The Works of Sydney Fowler Wright 1874 - 1965

The Song Of Arthur - Chapter XXI

by S. Fowler Wright

Return to Chapter XX

The Queen's Supper.

While June was regnant, and the season bore
Its burden of full life, before decay
Split the full pods, and cast the seeds astray,
Was joyance at the court, that mounted more
For those returned, than mourned for those who lay
Slain in far lands. So few short weeks before
Its silent halls and vacant seats had shown
A loss so fatal that its contrast seemed
As though that Pentecost had all redeemed
That the last Feast-day from its splendour shore.

But now the issue of the Quest was known,
For evil or for good, for loss or gain,
Could those who sought and found not, faint or fain,
The first high impulse in their hearts sustain?

The star clear-heavened of that great quest and high
Paled into shadow. Its lure no longer burned
Itself and seeking in one darkness hid.
Nor clearly what they dreamed from what they did
Could memory sever; but the waking day
As from a troubled wondrous night returned.

Yet still, by some chance happenings stirred, would they
For one full instant in clear mind recall
Memory of shining deed or dream agone.
Though few would speak of how God's light had shone
Behind him: fallen to a smaller day.

Thus life resumed. Its earlier orbit ran
In rules of use; in feast and tourney play,
And all that royal courts provide. And they
Full-fruited found the further years; although
Life's aspects changed, as other lives began
To take the seats of those who rose to go.

What was there for Sir Lancelot now? For none
Was Arthur's joy the more: nor less was he
Rejoiced in converse with so kind a king.
Nor was he loth again his queen to see,
Though vowed to separate life. But not would she
That difference grant, but all her wiles she bent,
Reproachings, doubts, and dear remembering,
Imperious moods and pleas incontinent,
To lure him to that dear and frequent sin
Which shamed their lives before. So fixed a mood
Might well prevail his changing moods to snare,
While memories and desires his traitors were,
And he athirst for that she worked to win.

From long obstruction, when the barrier broke,
Love's tide insurgent flung reserve away.
Lovers to all, except the king, were they
Restraintless seen. And lewder talk awoke
Than erst had been. Sir Modred's whispered word
Was tireless, and in different sort was heard
The loud-voiced Agravain: "Shall such things be
Unchastened? Shall the throne be all men's jest?
Is not contrivance that the king must see
A subject's duty? Here is proof to test
Who stands for treason."

                Gawain's cooler mood
Restrained him only: "That hath been can be.
What in his privy heart the king may guess
Who knoweth? Haply may his queen be less
Than is this realm, which must confusion split
If he with Lancelot strive, or Lancelot's fall
Should cause that Benoic all its spears recall,
As friend no more, if not an open foe."

This counsel ruled: but Bors to Lancelot came
With the plain words he used of wont, and all
Licensed by love: "Except an open shame
Shall both her honour and her life confound,
She must more wisdom of occasion show,
Or thou must curb her."

                Lancelot answered: "Yea,
I know it. Yet, the very truth to say,
At one slight word her anger leaps alive,
No reason equals to an hour's delay."

What could be said to that? He knew too well
Sir Lancelot's weakness. Yet the warning fell
On ears not heedless. Like a hostile hive
They heard the murmurs which would stings foretell
For those regardless. To the queen he went
With words unwelcome. For himself he sought
Such quests as from the idlesse of the court
Would lead him long and far.

                        From such return
Scarce had he entered when the wroth queen sent
Her urgent secret call, and when they met
Not to his own her eager lips were set,
By natural impulse when divided days
Had lengthened search for love; but angry eyes,
And bitter words were hers, and sundering hands
His first embrace repelled: "From whose regard,
Audacious of my favour, come you now?"

"My thoughts to thee no meaner loves allow.
You know it ever."

                        "That I do not know.
Nor need I ask. Too well thine actions show
How many can thy hereward steps retard,
Evasive to return and swift to go.
What damsel but thy ready spear commands?
What wailed complaint but draws thee from my side?"

"Queen," he replied, "mine ever faith to thee
Is known too widely, and too well withstands
A doubt that few besides thyself would share.
But think thee, if too bold our meetings were,
Too frequent, as they ever tend to be,
The noise might pass restraint. For those there are
Who hold us in await too closely now.
Fear I Sir Modred or Sir Agravain?
Not for myself. I might their worst sustain.
But where thy rescue if we go too far
On folly's wilful road? Except in me,
And in my kin (whose care is not for thee
Except to serve my will) what help were thine?
Or who should turn the slander and the shame
Which for a thousand years should vex thy name,
Being the consort of so great a king?......

