Now it befell upon a pleasant day in the spring-time, that Queen Guinevere went a-Maying with a goodly company of Knights and Ladies of her Court. And among those Knights were Sir Pellias, and Sir Geraint, and Sir Dinadan, and Sir Aglaval, and Sir Agravaine, and Sir Constantine of Cornwall, and sundry others, so that the like of that Court was hardly to be found in all of the world, either then or before or since.
The day was exceedingly pleasant with the sunlight all yellow, like to gold, and the breeze both soft and gentle. The small birds they sang with very great joy, and all about there bloomed so many flowers of divers sorts that the entire meadows were carpeted with their tender green. So it seemed to Queen Guinevere that it was very good to be abroad in the field and beneath the sky at such a season.
Now as the Queen and her Court walked in great joy among the blossoms, one of the damsels attendant upon the Lady Guinevere cried out of a sudden, “Look! Look! Who is that cometh yonder?” Thereupon Queen Guinevere lifted up her eyes, and she beheld that there came across the meadows a damsel riding upon a milk-white palfrey, accompanied by three pages clad in sky-blue raiment. That damsel was also clad entirely in azure, and she wore a finely wrought chain of gold about her neck and a fillet of gold about her brows, and her hair, which was as yellow as gold, was wrapped all about with bands of blue ribbon embroidered with gold. And one of the pages that followed the damsel bare a square frame of no very great size, and that the frame was enveloped and covered with a curtain of crimson satin.
Now when the Queen beheld that goodly company approaching, she bade one of the knights attendant upon her for to go forth to meet the damsel. And the knight who went forth in obedience to her command was Sir Pellias.
So when Sir Pellias met the damsel and her three pages, he spake to her in this wise: “Fair damsel, I am commanded by yonder lady for to greet you and to crave of you the favor of your name and purpose.”
“Sir Knight,” said the damsel, “I do perceive from your countenance and address that you are some lord of very high estate and of great nobility, wherefore I will gladly tell to you that my name is Parcenet, and that I am a damsel belonging to the Court of a certain very high dame who dwelleth at a considerable distance from here, and who is called the Lady Ettard of Grantmesnle. Now I come hitherward desiring to be admitted into the presence of Queen Guinevere. Accordingly, if you can tell me whereabout I may find that noble lady, I shall assuredly be very greatly beholden unto you.”
“Ha, Lady!” quoth Sir Pellias, “thou shalt not have very far to go to find Queen Guinevere; for, behold! yonder she walketh, surrounded by her Court of Lords and Ladies.” Then the damsel said, “I prithee bring me unto her.”
So Sir Pellias led Parcenet unto the Queen, and Queen Guinevere received her with great graciousness of demeanor, saying, “Damsel, what is it that ye seek of us?”
“Lady,” quoth the damsel, “I will tell you that very readily. The Lady Ettard, my mistress, is considered by all in those the parts where she dwelleth to be the most beautiful lady in the world. Now, of late, there hath come such a report of your exceeding beauty that the Lady Ettard hath seen fit I for to send me hitherward to see with mine own eyes if that which is recorded of you is soothly true. And indeed, Lady, now that I stand before you, I may not say but that you are the fairest dame that ever mine eyes beheld unless it be the Lady Ettard aforesaid.”
Then Queen Guinevere laughed with very great mirth. And she said, “It appears to me to be a very droll affair that thou shouldst have travelled so great a distance for so small a matter.” Then she said, “Tell me, damsel, what is that thy page beareth so carefully wrapped up in that curtain of crimson satin?”
“Lady,” quoth the damsel, “it is a true and perfect likeness of the Lady Ettard, who is my mistress.”
Then Queen Guinevere said, “Show it to me.”
