An Arthurian Miscellany at sacred-texts.com
[During the expedition to France, which forms the subject of the preceding Fragment, Sir Mordred, the nephew of Arthur, and brother of Gawayne, had been left in England governor of the kingdom. In his uncle's absence Mordred usurps the crown. Having caused a false report of Arthur's death beyond the sea to be circulated, he procures himself to be proclaimed and crowned king in his stead. Queen Guinevere, whose person -- after she had with scorn rejected his unlawful addresses -- he attempted to seize, effects her escape to the Tower of London (Troynovant) which she fortifies strongly, and whence she sets Mordred and his power at defiance. On receiving intelligence of these events, Arthur suddenly raises the seige of Benwyk, and marching with all haste to Calais, crosses with his army to Dover. There he finds Mordred with a formidable army posted to dispute his landing. After a sanguinary contest the usurper is defeated; but in this action, in which he had borne a conspicuous part, Sir Gawayne was unfortunately slain, having been hit with an arrow on an unhealed wouund, received in one of his encounters with Sir Launcelot.
On his death-bed he indites an affecting letter to Launcelot, in which he laments the injustice he had done him by his vindictive and implacable persecution, implores his forgiveness, and adjures him by the memory of their ancient friendship to speed to the rescue of the king in this pressing extremity of his fortunes. Sir Launcelot hastens to obey this call; but he arrives too late -- the events detailed in the two Fragments following having occurred before he was able to set foot on the shores of England.
To strength him for the morrow,
Sir Arthur's gone to sleep
Within his tent, at midnight,
And sunk in slumber deep;
For dight to deadly battle,
Near Sarisbury's town,
Is camped the false Sir Mordred
Would reive his uncle's crown.
Were it a heavenly vision --
Or were it but his dream --
Him seemed Sir Gawayne suddenly
Into his chamber came;
His nephew, brave Sir Gawayne,
Had been at Dover slain.
And ladies fair to look upon
Were many in his train.
"O welcome! welcome, Gawayne!"
Cried Arthur joyfully --
"Where hast thou tarried all so long
When I had need of thee?
Methought that thou at Dover
Hadst been to surely slain;
And who be they, these maidens gay,
So many of thy train?"
"These once on earth were ladies,
Belied, but chaste and true,
For whom, upon their slanderers,
My sword did battle do;
And they have won me grace on high,
By favour and by prayer,
To come this night to redd thee
To-morrow's fight beware.
Go buy thee truce from Mordred,
Whate'er the cost may be,
For month and day, till Launcelot
Bring help from 'yond the sea: --
For if be fought to-morrow,
From high this warning know,
Is doomed thee weird in battle --
Is doomed thy country wo!"
Upstarts, with fear and wonder,
Sir Arthur from his bed,
And wildly gazed him round the tent,
But found the vision fled.
Sir Lucan and Sir Bedwere
He's charged with haste repair
To Mordred's camp by break of morn,
Nor promise stint nor prayer,
But purchase peace, whate'er the cost,
And set with him a day
To meet in peaceful parley,
Between their host midway.
Next: Gawayne's Revenge, by Robert Buchanan