Far away in a dreary land there lived a lad called Pelleas. The men were rough and the women grave in the dreary land where Pelleas lived.
To this far-away country there had come tales of the gay lords and ladies of Arthur’s court.
Pelleas heard, in great astonishment, that the men in Arthur’s country were brave and gentle, and that the women smiled. He would go away from his own land, he thought, and see these strange and happy people.
Soon the rough men in his country laughed at Pelleas, for he began to grow brave and gentle like the knights who were so often in his thoughts.
And the grave women looked at each other in surprise, as they saw the lad’s bright face and caught the smile on his lips. Pelleas had been dreaming about the gay ladies he had heard of, till some of their gladness had passed into his face.
When he was older Pelleas left his country and all the land that belonged to him there. He would take his horse and his sword and ask the great King Arthur to make him one of his knights, for had he not learned knightly ways from the wonderful tales he had heard long ago?
After many days Pelleas reached the court. And when the King had listened to the young man’s story, and had seen his beauty and strength, he gladly made him his knight.
Then Pelleas was ready to begin his adventures. He would go to Carleon, where, for three days, the King’s tournament was to be held.
The King had promised a golden circlet and a good sword to the knight who showed himself the strongest. The golden circlet was to be given to the fairest lady in the field, and she was to be called the ‘Queen of Beauty.’
On his way to Carleon, Pelleas rode along a hot and dusty road. There were no trees to shelter him from the scorching sun, but he rode on steadfastly, for he knew that a great shady forest lay before him.
When at last Pelleas reached the forest, he was so hot and tired that he dismounted, and tying his horse to a tree, he lay down gratefully under a large oak and fell asleep.
Sounds of laughter and merriment woke him, and opening his eyes he saw a group of maidens close by.
Pelleas was bewildered. Could they be wild woodland nymphs, he thought, as, only half-awake, he lay there, and watched them flitting in and out among the tall trees.
They wore bright dresses, blue and yellow and purple, and to Pelleas the forest seemed all aglow.
The maidens were talking together, and looking first in one direction and then in another. They were lost in the forest, on their way to the great tournament at Carleon.
Then the lost maidens caught sight of the knight, lying half-asleep under the oak-tree. ‘He will be able to show us the way,’ they said joyfully to one another, for they guessed that he too was on his way to the tournament.
‘I will speak to the knight,’ said the Lady Ettarde, the tallest and most beautiful of all the maidens, and she left the others and went towards Pelleas. But when she told the knight that she and her lords and ladies had lost their way, and asked him to tell her how to reach Carleon, he only looked at her in silence. Was she one of the woodland nymphs? Was he still dreaming, and was she the lady of his dreams?
As the lady still stood there, he roused himself and tried to speak. But because he was bewildered by her beauty, he stammered and answered foolishly.
The Lady Ettarde turned to the merry lords and ladies who had followed her. ‘The knight cannot speak, though he is so strong and good-looking,’ she said scornfully.
But Sir Pelleas was wide-awake at last. He sprang to his feet, and told the Lady Ettarde that he had been dreaming, and that she had seemed to him a part of his dream. ‘But I too am going to Carleon,’ he added, ‘and I will show you the way.’
And as they rode through the forest Sir Pelleas was always at his lady’s side. When the branches were in her way he pushed them aside, when the path was rough he guided her horse. In the evening when the Lady Ettarde dismounted, Pelleas was there to help her, and in the morning again it was Pelleas who brought her horse and helped her to mount.
Now the Lady Ettarde was a great lady in her own land; knights who had fought many battles and won great fame had served her, and she cared nothing for the young untried knight’s love and service.
‘Still he looks so strong, that I will pretend to care for him,’ she thought, ‘and then perhaps he will try to win the golden circlet for me, and I shall be called the “Queen of Beauty.”’ For the Lady Ettarde was a cruel and vain lady, and cared more for the golden circlet and to be called the ‘Queen of Beauty,’ than for the happiness of the young knight Pelleas. And so for many days the Lady Ettarde was kind to Sir Pelleas, and at last she told him that she would love him if he would win the golden circlet for her.
‘The lady of my dreams will love me,’ the knight murmured. And aloud he said proudly that if there were any strength in his right arm, he would win the prize for the Lady Ettarde.
