BOOK XV - Le Morte D'Arthur
How Sir Launcelot came to a chapel, where he found dead, in a white shirt, a man of religion, of an hundred winter old.
WHEN the hermit had kept Sir Launcelot three days, the hermit gat him an horse, an helm, and a sword. And then he departed about the hour of noon. And then he saw a little house. And when he came near he saw a chapel, and there beside he saw an old man that was clothed all in white full richly; and then Sir Launcelot said: God save you. God keep you, said the good man, and make you a good knight. Then Sir Launcelot alighted and entered into the chapel, and there he saw an old man dead, in a white shirt of passing fine cloth.
Sir, said the good man, this man that is dead ought not to be in such clothing as ye see him in, for in that he brake the oath of his order, for he hath been more than an hundred winter a man of a religion. And then the good man and Sir Launcelot went into the chapel; and the good man took a stole about his neck, and a book, and then he conjured on that book; and with that they saw in an hideous figure and horrible, that there was no man so hard-hearted nor so hard but he should have been afeard. Then said the fiend: Thou hast travailed me greatly; now tell me what thou wilt with me. I will, said the good man, that thou tell me how my fellow became dead, and whether he be saved or damned. Then he said with an horrible voice: He is not lost but saved. How may that be? said the good man; it seemed to me that he lived not well, for he brake his order for to wear a shirt where he ought to wear none, and who that trespasseth against our order doth not well. Not so, said the fiend, this man that lieth here dead was come of a great lineage. And there was a lord that hight the Earl de Vale, that held great war against this man's nephew, the which hight Aguarus. And so this Aguarus saw the earl was bigger than he. Then he went fr to take counsel of his uncle, the which lieth here dead as ye may see. And then he asked leave, and went out of his hermitage for to maintain his nephew against the mighty earl; and so it happed that this man that lieth here dead did so much by his wisdom and hardiness that the earl was taken, and three of his lords, by force of this dead man.
Of a dead man, how men would have hewn him, and it would not be, and how Sir Launcelot took the hair of the dead man.
THEN was there peace betwixt the earl and this Aguarus, and great surety that the earl should never war against him. Then this dead man that here lieth came to this hermitage again; and then the earl made two of his nephews for to be avenged upon this man. So they came on a day, and found this dead man at the sacring of his mass, and they abode him till he had said mass. And then they set upon him and drew out swords to have slain him; but there would no sword bite on him more than upon a gad of steel, for the high Lord which he served He him preserved. Then made they a great fire, and did off all his clothes, and the hair off his back. And then this dead man hermit said unto them: Ween you to burn me? It shall not lie in your power nor to perish me as much as a thread, an there were any on my body. No? said one of them, it shall be assayed. And then they despoiled him, and put upon him this shirt, and cast him in a fire, and there he lay all that night till it was day in that fire, and was not dead, and so in the morn I came and found him dead; but I found neither thread nor skin tamed, and so took him out of the fire with great fear, and laid him here as ye may see. And now may ye suffer me to go my way, for I have said you the sooth. And then he departed with a great tempest.
Then was the good man and Sir Launcelot more gladder than they were to-fore. And then Sir Launcelot dwelled with that good man that night. Sir, said the good man, be ye not Sir Launcelot du Lake? Yea, sir, said he. What seek ye in this country? Sir, said Sir Launcelot, I go to seek the adventures of the Sangreal. Well, said he, seek it ye may well, but though it were here ye shall have no power to see it no more than a blind man should see a bright sword, and that is long on your sin, and else ye were more abler than any man living. And then Sir Launcelot began to weep. Then said the good man: Were ye confessed sith ye entered into the quest of the Sangreal? Yea, sir, said Sir Launcelot. Then upon the morn when the good man had sung his mass, then they buried the dead man. Then Sir Launcelot said: Father, what shall I do? Now, said the good man, I require you take this hair that was this holy man's and put it next thy skin, and it shall prevail thee greatly. Sir, and I will do it, said Sir Launcelot. Also I charge you that ye eat no flesh as long as ye be in the quest of the Sangreal, nor ye shall drink no wine, and that ye hear mass daily an ye may do it. So he took the hair and put it upon him, and so departed at evensong-time.
And so rode he into a forest, and there he met with a gentlewoman riding upon a white palfrey, and then she asked him: Sir knight, whither ride ye? Certes, damosel, said Launcelot, I wot not whither I ride but as fortune leadeth me. Ah, Sir Launcelot, said she, I wot what adventure ye seek, for ye were afore time nearer than ye be now, and yet shall ye see it more openly than ever ye did, and that shall ye understand in short time. Then Sir Launcelot asked her where he might be harboured that night. Ye shall not find this day nor night, but to-morn ye shall find harbour good, and ease of that ye be in doubt of And then he commended her unto God. Then he rode till that he came to a Cross, and took that for his host as for that night.
