This is a chapter of King Arthur and His Knights by Blanche Winder.
A few chapters back you read about the baby prince who was stolen by the water fairy. He was very happy in the enchanted city at the bottom of the lake, the pet of all the water fairies, but the very particular pet of the queen. In time, he grew into a tall handsome youth. The queen knew that she could not keep him with her forever, and so she put him in charge of a woodman who lived in the forest that grew all around the waters of the enchanted lake.
Every morning the lady of the lake would take him up, up, up through the green waters and set him upon the flowery bank, and call the woodman to come from his home and lead the boy into the forest to spend the day. But, because the lake was a part of Fairyland, Lancelot never knew that the fine city where he lived was really beneath the water. He imagined that he just walked out of it into the forest through the mists of the morning, and returned to it at night through the moonlight and falling dew. But the lady whom he loved like his own mother always stood on the edge of the morning mist to wave him forward and waited under the moonbeams, of an evening, to welcome him home.
In the forest, the woodman taught him all the craft of a huntsman. Lancelot grew clever and strong. He could shoot an arrow straight and true, shoe and saddle a horse, and climb the crags as high as the eagle’s nest. How wonderful life seemed to him lived as the forest people lived it! How firm his muscle grew, how bright his young eyes, how vigorous and alert his frame.
Then, one day, as he hunted with the forest people, he heard them talking of a great king who was named Arthur, and who was the head of a gallant company of gentlemen who called themselves the knights of the Round Table. Wonderful stories were told of these knights of their courage, their beauty, and their pride. All that night Lancelot lay awake, thinking about Arthur, and the next morning, as the sweet water fairy led him to the misty horizon that lay beyond the enchanced city, he told her of what he had heard, and said that nothing, nothing, could ever make him happy unless he were allowed to go to Arthur’s court and become a knight of the Round Table.
“Son of a king,” said the water fairy, half sadly, half triumphantly, “I have guessed that this would be your destiny! I have known I could not keep you always. But can you be brave enough to join Arthur’s knighthood! Can you, forever, be courteous, without baseness, kind to all, pitiful to the sad, generous to the poor, stern to the guilty — and choose death, at any time, before dishonor?”
Lancelot cried out that, indeed, he could. So then this lady of the lake bent her head and consented. And, from that moment, the preparations for Lancelot’s departure began.
And such preparations they were! The water fairy had a suit of armor made for him, all of silver and pearls. She gave him a sword, long and shining, and a white satin mantle, trimmed with ermine. Then she dressed herself, also, in a robe of gleaming white satin, with ermine and silver upon the sleeves and hem. She chose her prettiest maidens, and her sprightliest pages; and she brought her fairy horses out of their fairy stalls. From the enchanted palace she took long rolls of silk, and she had the silk made into tents, for shelter on the way. Then, with songs and music, the beautiful procession set off, passed through the mists that lay on the borders of their Fairyland, and rode through the forests and meadows of West-over-the-Sea, on their way to the castle of Camelot.
Arthur was coming back from hunting when he saw this sparkling company which traveled towards him through the twilight. Astonished, he drew in his horse and waited. Then, though he did not recognize her, the lady of the lake rode forward, in advance of the rest, as softly as a pale moth might flit across the dusky grass. Behind the fairy rode young Lancelot, all silvery-white in his beautiful armor and royal mantle. The fairy paused as she reached Arthur’s side and looked very earnestly at the astonished king. Then she waved to Lancelot to draw near also.
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“Son of a king!” she said to Arthur. “I have brought you a good knight and true. He, also, is the son of a king. Admit him to your fellowship, I pray you, and make him a knight of the Round Table.”
Arthur turned in his saddle and fixed his eyes gravely upon the youth in the shining armor.
“He is only a boy,” said the king. “Is he ready to prove himself? Has he done battle, yet, in any just cause? Has he suffered for the sake of the weak, protected the innocent, or punished the guilty?”
“Not yet,” answered the fairy gently. “But it is his most earnest wish to do so.”
Arthur turned to Sir Gawaine, who sat on his horse by the king’s side.
“Take the boy to your chamber,” said Arthur. “Let him watch by his armor tonight, in the chapel by the castle. Then, tomorrow, bring him to me.”
He saluted the fairy, still not recognizing this beautiful and gracious lady who had brought her son to be a knight of the Round Table. He had no idea, at the moment, that she was a fairy at all, the one who had saved him and was cousin to the very fairy who had stretched a white hand and arm out of the water to give him his sword, Excalibur. The lady bent from her white horse, kissed Lancelot, and placed a ring from her own hand upon his finger.
“Take this ring,” said she. “Wear it always in battle. If you are hard-pressed by an enemy, turn it upon your finger. It will make you invisible. Turn it again, and your armor will change color — from silver to black, from black to green, from green again to silver. Goodbye, dear son of a king! Goodbye!”
She kissed him again and rode back to the white and starry company who waited for her in the gathering night. Then they all rode silently away, and the sparkle of them died out among the trees. But Lancelot, in his silver armor, followed the king, and Sir Gawaine, and all the rest of the knights, into the castle of Camelot.
Sir Gawaine took him to his chamber, gave him meat and wine, and set him to watch his armor in the chapel, which all those who desired knighthood had to do. The next day he took him to Arthur on his throne in the great hall.
And now the tournament of the day was announced, and the king said that Lancelot might take his part in it. So the young prince from the enchanted lake mounted his horse and rode with the other knights into the meadow, where very soon a great mock battle began.
How they wrestled, and fought, and clashed swords, and galloped their horses! It was one of the finest tournaments ever seen, and, very soon, all who were watching began to speak of the wonderful courage and cleverness of a young strange knight in silver armor that shone like seafoam and stars. But, even while they were speaking, he disappeared, and a black knight was seen in his place, looking like some strange figure carved in ebony. Then the black knight vanished in his turn, and knight in green appeared, like some magician of the forest. In another moment this knight of the woodlands was gone, and there was the silver knight again, flashing across the meadow like a beautiful comet! And so on, and so on! For the black knight, and the silver knight, and the knight in emerald green were, all and each of them, none other than Lancelot of the Lake, who was continually turning his magic ring!
At last the mock battle was over, and there was a great call for the silver knight, and the black knight, and the knight in emerald green. But only the silver knight came forward — and in his hand he held the trophies of all three!
The people who had watched the tournament knew that some fairy had been helping the silver knight in some mysterious way, so they were full of respect for him and cried out that he must indeed be made a knight of the Round Table, drink the cup of fellowship, and join in the great vow. And the queen smiled, as she looked on, while the king knighted him, and, in memory of the water fairy, named him Sir Lancelot of the Lake.