I. THE CONQUEST OF FRANCE
The NOBLES who were at the court of Arthur when they heard that the enchantments and adventures had ceased were very sad. And the young men and the bachelors and those of the Round Table said that they had no desire to sojourn with King Arthur and that they would go across the sea to seek knightly fame.
When Keu the seneschal heard this he was very sad and came to the king and said to him: "Sire, know that all your nobles wish to leave you in order to go into strange lands to seek adventures, and you are the most worthy king that ever was in the land of Britain and you have the best company of knights that anyone ever had. Remember that there have been three kings in Britain who have been kings of France and emperors of Rome," and Merlin said that you would yet be king of them, and you know well that Merlin is the wisest man in the world and has never been taken in a lie. And you know well that if your knights leave you and go into foreign lands to seek adventure, never will you have them all united again. Now beware, King, that you be not lazy nor lose the high glory that you have had a long time; but cross the sea and conquer France and Normandy, and distribute them among the nobles who have served you long; and we will aid you to the best of our power."
When Arthur heard these words he was very joyous and went to his nobles and took counsel with them of these things. And each advised him for himself and said that he would willingly aid him. And when Arthur heard that the most worthy men of the world so advised him, he leaped up with joy and had letters sealed and sent them by fifty messengers to be borne through out his country. And in the letters he said that all who could aid him should not delay in coming for he would give so much to each that he would be a rich man. And the messengers de parted and assembled so great a host that there were more than a hundred thousand before the month passed. And when the king saw them he was very happy, and went to look upon them with Sir Gavain and Keu the seneschal and King Lot of Orkney; and he came to each tent and rejoiced for each high man that was there and drew their hearts to love him, and he gave them many rich gifts; and then they cried: "King Arthur, know that you lose all the world by your idleness, for know that if you have the courage which we have, we will conquer for you France and Normandy and Rome and all Lombardy, even as far as Jerusalem we will cause you to wear the crown and you will be lord of the whole world."
Thus the Britons said to their lord Arthur; and when the king heard them he was most happy and swore by his head that he would never cease until he had conquered France, whatever else there might be afterward. Then he commanded all the carpenters of his realm to build the noblest fleet that ever had been heard of. And when the ships and the galleys were equipped, they came to the harbor and took on bread and wine and flesh and salt and arms and clothing. And the knights went on board the ships bringing most noble horses. And King Arthur commanded Mordret to guard his realm and country and his wife the queen. And this Mordret was the brother of Sir Gavain and the son of King Lot of Orkney and was of very evil mind. Then Arthur took leave and came to the port and sailed with the wind and with the stars, and they went so far by sea that they arrived in Normandy. And as soon as they had come from the ships, they ran through the land and took men and women and booty and wasted the country most harshly, and you may be sure that never before had a land been so dolorous. When the duke knew this he asked a truce of the king until he could speak with him, and King Arthur granted it. And he came into the host of Arthur and became his man and said that he would hold his land of him through the paying of tribute, and the king received him very gladly. And the duke had a very beautiful daughter, and the king gave her to Keu the seneschal and all the land of the duke in the same fashion. Then the king left there and crossed the land of the duke and entered the land of the King of France. At this time there was a king in France who bore the name of Floires, and when he knew that King Arthur had attacked him he was deeply moved and summoned his host throughout his land and assembled them at Paris. And when they were assembled, a great company of knights was there, and there King Floires said that he would await Arthur. And Arthur, who knew of this, marched to that place where he thought he would find him and came to within two leagues of the host of the French. And when King Floires knew of his coming he ordered two messengers to go to the host of Arthur and he said: "Noble messengers, you will go from me directly to the Britons and you will tell King Arthur that he will rue the hour when he will cause knights to be slain to conquer the land. But tell him that if he is worthy enough to dare dispute for the honor of France in single combat, himself and me, he may know that I am ready to enter into battle to determine whether he will have France or I will have Britain." Then the messengers came to the host where King Arthur was, and they asked for him and one pointed out his pavilion. And they went there and dismounted before his pavilion and entered and saluted him and told him word for word all that their lord had charged them to say, and nothing of it did they hide.
When Arthur had heard what the messengers had to tell him he spoke thus to them: "Sirs, now tell King Floires, whose subjects you are, this for me, that just as he has asked thus I shall do. And tell him that not for all the land of Britain would I fail him in this that he has challenged me." And the messenger responded: 'We wish that you promise that he will have no need to fear any other there except yourself." And the king promised them, and the noblest men of Britain promised the messengers that if King Arthur were killed they would go back into their own country and would hold their lands from King Floires. And the messengers promised them that if King Floires was killed they would surrender to Arthur all of the strongholds of France and would pay homage to him. And they determined that the battle would be a fortnight hence.
