

I came not to feast, nor to tarry," answered he, "but to prove the courage of this famous fellowship."

"If it battle ye seek, then there is many a one here will take your challenge," quoth the king, at which the stranger laughed loud and long.

"Had I come here to fight, I should not have left my arms at home! Here I see but beardless children to match the like of me. I come to try them with a Christmas sport. Is any of ye bold enough to fetch one blow at me with this axe, on condition that next New Year's Day he shall stand a stroke from my hand?"

All the knights were silent, as the green giant rolled his eyes and bent his brows first on one, then on another; but no one cared to offer himself for such an exchange of blows.

"And this is the Round Table and Arthur's court, of which mighty boasts are made!" he sneered, so that the king was stung by shame and wrath to take the defiance on himself, for the honour of his knighthood.

"Give me the axe and have at thy head!" he cried, "Thou shalt see if we fear thy broad steel any more than thy big words."

The Green Knight sprang from his horse, and put the axe into Arthur's hands; but now the others held him back, saying that this was no adventure for their king.

"Grant me the chance!" begged his nephew, Sir Gawayne, youngest of all his knights; and the rest backed him up, holding that game more seemly for a young man to play.

"So be it!" said Arthur, unwillingly yielding him the axe. "But see thou puttest such heart and hand into thy stroke that he shall never pay thee back."

The Green Knight smiled grimly, asking the name of him with whom he should swap blows. And when he heard it was Gawayne, he said:

"It likes me well to take a blow at Sir Gawayne's hand. But first he must swear to seek me out within a twelvemonth and a day hence, that I keep next New Year by giving back what I got from him."

"I swear; but where shall I seek thee?"

"When thou hast struck thy blow, I will tell where to find me. If I speak not, so much the better for thee. Now do thy best!"

With this the giant made ready to stand a stroke. Turning his back on Gawayne, he drew down his collar and pushed aside his long hair, so as to unbare his neck to the axe, then stroking his bushy beard, with unmoved countenance he awaited what should come.

The young knight grasped that heavy axe, heaved it on high, measured his blow with steady eye, and delivered ot with all the strength of his arm. Down it came on the brawny neck, shearing through skin and bone, so that the hairy head fell on the floor, and the green garments were dabbled with blood. The giant had stood firm without flinching or saying a word; now, before anyone could stir, he picked up his own head, sprang on his horse, and rode from the hall. The king called out, the queen screamed, the kngithts stared. Then, as the green one passed out of sight, the head in his hand moved its eyes upon Gawayne, and opened its mouth to say:

"I have thy word. At the Green Chapel, next New Year's Day, we meet agian, that I may do unto thee as thou hast done to me. Look that thou fail not, or be for ever stained as a recreant knight!"

"Here is and adventure indeed, such as well beseems Christmastide!" spoke Arthur, turning to cheer his dismayed queen.

The rest of the company knew not whether to laugh or to shudder over the prodigy they had beheld. It made talk for their banquet, and through all the revels of the season. Many pitied Gawayne, who next New Year must keep a promise to one who could live with his head stricken off. Then, by and by, the wonder, out of sight, began to go out of mind.

But Gawayne did not forget, who had to fear that but one more year was his to live. For him the months passed by too quickly. After Christmas came Lent, bringing showers to brighten the grass and swell the buds, among which birds sang for joy of the summer at hand. Next the warm sun kissed out flowers shining with dewdrops; then leafy trees and yellow harvests mantled the earth's dusty nakedness. But with Michaelmas the leaves began to fall, and the ripe fruit to grow rotten, and the green grass to go grey; and soon winter was back again, when Gawayne should hold himself ready for that dread tryst. The king was first to remind him that he must not fail to keep his day; and at All Hallows he made a feast for his nephew, whose friends and kinsmen took farewell of him as one they might never see again.

Since he knew not where the Green Chapel might be, it behoved him to start betimes to search of it. On his good horse Gringalet, in full armour, and wearing his richest attire, he rode out alone form Camelot. Much warm water, says the minstrel,poured out of fair eyes for so gallant a youth going forth a victim to that man of such unearthly strength.

Far and wide rode Gawayne, through England and Wales, asking here and there after the Green Knight and his Green Chapel, but no man could tell him where they might be found. Many a hill he climbed, many a ford he crossed, many a miry marsh; and at bridge or pass he must often do battle with some kinght who held it against all comers. Often too, he was in peril from wild bulls and boars, and wolves and serpents, and savage men; but through all he won his way unhurt. Worst was the sharp winter cold, when he must sleep in his armour on naked rocks, pelted by sleet and rain. Had he not been hardy and hearty as few, he would never have come so far safe and sound. But when he had thus travelled for weeks, still he could hear no word of the Green Chapel; and the dark year was drawing to an end.

