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And as the weeks
passed by there came from all directions knights who had heard of
Alexander's challenge and Alice's offer, and many a hard battle was
fought. Yet from them all Alexander came as victor.

But the more he triumphed over his knightly foes the deeper he fell
captive to his fair neighbor, for whom he grew to feel so deep a love
that it almost robbed him of his wits. Nor was his love unrequited, for
his valor and youthful beauty had filled her heart with as ardent a
passion for him in return, and she prayed as warmly for his victory in
every combat as though he had been her chosen champion.

And so time passed on, varied by fighting and love-making, till one day,
after Alexander had unhorsed two knights, there came to him the lady to
whom he owed the burning of the castle, who told Alice the whole story
of what had then occurred.

"You worked wisely and well," answered Alice. "Sir Alexander, indeed,
has not gained much more freedom, except it be freedom to fight. But
that is more his fault than yours."

"Have I not?" exclaimed the young knight. "I have gained freedom to love
also; for which I am ever beholden to this fair damsel."

At this Alice turned away with a rosy blush, while the maiden stood
regarding them with merry smiles.

"I have, by right, the first claim on you, Sir Alexander," she said.
"But if this fair lady wants you, I should be sorry to stand in love's
light. I yield my claim in her favor."

As they thus conversed in merry mood, three knights rode up, who
challenged Alexander to joust for the proffered prize of the hand and
estate of Alice la Belle Pilgrim. But the three of them got such falls
that they lost all desire to wed the lady, and, like all knights whom
Alexander overcame, they were made to swear to wear no arms for a
twelvemonth and a day.

Yet love may bring weakness as well as strength, as the young lover was
to find to his cost. For there came a day in which, as he stood looking
from his pavilion, he saw the lady Alice on horseback outside, and so
charming did she appear in his eyes that his love for her became almost
a frenzy. So enamoured was he that all thought of life and its doings
fled from his brain, and he grew like one demented.

While he was in this state of love-lorn blindness the false-hearted
knight Sir Mordred rode up with purpose to joust. But when he saw that
the youthful champion was besotted with admiration of his lady, and had
no eyes or mind for aught beside, he thought to make a jest of him, and,
taking his horse by the bridle, led him here and there, designing to
bring the lover to shame by withdrawing him from the place he had sworn
to defend.

When the damsel of the castle saw this, and found that no words of hers
would rouse Alexander from his blind folly, she burned with indignation,
and bethought her of a sharper means of bringing him back to his lost
senses.

So she put on her armor and took a sword in her hand, and, mounting a
horse, rode upon him with the fury of a knight, giving him such a buffet
on the helm that he thought that fire flew from his eyes.

When the besotted lover felt this stroke he came of a sudden to his
wits, and felt for his sword. But the damsel fled to the pavilion and
Mordred to the forest, so that Alexander was left raging there, with no
foe to repay for that stinging blow.

When he came to understand how the false knight would have shamed him,
his heart burned with wrath that Sir Mordred had escaped his hands. But
the two ladies had many a jest upon him for the knightly stroke which
the damsel had given him on the helm.

"Good faith," she said, "I knew not how else to bring back his strayed
wits. I fancy I would have given him some shrewd work to do if I had
chosen to stand against him. These men think that none but they can wear
armor and wield swords. I took pity on your champion, Alice, or it might
have gone hard with him," and she laughed so merrily that they could not
but join her in her mirth.

After that nearly every day Alexander jousted with knights of honor and
renown, but of them all not one was able to put him to the worse, and he
held his ground to the twelvemonth's end, proving himself a knight of
the noblest prowess.

When the year had reached its end and his pledge was fully kept, he
departed from that place with Alice la Belle Pilgrim, who afterwards
became his loving wife, and they lived together with great joy and
happiness in her country of Benoye.

But though he let love set aside for the time his vow of revenge on King
Mark, he did not forget the duty that lay before him, nor did that
evil-minded king rest at ease under the knowledge that an avenger was in
the land. Many a false scheme he devised to keep Alexander from his
court, and in the end his treacherous plots proved successful, for the
young knight was murdered by some of King Mark's emissaries, with his
father's death still unrevenged.

But vengeance sleeps not, and destiny had decided that the false-hearted
king should yet die in retribution for the murder of Prince Baldwin.
Alexander left a son, who was named Bellengerus le Beuse, and who grew
up to become a valiant and renowned knight. He it was who avenged the
slaughter of Prince Baldwin, and also of Sir Tristram, for this noble
knight was also slain by the felonious king, as we must now tell.

