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Beaumains, the Knight of the Kitchen
King Arthur was gone with his knights of the Round Table to Kin-Kenadon, which is upon the sand near Wales, there to keep the great feast of Pentecost. And, as his custom was, he would taste no meat till he had heard of some adventure.
Then looked Sir Gawaine out of the castle window, and he beheld three men on horseback who came rapidly toward the castle; and behind them a dwarf who ran on foot.
Then said he to the King: "My lord, wait no longer for thy dinner, for here cometh adventure toward thee, hard and fast."
Then went King Arthur to the banqueting hall, and with him other kings that were his guests, and all his knights.
And they had but seated themselves when there came into the hall these three men whom Sir Gawaine had seen.
Now two of them were exceedingly tall, but the third was taller still; and as he came he leant upon the shoulders of the other men – for he walked between them – as if he could not walk alone.
Yet was he strong of frame, and of a healthy colour, and he bare no wounds.
When he had come to that place where King Arthur sat, the young man raised himself and with ease, as if he had leaned for some other reason than necessity.
Then spake he to the King, saying: "Sir, here have I come to ask of thee the granting of three gifts; but of these I will ask but one on this occasion, and the other two on Pentecost a year hence."
Now King Arthur, looking upon the young man, found him straight and fair, and manly; and, although he knew nothing of him, he liked him right well. Said he, "Ask, my son, and thy petition shall be granted thee."
"Sir," said the stranger, "the gift I ask is this, that for twelve months thou wilt provide me with meat and drink."
"Nay," said the King, "call not my hospitality a gift. Is it not the due of any man who hath need of it? Eat and drink what thou wilt, but require of me that which shall be more worthy of thee, for I believe thy blood to be noble."
"Of that I can tell thee nothing," said the young man; "neither do I ask aught but hospitality till these twelve months be past."
Then the King called Sir Kay, who was steward, and bade him that he should give the young man such sustenance as he needed day by day, for one year.
And the King, who was ever generous, charged Sir Kay that he should provide the young man with gentle food. "For," said he, "I trow he is of gentle blood."
But Sir Kay was wroth and scornful, liking ill the stranger, and caring not for the task with which the King had charged him. "This lout hath no gentle blood," said he, "or he had asked for a horse and harness, as becomes a knight, that he might do noble deeds. Nay, he is some low fellow, who would sup from a full dish. For as his petition is, so is he. To-day I give him a name that will serve him well. He shall be called Beaumains, that is to say, fair hands, for his hands are large and fair; and I warrant he plies them diligently when he sups from the King's bowl!"
At this speech two knights were exceedingly wroth; and these were that valiant knight Sir Launcelot, and Sir Gawaine, who was son to the King's sister. These bade Sir Kay that he should cease his mocking, for which he would surely repent, since they believed the stranger would prove one day a knight most noble.
"Nay," said Sir Kay, "he shall be a kitchen knight, for there his place is. I shall feed him in the kitchen till he be as broad as he is long."
With that Sir Kay found his own place at table, and seated himself.
And the two men who had accompanied the young man having left him, the stranger went to the hall door, sitting among the boys and servingmen, and sharing their fare.
And at night he slept with the youths of the kitchen, for so Sir Kay would have it. And in the daytime he supped with them again.
Then were Sir Launcelot and Sir Gawaine again angry; but Sir Kay took no heed of their speech. And they would have had it that Beaumains should have meat and drink and lodging from them; but the young man would accept nothing.
In all things he would have himself treated as Sir Kay ordered; and with meekness he bore that knight's ungentle words. Yet was the young man of a high spirit, and a good courage. Nor was he without skill in the casting of bar or stone, for none could throw as far as he. And where there was jousting of knights, or other brave play, there Beaumains hied him, taking a great delight in these things.
Now twelve months were well past, and King Arthur kept again the great feast of Pentecost; and, as before, he would not sit down to meat till news of some adventure came to him.
And as he waited there came into the hall a damsel, one of a proud mien, but with a smile that was wondrous sweet – though in truth she could be moved to smile but seldom – and saluting the King, she asked him for a knight who would succour a lady in distress.
"Who is this lady?" asked the King. "And from what distress doth she suffer?"
"Nay," said the damsel, "what her name is that I may not divulge to thee; but she is of right noble blood, and owns wide lands. And her trouble is that she is besieged by a tyrannous knight, so that she may not leave her own castle. And the knight is that knight who is known as the Knight of the Reed Lands."
