SIR LANCELOT AND ELAINE
VERY year King Arthur's knights held a grand tournament
among themselves, and contended in friendly combat for
a prize. This prize was a diamond.
Once, in the early days of his kingship, Arthur was
walking on a craggy hill, when he came upon the
skeleton of a man who had once been a ruler. The skull
still wore a gold crown set with nine large diamonds.
King Arthur took the crown and had the diamonds unset.
Each year at the friendly tournament he gave one of
these diamonds as a prize.
There had been eight tournaments, and at each Sir
Lancelot had won the diamond. The jewel that was to be
given as a prize at the ninth tournament was the
largest and most beautiful of all.
 Everyone, of course, expected that Sir Lancelot would
win it, but only a few days before the contest he
announced to the king that he would not compete.
Then the queen was vexed, for she loved Sir Lancelot
more than all the other knights, and it gave her great
joy to see him always successful in the tournaments.
Therefore she urged him to change his decision.
"My queen," he said, "I told the king I would not
The Queen replied:
"My advice is that you go in disguise. The knights who
contest with you do so but half-heartedly, for they
know your great fame and feel sure of failure. If they
did not know who you were, they would fight better and
win more glory for themselves. Then fight as a stranger
knight, and afterwards explain to the king."
Sir Lancelot took her advice. He rode away over the
woods and hills till he came to the castle of Astolat,
where he decided to stop and ask for a disguise. He
knocked on the gate, which was opened
 by an old dumb servant, and entered the courtyard. The
lord of Astolat came to meet him with his two sons, Sir
Torre and Sir Lavaine, and his beautiful daughter
Elaine. The lord of the castle said:
"Fair sir, whoever you are, you are welcome. You seem
to me much like a Knight of the Round Table."
"That I am," said Sir Lancelot. "Hereafter I will tell
you my name; at present I wish to remain unknown. I
must enter the coming tournament as an unknown knight,
and I should like to leave with you my great shield,
for it is as well known in Camelot as I. Will you keep
it and lend me another one?"
Then answered the Lord of Astolat:
"You may take the shield of my son Torre. He was hurt
in his first tournament, and has not been able to fight
since. My son Lavaine will gladly go with you to the
tournament. Perhaps," added the lord, laughing, "he can
win the diamond, and put it in his sister Elaine's
"Nay, father, do not make me ashamed before this noble
knight," said the young Lavaine. "I know I can never
 diamond for Elaine, but I can at least do my best to
"Gladly will I take you for a companion," said Sir
Lancelot, "and if you can, win the diamond for this
"Such a diamond," said Sir Torre, "is fit for a queen,
and not for a simple girl."
Sir Lancelot smiled to himself. He was sure that he
should win the diamond. Then he meant to give it with
the eight others to Queen Guinevere. He spoke kindly,
however, to the beautiful Elaine.
"In truth, this fair maiden is fit to be a queen."
Then Elaine lifted her eyes and looked at hem. He was
twice as old as she was. His face was cut and scarred
with wounds which he had received in battle, but as she
looked at him, she loved him, and felt that she would
continue to love him till the day of her death.
They went into the great hall where a supper was laid.
Sir Lancelot talked of King Arthur and his goodness and
all his glorious deeds. Elaine thought that even Arthur
could not be so brave as this wonderful lord. All night
 dreamed of him. In the morning she rose early and went
down in the courtyard where Sir Lancelot and Sir
Lavaine were mounting their horses.
"Fair lord," she said boldly to Sir Lancelot, "will you
wear my token in your helmet?"
Then said Sir Lancelot:
"Fair maiden, I have never worn favor nor token for any
lady in the tournaments. This is well known to be my
"But if you wear my token," she said, "there will be
far less likelihood of your being known by your fellow
"That is very true, my child," he said. "Bring it to
me. What is it?"
She held it out to him; it was a red sleeve embroidered
with pearls. Sir Lancelot bound it in his helmet and
"I have never done so much before for any maiden."
Then he and Sir Lavaine bade Elaine farewell, and the
beautiful maiden ran up to the tower of the castle and
watched them from the window for a a long time.
 When they were out of sight she asked the old dumb
servant to carry Sir Lancelot's shield to the tower. It
was a large shield of silver, with three lions
emblazoned upon it in gold and blue, but its polished
surface was covered with dents and scratches. Elaine
knelt before it, and made a story for each scratch and
mark, picturing to herself the contests in which the
good shield had taken part. For many weeks she stayed
near it all day long in the turret, watching for Sir
Lancelot and her brother to return.
