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       The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great, p.1

           Gerald Morris
 
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The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great


  The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great

  Gerald Morris

  * * *

  Illustrated by Aaron Renier

  * * *

  HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

  BOSTON 2008

  * * *

  Copyright © 2008 by Gerald Morris

  Illustrations copyright © 2008 by Aaron Renier

  All rights reserved. For information about permission

  to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions,

  Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

  wwwhoughtonmifflinbooks.com

  The text of this book is set in Post Mediaeval.

  The illustrations are brush and ink.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Morris, Gerald, 1963-

  The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great / written by Gerald Morris.

  p. cm.

  Summary: Relates tales of Sir Lancelot, the bravest knight in King Arthur's court.

  ISBN-13: 978-0-618-77714-3

  1. Lancelot (Legendary character)—Legends. 2. Arthurian romances—Adaptations. [1.

  Lancelot (Legendary character)—Legends. 2. Knights and knighthood—Folklore.

  3. Folklore—England.] I. Title.

  PZ8.1.M8268Ad 2008

  [398.20942'02]—dc22

  2007041167

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  MP 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  * * *

  FOR STEPHEN AND KATHERINE

  Chapter 1

  The Knight in Shining Armor

  Many years ago, the storytellers say, a great king brought justice to England. The king's name was Arthur, and he surrounded himself with brave knights in shining armor, whom he sent out to defend the helpless and protect the weak. They rescued damsels in distress, slew troublesome dragons, and fought against wicked knights who used their weapons to oppress the defenseless. The wicked knights were called "recreants"— which means something like "cowardly bullies"—and one by one they were driven from England. In this way, King Arthur brought peace to the land, and tales of his court at Camelot were told wherever people met.

  Indeed, tales of King Arthur and his knights in shining armor were even told across the sea, in France, where they came to the ears of a young prince named Sir Lancelot. Sir Lancelot had just been knighted by his father, King Ban of Benouic, and although he was very young, he showed great promise in the knightly arts. When Sir Lancelot heard about King Arthur's knights, nothing would satisfy him but to join their number.

  "I must go to England, to King Arthur," Sir Lancelot told King Ban, "for his knights are the greatest knights of all!"

  "Are they?" asked King Ban.

  "Yes, Father. They have the bravest hearts, the noblest souls, and the shiniest armor in all the world."

  "Shiniest armor?" repeated King Ban.

  "Everyone says so," Sir Lancelot assured his father. "I wish to go to Camelot!"

  Ban was a wise king, and an even wiser father, so he replied, "Very well. Go to Camelot. You should do well there, for you already have a brave heart and a noble soul, besides being very skilled with your weapons. You have my blessing."

  "Thank you, Father," Sir Lancelot replied gratefully. "But ... er ... Father?"

  "Yes, Lancelot?"

  "You didn't say anything about my armor. Is it not shiny enough?"

  A few days later, Sir Lancelot led his great horse onto a ship bound for England. He carried a long lance in one hand, and his mind was alive with dreams of glory. Arriving in England, he set out at once for Camelot, stopping only to practice with his sword and lance, to polish his armor, and to take short naps after lunch. Strictly speaking, afternoon naps were not required for knights, but Sir Lancelot found them refreshing.

  On his third day, just as he began to think he should be nearing Camelot, a heavy spring rain set in. Rain is never enjoyable for someone in armor. It makes a deafening noise on the metal helmet and always leaks in at the neck and shoulders. To Sir Lancelot, though, this rain was even more distressing, because it turned the paths to mud, and in no time his armor was splashed all over with dirty spots.

  When at last the rain stopped, Sir Lancelot turned his attention to his spattered appearance. Moving his lance to his left arm, he drew a towel from his saddlebags and began scrubbing at his armored legs. Soon he was absorbed in the task, paying no attention to where his horse was taking him.

  Just then, the loud drumming of a horse's hooves disturbed him from his polishing. Sir Lancelot looked up to see a knight in armor bearing down on him with his spear leveled. Realizing that this must be one of those recreant knights he'd heard of, Sir Lancelot readied himself for battle. He had no time to shift his lance to his right arm, so he met the knight's charge left-handed, popping his attacker very neatly from his saddle.