"I know nothing of him," said King Arthur.
But Sir Gawaine said: "I know more of him than I well care to know. For I once escaped from this knight, and that with a great difficulty. He hath, it is said, the strength of seven men."
Then spake the King: "Fair maid, I doubt not that many a knight here present would ride with gladness to the succour of thy lady; but because thou wilt neither state her name nor where she dwelleth, I am loth to let any knight go."
"Then I must fare farther," said the damsel. And she would have withdrawn herself.
But at that moment there advanced Beaumains, who had come from the kitchen, and making his reverence to the King, he said: "Sir, the time is come when I would ask of thee those other two gifts of which I told thee. The first gift I ask is that thou wilt permit me to go with the damsel and take this adventure upon me. And the second is that Sir Launcelot may ride after me to make me knight when the time arrives. For I would fain be made knight of him."
Then said the King, "My son, I grant thee thy requests."
Thereupon was the damsel ill-pleased, and she cried at the King that he should refuse her a knight for her quest, and put a kitchen knave upon her; and she was exceedingly angry.
But Beaumains heeded not at all her anger. And one came to him telling him that a dwarf had arrived bringing him his horse and armour. Therefore he went away to make himself ready for the adventure.
And when he was made ready, there was none that did not wonder at the richness of his gear; but he was without spear or shield.
When Beaumains had ridden away with the damsel, and with the dwarf following after, Sir Kay said, "I will pursue this kitchen-boy of mine, and see if the fellow knows his master."
"Nay," said Sir Launcelot and Sir Gawaine, "leave the youth in peace. Thou hast already slighted him grievously, and hast laid up for thyself future shame."
But Sir Kay heeded them not, and getting upon his horse, he rode after Beaumains.
And when he was yet some distance behind him, he cried out to the youth to wait for him.
"It is I. Dost not thou know me, Beaumains?" cried he.
Then Beaumains drew in his horse, and waited; and the damsel looked upon the youth scornfully. And when Sir Kay approached, Beaumains cried boldly, "Indeed I know thee well, for thou art a knight of little kindliness, and hast ever used me ill."
At these words Sir Kay flew into a fury, and rushed at him with his spear. But Beaumains, having no spear, gripped his sword and turned the blow aside, and then another blow. Then leant Beaumains forward, and thrust the knight through with his sword; and it was a neat thrust that he gave, and Sir Kay fell to the ground, with a great wound.
Then Beaumains took the spear and shield of Sir Kay, and had them for his own; and he bade the dwarf that he should mount Sir Kay's horse and go no more on foot. And he had but done this when he beheld Sir Launcelot, who was following him.
Then he proffered Sir Launcelot to joust with him, and immediately they flew together, the while the damsel looked on with a raised chin.
"I wonder at thee, Sir Launcelot, that thou shouldst joust with a kitchen knave!" cried she, mocking.
But neither Sir Launcelot nor Beaumains gave her heed, for they were thinking of a different matter. Great blows did the kitchen-boy deal, and much ado had Sir Launcelot to hold himself against them, for they were more like the blows of a giant than a man. At length they came upon the ground by reason of the force of their blows, and Sir Launcelot helped Beaumains to come clear of his horse, whereupon they fell upon each other with their swords.
And after they had fought till they were weary – and Sir Launcelot was almost overcome with the difficulty of defending himself from Beaumains, for the kitchen-boy fought with as great an ardour on foot as on his horse – Sir Launcelot cried: "Hold, Beaumains! have not we fought enough to show thy skill? Our quarrel is not so serious that we need fight further."
Said Beaumains, dropping his hand: "I have no quarrel with thee, Sir Launcelot, and I give thee thanks that thou didst not disdain to joust with me. Fain would I be knighted of thee ere I go farther upon my adventure; thinkest thou that I may prove a true knight?"
"Indeed I have little doubt of it!" said Sir Launcelot, "for I had difficulty with thee beyond what I have had in jousting with any champion."
And with that he made Beaumains knight with a right good-will; afterwards setting himself to see to Sir Kay and his hurt.
Sir Beaumains and his damsel rode on, and immediately she began to upbraid him, calling him the kitchen knight, and by other means making little of him. And ever she wondered that Sir Launcelot should have deigned to joust with him, and ever she mourned that Sir Kay should have been wounded by a knight so sorry.
