Of Briant of the Isles the story is here silent, whom King the believeth too much in many things, and saith that Lancelot goeth his way right through the forest, full heavy in thought. He had not ridden far when he met a knight that was right sore wounded. He asked him whence he came and who had wounded him in such manner.
"Sir," saith he, "I come from the Chapel Perilous, where I was not able to defend me against an evil folk that appeared there; and they have wounded me in such sort as you see, and but for a damsel that came thereinto from the forest I should not have escaped on live. But she aided me on such condition that and I should see a knight they call Lancelot, or Perceval, or Messire Gawain, I should tell which of them soever I should first meet withal that he should go to her without delay, for much she marvelleth her that none of them cometh into the chapel, for none ought to enter there but good knights only. But much do I marvel, Sir, how the damsel durst enter there, for it is the most marvellous place that is, and the damsel is of right great beauty; natheless she cometh thither oftentimes alone into the chapel. A knight lieth in the chapel that hath been slain of late, that was a fell and cruel knight and a hardy."
"What was his name?" saith Lancelot.
"He was named Ahuret the Bastard," saith the knight; "And he had but one arm and one hand, and the other was smitten off at a castle that Messire Gawain gave Meliot of Logres when he succoured him against this knight that lieth in the coffin. And Meliot of Logres hath slain the knight that had assieged the castle, but the knight wounded him sore, so that he may not be whole save he have the sword wherewith he wounded him, that lieth in the coffin at his side, and some of the cloth wherein he is enshrouded; and, so God grant me to meet one of the knights, gladly will I convey unto him the damsel's message."
"Sir Knight," saith Lancelot, "One of them have you found. My name is Lancelot, and for that I see you are wounded and in evil plight, I tell it you thus freely."
"Sir," saith the knight, "Now may God protect your body, for you go in great peril of death. But the damsel much desireth to see you, I know not for what, and well may she aid you if she will."
"Sir Knight, God hath brought us forth of many a peril, and so will He also from this and it be His pleasure and His will."
With that, Lancelot departeth from the knight, and hath ridden so far that he is come at evensong to the Chapel Perilous, that standeth in a great valley of the forest, and hath a little churchyard about it that is well enclosed on all sides, and hath an ancient cross without the entrance. The chapel and the graveyard are overshadowed of the forest, that is right tall. Lancelot entereth therein all armed. He signeth him of the cross and blesseth him and commendeth him to God. He seeth in the grave-yard coffins in many places, and it seemeth him that he seeth folk round about that talk together, the one with another. But he might not hear that they said. He might not see them openly, but very tall they seemed him to be. He is come toward the chapel and alighteth of his horse, and seeth a shed outside the chapel, wherein was provender for horses. He goeth thither to set his own there, then leaneth his shield against his spear at the entrance of the chapel, and entereth in, where it was very dark, for no light was there save only of a single lamp that shone full darkly. He seeth the coffin that was in the midst of the chapel wherein the knight lay.
When he had made his orison before an image of Our Lady, he cometh to the coffin and openeth it as fast as he may, and seeth the knight, tall and foul of favour, that therein lay dead. The cloth wherein he was enshrouded was displayed all bloody. He taketh the sword that lay at his side and lifteth the windingsheet to rend it at the seam, then taketh the knight by the head to lift him upward, and findeth him so heavy and so ungain that scarce may he remove him. He cutteth off the half of the cloth wherein he is enshrouded, and the coffin beginneth to make a crashing so passing loud that it seemed the chapel were falling. When he hath the piece of the cloth and the sword he closeth the coffin again, and forthwith cometh to the door of the chapel and seeth mount, in the midst of the grave-yard as it seemed him, great knights. and horrible, and they are appareled as it were to combat, and him thinketh that they are watching for him and espy him.
Thereupon, behold you, a damsel running, her kirtle girt high about her, right through the grave-yard a great pace.
"Take heed you move not until such time as it is known who the knight is!" She is come to the chapel. "Sir Knight, lay down the sword and this that you have taken of the windingsheet of the dead knight!"
