[ Full Modern English spelling version of original text printed by William Caxton in 1485 ]
How Sir Launcelot came to the court and heard of La Cote Male Taile, and how he followed after him, and how La Cote Male Taile was prisoner.
HERE leave we off a while of this tale, and speak we of Sir Launcelot du Lake, [*] that when he was come to thecourt of King Arthur, then heard he tell of the young knight La Cote Male Taile, how he slew the lion, and how he took upon him the adventure of the black shield, the which was named at that time the hardiest adventure of the world. So God me save, said Sir Launcelot unto many of his fellows, it was shame to all the noble knights to suffer such a young knight to take such adventure upon him for his destruction; for I will that ye wit, said Sir Launcelot, that that damosel Maledisant hath borne that shield many a day for to seek the most proved knights, and that was she that Breuse Saunce Pite took that shield from her, and after Tristram de Liones rescued that shield from him and gave it to the damosel again, a little afore that time that Sir Tristram fought with my nephew Sir Blamore de Ganis, for a quarrel that was betwixt the King of Ireland and him. Then many knights were sorry that Sir La Cote Male Taile was gone forth to that adventure. Truly, said Sir Launcelot, I cast me to ride after him. And within seven days Sir Launcelot overtook La Cote Male Taile, and then he saluted him and the damosel Maledisant. And when Sir Mordred saw Sir Launcelot, then he left their fellowship; and so Sir Launcelot rode with them all a day, and ever that damosel rebuked La Cote Male Taile; and then Sir Launcelot answered for him, then she left off, and rebuked Sir Launcelot.
[ * Printed by William Caxton as part of chap. iv ]
So this meantime Sir Tristram sent by a damosel a letter unto Sir Launcelot, excusing him of the wedding of Isoud la Blanche Mains; and said in the letter, as he was a true knight he had never ado fleshly with Isoud la Blanche Mains; and passing courteously and gentily Sir Tristram wrote unto Sir Launcelot, ever beseeching him to be his good friend and unto La Beale Isoud of Cornwall, and that Sir Launcelot would excuse him if that ever he saw her. And within short time by the grace of God, said Sir Tristram, that he would speak with La Beale Isoud, and with him right hastily. Then Sir Launcelot departed from the damosel and from Sir La Cote Male Taile, for to oversee that letter, and to write another letter unto Sir Tristram de Liones.
And in the meanwhile La Cote Male Taile rode with the damosel until they came to a castle that hight Pendragon; and there were six knights stood afore him, and one of them proffered to joust with La Cote Male Taile. And there La Cote Male Taile smote him over his horse’s croup. And then the five knights set upon him all at once with their spears, and there they smote La Cote Male Taile down, horse and man. And then they alighted suddenly, and set their hands upon him all at once, and took him prisoner, and so led him unto the castle and kept him as prisoner.
And on the morn Sir Launcelot arose, and delivered the damosel with letters unto Sir Tristram, and then he took his way after La Cote Male Taile; and by the way upon a bridge there was a knight proffered Sir Launcelot to joust, and Sir Launcelot smote him down, and then they fought upon foot a noble battle together, and a mighty; and at the last Sir Launcelot smote him down grovelling upon his hands and his knees. And then that knight yielded him, and Sir Launcelot received him fair. Sir, said the knight, I require thee tell me your name, for much my heart giveth unto you. Nay, said Sir Launcelot, as at this time I will not tell you my name, unless then that ye tell me your name. Certainly, said the knight, my name is Sir Nerovens, that was made knight of my lord Sir Launcelot du Lake. Ah, Nerovens de Lile, said Sir Launcelot, I am right glad that ye are proved a good knight, for now wit ye well my name is Sir Launcelot du Lake. Alas, said Sir Nerovens de Lile, what have I done! And therewithal flatling he fell to his feet, and would have kissed them, but Sir Launcelot would not let him; and then either made great joy of other. And then Sir Nerovens told Sir Launcelot that he should not go by the Castle of Pendragon: For there is a lord, a mighty knight, and many knights with him, and this night I heard say that they took a knight prisoner yesterday that rode with a damosel, and they say he is a Knight of the Round Table.
How Sir Launcelot fought with six knights, and after with Sir Brian, and how he delivered the prisoners.
AH, said Sir Launcelot, that knight is my fellow, and him shall I rescue or else I shall lose my life therefore. And therewithal he rode fast till he came before the Castle of Pendragon; and anon therewithal there came six knights, and all made them ready to set upon Sir Launcelot at once; then Sir Launcelot feutred his spear, and smote the foremost that he brake his back in-sunder, and three of them hit and three failed. And then Sir Launcelot passed through them, and lightly he turned in again, and smote another knight through the breast and throughout the back more than an ell, and therewithal his spear brake. So then all the remnant of the four knights drew their swords and lashed at Sir Launcelot. And at every stroke Sir Launcelot bestowed so his strokes that at four strokes sundry they avoided their saddles, passing sore wounded; and forthwithal he rode hurling into that castle.