"Bethink thee also that but late I came
From such high quest that never sinful man
Had come more nearly to accomplishing.
That which my son, and Bors, and Percival
Saw wholly, surely had I wholly seen
Had from one fault my soul been wholly clean,
As I believed it cleansed. But when once more
I found thee pliant, all to God I swore
Was like a dream the daylight leaves behind.
So am I snared, that neither peace I find
In thy dear arms, nor in the hope I had
When God's pure light was round me... While I fall,
If heaven itself be lost, and love be all,
Let us at least our love in peace contain,
Lest, being bought so dear, we waste our gain."

She heard in silence, till he ceased, and then
With bitter words assailed him: "Thinkest thou thus
To mock me? Where thou wilt to wander free,
And whom thou wilt to love, and then to me
Resorting at thy next caprice, to find
Thy queen thy mistress, meek, and fain, and kind?
Nay, by God's wrath! Go where thou wilt! Can I,
Being held here, restrain thee? This I can.
I can forbid thee from my sight. Be thine
Thy dreams and visions! Let thy heart incline
To Heaven's favours, with no doubt of mine.
It can reward thee as I could not do!
Go where thou wilt, but come not here again.
Dost thou disdain me? Then I more disdain
To be accounted as of price too high."

At that she wept, and with a worse reply
Each further plea refused, and while he knew
How jealous anger would her reason rule
He took dismissal from her words awry.

Then to Sir Bors he went, and spake aside,
Telling him all. "I will no longer stay
Here in this realm, but take a wiser way
To mine own land."

                "If ye my counsel heed,
Ye will not leave us at so slight a need.
Recall thine honour, and thy large concerns
In this thy land so long; and wisdom learns
A woman's wrathful words too lightly weigh,
So void, so witless, and so wild are they.
The jibe quick-spoken will they soon repent:
And those who most abuse may first relent.

"Let her believe thee gone. Let none but I
Its falsehood know. But make thy private way
To where Sir Brastias holds his hermitage
In Windsor's ancient woods. In that retreat
May rest be thine; and when she lose her heat
I will advise thee with no slack delay."

Thus was it counselled and agreed. He went
In the night's silence from a sleeping town,
And for a score of miles a westward way
Rode the lone marches, till the rising land
Dense oakwoods clothed, and closed on either hand
The narrow swarded paths he chose, that bent,
And rose awhile, and then with less descent
Made gentle hollows till they rose anew.

So to that hidden hermitage he drew,
And there remained impatient days, that yet
Had been more tortured had he guessed at all,
How, when he passed beyond his queen's recall,
She for herself a trap so deadly set
(Or fortune sprang it) that the most she had
Had been a price she had not paused to pay
To bring him to her.

                        Thus he held away
From one whose pride so ruled her heart's distress
That naught of grief to those who watched was seen.
But she was gracious both of word and mien
To Orkney's silenced knights, nor deigned she less
To those of Benoic. Where she feigned so long
She did but custom. Arthur found his queen
His loving consort still. But hours apart
Were wild with jealous grief that broke control.
Love, to her pride's resolve, had left her heart.
Yet why the sleepless hours? The aching dole?


Through hate of leisure, or by set design
To make accord of those who held apart,
Or else to show she was of equal heart
To joining in good mirth, without decline
For Lancelot's absence, on a luckless day
The queen a privy dinner made for those
Who might be doubtful friends, or surer foes,
But of the Table in one bond were they
Of leigance to the king.

                        She chose with care
Those in high place of either part, and some
Who from their rival factions separate were.
The five of Orkney's regal line were there:
Sir Galihodin and Sir Galihud, Ector and Bleoberis: Lionel:
Blamor and Bors: Persuant and Ironside:
Brandiles, Mador de la Port, and Kay:
Sir Mador's cousin, Patrice: and Pinell
(Sir Lamorack's cousin he, as some men say,
But others that he brought a lawless spear
From the wild lands to Orkney's eyrie near):
And Brewnor, twenty knights in all.

                        She made
No over-sumptuous feast, but there were laid
What most her guests preferred, which well she knew,
So long who knew them. All was blithely well
Until Sir Patrice groaned, and forward fell.
Clattering the board, his arms abroad he threw.
In torment on the floor they watched him writhe
Till death's quick silence came.

                Who now was blithe?
Confusion rose. The cause of death was clear,
Though not the hand that dealt it. Scarcely bit,
A poisoned apple that his knife had slit
Was damning witness.