"Damsel," saith Lancelot, "What hurt doth it you of this that I have?"
"This," saith she, "That you have taken it without my leave; for I have him in charge, both him and the chapel. And I would fain," saith she, "know what is your name?"
"Damsel," saith he, "What would you gain of knowing my name?"
"I know not," saith she, "whether I shall have either loss or gain thereof, but high time already is it that I should ask you it to my sorrow, for many a time have I been deceived therein."
"Damsel," saith he, "I am called Lancelot of the Lake."
"You ought of right," saith she, "to have the sword and the cloth; but come you with me to my castle, for oftentimes have I desired that you and Perceval and Messire Gawain should see the three tombs that I have made for your three selves."
"Damsel," saith he, "No wish have I to see my sepulchre so early betimes."
"By my head," saith she, "And you come not thither, you may not issue from hence without tribulation; and they that you see there are earthly fiends that guard this grave-yard and are at my commandment."
"Never, damsel, please God," saith Lancelot, "may your devils have power to harm a Christian."
"Ha, Lancelot," saith she, "I beseech and pray you that you come with me into my castle, and I will save your life as at this time from this folk that are just now ready to fall upon you; and, so you are not willing to do this, yield me back the sword that you have taken from the coffin, and go your way at once."
"Damsel," saith Lancelot, "Into your castle may I not go, nor desire I to go, wherefore pray me no more thereof, for other business have I to do; nor will I yield you back the sword, whatsoever may befall me, for a certain knight may not otherwise be healed, and great pity it were that he should die."
"Ha, Lancelot," saith she, "How hard and cruel do I find you towards me! And as good cause have I to be sorry that you have the sword as have you to be glad. For, and you had not had it upon you, never should you have carried it off from hence at your will; rather should I have had all my pleasure of you, and I would have made you be borne into my castle, from whence never should you nave moved again for nought you might do; and thus should I have been quit of the wardenship of this chapel and of coming thereinto in such manner as now oftentimes I needs must come.
"But now am I taken in a trap, for, so long as you have the sword, not one of them that are there yonder can do you evil nor hinder you of going."
Of this was Lancelot not sorry. He taketh leave of the damsel, that departeth grudgingly, garnisheth him again of his arms, then mounteth again on his horse and goeth his way right through the grave-yard. He beholdeth this evil folk, that were so foul and huge and hideous, it seemed as if they would devour everything. They made way for Lancelot, and had no power to hurt him. He is issued forth of the grave-yard and goeth his way through the forest until daylight appeared about him, fair and clear. He found the hermit there where he had heard mass, then ate a little, then departed and rode the day long until setting of the sun, but could find no hold on the one side nor the other wherein he might lodge, and so was benighted in the forest.
Lancelot knew not which way to turn, for he had not often been in the forest, and knew not how the land lay nor the paths therein. He rode until he found a little causeway, and there was a path at the side that led to an orchard that was at a corner of the forest, where there was a postern gate whereby one entered, and it was not made fast for the night. And the orchard was well enclosed with walls. Lancelot entered in and made fast the entrance, then took off his horse's bridle and let him feed on the grass. He might not espy the castle that was hard by for the abundance of trees and the darkness of the night, and so knew not whither he was arrived. He laid his shield for a pillow and his arms at his side and fell on sleep. But, had he known where it was he had come, little sleep would he have had, for he was close to the cavern where he slew the lion and where the griffons were, that had come in from the forest all gorged of victual, and were fallen on sleep, and it was for them that the postern gate had been left unbolted. A damsel went down from a chamber by a trapdoor with a brachet on her arm for fear of the griffons, and as she went toward the postern-gate to lock it, she espied Lancelot, that lay asleep in the midst of the orchard. She ran back to her Lady the speediest she might, and said unto her: "Up, Lady!" saith she, "Lancelot is sleeping in the orchard!"
She leapt up incontinent and came to the orchard there where Lancelot was sleeping, then sate her down beside him and began to look at him, sighing the while, and draweth as near him as she may.
