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And in the morning she was richly
interred, and with all due honor, at Lancelot's command; and he offered
her mass-penny, as did all the knights who were there present.

Then the poor dumb servitor returned again with the barge, rowing it
slowly and sadly back to Astolat.

Afterwards the queen sent for Lancelot, and begged his pardon humbly for
her causeless anger.

[Illustration: ELAINE.]

"This is not the first time," said Lancelot, "that you have been
displeased with me without cause. What you will, I must bear, and keep
my sorrow within my heart; yet I would that your love were less tainted
by hasty jealousy. As for forgiving you, what else can I do, my queen?
Love cannot live without forgiveness."

After these events the winter and spring passed on, with hunting and
hawking, and jousts and tournaments, and the fate of the fair Elaine was
wellnigh forgotten in the joy of the court. But her brother Lavaine
gained great honor, and at a tournament that was given on Candlemas day
did so nobly that the king promised he should be made a Knight of the
Round Table at the next feast of Pentecost.

And at this tournament Lancelot again fought in disguise, wearing a
sleeve of gold of the queen's, and did such deeds that the prize was
adjudged to him. Thus a second time did he wear a woman's token in the
lists.




CHAPTER IV.

THE CHEVALIER OF THE CART.


The year passed on from Candlemas till after Easter, and then came the
month of May, when every lusty heart begins to blossom and to bear
fruit; for as herbs and trees flourish in May, so does the heart of a
lover, since in this lusty month all lovers gain courage, calling to
their minds old vows and deeds of gentleness, and much that was
forgotten in the winter's chill.

As winter always defaces and erases green summer, so fares it with
unstable love in man and woman. But as May flowers and flourishes in
many gardens, so flowers the lover's heart in the joy of her to whom he
has promised his faith. Yet nowadays men cannot love seven days without
their love cooling; for where love warms in haste it cools as hastily;
thus fareth it in our days,--soon hot, soon cold. The old love was not
so. Men and women could love together seven years in truth and
faithfulness. Such was the way of love in King Arthur's days; but love
nowadays I liken unto summer and winter; now hot, now cold, like the
changing seasons. Therefore all ye who are lovers call to your
remembrance the month of May, like as did Queen Guenever, who while she
lived was a true lover, and therefore she had a good end.

So it befell in the month of May that Queen Guenever called unto her
certain knights of the Round Table, inviting them to ride with her in
the early morn a-maying in the woods and fields beside Camelot.

"And see that you all be well horsed," she said, "and clad in green,
either in silk or cloth. I shall bring with me ten ladies, and every
knight shall have a lady behind him, and bring with him a squire and two
yeomen."

And so, when morning came, the ten knights invited put on their gayest
robes of green, and rode with the queen and her ladies, a-maying in the
woods and fields, to their great joy and delight.

Yet this pleasure party led to sad results, as we have now to tell. For
there was a knight named Meliagrance, son of King Bagdemagus, who had a
castle, the gift of King Arthur, within seven miles of Camelot. This
knight loved the queen, and had done so for many years, and it had long
been in his heart to steal her away; but he had never been able to find
her without many knights about her, and, chief of all, Sir Lancelot.

When he heard of this Maying party, and that the queen would be attended
by only ten knights, and these in green robes, he resolved to carry out
his base design, and therefore placed in ambush twenty men-at-arms and a
hundred archers.

So it happened that while the queen and her knights were merrily
arraying one another in flowers and mosses, and with wreaths made of
sprays of fresh green, this false knight rode suddenly from a wood near
by, followed by a throng of armed men, and bade them stand, and yield up
the queen on peril of their lives.

"Traitor knight," cried Guenever, "what seek you to do? Wouldst thou, a
king's son, and a knight of the Round Table, seek to dishonor the noble
king who made you what you are? You shame yourself and all knighthood;
but me you shall never shame, for I had rather cut my throat than be
dishonored by you."

"Madam, this language will avail you nothing," said Meliagrance. "I have
loved you many a year, and now that I have you at advantage will take
you as I find you."

"You must kill us first, unarmed as we are," cried the queen's knights.
"You have taken us at a foul disadvantage; but you shall not have the
queen so lightly as you deem."

"Fight, will you? Then fight it, if you will have it so," said
Meliagrance.

Then the ten knights drew their swords, and the others spurred upon them
with couched spears. But so skilfully did the queen's defenders use
their blades that the spears did them no harm.

The battle then went on with swords, and the ten knights did noble
deeds, slaying many of their assailants; yet they were so overmatched
that they soon were all stretched upon the earth with bleeding wounds.