And anon the lord of the castle, that was that time cleped Sir Brian de les Isles, the which was a noble man and a great enemy unto King Arthur, within a while he was armed and upon horseback. And then they feutred their spears and hurled together so strongly that both their horses rashed to the earth. And then they avoided their saddles, and dressed their shields, and drew their swords, and flang together as wood men, and there were many strokes given in a while. At the last Sir Launcelot gave to Sir Brian such a buffet that he kneeled upon his knees, and then Sir Launcelot rashed upon him, and with great force he pulled off his helm; and when Sir Brian saw that he should be slain he yielded him, and put him in his mercy and in his grace. Then Sir Launcelot made him to deliver all his prisoners that he had within his castle, and therein Sir Launcelot found of Arthur’s knights thirty, and forty ladies, and so he delivered them; and then he rode his way. And anon as La Cote Male Taile was delivered he gat his horse, and his harness, and his damosel Maledisant.
The meanwhile Sir Nerovens, that Sir Launcelot had foughten withal afore at the bridge, he sent a damosel after Sir Launcelot to wit how he sped at the Castle of Pendragon. And then they within the castle marvelled what knight he was, when Sir Brian and his knights delivered all those prisoners. Have ye no marvel, said the damosel, for the best knight in this world was here, and did this journey, and wit ye well, she said, it was Sir Launcelot. Then was Sir Brian full glad, and so was his lady, and all his knights, that such a man should win them. And when the damosel and La Cote Male Taile understood that it was Sir Launcelot du Lake that had ridden with them in fellowship, and that she remembered her how she had rebuked him and called him coward, then was she passing heavy.
How Sir Launcelot met with the damosel named Male disant, and named her the Damosel Bienpensant.
SO then they took their horses and rode forth a pace after Sir Launcelot. And within two mile they overtook him, and saluted him, and thanked him, and the damosel cried Sir Launcelot mercy of her evil deed and saying: For now I know the flower of all knighthood is departed even between Sir Tristram and you. For God knoweth, said the damosel, that I have sought you my lord, Sir Launcelot, and Sir Tristram long, and now I thank God I have met with you; and once at Camelot I met with Sir Tristram, and there he rescued this black shield with the white hand holding a naked sword that Sir Breuse Saunce Pite had taken from me. Now, fair damosel, said Sir Launcelot, who told you my name? Sir, said she, there came a damosel from a knight that ye fought withal at the bridge, and she told me your name was Sir Launcelot du Lake. Blame have she then, said Sir Launcelot, but her lord, Sir Nerovens, hath told her. But, damosel, said Sir Launcelot, upon this covenant I will ride with you, so that ye will not rebuke this knight Sir La Cote Male Taile no more; for he is a good knight, and I doubt not he shall prove a noble knight, and for his sake and pity that he should not be destroyed I followed him to succour him in this great need. Ah, Jesu thank you, said the damosel, for now I will say unto you and to him both, I rebuked him never for no hate that I hated him, but for great love that I had to him. For ever I supposed that he had been too young and too tender to take upon him these adventures. And therefore by my will I would have driven him away for jealousy that I had of his life, for it may be no young knight’s deed that shall enchieve this adventure to the end. Pardieu, said Sir Launcelot, it is well said, and where ye are called the Damosel Maledisant I will call you the Damosel Bienpensant.
And so they rode forth a great while unto they came to the border of the country of Surluse, and there they found a fair village with a strong bridge like a fortress. And when Sir Launcelot and they were at the bridge there stert forth afore them of gentlemen and yeomen many, that said: Fair lords, ye may not pass this bridge and this fortress because of that black shield that I see one of you bear, and therefore there shall not pass but one of you at once; therefore choose you which of you shall enter within this bridge first. Then Sir Launcelot proffered himself first to enter within this bridge. Sir, said La Cote Male Taile, I beseech you let me enter within this fortress, and if I may speed well I will send for you, and if it happened that I be slain, there it goeth. And if so be that I am a prisoner taken, then may ye rescue me. I am loath, said Sir Launcelot, to let you pass this passage. Sir, said La Cote Male Taile, I pray you let me put my body in this adventure. Now go your way, said Sir Launcelot, and Jesu be your speed.