"Fair Lord God," saith she, "what shall I do? and I wake him first he will have no care to kiss me, and if I kiss him sleeping he will awake forthwith; and better hap is it for me to take the most I may even in such-wise than to fail of all, and, moreover, if so be I shall have kissed him, I may hope that he will not hate me thereof, sith that I may then boast that I have had at least so much of that which is his own."
She set her mouth close to him and so kissed him the best and fairest she might, three times, and Lancelot awakened forthwith. He leapt up and made the cross upon him, then looked at the damsel, and said: "Ha, God! where, then, am I?"
"Fair sweet friend," saith she, "You are nigh her that hath all set her heart upon you and will remove it never."
"I cry you mercy, damsel," saith Lancelot, "and I tell you, for nought that may befall, one that loveth me, please God, never will I hate! but that which one hath loved long time ought not so soon to fall away from the remembrance of a love that is rooted in the heart, when she hath been proven good and loyal, nor ought one so soon to depart therefrom."
"Sir," saith she, "This castle is at your commandment, and you will remain therein, and well may you know my thought towards you. Would that your thought were the same towards me."
"Damsel," saith he, "I seek the healing of a knight that may not be healed save I bring him the head of one of your serpents."
"Certes, Sir, so hath it been said. But I bade the damsel say so only for that I was fain you should come back hither to me."
"Damsel," saith he, "I have come back hither, and so may I turn back again sith that of the serpent's head is there no need."
"Ha, Lancelot," saith she, "How good a knight are you, and how ill default do you make in another way! No knight, methinketh, is there in the world that would have refused me save only you. This cometh of your folly, and your outrage, and your baseness of heart! The griffons have not done my will in that they have not slain you or strangled you as you slept, and, so I thought that they would have power to slay you, I would make them come to slay you now. But the devil hath put so much knighthood into you that scarce any man may have protection against you. Better ought I to love you dead than alive. By my head, I would fain that your head were hanged with the others that hang at the entrance of the gateway, and, had I thought you would have failed me in such wise I would have brought my father hither to where you were sleeping, and right gladly would he have slain you."
"None that knoweth the covenant between me and you ought to hold you for a good knight; for you have cozened me of my right according to the tenor and custom of the castle if that through perversity or slothfulness you durst not take me when you have won me."
"Damsel," saith Lancelot, "You may say your will. You have done so much for me sithence that I came hither that I ought not to be afeard of you, for traitor is the man or woman that kisseth another to procure his hurt."
"Lancelot, I took but that I might have, for well I see that none more thereof may I have never again."
He goeth to put the bridle on his destrier, and then taketh leave of the damsel, that parteth from him right sorrowfully; but Lancelot would no longer tarry, for great throng of knights was there in the castle, and he was not minded to put him in jeopardy for nought. He issueth forth of the orchard, and the damsel looketh after him as long as she may see him. After that, cometh she to her chamber, sad and vexed at heart, nor knoweth she how she may bear herself, for the thing in the world that most she loveth is far away, and no joy may she have thereof.
Lancelot rideth right amidst the forest until it is day, and cometh at the right hour of noon to the Castle Perilous, where Meliot of Logres lay. He entered into the castle. The damsel that was at King Arthur's court cometh to meet him.
"Lancelot," saith she, "Welcome may you be!"
"Damsel," saith he, "Good adventure may you have!"
He was alighted at the mountingstage of the hall. She maketh him mount up the steps and afterward be disarmed.
"Damsel," saith he, "Behold, here is some of the winding-sheet wherein the knight was shrouded, and here is his sword; but you befooled me as concerning the serpent's head."
"By my head," saith the damsel, "that did I for the sake of the damsel of the Castle of Griffons that hateth you not a whit, for so prayed she me to do. Now hath she seen you, and so will she be more at ease, and will have no cause to ask me thereof."
The damsel leadeth Lancelot to where Meliot of Logres lay. Lancelot sitteth him down before him and asketh how it is with him?
"Meliot," saith the damsel, "This is Lancelot, that bringeth you your healing."
"Ha, Sir, welcome may you be!"
"God grant you health speedily," said Lancelot.