                "Lay his seat too near
To mine?" Lord Gawain asked, and those around
Allowed his meaning. To the queen he turned
In accusation. "Madam, this to thee
Is shame to answer. Was it meant for me?
I needs must think it. All who know me know
The fruit I choose, and ever where I go
Provide it for me, as thy courtesy
Had done tonight; and that he reached it first
Was chance unlikely."

                "Yea," Sir Mador said,
"So doth it seem. But he whose life is sped
Was my near cousin, and I warn thee well
I will not stint for vengeance."

                        No reply
Came from the queen, nor any voice arose
To meet that challenge. Sore abashed was she,
Conscious of alien eyes, where enmity
She had not known till now. Were all her foes?
Tears were her answer, which no answer were.

Meantime the king, who heard the noise upflare,
From his near chamber, where alone he sate,
Musing how time will all high hopes abate,
Came to its cause enquire, and mazed was he
The weeping queen, the glooming knights to see,
The dead contorted on the floor.

                        To him
Sir Mador spake in heat: "My lord, to me
Dear cousin was the dead, and here I say
Who wrought it, high or low, its price shall pay."

And the king answered: "One of worth is dead,
One of good worth, who had not wronged, I wot,
Or knight or damsel of my court. But not
For wrath or grief should sudden judgement fall
On first or last. Tomorrow in full hall,
When all is searched and weighed, shall more be said."


Next morn, when Arthur in his place was set,
And all the concourse of the court had met
Expectant Mador, standing from his place,
Appealed the queen of treason; and the king
Answered: "Bold are you, and you trust my grace!
Yet is there none shall accusation bring,
Against my throne, and hear his plaint denied.
But though, being judge, I may not take her side
With sword's reply when slanderous words are said,
Ye may not find her friendless. God the right
Will stablish, fall who may."

                "My gracious lord,"
Sir Mador answered, "mine excuse must be
I am not single in this charge: accord
The twenty knights who shared that feast hereto.
And thou in knighthood art no more than knight,
Although as king obeyed in full degree,
Bound by like oaths and to like laws are we.
What say ye all?"

                The knights gave answer: "Nay,
What else can justice or can reason say?
The queen the banquet called, and either they,
Her servants, or herself, the death contrived."

And answer gave the king: "The right ye claim
I may not hinder, lest a lasting shame
Be hers and mine. Nor may I rise to take
Myself the battle for my consort's sake,
Who needs must judge it. But I tell ye yet,
We may not stand so friendless but shall be
One knight sufficient all thy wrath to let,
And prove thee perjured."

                "That the end will see,"
Sir Mador answered. "As a righteous king,
I ask thee to appoint the judgement day."

"That will I, as I must. Two weeks from now
At Westminster, in the long mead, do thou
Be armed and horsed; and I the queen will bring
For vindication, or her death to meet
If none of all my knights her friend shall be,
Art thou well answered?"

                "I am answered well."

Then each knight went his way, and with the queen
King Arthur sought a privy room. He said:
"Now tell me surely how this thing befell,
That we may find the truth, and leave thee clear
Of this so foul impute."

                        "As God I dread,
Naught I contrived at all, and naught I wot.
Alas!" She wept, "that ever knights of mine
Should so miscall me! Here were Lancelot
They soon were answered! Never wrong I meant.
I called the banquet with a clean intent.
- So God maintain me in my right! - nor I
Have ever practiced that a knight should die.
I know not how it came. But all my life
Is witness for me. Lover of my good knights
I have been ever."

                "Where is Lancelot?
He would not grudge to aid thee."

                "Where he be
I know not. Ector says beyond the sea.
His kinsmen either to that word agree,
Or say they know not."

                "That repents me sore.
For lightly would his sword your fame restore,
And stint their malice. Now Sir Bors must be
Your best resort. He will not flinch to take
The battle on him for Sir Lancelot's sake."

"I do not love Sir Bors, nor loves he me."

"Yet must we urge him; for I wot too well
There is none other of the twenty there
Who will believe for any oath you swear;
Nor one of Gawain's part your friend will be."

"Alas that Lancelot is not here! For he
At narrower straits would yet my safety see."

"I cannot tell what ails you," said the king,
"That through the working of your fretful pride
You cannot keep Sir Lancelot at your side,
Who were your champion or for right or wrong.
Now must we Bors to take your part persuade,
Nor stake your honour on a weaker aid."