So he entered, and anon there met with him two brethren, the one hight Sir Plaine de Force, and the other hight Sir Plaine de Amours. And anon they met with Sir La Cote Male Taile; and first La Cote Male Taile smote down Plaine de Force, and after he smote down Plaine de Amours; and then they dressed them to their shields and swords, and bade La Cote Male Taile alight, and so he did; and there was dashing and foining with swords, and so they began to assail full hard La Cote Male Taile, and many great wounds they gave him upon his head, and upon his breast, and upon his shoulders. And as he might ever among he gave sad strokes again. And then the two brethren traced and traversed for to be of both hands of Sir La Cote Male Taile, but he by fine force and knightly prowess gat them afore him. And then when he felt himself so wounded, then he doubled his strokes, and gave them so many wounds that he felled them to the earth, and would have slain them had they not yielded them. And right so Sir La Cote Male Taile took the best horse that there was of them three, and so rode forth his way to the other fortress and bridge; and there he met with the third brother whose name was Sir Plenorius, a full noble knight, and there they jousted together, and either smote other down, horse and man, to the earth. And then they avoided their horses, and dressed their shields, and drew their swords, and gave many sad strokes, and one while the one knight was afore on the bridge, and another while the other. And thus they fought two hours and more, and never rested. And ever Sir Launcelot and the damosel beheld them. Alas, said the damosel, my knight fighteth passing sore and over long. Now may ye see, said Sir Launcelot, that he is a noble knight, for to consider his first battle, and his grievous wounds; and even forthwithal so wounded as he is, it is marvel that he may endure this long battle with that good knight.
How La Cote Male Taile was taken prisoner, and after rescued by Sir Launcelot, and how Sir Launcelot overcame four brethren.
THIS meanwhile Sir La Cote Male Taile sank right down upon the earth, what for-wounded and what for-bled he might not stand. Then the other knight had pity of him, and said: Fair young knight, dismay you not, for had ye been fresh when ye met with me, as I was, I wot well that I should not have endured so long as ye have done; and therefore for your noble deeds of arms I shall show to you kindness and gentleness in all that I may. And forthwithal this noble knight, Sir Plenorius, took him up in his arms, and led him into his tower. And then he commanded him the wine, and made to search him and to stop his bleeding wounds. Sir, said La Cote Male Taile, withdraw you from me, and hie you to yonder bridge again, for there will meet with you another manner knight than ever was I. Why, said Plenorius, is there another manner knight behind of your fellowship? Yea, said La Cote Male Taile, there is a much better knight than I am. What is his name? said Plenorius. Ye shall not know for me, said La Cote Male Taile. Well, said the knight, he shall be encountered withal whatsomever he be.
Then Sir Plenorius heard a knight call that said: Sir Plenorius, where art thou? either thou must deliver me the prisoner that thou hast led unto thy tower, or else come and do battle with me. Then Plenorius gat his horse, and came with a spear in his hand walloping toward Sir Launcelot; and then they began to feutre their spears, and came together as thunder, and smote either other so mightily that their horses fell down under them. And then they avoided their horses, and pulled out their swords, and like two bulls they lashed together with great strokes and foins; but ever Sir Launcelot recovered ground upon him, and Sir Plenorius traced to have gone about him. But Sir Launcelot would not suffer that, but bare him backer and backer, till he came nigh his tower gate. And then said Sir Launcelot: I know thee well for a good knight, but wit thou well thy life and death is in my hand, and therefore yield thee to me, and thy prisoner. The other answered no word, but struck mightily upon Sir Launcelot’s helm, that the fire sprang out of his eyes. Then Sir Launcelot doubled his strokes so thick, and smote at him so mightily, that he made him kneel upon his knees. And therewith Sir Launcelot leapt upon him, and pulled him grovelling down. Then Sir Plenorius yielded him, and his tower, and all his prisoners at his will.
Then Sir Launcelot received him and took his troth; and then he rode to the other bridge, and there Sir Launcelot jousted with other three of his brethren, the one hight Pillounes, and the other hight Pellogris, and the third Sir Pellandris. And first upon horseback Sir Launcelot smote them down, and afterward he beat them on foot, and made them to yield them unto him; and then he returned unto Sir Plenorius, and there he found in his prison King Carados of Scotland, and many other knights, and all they were delivered. And then Sir La Cote Male Taile came to Sir Launcelot, and then Sir Launcelot would have given him all these fortresses and these bridges. Nay, said La Cote Male Taile, I will not have Sir Plenorius’ livelihood; with that he will grant you, my lord Sir Launcelot, to come unto King Arthur’s court, and to be his knight, and all his brethren, I will pray you, my lord, to let him have his livelihood. I will well, said Sir Launcelot, with this that he will come to the court of King Arthur and become his man, and his brethren five. And as for you, Sir Plenorius, I will undertake, said Sir Launcelot, at the next feast, so there be a place voided, that ye shall be Knight of the Round Table. Sir, said Plenorius, at the next feast of Pentecost I will be at Arthur’s court, and at that time I will be guided and ruled as King Arthur and ye will have me. Then Sir Launcelot and Sir La Cote Male Taile reposed them there, unto the time that Sir La Cote Male Taile was whole of his wounds, and there they had merry cheer, and good rest, and many good games, and there were many fair ladies.
On to CHAPTER IX...
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