"Ha, for God's sake," saith Meliot, "What doth Messire Gawain? Is he hearty?"
"I left him quite hearty when I parted from him," saith Lancelot, "And so he knew that you had been wounded in such sort, full sorry would he be thereof and King Arthur likewise."
"Sir," saith he, "The knight that assieged them maimed me in this fashion, but was himself maimed in such sort that he is dead thereof. But the wounds that he dealt me are so cruel and so raging, that they may not be healed save his sword toucheth them and if be not bound with some of the winding-sheet wherein he was shrouded, that he had displayed about him, all bloody."
"By my faith," saith the damsel, "Behold them here!"
"Ha, Sir," saith he, "Gramercy of this great goodness! In every way appeareth it that you are good knight, for, but for the goodness of your knighthood, the coffin wherein the knight lieth had never opened so lightly, nor would you never have had the sword nor the cloth, nor never till now hath knight entered therein but either he were slain there, or departed thence wounded right grievously."
They uncover his wounds, and Lancelot unbindeth them, and the damsel toucheth him of the sword and the winding-sheet, and they are assuaged for him. And he saith that now at last he knoweth well he need not fear to die thereof. Lancelot is right joyful thereof in his heart, for that he seeth he will be whole betimes; and sore pity had it been of his death, for a good knight was he, and wise and loyal.
"Lancelot," saith the lady, "Long time have I hated you on account of the knight that I loved, whom you reft away from me and married to another and not to me, and ofttimes have I put myself to pains to grieve you of some ill deed for that you did to me, for never was I so sorrowful for aught that befell me. He loved me of right great love, and I him again, and never shall that love fail. But now is it far further away from me than it was before, and for this bounty that you have done, never hereafter need you fear aught of my grievance."
"Damsel," saith Lancelot, "Gramercy heartily."
He was lodged in the castle the night richly and worshipfully, and departed thence on the morrow when he had taken leave of the damsel and Meliot, and goeth back a great pace toward the court of King Arthur, that was sore dismayed, for Madeglant was conquering his islands and great part of his land. The more part of the lands that he conquered had renounced the New Law for fear of death and held the false believe. And Messire Gawain and many other knights were departed from King Arthur's court for that the King trusted more in Briant of the Isles than he did in them.
For many times had King Arthur sent knights against Madeglant since Lancelot was departed from the court, to the intent that they should put to rebuke the enemies of his land, but never saw he one come back from thence nought discomfited. The King of Oriande made much boast that he would fulfil for his sister all that she had bidden him, for he thought that King Arthur would yield himself up betimes unto him and yield all his land likewise. The King greatly desired the return of Lancelot, and said ofttimes that and he had been against his enemies as nigh as the others he had sent they would not have durst so to fly against him. In the midst of the dismay wherein was King Arthur, Lancelot returned to the court, whereof was the King right joyous. Lancelot knew that Messire Gawain and Messire Ywain were not there, and that they held them aloof from the court more willingly than they allowed on account of Briant of the Isles, that King Arthur believed in more than ever a one of the others. He was minded to depart in like sort, but the King would not let him, but said to him rather, "Lancelot, I pray and beseech you, as him that I love much, that you set your pains and your counsel on defending my land, for great affiance have I in you."
"Sir," saith Lancelot, "My aid and my force shall fail you never; take heed that yours fail not me."
"Of right ought I not to fail you," saith the King, "Nor will I never, for I should fail myself thereby."
The history saith that he gave Lancelot forty knights in charge, and that he is come into an island where King Madeglant was. Or ever he knew of his coming, Lancelot had cut off his retreat, for he cut his cables and beat his anchors to pieces and broke up his ships. After that, he struck among the people of Madeglant, and slew as many of them as he would, he and his knights. The King thought to withdraw him back, both him and his fellowship, into safety as he wont, but he found himself right ill bested. Lancelot drove him toward the sea, whither he fled, but only to find himself no less discomfit there, and slew him in the midst of his folk, and all his other knights were slain and cast into the sea. This island was freed of him by Lancelot, and from thence he went to the other islands that Madeglant had conquered and set again under the false Law, and there did away the false Law from them that had been set thereunder by fear of death, and stablished the land in such sort as it had been tofore. He roved so long from one island to another that presently he came to Albanie where he had succoured them at first.
