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If there be a knight there
to meet you, then God speed the right. If none meet you, then my queen
must suffer the penalty of the law."

When Arthur and the queen had departed, he asked her how this case
befell.

"God help me if I know," she answered.

"Where is Lancelot?" asked the king. "If he were here, he would do
battle for you."

"I know not," she replied. "His kinsmen say he has left the land."

"How cometh it," said the king, "that you cannot keep Lancelot by your
side? If he were here your case would be won. Sir Bors will do battle in
his place, I am sure. Go seek him and demand his aid."

This the queen did, begging Bors to act as her champion; but he, as one
of the knights who had been at the dinner, demurred, and accused her of
having driven Lancelot from the country by her scorn and jealousy.

Then she knelt and begged his aid, and the king, coming in, also
requested his assistance, for he was now sure the queen had been
unjustly defamed.

"My lord," answered Bors, "it is a great thing you require of me, for if
I grant your request I will affront many of my Round Table comrades. Yet
for your and Lancelot's sake I will be the queen's champion on the day
appointed, unless it may happen that a better knight than I come to do
battle for her."

"Will you promise me this, on your faith?" asked the king.

"I shall not fail you," said Bors. "If a better knight than I come, the
battle shall be his. If not, I will do what I can."

This promise gladdened the king and queen, who thanked Bors heartily,
and were filled with hope, for they trusted greatly in this good
knight's prowess and skill.

Bors, however, had other thoughts than they dreamed of, and left the
court secretly, riding to the hermitage of Brasias, where he found
Lancelot and told him of what had occurred.

"This happens well," said Lancelot. "The queen shall not suffer. Do you
make ready for the battle, but tarry and delay, if I am not there, as
much as you may, till I arrive. Mador is a hot knight, and will be hasty
to battle. Bid him cool his haste."

"Leave that to me," said Bors. "Doubt not that it will go as you wish."

Meanwhile the news spread throughout the court that Bors had taken on
himself the queen's championship. This displeased the most of the
knights, for suspicion of the queen was general. On his return many of
his fellows accused him hotly of taking on himself a wrongful quarrel.

"Shall we see the queen of our great lord King Arthur brought to shame?"
he demanded. "To whom in the world do we owe more?"

"We love and honor our king as much as you do," they answered. "But we
cannot love a destroyer of knights, as Queen Guenever has proved
herself."

"Fair sirs," said Bors, "you speak hastily, methinks. At all times, so
far as I know, she has been a maintainer, not a destroyer, of knights,
and has been free with gifts and open-handed in bounty to all of
knightly fame. This you cannot gainsay, nor will I suffer the wife of
our noble king to be shamefully slain. She is not guilty of Sir
Patrise's death, for she never bore him ill will, nor any other at that
dinner. It was for good will she invited us there, and I doubt not her
innocence will be proved; for howsoever the game goeth, take my word for
it, some other than she is guilty of that murder."

This some began to believe, convinced by his words, but others still
held their displeasure, believing the queen guilty.

When at length the day that had been fixed for the battle came, there
was a great gathering of knights and people in the meadow beside
Winchester, where the combat was to take place. But many shuddered when
they saw another thing, for an iron stake was erected, and fagots heaped
round it, for the burning of the queen should Mador win the fight.

Such, indeed, was the custom of those days. Neither for favor, for love,
nor for kindred could any but righteous judgment be given, as well upon
a king as upon a knight, upon a queen as upon a poor lady, and death at
the stake was the penalty for those convicted of murder.

Now there rode into the lists Sir Mador de la Porte, and took oath
before the king that he held the queen to be guilty of the death of Sir
Patrise, and would prove it with his body against any one who should say
to the contrary.

Sir Bors followed, and made oath as the queen's champion that he held
her guiltless, and would prove it with his body, unless a better knight
came to take the battle on him.

"Make ready then," said Mador, "and we shall prove which is in the
right, you or I."

"You are a good knight, Sir Mador," said Bors, "but I trust that God
will give this battle to justice, not to prowess."

He continued to talk and to make delay till Mador called out
impatiently,--

"It seems to me that we waste time and weather. Either come and do
battle at once, or else say nay."

"I am not much given to say nay," answered Bors. "Take your horse and
make ready. I shall not tarry long, I promise you."

Then each departed to his tent, and in a little while Mador came into
the field with his shield on his shoulder and his spear in his hand. But
he waited in vain for Bors.