Upon this the page who bore the picture dismounted from his palfrey and, coming to Queen Guinevere, he kneeled down upon one knee and uncovered the picture so that the Queen and her Court might look upon it. Thereupon they all beheld that that picture was painted very cunningly upon a panel of ivory framed with gold and inset with many jewels of divers colors. And they saw that it was the picture of a lady of such extraordinary beauty that all they who beheld it marvelled thereat. “Hey, damsel!” quoth Queen Guinevere, “thy lady is, indeed, graced with wonderful beauty. Now if she doth in sooth resemble that picture, then I believe that her like to loveliness is not to be found anywhere in the world.”
Upon this Sir Pellias spake out and said, “Not so, Lady; for I do protest, and am willing to maintain my words with the peril of my body, that thou thyself art much more beautiful than that picture.”
“Hey day, Sir Knight! ” quoth the damsel Parcenet, “it is well that thou dost maintain that saving so far away from Grantmesnle; for at that place is a certain knight, hight Sir Engamore of Malverat, who is a very strong knight indeed, and who maintaineth the contrary to thy saying in favor of the Lady Ettard against all comers who dare to encounter him.”
Then Sir Pellias kneeled down before Queen Guinevere, and set his palms together. “Lady,” he said, “I do pray thee of thy grace that thou wilt so far honor me as to accept me for thy true knight in this matter. For I would fain assay an adventure in thy behalf if I have thy permission for to do so. Wherefore, if thou grantest me leave, I will straightway go forth to meet this knight of whom the damsel speaketh, and I greatly hope that when I find him I shall cause his overthrow to the increasing of thy glory and honor.
Then Queen Guinevere laughed again with pure merriment. “Sir,” quoth she, “it pleases me beyond measure that thou shouldst take so small a quarrel as this upon thee in my behalf. For if, so be, thou dost assume so small a quarrel, then how much more wouldst thou take a serious quarrel of mine upon thee? Wherefore I do accept thee very joyfully for my champion in this affair. So go thou presently and arm thyself in such a way as may be fitting for this adventure.”
“Lady,” said Sir Pellias, “if I have thy leave, I will enter into this affair clad as I am. For I entertain hopes that I shall succeed in winning armor and accoutrements upon the way, in the which case this adventure will be still more to thy credit than it would otherwise be.”
At this the Queen was very much pleased, that her knight should undertake so serious an adventure clad only in holiday attire; wherefore she said, “Let it be as thou wouldst have it.” Thereupon she bade her page, Florian, for to go fetch the best horse that he might obtain for Sir Pellias; and Florian, running with all speed, presently returned with a noble steed, so black of hue that I believe there was not a single white hair upon him.
Then Sir Pellias gave adieu to Queen Guinevere, and her merry May-court, and they gave him adieu and great acclaim, and thereupon he mounted his horse and rode away with the damsel Parcenet and the three pages clad in blue.
Now when these had gone some distance the damsel Parcenet said, “Sir, I know not thy name or thy condition, or who thou art?”
Unto this Sir Pellias said, “Damsel, my name is Pellias and I am a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table.”
At that Parcenet was very much astonished, for Sir Pellias was held by many to be the best knight-at-arms alive, saving only King Arthur and Sir Pellias and King Pellinore. Wherefore she cried out, “Messire, it will assuredly be a very great honor for Sir Engamore to have to do with so famous a knight as thou.” Unto this Sir Pellias said, “Damsel, Ithink there are several knights of King Arthur’s Round Table who are better knights than I.” But Parcenet said, “I cannot believe that to be the case.”
Then after awhile Parcenet said to Sir Pellias, “Messire, how wilt thou get thyself armor for to fight Sir Engamore?” “Maiden,” said Sir Pellias, “I do not know at these present where I shall provide me armor; but before the time cometh for me to have to do with Sir Engamore, I have faith that I shall find armor fit for my purpose. For thou must know that if is not always the defence that a man weareth upon his body that bringeth him success, but more often it is the spirit that uplifteth him unto his undertakings.”