When they of the land saw him come, they well knew that the King of Oriande was dead and the islands made free, whereof made they great joy. The land was some deal emptied of the most puissant and the strongest, for they were dead along with their lord. Lancelot had brought with him some of the best knights and most puissant. He was come with a great navy into the land and began to destroy it. They of the land were misbelievers, for they believed in false idols and in false images. They saw that they might not defend the land, sith that their lord was dead. The more part let themselves be slain for that they would not renounce the evil Law, and they that were minded to turn to God were saved. The kingdom was right rich and right great that Lancelot conquered and attorned to the Law of Our Lord in such wise. He made break all the false images of copper and fatten wherein they had believed tofore, and whereof false answers came to them of the voices of devils. Thereafter he caused be made crucifixes and images in the likeness of Our Lord, and in the likeness of His sweet Mother, the better to confirm them of the kingdoms in the Law.
The strongest and most valiant of the land assembled one day and said that it was high time a land so rich should no longer be without a King. They all agreed and came to Lancelot and told him how they would fain that he should be King of the realm he had conquered, for in no land might he be better employed, and they would help him conquer other realms enow. Lancelot thanked them much, but told them that of this land nor of none other would he be King save by the good will of King Arthur only; for that all the conquest he had made was his, and by his commandment had he come thither, and had given him his own knights in charge that had helped him to reconquer the lands.
King Claudas had heard tell how Lancelot had slain the King of Oriande and that none of the islands might scarce be defended against him. He had no liking of him, neither of his good knighthood nor of his conquest, for well remembered he of the land that he had conquered from King Ban of Benoic that was Lancelot's father, and therefore was he sorry of the good knighthood whereof Lancelot was everywhere held of worth and renown, for that he was tenant of his father's land. King Claudas sent a privy message to Briant and bore him on hand that, and he might do so much as that King Arthur should forbid Lancelot his court, and that it were ill with him with the King, he would have much liking thereof and would help him betimes to take vengeance on his enemies, for, so Lancelot were forth of his court, and Messire Gawain, the rest would scarce abide long time, and thus should they have all their will of King Arthur's land. Briant sent word back to King Claudas that Messire Gawain and Messire Ywain began to hold them aloof from the court, and that as for most part of the other he need not trouble him a whit, for he might so deal as that in short time Lancelot should be well trounced, would they or nould they.
Tidings are come to King Arthur's court that the King of Oriande is dead and his people destroyed, and that Lancelot hath conquered his kingdom and slain the King, and reconquered all the lands wherein he had set the false Law and the false believe by his force and by dread of him. And the more part say in the court that they of the realm of Oriande nor those of the other islands will not let Lancelot repair to court, and are doing their endeavour to make him King; and nought is there in the world, and he command them, they will not do, and that never was no folk so obedient to any as are they of all these lands to him. Briant of the Isles cometh one day privily to King Arthur, and saith: "Sir," saith he, "Much ought I to love you, for that you have made me Seneschal of your land; whereby meseemeth you have great affiance in me, and my bounden duty is it to turn aside that which is evil from you and to set forward your good everywhere, and, did I not so, no whit loyal should I be towards you.
"Tidings are come to me of late that they of the kingdom of Oriande and Albanie and of the other islands that are your appanages have all leagued together, and have sworn and given surety that they will aid one another against you, and they are going presently to make Lancelot their King, and will come down upon your land as speedily as they may wheresoever he may dare lead them, and they have sworn their oath that they will conquer your kingdom just as you now hold it, and, so you be not garnished against them betimes, you may have thereof sore trouble to your own body as well as the loss whereof I tell you."
"By my head," saith the King, "I believe not that Lancelot durst think this, nor that he would have the heart to do me evil."
