Then Lancelot with his hand among the flowers
‘Yea — for a dream. Last night methought I saw
That maiden Saint who stands with lily in hand
In yonder shrine. All round her prest the dark,
And all the light upon her silver face
Flowed from the spiritual lily that she held.
Lo! these her emblems drew mine eyes — away:
For see, how perfect-pure! As light a flush
As hardly tints the blossom of the quince
Would mar their charm of stainless maidenhood.’
‘Sweeter to me’ she said ‘this garden rose
Deep-hued and many-folded! sweeter still
The wild-wood hyacinth and the bloom of May.
Prince, we have ridden before among the flowers
In those fair days — not all as cool as these,
Though season-earlier. Art thou sad? or sick?
Our noble King will send thee his own leech —
Sick? or for any matter angered at me?’
Then Lancelot lifted his large eyes; they dwelt
Deep-tranced on hers, and could not fall: her hue
Changed at his gaze: so turning side by side
They past, and Balin started from his bower.
‘Queen? subject? but I see not what I see.
Damsel and lover? hear not what I hear.
My father hath begotten me in his wrath.
I suffer from the things before me, know,
Learn nothing; am not worthy to be knight;
A churl, a clown!’ and in him gloom on gloom
Deepened: he sharply caught his lance and shield,
Nor stayed to crave permission of the King,
But, mad for strange adventure, dashed away.
He took the selfsame track as Balan, saw
The fountain where they sat together, sighed
‘Was I not better there with him?’ and rode
The skyless woods, but under open blue
Came on the hoarhead woodman at a bough
Wearily hewing. ‘Churl, thine axe!’ he cried,
Descended, and disjointed it at a blow:
To whom the woodman uttered wonderingly
‘Lord, thou couldst lay the Devil of these woods
If arm of flesh could lay him.’ Balin cried
‘Him, or the viler devil who plays his part,
To lay that devil would lay the Devil in me.’
‘Nay’ said the churl, ‘our devil is a truth,
I saw the flash of him but yestereven.
And some do say that our Sir Garlon too
Hath learned black magic, and to ride unseen.
Look to the cave.’ But Balin answered him
‘Old fabler, these be fancies of the churl,
Look to thy woodcraft,’ and so leaving him,
Now with slack rein and careless of himself,
Now with dug spur and raving at himself,
Now with droopt brow down the long glades he rode;
So marked not on his right a cavern-chasm
Yawn over darkness, where, nor far within,
The whole day died, but, dying, gleamed on rocks
Roof-pendent, sharp; and others from the floor,
Tusklike, arising, made that mouth of night
Whereout the Demon issued up from Hell.
He marked not this, but blind and deaf to all
Save that chained rage, which ever yelpt within,
Past eastward from the falling sun. At once
He felt the hollow-beaten mosses thud
And tremble, and then the shadow of a spear,
Shot from behind him, ran along the ground.
Sideways he started from the path, and saw,
With pointed lance as if to pierce, a shape,
A light of armour by him flash, and pass
And vanish in the woods; and followed this,
But all so blind in rage that unawares
He burst his lance against a forest bough,
Dishorsed himself, and rose again, and fled
Far, till the castle of a King, the hall
Of Pellam, lichen-bearded, grayly draped
With streaming grass, appeared, low-built but strong;
The ruinous donjon as a knoll of moss,
The battlement overtopt with ivytods,
A home of bats, in every tower an owl.
Then spake the men of Pellam crying ‘Lord,
Why wear ye this crown-royal upon shield?’
Said Balin ‘For the fairest and the best
Of ladies living gave me this to bear.’
So stalled his horse, and strode across the court,
But found the greetings both of knight and King
Faint in the low dark hall of banquet: leaves
Laid their green faces flat against the panes,
Sprays grated, and the cankered boughs without
Whined in the wood; for all was hushed within,
Till when at feast Sir Garlon likewise asked
‘Why wear ye that crown-royal?’ Balin said
‘The Queen we worship, Lancelot, I, and all,
As fairest, best and purest, granted me
To bear it!’ Such a sound (for Arthur’s knights
Were hated strangers in the hall) as makes
The white swan-mother, sitting, when she hears
A strange knee rustle through her secret reeds,
Made Garlon, hissing; then he sourly smiled.
