Le Morte d'Arthur BOOK II CHAPTER I

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Of a damosel which came girt with a sword for to find a
man of such virtue to draw it out of the scabbard.

AFTER the death of Uther Pendragon reigned Arthur his son, the
which had great war in his days for to get all England into his
hand.  For there were many kings within the realm of England, and
in Wales, Scotland, and Cornwall.  So it befell on a time when
King Arthur was at London, there came a knight and told the king
tidings how that the King Rience of North Wales had reared a
great number of people, and were entered into the land, and burnt
and slew the king's true liege people.  If this be true, said
Arthur, it were great shame unto mine estate but that he were
mightily withstood.  It is truth, said the knight, for I saw the
host myself.  Well, said the king, let make a cry, that all the
lords, knights, and gentlemen of arms, should draw unto a castle
called Camelot in those days, and there the king would let make a
council-general and a great jousts.

So when the king was come thither with all his baronage, and
lodged as they seemed best, there was come a damosel the which
was sent on message from the great lady Lile of Avelion.  And
when she came before King Arthur, she told from whom she came,
and how she was sent on message unto him for these causes.  Then
she let her mantle fall that was richly furred; and then was she
girt with a noble sword whereof the king had marvel, and
<50>said, Damosel, for what cause are ye girt with that sword? it
beseemeth you not.  Now shall I tell you, said the damosel; this
sword that I am girt withal doth me great sorrow and cumbrance,
for I may not be delivered of this sword but by a knight, but he
must be a passing good man of his hands and of his deeds, and
without villainy or treachery, and without treason.  And if I may
find such a knight that hath all these virtues, he may draw out
this sword out of the sheath, for I have been at King Rience's it
was told me there were passing good knights, and he and all his
knights have assayed it and none can speed.  This is a great
marvel, said Arthur, if this be sooth; I will myself assay to
draw out the sword, not presuming upon myself that I am the best
knight, but that I will begin to draw at your sword in giving
example to all the barons that they shall assay everych one after
other when I have assayed it.  Then Arthur took the sword by the
sheath and by the girdle and pulled at it eagerly, but the sword
would not out.

Sir, said the damosel, you need not to pull half so hard, for he
that shall pull it out shall do it with little might.  Ye say
well, said Arthur; now assay ye all my barons; but beware ye be
not defiled with shame, treachery, nor guile.  Then it will not
avail, said the damosel, for he must be a clean knight without
villainy, and of a gentle strain of father side and mother side. 
Most of all the barons of the Round Table that were there at that
time assayed all by row, but there might none speed; wherefore
the damosel made great sorrow out of measure, and said, Alas! I
weened in this court had been the best knights without treachery
or treason.  By my faith, said Arthur, here are good knights, as
I deem, as any be in the world, but their grace is not to help
you, wherefore I am displeased.