On Christmas Eve, he found homself lost in a great wood of hoary and mossy trees, where no paths could be seen and no voices heard but the birds piping for cold upon the leafless branches. Of the Virgin Mary he prayed this boon, that before nightfall he might be guided to some dwelling of men, among whom to hear mass and keep the holy season as beseemed. And lo! as he raised his eyes, through an opening of the wood, he was aware of a noble castle set on a hill, so that it stood out brightly against the glow of the setting sun.

Spurring his weary horse, he reached the gate before it was dark. the drawbridge being let down, Gawayne bid the porter tell his lord that a wayfarer besought lodging for one night. There was no want of hearty welcome. The lord of the castle, a tall and sturdy knight, came out to greet the guest, and with him his fair lady. Squires took Gawyne's horse to stable, while his host led him to a tapestried chamber and sent a page to undo his armour. When he had washed and attired himself in his best, he went down into the hall, where a goodly Christmas company was gathered. Great honour and kindness they showed the stranger, the more when he named himself as of Arthur's Round Table, which over all the land was famed for courteous manners and noble knighthood. He was set down beside the lovesome young mistress, all smiles for such a guest; and to the other end of the board the lord led an aged, wrinkled crone, whom Gawayne marvelled to see made much of above many a beautiful and richly clad dame. That night he feasted choicely and slept softly, as he had not fared since he left Camelot on his dolourous quest.

In the morning the lord and lady would by no means let him leave them, to keep Christmas among the bears and wolves. For three days Gawayne stayed in their hospitable castle, feasting with all mirth and good cheer, before he began to ask his road to the Green Chapel, declaring that he was bound to be there on New Year's Day, but on what errand he kept to himself. If that were so, his host told him, he might stay there three days longer, for the Green Chapel was close at hand, to which he himself would put him in the way. The knight was well pleased to know his journey so near an end, and gladly agreed to repose here for the rest of the week. Then this jovial host, taking him to be wearied by long travel, bid him lie at home all day, while he went out to hunt; and he proposed a strange bargain between them.

"Whatever you get each day shall be mine in exchange for what I win in the woods."

"So be it!" agreed Gawayne, falling in with his humour; and they pledged themselves to that compact in a friendly cup.

Next morning, then, the lord of the castle went out before daybreak, with hounds and huntsmen, while Gawayne took his ease in his chamber. Here he was visited by the hostess, before whom he in vain feigned to be asleep, when, making eyes at him and rallying him for his sluggishness, she did not hide that her heart was given to this handsome young man.

"I am unworthy of such favour," pleaded the good knight; and when she mocked at his modesty, he let her know plainly how he might offer her no service but what a knight owed to all ladies; he durst not be untrue to his honour by deceiving a trustful host; and the errand he came on was one that quenched all thoughts of love. But the sportive dame, laughing at his scruples, did not go without giving him a kiss; then he could rise and banish temptation by hearing mass in the castle chapel. The rest of the day he spent with the ladies, well pleased to have the company of that aged crone, before whom the young mistress must sure bear herself discreetly.

Back came the lord at evening with his quarry of venison, which he bestowed on Gawayne, according to their agreement; and in return the guest embraced him with a kiss as all he had got at home.

"Ha! and who gave it thee?" demanded his host; but Gawayne laughed off that question as not in their bond. Then they sat down to supper the best of friends.

When the cock crowed thrice next morning, the hunter again set out for the woods. Again, in his absence, Gawayne was visited by the wileful dame, who could not shake his fidelity to virtue; but this time gave him two kisses before she ceased to play the temptress. Her husband at night brought home a boar as game due to his guest, who this time had two kisses to give him in return, but did not confess where he had gotten them. Now he would have taken leave the next morning, but the hearty host would not hear of him going, and promised that on New Year's Day he should be at the Green Chapel betimes.

The third day dawned cold and clear, and the lord had gone off to hunt when his wife once more came wooing her guest to sinful dalliance, having awakened him from a dream of his sore ordeal at the Green Chapel. Again he minded her of her duty and his own, but for all his resolution not to be a traitor to hospitality she gave him three kisses, and would have him take from her a gold ring as a parting gift. the knight, blushing for kisses given him behind a husband's back, refused on the score that he had nothing to give her in return; but next she offered him the girdle she wore, braided with green and fringed with gold.

"Thou dost wrong to scorn it for a poor gift," said she when he would have still denied her. "Know that this girdle, simple as it seems, hath power to make any weapon harmless against whoever wears it."