‘Fairest I grant her: I have seen; but best,
Best, purest? thou from Arthur’s hall, and yet
So simple! hast thou eyes, or if, are these
So far besotted that they fail to see
This fair wife-worship cloaks a secret shame?
Truly, ye men of Arthur be but babes.’
A goblet on the board by Balin, bossed
With holy Joseph’s legend, on his right
Stood, all of massiest bronze: one side had sea
And ship and sail and angels blowing on it:
And one was rough with wattling, and the walls
Of that low church he built at Glastonbury.
This Balin graspt, but while in act to hurl,
Through memory of that token on the shield
Relaxed his hold: ‘I will be gentle’ he thought
‘And passing gentle’ caught his hand away,
Then fiercely to Sir Garlon ‘Eyes have I
That saw today the shadow of a spear,
Shot from behind me, run along the ground;
Eyes too that long have watched how Lancelot draws
From homage to the best and purest, might,
Name, manhood, and a grace, but scantly thine,
Who, sitting in thine own hall, canst endure
To mouth so huge a foulness — to thy guest,
Me, me of Arthur’s Table. Felon talk!
Let be! no more!’
But not the less by night
The scorn of Garlon, poisoning all his rest,
Stung him in dreams. At length, and dim through leaves
Blinkt the white morn, sprays grated, and old boughs
Whined in the wood. He rose, descended, met
The scorner in the castle court, and fain,
For hate and loathing, would have past him by;
But when Sir Garlon uttered mocking-wise;
‘What, wear ye still that same crown-scandalous?’
His countenance blackened, and his forehead veins
Bloated, and branched; and tearing out of sheath
The brand, Sir Balin with a fiery ‘Ha!
So thou be shadow, here I make thee ghost,’
Hard upon helm smote him, and the blade flew
Splintering in six, and clinkt upon the stones.
Then Garlon, reeling slowly backward, fell,
And Balin by the banneret of his helm
Dragged him, and struck, but from the castle a cry
Sounded across the court, and — men-at-arms,
A score with pointed lances, making at him —
He dashed the pummel at the foremost face,
Beneath a low door dipt, and made his feet
Wings through a glimmering gallery, till he marked
The portal of King Pellam’s chapel wide
And inward to the wall; he stept behind;
Thence in a moment heard them pass like wolves
Howling; but while he stared about the shrine,
In which he scarce could spy the Christ for Saints,
Beheld before a golden altar lie
The longest lance his eyes had ever seen,
Point-painted red; and seizing thereupon
Pushed through an open casement down, leaned on it,
Leapt in a semicircle, and lit on earth;
Then hand at ear, and harkening from what side
The blindfold rummage buried in the walls
Might echo, ran the counter path, and found
His charger, mounted on him and away.
An arrow whizzed to the right, one to the left,
One overhead; and Pellam’s feeble cry
‘Stay, stay him! he defileth heavenly things
With earthly uses’ — made him quickly dive
Beneath the boughs, and race through many a mile
Of dense and open, till his goodly horse,
Arising wearily at a fallen oak,
Stumbled headlong, and cast him face to ground.
Half-wroth he had not ended, but all glad,
Knightlike, to find his charger yet unlamed,
Sir Balin drew the shield from off his neck,
Stared at the priceless cognizance, and thought
‘I have shamed thee so that now thou shamest me,
Thee will I bear no more,’ high on a branch
Hung it, and turned aside into the woods,
And there in gloom cast himself all along,
Moaning ‘My violences, my violences!’
But now the wholesome music of the wood
Was dumbed by one from out the hall of Mark,
A damsel-errant, warbling, as she rode
The woodland alleys, Vivien, with her Squire.
‘The fire of Heaven has killed the barren cold,
And kindled all the plain and all the wold.
The new leaf ever pushes off the old.
The fire of Heaven is not the flame of Hell.
‘Old priest, who mumble worship in your quire —
Old monk and nun, ye scorn the world’s desire,
Yet in your frosty cells ye feel the fire!
