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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. "For you have been permitted to
gaze upon the holy Sangreal. In the time to come all Arthur's knights
shall take part in a quest for this precious talisman, and great shall
be the woe therefrom, for through that quest the Round Table fellowship
shall be broken up and many of its noble knights destroyed."

But all that passed in that land is too much for us to tell. We shall
say only that the fair Elaine came to love Lancelot dearly, but he gave
her no love in return, for all the affection of his heart was centred
upon Queen Guenever. Yet King Pellam so desired that Lancelot should wed
his fair daughter that in the end he used enchantment, and brought him
to make her his wife when under a magic spell, the deluded knight
fancying that it was Guenever whom he had wedded.

This delusion last not long, and when the deceived spouse came to his
senses and learned how he had been dealt with, he broke away like a
madman, and, gaining his horse, rode wildly through the land. And every
knight-errant who dared to joust with him was made to suffer from the
fury that burned in his blood.

Long afterwards, as chance and adventure brought about, there came to
King Pellam's castle Sir Bors de Ganis, Lancelot's nephew. He was gladly
received, and treated with all the good cheer and honor which the castle
could afford. And as he sat at his repast with, the castle lords, there
came in, as it had come to Lancelot, the dove with the censer, at which
the air was filled with the richest perfume, and the table covered with
the most delicious viands. Then entered the maiden with the holy grail,
and all fell to their prayers.

"Truly," said Bors, "this is a strange place, and a land full of
marvels."

"This I will say," answered the noble baron who sat in the king's chair,
"that of the knights who come here few see the holy vessel, and fewer go
away with any honor. Gawaine, the good knight, was here but lately; but
he saw not what your eyes have beheld, and he left here in shame. None
but those of a worshipful life and who love God devoutly can behold this
marvel, or sleep in this castle without coming to harm."

"I am in quest of adventures," said Bors, "and shall lie in your castle
this night, come what will. Men call me honest and virtuous, and I stand
ready to dare all perils the castle may hold."

"I counsel you not," said the baron. "You will hardly escape without
harm and shame."

"Let come what will come, I am ready."

"Then I advise you to confess, and go to your chamber with a clean soul,
for you will be sorely tried."

"Let it be so. Your counsel is wise."

After Sir Bors had been confessed and received absolution, he was led
into a fair large chamber, around which were many doors, while a bed of
royal richness stood in the middle of the floor. Here he was left alone,
and threw himself on the bed in his armor, deeming it wise to be
prepared for all that might come.

Not long had he lain there with open eyes and alert wits, when the room
was all at once brilliantly lighted up, though whence the light came he
could not tell. And suddenly a great and long spear, whose point burnt
like a taper, shot across the chamber without hand to guide it, and
struck him in the shoulder so fierce a blow that his armor was pierced,
and he received a wound, a hand's-breadth in depth, which pained him
bitterly.

Quickly afterwards an armed knight strode in, with shield on shoulder
and sword in hand, who cried in a harsh voice,--

"Arise, sir knight, and fight with me."

"I shall not fail you," said Bors, hot with the pain of his wound. "I am
sorely hurt, but I have vowed boldly to dare aught that might come to
me. If that burning spear came from your hand you shall pay dearly for
it."

With these words he sprang from the bed and attacked the intruder, and a
hard and stern battle began, which lasted long. At the end the intruding
knight was driven backward to a chamber door, through which he passed,
leaving Bors master of the floor.

But hardly had he rested a minute when the defeated knight returned, as
fresh as at the start, and attacked Bors with renewed strength. Again
the battle went on fiercely. But when Bors saw his antagonist once more
retreating towards the chamber door, he cried out,--

"Not so, my good fellow. You played that trick on me once; you shall
not again. Back and defend yourself. If you defeat me it shall be by
strength, not by magic." And he stationed himself before the door, and
drove back his opponent with such fury, that in a moment more he hurled
him to the floor.

"Yield, or you die!" he cried, setting his foot on the fallen knight's
head.

"I yield," came the answer.

"What is your name?"

"I am Sir Pedivere of the Straight Marches."