The queen a message to Sir Bors conveyed
To meet her in her chamber. There came he
Neither at haste nor yet reluctfully.
Coldly he heard and then refused her plea:
"Madam, you ask too much. Recall that I
Was one among the twenty. Men would say
I counselled with the other knights to slay
One of no friendship with Sir Lancelot's kin. -
He would have served thy part in right or wrong.
His friends too well his noble weakness know.
But other issues to my choice belong.
Hadst thou not caused him from the court to go,
He had not failed thee now."

                "Alas, fair knight!
Wrong have I done, but I that wrong will right.
Wrong to Sir Lancelot, as I own; but not
The wrong they charge me, neither last nor first,
No part, and no consenting. Counsel me
How I may best amend discourtesy
I showed with no just cause to Lancelot,
And I will do it to thine utmost will."

But Bors replied not, and the queen's restraint
Broke, and on suppliant knees she forward fell,
Clasping his hand: "Unless you prove my friend
You doom me surely to this shameful death,
Whereto I did not, as I swear, offend."

The king had entered as she spake. Her plaint,
Her posture, and Sir Bors' cold words the while
He raised her: "Madam, would you shame me so?"
Forecast the failure that he feared to know.
If Bors refused them, had they hope to go
To others, being so told?

                "Fair knight," he said,
"I pray thee as thy liege this strife to take,
If not for knighthood, then for Lancelot's sake.
Of either murderous act or wrong intent,
I am most sure my queen was innocent."

"Lord, that you ask the most that mortal man
May ask of mortal fellow, both we know.
For life and honour to a strife belong
That God resolves. But yet, for right or wrong,
Alike for your sake and Sir Lancelot's sake,
I will this strife on one conclusion take,
That if there come another knight than I
Her truth to fortress, you shall pass me by.
And wit you well, when thus her cause I friend,
I shall the most part of thy knights offend."

"This by your faith you pledge?"

                "You need not doubt
If other knight be none to take this bout,
I shall not fail you, nor the queen."

They thanked him well, with hearts that rose more glad
Contrasting to the former fear they had.


Before the full dawn of the following day
Sir Bors to Windsor rode a lonely way,
And at Sir Brastias' hermitage he lit.
Here found he Lancelot, telling all, and he
Laughed gladly as he heard: "Now what should be
Occasion fashioned for my use more fit?
Do thou be ready on the chosen day,
Yet somewhat laggard, drawling out delay.
I know Sir Mador, and his heat. Thereby
Chafed will he be a random strife to try."

"Yea, be content. I shall not fail your will."

Sir Bors rode backward to the court. He found
Cold looks and murmurs, and he passed them by,
But gave the plainer word a plain reply.

"Fellows," he said, "there is on earthly ground
No nobler concourse than our Table; nor
A king more noble of heart and deeds than he
Who formed it, and sustains. Shall we therefore
Return him shame that all the lands shall see,
Out to the furthest bounds of heathenry?
Leaving his queen without our swords to die,
Condemned unproved but by our backwardness?
So may ye if ye will; but will not I."

And many voices answered: "For the king
We need no witness, nor we serve him less
Because the queen we love not. Shall we praise
One who our comrade to his death betrays?"

"Fair lords, I hear such words as none should say.
Long years have known her well, and till today
What heart has failed to own her gracious ways?
What voice been silent to increase her praise?
Hath she not held her goods in bounteous hands
Freely to use her rights of wealth or lands
For maintenance of knighthood?.... Of the king
Less than you say you could not. Owned is he
First in all Christianed lands, that heathenry
Cowers backward from his shield's bright burnishing.
And next to Arthur's self is Arthur's queen,
And like a shining light her name hath been.
Faultless in all regards she may not be.
But faultless wholly in ourselves are we?
And in Sir Patrice's death, I well believe,
She had no privity. For not to cleave
Our discords further, but to more unite
Our factious parts, she made, of gracious thought,
That feast, so fatal in its end. I ween
That when God's justice brings the truth to light,
In happier hour than this, will well be seen
Her innocent will; and in that last report
Not only hers, but our acquitment brought.
For we, the twenty knights that board who deckt,
Are snared and sullied in the same suspect,
If doubt be condemnation."

                        "What ye say
Is reason past retort," Sir Tor replied.
And so said others, and no voice denied.
But some in silent anger turned away.


As one unshaken, and of naught aware
Her name that tarnished, hautly moved the queen
Through the short passage of the days between
(So short the days, so long their moments were)
Till came the eve of that which must put by
Her inward fear, or else death's infamy
Would end her, leaving but a murderess' name
Of all that had been hers of yesterday.