Since her gift was so well worth having, Gawayne let himself be overcome by love of life. He took the girdle, promising to keep it a secret between them two. Yet his conscience pricked him; so, after hearing mass, he got himself shrived by the priest that he might be clear from sin when on the morrow he had to deal with that fearsome Green Knight. Still was he ill at ease to find the dim eyes of the aged lady bent on him with a cunning smile, as if she well knew what he had to hide. A he looked hard at her, it seemed to him that this crone took airs of youth and beauty, till he asked himself if it were not she who had tempted him in a dream.

This last evening the hunter brought home no more than the skin of a "foul fox", which he called a poor reward for the three kisses Gawayne had been lucky enough to get, and duly bestowed, but said not a word of the girdle he had hidden about him. As before they sat down to meat, spending the hours in cards and jollity as merry as if the guest were not bound next day to depart, but on what errand he would not tell.

Through the night Gawayne slept ill, and heard every cock crow that brought in a cold and stormy New Year's Day. He rose and arrayed himself, taking good care to belt twice round him that green girdle said to have such magic power. His heart somewhat misgave him, yet he bore himself gallantly as he said farewell to his hosts, thanking them for their good entertainment. Then he mounted his horse Gringalet, and rode away through the snow and wind, a servant being sent with him as guide to the Green Chapel. They went in the twilight by rugged cliffs and dark moors, where every hill bore a cap and cloak of cloud. As the sun rose, the guide stopped short at the head of a dale winding up into the snow-dappled heights.

"Hence ye must fare alone," said he. "This is the road that will bring thee too soon to the Green Chapel. But, good sir, take thought, for one dwells there that lets none pass without deadly scaith. The best knight in Arthur's court could not be safe from him. Let him be, and go some other way: for my part I swear to tell no man how ye shunned so perilous an encounter."

"It were a coward's part for me to turn back, having come so far to find this Green Chapel," answered Gawayne.

"Well, if ye list to be done with life, ride down the path to the bottom of the dale, and there on the left look for the place and the man ye seek. For all the gold on earth I would not go nearer."

With this he turned back; but the knight fared on, commending himself to heaven. The dale was shut in by steep banks, where, look as he might, he saw nothing like a chapel, till in a crag on the left opened the mouth of a dark cave, all overgrown by weeds and grass, so that he had almost passed it by. Tying his horse to a tree, he climbed up the rocks to peer into the cave.

"If this be the Green Knight's oratory, it is the most unblessed church I ever saw," quoth he; and his voice was echoed back by a fearsome din, like a clattering of rocks, and a grinding of scythes, and the whirr of a mill wheel all at once.

"Who dwells here?" cried Gawayne, bearing himself stoutly, spear in hand. "And what would he with me?"

"Stand still," replied a voice above his head, "and have now what ye come for!"

From among the rocks strode forth a huge figure bearing amighty axe. It was the Green Knight, his hairy head sound as ever on his body, who met Gawayne with this greeting:

"Welcome to my abode! Rightly have ye timed your travel and honestly kept tryst. Now to make good our bargain! Down with spear and doff helmet, to stand the blow I have owed ye since last New Year's Day!"

"I am ready," said Gawayne, unlacing his helmet and leaning forward so as to offer his bare neck to the steel without any sign of fear.

But as the Green Knight swung the axe aloft to bring it down, the other could not help shrinking his shoulders a little when he thought the stroke about to fall.

"Ha! is this the brave Sir Gawayne that flinches before he is hurt?" bawled the big man. "I bore thy blow better when my head rolled on the ground."

"If my head comes off I cannot put it back," said Gawayne. "But I give my word not to flinch again."

A second time the axe was brandished over his head; and now he stood like a stone, waiting for the blow that did not come.

"Hit on and have done!" exclaimed he, as the axe whizzed harmlessly through the air.

"So bold!" jeered his foeman. "Then I must make an end."

With both hands he heaved the axe, frowning so fiercely and planting his feet so firmly that Gawayne gave up his head for lost. Down swung the blow, and this time the knight did not move a jot as the sharp edge struck his neck, cutting through the skin; yet but for the smart and a few drops of blood sprinkled on the snow beneath him, he stood none the worse.

Half-stunned with amazement, as soon as he felt the head fast on his shoulders, he drew his sword to face the Green Knight, crying:

"One stroke have I taken, and that was all all our covenant. Hast thou more to give, I can pay thee fairly back!"

The giant-like fellow leant on his axe, turning to Gawayne a friendlier face, which he soon remembered as that of his late host, the lord of the castle, strangely disguised by those green trappings and by the bushy beard.

"Brave knight, ye need not be wroth," said he. "I could have dealt with thee better or worse, an I would. The three blows I fetched at thee were for my wife's kisses given behind my back__ nay, take no shame! I set her to try thee, and found thee true in faith and honour, as beseemed a knight. Yet the love of life tempted thee to hide from me the gift of her girdle. For that fault I let thee feel how much sorer I might have struck. Was it well thus to come short of the truth?"