The fire of Heaven is not the flame of Hell.
‘The fire of Heaven is on the dusty ways.
The wayside blossoms open to the blaze.
The whole wood-world is one full peal of praise.
The fire of Heaven is not the flame of Hell.
‘The fire of Heaven is lord of all things good,
And starve not thou this fire within thy blood,
But follow Vivien through the fiery flood!
The fire of Heaven is not the flame of Hell!’
Then turning to her Squire ‘This fire of Heaven,
This old sun-worship, boy, will rise again,
And beat the cross to earth, and break the King
And all his Table.’
Then they reached a glade,
Where under one long lane of cloudless air
Before another wood, the royal crown
Sparkled, and swaying upon a restless elm
Drew the vague glance of Vivien, and her Squire;
Amazed were these; ‘Lo there’ she cried — ‘a crown —
Borne by some high lord-prince of Arthur’s hall,
And there a horse! the rider? where is he?
See, yonder lies one dead within the wood.
Not dead; he stirs! — but sleeping. I will speak.
Hail, royal knight, we break on thy sweet rest,
Not, doubtless, all unearned by noble deeds.
But bounden art thou, if from Arthur’s hall,
To help the weak. Behold, I fly from shame,
A lustful King, who sought to win my love
Through evil ways: the knight, with whom I rode,
Hath suffered misadventure, and my squire
Hath in him small defence; but thou, Sir Prince,
Wilt surely guide me to the warrior King,
Arthur the blameless, pure as any maid,
To get me shelter for my maidenhood.
I charge thee by that crown upon thy shield,
And by the great Queen’s name, arise and hence.’
And Balin rose, ‘Thither no more! nor Prince
Nor knight am I, but one that hath defamed
The cognizance she gave me: here I dwell
Savage among the savage woods, here die —
Die: let the wolves’ black maws ensepulchre
Their brother beast, whose anger was his lord.
O me, that such a name as Guinevere’s,
Which our high Lancelot hath so lifted up,
And been thereby uplifted, should through me,
My violence, and my villainy, come to shame.’
Thereat she suddenly laughed and shrill, anon
Sighed all as suddenly. Said Balin to her
‘Is this thy courtesy — to mock me, ha?
Hence, for I will not with thee.’ Again she sighed
‘Pardon, sweet lord! we maidens often laugh
When sick at heart, when rather we should weep.
I knew thee wronged. I brake upon thy rest,
And now full loth am I to break thy dream,
But thou art man, and canst abide a truth,
Though bitter. Hither, boy — and mark me well.
Dost thou remember at Caerleon once —
A year ago — nay, then I love thee not —
Ay, thou rememberest well — one summer dawn —
By the great tower — Caerleon upon Usk —
Nay, truly we were hidden: this fair lord,
The flower of all their vestal knighthood, knelt
In amorous homage — knelt — what else? — O ay
Knelt, and drew down from out his night-black hair
And mumbled that white hand whose ringed caress
Had wandered from her own King’s golden head,
And lost itself in darkness, till she cried —
I thought the great tower would crash down on both —
“Rise, my sweet King, and kiss me on the lips,
Thou art my King.” This lad, whose lightest word
Is mere white truth in simple nakedness,
Saw them embrace: he reddens, cannot speak,
So bashful, he! but all the maiden Saints,
The deathless mother-maidenhood of Heaven,
Cry out upon her. Up then, ride with me!
Talk not of shame! thou canst not, an thou would’st,
Do these more shame than these have done themselves.’
She lied with ease; but horror-stricken he,
Remembering that dark bower at Camelot,
Breathed in a dismal whisper ‘It is truth.’
Sunnily she smiled ‘And even in this lone wood,
Sweet lord, ye do right well to whisper this.
Fools prate, and perish traitors. Woods have tongues,
As walls have ears: but thou shalt go with me,
And we will speak at first exceeding low.
Meet is it the good King be not deceived.
See now, I set thee high on vantage ground,
From whence to watch the time, and eagle-like
Stoop at thy will on Lancelot and the Queen.’