NEAR IT ALL DAY LONG IN THE TURRET
Meanwhile those two had ridden lightly to Camelot, and
when they were almost there, Sir Lancelot told Sir
Lavaine his name. The young man was astonished. He was
very happy, too, to think that he was a companion to
the great knight of whom he had heard so often.
When Sir Lancelot and Sir Lavaine arrived at the field
where the tournament was to be held, they stood looking
at the king, who sat upon the great carved chair which
had dragons' heads for the arms and the back. On his
 was embroidered a golden dragon, and a golden dragon
was also on his crown. Above him, set in a canopy, was
the ninth diamond. All about the king to left and right
were rows of ladies whose robes gave to the pavilion in
which they sat the brilliant hues of the rainbow.
Sir Lancelot said to young Sir Lavaine:
"Look at the king. You think I am great, but he is
greater than I. I can fight better than he can, but his
soul is greater than mine. Aim to become a Knight of
the Round Table, and follow the example of goodness
which Arthur sets for his knights."
At this moment the trumpets blew as a signal that the
tournament was to begin. The knights spurred their
horses forward, and in a moment their spears and
shields clashed. Sir Lancelot rode lightly here and
there, overthrowing every one with whom he contested.
All wondered at the skill of this unknown knight. Then
Sir Lancelot's kinsmen, his nephew, Sir Lionel, and
others, were angry and jealous.
"Our Sir Lancelot should be here,"
 they said, "to overcome this stranger knight."
"Perhaps this is Sir Lancelot," said one. "Two knights
cannot fight so well in this world. It must be Sir
"No, no," said the others; "Sir Lancelot would never
wear a lady's favor, and this knight wears a red sleeve
embroidered with pearls. Let us set on this man and
teach him that if Sir Lancelot is not here, we, his
kinsmen, will fight for his fame."
Then all together they bore down on Sir Lancelot. His
horse went down in the shock, and he himself was
wounded. A spear had pierced his breastplate and
snapped off in his side.
Young Sir Lavaine rushed to help Sir Lancelot. The
great knight rose slowly and, with the help of his
friend, drove back his kith and kin to the far side of
the field. Then sounded a great blare of trumpets, and
the king proclaimed the stranger knight victor.
"Come forward," the herald cried, "and take your
But poor Sir Lancelot said:
 "Talk not to me of diamonds. Give me air. I fear me I
have received my death wound. Let me go hence, and I
bid you follow me not."
Sir Lavaine helped him upon his horse, and they two
rode slowly off the field. When they were near the
neighboring forest the great knight fell from his horse
"Pull forth the spear-head which is in my side."
"Oh, my lord," said Sir Lavaine, "I am afraid you will
die if I draw it forth."
"I shall die if you leave it," said Sir Lancelot.
So Sir Lavaine drew it forth quickly, causing Sir
Lancelot to faint from the pain. Then a hermit who
lived near by came to them, and bore the wounded knight
into his hut, where for many a week Sir Lancelot lay
between life and death.
When Arthur found that the unknown knight had gone, no
one knew whither, he was sorry. He called the
light-hearted Sir Gawain and said to him:
"Go forth, take this diamond and seek
 the stranger knight. Do not cease from your search till
you have left the diamond in his hand."
Then Arthur went to the queen. She had been ill and had
not attended the tournament. When the king told her all
that had happened, she cried:
"A stranger knight! My lord, my lord! That was our dear
Sir Lancelot. He was fighting in disguise."
"Alas! he is hurt," said the king. "Perhaps he is
dying. He said that he would not fight. He should have
told me that he meant to fight in disguise. The truth,
my queen, is always best."
"Yes, my good lord, I know it," she said. "If I had but
let our Lancelot tell the truth, perhaps he would not
have been wounded. You would have called on his kinsmen
For many days the king and Guinevere waited in deep
anxiety for news of Sir Lancelot. Meantime, Sir Gawain
rode forth and sought for the great knight in vain. At
last he came to the castle of Astolat, where he was
welcomed by the lord and Sir Torre and the fair
 Elaine. He told them the result of the tournament, and
how the stranger knight had won. They showed him Sir
"Ah" said Elaine, when he had told them the name of the
unknown knight, "I knew that he must be great."