Of an advision that Sir Launcelot had, and how he told it to an hermit, and desired counsel of him.
AND so he put his horse to pasture, and did off his helm and his shield, and made his prayers unto the Cross that he never fall in deadly sin again. And so he laid him down to sleep. And anon as he was asleep it befell him there an advision, that there came a man afore him all by compass of stars, and that man had a crown of gold on his head and that man led in his fellowship seven kings and two knights. And all these worshipped the Cross, kneeling upon their knees, holding up their hands toward the heaven. And all they said: Fair sweet Father of heaven come and visit us, and yield unto us everych as we have deserved.
Then looked Launcelot up to the heaven, and him seemed the clouds did open, and an old man came down, with a company of angels, and alighted among them, and gave unto everych his blessing, and called them his servants, and good and true knights. And when this old man had said thus he came to one of those knights, and said: I have lost all that I have set in thee, for thou hast ruled thee against me as a warrior, and used wrong wars with vain-glory, more for the pleasure of the world than to please me, therefore thou shalt be confounded without thou yield me my treasure. All this advision saw Sir Launcelot at the Cross.
And on the morn he took his horse and rode till midday; and there by adventure he met with the same knight that took his horse, helm, and his sword, when he slept when the Sangreal appeared afore the Cross. When Sir Launcelot saw him he saluted hin not fair, but cried on high: Knight, keep thee, for thou hast done to me great unkindness. And then they put afore them their spears, and Sir Launcelot came so fiercely upon him that he smote him and his horse down to the earth, that he had nigh broken his neck. Then Sir Launcelot took the knight's horse that was his own aforehand, and descended from the horse he sat upon, and mounted upon his own horse, and tied the knight's own horse to a tree, that he might find that horse when that he was arisen. Then Sir Launcelot rode till night, and by adventure he met an hermit, and each of them saluted other; and there he rested with that good man all night, and gave his horse such as he might get. Then said the good man unto Launcelot: Of whence be ye? Sir, said he, I am of Arthur's court, and my name is Sir Launcelot du Lake that am in the quest of the Sangreal, and therefore I pray you to counsel me of a vision the which I had at the Cross. And so he told him all.
LO, Sir Launcelot, said the good man, there thou mightest understand the high lineage that thou art come of, and thine advision betokeneth. After the passion of Jesu Christ forty year, Joseph of Aramathie preached the victory of King Evelake, that he had in the battles the better of his enemies. And of the seven kings and the two knights: the first of them is called Nappus, an holy man; and the second hight Nacien, in remembrance of his grandsire, and in him dwelled our Lord Jesu Christ; and the third was called Helias le Grose; and the fourth hight Lisais; and the fifth hight Jonas, he departed out of his country and went into Wales, and took there the daughter of Manuel, whereby he had the land of Gaul, and he came to dwell in this country. And of him came King Launcelot thy grandsire, the which there wedded the king's daughter of Ireland, and he was as worthy a man as thou art, and of him came King Ban, thy father, the which was the last of the seven kings. And by thee, Sir Launcelot, it signifieth that the angels said thou were none of the seven fellowships. And the last was the ninth knight, he was signified to a lion, for he should pass all manner of earthly knights, that is Sir Galahad, the which thou gat on King Pelles' daughter; and thou ought to thank God more than any other man living, for of a sinner earthly thou hast no peer as in knighthood, nor never shall be. But little thank hast thou given to God for all the great virtues that God hath lent thee. Sir, said Launcelot, ye say that that good knight is my son. That oughtest thou to know and no man better, said the good man, for thou knewest the daughter of King Pelles fleshly, and on her thou begattest Galahad, and that was he that at the feast of Pentecost sat in the Siege Perilous; and therefore make thou it known openly that he is one of thy begetting on King Pelles' daughter, for that will be your worship and honour, and to all thy kindred. And I counsel you in no place press not upon him to have ado with him. Well, said Launcelot, meseemeth that good knight should pray for me unto the High Father, that I fall not to sin again. Trust thou well, said the good man, thou farest mickle the better for his prayer; but the son shall not bear the wickedness of the father, nor the father shall not bear the wickedness of the son, but everych shall bear his own burden. And therefore beseek thou only God, and He will help thee in all thy needs. And then Sir Launcelot and he went to supper, and so laid him to rest, and the hair pricked so Sir Launcelot's skin which grieved him full sore, but he took it meekly, and suffered the pain. And so on the morn he heard his mass and took his arms, and so took his leave.
How Sir Launcelot jousted with many knights, and how he was taken.
AND then mounted upon his horse, and rode into a forest, and held no highway. And as he looked afore him he saw a fair plain, and beside that a fair castle, and afore the castle were many pavilions of silk and of diverse hue. And him seemed that he saw there five hundred knights riding on horseback; and there were two parties: they that were of the castle were all on black horses and their trappings black, and they that were without were all on white horses and trappings, and everych hurtled to other that it marvelled Sir Launcelot. And at the last him thought they of the castle were put to the worse.