But Sir Beaumains would not leave her, in spite of all her uncivil words; for he was determined to go upon this adventure.
And as they pressed on through the woods, there came running toward them as fast as he could a fellow whose garments were grievously torn, as if others had wrestled with him, and upon his face fear was written.
Then called Sir Beaumains to him, asking him what ailed him; and he replied how his lord had been set upon in the wood by six thieves, and how he himself was fleeing from these plunderers, who had maltreated him; but that they had bound his lord that he could not flee.
Sir Beaumains had no sooner heard this story, than he bade the fellow guide him to the spot where his master lay. And having reached it he fell furiously upon the thieves, slaying three of them, and putting the other three to rout. Then he followed these three, and slew them also, lest they should do mischief to other good knights.
And having carried this adventure to its end, he went with the rescued knight to his castle, which was at no great distance; and there he and the damsel passed the night, proceeding the next morning upon their way.
Now they came upon a great forest, and when they had traversed but a part of it they found a river which had but one crossing. And this crossing two knights held, waiting on the other side.
"Come, wilt thou fight with those bold knights, kitchen knave?" asked the damsel; "or shall we return, and go by another way?"
"I will not return," said Sir Beaumains; "and I think ill of thee that thou shouldst so question me."
Then, without further waste of words, he rode into the stream, and immediately one of the knights advanced to meet him.
Half-way across the stream they encountered, and there they fought valiantly; but Sir Beaumains gave the strange knight a blow upon the head that was too strong for him, and he was overcome and fell into the stream.
Then rode Sir Beaumains forward to meet that other knight, and having encountered him, he slew him also. And when he had done this, he brought the damsel across the stream.
But she had no thanks for him. "Keep thee at a distance, kitchen knight," cried she, "for I like little the air of the kitchen which hangs about thee! Think not that I esteem thee more highly on account of thy deeds! For I know well that the first knight fell into the stream and was drowned because his foot caught upon a stone. As for the second, thou hadst wit to creep behind him, else hadst thou not slain him. Away from me! I like thee little by my side."
But Sir Beaumains moved from her not one inch. As for her bitter words, he rode on with an air as if he had not heard them. For this she liked him the less.
And after a time they came to a black country, and in the black country grew a black hawthorn, and on the black hawthorn hung a black shield, and by the shield was a black spear, and by the spear a great black horse, and a black stone was hard by the horse.
"Now are we in the lands of the Black Knight," said the damsel. "Fly, kitchen knight, while there be time, ere he catch sight of thee."
"Nay, it comes to me that I like better to ride forward," said Sir Beaumains; "for I have a fancy to see this Black Knight." And he cast her not a glance.
Then came the Black Knight riding toward them on a horse even blacker than the first they had seen, and clad in black armour; and his eyes were as black as coals. And immediately the damsel began to make moan to him, as if in pity, that he would spare Sir Beaumains.
"For this is but a kitchen knave," said she, "whose head hath been turned through riding with a lady of my quality. I pray thee, Sir Knight, do him no ill."
Said the Black Knight, "He is not garbed as a kitchen knave, but as a knight."
"It is so he imagines himself," said she scornfully. "Nevertheless he is of King Arthur's kitchen, as I have said. Many knightly deeds hath he done, but all by misadventure, not by skill. For Chance hath this fellow in her care, and ever favours him. And he hath killed good knights."
"Damsel," said the Black Knight, "I shall do him no evil. Bid him only that he leave with me his horse and armour, for I would have him wage no more mischief."
Then cried Sir Beaumains in a high voice: "Sir, thou talkest lightly of my horse and armour, but know that they are mine, not thine, and that I will not yield them. Yet will I pass through thy lands, and from them, and go upon my way."
At these words the Black Knight became wrathful, and he warned Sir Beaumains that he would fight with him. So they drew apart some distance, and then rushed together; and with the force of the blow he gave the spear of the Black Knight broke. And at the same moment Sir Beaumains thrust his spear into the Black Knight's side, so that it brake also, and a part of it remained there.
Yet the Black Knight drew his sword, and fought with that, and he wounded Sir Beaumains sorely ere he died from his wound.
Then Sir Beaumains, seeing the fineness of the Black Knight's armour, alighted, and clad himself in it; and he took the Black Knight's horse also, and mounted it. Then rode he after the damsel, who had gone on ahead.