  "There, now," Sir Lancelot said to the fallen knight. "Stop being so recreant and attacking people when they're busy." With that, he turned back to his armor.

  A moment later, though, Sir Lancelot was interrupted again, by a different charging knight. "Bother," said Sir Lancelot, knocking the second knight from his horse. "Please go away. Can't you see I'm occupied?"

  When a third knight charged just a few seconds later, Sir Lancelot began to feel annoyed. He was only halfway done with one leg, and at this rate would never get himself cleaned up. "Serves you right," he said to the third challenger after unhorsing him like the others. "You were very rude, you know."

  In all, Sir Lancelot defeated sixteen knights, and was glad that English recreant knights attacked one at a time. If they had charged all at once instead of taking turns, he probably would have had to put down his towel. As it was, in between knights he was able to wipe the mud from one leg and half his breastplate.

  After the parade of knights had ceased, though, a new sound disturbed Sir Lancelot's labors. Looking up, Sir Lancelot was astonished to see that he was surrounded by a crowd of people, all cheering wildly. As he stared, a smiling man in a long red cape walked up to where Sir Lancelot sat. "My goodness," said Sir Lancelot. "Where did all of you come from?"

  "Unknown knight, I congratulate you!" the smiling man said. "Never have I seen such skill. You have won our tournament!"

  "Tournament?" repeated Sir Lancelot blankly. "Oh! So that's why those fellows kept attacking me. They weren't recreant knights at all."

  "You didn't know you were in a tournament?" the smiling man asked.

  "I wasn't paying very close attention," explained Sir Lancelot. "I was busy, you see."

  The man smiled more broadly. "You overcame my greatest knights without paying attention? Please, tell me your name, Sir Knight!"

  "I am Sir Lancelot, just come to this land from France."

  "I am delighted to meet you," the man said. "You know, I thought you must be from another land. There aren't very many left-handed knights, and I thought I knew—"

  "Oh, I'm not left-handed," said Sir Lancelot. The man's eyes widened. "But you used your left hand to unhorse all those knights!"

  "My right hand was busy."

  "Sir Lancelot," the man said earnestly, "I beg you to join my court, for I have never seen such skill as yours!"

  "That is most kind of you, sir," replied Sir Lancelot, "but I'm afraid I cannot accept your generous offer." The man looked so disappointed that Sir Lancelot added, "Please don't be sad. It's just that I've come all this way to join King Arthur's court."

  At that, the man began to laugh. "But I am King Arthur!"

  Sir Lancelot stared for a moment, then cried out, "Oh, no! But this is awful!"

  "Awful? But why
?"

  Sir Lancelot gestured at himself. "Look at me! I'm covered with mud! And I did want to make a favorable first impression!"

  Chapter 2

  The Fastest Knight in England

  In no time at all, the storytellers say, Sir Lancelot became the most famous of all King Arthur's knights in shining armor. No other knight rescued so many damsels in distress or slew so many dragons or overcame so many recreant knights or, for that matter, kept his armor so tidy. He performed so many great deeds that he soon became known as Sir Lancelot the Great. Minstrels sang songs of his adventures, damsels sighed when he passed by, boys playing knights all wanted to be Sir Lancelot, and young knights dreamed of one day defeating Sir Lancelot, because whoever did that, they thought, would take his place as the greatest knight in England.

  That last part soon got to be a problem. Everywhere Sir Lancelot went, knights were waiting to challenge him, all hoping to win fame and glory with one battle. Sir Lancelot defeated them all, but fighting every knight he met grew rather tiresome. So, when he rode out on a quest, he chose lonely paths. This was why he was riding alone through a quiet forest one day when he heard an unexpected sound.

  "WAAAAAH!"

  It was a damsel in distress. When you ride out on enough quests, you get to know that sound. Sir Lancelot turned toward the wailing and soon came to a woman sitting alone beneath a great oak tree, crying with gusto.

  "Good day, my lady," Sir Lancelot said politely. It was hard to know the right thing to say at times like this.