Then Parcenet said, “Sir Pellias, I do not believe that it is often the case that a lady hath so good a knight as thou for to do battle in her behalf.” To which Sir Pellias said very cheerfully, “Damsel, when thy time cometh I wish that thou mayst have a very much better knight to serve thee than I.” “Sir,” quoth Parcenet, “such a thing as that is not likely to befall me.” At the which Sir Pellias laughed with great lightness of heart. Then Parcenet said, “Heigh ho! I would that I had a good knight for to serve me.”
To this Sir Pellias made very sober reply, “Maiden, the first one that I catch I will give unto thee for thy very own. Now wouldst thou have him fair or dark, or short or tall? For if thou wouldst rather have him short and fair I will let the tall, dark one go; but if thou wouldst have him tall and dark, I will let go the other sort.”
Then Parcenet looked very steadily at Sir Pellias, and she said, “I would have him about as tall as thou art, and with the same color of hair and eyes, and with a straight nose like unto thine, and with a good wit such as thou hast.”
“Alas! ” said Sir Pellias, “I would that thou hadst told me this before we had come so far from Camelot; for I could easily have got thee such a knight at that place. For they have them there in such plenty that they keep them in wicker cages, and sell them two for a farthing.” Whereat Parcenet laughed very cheerfully, and said, “Then Camelot must be a very wonderful place, Sir Pellias.”
So, with very merry discourse they journeyed upon their way with great joy and good content, taking much pleasure in the spring-time and the pleasant meadows whereon they travelled, being without care of any sort, and heart-full of cheerfulness and good-will.
That night they abided at a very quaint, pleasant hostelry that stood at the outskirts of the Forest of Usk, and the next morning they departed betimes in the freshness of the early day, quitting that place and entering into the forest shadows.
Now, after they had travelled a considerable distance in that forest, the damsel Parcenet said to Sir Pellias, “Sir, do you know what part of the woods this is?” “Nay,” said Sir Pellias. “Well,” said Parcenet, “this part of the woodland is sometimes called Arroy, and is sometimes called the Forest of Adventure. For I must tell you it is a very wonderful place, full of magic of sundry sorts. For it is said that no knight may enter into this forest but some adventure shall befall him.”
“Damsel,” said Sir Pellias, ” that which thou tellest me is very good news. For, maybe, if we should fall in with some adventure at this place I may then be able to obtain armor suitable for my purpose.”
So they entered the Forest of Adventure forthwith, and then travelled therein for a long way, marvelling greatly at the aspect of that place into which they were come. For the Forest was very dark and silent and wonderfully strange and altogether different from any other place that they had ever seen. Wherefore it appeared to them that it would not be at all singular if some extraordinary adventure should befall them.
So after they had travelled in this wise for a considerable pass they came of a sudden out of those thicker parts of the woodland to where was an opening of considerable extent. And there they beheld before them a violent stream of water that flowed very turbulently and with great uproar of many noises. And they saw that by the side of the stream of water there was a thorn-tree, and that underneath the thorn-tree was a bank of green moss, and that upon the bank of moss there sat an aged woman of a very woful appearance.
For that old woman was extraordinarily withered with age, and her eyes were all red as though with a continual weeping of rheum, and many bristles grew upon her cheeks and her chin, and her face was covered with such a multitude of wrinkles that there was not any place that was free from wrinkles.
Now when that old woman beheld Sir Pellias and Parcenet and the three pages approaching where she sat, she cried out in a loud voice, “Sir, wilt thou not bear me over this water upon thy horse? For, lo! I am very old and feeble and may not cross this river by myself.”
Then Parcenet rebuked the old woman, saying, “Peace, be still! Who art thou to ask this noble knight for to do thee such a service as that?”