"Sir Meliagrance," cried the queen, in deep distress, "kill not my noble
knights, I pray you. If you do them no more harm I will go with you, if
you will take them with me. Otherwise I will slay myself before you
shall take me."

"Madam, since you wish it, they shall be taken to my castle, whither you
must come with me."

Then at the queen's command the battle ceased, and the knights had their
wounds dressed. But Meliagrance watched keenly that none of the company
should escape, for greatly he feared that news of this outrage might be
borne to Lancelot du Lake.

But there was with the queen a little page who rode a swift horse, and
to him she privily spoke.

"Slip away, when you see the chance," she said, "and bear this ring to
Lancelot du Lake. Tell him what has happened, and pray him as he loves
me to come in haste to my rescue. Spare not your horse, and stay not for
land or water."

The page took the ring, and rode carelessly to the edge of the circle.
Then, seeing his opportunity, he put spurs to his horse and rode away at
full speed. When Meliagrance saw this he ordered instant pursuit, and
the boy was hotly chased and fired at with arrows and javelins; yet the
speed of his horse soon carried him beyond danger.

"Madam," cried Meliagrance, fiercely, to the queen, "you are plotting to
betray me. But if you have sent for Lancelot du Lake, he shall find the
road to you a perilous one, I warrant him."

And as they rode to the castle he placed an ambush of thirty archers by
the road-side, charging them if they saw a knight come that way on a
white horse to slay the horse. But he warned them not to assail him in
person, as they would find him hard to overcome.

This done, the party proceeded to the castle; but here the queen would
not let her ladies and knights out of her presence, and Meliagrance
stood in such dread of Lancelot that he dared not use force.

In the mean time the page found Lancelot, and gave him the queen's ring
and message, telling him the whole story of the treacherous assault.

"I would give all France to have been there well armed," cried Lancelot.
"The queen shall be saved, or I will die in the effort. Haste you to Sir
Lavaine and tell him where I have gone, and bid him follow me to
Meliagrance's castle. Tell him to come quickly, if he wishes to have a
hand in the rescue of the queen and her knights."

Lancelot was hastily arming as he spoke, and mounting, he rode with all
speed, forcing his horse to swim the Thames in his haste. In no great
time he reached the spot where the fight had taken place, and where he
found the garlands the knights had worn, rent with sword-strokes and
reddened with their blood. Then he followed the tracks of the party till
he entered a narrow passage, bordered by a wood. Here were the archers
stationed, and when Lancelot came by they bade him return, for that way
was closed.

"Why should I turn?" he demanded. "Whence get you the right to close the
way?"

"If you go forward it will be on foot, for we shall kill your horse."

"Go forward I shall, if there were five hundred more of you," said
Lancelot.

Then a cloud of arrows whistled through the air, and the noble horse,
struck by a dozen shafts, fell to the earth. Lancelot leaped lightly
from the falling animal, and rushed in a rage into the wood; but there
were so many hedges and ditches that he found it impossible to reach his
light-armed assailants.

"Shame on this Meliagrance for a dastard!" he cried in anger. "It is a
true old saw that a good man is never in danger but from a coward."

The angry knight, finding that his assailants were beyond his reach, set
out on foot for Meliagrance's castle, but found himself so encumbered
with his armor, shield, and spear, that his progress was but slow. Yet
he dared not leave any of his arms, for fear of giving his foe an
advantage.

At length, by good fortune, there appeared on the road a cart, that was
used for hauling wood.

"Tell me, friend carter," said Lancelot, when the vehicle came near,
"what shall I give you for a ride in your cart to a castle that lies a
few miles away?"

"You can give me nothing," said the carter. "I am sent to bring wood for
my lord, Sir Meliagrance, and it is not my fashion to work for two at
once."

"It is Sir Meliagrance I seek."

"Then go on foot," said the carter, surlily. "My cart is for other
work."

Incensed at this, Lancelot dealt the fellow a blow with his mailed fist
that stretched him senseless on the ground. Then he turned to the
carter's comrade.

"Strike me not, fair sir," pleaded this fellow. "I will bring you where
you wish."

"Then drive me and this cart to the gate of Meliagrance's castle."

"Leap into the cart, and you shall be there before the day grows old."

This Lancelot did, and the carter lashed his horse forward with all
speed, for he was in mortal fear of the knight's hard fist.

An hour and a half afterwards, as Guenever and her ladies stood in a
window of the castle, they saw a cart approaching, in which stood
upright an armed knight, resting on his spear.



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