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   Chapter 4 OF THE TREACHERY OF QUEEN MORGAN LE FAY

Stories from Le Morte D'Arthur and the Mabinogion By Beatrice E. Clay Characters: 15267

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


There was a certain Queen whose name was Morgan le Fay, and she was a powerful sorceress. Little do men know of her save that, in her youth, she was eager for knowledge and, having learnt all human lore, turned her to magic, becoming so skilled therein that she was feared of all. There was a time when great was her enmity towards King Arthur, so that she plotted his ruin not once only nor twice; and that is a strange thing, for it is said that she herself was the kinswoman of the King. And truly, in the end, she repented her of her malice, for she was, of those that came to bear Arthur to the Delightful Islands from the field of his last bitter conflict; but that was long after.

Now when this enchantress learned how the Lady of the Lake had given the King a sword and scabbard of strange might, she was filled with ill-will; and all her thought was only how she might wrest the weapon from him and have it for her own, to bestow as she would. Even while she pondered thereon, the King himself sent her the scabbard to keep for him; for Merlin never ceased to warn the King to have in safe keeping the scabbard that had power to keep him from mortal hurt; and it seemed to Arthur that none might better guard it for him, till the hour of need, than Morgan le Fay, the wise Queen that was of his own kindred. Yet was not the Queen shamed of her treacherous intent by the trust that Arthur had in her; but all her mind was set on how she might win to the possession of the sword itself as well as of the scabbard. At the last-so had her desire for the sword wrought upon her-she resolved to compass the destruction of the King that, if she gained the sword, never might she have need to fear his justice for the wrong she had done.

And her chance came soon. For, on a day, King Arthur resolved to chase the hart in the forests near Camelot, wherefore he left behind him his sword Excalibur, and took but a hunting spear with him. All day long, he chased a white hart and, when evening fell, he had far outstripped his attendants, save only two, Sir Accolon of Gaul and Sir Uriens, King of Gore, the husband of Queen Morgan le Fay herself. So when the King saw that darkness had come upon them in the forest, he turned to his companions, saying: "Sirs, we be far from Camelot and must lodge as we may this night. Let us go forward until we shall find where we may shelter us a little." So they rode forward, and presently Arthur espied a little lake glinting in the beams of the rising moon, and, as they drew nearer, they descried, full in the moonlight, a little ship, all hung with silks even to the water's edge. Then said the King to his knights: "Yonder is promise of shelter or, it may be, of adventure. Let us tether our horses in the thicket and enter into this little ship." And when they had so done, presently they found themselves in a fair cabin all hung with silks and tapestries, and, in its midst, a table spread with the choicest fare. And being weary and hungered with the chase, they ate of the feast prepared and, lying down to rest, were soon sunk in deep slumber.

While they slept, the little ship floated away from the land, and it came to pass that a great wonder befell; for when they woke in the morning, King Uriens found himself at home in his own land, and Sir Accolon was in his own chamber at Camelot; but the King lay a prisoner, bound and fettered and weaponless, in a noisome dungeon that echoed to the groans of hapless captives.

When he was come to himself, King Arthur looked about him and saw that his companions were knights in the same hard case as himself; and he inquired of them how they came to be in that plight. "Sir," said one of them, "we are in duresse in the castle of a certain recreant knight, Sir Damas by name, a coward false to chivalry. None love him, and so no champion can he find to maintain his cause in a certain quarrel that he has in hand. For this reason, he lies in wait with a great company of soldiers for any knights that may pass this way, and taking them prisoners, holds them in captivity unless they will undertake to fight to the death in his cause. And this I would not, nor any of my companions here; but unless we be speedily rescued, we are all like to die of hunger in this loathsome dungeon." "What is his quarrel?" asked the King. "That we none of us know," answered the knight.

While they yet talked, there entered the prison a damsel. She went up to the King at once, and said: "Knight, will ye undertake to fight in the cause of the lord of this castle?" "That I may not say," replied the King, "unless first I may hear what is his quarrel." "That ye shall not know," replied the damsel, "but this I tell you: if ye refuse, ye shall never leave this dungeon alive, but shall perish here miserably." "This is a hard case," said the King, "that I must either die or fight for one I know not, and in a cause that I may not hear. Yet on one condition will I undertake your lord's quarrel, and that is that he shall give me all the prisoners bound here in this dungeon." "It shall be as ye say," answered the damsel, "and ye shall also be furnished with horse and armour and sword than which ye never saw better." Therewith the damsel bade him follow her, and brought him to a great hall where presently there came to him squires to arm him for the combat; and when their service was rendered, the damsel said to him: "Sir Knight, even now there has come one who greets you in the name of Queen Morgan le Fay, and bids me tell you that the Queen, knowing your need, has sent you your good sword." Then the King rejoiced greatly, for it seemed to him that the sword that the damsel gave him was none other than the good sword Excalibur.