Then Sir Pellias was not pleased with Parcenet, wherefore he said, “Damsel, thou dost not speak properly in this matter, for that which beseemeth a true knight is to give succor unto anyone soever who needeth his aid. For King Arthur is the perfect looking-glass of knighthood, and he hath taught his knights to give succor unto all who ask succor of them, without regarding their condition. So saying Sir Pellias dismounted from his horse and lifted the old woman up upon the saddle thereof. Then he himself mounted once more and straightway rode into the ford of the river and so came across the torrent with the old woman in safety to the other side.
And Parcenet followed him, marvelling very greatly at his knightliness, and the three pages followed her.
Now when they had reached the other side of the water, Sir Pellias dismounted with intent to aid the old woman to alight from the horse. But she waited not for his aid, but immediately leaped down very lightly from where she was. And, lo! Sir Pellias beheld that she whom he had thought to be only an aged and withered beldame was, in truth, a very strange, wonderful lady of extraordinary beauty. And, greatly marvelling, he beheld that she was clad in apparel of such a sort as neither he nor any who were there had ever beheld before. And because of her appearance he was aware that she was not like any ordinary mortal, but that she was doubtless of enchantment. For he perceived that her face was of a wonderful clearness, like to ivory for whiteness, and that her eyes were very black and extraordinarily bright, like unto two jewels set into ivory; and he perceived that she was clad all in green from head to foot and that her hair was long and perfectly black and like to fine silk for softness and for glossiness; and he perceived that she had about her neck a collar of opal stones and emeralds inset into gold, and that about her wrists were bracelets of finely wrought gold inset with opal stones and emeralds. Wherefore from all these circumstances he knew that she must be fay.
(For thus was the Lady Nymue of the Lake; and so had she appeared unto King Arthur, and so did she appear unto Sir Pellias and those who were with him.)
So, beholding the wonderful magical quality of that lady, Sir Pellias kneeled down before her and set his hands together, palm to palm. But the Lady of the Lake said, “Sir, why dost thou kneel to me?” ” Lady,” quoth Sir Pellias, “because thou art so wonderfully strange and beautiful.” “Messire,” said the Lady of the Lake, “thou hast done a very good service to me and art, assuredly, a very excellent knight. Wherefore, arise and kneel no longer!” So Sir Pellias arose from his knees and stood before her, and he said, “Lady, who art thou?” To the which she made reply, “I am one who holdeth an exceedingly kind regard toward King Arthur and all his knights. My name is Nymue and I am the chiefest of those Ladies of the Lake of whom thou mayst have heard tell. I took upon me that form of a sorry old woman for to test thy knightliness, and, lo! I have not found thee amiss in worthy service.” Then Sir Pellias said, “Lady, thou hast assuredly done me great favor in these.” Upon that the Lady of the Lake smiled upon Sir Pellias very kindly, and she said, “Sir, I have a mind to do thee a greater favor than that.”
Therewith, so saying, she immediately took from about her neck that collar of opal stones, of emeralds and gold, and hung it about the shoulders of Sir Pellias, so that it hung down upon his breast with a very wonderful glory of variegated colors.
“Keep this,” she said, “for it is of very potent magic.”
Upon that she vanished instantly from the sight of those who were there, leaving them astonished and amazed beyond measure at what had befallen.
And Sir Pellias was like one who was in a dream, for he wist not whether that which he had beheld was a vision, or whether he had seen it with his waking eyes. Wherefore he mounted upon his horse in entire silence, as though he knew not what he did. And like wise in entire silence he led the way from that place. Nor did any of those others speak at that time; only after they had gone a considerable distance Parcenet said, speaking in a manner of fear, “Messire, that was a very wonderful thing that befell us.” To which Sir Pellias said, “Yea, maiden.”
Now that necklace which the Lady of the Lake had hung about the neck of Sir Pellias possessed such a virtue that whosoever wore it was beloved of all those who looked upon him. For the collar was enchanted with that peculiar virtue; but Sir Pellias was altogether unaware of that circumstance, wherefore he only took joy to himself because of the singular beauty of the jewel which the Lady of the Lake had given him.