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For when he
came again to Bors, he had found him, with others of his kindred, armed
and ready to come to his rescue. They listened with concern and
indignation to Lancelot's story of how he had been entrapped, and heard
with knightly joy the story of his bold discomfiture of his foes.

But it was evident to them all that the event was one of the greatest
moment; that enmity would exist between Lancelot and the king, and that
Guenever might be adjudged to the stake on the charge of infidelity to
her lord.

Therefore Bors took it upon himself to gather in Lancelot's defence all
his kindred and friends; and by seven o'clock of the next morning he had
gained the word of twenty-two Knights of the Round Table. To these were
added knights of North Wales and Cornwall, who joined Lancelot for
Lamorak's and Tristram's sake, to the number of fourscore.

To these Lancelot told all that had occurred, and expressed his fear of
Arthur's hostility.

"I am sure of mortal war," he said, "for these knights claimed to have
been sent and ordained by King Arthur to betray me, and I fear the king
may, in his heat and malice, condemn the queen to the fire. Trust me,
that I will not suffer her to be burnt for my sake. She is and has been
ever a true lady to her lord, and while I live she shall not become a
victim to the malice of her enemies."

The assembled knights agreed with him in this decision, and promised
their utmost aid in his purpose of rescue.

"Rescue her I shall, whoever may be hurt; and I trust to heaven that no
friend of mine will aid the king to her injury. But if I rescue her,
where shall I keep her?"

"Did not the noble Sir Tristram, with your good will, keep La Belle
Isolde three years in Joyous Gard, against the malice of King Mark?"
said Bors. "That place is your own; and there, if the king adjudge the
queen to the stake, you may keep her till his heat shall cool. Then you
may bring her home with worship, and gain Arthur's thanks."

"That may not work so well as you fancy," said Lancelot. "You remember
what a return Tristram got from King Mark."

"That is another story," replied Bors. "You know well that Arthur and
Mark are men of different mould. Mark could smile and play the traitor;
but no man living can say that King Arthur was ever untrue to his word."

Their conference over, by the advice of Lancelot the knights put
themselves in ambush in a wood as near Carlisle as they could secretly
approach. And there they remained on guard, waiting to learn what the
king might do.

Meantime Mordred, though wounded by Lancelot's sword, had managed to
mount his horse, and rode in all haste to tell the king of the bloody
end of the ambush. On hearing the story, Arthur's mind was divided
between anger and pain.

"It grieves me sorely that Lancelot should be against me," he said; "and
much I fear that the glorious fellowship of the Round Table is broken,
for many of our noblest knights will hold with him. But dishonor must
not rest upon England's crown. The queen has played me false, and shall
suffer death for her treason to her wifely duty."

For the law was such in those days, that all, of whatever estate or
degree, found guilty of treason, should suffer death. And so it was
ordained in Queen Guenever's case--since thirteen knights had been
slain, and one escaped sore wounded, in defending the king's honor--that
she should be taken to the stake, and there be burnt to death as a
traitress.

"My lord Arthur," said Gawaine, "let me counsel you not to be over
hasty in this severe judgment, for as I take it the guilt of the queen
is not proved. That Lancelot was found in the queen's chamber I admit;
but he might have come there with no evil purpose. You know how he has
been for years her chosen knight, and how much he has done for her. She
may have sent for him privily, to avoid scandal, for conference on some
innocent subject. What we do for the best often turns to the worst, and
I dare affirm that my lady the queen is, and has always been, faithful
and true to her lord. As for Lancelot, I doubt me not he will make good
what I have said with word and body, against any and all that question
or oppose."

"That I believe," said the king. "I know Lancelot's way. But his
boldness does not prove the queen's innocence. For her he shall never
fight again, for she shall suffer the penalty of the law. And if I can
lay my hands on him, he shall die the shameful death he richly merits."

"Then may Christ save me from ever seeing it," said Gawaine.

"Why say you this?" demanded the king, angrily. "You have no cause to
love him. Last night he killed your brother Agravaine, and here is
Mordred sorely wounded. He also slew two of your sons, Sir Florence and
Sir Lovel."

"I know all that. But I gave them warning beforehand of what would
happen if they meddled in this affair. They brought this fate on
themselves. As for Agravaine, he stirred up this scandalous business,
and has got his deserts."