She ceased; his evil spirit upon him leapt,
He ground his teeth together, sprang with a yell,
Tore from the branch, and cast on earth, the shield,
Drove his mailed heel athwart the royal crown,
Stampt all into defacement, hurled it from him
Among the forest weeds, and cursed the tale,
The told-of, and the teller.
That weird yell,
Unearthlier than all shriek of bird or beast,
Thrilled through the woods; and Balan lurking there
(His quest was unaccomplished) heard and thought
‘The scream of that Wood-devil I came to quell!’
Then nearing ‘Lo! he hath slain some brother-knight,
And tramples on the goodly shield to show
His loathing of our Order and the Queen.
My quest, meseems, is here. Or devil or man
Guard thou thine head.’ Sir Balin spake not word,
But snatched a sudden buckler from the Squire,
And vaulted on his horse, and so they crashed
In onset, and King Pellam’s holy spear,
Reputed to be red with sinless blood,
Redded at once with sinful, for the point
Across the maiden shield of Balan pricked
The hauberk to the flesh; and Balin’s horse
Was wearied to the death, and, when they clashed,
Rolling back upon Balin, crushed the man
Inward, and either fell, and swooned away.
Then to her Squire muttered the damsel ‘Fools!
This fellow hath wrought some foulness with his Queen:
Else never had he borne her crown, nor raved
And thus foamed over at a rival name:
But thou, Sir Chick, that scarce hast broken shell,
Art yet half-yolk, not even come to down —
Who never sawest Caerleon upon Usk —
And yet hast often pleaded for my love —
See what I see, be thou where I have been,
Or else Sir Chick — dismount and loose their casques
I fain would know what manner of men they be.’
And when the Squire had loosed them, ‘Goodly! — look!
They might have cropt the myriad flower of May,
And butt each other here, like brainless bulls,
Dead for one heifer!
Then the gentle Squire
‘I hold them happy, so they died for love:
And, Vivien, though ye beat me like your dog,
I too could die, as now I live, for thee.’
‘Live on, Sir Boy,’ she cried. ‘I better prize
The living dog than the dead lion: away!
I cannot brook to gaze upon the dead.’
Then leapt her palfrey o’er the fallen oak,
And bounding forward ‘Leave them to the wolves.’
But when their foreheads felt the cooling air,
Balin first woke, and seeing that true face,
Familiar up from cradle-time, so wan,
Crawled slowly with low moans to where he lay,
And on his dying brother cast himself
Dying; and he lifted faint eyes; he felt
One near him; all at once they found the world,
Staring wild-wide; then with a childlike wail
And drawing down the dim disastrous brow
That o’er him hung, he kissed it, moaned and spake;
‘O Balin, Balin, I that fain had died
To save thy life, have brought thee to thy death.
Why had ye not the shield I knew? and why
Trampled ye thus on that which bare the Crown?’
Then Balin told him brokenly, and in gasps,
All that had chanced, and Balan moaned again.
‘Brother, I dwelt a day in Pellam’s hall:
This Garlon mocked me, but I heeded not.
And one said “Eat in peace! a liar is he,
And hates thee for the tribute!” this good knight
Told me, that twice a wanton damsel came,
And sought for Garlon at the castle-gates,
Whom Pellam drove away with holy heat.
I well believe this damsel, and the one
Who stood beside thee even now, the same.
“She dwells among the woods” he said “and meets
And dallies with him in the Mouth of Hell.”
Foul are their lives; foul are their lips; they lied.
Pure as our own true Mother is our Queen.”
‘O brother’ answered Balin ‘woe is me!
My madness all thy life has been thy doom,
Thy curse, and darkened all thy day; and now
The night has come. I scarce can see thee now.
Goodnight! for we shall never bid again
Goodmorrow — Dark my doom was here, and dark
It will be there. I see thee now no more.
I would not mine again should darken thine,
Goodnight, true brother.
Balan answered low
‘Goodnight, true brother here! goodmorrow there!
We two were born together, and we die
Together by one doom:’ and while he spoke
Closed his death-drowsing eyes, and slept the sleep
With Balin, either locked in either’s arm.