Gawayne stood confounded by his own weakness and by the generosity of him with whom he had to do.

"Cursed be the cowardice that made me false to my word!" he exclaimed, unclasping the green girdle to give it back to his host, who laughingly refused it.

"Thou hast confessed so clear, and done such penance under my axe, that I hold thee for absolved. Keep the green girdle as a token of thy adventure at the Green Chapel with the Green Knight, to whom thou hast worthily paid thy debt; and each owes either naught on this New Year's Day."

"Ah," said Gawayne, "had I done worse, I should but have been like our forefather Adam, and Samson and Solomon, and many another man that let himself be beguiled by women! But heaven reward thee for the girdle, which I shall wear to mind me how I failed through cowardice, and a look at it shall avail to abate any pride if ever I forget. And now, sir, tell me thy name ere we part."

The Green Knight told him that he was called Sir Bernlake, and how in his house lived the mighty Morgan-le-fay, no other than the ill-favoured crone Gawayne had wondered to see held in such honour. She it was that had endowed him with those magic charms and set him on to trouble Arthur's court out of hatred to Queen Guinevere. After what was past and gone, he bid Gawayne return with him to the castle, and be made better known to the fairy, who, as Arthur's sister, was his own aunt.

But Gawayne had no mind for dealings with his uncanny kinswoman. Taking leave of Sir Bernlake, like old friends, he rode homewards through thick and thin, and never stopped till he came to Camelot, to be welcomed with joy as one from the dead.

The cut on his neck had quickly healed, but there was the scar to witness the tale he had to tell; and he showed the green girdle, which he wore in penance for his faintheartedness. That one fault he confessed with shame; but Arthur comforted him, saying the bravest man alive might well shrink from lonely death. And all the brotherhood of the Round Table agreed for Gawayne's sake to wear such a green belt as he brought back in token of his adventure with the Green Knight.

A retelling taken from ROMANCE & LEGEND OF CHIVALRY by A. R. Hope Moncrieff, published by the Gresham Publishing Company: London, no date.

The annual solar cycle in Perlesvaus

Lancelot at the burning city.



The story saith that Lancelot went his way by strange lands and by forests to seek adventure, and rode until he found a plain land lying without a city that seemed to be of right great lordship. As he was riding by the plain land, he looketh toward the forest and seeth the plain fair and wide and the land right level. He rideth all the plain, and looketh toward the city and seeth great plenty of folk issuing forth thereof. And with them was there much noise of bag-pipes and flutes and viols and many instruments of music, and they came along the way wherein was Lancelot riding. When the foremost came up to him, they halted and redoubled their joy. 'Sir,' say they, 'Welcome may you be!' 'Lords,' saith Lancleot, 'Whom come ye to meet with such joy?' 'Sir,' they that come behind there will tell you clearly what whereof we are in need.'


Thereupon behold you the provosts and the lords of the city and they come over against Lancelot. 'Sir,' say they, ' All this joy is made along of you, and all these instruments of music are moved to joy and sound of gladness for your coming.' 'But wherefore for me,' saith Lancelot. 'That shall you know well betimes,' say they. 'This city began to burn and to melt in one of the houses from the very same hour that our king was dead, nor might the fire be quenched, nor never will be quenched until such time as we have a king that shall be lord of the city and of such honour thereunto belonging, and of New Year's Day1 behoveth him to be crowned in the midst of the fire, and then shall the fire be quenched, for otherwise may it never be put out nor extinguished. Wherefore have we come to meet you to give you the royalty, of we have been told that you are a good knight.' 'Lords,' saith Lancelot, 'Of such a kingdom have I no need, and God defend me from it.' 'Sir,' they say, 'You may not be defended thereof, for you have come into this land at hazard, and great grief would it be that so good land as you see this is were burnt and melted away by the default on one single man, and the lordship is right great, and this will be right great worship to yourself, that on New Year's Day2 you should be crowned in the fire and thus save this city and this great people, and thereof shall you have great praise.'

1A more modern translation has 'until we have a king to be lord of our city and its fief for a year's term. At the end of that year he must cast himself into the fire, and thus it will extinguished.' (The High Book of the Grail, trans Bryant, N., D. S. Brewer: Woodbridge, 1978, P. 106.)

2A more modern translation has 'And at the end of a year's term you will be crowned in the fire to save this city and its great people and win high praise indeed.' (The High Book of the Grail, trans Bryant, N., D. S. Brewer: Woodbridge, 1978, P. 107.)