"Behold him! how pleased he is with himself!" cried she. "So thou hast slain the Black Knight, kitchen knave? Be not so high in the glance thou givest. He whom thou shalt meet, if thou followest out this quest, will be a worse knight to joust with than the Black Knight. Yet would I fain be rid of thee before then. I would not see thee discomfited, kitchen knave."
"Damsel," said Sir Beaumains, "whether I be a kitchen knave or not is not known to thee; but this thou mayest know, that I will not leave thee till this quest be done."
"Upon thine own head be it !" said the damsel; and Sir Beaumains thought she sighed. Then rode they on in silence.
And when they had gone some days' journey they came upon a knight clad all in green, who rode toward them; and the trappings of his horse were also green.
And he called to the damsel, "Is it my brother the Black Knight that I see with thee?"
"Alack," cried she, "it is not thy brother the Black Knight, but a kitchen knave who hath slain him through some evil chance."
When the Green Knight heard these words, he plucked from under a thorn a green horn that hung there, and blew on it three notes. And immediately there appeared three fair maidens clad in green. And these drest him in green armour, and brought him a green horse, and a spear that was green.
"Now, fellow," cried the Green Knight, "I am ready to do battle with thee."And he flew at Sir Beaumains.
Forthwith they thrust at each other with their spears, mighty blows and fierce. And afterwards they came upon their feet, and fought furiously with their swords, and in a long time the fight was not over.
"For shame, Green Knight," cried the damsel, "that thou fightest so long with a kitchen knave who hath the odour of meats yet upon him!"
When the Green Knight heard this speech, he was angry anew, and anew he ran at Sir Beaumains; and with a fierce thrust he struck at him, and brake his shield in twain.
But Sir Beaumains repaid the blow with one as fierce, and followed it with a buffet upon the helmet which sent the Green Knight to his knees. Then the Green Knight prayed for mercy, for he perceived by the fury of Sir Beaumains that he stood near to his death.
"Nay," said Sir Beaumains, "withhold thy prayer, Green Knight, for there is nothing that will win me to have mercy upon thee, save only if this damsel petition me for thy life."
Quoth the damsel, "I will never petition thee, kitchen knight!"
"Then shall the Green Knight die!" said Sir Beaumains.
The Green Knight prayed again, saying, "My life shall be at thy service, Sir Knight, and the lives of thirty knights whom I command."
Said Sir Beaumains: "Thy words avail thee nothing. I will spare thee only on the petition of this maid."
Then the Green Knight besought the damsel that she would petition for him.
"Shall I petition to a kitchen knave ?" asked she, with high chin.
"Nay," said the Green Knight, "I warrant this is no kitchen knave, but a right noble knight.
"Yet the damsel stood pouting.
Then made Sir Beaumains a movement to unlace the helmet of the Green Knight as if to slay him.
"Hold!" cried the maid. "An thou wilt have it so, thou wilt have it so, and I am loth that the Green Knight should perish. I pray thee spare him."
And immediately the knight Beaumains held back his hand, and spared the Green Knight.
And that night they abode at the Green Knight's castle, which was near, and enjoyed good fare; and on the morrow they went on their way.
Then when they had left the lands of the Green Knight, the damsel again began to gibe at Sir Beaumains, saying: "What? art thou still with me, kitchen knave? Think not that I esteem thee better for this adventure with the Green Knight. For thou shalt, ere this quest be ended, meet one worse than he. Wherefore, I counsel thee to say farewell and go."
Sir Beaumains replied: "Cease thine idle words! Hast thou not yet learnt that I will not leave thee till this quest be accomplished?"
And they rode on, she with pouting mouth, and casting glances at him, but he perceiving her not at all.
Now they had gone but two days' journeying when they came upon a tower as white as snow, and a fair meadow about it. And the lord of the tower looked out of a window and saw them approach. Then he forsook the tower, and came to meet them. And when he had come pretty near, he cried to Sir Beaumains: "Brother, is it thou? Where lies thine errand?"
But the damsel cried, "This is not thy brother, the Black Knight, but a kitchen knave who hath by an evil chance slain him."
Now the lord of the tower was clad in red, and he mounted upon a horse that was of a ruddy colour, and he fetched him a red spear. And when he had thus made ready, he fought with Sir Beaumains, first with his spear, and afterwards on foot and with his sword. And to him it happened as had befallen the Green Knight, his brother, for he was overthrown, and Sir Beaumains saved his life only on the petition of the damsel.