  "WAAAAAH!" the lady said.

  Sir Lancelot said, "May I be of service, my lady?"

  "WOOOO-HOOOO-WAAH!"

  "Can you tell me what is distressing you, my lady?"

  "WAAAH! BLUH-BLUH-WOO-WAAH!"

  "I'll just wait here a bit, then, shall I?"

  "WIB B LE-B LIDDE R-WO -WO -HAH-WAAH!"

  So Sir Lancelot sat on his horse and waited. No one can cry forever, and when at last the lady had used up all her tears, Sir Lancelot asked again, "Can you tell me what is distressing you?"

  "It's my ... my fal-fal-falcon!" the lady gasped.

  Now in those days, noble lords and ladies used to train falcons to hunt for them. They kept them on leashes, then set them free to hunt small birds. A well-trained falcon—that is, one that would come back—was quite valuable.

  "What happened to your falcon, my lady?"

  "It flew away! It was a gift from my husband," the woman wailed, beginning to cry again. Not all falcons were well trained.

  "I'm sorry to hear it, my lady," said Sir Lancelot. "I wish I could help you."

  "Would you?" the woman exclaimed, her tears stopping at once.

  "Er ... if I could," Sir Lancelot replied. "But how? I can't chase a falcon through the sky."

  "Oh, you don't have to chase her at all," the woman said, smiling brightly. "She's right up there!" The woman pointed up. There at the top of the oak tree was a falcon, her leash tangled in the small branches.

  "Oh," said Sir Lancelot.

  "You said you'd help," the woman reminded him.

  "Er ... yes, I did. The thing is, it's rather hard to climb trees in armor."

  "Can't you take your armor off?" the woman asked. She sniffled.

  Sir Lancelot frowned. He had just had his armor shined and didn't like to leave it lying around. Then he sighed. "Of course, my lady."

  Twenty minutes later, his armor and sword stacked neatly beside a bush, Sir Lancelot began climbing the tree. While he climbed, he wondered how to untangle an angry falcon from a tree without getting pecked, but soon he saw what to do. Coming to the branch where the bird was tangled, he simply broke it off at the base and tossed the whole branch free. Bird and branch fluttered and crashed to the ground, and Sir Lancelot wiped his brow with relief.

  "Ha-ha, Sir Lancelot the Great!" shouted a gruff voice. Sir Lancelot looked down. Things had changed below. The crying woman was gone, and in her place stood an armored knight with a drawn sword. "Pretty neat, hey?" the knight crowed.

  "I beg your pardon?" Sir Lancelot replied.

  "I got you to take off your armor and put away your sword! Now you're helpless, and when I've slain you, I, Sir Phelot, will be known as the greatest knight in England!"

  "Sir Phelot?"

  "That's right," the knight replied. "Sir Phelot the Great."

  "Pleased to meet you," Sir Lancelot murmured. "So all this business with the falcon was a trick?"

  "That's right," Sir Phelot said. "Clever, hey?"

  "And that lady was your wife?"

  "Don't be silly. She's an actress. I've already paid her and sent her off."

  "An actress?" repeated Sir Lancelot admiringly. "She's very good, isn't she?"

  "Yes, yes," Sir Phelot said curtly. "And now I have you! Come down from that tree and face your doom!"

  Sir Lancelot looked at Sir Phelot for a long moment, then stretched out on a sturdy branch. "No," he said.

  "What do you mean, 'no'?" Sir Phelot demanded.

  "I'm comfortable," said Sir Lancelot. He leaned against the trunk of the tree and closed his eyes.

  "Oh, for heaven's sake," Sir Phelot said. "What ever do you think you're doing? You can't stay up in that tree forever!"

  "Why not?"

  "Well, you'll get hungry, for one thing," Sir Phelot said.

  "So will you," Sir Lancelot pointed out.

  Sir Phelot frowned over this for a moment. If he left the tree to get food, Sir Lancelot would get away. "Well ... you have to sleep sometime."

  Sir Lancelot only smiled.