Much marvelleth Lancelot of this that they say. They come round about him on all sides and lead him into the city. The ladies and damsels are mounted to the windows of the great houses and make great joy, and say the one to another, 'Look at the new king here that they are leading in. Now will he quench the fire on New Year's Day.'1 'Lord!' say the most part, 'What a great pity is it of so comely a knight that he shall end in such-wise!' 'Be still!' say the others. 'Rather should there be great joy that so fair a city as this should be saved by his death, for prayer will be made throughout all the kingdom for his soul for ever!' Therewith they lead him to the palace with right great joy and say that they will crown him. Lancelot found the palace all strown with rushes and hung about with curtains of rich cloths of silk, and the lords of the city all apparelled to do him homage. But he refuseth right stoutly, and saith that their king nor their lord will he never be in no such sort. Thereupon behold you a dwarf that entereth into the city, leading one of the fairest dames that be in any kingdom, and asketh whereof this joy and this murmuring may be. They tell him they are fain to make the knight king, but that he is not minded to allow them, and they tell him the whole manner of the fire.

1A more modern translation has 'In a year's time the fire will be quenched!' (The High Book of the Grail, trans. Bryant, N., D. S. Brewer: Wood bridge, 1978, P. 107) .


The dwarf and the damsel are alighted, then they mount up to the palace. The dwarf calleth the provosts of the city and the greater lords. 'Lords saith he, 'Sith that this knight is not willing to be king, I will be so willingly, and I will govern the city at your pleasure and do whatsoever you have devised to do.' 'In faith, sith that the knight refuseth this honour and you desire to have it, willingly will we grant it to you, and he may go his way and his road, for herein do we declare him wholly quit.' 'Therewithal thay set the crown on the dwarf's head, and Lancelot maketh maketh great joy thereof. He taketh his leave, and they commend him to God, and so remounteth he on his horse and goeth his way through the midst of the city all armed. The dames and damsels say that he would not be king for that he had no mind to die so soon. When he came forth of the city right well pleased was he.

The High History of the Holy Grail, trans. Evans, S., James Clarke & Co.: Cambridge, pp. 127-129.

Lancelot at the Waste City



Therupon Lancelot departeth from the hermitage and rideth on until he cometh forth from the forest, and findeth a waste land, a country broad and long wherein wonned neither beast or bird, for the land was so poor and parched that no victual was to be found therein. Lancelot looketh before him and seeth a city appear far away. Thither rideth he full speed and seeth that the city is so great that it seemeth him to encompass a whole country. He seeth the walls that are falling all around, and the gates ruined with age. He entereth within and findeth the city all void of folk, and seeth the great palaces fallen down and waste, and the great grave-yards full of sepulchres, and the tall churches all lying waste, and the markets and exchanges all empty. He rideth amidst the streets and findeth a great palace tha seemeth him to be better and more ancient that all the others. He bideth awhile before it and heareth within how knights and ladies are making great dole. And they say this to a knight: 'Ha, God, sore grief and pity is this of you, that you must needs die in such a manner, and pity that your death may not be respited!' Sore hatred ought we to bear toward him that hath adjudged you such a death.' The knights and ladies swoon over him as he departeth. Lancelot hath heard all this and much marvelleth he thereof, but nought thereof may he see.


Therupon, lo you, the knight that cometh down into the midst of the hall, clad in a short red jerkin; and he was girt with a rich girdle of gold, and had a rich clasp at his neck wherein were many rich stones, and on his head had he a great cap of gold, and he held a great axe. The knight was of great comeliness and young of age. Lancelot seeth him coming, and the knight saith to him, 'Sir, alight!' 'Certes,' saith Lancelot, 'Willingly.' He alighteth and maketh his horse fast to a ring of silver that was on the mounting-stage, and putteth his shield from his neck and his spear from his hand. 'Sir, saith he to the knight,'What is your pleasure?' 'Sir, needs must you cut me off my head with this axe, for of this weapon hath my death been adjudged, but and you will not, I will cut off your own therewith.' 'Hold, Sir,' saith Lancelot, 'What is this you tell me?' 'Sir,' saith the knight,'You must needs do even as I say, sith that you are come into this city.' 'Sir,'saith Lancelot, 'right foolish were he that in such a jeopardy should not do the best for himself, but blamed shall I be thereof and I shall slay you when you have done me no wrong.' 'Certes,' saith the Knight, 'In no other wise may you go hence.' 'Fair sir,' saith Lancelot, 'So gentle are you and so well nurtured, how cometh it that you take your death so graciously? You know well that I shall kill you before you shall kill me, sith that is so it is.' 'This know I well for true,' saith the Knight, 'But you will promise me before I die, that you will return into this city within a year from this, and that you will set your head in the same jeopardy without challenge, as I have set mine.' 'By my head,' saith Lancelot, 'Needeth no argument that I shall respite of death to dying here on the spot. But I marvel that you are so fairly apparelled to receive your death.'


