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Open, for a noble knight lies bleeding to death
at your gate!"

This loud appeal quickly brought out the hermit, who was named Baldwin
of Brittany, and had once been a Round Table knight. He gazed with pity
and alarm on the pale face and bleeding form before him.

"I should know this knight," he said. "Who is he?"

"Fair sir," said Lancelot, feebly, "I am a stranger and a knight-errant,
who have sought renown through many realms, and have come here to my
deadly peril."

As he spoke the hermit recognized him, by a wound on his pallid cheek.

"Ah, my lord Lancelot," he said, "you cannot deceive me thus."

"Then, if you know me, help me for heaven's sake. Relieve me from this
pain, whether it be by life or death."

"I shall do my best," said the hermit. "Fear not that you will die."

Then he had him borne into the hermitage, and laid in bed, his armor
being removed. This done, the hermit stanched the bleeding, anointed the
wound with healing ointments, and gave Lancelot a refreshing and healing
draught.

Meanwhile King Arthur invited the knights of both parties to a great
evening feast, and there asked the king of North Wales to bring forward
the knight of the red sleeve, that he might receive the prize he had
won.

"That I cannot do," was the answer. "He was badly, if not fatally,
wounded, and left us so hastily that we know not whither he went."

"That is the worst news I have heard these seven years," said Arthur. "I
would rather lose my throne than have that noble knight slain."

"Do you know him?" they all asked.

"I have a shrewd suspicion who he is; and I pray God for good tidings of
him."

"By my head," said Gawaine, "I should be sorry enough to see harm come
to one that can handle spear and sword like him. He cannot be far away,
and if he is to be found I shall find him."

"Fortune aid you in the quest," said the king.

Then Gawaine took a squire, and they rode in all directions for six or
seven miles around Camelot, but could learn nothing of the missing
knight. Two days afterwards Arthur and his fellowship set out on their
return to London. On their way they passed through Astolat, and here it
happened that Gawaine lodged with Sir Bernard, Lancelot's former host.

He was well received, and the old baron and his fair daughter begged him
earnestly for tidings of the tournament, being specially eager to know
who had done best there.

"Two knights bore all before them," said Gawaine. "Both carried white
shields, and one wore on his helmet a red sleeve, as some fair lady's
token. Never saw I a man before do such mighty deeds, and his fellow
seconded him nobly."

"Blessed be God that that knight did so well," broke out Elaine, "for he
is the first man I ever loved, and shall be the last."

"You know him then?" said Gawaine. "Pray tell me his name."

"That I know not, nor whence he came; but this I truly know, that I love
him, and that the token he wore was mine. This, and this only, I can
justly affirm."

"This is a strange story," said Gawaine. "What knowledge have you of
him? and how came you to know him?"

In response, she told him how the knight had left his shield with her,
and taken that of her brother, with what else she knew.

"I would thank you much for a sight of that shield," said Gawaine.

"I have it in my chamber, covered with a case, and will send for it,"
said Elaine.

When the shield was brought Gawaine removed the case, and at sight he
knew it to be Lancelot's shield.

"Ah, mercy!" said Gawaine, "the sight of this makes my heart heavy."

"Why so?" she demanded.

"For good cause," he answered. "Is the owner of this shield your love?"

"Truly so," she replied. "I love him dearly; would to God he loved me as
dearly."

"Then must I say that you have given your love to the noblest and most
renowned knight in the world."

"So it seemed to me; for he carries a noble soul in his face."

"This I may say," said Gawaine. "I have known this knight for more than
twenty years, and never knew him before to wear a woman's token at joust
or tournament. You owe him thanks, indeed, that he wore yours. Yet I
dread greatly that you will never see him again, and it is for this that
my heart is heavy."

"Why say you so?" she cried, starting up with pallid face. "Is he hurt?
Is he slain?"

"Not slain; but sadly hurt. This more it is my duty to tell you: he is
the noble knight, Sir Lancelot du Lake. I know him by his shield."

"Lancelot! Can this be so? And his hurt--who gave it? Is it really
perilous?"

"Had the knight who wounded him known him, he would have been grieved
almost to death. As for Sir Lancelot, I can tell you nothing more. On
receiving his hurt he left the lists with his comrade, and cannot be
found. He is somewhere concealed."

"Then shall I go seek him!" cried Elaine. "Give me leave to do so, dear
father, if you would not have me lose my mind. I shall never rest till
I find him and my brother, and nurse him back to health."

"Go, daughter, if you will," said her father, "for I am sick at heart to
hear such tidings of that noble knight."