When all was prepared, the damsel led King Arthur into a fair field, and there he beheld awaiting him a knight, all sheathed in armour, his vizor down, and bearing a shield on which was no blazonry. So the two knights saluted each other, and, wheeling their horses, rode away from each other some little space.

Then turning again, they laid lance in rest, and rushing upon each other, encountered with the noise of thunder, and so great was the shock that each knight was borne from the saddle. Swiftly they gained their feet, and, drawing their swords, dealt each other great blows; and thus they contended fiercely for some while. But as he fought, a great wonder came upon Arthur, for it seemed to him that his sword, that never before had failed him, bit not upon the armour of the other, while every stroke of his enemy drew blood, till the ground on which he fought was slippery beneath his feet; and at the last almost his heart failed within him, knowing that he was betrayed, and that the brand with which he fought was not Excalibur. Yet would he not show aught of what he suffered, but struggled on, faint as he was and spent; so that they that watched the fight and saw how he was sore wounded, marvelled at his great courage and endurance. But presently, the stranger knight dealt the King a blow which fell upon Arthur's sword, and so fierce was the stroke that the blade broke off at the pommel. "Knight," said the other, "thou must yield thee recreant to my mercy." "That may I not do with mine honour," answered the King, "for I am sworn to fight in this quarrel to the death." "But weaponless thou must needs be slain." "Slay me an ye will, but think not to win glory by slaying a weaponless man."

Then was the other wroth to find himself still withstood and, in his anger, he dealt Arthur a great blow; but this the King shunned, and rushing upon his foe, smote him so f

iercely on the head with the pommel of his broken sword that the knight swayed and let slip his own weapon. With a bound, Arthur was upon the sword, and no sooner had he it within his grasp than he knew it, of a truth, to be his own sword Excalibur. Then he scanned more closely his enemy, and saw the scabbard that he wore was none other than the magic scabbard of Excalibur; and forthwith, leaping upon the knight, he tore it from him and flung it far afield.

"Knight," cried King Arthur, "ye have made me suffer sore, but now is the case changed and ye stand within my power, helpless and unarmed. And much I misdoubt me but that treacherously ye have dealt with me. Nevertheless, yield you recreant and I will spare your life." "That I may not do, for it is against my vow; so slay me if ye will. Of a truth, ye are the best knight that ever I encountered."

Then it seemed to the King that the knight's voice was not unknown to him, and he said: "Tell me your name and what country ye are of, for something bids me think that ye are not all unknown to me." "I am Accolon of Gaul, knight of King Arthur's Round Table." "Ah! Accolon, Accolon," cried the King, "is it even thou that hast fought against me? Almost hast thou undone me. What treason tempted thee to come against me, and with mine own weapon too?" When Sir Accolon knew that it was against King Arthur that he had fought, he gave a loud cry and swooned away utterly. Then Arthur called to two stout yeomen amongst those that had looked on at the fight, and bade them bear Sir Accolon to a little hermitage hard by, and thither he himself followed with pain, being weak from loss of blood; but into the castle he would not enter, for he trusted not those that held it.

The hermit dressed their wounds, and presently, when Sir Accolon had come to himself again, the King spoke gently to him, bidding him say how he had come to bear arms against him. "Sir and my lord," answered Sir Accolon, "it comes of naught but the treachery of your kinswoman, Queen Morgan le Fay. For on the morrow after we had entered upon the little ship, I awoke in my chamber at Camelot, and greatly I marvelled how I had come there. And as I yet wondered, there came to me a messenger from Queen Morgan le Fay, desiring me to go to her without delay. And when I entered her presence, she was as one sore troubled, and she said to me: 'Sir Accolon, of my secret power, I know that now is our King, Arthur, in great danger; for he lies imprisoned in a great and horrible dungeon whence he may not be delivered unless one be found to do battle for him with the lord of the castle. Wherefore have I sent for you that ye may take the battle upon you for our lord the King. And for greater surety, I give you here Excalibur, Arthur's own sword, for, of a truth, we should use all means for the rescuing of our lord.' And I, believing this evil woman, came hither and challenged the lord of this castle to mortal combat; and, indeed, I deemed it was with Sir Damas that I fought even now. Yet all was treachery, and I misdoubt me that Sir Damas and his people are in league with Queen Morgan le Fay to compass your destruction. But, my lord Arthur, pardon me, I beseech you, the injuries that, all unwitting, I have done you."