'Sir,' saith the Knight, 'He that would go before the Saviour of the World ought of right to apparell him as fairly as he may. I am by confession purged of all wickedness and of all misdeeds that ever I have committed, and do repent me truly thereof, wherefore at this moment am I fain to die.' Therewithal he holdeth forth the axe, and Lancelot take it and seeth that it is right keen and well whetted. 'Sir,' saith the Knight, 'Hold up your hand toward the minster that you see yonder.' 'Sir,' saith Lancelot, 'Willingly.' Thus, then will you swear to me upon the holy relics that are within this minster, that on this day year at the hour that you shall have slain me, or before, you yourself will come back here and place your head in the very same peril as I shall have placed mine, without default?' 'Thus, saith Lancelot, 'do I swear and give you thereto my pledge.' With that, the Knight kneeleth and stretched his neck as much as he may, and Lancelot taketh the axe in his hands, and then saith to him, 'Sir Knight, for God's sake, have mercy on yourself!' 'Let cut off my head!' saith the Knight, 'For otherwise may I not have mercy upon you!' 'In God's name,' saith Lancelot, 'fain would I deny you.' With that, he swingeth the axe and cutetth of the head with such a sweep that he maketh it fly seven foot high from the body. The Knight fell to the ground when his head was cut off and Lancelot flung down the axe, and thinketh that he will make but an ill stay there for himself. He cometh to his horse, and taketh his arms and mounteth and looketh behind him, but seeth neither the body of the Knight nor the head, neither knoweth he what hath become of them all, save only that he heard much dole and a great cry far off in the city of knights and ladies, saying he shall be avenged, please God, at the term set, or before. Lancelot hath heard and understood all that the knights say and the ladies, and issueth forth of the city.

The High History of the Holy Grail, trans. Evans, S., Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., pp. 104-106.

The High History of the Holy Grail, trans. Evans, S., Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., pp. 176-177.

Lancelot's return to the Waste City is delayed.



So they (Gawain and Lancelot) ride on, until they draw nigh the Waste City where Lancelot slew the knight. 'Ha,' saith he to Messire Gawain, 'Now is the time at hand that behoveth me to die in this Waste City, and God grant not counsel herein.' He told Messire Gawain all the truth of that which had befallen him therein. So, even as he would have taken leave of him, behold you, the Poor Knight of the Waste Castle!


'Sir,' saith he to Lancelot, 'I have taken respite of you in the city within there, of the knight that you slew, until forty days after that the Graal shall be achieved, nor have I issued forth of the castle wherein you harboured you until now, nor should I now have come forth had I not seen you coming for fulfilling of your pledge, nor never shall I come forth again until such time as you shall return hither on the day I have named to you. And so, gramercy to you and Messire Gawain for the horses you sent me, that were a right great help to us, and for the treasure and the hold you have given to my sisters that were sore poverty-stricken. But I may not do otherwise than abide in my present poverty until such time as you shall be rteurned, on the day whereunto I have taken respite for you, sore against the will of your enemies, for the benefits you have done me. Wherefore I pray yon (sic) forget me not, for the saving of your loyalty. 'by my head,' saith Launcelot, 'That I will not, and gramercy for having put off the day for love of me.' They depart from the knight and come back again to Cardoil where King Arthur was.

The High History of the Holy Grail, trans. Evans, S., Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., P. 208.

Lancelot returns to the Waste City.



King Arthur goeth his on his way and Messire Gawian and Lancelot with him, and they pass through many strange countries, and fo enter into a great forest. Lancelot called to remembrance the knight that he had slain in the Waste City whither behoveth him to go, and knew well that the day whereon he should come was drawing nigh. He told King Arthur as much, and then said, that and he should go not, he would belie his covenant. They rode until they came to a cross where the ways forked. 'Sir,' saith Lancelot, 'Behoveth me go to acquit me of my pledge, and I go in great adventure and peril of death, nor know I whether I may live at all thereafter, for I slew the knight, albeit I was right sorry thereof, but or ever I slew him, I had to swear that I would go set my head in the like jeopardy as he had set his. Now the day draweth nigh that I must go thither, for I am unwilling to fail my covenant, whereof I should be blamed, and, so God grant me to escape therefrom, I will follow you speedily.' The King embraceth him and kisseth him at parting and Messire Gawain also, and they pray God preserve his body and his life, and that they may see him again ere it be long. Lancelot would willingly have sent salute to the Queen had he durst, for she lay nearer his heart than aught beside, but he would not that the King nor Messire Gawain should misdeem of the love they might carry to their kinswoman. The love is so rooted in his heart that he may not leave it, into what peril soever he may go; rather, he prayeth God every day as sweetly as he may, that He save the Queen, and that he may deliver his body from this jeopardy. He hath ridden until that he cometh at the hour of noon into the Waste City, and findeth the city empty as it was the first time he was there.


