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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. "I should have done as much
myself had I stood in his place. But where are my brothers? Why hear I
not of them?"

"Truly," said the man; "they are both killed."

"Now, Jesus forbid! What! both? Is Gareth slain? Dare you tell me so?"

"Alas! the pity of it!"

"Killed! Who killed him?"

"Sir Lancelot slew them both."

"That is false. Gareth loved him better than he did me or the king. He
would have joined him against us all, had Lancelot desired. And he was
unarmed. Dare you repeat this story?" and he caught the man fiercely by
the shoulders and glared wildly in his face.

"Sir, it is so noised abroad," said the man.

"Then is all joy gone from my life," moaned Gawaine, and he fell to the
floor in a deep swoon, in which he lay long like one dead.

But when Gawaine recovered, and had sought the king, and learned that
his two brothers had been killed, unarmed and defenceless, his sorrow
changed to bitter and revengeful anger.

"My king, my lord, and my uncle," he sternly said, "I vow by my
knighthood that I shall never forgive Lancelot for this murderous deed,
but from this day forth shall remain his deadly foe, till one of us has
slain the other. War to the death it shall be, and if you aid me not I
shall seek Sir Lancelot alone, if it be through seven kings' realms,
till I hold him to answer for this deed of blood."

"You shall not need to seek him so far," said the king. "They say that
Lancelot awaits us in Joyous Gard, and that many knights have joined
him."

"Well is it so," said Gawaine fiercely. "Then my lord Arthur, gather
your friends, and I will gather mine. Say not that deeds like this shall
go unpunished in England's realm. Your justice defied! My unarmed
brothers murdered! Shall this be done, and we basely submit?"

"You speak to the point," said the king. "We must strike for honor and
revenge. Strong as Lancelot's castle is, and bold as are his friends, I
fancy I can gain strength enough to draw him out of the strongest tower
in it."

Then King Arthur sent orders far and wide through the land, and in brief
time there came to Carlisle many knights, dukes, and earls, so that he
had a great host. These the king informed of what had happened, and of
his purpose to force Lancelot to yield up his queen, and to punish him
for his trespass.

Lancelot meanwhile, was not idle, but drew to himself, many more
knights, and provisioned his castle fully, for he well knew that he must
abide behind walls, as he was far too weak to meet the king's host in
the field.

Not many days had elapsed when King Arthur and Gawaine with a great host
of men, laid siege about Joyous Gard, both the town and the castle, and
war replaced the peace that had reigned so long in the land.

But Lancelot lay secure in his castle, and for a long time would not go
out himself, nor suffer any of his knights to pass the gates of town or
castle. And so fifteen weeks of the siege passed away.




CHAPTER III.

THE RETURN OF GUENEVER.


It befell upon a day in harvest-time that Lancelot looked over the walls
of Joyous Gard, and seeing below him the king and Gawaine, thus spoke to
them,--

"My lords both, you besiege this castle in vain. You will gain more
dishonor than worship here. If I chose to come out, with my knights, I
should soon bring this war to an end."

"Come forth, if thou darest!" cried the king, in anger. "I promise to
meet thee in the midst of the field."

"God defend that I should face on the field of battle the noble king who
made me knight."

"A truce to your fair language," answered the king. "Trust me, that I am
your mortal foe, and will be so till the day of my death. You have slain
my knights and dishonored my queen, and hold her from me by force, like
a traitor. Think you I shall lightly forgive this?"

"You may say what you will, my lord and king," answered Lancelot. "With
you I will not fight; but as for your lady Guenever, I am ready to stand
for her innocence against any knight under heaven. Those who have
slandered me and her lie in their teeth, and I hold myself ready to
prove to the death that she is as true and chaste a lady as ever lived.
More than once, my lord, you have consented that she should be burnt,
from the voice of slander, and more than once have I rescued her, and
forced the lie down the throats of her slanderers. Then you thanked me
for saving her from the fire. Now, for doing you the same high service
again, you bring war upon me. Your queen is honest and true, and if you
will receive her to your good grace again I stand ready to deliver her."

"Recreant knight!" cried Gawaine, in wrath, "I warrant you my lord the
king shall have his queen and you too, despite your fair words and proud
defiance, and shall slay you both if it please him."

"That may be, Gawaine," said Lancelot. "Yet if I chose to come out of
the castle you would not find it quite child's play to win me and the
queen."

