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If not, may God reward you."

This said, he rode with proud mien from the castle, and galloped at
headlong speed away, while she, with sad eyes and sighing lips, stood
looking with loving regard on his departing form.

Sadly was his coming needed, for imminent was the peril of the queen. At
the place fixed for the combat knights and lords had early gathered, and
Meliagrance, feeling sure that Lancelot could not appear to do battle,
put on a haughty mien, and loudly demanded justice, or the combat. Yet
the hour appointed came and passed, and the queen's champion had not
appeared; while the king and all the court grew full of pain and dread
as the fatal moments went by. The laws were strict, and could not be set
aside for queen or commoner. Guenever must perish at the stake, or be
saved by a champion's sword and spear. Therefore, as the minutes slowly
grew into hours, and nothing of Lancelot was seen, while Meliagrance
more loudly demanded justice or a champion, all hearts sank deep in
despair.

"My lord the king," cried Lavaine, at length, "some sad misfortune has
happened to Sir Lancelot. Never did he fail to appear to do battle
unless he were sick or in prison. I beseech you, therefore, give me
leave this day to do battle for him, and to strike a knightly blow for
my lady the queen."

"Thanks, gentle knight," said the king. "I dare avow that the charge
which Meliagrance lays upon the queen is a false one, for of these ten
wounded knights who were present, there is not one but would gladly do
battle to prove its falsity were he able to wear armor."

"That shall I do in the service of my lord Lancelot," said Lavaine, "if
you will give me leave."

"Full leave you have," answered the king. "I pray you do your best; for
it seems sure that some treachery has been done to the noble Lancelot."

Lavaine now armed in all haste, and, mounting his war-courser, rode into
the lists, where he faced Meliagrance, challenging him to do battle to
the death.

"Lesses les aller!" cried the heralds.

The two champions couched their spears, clutched their bridles, and were
about to plunge the spurs into their horses' flanks, when the sound of
hoofs was heard without, and an armed knight came galloping at furious
speed into the lists.

"Ho! and abide!" cried King Arthur.

"Raise your spears, sir knights, this quarrel is mine," said the
new-comer. "You have my thanks, Lavaine, but only I must fight in this
cause."

Then he rode to the king, lifted his visor, and showed the noble face of
Lancelot, now hot with indignation.

"I am here to fight this villain and traitor," he called, loudly. "My
lord the king, I have lain these eight days in a prison cell, into which
the base hound entrapped me. By fortune I escaped, and here I am, ready
to pay him in fitting coin for his foul treachery."

"The dog! has he done this thing?" cried the king, in anger. "Then, by
my crown, whether he win or not Guenever shall not suffer from the
charge which he has dared bring. But God's justice will not let him
win."

That Meliagrance quaked at heart on seeing this seeming apparition from
the grave need not be said. But he had dared the hazard of the die, and
sat his horse in grim silence while his foul treachery was thus made
known to the court. Lancelot now rode to his place in the lists, and
faced his adversary.

"Lesses les aller!" cried the heralds again.

Then, spear in rest, the warriors spurred their horses, and met with a
shock like thunder in the centre of the field. Lancelot kept his saddle,
but Meliagrance was hurled over his horse's croup. Seeing this, Lancelot
lightly sprang from his saddle, drew his sword, and advanced upon his
foe, who was on his feet ready to meet him.

Hot and fierce was the combat that succeeded, many great strokes being
given and returned; but at length Lancelot struck so fierce a blow that
Meliagrance was felled to the ground. Then the dastard cried aloud in an
agony of fear,--

"Noble knight, noble Sir Lancelot, spare my life, I humbly pray you! I
yield me as overcome and recreant and beseech you, as a Knight and
Fellow of the Round Table, not to slay me helpless. Alive or dead, I put
myself in your hands and the king's."

Lancelot stood looking grimly down upon him, at a loss what to do. To
slay him was the wish of his heart; yet it looked like murder to kill a
praying wretch. In his doubt he turned towards the queen, and she nodded
her head as if to bid him kill the villain.

"Rise, sir hound," cried Lancelot. "You shall fight this battle to the
utterance."

"I will never rise," said Meliagrance, "till you grant me mercy as a
yielding and recreant knight."

"Coward!" cried Lancelot. "If you fear to fight me as I am, I will give
you odds in the combat. I will take off my armor from my head and the
left side of my body, and let them bind my left hand behind me, and
fight you with my right hand alone."

At this perilous offer Meliagrance started hastily to his feet, and
loudly cried,--

"My lord Arthur, you have heard this offer! I accept it. Let him be
disarmed and bound as he says."

