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"You have not thrown the sword
as I bade you. Go again, and obey my command, as you are to me dear and
true. Spare not, but throw it in afar."

Bevidere thereupon went again, and took the sword in his hand. But the
rich jewels so glittered in the sun that his greed came back more
strongly than before, and he deemed it a sin to throw into the sea that
noble blade. So he hid the sword again, and returned to the king with
his former tale.

"What sawest thou there?" asked the king.

"Sir, I saw nothing but the waves that broke on the beach, and heard
only the roar of the surf."

"Ah, traitor! false and untrue art thou!" cried the king. "Thou hast
betrayed me twice. Who would have thought that thou, whom I held dear,
and who art named a noble knight, would betray his king for the jewels
of a sword? Go again, for thy long delay puts me in a great jeopardy of
my life. If now you do not as I have bidden, beware of me hereafter, for
dead or alive I will have revenge upon you. Would you, Sir Bevidere, for
a shining blade, bring death and ruin to your king?"

Then Bevidere, heart-full of shame, hastened away, and took the sword,
turning his eyes manfully away from its jewelled hilt. Binding the
girdle around it, with all the might of his arm he hurled the blade far
out over the waves.

Then came a marvel. For as he followed the sword with his eyes, he saw a
hand and arm rise above the waves to meet the blade. The hand caught it
by the hilt, and brandished it thrice in the air, and then vanished with
it into the water.

Bevidere, much wondering, hurried back to the king, and told him what he
had seen.

"Now, Sir Bevidere, you have done as I bade you," said Arthur. "But much
precious time have you lost. Help me hence, in God's name, for I fear
that I have tarried over-long."

Then Bevidere took the king on his back and bore him to the water-side,
and lo! there he saw another strange thing.

For close by the shore lay a little barge, which he had not seen before,
and in it sat many fair ladies, among whom were three queens, who wore
black hoods, and wept with bitter sorrow when they saw King Arthur.

"Now help me into the barge," said the king.

This Sir Bevidere did as gently as he could. And the three queens
received the dying monarch with deep mourning, and had him laid between
them, with his head on the lap of her who sat in the centre.

"Alas! dear brother, why have you tarried so long from me?" said this
queen. "Much harm I fear from this sad wound."

And so they rowed from the land, while Bevidere stood on the shore sadly
watching the barge go from him.

"Ah, my lord Arthur," he cried, "what shall become of me, now that you
go from me and leave me here alone among my enemies?"

"Comfort thyself," said the king, "and do what thou mayest, for in me
can no man henceforth put his trust. I go into the vale of Avilion, to a
happy summer island far over the sea, where I shall be healed of my
grievous wound. But when I shall come again no voice may tell. Mayhap I
shall never come, but dwell forever in that sunny vale. If you never
hear more of me, pray for my soul."

Then again the queens and the ladies wept and moaned, and the barge
moved swiftly over the long waves and afar to sea, while Bevidere stood
and watched it till it became a black speck on the waters. Then it
vanished and was seen no more, and the lonely watcher cast himself upon
the beach, weeping like one who has lost all life's happiness.

But when night came near he turned and went wearily away, heavy with the
weight of death that lay upon his soul, for he alone remained of
yesterday's mighty hosts. All that night he journeyed through a great
forest, and in the morning he found himself between two hoary cliffs,
with a chapel and a hermitage in the glen that lay between.

In this hermitage he found the holy man who had been archbishop of
Canterbury, and who had come hither to escape Mordred's rage. With him
Bevidere stayed till he was cured of his wounds, and afterwards he put
on poor clothes, and served the hermit full lowly in fasting and
prayers.

But as for the three queens who went with Arthur to the island of
Avilion, the chronicles say that they were Morgan le Fay his sister, the
queen of Northgalis, and the queen of the Waste Lands. And with them was
Nimue, the lady of the lake. All were skilled in magic, but whither they
bore King Arthur, or where lies the magical isle of Avilion, or if he
shall come again, all this no man can say. These are of the secrets that
time alone can tell, and we only know that his coming is not yet.




CHAPTER VII.

THE DEATH OF LANCELOT AND GUENEVER.


When word was brought to Lancelot du Lake that Mordred had usurped the
throne of England, had besieged Guenever in the Tower of London, and had
sought to prevent Arthur from landing at Dover, his soul was moved to
wrath and sorrow. And still more was he moved by the letter of Sir
Gawaine, with its pitiful self-reproach and earnest wistfulness.

"Is it a time for mourning?" said Sir Bors to Lancelot. "My counsel is
that you cross at once to England, visit Gawaine's tomb, as he requests,
and then revenge my lord Arthur and my lady Guenever on this base
traitor, Mordred."