Sir Gawain guessed by the expression of her beautiful
face that she loved Sir Lancelot. So he said:
"Fair maiden, when he returns here for his shield, give
him this diamond, which is the prize he won. Perhaps he
will prize it the more because you put it into his
Then Sir Gawain bade them farewell and rode off,
lightly singing. When he told Arthur what he had done,
the king said:
"You should have done as I bade you, Gawain. Sir
Lancelot deceived me about his disguise, and you have
disobeyed me. The kingdom will surely fail if the king
and his rules are not honored. Obedience is the
courtesy due to kings."
Meanwhile the fair Elaine went to her father and said:
 "Dear father, let me go and seek the wounded Sir
Lancelot and my brother."
"Nay," said the lord, "it is not a fitting thing for a
young maiden like you to seek a wounded knight. He is
not your lover. It cannot be."
"I would give him his diamond," she said, "and since he
is so sorely wounded, I would take care of him. It is
not fitting, my father, but I cannot live unless I know
where he is and how he does."
Then, because he loved his child very much and had
never refused any request she made of him, the old lord
let her go in care of Sir Torre. The two rode for a
long time, until at last, near Camelot, they met Sir
Lavaine. Elaine ran up to him and cried:
"Lavaine, take me to Sir Lancelot."
Sir Lavaine was much astonished that Elaine knew the
name of the stranger knight. He was glad to see her,
because he thought she could help his friend. Sir
Lancelot seemed glad to see her, too, and the beautiful
maiden cared for him so tenderly that the old hermit
said he never could have recovered without her nursing.
 When he was well enough, they all rode to the castle of
There Sir Lancelot remained for a few days; then he
took his shield and prepared to return to Camelot.
Before he went he asked Elaine if he could not do
something for her in return for her care of him.
She grew very pale and then she said:
"I am gong to say something which I should not. I love
you. Take me with you to Camelot."
Sir Lancelot said very gently:
"My poor little maiden, if I had meant to take a wife,
I should have wedded earlier. All the court knows that
I love only the king and the queen. You do not really
love me. Some day you will marry a young knight, and
then I shall give you many castles and much land as a
"I will have nothing of all that," said Elaine.
She turned away and climbed up to the tower, while her
father said to Sir Lancelot:
"I pray you, be discourteous in some way so that she
will cease to love you. Such love is madness."
 "It is not my habit to be discourteous," said Lancelot.
"However, when she stands at the turret window to wave
me farewell, I will not look up at her."
Sir Lancelot rode sadly away, and did not look up at
the window where Elaine stood. She watched him till he
disappeared, and then she fell in a swoon. Day after
day she pined away, and one morning she said to her
"Dear father, I am going to die. When I am dead, take
my bed and cover it with rich draperies. Then dress me
in my most beautiful clothes; put a letter I have here
in my hand, and lay me on the bed. Set it on a barge,
and let our dumb servant steer it down the river to
Her father wept, and promised to do all that she asked.
Sir Lancelot had gone to the Court, where he was
received with great rejoicing. For many days the
knights and ladies held great feasting in his honor,
and the king and queen would hardly allow him to leave
their presence. One day while the three stood looking
 the palace window, they saw a black barge come slowly
down the river.
It stopped at the palace door, and the king, going
down, saw on it the beautiful maiden Elaine, pale in
death. She was dressed in white satin, and bore a lily
in her left hand and a letter in her right. The king
ordered two of his knights, the good Sir Galahad and
Sir Perceval, to carry Elaine into his great hall. Then
Arthur read the letter, which said:
"Most noble lord, Sir Lancelot of the Lake: I, Elaine,
the maid of Astolat, come to take my last farewell of
you, for you left me without a farewell. I loved you,
and my love had no return, and so I died."
The knights and ladies wept. Sir Lancelot said to
"My King, I grieve for the death of this maiden, but as
I did not love her, I could not wed her."
The king answered:
"You are not to blame, Sir Lancelot. The world has in
it much that is sad as well as much that is joyous.
There are happenings for which no human being
 can be blamed. It would be a fitting deed, however, if
you had this maiden richly buried."
Sir Lancelot ordered a splendid funeral, such as should
be given to a queen. Over Elaine's grave was raised a
beautiful tomb on which was carved her figure, with the
left hand holding a lily; at her feet lay the shield of
Sir Lancelot, and the sad story of her death was
written on the tomb in letters of gold and blue.