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The damsel rode to the hostile camp on a palfry,
while the dwarf ran by her side. When she came near to King Arthur's
pavilion she alighted, and there was met by a gentle knight, Sir Lucan
the butler, who said,--

"Fair damsel, come you from Sir Lancelot du Lake?"

"Yes, sir," she replied, "I am come hither with a message from him to my
lord the king."

"Alas, that it should be needed!" said Sir Lucan. "My lord Arthur would
soon be in accord with Lancelot but for Gawaine, who has more influence
over him than all his knights besides, and will not suffer him to think
of peace and friendship. I pray to God, damsel, that you speed well in
your errand, for all that are about the king, except Sir Gawaine, wish
well to Lancelot above all knights living."

With these words he led the damsel to the king's pavilion. There Arthur,
who had been advised of her coming, sat with Gawaine to hear her
message. When she had told her errand the king was so moved that tears
ran from his eyes, and all the lords were ready to advise him to make
peace with Lancelot. But Gawaine, who sat with lowering brow, now broke
out in hot speech,--

"My lord, my uncle, what will you do? Will you turn again after having
come so far? All the world will speak villany of you."

"I do not deem it wise to refuse his fair proffers," said the king.
"Yet since I am come so far on this journey, I leave it to you to give
the damsel her answer."

"Then tell Sir Lancelot," said Gawaine to the damsel, "that he wastes
his labor now to sue to my uncle. If he wished peace he should have
sought it sooner. Now it is too late. Tell him, also, that I, Sir
Gawaine, promise him, by the faith I owe to God and to knighthood, never
to leave him in peace till he have slain me or I him."

This word the damsel brought back to Lancelot, where he stood among his
knights, and sad of heart he was to hear it.

"Why do you grieve?" said the knights. "If war they want, let them have
it to their fill. Let us meet them in the field."

"Never before was I so loath to do battle," said Lancelot. "I would
rather flee from King Arthur than fight him. Be ruled by me, noble sirs.
When I must defend myself, then I will; but haste will make fresh
sorrow."

Then the knights held their peace, and that night took their rest. But
in the morning, when they looked abroad, they saw a hostile host around
the city of Benwick, pressing it so closely that ladders were already
set up against the walls. The defenders of the town flocked in haste to
the walls and threw down the ladders, and hot strife began.

Forth now rode Sir Gawaine on a strong steed, and with a great spear in
his hand, and when he came before the chief gate he called out loudly,--

"Sir Lancelot, where art thou? Or what proud knight is here that dare
break a spear with me?"

Hearing this challenge, Sir Bors hastily made ready, and rode from the
city to the encounter. But Gawaine smote him from his horse, and would
have slain him had he not been rescued. Then Lionel, his brother, rode
out to revenge him; but he, too, was sorely wounded, and so borne into
the town.

And thus, day after day, came Gawaine with his challenge, and not a day
passed but some knight fell before his spear. And for half a year the
siege continued, and there was much slaughter on both sides.

At length came a day when Gawaine again appeared before the gates, armed
at all points, and loudly cried,--

"Where art thou now, thou false traitor, Sir Lancelot? Why hidest thou
within walls and holes like a coward? Come forth, traitor, that I may
revenge on thy body the death of my three brothers?"

Then said Lancelot's knights to their leader,--

"Now, Sir Lancelot, you must fight, or you are shamed forever. It is
time for you to stir, for you have slept over long and we suffered over
much."

"Defend myself I must, since he charges me with treason," said Lancelot.
"His words cut deeply, and I must fight or be held recreant," and with
stern countenance he bade the attendants to saddle his strongest horse
and bring his arms to the gate tower. Then from this tower he called to
the king, who stood below,--

"My lord Arthur," he said, "sad am I, for your sake, that thus you press
upon me. Had I been revengeful I might have met you in open field, and
there made your boldest knights full tame; but I have forborne you half
a year, and given you and Gawaine free way. It is much against my will
to fight with any of your blood, but since he accuses me of treason I am
driven to it like a beast brought to bay."

"If you dare do battle," cried Gawaine, "leave your babbling and come
out. Nothing will give deeper joy to my heart, for I have waited long
for this hour."

At this Lancelot mounted and rode out, and a host of knights followed
him from the city, while from the king's army a throng of knights
pressed to the front. But covenant was made that none should come near
the two warriors till one was dead or had yielded, and the knights drew
back, leaving a broad open space for the combatants.