Then the messengers returned from there and told King Floires that which they had found out from King Arthur. Then the Britons decamped and came to camp before Paris so near that they were within a stone's throw of the city, and they gave truce to each other on each side so that the Britons could go into Paris to buy things to eat. The time passed and the day came that the king had set. And thereupon the two kings prepared themselves for combat, and each armed himself with most fitting regal armor. And the two kings entered upon an island below Paris, and they were seated on the two best horses they had. And the French and the British watched them by common agreement all in peace, for they wore no armor.
And they said that they would await the mercy of Our Lord, and they watched the lords who had put their bodies in danger of death in order to win honor. And the two kings who were on the isle separated two arpents in order to charge upon each other better, and then both came together at a great pace and struck each other with their lances in the middle of their shields so severely that the lances splintered and the fragments flew into the air. And they encountered each other with breast and with helm so fiercely that they knocked each other from their horses to the earth. But Arthur leaped first to his feet and drew his sword Escaliborc, which was of excellent steel, and came toward Floires. And Floires the king leaped up again and also drew his sword most fiercely, and each approached the other, and you may be sure that both the French and Britons prayed, each for his lord. And the two kings who had no love for each other came against each other with their swords.
King Floires was very courageous and bold, and he trusted his prowess fully. And he held the sword in his right hand and struck Arthur with it in the middle of the shield so that it split it and cut whatever it reached. And the stroke, which was made with great power, drove downward and broke off three hundred rings from the hauberk. And the blade came down across the thigh so that it cut away more than a full hand's breadth of flesh. And the blade descended with great violence and cut the spur away with three inches of the foot, and the blade drove an ell into the earth. And Arthur was somewhat stunned by the blow, and Floires struck him with his shoulder so that he almost made him fall to the earth. And when the British and Sir Gavain saw this they were deeply grieved and feared much for their lord, for King Floires was larger than Arthur by a head in full helm. And certainly it appeared by his actions that he had great valor and strength; for this reason they were fearful.
When Arthur saw his people tremble and have fear for him, he was greatly moved and felt most deep shame. And he came to the king who awaited him in the midst of the field, and in his right hand he held the sword that is called Escaliborc, and with it he struck him with such fierce rage in the midst of his shield that it split and rent it as far as the boss, and it sheared whatever it reached. And the stroke descended upon the helm so that it cut the band, nor did the coil at all hold the sword from cutting away a great part of the scalp and more than a fist-full of hair, and if the sword had not turned in Arthur s hand he might have killed him. Nevertheless, the helmet flew from his head because tile laces were all broken. And when King Floires saw this he was filled with great anger and struck Arthur upon the helm but could not harm him.
When King Floires saw this he was much dismayed, and then the blood came down across his eyes and his face, and he lost his vision so that he could not see King Arthur. And his heart failed him and he fell face downward in the middle of the meadow. And when King Arthur saw this he was very happy and went toward him and took his sword and stooped down and cut off his head. And when the French saw that their lord was killed they felt great sorrow in their hearts, and they fled into Paris And the Britons came to their ruler Arthur and placed him upon a horse and led him with great joy to his tent and quickly disarmed him.
And then the king selected two messengers and sent them to those in Paris to know what they intended to do. And know that to carry this message went King Lot of Orkney and Gavain his son, who knew how to speak most beautifully and was held to be one of the wisest men of the host and was a good knight and adroit in speech, just in judgment. And, in truth, in the land of Britain a letter knight could not be found since Perceval - had abandoned deeds of chivalry. Thereupon they came to Paris, and when those who were on the walls saw them come they opened the gates for them and Gavain entered there and King Lot his father. And they saluted the twelve peers of the country who were in the city, and they saw the messengers and the knights who had laid down the rules of combat between Arthur and King Floires.
And then Gavain spoke to them saying: "Lords, King Arthur requests that you render the city to him just as these messengers have agreed; for the agreement was that Arthur and Floires would combat against each other according to the rules which I will tell you, and I will call as witnesses of this the messengers themselves who came to the tent of our king to announce the battle. We pledged that if Arthur were vanquished we would come to King Floires and would do him homage and hold our lands from him. Thus we pledged, and your messengers pledged that if Floires your king were conquered you would come to King Arthur and would place yourselves under his will, and his will would be that you should hold your castles of him and France would be in his governance. And you may ask of the messengers, whom I believe and hold to be worthy men, if their words did not go thus."
