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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Maid of Astolat
By Sir Thomas Malory (d. c. 1470)
 
From ‘Morte d’Arthur’

NOW speak we of the fair maid of Astolat, which made such sorrow day and night, that she never slept, eat, nor drank; and always she made her complaint unto Sir Launcelot. So when she had thus endured about ten days, that she felt that she must needs pass out of this world. Then she shrove her clean and received her Creator; and ever she complained still upon Sir Launcelot. Then her ghostly father bade her leave such thoughts. Then said she, “Why should I leave such thoughts? am I not an earthly woman? and all the while the breath is in my body I may complain. For my belief is that I do none offense, though I love an earthly man; and I take God unto record, I never loved any but Sir Launcelot du Lake, nor never shall; and a maiden I am, for him and for all other. And sith it is the sufferance of God that I shall die for the love of so noble a knight, I beseech the high Father of heaven for to have mercy upon my soul; and that mine innumerable pains which I suffer may be allegiance of part of my sins. For our sweet Savior Jesu Christ,” said the maiden, “I take thee to record, I was never greater offender against thy laws, but that I loved this noble knight, Sir Launcelot, out of all measure; and of myself, good Lord! I might not withstand the fervent love, wherefore I have my death.” And then she called her father, Sir Bernard, and her brother, Sir Tirre; and heartily she prayed her father that her brother might write a letter like as she would indite it. And so her father granted it her.  1
  And when the letter was written, word by word, as she had devised, then she prayed her father that she might be watched until she were dead. “And while my body is whole let this letter be put into my right hand, and my hand bound fast with the letter until that I be cold; and let me be put in a fair bed, with all the richest clothes that I have about me. And so let my bed, with all my rich clothes, be laid with me in a chariot to the next place whereas the Thames is; and there let me be put in a barge, and but one man with me, such as ye trust, to steer me thither, and that my barge be covered with black samite over and over. Thus, father, I beseech you let be done.” So her father granted her faithfully that all this thing should be done like as she had devised. Then her father and her brother made great dole; for when this was done, anon she died. And so when she was dead, the corpse, and the bed, and all, were led the next way unto the Thames; and there a man, and the corpse and all, were put in a barge on the Thames; and so the man steered the barge to Westminster, and there he rode a great while to and fro or any man discovered it.  2
  So, by fortune, King Arthur and Queen Guenever were speaking together at a window; and so as they looked into the Thames, they espied the black barge, and had marvel what it might mean. Then the King called Sir Kaye and showed him it. “Sir,” said Sir Kaye, “wit ye well that there is some new tidings.” “Go ye thither,” said the King unto Sir Kaye, “and take with you Sir Brandiles and Sir Agravaine, and bring me ready word what is there.” Then these three knights departed and came to the barge and went in; and there they found the fairest corpse, lying in a rich bed, that ever they saw, and a poor man sitting in the end of the barge, and no word would he speak. So these three knights returned unto the King again, and told him what they had found. “That fair corpse will I see,” said King Arthur. And then the King took the Queen by the hand and went thither. Then the King made the barge to be holden fast; and then the King and the Queen went in with certain knights with them; and there they saw a fair gentlewoman, lying in a rich bed, covered unto her middle with many rich clothes, and all was cloth of gold: and she lay as though she had smiled. Then the Queen espied the letter in the right hand, and told the King thereof. Then the King took it in his hand and said, “Now I am sure this letter will tell what she was and why she is come hither.” Then the King and the Queen went out of the barge; and the King commanded certain men to wait upon the barge. And so when the King was come within his chamber, he called many knights about him and said “that he would wit openly what was written within that letter.” Then the King broke it open and made a clerk to read it. And this was the intent of the letter:—  3
  “Most noble knight, my lord, Sir Launcelot du Lake, now hath death made us two at debate for your love. I was your love, that men called the Fair Maiden of Astolat; therefore unto all ladies I make my moan. Yet for my soul that ye pray, and bury me at the least, and offer me my mass penny. This is my last request; and a clean maid I died, I take God to my witness. Pray for my soul, Sir Launcelot, as thou art a knight peerless.” This was all the substance of the letter. And when it was read, the Queen and all the knights wept for pity of the doleful complaints. Then was Sir Launcelot sent for; and when he was come King Arthur made the letter to be read to him. And when Sir Launcelot had heard it, word by word, he said, “My lord, King Arthur, wit you well that I am right heavy of the death of this fair damsel. God knoweth I was never causer of her death by my will; and that I will report me unto her own brother here,—he is Sir Lavaine. I will not say nay,” said Sir Launcelot, “but that she was both fair and good; and much was I beholden unto her: but she loved me out of measure.” “Ye might have showed her,” said the Queen, “some bounty and gentleness, that ye might have preserved her life.” “Madam,” said Sir Launcelot, “she would none other way be answered, but that she would be my wife, or else my love; and of these two I would not grant her: but I proffered her for her good love, which she showed me, a thousand pounds yearly to her and her heirs, and to wed any manner of knight that she could find best to love in her heart. For madam,” said Sir Launcelot, “I love not to be constrained to love; for love must arise of the heart, and not by constraint.” “That is truth,” said King Arthur and many knights: “love is free in himself, and never will be bound; for where he is bound he loseth himself.”  4
 
 
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