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The Tryste

1. Morgana, or Morgaine le fay, was half-sister to King Arthur. She was a powerful enchantress, scarcely inferior to the Lady of the Lake herself, but otherwise a lady of a very indifferent character, "born of fire and lasciviousness," as Merlin more correctly than courteously describes her. In the present instance, however, it must be stated in mitigation of her offence, that in laying a trap for the virtue of her sister-in-law, she was but repaying Queen Guinevere in kind. For we learn from the Table-Round Romances, that on a former occasion the Queen had maliciously conducted Arthur to Morgana's bower, at a critical conjuncture in a love-tryste, similar to that into which she here inveigles Launcelot and Guinevere.

Ah, lawless love — Ah reinless lust,
         The evil ye have done!
Ye laid proud Priam's domes in dust,
         And Priam's glorious son.
The giant judge of Israel,
         By you the Ethnic's scorn,
In blindness and in bondage fell,
         And ground Philistian corn.
Through you nigh lost in impious war
         A brother's race hath been,
At Gibeah, and Baal-Tamar —
         The seed of Benjamin.
And ye have soiled with sinful blood
         A peerless knight renown'd,
And wrecked the noble brotherhood
         Of Arthur's Table Round!


King Arthur, on the peep of morn,
         Hath rode with gallant cheer
From Carleil, with hound and horn,
         To chase the forest deer.
"Two days and nights in forest free,"
         He thus bespake his Queen.
"A merry hunter will I be,
         And couch in coppice green."
Ah, wo the wile! Ah, wo the hour!
         'Twas Fay Morgana's plot:          1
The Queen bids to her midnight bower
         Her lover Launcelot.
Him redd his brave nevèwe in vain,
         Sir Bors, to well beware
Sir Mordred and Sir Aggravayne,
         And doubt some deadly snare.
His blood was high, his heart was bold,
         And at love's genial hour
He wrapped him in his mantle's fold,
         And sought his lady's bower.


I may not ween, I may not wot,
         Within that chamber fair,
What did the loving Launcelot
         And lovely Guinevere —
But wrought they sin, or wrought they no,
         Short time had they, I ween,
When shouts were heard, "False traitor, ho!
         And ho, thou harlot-queen!"
Sir Mordred and Sir Aggravayne
         Sprang forth from hiding near,
And twelve good knights were armed amain
         With sword, and shield, and spear.


"Alas! alas!" the lady wept,
         "Our love hath cruel end,
Thou shalt be slain, and I be stripp'd
         At shameful stake and brenned!"
"Jhesu forbid!" cried Launcelot,
         "Had I some harness here" —
"There's none, there's none, too well I wot,"
         Sobbed Lady Guinevere.
And crash! against the chamber's door
         The knights drive might and main —
"Come forth! come forth, base bordellour,"
         Shouted Sir Aggravayne.


Then proud and high flashed Launcelot's eye
         "I may no longer brook
So foul defame, so foul defye"
         And in his arms he took
His ladye-love—"But lady fair,
         As I have loved thee long,
And loved thee true, nor failed thee, were
         Thy quarrel right or wrong,
Pray for my soul when I am slain —
         But fear thou nought of ill,
For at thy need, my nephews twain
         Shall be thy champions still:
And on my lands, and in my seat,
         For dead Sir Launcelot's sake,
Among my kin, in queenly state,
         Thy life-long pleasure take."


The lady sobbed, the lady swoon'd,
         He kissed her o'er and o'er,
Then round his arm his mantle wound,
         And slant the chamber's door
Unfolded half — a weirded man
         Is he shall first advance —
With bourde and ban he leads their van,
         Burly Sir Colgrevaunce.
One buffet — on the chamber's floor
         He dunts with deadly moan;
Swiftly Sir Launcelot steiked the door,
         And did his harness on
With lady's help. Then lightily
         He forth that chamber sprung,
And knightily and mightily
         He strode his foes among.
He dealt him left, he dealt him right,
         Full many a stalworth stroke;
Ah! wo was him, wanchancy wight,
         On whom his buffet broke!
And stiffening stark, by dead of dark.
         Beside Sir Aggravayne,
Are twelve good knights of might and mark —
         Sir Mordred fled amain.


"Now lady fair! now lady mine!
         Away to bower with me!
For evermore my foe and thine
         Needs must Sir Arthur be."
"Alas! that were to worse thy plight —
         But be I doomed to die,
I wot me well my loyal knight
         Will to the rescue fly.
So speed thee gone!" — one long embrace —
         With haste and heavy cheer
He hied him from that fatal place,
         And from his lady dear.