She went to Bors: "Fair lord, you will not shame
The pledge you gave me?"

                        "More I did not say
Then that, except a better knight be there,
I will not fail thee: less thou needst not dread."

"Then soothly to the king may this be said?"

"All as thou wilt."

                She passed to Arthur: "Bors
Maintains his word."

                "Then rest thy heart content.
None better might there be to hold thy cause.
Though seldom in loose strife his strength is spent,
Who knew him worsted when his sword was bare?"

With morn was movement; from the London tower
Where then the king held court, outstreaming came
Procession long of lord and knight and dame
And damsel, brightly clad, for though the hour
Had tragic purpose, yet a garb of woe
Would seem no faith in Arthur's queen to show.
Should they foredoom her? Should their mien condemn
Before the judgement that awaited them?
It was God's verdict that they sought, and He
Would make no blunder. Nor should mourning be
For guilt made public, or the cost of it.

For vindication, or dear life to quit,
Guenever in her favoured green was clad;
And on her head a jewelled crown she had
That flashed defiance. If to death she went,
Or cleanly of God's judgement confident,
As though bold front would turn reverse away,
She rode as to the jocund sports of May:
Her lips were jesting, and her eyes were gay.

So came they to the meadow wide that lay
Beside the Minster which a heathen horde
Had plundered in the days when Arthur's sword
Lacked length to reach it. Now the close-mown field
Was barriered round, and at one side arose
High tiers of seats of sumptuous ease for those
Of royal sort; but on the further side
An iron stake with faggots girt supplied
Grim witness of the cause for which they came.
For there, at height of noon the torturing flame
The queen must feel except her champion's shield
Could interpose her rescue. There she rode
In the law's ward to bide, and there she sate
Through the next hours unmoved, ignoring shame,
While on each side the sheriffs held her rein.

So came it that, his law to vindicate,
Must Arthur stake his queen. For all men knew
How oft he said that not, for loss or gain,
For love, for favour, or affinity,
Should aught for all but equal justice be.

Now boldly to his feet in all men's view
Sir Mador came, and there his oath he made
That the queen's treason had Sir Patrice slain,
Which would he truly prove, with God to aid,
With lance to lance opposed, or blade to blade,
On who should falsely for her part contend.

To which Sir Bors de Ganis made reply:
"That charge of treason doth the queen deny,
And that denial will my sword defend."

"Then make thee ready, that the truth be seen."

"Sir Mador," he replied, "I bid ye wit
The queen is guiltless of all fault; and I
Will prove it on thee, save a knight more fit
My place acquire."

                "Enough of words hath been.
For though a score deny, I say the queen
Is murderess of design and perfidy."

"Say what thou wilt, but men its proof will see
In the next hour."

                "Except with present speed
Thou leavest change of words for lance and steed,
I ask my verdict."

                "Dost thou call me slack?
I have but heard thy boasts, and thrown thee back
The defamation of a guiltless name."

"Arm then; or say no more - nor more will I."

Then to the far ends of the lists the two
To arm them in their separate tents withdrew,
From which Sir Mador first appeared. He reined
Before the king with lifted spear. He cried:
"Why doth he linger, in his tent to hide?
Hath God the infatuate from his death restrained?
If twice unchecked around the lists I ride,
I claim thy verdict."

                Shamed was Bors to hear
The murmur of the crowd's impatience rise,
And loth Sir Lancelot's promised place to take,
Who might each moment as he pledged appear.
What could have hindered at this mortal stake?
How could he still ignore those clamorous cries?
Reluctant, forth he rode. And then to sight,
As by his advent summoned, broke a knight
From the near border of the woods. He came
Impetuous. Scarce he paused to grant his name,
As must be, to the guards who held control
Heraldic; and the entrance gates denied
To all but those who rightful cause supplied.

Men saw a warrior on a charger white,
Clad whitely in strange arms, whose urgent pace
Thrust him before Sir Bors. Aloud he cried,
From the mid-field, before the king's high place:
"Shamed are ye all your gracious queen to see
So basely used, nor every sword be bare
To prove her honour."

                "Say what knight ye be,"
King Arthur charged him.

                "I am naught to thee.
I stay not here beyond the hour it needs
Thy queen to vindicate, and those thereby
To shame who failed her."

                "Talk," Sir Mador said,
"Is plenteous here, and more the talk it breeds,
While the last hour for her defence is sped.
I ask but justice."