When the citizens heard Sir Gavain they considered him most worthy; and they spoke thus: "We will counsel together concerning it." Then they entered within a very noble chamber, and the high men of France spoke, saying: "Lords, we do not have strength to stand against this King of the Britons that has come here against us, nor do we have provisions to last a long while, and you can be sure he will not now depart from here." And the messengers who had gone to establish the terms of the battle arose and said: "Lords, know that we wish to be nobly acquitted of the pledge that we made to Arthur. "And then they arrived at the decision that they would surrender the city to him and do homage to him and hold France of King Arthur. Then they came to King Lot and to Gavain his son and said: "Lords, we see well that we would not be able to endure against your people, and even if we could endure, yet we would wish to fulfill our pledges. Know that we will surrender France to King Arthur and will do homage to him and will give into his governance our bodies and our goods, and will put ourselves entirely at his mercy. Yet now, be fore God, may he treat us justly, and if he does otherwise the sin of it will be his. And, before God, may he hold us in the same way as King Floires was accustomed to hold us.
Then Gavain answered them: "Lords, know that he will never do anything to you which will be unjust. " And then Gavain and King Lot his father left there and came to King Arthur and re counted to him all that the French had said to them. When King Arthur heard this he was very happy and immediately he had his army break camp and he rode toward Paris. And when those of Paris saw him come they went out to meet him, the clerks and bishops and abbots with holy relics and tapers and phylacteries and censers. And they threw mint and flowers before him wherever he went, and they had tables placed throughout the city loaded with bread and meat and game, and for the nobles the tables were loaded with good wine and rich spices. And they hung rich tapestries and rich adornments at the palace where King Arthur dismounted. Then Arthur sat in the royal chair and they bore the royal crown of France to him, and they crowned him and made him King of France, and they pledged him due homage and to hold faith and be loyal.
And Arthur received them and showed great love for them, and he stayed in the land of France fifty days and made many generous gifts to his knights. Then the knights of France and Normandy said that they had never had such a good lord, and there were many nobles of France who loved Arthur more than they ever did Floires, for Arthur knew how to speak beautifully and to draw the people to Love him, not by empty words but by giving fine gifts. And indeed Arthur sojourned in Paris fifty days and then went Throughout the country of France to discover if there was any castle which held out against him. But, in truth, never did he find fortification where the keys were not immediately borne to him, and he drew the people to him with his love. And the news went throughout the whole country that Arthur had killed the King of France, and for this reason all castles were delivered to him. Then King Arthur gave the marches of Brittany to Gavain his nephew, and to Beduier he gave all of Vermandois, good land and fertile. And, in truth, in the household of Arthur there was not a high noble to whom he did not give either city or castle. And when he had in this way completed his work, his officials were established in his castles and in his marches.
When Arthur had conquered France he said that he wished no longer to stay there and he took leave of the nobles of the land and they accompanied him a long way and then returned from there. And Arthur journeyed until he entered Normandy where his fleet was, and where he had left five hundred knights to guard the vessels. And Arthur went aboard ship and his knights with him; and the sailors raised the sails and the wind took them. And they they sailed until they reached the port of Dover, and then they left the ships and disembarked the steeds and palfreys. And when they were all disembarked they were very happy that they were looking again upon their land and country.
When Mordret the brother of Gavain heard it said that Arthur his uncle was returning, he mounted with fifty knights and the queen as well. And they rode there where they believed they would find the king and traveled until they met him, and they held great festivities with him. And then the news went - out throughout all the land that King Arthur had returned and that he had conquered France. When the common people heard this they were very happy, and ladies and damsels came who had sons and relatives there; and one has never seen such great joy as each made with the other embracing and kissing. After this the king spoke and said: "Lords, I wish that all these who are now here with me may be at my court at Carduel in Wales on St. John's day in the summer." And this word was cried throughout the host, and the king sent word to the noblest men of his land and prayed this of them, and they promised that they would all be there on St. John's day. And Arthur said "There I shall desire to distribute of my wealth to all in common, nor will there be one there so poor but I will make him rich."
de Boron, Robert. The Romance of Perceval in Prose. ed. and trans. Dell Skeels. University of Washington Press, 1961.
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