Gawaine and Lancelot now rode far apart, and wheeled their horses till
they faced each other. Thus they stood in grim silence and energy till
the signal for the onset was given, when, like iron statues come to
life, they plunged their spurs in the flanks of their chargers and
dashed at furious speed across the plain. A minute passed, and they met
in the middle with a shock like thunder, but the knights were so strong
and their spears so great, that the horses could not endure the buffets,
and fell to the earth.

In a moment both knights had leaped clear of their saddles, drawn their
swords, and brought their shields before them. And now began a fierce
and terrible affray, for they stood and hewed at each other with might
and main, till blood burst in many places through the joints of their
armor.

But Gawaine had a gift that a holy man had given him, that every day in
the year, from nine o'clock till noon, his strength should increase till
it became threefold. And he took good care to fight all his battles
during these hours, whereby he gained great honor.

None knew of this gift but King Arthur, and as Lancelot felt the
strength of his antagonist constantly increasing, he wondered greatly,
and began to fear that he would be overcome. It seemed to him that he
had a fiend, and no earthly man, before him, and for three hours he
traced and traversed, and covered himself with his shield, scarcely able
to stand against the brunt of Gawaine's mighty blows. At this all men
marvelled, for never before had they beheld Lancelot so sorely driven to
defence.

But when the hour of noon had passed, the magic might of Gawaine
suddenly left him, and he had now only his own strength. This Lancelot
felt, and he drew himself up and pressed on his foe, saying,--

"You have had your day, Gawaine; now it is my turn. Defend yourself, for
I have many a grievous buffet to repay."

Then he redoubled his strokes, and at length gave Gawaine such a blow on
the helmet that he fell to the earth. Lancelot now withdrew a step.

"Why do you withdraw?" cried Gawaine, bitterly. "Turn, thou traitor, and
slay me; for if I recover you shall fight with me again."

"It is not my way, Sir Gawaine, to strike a fallen knight. When you
want to fight again you shall not find me lacking."

Then he turned and went with his knights into the city, while Gawaine
was borne from the field to one of the king's pavilions, where leeches
were brought to attend him.

"Alas!" said the king, "that ever this unhappy war began, for Sir
Lancelot ever forbeareth me, and my kin also, and that is well seen in
his sparing my nephew Gawaine this day."

Then Arthur fell sick from sorrow for the hurt of his nephew and regret
for the war. The siege was kept up, but with little energy, and both
sides rested from their toils.

Three weeks passed before Gawaine regained his strength; but as soon as
he was able to ride he armed again, mounted his horse, and rode to the
gate of Benwick, where he loudly repeated his challenge to Lancelot as a
traitor and recreant knight.

"You got the best of me by mischance at our last battle," he said, "but
if you dare come into the field this day I will make amends, and lay you
as low as you laid me."

"Defend me from such a fate," said Lancelot, "for if you should get me
into such a strait my days were done. But since you in this unknightly
fashion charge me with treason, I warrant you shall have both hands full
before you gain your end."

Then Lancelot armed and rode out, and the battle began as before, with a
circle of armed knights surrounding. But in this onset Gawaine's spear
broke into a hundred pieces in his hand, while Lancelot struck him with
such might that his horse's feet were raised, and horse and rider
toppled to the earth.

"Alight, traitor knight!" cried Gawaine, drawing his sword. "If a horse
has failed me, think not that a king and queen's son shall fail thee."

Then Lancelot sprang to the ground and the battle went on as before,
Gawaine's strength increasing hour by hour. But Lancelot, feeling this,
warily kept his strength and his wind, keeping under cover of his
shield, and tracing and traversing back and forth, to break the strength
and courage of his foe.

As for Gawaine, he put forth all his might and power to destroy
Lancelot, and for three hours pressed him so fiercely that he could
barely defend himself. But when noon passed, and Lancelot felt Gawaine's
strength again decline, he said,--

"I have proved you twice, Sir Gawaine. By this magic trick of your
strength increasing you have deceived many a valiant knight. You have
done your worst; now you shall see of what metal I am made."

Then he attacked him fiercely, and Gawaine defended himself with all his
power; but at length there fell such a heavy blow on his helmet and on
the old wound, that he sank to the earth in a swoon. When he came to
himself again, he struck feebly at Lancelot as he lay, and cried
spitefully,--

"Thou false traitor, I am not yet slain. Come near me, and do this
battle to the uttermost."

"I shall do no more than I have done," said Lancelot.



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