Then thought Sir Launcelot for to help there the weaker party in increasing of his chivalry. And so Sir Launcelot thrust in among the party of the castle, and smote down a knight, horse and man, to the earth. And then he rashed here and there, and did marvellous deeds of arms. And then he drew out his sword, and struck many knights to the earth, so that all those that saw him marvelled that ever one knight might do so great deeds of arms. But always the white knights held them nigh about Sir Launcelot, for to tire him and wind him. But at the last, as a man may not ever endure, Sir Launcelot waxed so faint of fighting and travailing, and was so weary of his great deeds, that he might not lift up his arms for to give one stroke, so that he weened never to have borne arms; and then they all took and led him away into a forest, and there made him to alight and to rest him. And then all the fellowship of the castle were overcome for the default of him. Then they said all unto Sir Launcelot: Blessed be God that ye be now of our fellowship, for we shall hold you in our prison; and so they left
him with few words. And then Sir Launcelot made great sorrow, For never or now was I never at tournament nor jousts but I had the best, and now I am shamed; and then he said: Now I am sure that I am more sinfuller than ever I was.
Thus he rode sorrowing, and half a day he was out of despair, till that he came into a deep valley. And when Sir Launcelot saw he might not ride up into the mountain, he there alighted under an apple tree, and there he left his helm and his shield, and put his horse unto pasture. And then he laid him down to sleep. And then him thought there came an old man afore him, the which said: Ah, Launcelot of evil faith and poor belief, wherefore is thy will turned so lightly toward thy deadly sin? And when he had said thus he vanished away, and Launcelot wist not where he was become. Then he took his horse, and armed him; and as he rode by the way he saw a chapel where was a recluse, which had a window that she might see up to the altar. And all aloud she called Launcelot, for that he seemed a knight errant. And then he came, and she asked him what he was, and of what place, and where about he went to seek.
How Sir Launcelot told his advision to a woman, and how she expounded it to him.
AND then he told her altogether word by word, and the truth how it befell him at the tournament. And after told her his advision that he had had that night in his sleep, and prayed her to tell him what it might mean, for he was not well content with it. Ah, Launcelot, said she, as long as ye were knight of earthly knighthood ye were the most marvellous man of the world, and most adventurous. Now, said the lady, sithen ye be set among the knights of heavenly adventures, if adventure fell thee contrary at that tournament have thou no marvel, for that tournament yesterday was but a tokening of Our Lord. And not for then there was none enchantment, for they at the tournament were earthly knights. The tournament was a token to see who should have most knights, either Eliazar, the son of King Pelles, or Argustus, the son of King Harlon. But Eliazar was all clothed in white, and Argustus was covered in black, the which were [over]come.
All what this betokeneth I shall tell you. The day of Pentecost, when King Arthur held his court, it befell that earthly kings and knights took a tournament together, that is to say the quest of the Sangreal. The earthly knights were they the which were clothed all in black, and the covering betokeneth the sins whereof they be not confessed. And they with the covering of white betokeneth virginity, and they that chose chastity. And thus was the quest begun in them. Then thou beheld the sinners and the good men, and when thou sawest the sinners overcome, thou inclinest to that party for bobaunce and pride of the world, and all that must be left in that quest, for in this quest thou shalt have many fellows and thy betters. For thou art so feeble of evil trust and good belief, this made it when thou were there where they took thee and led thee into the forest. And anon there appeared the Sangreal unto the white knights, but thou was so feeble of good belief and faith that thou mightest not abide it for all the teaching of the good man, but anon thou turnest to the sinners, and that caused thy misadventure that thou should'st know good from evil and vain glory of the world, the which is not worth a pear. And for great pride thou madest great sorrow that thou hadst not overcome all the white knights with the covering of white, by whom was betokened virginity and chastity; and therefore God was wroth with you, for God loveth no such deeds in this quest. And this advision signifieth that thou were of evil faith and of poor belief, the which will make thee to fall into the deep pit of hell if thou keep thee not. Now have I warned thee of thy vain glory and of thy pride, that thou hast many times erred against thy Maker. Beware of everlasting pain, for of all earthly knights I have most pity of thee, for I know well thou hast not thy peer of any earthly sinful man.
And so she commended Sir Launcelot to dinner. And after dinner he took his horse and commended her to God, and so rode into a deep valley, and there he saw a river and an high mountain. And through the water he must needs pass, the which was hideous; and then in the name of God he took it with good heart. And when he came over he saw an armed knight, horse and man black as any bear; without any word he smote Sir Launcelot's horse to the earth; and so he passed on, he wist not where he was become. And then he took his helm and his shield, and thanked God of his adventure.