"Then, Sir Pedivere of the Straight Marches, take yourself away. And if
you have any of your fellows behind yonder door, bid them to keep out of
this room, for I came here to sleep, not to fight. At Whitsunday next,
present yourself at King Arthur's court, and tell him that you have come
thither as a prisoner of Sir Bors of the sharp sword."

This, Sir Pedivere swore to do, and left his conqueror to what rest he
could get. But this was little, for enchantment surrounded the daring
knight. The room suddenly became full of frightful noises and alive with
peril. Whence they came he knew not, whether through doors or windows,
but a flight of arrows and of crossbow bolts filled the air, whistling
shrewdly past his ears, while many of them fell upon him and pierced his
flesh through the open places in his armor.

"Who can sleep in such a den of witchcraft as this?" he cried, in a
rage, springing from the bed. As he did so one of the doors opened, and
a great lion leaped fiercely in, with a hideous roar.

"It is better to fight a lion that one can see, than arrows which nobody
shoots," cried Bors, and he rushed without hesitation on the dangerous
animal.

Sharp was the fight that followed, but of short duration. The lion
sprang wildly upon him, and tore the shield from his arm, while the
sharp claws rent his flesh. But the knight retorted with a sweeping
stroke that cut off the frightful beast's head, and stretched its tawny
body lifeless on the floor.

Then Bors walked to the window to see whither the arrows had come, and
as he looked into the castle court he beheld a wondrous sight. For
before his eyes stood a dragon, huge and horrible of aspect, in whose
forehead were letters of gold which seemed to him to form King Arthur's
emblem. And as he gazed there leaped into the court an old and mighty
leopard, which sprang upon the dragon and engaged in desperate battle
with the huge monster.

At last the dragon spit out of its mouth a hundred of what seemed small
dragons, and these quickly leaped upon the frightful beast and rent it
to fragments. Then all the animals disappeared, and an old man came into
the court, around whose neck two adders wreathed their folds. In his
hand was a harp, upon which he played, while he sang an old song telling
how Joseph of Arimathea came to that land. When his song was ended he
said to Sir Bors,--

"Go from this land, sir knight, for you shall have no more adventures
here. You have played your part well and nobly, and shall do still
better hereafter, for wondrous things are reserved for you."

Then Bors saw a dove of whitest plumage fly across the court with a
golden censer in its mouth, from which seemed to stream the most
delicious perfumes. And the tempest which had raged in the sky suddenly
ceased, while from the rent clouds the full moon poured down its white
light to the earth.

Next there came into the court four children who bore four tapers, and
an old man in their midst with a censer in one hand a spear in the
other, and that spear was called the spear of vengeance.

"Go to your cousin, Sir Lancelot," said the old man, "and tell him what
you have seen, and that if he had been as clean of sin as he should be,
the adventure which all this signifies would have been his. Tell him,
moreover, that though in worldly adventures he passes all others in
manhood and prowess, there are many his betters in spiritual worth, and
that what you have seen and done this night he was not deemed worthy
of."

Then Bors saw four meanly-dressed gentlewomen pass through his chamber,
and enter an apartment beyond which was lit up with a light like that of
midsummer. Here they knelt before an altar of silver with four pillars,
where also kneeled a man in the dress of a bishop. And as the knight
looked upward he beheld a naked sword hovering over his head, whose
blade shone like silver, yielding a flashing light that blinded him as
he gazed. As he stood thus sightless, he heard a voice which said,--

"Go hence, Sir Bors, for as yet thou art not worthy to be in this
place."

Then the door of that chamber closed, and he went backward to his bed,
where he lay and slept undisturbed till morning dawned. But when the
regent of King Pellam learned what had happened to his guest in the
night, and how he had escaped the perils of the enchanted chamber, he
greeted him joyfully, and said,--

"You are the first that ever endured so well that chamber's mysteries.
And more has been shown to your eyes than any others have seen. Go home,
worthy knight. You are chosen for great deeds in the time to come."

Sir Bors thereupon took his horse and rode away, thinking long and
deeply on all that had happened to him.




CHAPTER II.

THE MARVEL OF THE FLOATING SWORD.


Many and strange were the events that followed those we have just
related, and great trouble and woe came therefrom. For when Sir Bors
returned to Camelot and told the story of the wedding of Lancelot and
Elaine, much was the secret talk and great the scandal.



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