Then the Red Knight promised his service, and the service of fifty knights; when Sir Beaumains should call upon them.
And Sir Beaumains and his damsel abode with him that night at his castle, and afterwards went upon their way.
And again the damsel made mockery of Sir Beaumains, and would have driven him from her side.
Then came they to the lands of Sir Persaunt of Ind, whose armour and spear were of that same colour of Ind; and with him also Sir Beaumains did battle, and had victory. And Sir Persaunt promised the service of one hundred knights.
And having passed the night at his castle, they went on; but the damsel chided no more, for she began to perceive how valiant a knight was this Sir Beaumains, and she believed he was, in spite of all, of noble blood.
Thus she remained silent, ashamed of her former speech; and in this wise they drew near to the castle of the lady, Dame Lyones, round which a siege was laid.
"Now are we come to the perilous adventure," said the damsel; "for yonder is the castle of the Lady Lyones, who is my sister. And the knight who thus ungraciously besieges her, is not he the Red Knight of the Reed Lands, than whom there is none greater? Alas, Sir Knight, I would thou hadst not come as far as this, for thou shalt surely be vanquished of him."
"Nay," said Sir Beaumains, "fear not for me. Willingly I took this adventure upon me, and right willingly I carry it to its end. If I speed well, I relieve that most noble lady whom the Red Knight of the Reed Lands thus persecuteth. If I fall, I die as becomes a knight."
And she could not make him feel sorrow for himself.
Now the dwarf had gone on to the castle, and he brought to them food and drink from the lady, Dame Lyones. But as he returned to the lady he was found by the Red Knight of the Reed Lands, and was constrained to tell of the arrival of Sir Beaumains to do battle with the Red Knight.
"Is he a good champion?" asked the Red Knight of the Reed Lands.
"I trow yes," said the dwarf. "He hath done on this quest more valiant adventures than thou hast done in thy whole life."
Then was the Red Knight wroth.
There was a great horn which hung upon a sycamore tree, and by this horn was the Red Knight summoned to meet those who would do battle with him. And these had been many, and their bodies made innumerable trees hideous, for it was the Red Knight's custom so to hang brave knights upon the trees around.
Now did my knight Sir Beaumains ride up and blow the horn, and he sounded it right lustily, and he sounded it at noontide when the strength of the Red Knight of the Reed Lands was at its greatest.
Then came the Red Knight riding down upon him. That was fire that flew from his eyes, red fire, and his horse was blood-red, and his armour, and his spear, and so was his shield.
And they met in a little valley that was near to the castle, so that all might behold the encounter.
Now the Lady Lyones looked out of the window, and she was wondrous fair, and gentler than her sister. Then she beheld the knight Sir Beaumains, who fought the Red Knight with his spear, giving him mighty blows; and she thought she had never beheld so goodly a knight.
And as she watched, the knights brake their spears. And immediately they leapt from their horses, and seizing their swords ran at one another.
Till it was late in the day they fought, and all were astonished, for there was never a knight had so long withstood the Red Knight of the Reed Lands.
And when they had rested awhile, for both were weary, they fell to again; and they were like fierce lions in the fight.
Now when the encounter had lasted for a great time longer, Sir Beaumains struck the Red Knight so heavy a blow that all cried out who witnessed it.
Then was the Red Knight wroth, and suddenly he smote the knight's sword from his hand, and dealt him a buffet that sent him over.
Then cried that damsel of the quest, "Sir Beaumains, Sir Beaumains, my sister weepeth and watcheth; fail her not in this fight!"
And no sooner had Sir Beaumains heard the cry than he was upon his feet, and despite the Red Knight he ran for his sword and seized it. And with a mighty strength that came suddenly upon him he smote the Red Knight so that he fell, and could not rise.
Then would he have slain him had not many knights pleaded, making great excuse for the Red Knight, why he had done as he had done.
And Sir Beaumains, giving heed to their excuses, spared the knight. Thereafter he unlaced his helmet to have air, for he was weary with much fighting. And as he looked up at the window of the castle he saw there the Lady Lyones, and she was fair, and full of radiance and joy.
And he considered how he should best tell her that he had but played at kitchen-boy, to discover who might be his friends.
"For this lady," said he to his heart, "shall be my wife."