"Save your boastful words," said Gawaine. "As for my lady, the queen, I
shall say naught to her dishonor. But, recreant knight, what cause had
you to slay my brother Gareth, who loved you with his whole soul?"

"I shall not seek an excuse for that deed," said Lancelot. "I would with
as good will have slain my nephew Sir Bors. All I may say is that it was
done in the heat of battle, and I knew not they were slain till word was
brought me here."

"You lie in your teeth!" cried Gawaine. "You killed them in despite of
me; and for this foul deed I shall make war on you while I live."

"If you are so hotly set, there is no use for me to seek accord; yet I
am truly sorry for their deaths and your enmity. Only for this I would
soon have the good grace of my lord Arthur."

"That may be, traitor, but you will wait long for peace. You have lorded
it over me, and the whole of us, too long, and slain knights at your
will. Now our turn has come."

"No one dare say that I ever killed a knight through treachery, as you,
Gawaine, have done."

"You mean Sir Lamorak. Him I slew, man to man."

"Who lies now? You know well that you and the crew that set upon him
dared not meet him face to face. You struck him treacherously from
behind."

"A truce to Lamorak. This you may know, that I will never leave you till
I deal with you as I did with him."

"Murder me, you mean! I fancy you might if you caught me in such a
strait, which you will not easily do."

Then others took the cue from Gawaine, and the cry went up from many
voices: "False and recreant knight! how long will you hide behind your
castle walls, like a rat in his hole?"

"How long is this to last?" said Bors and others to Lancelot. "We pray
you to keep us no longer within these walls, but let us out to do battle
with them. Men will say next that you are afraid. As for fair speech, it
is thrown away. Gawaine will never forgive you, nor suffer you to make
accord with the king. Therefore fight for your right, for to that it
must come."

"I am loath to do so," said Lancelot.

Then he called from the wall to the king,--

"My knights demand that I let them sally from the castle. I therefore
pray that neither you nor Sir Gawaine come into the field, for to you
two I wish no harm."

"What then? Shall we cower in our tents while others fight our battles?"
cried Gawaine. "This quarrel is mine and the king's. Shall we not fight
in it?"

"If you will, you will; but I seek not battle with either of you."

Then they drew back, and both sides made ready for battle. And Gawaine,
with deadly intent, set aside a strong body of knights, bidding them to
attack Lancelot in force, and slay him if they could.

When the next morning came, King Arthur drew up his host against the
castle in three great bands. And Lancelot's fellowship issued from the
castle at three gates, the three bands being led by Lancelot, Bors, and
Lionel. But Lancelot had given strict charge to his knights to avoid
harming King Arthur and Sir Gawaine.

Fierce was the battle that followed, and many good knights were slain.
It began with a challenge from Gawaine, who came out before the king's
host and dared any knight of Lancelot's to joust with him. This
challenge Lionel accepted, but Gawaine thrust him through the body, and
dashed him to the earth like a dead man. Then his friends rushed to his
rescue and drove back his foes, bearing him from the field into the
castle. This affray brought on a hot and fiery battle, and soon the air
was filled with shouts, and the earth strewn with dead and wounded men.

In the midst of this fray the king hotly attacked Lancelot; but that
faithful knight patiently endured his assault, and lifted not a hand in
defence. But Bors, seeing his danger, rushed in, and, with a spear
thrust, hurled King Arthur to the ground. Quickly leaping from his
horse, he drew his sword, and said,--

"Shall I make an end of this war?"

"On pain of your head, no! Harm not the king! I shall not stand by and
see him slain."

Then Lancelot sprang to the ground and helped the king to his horse
again, saying,--

"My lord Arthur, for God's sake, end this strife! I will not fight you,
though you kill me, nor have I the heart to fight your men. My lord,
remember what I have done for you. Is not this an evil reward?"

When Arthur heard these words tears flowed from his eyes, for Lancelot's
courtesy had overcome his anger. He turned and rode away, saying
sadly,--

"Alas! that this war ever began."

Then both sides drew off, and parties of each began the sad duty of
burying the dead, while the wounded were borne away, and healing salves
applied to their wounds.

The next day the battle was renewed, and fought with the same deadly
energy as before. On this day Bors led the foremost party, and met
Gawaine as Lionel had done the day before.



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