King Arthur was filled with wrath against the Queen, more for the wrong done to Sir Accolon than for the treason to himself. In all ways that he might, he sought to comfort and relieve Sir Accolon, but in vain, for daily the knight grew weaker, and, after many days, he died. Then the King, being recovered of his wounds, returned to Camelot, and calling together a band of knights, led them against the castle of Sir Damas. But Damas had no heart to attempt to hold out, and surrendered himself and all that he had to the King's mercy. And first King Arthur set free those that Sir Damas had kept in miserable bondage, and sent them away with rich gifts. When he had righted the wrongs of others, then he summoned Sir Damas before him, and said: "I command thee that thou tell me why thou didst seek my destruction." And cringing low at the King's footstool, Damas answered: "I beseech you, deal mercifully with me, for all that I have done, I have done at the bidding of Queen Morgan le Fay." "A coward's plea," said the King; "how camest thou first to have traffic with her?" "Sir," replied Damas, "much have I suffered, first by the greed of my younger brother and now by the deceit of this evil woman, as ye shall hear. When my father died, I claimed the inheritance as of right, seeing that I was his elder son; but my young brother, Sir Ontzlake, withstood me, and demanded some part of my father's lands. Long since, he sent me a challenge to decide our quarrel in single combat, but it liked me ill, seeing that I am of no great strength. Much, therefore, did I desire to find a champion but, by ill fortune, none could I find until Queen Morgan le Fay sent word that, of her good will to me, she had sent me one that would defend my cause; and that same evening, the little ship brought you, my lord, to my castle. And when I saw you, I rejoiced, thinking to have found a champion that would silence my brother for ever; nor knew I you for the King's self. Wherefore, I entreat you, spare me, and avenge me on my brother." Therewith, Sir Damas fawned upon the King, but Arthur sternly bade him rise and send messengers to bring Sir Ontzlake before him.

Presently, there stood before the King a youth, fair and of good stature, who saluted his lord and then remained silent before him. "Sir Ontzlake," said the King, "I have sent for you to know of your dealings with Sir Accolon and of your quarrel with your brother." "My lord Arthur," answered the youth, "that I was the cause of hurt to yourself, I pray you to pardon me, for all unwitting was I of evil. For ye shall know that I had challenged my brother to single combat; but when word came to me that he was provided of a champion, I might not so much as brook my armour for a sore wound that I had got of an arrow shot at me as I rode through the forest near his castle. And as I grieved for my hard case, there came a messenger from Queen Morgan le Fay bidding me be of good courage, for she had sent unto me one, Sir Accolon, who would undertake my quarrel. This only she commanded me, that I should ask no question of Sir Accolon. So Sir Accolon abode with me that night and, as I supposed, fought in my cause the next day. Sure am I that there is some mystery, yet may I not misdoubt my lady Queen Morgan le Fay without cause; wherefore, if blame there be, let me bear the punishment."

Then was the King well pleased with the young man for his courage and loyalty to others. "Fair youth," said he, "ye shall go with me to Camelot, and if ye prove you brave and just in all your doings, ye shall be of my Round Table." But to Sir Damas he said sternly: "Ye are a mean-spirited varlet, unworthy of the degree of knighthood. Here I ordain that ye shall yield unto your brother the moiety of the lands that ye had of your father and, in payment for it, yearly ye shall receive of Sir Ontzlake a palfrey; for that will befit you better to ride than the knightly war-horse. And look ye well to it, on pain of death, that ye lie no more in wait for errant knights, but amend your life and live peaceably with your brother."

Thereafter, the fear of the King kept Sir Damas from deeds of violence; yet, to the end, he remained cowardly and churlish, unworthy of the golden spurs of knighthood. But Sir Ontzlake proved him a valiant knight, fearing God and the King and naught else.

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