"Where is your champion?" cried Mador to the king. "Bid him come forth
if he dare!"

When this was told to Bors he was ashamed to delay longer, and mounted
his horse and rode to his appointed place. But as he did so he saw a
knight, mounted on a white horse, and bearing a shield of strange
device, emerge from a neighboring wood, and come up at all speed. He
continued his course till he came to Sir Bors.

"Be not displeased, fair knight," he said, "if I claim this battle. I
have ridden far this day to have it, as I promised you when we spoke
last. And for what you have done I thank you."

Then Bors rode to the king and told him that a knight had come who would
do battle for the queen and relieve him from the championship.

"What knight is this?" asked the king.

"All I may say is that he covenanted to be here to-day. He has kept his
word, and I am discharged."

"How is this?" demanded Arthur. "Sir knight, do you truly desire to do
battle for the queen?"

"For that, and that alone, came I hither," answered the knight. "And I
beg that there be no delay, for when this battle is ended I must depart
in haste on other duties. I hold it a dishonor to all those knights of
the Round Table that they can stand and see so noble a lady and
courteous a queen as Queen Guenever rebuked and shamed among them all.
Therefore I stand as her champion."

Then all marvelled what knight this could be, for none suspected him.
But Mador cried impatiently to the king,--

"We lose time here. If this knight, whoever he be, will have ado with
me, it is time to end words and begin deeds."

"You are hot, Sir Mador. Take care that your valor be not cooled," said
the other.

They now moved to their appointed stations, and there couched their
spears and rode together with all the speed of their chargers. Mador's
spear broke, but the spear of his opponent held, and bore him and his
horse backward to the earth.

But he sprang lightly from the saddle, and drew his sword, challenging
the victor to do battle with him on foot. This the other knight did,
springing quickly to the ground, and drawing his sword. Then they came
eagerly to the combat, and for the space of near an hour fought with the
fury of wild beasts, for Mador was a strong knight, proved in many
battles.

But at last the strange champion struck his opponent a blow that brought
him to the earth. He stepped near him to hurl him flat, but at that
instant Mador suddenly rose. As he did so he struck upward with his
sword, and ran the other through the thick of the thigh, so that the
blood flowed freely.

When he felt himself wounded he stepped back in a rage, and grasping his
sword struck Mador a two-handed blow that hurled him flat to the earth.
Then he sprang upon him to pull off his helm.

"I yield me!" cried Mador. "Spare my life, and I release the queen."

"I shall not grant your life," said the other, "only on condition that
you freely withdraw this accusation from the queen, and that no charge
against her be made on Sir Patrise's tomb."

"All this shall be done. I have lost, and adjudge her innocent."

The knights-parters of the lists now took up Sir Mador and bore him to
his tent. The other knight went to the foot of King Arthur's seat. By
that time the queen had come thither also, and was heartily kissed by
her overjoyed lord. Then king and queen alike thanked the victor knight,
and prayed him to take off his helmet, and drink some wine for
refreshment. This he did, and on the instant a loud shout went up from
all present, for they recognized the noble face of Lancelot du Lake.

"Sir Lancelot!" cried the king. "Never were you more heartily welcome.
Deep thanks I and Queen Guenever owe you for your noble labor this day
in our behalf."

"My lord Arthur," said Lancelot, "I would shame myself should I ever
fail to do battle for you both. It was you who gave me the high honor of
knighthood. And on the day you made me knight I lost my sword through
haste, and the lady your queen found it and gave it me when I had need
of it, and so saved me from disgrace among the knights. On that day I
promised her to be ever her knight in right or wrong."

"Your goodness merits reward," said the king, "and therein I shall not
fail you."

But as the queen gazed on Lancelot, tears came to her eyes, and she wept
so tenderly that she almost sank to the ground from sorrow and remorse
at her unkindness to him who had done her such noble service.

Now the knights of his blood came around Lancelot in the greatest joy,
and all the Knights of the Round Table after them, glad to welcome him.

And in the days that followed Lancelot was cured of his wound, and Mador
put under the care of skilful leeches, while great joy and gladness
reigned in the court for the happy issue of that combat which had
promised so fatal an ending.

About this time it befell that Nimue, the damsel of the lake, came to
the court, she who knew so many things by her power of enchantment, and
had such great love for Arthur and his knights.



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