Then the lords and ladies that were with Ettarde pitied the young knight, for they knew their lady only mocked him.
At last they all reached Carleon, and the next morning the tournament began.
And the Lady Ettarde watched her knight merrily, as each day he overcame and threw from their horses twenty men.
‘The circlet will be mine,’ she whispered to her lords and ladies. But they looked at her coldly, for they knew how unkindly she would reward Sir Pelleas.
At the end of three days the tournament was over, and King Arthur proclaimed that the young knight Pelleas had won the golden circlet and the sword.
Then in the presence of all the people, Sir Pelleas took the golden circlet and handed it to the Lady Ettarde, saying aloud that she was the fairest lady on the field and the Queen of Beauty.
The Lady Ettarde was so pleased with her prize, that for a day or two she was kind to her knight, but soon she grew tired of him, and wished that she might never see him again.
Still even when she was unkind, Sir Pelleas was happy, for he trusted the beautiful lady, and said to himself, ‘She proves me, to see if I really love her.’
But the Lady Ettarde knew she would never love Sir Pelleas, even if he died for her.
Then her ladies were angry, as they saw how she mocked the knight, for they knew that greater and fairer ladies would have loved Sir Pelleas for his strength and great knightliness.
‘I will go back to my own country,’ said the Lady Ettarde, ‘and see my faithful knight no more.’ When Pelleas heard that the Lady Ettarde was going home he was glad. He remembered the happy days he had spent as they rode together through the forest, and he looked forward to other happy days in the open air, when he could again shield the lady from the roughness of the road.
But when the Lady Ettarde saw that Sir Pelleas was following her into her own country, she was angry.
‘I will not have the knight near me,’ she said proudly to her ladies. ‘I will have an older warrior for my love.’ And they knew their lady’s cruel ways, and in pity kept the knight away.
As they rode along the days seemed long to Pelleas, for he neither saw nor spoke to the Lady Ettarde.
When she got near her own castle, she rode on more swiftly, telling her lords and ladies to follow her closely. The drawbridge was down, and the Lady Ettarde rode across it, and waiting only till her lords and ladies crossed it, ordered the bridge to be drawn up, while Pelleas was still on the other side.
The knight was puzzled. Was this a test of his love too, or did the lady for whom he had won the golden circlet indeed not care for him? But that he would not believe. ‘She will grow kinder if I am faithful,’ he thought, and he lived in a tent beneath the castle walls for many days.
The Lady Ettarde heard that Pelleas still lingered near the castle, and in her anger she said, ‘I will send ten of my lords to fight this knight, and then I shall never see his face again.’
But when Pelleas saw the ten lords coming towards him, he armed himself, and fought so bravely that he overthrew each of them.
But after he had overthrown them, he allowed them to get up and to bind him hand and foot, and carry him into the castle. ‘For they will carry me into the presence of the Lady Ettarde,’ he thought.
But when she saw Pelleas, the Lady Ettarde mocked him, and told her lords to tie him to the tail of a horse and turn him out of the castle.
‘She does it to find out if I love her truly,’ thought Sir Pelleas again, as he struggled back to his tent below the castle.
Another ten lords were sent to fight the faithful knight, and again Pelleas overthrew them, and again he let himself be bound and carried before the Lady Ettarde.
But when she spoke to him even more unkindly than before, and mocked at his love for her, Sir Pelleas turned away. ‘If she were good as she is beautiful, she could not be so cruel,’ he thought sadly.
And he told her that though he would always love her, he would not try to see her any more.
Now one of King Arthur’s knights, called Sir Gawaine, had been riding past the castle when the ten lords attacked Sir Pelleas.
And Sir Gawaine had looked on in dismay. He had seen the knight overthrow the ten lords, and stand there quietly while the conquered men got to their feet. He had seen them bind him hand and foot, and carry him into the castle.
‘To-morrow I will look for him, and offer him my help,’ thought Sir Gawaine, for he was sorry for the brave young knight.
The next morning he found Sir Pelleas in his tent, looking very sad. And when Sir Gawaine asked the knight why he was so sad, Sir Pelleas told him of his love for the Lady Ettarde and of her unkindness. ‘I would rather die a hundred times than be bound by her lords,’ he said, ‘if it were not that they take me into her presence.’