In the city wherein Lancelot had arrived were many waste houses and rich palaces fallen down. He had scarce entered within the city when he heard a great cry and lamentation of dames and damesels, but he knew not on which side it was, and they say: 'Ha, God, how hath the knight betrayed us that slew the knight, inasmuch as he returneth not! This day is the day come that he ought to redeem his pledge! Never again ought any to put trust in knight, for that he cometh not! The others that came hither before him him have failed us, and so will he also for dread of death; for he smote off the head of the comeliest knight that was in this kingdom and the best, wherefore ought he also to have his own smitten off, but good heed taketh he to save it if he may!' Thus spake the damsels. Lancelot much marvelled where they might be, for nought could he espy of them, albeit he cometh before the palace, ther where he slew the knight. He alighteth, then maketh fast his horses reins to a ring that was fixed in the mounting-stage of marble. Scarce hath he done so, when a knight alighteth, tall and comely and strong and deliver, and he was clad in a short close-fitted jerkin of silk, and held the axe in his hand wherewith Lancelot had smitten off the head of the other knight, and he came sharpening it on a whetstone to cut the better. Lancelot asketh him, 'What will you do with this axe? 'By my head,' saith the knight, 'That shall you know in such sort as my brother knew when you cut off his head, so I may speed my business.' 'How?' saith Lancleot, 'Will you slay me then?' 'That shall you know,' saith he, or ever you depart hence. Have you not loyally promised hereof that you would set your head in the same jeopardy as the knight set his, whom you slew without defence? And no otherwise may you depart therefrom. Wherefore now come forward without delay and kneel down and stretch your neck even as my brother did, and so I will smite off your head, and, if you do not this of your own good will, and you shall soon find one that shall make you do it perforce, were you twenty knights as good as you are one. But well I know that you have not come hither for this, but only to fulfil your pledge, and that you will raise no contention herein.' Lancelot thinketh to die, and is minded to abide by that he hath in covenant without fail, wherefore he lieth down on the ground as it were on a cross, and crieth mercy of God. He mindeth him of the Queen, and crieth God of mercy and saith, 'Ha, Lady,' saith he, 'Never shall I see you ever more! but, might I have seen you yet once again before I die, exceeding greater comfort had it been to me, and my soul would have departed form me more at ease. But this, that never shall I see you more, as it now seemeth me, troubleth me more than the death whereby behioveth me to die, for die one must when one hath lived long enough. But faithfully do I promise you that my love shall not fail you yet, and never shall it be but that my soul shall love you in the other world like my body hath loved you in this, if thus the soul may love!' With that tears fell from his eyes, nor, never sithence that he was knight, saith the story, had he wept for nought that had befallen him nor for the heaviness of heart, but this time and one other. He taketh three blades of grass and so eateth in token of the holy communion, then signeth him of the cross and blesseth him, riseth up, setteth himself on his knees and stretcheth forth his neck. The knight lifteth up the axe. Lancelot heareth the blow coming, boweth his head and the axe misseth him. He saith to him, 'Sir knight, so did not my brother that you slew; rather, he held his head and neck quite still, and so it behoveth you to do!' Two damsels appeared at the palace-windows of passing great beauty, and they knew Lancelot well. So, as the knight was aiming a second blow, one of the damsels crieth to him, 'And you would have my love for evermore, throw down the axe and cry the knight quit! Otherwise have you lost me for ever.!' The knight forthwith flingeth down the axe and falleth at Lancelot's feet and crieth mercy of him as of the most loyal knight in the world. 'But you? Have mercy on me, you! and slay me not!' saith Lancelot, 'For it is of you that I ought to pray mercy!' 'Sir saith the knight, 'Of a surety will I not do this! Rather will I help you to my power to save your life against all men, for all you have slain my brother.' The damsels come down from the palace and are come to Lancelot.


'Sir,' say they to Lancelot, 'Greatly ought we to love you, yea, better than all knights in the world beside. For we are the two damsels, sisters, that you saw so poor at the Waste Castle where you lay in our brother's house. You and Messire Gawain and another knight gave us the treasure and the hold of the robber-knights that you slew; for this city which is waste and the Waste Castle of my brother would never again be peopled of folk, nor should we never have had the land again, save a knight had come hither as loyal as are you. Full a score knights have arrived here by chance in the same manner as you came, and not one of them but hath slain a brother or a kinsman and cut off his head as you did the knight, and each one promised to return at the day apppointed; but all failed of their covenant, for not one of them durst come to the day; and so had you failed us in like manner as the others, we should have lost this city without recovery and the castles that are its appanages.'