  "Oh, stop being so childish!" snapped Sir Phelot, stamping his foot. "You know perfectly well that you have to come down eventually."

  Sir Lancelot ignored him. Licking his lips, he began to whistle softly, trying to remember a song that he had heard from a minstrel at King Arthur's court.

  "What's that noise?" Sir Phelot demanded.

  "It's a love song," Sir Lancelot replied. "It's called 'Llude Sing Cuckoo.'"

  "What sing cuckoo?"

  "'Llude,'" Sir Lancelot said. "I think it means loud."

  "Why not say so, then?"

  Sir Lancelot sniffed. "You obviously don't understand art. Actually, this is quite a lucky chance for me. Back at court when I sing, people always remember that they have somewhere else to be. Sir Gawain says that I'm tone deaf, but he's Scottish and listens to bagpipes, so how would he know?" With that, Sir Lancelot burst into enthusiastic song.

  "Summer is i-cumin in!

  Llude sing cuckoo!"

  Sir Phelot removed his helmet and covered his ears, so Sir Lancelot sang it again, louder this time. He sang for more than an hour, until his voice grew tired. He didn't know any other songs. In fact, he only knew those two lines of this one, but he didn't mind singing the same lines over and over. Sir Phelot stuffed wadded-up leaves in his ears and covered his head with his arms, but he was still making whimpering noises by the time Sir Lancelot's voice grew weary.

  No one can sing forever, though, and at last Sir Lancelot stopped. Sir Phelot carefully removed his earplugs and peeked up the tree. "Are you done?" he asked.

  Sir Lancelot didn't reply. He was looking at a cluster of acorns not far from his head. Picking one acorn, he held it out over Sir Phelot and let it drop.

  Plink! went the acorn off Sir Phelot's armor.

  "Stop that!" Sir Phelot said.

  Plink! Plink! Thonk!

  "That one sounded different," Sir Lancelot said. "What did it hit?"

  Sir Phelot put his helmet back on.

  Plink!

  "WILL YOU KINDLY CUT THAT OUT!" shouted Sir Phelot. He began jumping up and down and waving his arms and growling fiercely. He scuffed the dirt with his feet, then kicked the base of the tree very hard. Then he said a great many colorful words and sat down, holding his foot with one hand and screaming with frustration. Sir Lancelot stopped throwing acorns and watched Sir Phelot's tantrum with interest. Sir Phelot cursed and roared and threatened and screamed for a
very long time, but at last he grew hoarse and lapsed into panting silence.

  Plink!

  Sir Lancelot thought he heard a sobbing noise from inside Sir Phelot's helmet, but then Sir Phelot leaped to his feet. "No! I won't give up! I will defeat Sir Lancelot and become the greatest knight in England!"

  Plink!

  "You're just making it worse for yourself, you know! You're making me angry!"

  Plinkety-plinkety-plink-plink-plink!

  "STOP THAT! If you don't stop dropping nuts on me I'll ... I'll ... I'll just cut down your tree!"

  Sir Lancelot stopped throwing acorns and said admiringly, "Now, that's quite clever. You should go home and get an ax at once!"

  Sir Phelot laughed. "How stupid do you think I am?"

  Sir Lancelot did not reply.

  "I'm going to cut down the tree with my sword!" Sir Phelot declared.

  "Ah!" Sir Lancelot said, very softly. "That stupid." He dropped two more acorns.

  Plink! Plink!

  With a roar of rage, Sir Phelot drew back his sword and swung it with all his strength against the trunk of the tree. The blade sank deep into the wood. Sir Phelot chuckled to himself, then tugged the hilt sharply.

  The sword remained in the tree. Sir Phelot tugged it again, harder. He walked around the tree and kicked it. He braced one foot, then both feet, against the trunk and pulled with all his might. The blade wouldn't budge.

  While he tugged and yanked and grunted over his sword, Sir Lancelot quietly climbed down the tree and dropped noiselessly to the ground. Taking up his own sword, he stepped behind Sir Phelot.

  "Do you need some help?"

  "No, thank you," Sir Phelot snapped irritably. "I can do it myself."

 
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