Then Sir Gawaine cheered Sir Pelleas and offered to help him, for he too was one of Arthur’s knights.
And Sir Pelleas trusted him, for had not all King Arthur’s knights taken the vows of brotherhood and truth?
‘Give me your horse and armour,’ said Sir Gawaine. ‘I will go to the castle with them, and tell the Lady Ettarde that I have slain you. Then she will ask me to come in, and I will talk of your great love and strength, till she learns to love you.’
And Sir Gawaine rode away, wearing the armour and helmet of Sir Pelleas, and promising to come back in three days.
The Lady Ettarde was walking up and down outside the castle, when she saw the knight approaching. ‘Sir Pelleas again,’ she thought angrily, and turned to go into the castle.
But Sir Gawaine called to her to stay. ‘I am not Sir Pelleas, but a knight who has slain him.’
‘Take off your helmet that I may see your face,’ said the Lady Ettarde, as she turned to look at him.
When she saw that it was really a strange knight, she took him into her castle. ‘Because you have slain Sir Pelleas, whom I hated, I will love you,’ said the cruel Lady Ettarde.
Sir Gawaine saw how beautiful the lady was, and he forgot her unkindness to Sir Pelleas, and he loved her. And because he was not a true knight, Sir Gawaine did not think of Pelleas, who waited so anxiously for his return.
Three days passed, but he did not go back, and in the castle all was joy and merriment.
Six days passed, and still Sir Gawaine stayed with the beautiful Lady Ettarde.
At last Sir Pelleas could bear his loneliness no longer. That night he went up to the castle, and swam across the river. When he reached the front of the castle, he saw a great many tents. And all the lords and ladies were asleep in their tents, and Sir Gawaine was there too.
‘He has forgotten me, and will stay here always with the Lady Ettarde,’ muttered Sir Pelleas in scorn, and he drew the sword he had won at the tournament, to slay the false knight Sir Gawaine.
Then, all at once, he remembered the vows he had taken, when the great King had knighted him, and slowly he sheathed his sword, and went gloomily down to the river.
But Sir Pelleas could not make up his mind to go away, and again he turned and went back to the tent, where Sir Gawaine lay, still asleep.
Once more Sir Pelleas drew his sword, and laid it across the false knight’s bare neck.
When Sir Gawaine woke in the morning, he felt the cold steel, and putting up his hand, he found the sword that Sir Pelleas had left.
Sir Gawaine did not know how the sword had come there, but when he told the Lady Ettarde what had happened, and showed her the sword, she knew it was the one that Sir Pelleas had won at the tournament, when he had given her the golden circlet.
‘You have not slain the knight who loved me,’ cried the Lady Ettarde, ‘for he has been here, and left his sword across your throat.’ And then she hated Gawaine because he had told her a lie, and she drove him from her castle.
And the Lady Ettarde thought of her true knight Sir Pelleas, and at last she loved him with all her heart.
But when he had left his sword across Sir Gawaine’s throat, Pelleas had gone sadly back to his tent, and taking off his armour, had lain down to die.
Then the knight’s servant was in great distress, because his master would neither eat nor sleep, but lay in his tent getting more pale and more thin day by day. And the servant was wandering sadly along the bank of the river, wondering how he could help his master, when he met a beautiful maiden called the ‘Lady of the Lake.’
The maiden asked why he looked so sad, and, won by her gentleness, he told her how his master had been hated by the Lady Ettarde, and betrayed by the false knight Sir Gawaine.
‘Bring me to your master,’ said the Lady of the Lake.
And when she had come to the tent and saw Sir Pelleas, she loved him.
‘I will send him to sleep,’ she murmured, ‘and when he wakes he will be well.’ And she threw an enchantment over him, and he slept.
When Sir Pelleas awoke, he felt strong once more, and at last he knew that the cruel Lady Ettarde had never been the lady of his dreams, and he loved her no longer.
But when the Lady Ettarde knew that Sir Pelleas loved her no more, she wept sorrowfully, and died of her grief.
Then the gentle Lady of the Lake asked Pelleas to come with her to her own beautiful Lake-land. And as they rode together, her simple kindness made the knight happy again, and he learned to love the Lady of the Lake, and they lived together and loved each other all their lives long.