Through the good services of King Arthur and Queen Guenever, after
Tristram and Isolde had long dwelt at Joyous Gard, peace was made
between them and King Mark, and they returned to Tintagil, where for a
long time all went on in seeming friendship and harmony.

But the false king nursed the demon of jealousy deep within his breast,
and bided his time for revenge. At length, on a day when Tristram,
dreaming not of danger, sat harping before La Belle Isolde, the
treacherous king rushed suddenly upon him with a naked sword in his hand
and struck him dead at her feet.

Retribution for this vile deed came quickly, for Bellengerus was at
Tintagil Castle at the time, brought there by thirst of vengeance, and
with a heart filled with double fury by the news of this dastardly deed,
he rushed upon King Mark as he stood in the midst of his knights and
courtiers, and struck him to the heart with his father's avenging
blade.

Then, aided by Dinas, Fergus, and others of Tristram's friends, he
turned upon Andred and the remainder of King Mark's satellites, and when
the work of blood was done not one of these false-hearted knights
remained alive, and the court of Cornwall was purged of the villany
which had long reigned there supreme.

But La Belle Isolde loved Tristram with too deep a love to survive his
death, and she fell swooning upon the cross above his tomb and there
sobbed out her life; and she was buried by his side, that those who had
been so united in life should not be parted in death.

Great was the grief and pity aroused throughout England, and through all
lands where knighthood was held in honor, by this distressful event, for
never before had two such faithful lovers breathed mortal air. And long
thereafter lovers made pilgrimages to their tomb, where many prayed
fervently for a draught from that magic goblet from which Tristram and
Isolde drank, and whose wine of love forever after ran so warmly in
their veins.




BOOK IX.

THE QUEST OF THE HOLY GRAIL.




CHAPTER I.

THE ENCHANTED CASTLE OF KING PELLAM.


After many years had come and gone, and all at the court of Arthur the
king had grown older and wiser, there came to pass a series of
adventures more marvellous than had ever been known upon the earth
before, and of a nobler kind than mere tourneyings and joustings, being
no less than the quest of the holy vessel named the Sangreal, in which
was kept a portion of the blood of our blessed Saviour, Jesus Christ.

And through this quest much disaster came upon the land, and the noble
fellowship of the Round Table was broken up and destroyed, for many went
in search of the holy vessel who had lived evil lives, and of these few
came back, but most of them died deaths of violence.

This sacred talisman--the Sangreal--had been brought to England
centuries before by Joseph of Arimathea, a follower of our Saviour, and
had passed down from him to his descendant, King Pellam, of Listengeise,
him whom Balin struck the dolorous stroke, and who was destined to lie
in misery and pain until he should be healed of his wound by the winner
of the holy vessel.

But to tell how this perilous quest began we must go long years back and
relate a story of strange adventures and marvellous deliverances.

For it had happened that during a feast of Whitsuntide Lancelot du Lake
left Arthur's court at Camelot and rode afar in search of adventures.
And after a long journey, in which many strange things came to pass, he
arrived at Listengeise, the land of King Pellam. Here he rescued the
king's fair daughter, Elaine, from a dismal enchantment, under which she
had long lain through the wiles of Morgan le Fay and the queen of
Northgalis, who hated her bitterly from her renown for beauty.

After the rescue of the lady, Lancelot fought with and killed a mighty
serpent that haunted a tomb near by, and had done much harm in the land.
Then there came to him a dignified and noble baron, who thanked him
heartily in the name of the king, and invited him to a repast in the
castle hall.

But as they sat at table a wonderful thing took place. For in at the
open window of the hall there flew a dove, which bore in its mouth what
seemed a little censer of gold. And from this censer came such a rich
and penetrating perfume as if all the spicery of the world had been
there, while upon the table suddenly appeared the most delicious of
meats and drinks. Then came in a damsel, young and beautiful, who bore
in her hands a vessel of gold, before which all who were there kneeled
and prayed devoutly.

[Illustration: ON THE QUEST OF THE HOLY GRAIL.]

"What may all this mean?" asked Lancelot in deep surprise.

"It has been granted you to see the most precious and wonderful thing in
the world," answered the noble baron.



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