Le Morte d'Arthur BOOK IX CHAPTER II

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How a damosel came into the court and desired a knight to
take on him an enquest, which La Cote Male Taile emprised.

THEN that same day there came a damosel into the court, and she
brought with her a great black shield, with a white hand in the
midst holding a sword.  Other picture was there none in that
shield.  When King Arthur saw her he asked her from whence she
came and what she would.  Sir, she said, I have ridden long and
many a day with this shield many ways, and for this cause I am
come to your court: there was a good knight that ought this
shield, and this knight had undertaken a great deed of arms to
enchieve it; and so it misfortuned him another strong knight met
with him by sudden adventure, and there they fought long, and
either wounded other passing sore; and they were so weary that
they left that battle even hand.  So this knight that ought this
shield saw none other way but he must die; and then he commanded
me to bear this shield to the court of King Arthur, he requiring
and praying some good knight to take this shield, and that he
would fulfil the quest that he was in.  Now what say ye to this
quest? said King Arthur; is there any of you here that will take
upon him to wield this shield?  Then was there not one that would
speak one word.  Then Sir Kay took the shield in his hands.  Sir
knight, said the damosel, what is your name?  Wit ye well, said
he, my name is Sir Kay, the Seneschal, that wide-where is known. 
Sir, said that damosel, lay down that shield, for wit ye well it
falleth not for you, for he must be a better knight than ye that
shall wield this shield.  Damosel, said Sir Kay, wit ye well I
took this shield in my hands by your leave for to behold it, not
to that intent; but go wheresomever thou wilt, for I will not go
with you.

Then the damosel stood still a great while and beheld many of
those knights.  Then spake the knight, La Cote Male Taile:  Fair
damosel, I will take the shield and that adventure upon me, so I
wist I should know whitherward my journey might be; for because I
was this day made knight I would take this adventure upon me. 
What is your name, fair young man? said the damosel.  My name is,
said he, La Cote Male Taile.  Well mayest thou be called so, said
the damosel, the knight with the evil-shapen coat; but an thou be
so hardy to take upon thee to bear that shield and to follow me,
wit thou well thy skin shall be as well hewn as thy coat.  As for
that, said La Cote Male Taile, when I am so hewn I will ask you
no salve to heal me withal.  And forthwithal there came into the
court two squires and brought him great horses, and his armour,
and his spears, and anon he was armed and took his leave.  I
would not by my will, said the king, that ye took upon you that
hard adventure.  Sir, said he, this adventure is mine, and the
first that ever I took upon me, and that will I follow
whatsomever come of me.  Then that damosel departed, and La Cote
Male Taile fast followed after.  And within a while he overtook
the damosel, and anon she missaid him in the foulest manner.