This is a chapter of King Arthur and His Knights by Blanche Winder.
King Pellinore had many adventures in his day, but the one you are going to hear about was the greatest of all. You remember that he had galloped off at full speed after the fairy hunt. He swore to himself that he would save the pretty weeping lady who had been carried off by the black knight, or wander in the Enchanted Forest for the rest of his life. He had become separated from King Arthur, and was quite alone among the trees; but, just in front of him, he could still hear the baying of the sixty coal-black hounds. He rode on as fast as he could, and then something happened.
The baying of the hounds suddenly went all muffled and strange, as if they had disappeared inside a cave. The king turned the corner, and there, in front of him, stood a great beast that was not like a lion, nor a bear, nor even a dragon, nor anything in the world except itself. It stood and glared at him, before turning around and lumbering away, crashing through the undergrowth with as much noise as a hippopotamus. And, through the mouth of the beast, there still came the muffled baying of the hounds. This strange monster had swallowed them all, but they seemed still to be hunting the fairy stag in the very inside of the beast!
King Pellinore gave a great shout, for he had been hunting this beast all his life and knew he would probably go on hunting it until he died, and never be able to kill it! But, meanwhile, he followed it hard through bush and brier. At last, the beast disappeared altogether, and he saw a lady sitting by a fountain, who showed him the path through the Enchanted Forest that he must take, and told him that already the black knight and the pretty weeping maiden had gone that way.
He heard the hounds still baying, but a long, long way off, as he hurried down the path shown him by the lady. In a very few minutes, he reached a clearing in the wood, where two beautiful tents, one blue and one crimson, were set up opposite each other in the shadows of the trees. At the door of one of these tents stood the maiden he had come to save, and, on the trodden grass in the middle of the clearing, the black knight, on the black horse, was doing battle, with sword and shield, against another knight who seemed almost as big and strong as his enemy.
King Pellinore poised his spear in his raised hand, and, galloping forward, drove his way between them.
“How, now?” he cried. “How is this? Who are you both, that you fight in this way for the lady yonder, who belongs to neither of you, but came, of her own will, to ask the protection of King Arthur?”
“The lady is mine!” cried the black knight. “This foolish fellow here is trying to steal her from me. But she is mine! I fought King Arthur for her, and I conquered him!”
“That is not true!” shouted King Pellinore, and his voice rang all through the forest in its anger. “I was there and I saw it all! You carried the lady away before a single knight of the Round Table had time to spring to arms and do battle for her! I have followed the coal-black hounds and the beast which swallowed the hounds all the way through this Enchanted Forest to take the lady back again! Come! Meet me, here, in this open space of grass, and we will soon see which is the better man.”
Then the black knight rushed upon King Pellinore and with their swords and shields and spears they fought until the forest rang with the noise. But the king was soon the conqueror. He killed the black knight’s horse and, when he saw his enemy lying on the crushed turf, he also sprang to the ground to finish the fight fairly on foot. And finish it he did.
Then the other knight, who had watched the battle from a little distance, came forward gladly and told King Pellinore to take the lady back to Arthur’s court.
“I was but trying to save her from the black knight,” he said. “I knew that he had no right to her!”
And he brought out a fresh strong horse that had been tethered to a tree, and put King Pellinore’s saddle and bridle upon it, and said he would care for the tired horse which had been in the battle. After which he went up to the door of the tent and, giving his hand to the lady, led her forward.
The lady had stopped crying now and had let down her long veil and wound her hood about her head, so that King Pellinore could not see her face. He lifted her into the saddle before springing up in front of her, and he thought that she felt a sweet, small, cool thing, and that she smelt of wild roses and violets washed in dew. How lightly she seemed to sit behind him, too! His big horse took no count of her extra weight, as it trotted off through the trees, where the night shadows were gathering.
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On and on rode King Pellinore and the lady, until it was quite dark. Then he stopped his horse and lifted her down, and they slept under the trees. He was almost surprised to see in the morning that she was still there, because he guessed she was more than half a fairy. When the sun was high in the sky, both king and lady rode safely into the courtyard of the castle at Camelot.
Then King Arthur and Sir Gawaine (who having soon lost the sound of the fairy hunt had returned) and all the rest came out to meet them and welcomed the lady right gladly, and gave praise and honor to King Pellinore. But the lady was still veiled, and, at last, King Arthur turned to her with courtesy.
“You will find shelter and happiness forever at my court,” said he. “The knights of the Round Table will be at your service, always ready to protect you, and never failing to honor you. But you came and went almost as swiftly, and with as much surprise to us, as the fairy hunt itself. Will you, then, let us now see your face?”
Then the lady threw back her veil and hood and showed her pretty face to the king and all his knights. The knights murmured in admiration, for she was very beautiful. But the king cried out with joy, for he knew her now.
“You are sweet Nimue!” he exclaimed. “You are she who showed me the barge in which I rowed to take my sword Excalibur from the hand that held it above the water! You are one of those wonderful beings who love the world of knighthood — one of the ladies of the lake!”
“Yes, I am Nimue, a lady of the lake!” said she. “And you have fulfilled your promise to me, King Arthur! From today I shall never be far away from you. With the other ladies, my fairy friends, I will come and go between the Enchanted Forest and the royal and knightly court of Camelot.”