"Say no more," cried the king, in hot indignation. "I am resolved. The
honor of Arthur's wife must be above suspicion. She has fallen from
chastity and shall die the death. As for you, Gawaine, I bid you arm in
your best armor, with your brethren Gareth and Gaheris, and bring her to
the fire, that she may there hear her judgment, and receive the death
she merits."

"No, my most noble lord, that shall I never do," said Gawaine. "No man
shall say that I had aught to do with the death of this worthy lady, or
gave my word in favor of her death."

"Then bid your brothers, Gareth and Gaheris, attend."

"They are young, and may not withstand your will; but they shall not be
there by my counsel," said Gawaine, stoutly.

"We must attend, if you command us," said Gareth and Gaheris to the
king. "But it will be sorely against our wills. If come we must, it
shall be in peaceful guise, and without warlike array."

"Come as you will," said the king. "This I say, she shall have judgment
this day."

"Alas! that I have ever lived to see this woful day!" said Gawaine,
sadly, and as he turned away the tears ran hotly from his eyes.

But the king was bitterly set in his deadly purpose, and no sooner had
he reached Carlisle than he gave command that the queen should at once
be led to the place of execution, there to be burned as a traitress.

When this fatal decision was known in the castle there was weeping and
wailing and wringing of hands from many lords and ladies, while of the
knights there present, few would consent to wear armor to compass the
queen's death.

But Arthur's commands none dared question, and the unhappy lady was
shriven by her ghostly father, and bound to the fatal stake. In a circle
around her stood a guard of armed knights, while others were present
without armor. But the king was not there; nor would Gawaine show
himself at that shameful scene.

Then fire was set to the fagots that surrounded the stake. But as the
flames began to curl upwards there came a shrill bugle-blast from a
neighboring wood, and of a sudden Lancelot and his knights broke from
their ambush, and rode upon those about the fire, striking right and
left at all who bore arms and withstood them.

Down went the guard of knights before this fierce onset, till full
twenty of them lay dead on the field. But by sad fortune, as Lancelot,
in his warlike fury pressed hither and thither, cutting and slashing
with the hot rage of the berserker, he by mishap struck the two unarmed
knights, Gareth and Gaheris, and stretched them dead upon the field.

This was in the thick of the fray, and he knew not what he had done, for
rather would he have slain himself than harmed these, his faithful
friends. A few minutes sufficed to kill or disperse all the guard. Then
Lancelot sprang from his horse, scattered the blazing fagots with his
foot, and with a blow of his sword severed the bonds that fastened
Guenever to the stake.

The unhappy lady fell, weeping, into his arms, thanking him in broken
accents. With all due haste he mounted her on a horse that had been
provided, and rode off with her and his following of gallant knights to
Joyous Gard, strong of heart and stout of frame, and resolved to fight
for her to the death, for more than ever he felt himself her chosen
knight.

And when word went through the country round that Arthur and Lancelot
were at odds, many a good knight rode in all haste to his castle, bent
on taking his side in the coming war.

But when the news was brought to Arthur of how Lancelot had rescued the
queen, and slain many of his knights, and in particular Gareth and
Gaheris, his anger turned to such bitter sorrow and regret that he
swooned from pure grief. And when he came to his senses again he deeply
moaned, and reproached himself for the evil that had befallen.

"Alas! that I ever wore the crown!" he bewailed. "Within these two days
I have lost forty knights, and, above all, the noble fellowship of
Lancelot and his kindred, and all because I listened to the tongue of
foul detraction. Alas! that ever this fatal thing began! Fair friends,
see that none of you tell Gawaine of what has happened, for he loves
Gareth so deeply that I fear, when he hears of his death, he will go out
of his mind. How came Lancelot to slay these knights, who both loved him
devotedly?"

"He would never have harmed them had he known them," said a knight. "It
was in the midst of the hurtling and fierce struggling, when swords
strike they know not where. Sad he will be when he learns what he has
done."

"I am heavier for the loss of my knights than of my queen," said
Arthur, sadly. "Other queens may be had, but such a fellowship of
knights can never be brought together again. And this I know, that when
Gawaine learns of Gareth's death, he will never rest, nor suffer me to
rest, till I have destroyed Lancelot and his kindred, or they have
destroyed me. Ah, Agravaine, Agravaine, Jesus forgive thy soul for thy
evil will, for thou and thy brother Mordred have caused all this bitter
sorrow."

While the king thus complained, a tale-bearer, unheeding his
injunctions, came to Gawaine big with his story, and told him of the
rescue of the queen, and the death of a knightly host.

"What else could Lancelot do?" said Gawaine.



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