When Arthur first in court began,
And was approvèd king,
By force of armes great victorys wonne,
And conquest home did bring;
Then into England straight he came
With fifty good and able
Knights that resorted unto him,
And were of the Round Table.
And many justs and turnaments
Whereto were many prest,
Wherein some knights did farr excell,
And eke surmount the rest.
But one Sir Lancelot du Lake,
Who was approvèd well,
He for his deeds and feates of armes
All others did excell.
When he had rested him a while,
In play, and game, and sportt,
He said he wold goe prove himselfe,
In some adventurous sort.
He armèd rode in forrest wide,
And met a damsell faire,
Who told him of adventures great,
Whereto he gave good care.
"Why shold I not?" quoth Lancelott tho,
"For that cause came I hither."
"Thou seemst," quoth she, "a knight full good,"
And I will bring thee thither,
"Wheras a mighty knight doth dwell,
That now is of great fame;
Therefore tell me what knight thou art,
And what may be thy name."
"My name is Lancelot du Lake."
Quoth she, "It likes me than;
Here dwelles a knight who never was
Yet matcht with any man;
"Who has in prison threescore knights
And four, that he did wound;
Knights of King Arthurs court they be,
And of his Table Round."
She brought him to a river side,
And also to a tree,
Whereon a copper bason hung,
And many shields to see.
He struck soe hard, the bason broke:
And Tarquin soon he spyed:
Who drove a horse before him fast,
Whereon a knight lay tyed.
"Sir Knight," then sayd Sir Lancelòtt,
"Bring me that horse-load hither,
And lay him downe, and let him rest;
Weel try our force together.
"For, as I understand, thou hast,
Soe far as thou art able,
Done great despite and shame unto
The knights of the Round Table."
"If thou be of the Table Round,"
Quoth Tarquin, speedilye,
"Both thee and all thy fellowship
I utterly defye."
"That's over much," quoth Lancelott tho,
"Defend thee by and by."
They sett their speares unto their steeds,
And each att other flye.
They coucht their speares, (their horses ran,
As though there had been thunder);
And strucke them each immidst their shields,
Wherewith they broke in sunder.
Their horsses backes brake under them,
The knights were both astound;
To avoyd their horsses they made great haste,
And light upon the ground.
They tooke them to their shields full fast,
Their swords they drew out than;
With mighty strokes most eagerlye
Each at the other ran.
They wounded were, and bled full sore,
They both for breath did stand,
And leaning on their swordes awhile,
Quoth Tarquine, "Hold thy hand,
"And tell to me what I shall aske;"
"Say on," quoth Lancelot tho.
"Thou art," quoth Tarquine, "the best knight
That ever I did know;
"And like a knight that I did hate;
Soe that thou be not hee,
I will deliver all the rest,
And eke accord with thee."
"That is well sayd," quoth Lancelott tho,
"But sith it must be soe,
What knight is that thou hatest thus?
I pray thee to meshow."
"His name is Lancelot du Lake,
He slew my brother deere;
Him I suspect of all the rest:
I would I had him here."
"Thy wish thou hast, but yet unknowne;
I am Lancelot du Lake,
Now knight of Arthurs Table Round;
King Hauds son of Schuwake;
"And I desire thee do thy worst."
"Ho, ho," quoth Tarquin tho,
"One of us two shall end our lives,
Before that we do go.
"If thou be Lancelot du Lake
Then welcome shalt thou bee;
Wherfore see thou thyself defend,
For now defye I thee."
They buckled then together so,
Like unto wild boares rashing,
And with their swords and shields they ran
At one another slashing.
The ground besprinkled was with blood,
Tarquin began to yield;
For he gave backe for wearinesse,
And lowe did beare his shield.
This soone Sir Lancelot espyde,
He leapt upon him then,
He pull'd him downe upon his knee,
And rushing off his helm,
Forthwith he strucke his necke in two;
And when he had soe done,
From prison, threescore knights and four
Delivered everye one.