"By my head," saith Briant, "Long time have I had misgivings both of this and of him, but one ought not to tell one's lord all that one knows, for that one cannot be sure either that it be not leasing or that folk wish to meddle in his affairs out of envy. But nought is there in the world that I will conceal from you henceforward for the love that you bear me and for that you have affiance in me, and so may you well have, for I have abandoned my land for you that marched with your own, whereby you may sorely straiten your enemies, for well you know that in your court is there no knight of greater puissance than am I."
"By my head," saith the King, "I am fain to love you and hold you dear, nor shall you never be removed from my love nor from my service for nought that may be said of any, so manifestly have I seen your goodness and your loyalty. I will bid Lancelot by my letters and under my seal that he come to speak with me, for sore need have I thereof, and when he shall be here we will take account of this that you have told me, for this will I not, that he nor none other that may be my knight shall dare rise in arms against me, for such power ought lord of right to have over his knight, and to be feared and dreaded of him, for elsewise is he feeble, and lordship without power availeth nought."
The King sent his letters by his messenger to Lancelot. The messenger sought him until he found him in the kingdom of Oriande, and delivered him the letters and the seal of the King. So soon as he knew that which the letters say, he took leave of them of the land, that were right sorrowful. He departed thence and came back to Cardoil, bringing with him all the knights that he had in charge, and told the King that he had reconquered for him all the islands, and that the King of Oriande was dead and that his land was attorned to the Law of Our Lord. The King bade Briant of the Isles that he should make forty knights come armed under their cloaks ready to take Lancelot prisoner as soon as he should command them. The tidings come to Lancelot, there where he was in his hostel, that the King had made knights come all armed to the palace. Lancelot bethought him that some need had arisen and that he would arm himself likewise, so he made him be armed and came to the hall where the King was.
"Sir," saith Briant, "Lancelot thinketh him of something, for he hath armed himself at his hostel, and is come hither in such manner and at such time without your leave, and he may do something more yet. You ought well to ask him wherefore he wisheth to do you evil, and in what manner you have deserved it."
He biddeth him be called before him. "Lancelot," saith the King, "Wherefore are you armed?"
"Sir, I was told that knights had come in hither armed, and I was feared lest some mishap had befallen you, for I would not that any evil should betide you."
"You come hither for another thing," saith the King, "according to that I have been given to wit, and, had the hall been void of folk, you hoped to have slain me."
The King commandeth him be taken forthwith without gainsay of any. The knights that were armed did off their cloaks and leapt toward him on all sides, for they durst not disobey the King's commandment, and the more part were men of Briant of the Isles.
Lancelot seeth them coming towards him with their keen swords and saith, "By my head, an evil guerdon do you return me of the services I have done for you."
The knights come to him all together swords drawn, and run upon him all at once. He goeth defending himself, as far as the wall of the hall, whereof he maketh a castle to his back, but before he cometh thither he hath slain or wounded seven. He began to defend himself right stoutly on all sides, but they gave him great buffets of their swords, and no fair play is it of thirty or forty blows to one. Nor ought none believe that one single knight might deliver himself from so many men, seeing that they were eager to take him and do him a hurt. Lancelot defended him the best he might, but the numbers were against him, and, anyway, or ever he let himself be taken he sold himself right dear, for of the forty knights he harmed at least a score, and of them was none that was not sore wounded and the most part killed; and he caught Briant of the Isles, that was helping to take him, so sore that he made his sword drink the blood of his body, in such sort that the wound was right wide. The knights laid hold on Lancelot on all sides, and the King commanded that none should harm him, but that they should bring him to his dungeon in the prison. Lancelot marvelled him much wherefore the King should do this, nor might he understand wherefore this hatred was come so lately. He is put in the prison so as the King hath commanded. All they of the court are sorry thereof, save Briant and his knights, but well may he yet aby it dear, so God bring Lancelot out or prison. Some say, "Now is the King's court lost, sith that Messire Gawain and the other knights have thus forsaken it, and Lancelot is put in prison for doing well, ill trust may the others have therein."
They pray God yet grant Briant of the Isles an evil guerdon, for well know they that all this is of his procurement. And of an evil guerdon shall he not fail so God protect Lancelot and bring him forth of prison.