So the knight and the damsels lead Lancelot into the palace and then make him be disarmed. They hear presently how the greatest joy in the world is being made in many parts of the forest that was nigh the city. 'Sir,' say the damsels, 'Now may you hear the joy that is made of your coming. These are the burgesses and dwellers in the city that already know the tidings.' Lancelot leaneth at the windows of the hall, and seeth the city peopled of the fairest folk in the world, and great thronging in the broad streets and the great palace, and clerks and priests coming in long procession praising God and blessing Him for that they may now return to their church, and giving benison to the knight through whom thay are free to repair thither. Lacelot was much honoured throughout the city. The two damsels are at great pains to wait upon him, and right great worship had he of all of them that were there-within and them that came thither, both clerks and priests.

The High History of the Holy Grail, trans. Evans, S., Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., pp. 244-248.

Lancelot and the perilous bed

Vv. 399-462.__ thereupon they start ahead, one mounted on his horse (Gawain) and the other two (Lancelot and the dwarf) riding in the cart, and thus they proceed in company. Late in the afternoon they arrive at a town, which, you must know, was very rich and beautiful. All three entered through the gate; the people are greatly amazed to see the knight borne upon the cart, and they take no pains to conceal their feelings, but small and great and old and young shout taunts at him in the streets, so that the knight hears many vile and scornful words at his expense. They all enquire "To what punishment is this knight being consigned? Is he to be flayed, or hanged, or drowned, or burned upon a fire of thorns? Tell us, thou dwarf, who art driving him, in what crime was he caught. Is he convicted of robbery? Is he a murderer or a criminal?" And to all this the dwarf made no response, vouchsafing to them no reply. He conducts the knight to a lodging-place; and Gawain follows the dwarf closely to a tower, which stood on the same level over against the town. Beyond there stretched a meadow, and the tower was built close by, upon a lofty eminence of rock, whose face formed a sharp precipice. Following the horse and cart, Gawain entered the tower. In the hall they met a damsel elegantly attired, than whom there was none fairer in the land, and with her they saw coming two fair and charming maidens. As soon as they saw my lord Gawain, they received him joyously and saluted him, and then asked news about the other knight: "Dwarf, of what crime is this knight guilty, whom thou dost drive like a lame man?" He would not answer her question, but he made the knight get out of the cart and then he withdrew, without their knowing whither he went. Then my lord Gawain dismounts and valets come forward to relieve the two knights of their armour. The damsel ordered two green mantles to be brought, which they put on. When the hour for supper came, a sumptuous repast was set. The damsel sat at table beside my lord Gawain. They would not have changed their lodging-place to seek any other, for all that evening the damsel showed them great honour, and provided them with fair and pleasant company.

Vv. 463-538.__ When they had sat up long enough, two long, high beds were prepared in the middle of the hall: and there was another bed alongside, fairer and more splendid than the rest: for, as the story testifies, it possessed all the excellence that one could think of in a bed. When the time came to retire, the damsel took both the guests to whom she had offered her hospitality; she shows them the two fine, long, wide beds, and says: "These two beds are set up here for the accomodation of your bodies; but in that one yonder no one ever lay who did not merit it: it was not set up to be used by you." The knight who came riding on the cart replies at once: "Tell me," he says, "for what cause is that bed inaccessible." Being thoroughly informed of this she answers unhesitatingly: "It is not your place to ask or make such an inquiry. Any knight is disgraced in the land after being in a cart, and it is not fitting that he should concern himself with the matter upon which you have questioned me; and most of all it is not right that he should lie upon the bed, for he would pay dearly for his act. So rich a couch has not been prepared for you, and you would pay dearly for ever harbouring such a thought." He replies: "You will see about that presently." . . . "Am I to see it?" . . . "Yes" . . . "It will soon appear" . . . . "By my head," the knight replies, "I know not who is to pay the penalty. But whoever may object or disapprove, I intend to lie upon this bed and repose there at my ease." Then he at once disrobed in the bed, which was long and raised half an ell above the other two, and was covered with a yellow cloth of silk and a coverlet with gilded stars. The furs were not of skinned vair but of sable; the covering he had on him would have been fit for a king. The mattress was not made of straw or rushes or of old mats. At midnight there descended from the rafters suddenly a lance, as with the intention of pinning the knight through the flanks to the coverlet and the white sheets where he lay. To the lance there was attached a pennon all ablaze. The coverlet, the bedclothes, and the bed itself all caught fire at once. And the tip of the lance passed so close to the knight's side that it cut the skin a little, without seriously wounding him. Then the knight got up, put out the fire and, taking the lance, swung it in the middle of the hall, all this without leaving his bed; rather did he lie down and slept as securely as at first.

Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, trans. W. W. Comfort, Dent: London, 1975 (1914), pp. 276-7.

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