"You do not mean to keep this foolish promise, Lancelot?" demanded the
king.

"That do I," said Lancelot. "I shall not go back on my word, be it wise
or foolish."

"Then so let it be; but you invite death by such a reckless compact."

The attendant knights thereupon removed Lancelot's helmet, and took from
him his shield and the armor from his left side. They then bound his
left arm behind him, and thus arrayed he was placed before his
antagonist, whose heart burned with hope and with murderous designs.

All those who looked on were full of fear for Lancelot, deeming it the
height of folly that he should take such a frightful risk, while many
ladies closed their eyes, in dread to see him slain.

With the inspiration of hope, Meliagrance came up, bearing his sword
uplifted, while Lancelot stood with his head and side fully open to his
stroke. Down came the blade with a deadly sweep that caused many men to
close their eyes, sure that the knights head would be cleft in twain.

But Lancelot had no such thought. With a light swing to the right he
avoided the stroke, which cut idly through the air; then, stepping
forward to give effect to the blow, he swung his own blade upward with
giant strength, and brought it down on Meliagrance's helmet with such
mighty force that the hard steel and the head it covered were shorn in
twain, and the traitor knight fell dead upon the field.

Wild were the shouts of joy and triumph at this unlooked-for end to the
combat. The king sprang from his seat and rushed into the lists, where
he warmly clasped Lancelot in his arms; while Guenever, in joy at her
deliverance, kissed him on both cheeks; and all the knights crowded
around them with glad cries and warm congratulations.

As for Meliagrance, he was given the burial of a recreant and traitor,
the cause of his death being inscribed on his tomb, that all might read
his dishonor.

But for Sir Lancelot, the king and queen made more of him, and felt more
love for him in their hearts, than ever before.

After this time many events of interest took place of which we have
little space to speak. Among them, Lancelot healed the wounds of a
knight of Hungary, named Sir Urre, who had been held in pain, through
sorcery, for seven years, till his wounds should be touched by the best
knight in the world. This knight had a lovely sister, named Felelolie,
whom Lavaine married, whereupon King Arthur made him a Knight of the
Round Table, and gave him a barony of land.

As for Lancelot, he gained great fame as the Chevalier of the Cart. For
as many lords and ladies made sport of him as the knight who had ridden
in a cart, like one sentenced to the gallows, for a whole twelvemonth he
never mounted horse, but rode only in a cart, during which time he had
many adventures and fought forty battles, in all of which he came off
victor.

And so the days grew into years, and all went happily at Arthur's court,
though each passing day brought the coming time of woe and disaster
nearer to hand.




BOOK XI.

THE HAND OF DESTINY.




CHAPTER I.

THE TRAPPING OF THE LION.


In May, when every lusty heart flourisheth and bourgeoneth,--for as
winter, with its rough winds and blasts, causes man and woman to cover
and sit fast by the fire, this fresh and joyous season brings them forth
to gladden in the coming of the flowery summer,--in this rare month of
May, when only merry thoughts and gentle deeds should be known, there
began a great and unhappy season of wrath, which ended not till the
flower of chivalry of all the world was destroyed. And this all came
about through the hate and jealousy of two unhappy knights, Sir
Agravaine and Sir Mordred, brothers unto Sir Gawaine.

For much in their secret souls they hated the queen and Lancelot, and
they fell to watching this good knight daily and nightly, with the hope
of bringing him in some way to shame.

Failing in this base endeavor, they no longer concealed their enmity,
but began to talk openly of the love of Lancelot for the queen, and to
hint that shameful relations existed between them. The report of this
slanderous talk coming to Gawaine's ears, he reproved them sharply for
indulging in such base and unworthy scandal, in which he was joined by
his brothers Gareth and Gaheris.

"You forget what Lancelot has done for you," said Gawaine. "Who but he
rescued you both when held in prison by Sir Turquine? And many other
things he has done in your favor. Methinks such kind deeds merit better
return than this."

"Think as you will," said Agravaine, "I have my opinions and shall hide
them no longer."

As they thus debated King Arthur approached.

"Now, brothers, stint your noise," said Gawaine.

"That will we not," they replied.

"Then the devil speed the pair of you, if you are bent on mischief! I
will listen to no more of your slanderous talk."

"Nor will we," said Gareth and Gaheris. "We owe too much to Lancelot to
listen to the false tales of evil tongues."

With this they turned and walked away in anger and grief, as Arthur came
up.

"What is this?" asked the king.



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