                "That," Sir Bors replied,
"Will soon be thine. The king will witness bear
That when this charge I took I did not hide
That other than myself the course might ride."

"Then stand thou back. If this new knight shall dare
So false a quarrel, and her death to share,
Him will I overcast as lief as thee."

No more was said. The champion knights withdrew
To the far confines of the lists, and hard
They charged together. Mador's spear upleapt.
But Lancelot, while unshaken seat he kept,
Bore Mador to the ground.

                        With scant regard
For wound or bruise, the fallen rose, and drest
His shield before him for the harder test
That swords would furnish. Clash of blade on blade
Made clangour loud, while shield and helmet stayed
Such strokes as weaker knights had more dismayed.
But who should Lancelot in such strife excel?
Dazed by swift blows, to earth Sir Mador fell.

"Deny thy slander, or thou art but dead."

The sword-point at his throat, Sir Mador said:
"I all recant. For by this end is seen
I charged her wrongly. Humbly to the queen
I sue for pardon."

                "Rise," Sir Lancelot said,
"By that surrender from thy death released."

But rise he could not till the porters sped
Across the lists to aid him. Faint he leant
Against their arms, and hardly gained his tent.

Meanwhile Sir Lancelot to King Arthur's feet
Approached, but swifter than himself the queen
Had left her guard, and crossed the space between,
And Arthur's arms were round her. Passing sweet
Were life and honour, and her eyes were wet
As to his own her faithless lips were set,
While all men shouted and rejoiced to see
Her place regained.

                But Arthur's glance was bent
On him who saved her: "Of thy courtesy,"
He asked, "I pray thee lift thine helm and show
To whom so gladly and so much we owe."

And Lancelot raised his helm, a cup to drain.
"Lord," said he, "had I thought such need could rise,
And not a hundred knights your queen maintain,
I had not left thee."

                "Lancelot," said the queen,
With tears that faster fell, "my debt to thee
Is past all payment."

                "Queen, my sword I took
From thee when from the king my knighthood came,
And not to guard thee from so great a shame
Had been my shame alike. Nor God had let
Such evil triumph."

                "Mine alike the debt,"
King Arthur said, "and never hence shall be
Discordance in our close fraternity."


Sir Mador de la Port, by force constrained,
And by the verdict of his own appeal,
Held silence. But the doubt that yet remained
Men could not wholly in their hearts conceal.

Intangible, a mist of difference grew
Between the queen and those good knights she knew
As friends before.

                'Sir Lancelot, in the field,'
Such was their thought, 'may prove whate'er he will;
But yet was murder to our eyes revealed:
One was there surely of the mind to kill;
If not the queen, he moves among us still.
Yet none we well suspect, and who but she
Contrived that feast and all its furnishings?'

Angered and grieved, she vainly sought the king,
Who knew no comfort. Eyes that glanced aside
Were shameful humbling to her regnant pride
In her great place. The loftier pride she had
In her good knights who loved her felt the sting
Of cold short answer or averted eyes.

But on a day when autumn looked aside,
A day of wind and sun and changing skies
Recalling summer and the moods of spring,
So warm that at the meal the doors were wide,
A sound of welcome turned men's eyes to see,
On cream-white steeds, Pelleas and Nimue,
Gay-crowned with garlands of such flowers as grow
In faery lands, and in their looks the light
Of love's content that knows no earthly night,
So distanced from our middle earth were they.

Warm greeting gave the king, for Nimue
Came ever at sharp need his friend to be,
As now was shown; for when the tale was said
Of how Sir Patrice by mischance was dead,
Or likelier malice (though was none could say
Who wrought, or how contrived, his life to slay,
And most agreed a shaft that slantly sped
Was aimed at Gawain), then she answer made:
"Sure was it meant for him. It proveth still
Who killeth others, others seek to kill.
Lord Gawain murders in his own good way,
And needs no poisons. Think on Lamorack's end.
And ask Sir Pinell whom he sought to slay."

Her meaning was not dark to those who heard,
And Pinell of near blood to Lamorack knew.
For cousins were they, and had closer been
Than cousins often are. They looked to where
Sir Pinell sate, but saw a vacant chair.
Her judgement had his conscious guilt foreseen
Before she gave it.

                "Lady," said Gawain,
"If by murderous hands my foes are slain,
I marvel that you thus my fame offend,
And trust my mercy."

                "Lord," said Nimue,
"I trust thy wisdom only. Not to me
Wilt thou be menace till I call thee friend."

End of Chapter XXI