"It is well advised," said Lancelot. "To England we must go in all
haste."

Then ships and galleys were made ready with the greatest despatch, for
Lancelot and his host to pass over to England. And in good time he
landed at Dover, having with him seven kings and a mighty host of men.

But when he asked the people of Dover the news of the country, his heart
was filled with dismay to hear of the great battle on Salisbury Downs,
where a hundred thousand men had died in a day, and of the death of
Arthur the king.

"Alas!" said Lancelot, "this is the heaviest tidings that ever mortal
ears heard. Would that I had been advised in good time. Nothing now
remains to do. I have come too late. Fair sirs, I pray you to show me
the tomb of Sir Gawaine."

Then they brought him into the castle of Dover, and showed him the tomb.
Lancelot fell on his knees before it, and wept, and prayed heartily for
the soul of him that lay within. And that night he made a funeral feast,
to which all who came had flesh, fish, wine, and ale, and every man and
woman was given twelve pence. With his own hand he dealt them money in
a mourning gown; and ever he wept, and prayed for the soul of Sir
Gawaine.

In the morning, all the priests and clerks of the country round
gathered, at his request, and sang a requiem mass before the tomb. And
Lancelot offered a hundred pounds, and each of the seven kings forty
pounds, and a thousand knights offered one pound each, this going on
from morning till night. And Lancelot lay two nights on the tomb in
prayer and weeping.

On the third day he called about him the kings, dukes, earls, barons,
and knights of his train, and said to them,--

"My fair lords, I thank you all for coming into this country with me;
but we have come too late, and that I shall mourn while I live. But
since it is so, I shall myself ride and seek my lady Queen Guenever, for
men say that she has fled from London, and become a nun, and that she
lives in deep penance, and in fasting, prayers, and almsgiving, and is
sick almost unto death. Therefore, I pray you, await me here, and if I
come not again within fifteen days, then take ship and return to your
own country."

"Is it wise for you to ride in this realm?" said Sir Bors. "Few friends
will you find here now."

"Be that as it may," said Lancelot, "I shall go on my journey. Keep you
still here, for no man nor child shall go with me."

No boot was it to strive with him, and he departed and rode westerly, on
a seven or eight days' journey, asking of all people as he went. At last
he came to the nunnery where was Queen Guenever, who saw him as she
walked in the cloister, and swooned away, so that her ladies had work
enough to keep her from falling. When she could speak, she said,--

"Ye marvel why I am so held. Truly, it is for the sight of yonder
knight. Bid him come hither, I pray you."

And when Sir Lancelot had come, she said to him with sweet and sad
visage,--

"Sir Lancelot, through our love has all this happened, and through it my
noble lord has come to his death. As for me, I am in a way to get my
soul's health. Therefore, I pray you heartily, for all the love that
ever was between us, that you see me no more in the visage; but turn to
thy kingdom again, and keep well thy realm from war and wrack. So well
have I loved you that my heart will not serve me to see you, for through
you and me is the flower of kings and knights destroyed. Therefore, Sir
Lancelot, go to thy realm, and take there a wife, and live with her in
joy and bliss; and I beseech you heartily to pray to God for me, that I
may amend my mis-living."

"Nay, madam, I shall never take a wife," said Lancelot. "Never shall I
be false to you; but the same lot you have chosen that shall I choose."

"If you will do so, I pray that you may," said the queen. "Yet I cannot
believe but that you will turn to the world again."

"Madam," he earnestly replied, "in the quest of the Sangreal I would
have forsaken the world but for the service of your lord. If I had done
so then with all my heart, I had passed all the knights on the quest
except Galahad, my son. And had I now found you disposed to earthly
joys, I would have begged you to come into my realm. But since I find
you turned to heavenly hopes, I, too, shall take to penance, and pray
while my life lasts, if I can find any hermit, either gray or white, who
will receive me. Wherefore, madam, I pray you kiss me, and never more
shall my lips touch woman's."

"Nay," said the queen, "that shall I never do. But take you my blessing,
and leave me."

Then they parted. But hard of heart would he have been who had not wept
to see their grief; for there was lamentation as deep as though they had
been wounded with spears. The ladies bore the queen to her chamber, and
Lancelot took his horse and rode all that day and all that night in a
forest, weeping.

At last he became aware of a hermitage and a chapel that stood between
two cliffs, and then he heard a little bell ring to mass, so he rode
thither and alighted, and heard mass.

He that sang mass was the archbishop of Canterbury, and with him was Sir
Bevidere.



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