In the morning Gawaine rejoined King Arthur, and told him of what he had
learned.

"I knew already it was Lancelot," said the king; "but never before knew
I him to wear woman's token."

"By my faith, this lily maiden of Astolat loves him deeply," said
Gawaine. "What it means I cannot say, but she has set out to seek him,
and will break her heart if she fail to find him."

And so they rode on to London, where Gawaine made known to the court
that it was Lancelot who wore the red sleeve and won the prize at the
tournament.

This tidings made no small trouble in the court. Bors and his kinsmen
were heavy at heart when they learned that it was Lancelot whom they had
so hotly assailed. And Queen Guenever was beside herself with anger on
learning that it was Lancelot who had worn the red sleeve at the
tournament.

Meanwhile Elaine journeyed to Camelot in search of the wounded knight,
and as she sought far and near about the town, sick at heart, it chanced
that she espied her brother Lavaine, as he rode out to give his horse
air. She called loudly to him, and when he came up asked him,--

"How does my lord, Sir Lancelot?"

"Who told you, sister, that my lord's name was Lancelot?"

She told him how she had learned this, and they rode together to the
hermitage, where Lavaine brought her in to see the wounded knight.

But when she saw him lying there so sick and pale, and with a death-like
hue upon his face, she stood gazing upon him with dilated eyes and
whitening face, and then suddenly fell to the floor in a deep swoon.

"I pray you, Lavaine, take her up and bring her to me," said Lancelot.

When she was brought near him he kissed her pale face, and at the touch
of his lips her cheeks flamed out with red, and life came back to her.

"Fair maiden," said Lancelot, "it pains me to see you so deeply
afflicted. Comfort yourself, I pray you. If you come here to my aid you
are truly welcome; but let not this little hurt trouble you; I shall
soon be well of it."

Then they fell into discourse, and Elaine told Lancelot how Gawaine had
seen and known his shield. This gave him no small trouble, for he knew
well that the story of the red scarf would get to Queen Guenever's ears,
and he feared its effect on her hasty and jealous temper. But Elaine
never left Lancelot, but watched him day and night, nursing him back to
health.




CHAPTER III.

HOW ELAINE DIED FOR LOVE.


When Sir Bors learned that his unlucky blow had brought Lancelot nearly
to death's door, he became sore indeed at heart, and hastened to Camelot
in search of his noble kinsman. Here he met Lavaine, who knew him and
conducted him to the bedside of the wounded knight.

When he saw the pale and haggard countenance of Lancelot, he fell into a
passion of tears, and accused himself bitterly. But Lancelot consoled
him as well as he could, declaring that the fault was his own, and that
he would bear the blame. Then Bors told him of the anger of the queen,
and of his earnest but vain endeavor to overcome it.

"I deserve it not," said Lancelot. "I wore the sleeve only by way of
disguise. As for Gawaine, he would have shown more wisdom and friendship
had he been less free of speech."

"I told her all this," said Bors, "but she was past listening to reason.
Is this maiden, who is so busy about you, she whom they call the lily of
Astolat?"

"She it is," said Lancelot. "I cannot by any means put her from me."

"Why should you?" asked Bors. "She is a beautiful and tender-hearted
damsel. Would to God, fair cousin, you could love her, for I see well,
by her gentle and close care of you, that she loves you devoutedly."

"That I am sorry for," said Lancelot.

"She will not be the first that has loved you in vain," said Bors; "the
more the pity."

Many other things they talked of, and Lancelot found such comfort in the
presence of Sir Bors that in a few days he showed great signs of
improvement. Then Bors told him of another tournament that King Arthur
had ordered, to be held at Camelot on All-hallowmas day, between his
party and that of the king of North Wales.

This filled Lancelot with an earnest desire to grow strong, and during
the following month, under the kind care of his cousin, and the gentle
ministrations of Elaine, he improved greatly in health. For Elaine
waited upon him with loving diligence night and day, and never was child
or wife more gentle and heedful to father or husband than this fair maid
of Astolat to the wounded knight.

At length came a day when Lancelot felt so much stronger, through the
healing influence of a bath of herbs which the hermit had gathered in
the woods, that he determined to try if he could wear his armor and sit
in his saddle. He thereupon armed and had his horse brought out.
Mounting the mettled charger, in the high spirit of new health he
spurred it to full speed.

But the courser's long rest in the stable had made it fresh and fierce,
and on feeling the spurs it leaped forward so violently that Lancelot's
wound burst open in the strain, and the blood gushed out again.

"Bors!



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